Staying To Serve The “Least Of These” – even in War

I am a missionary in Ukraine.

Russia has invaded.

We are at war.

Many missionaries have left Ukraine. Most have left their cities, gotten their families to safety, and are actively involved with the rescue and relief effort.

They are at the borders helping refugees. They are coming back to rescue people. They are coordinating with people all over the world.

Some are shell-shocked and have returned to their home countries. I don’t blame anyone for leaving. 

The question we often are asked however is: When are YOU coming home? This is a loaded question.

The US is my homeland, but it is not my home. We are citizens of Heaven and the best place for us to be is where God has called us. God called me to Ukraine 16 years ago. 9 years ago, he called our family to the city of Mukachevo. He hasn’t yet given us a change of plans.

Our city is a place of refuge for many.

We personally have served thousands of people. We have 6 commercial buildings we have converted to refugee centers. 3 houses have been turned to small dorms. Dozens of homes in our church community have opened their doors to refugees, learning to blend multiple families in 1 home.

We are responsible for housing over 500 people every night. Most stay for a day or 2 and then move on. We see about 300 new faces in our centers every day. They have left their homes and we are their last stop before leaving their homeland. A new reality awaits them across the border. They must start over and carry on.

We are also creating a center for 250 orphans that can’t cross. This is their last place of defense.

As long as our city is a place of refuge, we will stay.

Our status as a safe haven could change. They could bomb our region. The air raid sirens sound daily. The ground Invasion could come to us.

They already send saboteurs to our area with a mission to create terror by killing civilians The enemy could install a puppet government and like the territories occupied since 2014, Pastors could become targets for killings.

When we can no longer give others a safe place, that is when we will leave and help them get to safety. That is our line.

Do we have any other choice?
Am I to turn in fear from the work God gave me for the promise of safety and comfort?
Do I claim “blessing” while leaving others to suffer?

We are in Ukraine to be witnesses of the Gospel.
We testify to the character of God with our words and deeds.

We do not yet have bombs dropping on our city. We do not yet have soldiers firing on civilians in our region. But it would be all too easy to succumb to fear.  And what message do I send if I leave when I could still serve?

I am sent to preach the Gospel and to demonstrate the love of God which he displayed on the cross. Is this true only until it is uncomfortable?

We have 20+ people in our home every day. Our heating system went out. There was no hot water. There was no heat. The nights are below freezing. We fixed it; but in that moment, I wanted to go someplace tropical and fast.

But I remember Jesus’ words in the Garden. If there was a way to let the “cup” of the cross go, he wanted it. But he was obedient to the will of the Father.

I preach a simple gospel these days: We have hope. Jesus was willing to die for us, that we may know him, his love, and the eternal life he gives. How can I then let fear rule my actions? To follow Jesus, you must take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow him.

As his disciple I cannot say: “Lord I quit? it costs too much.”

There are those that had to leave. I am glad they are safe.
There are those able to do more good from their new strongholds. I am thankful they are there.
They were in imminent danger.

But imagine if all of us in “safe” cities abandoned their calling – leaving until the situation is calm. How could I return and look people in the eyes? How could I preach the Gospel? If they ignored or condemned me, it would be justified. 

Many years ago there were a few missionaries in Serbia; and when armed conflict came these guys stayed. That was their witness. They stayed, and because of it many believed. 1 of those missionaries shared that story at a conference years ago. It stuck with me. I remember thinking: what an opportunity for the Gospel. I prayed that if I was ever in a similar situation, that I would have the strength to stay. That situation is now. God is calling me to be faithful to those prayers.

I am not foolish. We have bags packed. We have discussed those moments that would have us leave.

I realize that even in our safe city, it is not without risk. I struggle with fear and submit it to Christ daily. I am convinced that God is able to raise me from death to eternal life, but I would rather it be later than sooner.

I must be faithful. This is why I stay. God has called some to leave. God has called us to stay.

It is a daily battle with my own heart. I daily cry out to God for strength. But I think of the prophets, apostles, the “cloud of witnesses” from Hebrews. My reward is Christ himself. He is my goal. So I try to represent that here in my city – along with all the saints I serve with – lights in the darkness. Jesus may call us to go, but until then we are called to stay.


  1. You are right where God has called you to be…Pray without ceasing…I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me…God is before me, who can be against me?

  2. Praise Jesus, for His wisdom, that He’s given to you, and Katya, and for His out spread arms as wings encompassing over you and your church, (and now many shelters), the other churches in Mukachevo, and over your city. His wings of protection, also gives YOU refuge, in your own home….& He is constantly supplying your every need. Hallelujah! HE JUST NEVER FAILS US, AS HIS WORD PROMISES. HE IS SO FAITHFUL TO US…& HE HEARS OUR CRIES, AND THE MANY, MANY PRAYERS. I SEE HIS STRENGTH IN YOU, JOEL, AND YOUR CALMNESS IS COMFORTING TO OTHERS. I’m STILL PRAYING, for the war to stop, and come to an END. That the Russian Army, and along their leader & President, Vladimir Putin, will halt, and their weapons will all malfunctions, and be unable to to function, and their ammunition, will also malfunction, and no longer work. They will have lost the ability to acquire gasoline and fuels, to move their tanks, and even warships,having torpedos, and bombs, and fighter jets, to be violently demolished, and never to be used to overtake and invade Ukraine, any further. For those soldiers, leaders and the president of their country, to STOP, and become as Lots wife, for looking back, to become as pillars of salt, never to destroy again, should they not heed you Words, to Cease this War, and I ask this in the name of Jesus, that all aspects of this war, to will completely CEASE, no longer capable of any further destruction and blood shed, ever again. Father God, see that their President Putin, SEE’S that they have completely lost this battle they began a whole month ago, FOR THE BATTLE IS NOT THEIRS, BUT THE LORD’S, and they will either SURRENDER TO YOU, LORD JESUS, or that they will surrender to DEFEAT, NEVER TO SEEK VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION, NOR BLOODSHED, EVER AGAIN! (And will turn back to the dust once used by God to create Man & Woman, soo many years ago. May YOU LORD, and the people of UKRAINE, LIVE IN YOUR VICTORY, LORD, May you supply GREATNESS TO THIS UKRAINIAN LANDS AGAIN, and RESTORE WHAT SATAN AND THE DEMONS, WITHIN HIS ARMIES, FAIL, & FAIL QUICKLY, as Becoming completely in useable, in any formate, and their UNCLEAN WEAPONS OF WAR, BE IMMEDIATELY UNUSABLE FROM THIS MOMENT FORWARD. Thank you Lord, for sparing Joel and his family, and all others that you have called as missionaries to SAVE YOUR PEOPLE, in UKRAINE, and all of your children in Mukachevo, and those coming in, seeking refuge, there. May they each look at You, Jesus, and know that they too, are able to have an opportunity to receive Jesus, as their very own Lord and Savior, and can call upon Jesus, and accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus! In Your Name I pray, AMEN.


  3. Joel & Katya,
    What a joy and eye opener for me to read this post. Most of it I already knew in my heart, but I’m struck by the heartfelt commitment you’ve made, as well as Katya, to the work of Jesus, in you. What a blessed ministry, to use this terrible time of WAR for Jesus❣️ To shine that light in the darkness, for Christ. To allow Jesus to work in you, and through you. To lead others to a saving grace and a relationship with Jesus Christ. To be there at the worst moments of a person’s life, and to minister to those who are sharing their fears and hurt and anger with you and your team!! Don & I are praying daily for your strengthening, for the great covering of protection over each one of you‼️ For provision of each need you have.
    Yours, and those seeking refuge alongside you. May Jesus continue to be your portion and focus, and may the glorious love of Jesus continue to flow over others as long as you are called to serve as an ambassador for Christ. It’s beautiful, Joel, this witness❣️? And, should you need to follow Jesus to a different ministry, I pray God would go before you with each step, blessing you with refuge for your family and those with you. Just remember that satan and all his principalities and powers of the air hates praise❣️ Praising Jesus, the enemy flees. Your battles belong to the Lord. I’m not in your place, Joel, but when I close my eyes and pray for you, I see Katya’s love being such a blessing through her baking and her kind, lovely spirit❣️And I see your children sharing everything they own with others. They are learning from watching their parents. God is already blessing them with servant’s hearts❣️
    And you each have crowns from our Lord, because you’re children of a King. Alleluia!
    Praising the Lord for His many blessings through you and in each of you, especially the sweet orphans. They’ve lost everything they know. Let them have soft hearts to hear the Lord, who can fill each need they have, even the loss of parents. Brothers, sisters, animals and their refuge.
    And we’re praying for those sweet times of your quiet time with Jesus, that the Lord would gift you with knowledge and understanding, His wisdom and His direction for each moment of your day. Praise the Lord❣️? We love you, in the precious name of Jesus ??????

  4. For such a time as this you are there … asking the Lord to strengthen and refresh you for His calling each day, for your family, for your church family, for those grappling with what they’ve seen in their home cities even as they find refuge with you who welcome them in His great Name into your homes, your church, and your city on the way to what’s next. It’s so clear He is working through your team and your leadership … I believe you will never regret your decision. And thank you for so regularly giving us who are so physically far removed from this chaos a true glimpse of what is happening among you. His great grace to you!!

  5. From 2nd Timothy 2:26
    “they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.”

  6. I read with interest the article of Sarah Walker, through the SMSU alumni magazine, as I also graduated from there. I am currently a composer of more than 2700 songs, and have a CD on the internet entitled Love to Ukraine for people to listen to for free at so please pass the web address on to the refugees, and to Sarah and other workers . Like I said, it is free to listen to, it’s just quiet music that I have written, to help calm the nerves of those who need it. It’s vital that as many as possible refugees listen to this for their peace.

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