Larry travelled to Ukraine on Sunday, May 22 with our Pastor, Zsolt Bodogan. It was a one-day trip, and it gave Larry the opportunity to see the ways our church is helping and to begin thinking about how we can come alongside and help.
They visited two missionary families. These are church planters from our network of churches, Calvary Golgota, who have been sent and are supported by Hungarian congregations, including our own in Debrecen.
Larry said he could immediately see how much more poor Ukraine is than Hungary. The roads and infrastructure are in terrible shape, and they were even before the war.
The region they visited is the western-most area of Ukraine, known as Transcarpathia. It was part of Hungary before 1920, and they are considered ethnic Hungarians. They can have dual citizenship, and many speak Hungarian as fluently as they do Ukrainian.
The population of this area is around one million; the war has brought another 600,000 refugees. There is also a Roma (gypsy) population. These are some of the most difficult to serve because of extreme poverty and cultural differences. But the missionaries our church supports ministers to them, too. Because of the war, the Roma camp in this region has bulged from 5,000 to 15,000. These lowest of the low are feeling the crunch of war and have no way to flee. Most are illiterate and impoverished and have been for generations.
You may hear on the news that thousands are returning to Ukraine, but still 10,000-12,000 a day entering Hungary. Air raid sirens part of life; the threat of missile attacks never ends. Around 1pm while Larry and Zsolt were there, the air raid siren sounded.
Please pray for churches in this region! In the east, more people are coming to church than ever before. Fear, separation from family, and dire need—the things that God uses—are calling them to faith.
They need prayer and financial support. The cost of everything has gone up, and in most places, things simply aren’t available. Gas is scarce, and you have to go to Hungary to get it or buy it from smugglers. In this region, many gas stations have been mothballed. Those were needed. But now the economic engine is shut down.
In grocery stores, one day you go and they have flour but no sugar and oil, and the next time there’s sugar but no flour. All of this just makes things more difficult.
Larry said they worshipped with people who go to Roma camps to teach, who serve the incredibly poor daily and try to care for their needs. They distribute food and hygiene packages at Roma church almost weekly. Critics say, “You’re just paying them to come to church…”
Larry says he’s heard all the arguments about giving, and sees that maybe God gives us the opportunity to minister when people are in such situations. The missionary said different humanitarian groups come and meet physical needs, but do not offer The Message. This is what Larry has seen in refugee camps for years now.
The missionary says he supplies for physical needs AND shares the gospel message. He does what he does, what he’s supposed to do, then it’s between them and God. The missionary is just doing what God commands, and Larry feels the same.
The economic situation continues to decline as the war continues. The commodities that are in short supply now will only get worse. It’s so difficult to plan because you don’t have a clue what the future is going to bring because of the war.
Another frightening aspect Larry noticed is that these communities are without young men. Husbands and fathers have been conscripted to fight. Larry said this is tough stuff. Women and children flee to west; some stay in Transcarpathia, but some go on into Western Europe.
Larry and Zsolt attended an outside service church service. There was a young American pastor named Joe who has been there 16 years. In the past two months he has had 9 different worship leaders or bands, believers fleeing from eastern Ukraine. Larry said the service was so beautiful. People were sitting all around in a park nearby. They had communion, and when it was over the band played one more song. But no one wanted to leave! They stayed and played a few more worship songs, continuing in the moment as the Spirit led.
Larry and Zsolt had time on the drive home to talk about what they had seen and felt. Please pray for their long term plan.
Zsolt said the church leaders would like to buy and repair some old homes for refugees and start rebuilding in the cities where the fighting has ceased. And in the meantime, they hope to use vans they have and their network of churches to continue shuttling people around the country and taking supplies into the most isolated places.
Pray we discern how we can come alongside and help. Thank you so much for your ongoing support and care. Like Larry says, this struggle is a long way from over.
There are more stories and pictures, but for the safety of those working and living at war, we decided it was best not to share more. God knows; pray we do what he leads us to help as he directs.