Bibles and bullets
Life as a follower of Christ has never been more of a battlefield, especially for those serving within the conflict zone of eastern Ukraine: the forgotten war. When I was asked to go on assignment to eastern Ukraine to document the vibrant communities of Christ followers that were growing at astonishing rates despite the ongoing conflict, I, along with many others I talked with, was unaware a conflict even existed in Ukraine. However, this conflict between Ukraine and the Russian allied separatists in the East has been ongoing since 2014, causing paralysing effects for those trapped within its borders.
As we traveled within the conflict zone, we saw that life for the local people seemed uncomfortably normal; only in areas with active shelling could we notice a minor difference in the countenance of the local people. We spent time in small villages documenting children playing and church services being held in the courtyards of homes – all while the sound of machine gun fire and mortars were going off in the near distance – and we were able to gain a first-hand look into the lives of Christ followers trapped within a conflict that has no end in sight.
One young girl we interviewed was emotionally trapped on both sides of the conflict. She lives with her grandmother on the Ukrainian side while her mother and brother live in Russia across separatist lines; not by choice but out of obligation to protect their property. For this young woman, the conflict completely redirected her life: Before the conflict, she had been attending university to become a hair stylist; now at the age of 17, she acts as liaison to the OM-supported chaplains providing aid to her village.
These chaplains are known as the 'hero pastors' among the people they serve. Despite the conflict and imminent danger, the chaplains continue their ministry. They thank God for the opportunities the conflict has provided for them to reach the hearts of a broken people, civilians and Ukrainian military alike.
The heart of a people is not reached simply through conversation; rather the chaplains and pastors within the conflict zone provide food, water, candles and warm clothes, in addition to mental and physical support. These chaplains have also established new church communities and host church services. During heavy shelling, they act as rescue teams by going into villages and homes to rescue families trapped in the midst of the conflict. They load the individuals into vans and drive them to safety. Then they continue to transport people until all have been rescued or their vehicle breaks down. One chaplain single-handedly rescued 1,500 people who were trapped in the middle of a battle, breaking four vehicles in the process. This feat, along with other selfless acts, earned them the nickname 'hero pastors.'
These men don't view themselves as heroes; they simply see themselves as servants of God doing what He has called them to do, whatever the cost. The chaplains we interviewed had all been captured, jailed and tortured; however, by the grace of God they were released and immediately went back to work spreading the gospel and rescuing their flock out of extreme danger.
During these times something that never ceases to amaze me is how many generous and servant hearted people I constantly come in contact with. More often than not it comes from those who have nothing to call theirs. I am constantly humbled by the generosity I experience on the field. There are more examples from this trip than I have time to mention, however I will share one.
After several very rough days of travel and documenting the effects of the conflict in eastern Ukraine it was time for my colleagues and I to depart. As we hauled our bags of gear up the stairs of the house we stayed at, we began to put our shoes on to leave for the airport and while putting my trusty Blundstone's on that had been covered in dust and scrapes for the war torn cities and frontline trenches, I noticed they had been cleaned and oiled. I said to my coworker, “bro someone cleaned and oiled my boots last night." We had arrived back quite late the night before so I can’t image when someone could have cleaned and oiled them but I can tell you my heart was overcome with gratitude and humility for someone with such a heart of service!
Please continue to pray for those working in life-threatening areas throughout the world and specifically in eastern Ukraine, where the hero pastors continue to shepherd their flocks despite the danger.
Want to know more about the hero pastors of Ukraine? Watch this video made by OMNIvision.