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  • Writer's pictureNery Duarte

Ukraine, June 20/22

“…and to die is gain.”  Apostle Paul

I am back in Ukraine. I am happy to be back and see first-hand how resilient this

country is despite being under the relentless siege of one of the world’s most

powerful armies. While back in America, many people asked if I believed Ukrainians

could prevail. I responded that I see plenty of faith, determination and unity in

Ukrainians, which is enough for a country to overcome any upheaval. A few days ago,

I was woken up by a friend who is an army major and helicopter combat pilot. He

had come to say goodbye as he was departing on a mission which he only described

as “secret.” As he left, he solemnly took off his major uniform patch and gave it to

me, saying: “Thank you for risking your life and coming all the way from Costa Rica to

support us.” As we hugged and prayed together, these were my last words to a man I

may never see again: “For us Christians to die is gain.” 

“I am a debtor…”  Apostle Paul

Many Ukrainians, grateful for my presence, ask, “Why have you chosen to come all

the way from Costa Rica to support us?” A few days ago, while having supper, a

young teenager asked me if she could join my table so she could practice her English.

In our conversation I asked about her family. She responded that she and her mother

had fled the Dumbas region after becoming homeless. I asked about her father. As

she looked deep into the empty space, she responded, “My dad was in the military

and has been killed….”  I believe we as Christians have the moral obligation to

support hurting people.

“I know how to live in poverty; I also know how to live in abundance.”  Apostle Paul

While travelling to Ukraine and after enjoying the luxury of a VIP lounge, I ended up

at the Ukrainian border having to spend the night in a makeshift shelter together

with refugees. While serving in Haiti, I regularly travelled from Haiti's extreme

poverty to the highly comfortable European life. My concern about contemporary

western Christianity is the fact that we have also gotten used to a comfortable way

of living and have lost the ability to appropriately respond when something

unexpected comes up and disturbs our comfort.

“…as we have the opportunity, let us do good to all people,” Apostle Paul

I had a meeting with my unit leader, a Canadian, retired military and a pastor. He

commands great respect in our unit as he has led many emergency training and relief

missions. The plan is that I will travel this week to a community on the outskirts of

Chernobyl. In this community, with the support of the Samaritan Purse Ministry, the team has been providing relief, agriculture supplies and is helping build emergency

winter shelters. After this mission, we are intending to travel to Odesa and the

surrounding Donbas region and attempt to connect with some leaders for future

mission support. I am disturbed to realize that as soon as the summer is over,

millions of Ukrainians who are now homeless will have to face a long, bitter winter

with most of them at least unable to grow their spring harvest.   

“We all have fallen short of God’s expectations…”  Apostle Paul

Last winter, while serving in Ukraine, I worked outside building water filters and

emergency stoves. It was bitter cold. The young man helping me asked me this

question. “Nery, we are commanded to love our enemies, right?”  I consented, “Yes.”

He added: “Last month, the Russian army came into my community. They destroyed

my home, ransacked my business, and some family members were tortured and

killed. Am I expected to love Russians? “   

I chose to take my time responding to a valid question from a hurting man. This is a

summary of my response: “I grew up in Guatemala in Central America. This is a region, where historically, the United States of America has had vast economic and political investments. When I became a teenager, I witnessed the atrocities the Guatemalan government committed against the people trying to bring justice to inequality. With the US patronage the Guatemalan army conducted a relentless war against those who had risen against this injustice. In 1979 I studied at the University of Guatemala and became a political activist. We received the visit of several Mayan natives from the community of Panzos. They wanted to draw attention massacres carried out by the Guatemalan army amounting to almost 400 men, women and children slaughtered. The head of my political unit (Sergio) became interested in supporting this cause and invited representatives of this community to come to Guatemala City and make their claim known to the international community. On Jan. 31, 1980, all members of my unit, along with those native Indians who had come to claim for justice, were murdered in what is known as “The massacre of the Spanish Embassy.” I was not killed in that carnage because I chose not to attend. Two days before this tragedy I had said to Sergio, my unit leader: “I will not participate in this because I have begun to believe that there are other ways to claim for justice and I am choosing Christianity as an option for forgiveness and redemption.” Sergio

let me be absent from the activity which cost his life and the lives of those he had

brought along. Years later, my brother, Anibal, led a movement in Guatemala that

has brought thousands of families in the communities surrounding Panzos to

Christianity and thus provided hope for their despairing lives.”

“… the time is short…”  Apostle Paul

We cannot waste our precious time despising other peoples, cultures or countries...



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