Ukraine. Wednesday, March 30/22
Last Sunday, when I thought the city of Lviv would go into a panic after the bombing last Saturday, I was again proven wrong about the outright resolve of the people of Ukraine. The very next day after the bombing took place, business went back as usual. Our church had an overflow of attendants, people strolling at the park and calmly shopping at the market. The confidence Ukrainians have that they will overcome this ordeal is overwhelming.
Sunday after lunch, I visited St. George Cathedral, which happens to be at the city’s highest point. It is quite an impressive chapel considering that I have seen my share across Europe and the Americas. What impressed me the most about this chapel was that it is surrounded by what appears to be abandoned buildings that most likely were used as convents. After seeing a lonely Ukrainian soldier with his ready pack of field equipment solemnly kneeling before the main altar, I was almost moved to tears. One soldier was guarding the buildings. I asked him I could freely walk into the convent; he did not seem to care. I was surprised at the precious amount of antique furniture piled and rotting away in one of the rooms, plus many abandoned antique religious artifacts. I asked the soldier if I could take one of them and he walked away, seemly saying he did not care. At that moment, I wished I had a moving truck, but I did not take anything with me.
After Sunday church, I connected with at least seven men who I decided to treat for lunch. They were from surrounding areas of the capital city of Kyiv, which they described as “occupied territory,” all young, educated professionals who communicated well in English and all men of faith. They were returning from a mission none of us would ever want to have: dropping off their wives and kids as refugees in eastern Europe. During our lunch, some tried to put a brave face over their finished “mission,” while others admitted the profound pain they were feeling and the uncertainty of not being able to return to their own homes. I did my best to encourage them. However, what could I say to these men enduring such a trial?
One encouragement thing did come out of our outing. What a few weeks ago would be inconceivable for me, and as it appears confirmed from first-hand accounts: at the front lines, the people of Ukraine are prevailing. Sometimes I feel like I am watching a contemporary version of the battle between David and Goliath from front row seats. Despite my privileged position, I still cannot fathom what I am witnessing; Ukrainians are prevailing. My new Ukrainian friends and I ended our lunch with a meaningful time of prayer and something I should become accustomed to. Heartfelt hugs of gratitude for my presence in Ukraine.
Pastor Dmitry Buthy. A couple of nights ago, my roommates walked into my room in the middle of the night looking happy. They had just received news that their pastor had been released after ten days of captivity. Because of sketchy communication, I could only confirm the information from his wife Helen the following day. I then sent a message to my contacts at the NBC network who have shown interest in his well-being. Pray. Their besieged city, Melitopol, is cut off from receiving humanitarian supplies. Pastor Dmitry’s ordeal seems to have helped the Christian church in Ukraine bring unity and encouragement. All things work out for good for people of faith.
With the help of some volunteers, I am building at least nine water filters with locally found supplies. I am also teaching how to build them, and in the process, I am making a teaching video. If I do end up travelling to Kyiv with supplies, I hope to take them to clinics around the city of Kyiv. This morning we sent off two vans with supplies to the besieged city of Kharkiv. One of the volunteer drivers shared that on his last mission, he had counted 89 people dead between militaries (mostly Russians) and civilians. Pray, we can use much more medical supplies for our planned trip to Kyiv aimed for this coming Friday.
Venezuela Prison Ministry. The prison conference has ended. Eight thousand men ministered in person, and approximately six more acres of gardens were planted. Our next scheduled meeting is in August/September, and I hope to be there. Two testimonies worth sharing. In our last years’ conference, in one of the most significant Venezuelan prisons, we met with a prominent gang leader concerned with the amount of crime inside the prison and the fact that he was losing control. Our suggestion was to ban the sale of narcotics. He was reluctant to do so since it was their primary source of revenue. The gang leader agreed. We have been reported that this prison had turned around entirely since before they had at least five prisoners either killed or wounded throughout the week. Now, they have none. The other testimony is that prison authorities and the inside leadership of the prisons have given our ministry permission to veto any church or preacher who may want to come inside the jails to minister. Their concern is that instead of bringing a message of unity and hope usually turns out to be the opposite. It is a challenging task since we do not want to discourage outsiders from coming in, but at the same time, we want them to go inside prisons and not bring legalism and dissension or deception… Pray for me because the prison ministry is letting me make the call. So far, my suggestion is that anyone can come in so long they bring their food and they do not go inside prison camps and take pictures of our garden projects to promote them as their own.
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