The criminal, deathly Russian aggression against Ukraine in the last week has touched a deep place of both shock and compassion in hearts around the world, especially Wayne and me. We moved our family to Odessa, Ukraine some years ago to start Bible schools and congregations. When the flames of Communism went underground, the gospel rushed in like flowing streams in a dry land bringing hope and salvation to thousands upon thousands.
For many years while laboring in the harvest fields of the former Soviet Union, we asked ourselves how long do we have before another totalitarian government comes to take over and threatens freedoms. As it turns out, God allowed the doors to stay open for decades from 1995 until now, and the Good News has flourished. Then suddenly this part of the world was thrust into bloody war.
Our dear ministry partners, Val and Tatyana, that helped us in Ukraine have stayed there since 1996 when we built the first Bible school and congregation in Odessa. In the last few days, they have fled to Moldova because the bombing began in their neighborhood. During their exit, they have helped scores of Ukrainians escape and find refuge in Romania, Poland, and Moldova. They are heroes, and their work is not over rather just beginning.
We spoke with them this morning on the phone, and they relayed tearfully many stories and miracles about how God is helping and showing up to bring immediate and miraculous protection and provision—Russian tanks turning around and going the other way, bombs missing targets, Russians soldiers lost and hungry asking Ukrainians for help, and more. We wept together on the phone as they told us of the dark night they have been through. It was such joy to connect with them today.
Among those that Valentin and Tatyana are helping to escape are 16 Jewish Ukrainians who are appealing to Israel for immigration. Please pray they will be relocated and absorbed. This may happen while Wayne and I are in the Israel! We are praying it will! If so, we will endeavor to be at the airport to greet them (We may already know some of them from our previous years in Ukraine.); and help welcome them to their new homeland. Our hearts rejoice at the possibility.
When this war began, we knew the potential was great for many Jews of Ukraine to return to their roots in Israel. We also know this is scriptural and must and will happen before the second return of Jesus. For this we have prayed for years, and for this we rejoice. Naturally, it is so painful for this to happen during this time of suffering in Ukraine.
For the past almost two weeks, Wayne and I have been in Israel participating in a Gateway Church staff tour. The advent of the war makes life and whatever we are doing come to a shocking halt and everything seem insignificant compared to the suffering in the fSU. We are grieving and deeply effected because we have known many Ukrainians personally for years that are sheltering, fleeing, or fighting for life. We are praying without ceasing and believing it will end soon with an outcome that will bring many to the feet and hope of Jesus. We are pounding heaven to bring good.
Yesterday was our last day on the tour, and our group visited one of my favorite spots in Israel, The Garden Tomb. It is one of 2 possible places where Jesus may have been buried and rose again. This place is filled with light and peace. Here our group took communion together. We held the grape juice and crackers in our hands and remembered the Lord’s death in this very spot or not too far from here. It was needful to stop and recollect the Lamb of God that bled and died for the sins of the whole world.
What does that mean practically? That whoever calls on His Name and believes will be saved from eternal damnation—even the worst sinner like a Stalin or Lenin or Hitler or Putin. Yes. Had they truly repented, they would be declared sinless in God’s eyes.
And in all this magnanimous grace, God still cares about justice and evening the score. He still will punish the wicked.
I don’t know how all of this works, but I trust him. All I know for sure is that I left the injustice, death and suffering in the Garden Tomb that day at the pierced feet of Jesus. The burden is too heavy for me. I am believing to see God’s deliverance and goodness amidst such suffering even though I know there is a mad man threatening nuclear power against any nation that opposes him.
The marrow of the life that we live is His body broken and His blood shed for us and the whole world. This generous act floods our past, present, and tomorrow with grace and life. We can’t see this truth often until there is war or life and death situations. For this truth that Jesus paid the price, we press on in hope and great expectation that his glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea and our suffering will be swallowed in billows and billows of God’s great love.