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It has been 2 weeks since my last update as we were away last week. Much has been happening to fill you in with for news, updates and prayer.
Last week Sandra (trustee) and Jez, Karen and I ventured over to Ukraine to meet up with Bohdan, Alla and family, and “Farmer” Sergey. We flew into Slovakia and then managed to get the train into Ukraine, which helped to reduce the time crossing the border. We did not go all the way to Lebedyn as that was deemed too dangerous, but stayed in the Carpathian region, based in a city called Mukachevo.
Bohdan and some of the team were already there for a camp with some of the children, so it made sense for us to join them. They were higher up in the mountains, and had lots of rain so our intended trip to go and meet them there was scuppered as the roads became impassable. The children loved it, and 2 of them became Christians at the camp!
It was so good to meet them “in person” for the first time since the war started. We had time to relax, and to give them a bit of a break, whilst spending lots of time talking about plans for the future and having time to pray together.
There are a few photos that follow that show some of the great time we had. Firstly, of us altogether…………… as we arrived at the station, in the city square, after we presented the football mad boys with their new shirts (which I don’t think they ever took off!), and of the ladies as they had to cover up to visit inside an orthodox church.
We also met up with some mission partners – Mission Eurasia, and visited the iCare food depot from which we have received many of our food parcels. We also visited a church that houses many refugees and has built houses for refugees and camps on their land. Andrew and Marina hosted us for lunch with Pastor Ivan.
During that time we were hosted by a lovely family who were refugees from Mariupol. Their story of how they had to leave everything to get to safety was tough for us to hear, and we wept as they shared with us. They had nothing but still baked for us and made us so welcome.
Nicolai and Valentina were the patriarchs of the family, and they and their son lived alongside two other families. The two other families were Nicolai's daughter, her husband and 3 children, and daughter-in-law and toddler, and the wife of his eldest son. His eldest son was in the military and two days after Russia took over Mariupol they visited their house and took their son, Dima, away with them.
He has been in prison where cruelty and torture is prevalent. They were able to get some communication from their son, but they have not heard now since April regarding his whereabouts. In prison he would have to stand without any support from 6.00am to 10.00pm. They heard from a prisoner swap that their son had not been released as he was so helpful within the prison. As a Christian he would pray and encourage all fellow prisoners and lift their spirits. Even the Russian army knew he had a value to them. Now nothing has been heard. They don’t know whether he is alive, or whether he is in Ukraine still, or in Russia. It is all unknown.
Nicolai was tearful as he shared all of this and how since they left, Russian soldiers had taken over his house, looted everything, destroyed much of the house, and defecated throughout the building leaving it unfit for living in. He asked that we could commit to praying for his son to be released and for his safety, and I said I would share this with this group of people for us all to pray. Therefore, please can I ask you that you pray for this family, and especially for Dima and his safe keeping, and also for Nicolai’s youngest son who has just reached the age to be called up. They are very nervous about this. The picture below shows us with the family. Dima’s wife and toddler are on the right-had side.
In other news……….whilst we were there, in the east of Ukraine, Lebedyn suffered an incredible storm. The area saw floods, and lightning took out the internet cables blowing out the TV screen, computer and router leaving the Centre with no internet. These will now have to be replaced.
Sumy is seeing an incredible amount of military activity. Bohdan told me that Pastor Andrew hears bombs and artillery fire all day long as he is so close to the fighting. Sirens are sounding all the time, crippling industry and heightening tensions in the community. We witnessed sirens going off on the last night in Mukachevo which was a very surreal experience. The number of soldiers arriving in the Sumy area has increased dramatically indicating a higher risk to people.
The Centre activities all start back up over this next week or so with children’s clubs and all kinds of things planned. One family have arrived from Sumy city centre and want to help with the teamwork. He attended camps and the teen club in Lebedyn and then went to university. There, he met his future wife and both became Christians. He told Bohdan that the work that was done in the Centre had a massive impact on his life. He is now fully trained and works from home at a high level in IT. He is also working with the youth in the big Sumy Baptist church so would like to get involved in helping in Lebedyn. Both he and his wife speak fluent English as she studied English at the university.
There is lots to be done, but after a little break and a reset, Bohdan and team seem set for what will be a challenging season ahead. I will update over the next few weeks as to what is going to be happening.
Lastly, whilst there we took a drive into the beautiful Carpathian mountains. It was in Mukachevo that Stuart Hine planted a church and penned the first part of the hymn “How great thou art”. Sadly, we did not find that church but we did go up into the mountains to see the beauty there. It was stunning, but sadly for us a very wet afternoon. We got very wet and decided to change the chorus to “How wet we are!”
The last verse of this hymn was written and added when Stuart Hine saw the need of the people and wrote this to give them hope:
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!
Our experience is that the hope Bohdan and team have in what is eternal enables them to persevere with their calling to love the people, and help all those they can. It is interesting to note that since our return Bohdan told me that they day after we left, the region we were staying in was bombed for the first time for over a year!
I am so grateful for all your continued support both financially and prayerfully. We had over 50 people praying everyday we were away, and we are thankful for a safe return.
Normal updates will resume now.
Founding Director of Hope Lebedyn