29 June, 2022

UKRAINE: Mulberry International Shares Stories of Faith, Perseverance During Wartime

by | 17 June, 2022 | 1 comment

By Laura McKillip Wood 

Mulberry International started in the 1990s as an outreach to street children in Crimea but changed its focus to serve those affected by the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 (the year Mulberry moved its work to Mariupol). After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 of this year, Mulberry quickly transitioned to focus on three areas of ministry: evacuation of the innocent, humanitarian aid, and sharing the gospel.  

Mulberry International director Natasha Reimer shared about the ministry’s efforts to serve the people of Ukraine over the past few months. 

EVACUATIONS 

Mulberry is the main supporter of a Christian children’s home previously located in Mariupol, where fighting has been most intense. Experts estimate that up to 90 percent of Mariupol’s infrastructure has been destroyed.  

About a week into the war, Mulberry workers packed 33 children and 17 adults into vans and left Mariupol. The vans traveled across Ukraine and Eastern Europe, through dangerous war-ravaged areas, shells falling around them at times, before crossing into Germany, where they have settled into a facility.  

Olga is the acting director of the children’s home. During the evacuation, Olga’s mother, who was diabetic, died in Olga’s arms. Olga had to bury her mom in a town along the route. The next day, she left the grave behind, knowing she probably would never visit the site again. Olga has been told her apartment in Mariupol was blown up. Despite this, she remains faithful, loving the children under her care. (Click here to read more about this trek from Mariupol to Germany.)  

Mulberry purchased three vans that have delivered humanitarian aid to war-torn areas; after delivering the food and supplies to these areas that are under siege, they fill the vans with people and carry those evacuees to safer areas. 

HUMANITARIAN AID 

Two days before the start of the war, the director of the children’s home went to a store to purchase enough food to last the 33 children and their caregivers for one month. (There was hope the war would not last long, and that stores would reopen, and life would return to normal before the food ran out.) 

About a week later, the children were evacuated, but the former director stayed and opened the home to people in the community. Eighty people, mostly nonbelievers, found shelter at the children’s home and began eating that food. The supplies should have lasted 50 people for only about 30 days, but somehow it fed those 80 people for 6 weeks (42 days). God sustained them through the time when the fighting was worst and the city was blockaded.  

“I have no explanation for how they did not run out of food,” says Reimer. “God did a miracle.”  

In addition to sheltering people in the children’s home, Mulberry has procured food, medical supplies, and other humanitarian aid from organizations such as IDES (International Disaster Emergency Service) and taken those supplies to people trapped in cities in the war zone. Sometimes Mulberry workers deliver the food and supplies directly to people who are sheltering, and sometimes they deliver it to their workers and contacts in the cities, who then take the goods to people who need it.  

Unfortunately, humanitarian aid has slowed considerably in the last month.  

Early in the war, aid flooded into Ukraine from organizations in Western Europe and the United States, but now most aid seems to be directed toward Ukrainian refugees in other countries.  

Refugees certainly need help, but Ukrainians who stayed behind in their own country are trapped there without access to food and medicine. Reimer worries the war will continue to cause shortages, leading to mass starvation and death. 

SHARING THE GOSPEL 

The Ukrainian government has not allowed men ages 18 to 60 to leave the country since the start of the war, so many Christian men have devoted themselves to serving full-time while their wives and children have moved to safer places. These men drive vanloads of evacuees, deliver humanitarian aid, and preach.  

“Ukrainian believers have not changed since [losing] everything,” Reimer says, “because they haven’t lost the main thing.” Ukrainian believers have kept their focus on God.  

When the children’s home director opened the home’s doors to provide neighbors with shelter, he decided to have church services twice a day. During Mariupol’s monthlong siege, a dozen people came to the Lord  

“There is a big revival happening in Ukraine because people have seen death up close and personal,” Reimer says “They are listening to the good news. The church is growing because people are sharing.”   

The power of God became evident to those in the children’s home the day a tank drove up to the building. People inside the home dropped to their knees and prayed for deliverance. Even nonbelievers prayed. They knew that if the tank fired, another tank would return fire, the building would be destroyed, and many people would die.  

The tank sat outside the children’s home for a long time before turning around and leaving. No one knows why it was there or why it left, but the people inside praised God for his protection.  

“To this day, that area where the children’s home is located is the only area of Mariupol that has not been destroyed,” Reimer says.  

CHRISTIANS REMAIN FAITHFUL 

Victor, now 80, was born Jewish. He was the youngest in his family. During World War II, when Victor’s family was taken to concentration camps, a Ukrainian family took the boy in as their own child. Victor grew up to be a Christian evangelist and survived incarcerations during Soviet times. He is chairman of the Ukrainian board of Mulberry and is a well-known pastor in Ukraine.  

Because of Victor’s reputation, believers from every country in Europe offered him shelter. Victor, however, decided to stay in Ukraine and now is living with his wife and other displaced people in a small country church near the Romanian border.  

“This is where I need to be,” he says. Tragedy abounds, but Victor says, “You wouldn’t believe how many weddings I’ve done since the war started.” 

“Ukrainian Christians are giving the world a testimony on how the Christian life should be lived,” Reimer says.  

People are turning to God for strength and comfort during these devastating times, and Mulberry is walking alongside them, meeting whatever needs they can in the process. Christians who stayed behind testify by their presence and their commitment to helping their fellow countrymen. 

Learn more about Mulberry International, or donate to their work, by visiting their website. 

Read our article about Mulberry International that was written just before Russia’s February 2022 invasion. 

Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, lives in Papillion, Nebraska, and writes about missions for Christian Standard. 

Christian Standard

Contact us at cs@christianstandardmedia.com

1 Comment

  1. Sheila Corey

    What a beautiful story of God’s amazing provision.

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