By Michael Wetzel
Shepherd’s Purse has been privileged to help our pastor friends in three Ukrainian cities—Kremenchuk, Mykolaiv, and Kramatorsk—by providing thousands of dollars for food, medicines, and more. These faithful men and their families have stayed amid constant shelling of their cities by Russian troops; they have presented the love of Jesus Christ to hundreds, and many have been baptized into the kingdom of God.
Recently, a couple of us visited Krakow, Poland, to meet with several of our partners. During that time, we also visited with our good friend Andrey (not his real name), a longtime elder at the Kherson Christian church. He also has worked with our organization as an interpreter and guide, earning the respect and hearts of many.
Andrey said just before the Russian invasion of his city, his married children were able to escape to a safer area. Andrey and his wife, however, felt an obligation to stay and serve his church, at least for a time.
As a bit of an aside, I remember that on one of our visits to Andrey’s city, we walked past an old warehouse. Andrey told me stories of the Nazi occupation of their region during World War II, and how the German army used the building as a prison, and that many prisoners were hanged there. When we peered in the dark windows, we could sense the horrors of the past. We were grateful that those times were over (or so we thought).
As we walked along, we passed another building, where Andrey said his grandmother was forced to work as a secretary for the Nazis. One day, Andrey’s father (then just a boy) and a friend snuck into the basement of that building. The boys were looking around to see what they could scavenge, but when they heard someone coming, they quickly made their escape, dropping a small torch light in their haste. Before long, flames could be seen through the basement windows as the building filled with smoke. From a block away, the boys watched as Nazis threw important documents and equipment out the building’s windows to save what they could.
As Andrey told these old stories, we all assumed it could never happen again . . . and yet it is happening again today. Russian occupiers have turned life in the city into a torturous reminder of those old horrors.
Andrey recently told us things have gotten bad again. People have been called into the Russian occupier’s offices and questioned about such things as their work for the Red Cross or other foreign non-government organizations. Some of these people have been beaten or imprisoned. Others have disappeared. Food has become scarce, and families have stayed in hiding for days at a time. Andrey felt it was time to go.
Andrey placed a call to his grown son and somehow arranged transportation out of the city with another couple. Andrey and his wife had to leave most everything behind in their apartment. He said that just before the invasion, he had been doing interpreting work with an allied country. On his home computer, Andrey had files that could seriously incriminate him if his residence were searched. He also had many souvenirs—books, hats, sweatshirts with logos, etc.—from his American friends for whom he worked. If these had been found in his possession, it could have been very bad.
Andrey and his wife passed through various Russian checkpoints before ending up safely in Poland. Now they are living in a hotel funded by a Christian organization and are praying for God’s direction for their lives.
While on our visit to Krakow, we brought Andrey and his wife to our hotel to stay and work with us for a week. Our goal wasn’t just to provide him with a week’s salary, but to pray and encourage our old friend. On our last night there, we treated Andrey and his wife, his oldest son and wife, and his daughter to a nice dinner. We hoped to bless them in a major way, but after the meal. they presented us with small gifts, many thanks, and big hugs.
It was a tearful parting.
The saddest part of our trip, though, was visiting with all the refugees in hostels—hundreds of women and children in huge rooms filled with twin beds. Many lay waiting for a call from relatives back home or a husband serving in the army.
The needs indeed are great, but our Lord’s heart is big. We continue to send thousands of dollars to help, but mainly, we prevail daily in tears and prayers for our good friends, the Ukrainians.
Michael Wetzel serves as executive director of Shepherd’s Purse, a ministry to “the forgotten ones” in Ukraine and India. Prior to that, he served as a minister in Christian churches for almost 15 years.