To Stay and Serve: Why We Didn’t Flee Ukraine - By Vasyl Ostryi


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By Vasyl Ostryi

In recent days, the events from the book of Esther have become real to us in Ukraine. It's as if the decree is signed, and Haman has the license to destroy an entire nation. The gallows are ready. Ukraine is simply waiting.

Can you imagine the mood in a society when gradually, day after day for months, the world's media has been saying that war is inevitable? That much blood will be shed?

In recent weeks, nearly all the missionaries have been told to leave Ukraine. Western nations evacuated their embassies and citizens. Traffic in the capital of Kyiv is disappearing. Where did the people go? Oligarchs, businessmen, and those who can afford it are leaving, saving their families from potential war. Should we do the same?

Questions for Families

My wife and I have decided to remain in our city near Kyiv. We want to serve the people here along with Irpin Bible Church where I joined the pastoral team in 2016. In anticipation of coming disaster, we've bought a supply of food, medicine, and fuel so that, if necessary, we'll be able to help those in need rather than burden them.

Ours is a family of six. We're raising four daughters. What I worry about the most is my 16-year-old who travels to college every day for an hour and a half, one way, by public transportation. The media warns that if Russia invades, mobile communications will be lost, and public transit will likely collapse. Thankfully, her classes have now gone online.

Since the border with Belarus is only 150 kilometers (92 miles) from Kyiv, one of the possible options for an enemy attack is through Belarus. The local media is recommending that we pack an emergency suitcase. I told my children, "Pack your backpacks. Pack enough things for three days."

In the past, such packing meant we were going on vacation or a fun trip. So, our younger children, 6- and 8-years-old, have been asking, "Dad, where are we going?" At first, I didn't know what to answer. I told them we're not going anywhere.

Church Response

How should the church respond when there is a growing threat of war? When there is constant fear in society? I'm convinced that if the church is not relevant at a time of crisis, then it is not relevant in a time of peace.

"While the church may not fight like the nation, we still believe we have a role to play in this struggle."

As a country, we went through this already in 2014. In those days, many churches actively supported those who rebelled against the corrupt and authoritarian regime of Viktor Yanukovych. There was a prayer tent in Independence Square. Christians distributed warm meals and hot tea. Churches opened their doors as a shelter for protesters persecuted by security forces.

Meanwhile, there were churches that openly supported the dictator's regime and criticized the protesters. Other churches tried to ignore the elephant in the room. They kept silent about the problem and lived as if nothing was happening.

In the end, churches that distanced themselves from social issues and those that supported the corrupt rulers have suffered reputational losses among the population of Ukraine. Conversely, churches that have been with people during testing times have received the highest trust from society.

Our Struggle for the Nation

We believe the church is a place of spiritual struggle. As tensions have risen, our church announced a week of fasting and prayer, gathering every night to bring our requests to God. For three days in a row, the lights were turned off in the city. We were forced to meet in the dark, adding a solemn atmosphere to our prayers for peace.

"If the church is not relevant at a time of crisis, then it is not relevant in a time of peace."

At the end of the week, those moments produced in us an inner strength to persevere. Through communal prayers we've gained confidence and peace. We believe God is with us, and that is the most important thing.

During this critical moment, our church, which has about 1,000 people attending on a normal Sunday, is also a place of service. We've recently conducted several trainings on performing first aid. People are learning how to apply a tourniquet, stop bleeding, apply bandages, and manage airways. These lay people aren't going to become doctors, but this has given them confidence to care for their neighbors if necessary.

In fact, when I first announced the first-aid training, one brother told me, "Now I know why I need to stay in Ukraine." He had planned to leave. He knew he was not a soldier. He wasn't able to take up arms and fight. But he now wants to stay, to help the wounded, and to save lives.

"We have decided to stay, both as a family and as a church. When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.

If necessary, the church premises can be turned into a shelter. We have a good basement. We're ready to deploy a heating station, as well as provide a place for a military hospital. To make this a reality, we're creating response teams. If martial law is declared, they're ready with a strategic supply of fuel, food, and material for dressing wounds. We've even gathered information on who in the church are doctors, mechanics, plumbers-even who has wells in case of a water shortage.

Remaining and Praying

We have decided to stay, both as a family and as a church. When this is over, the citizens of Kyiv will remember how Christians have responded in their time of need.

And while the church may not fight like the nation, we still believe we have a role to play in this struggle. We will shelter the weak, serve the suffering, and mend the broken. And as we do, we offer the unshakable hope of Christ and his gospel. While we may feel helpless in the face of such a crisis, we can pray like Esther. Ukraine is not God's covenant people, but like Israel, our hope is that the Lord will remove the danger as he did for his ancient people. And as we stay, we pray the church in Ukraine will faithfully trust the Lord and serve our neighbors.

This article first appeared on The Gospel Coalition International Stories, February 24, 2022. Copyright © 2022 The Gospel Coalition, INC. All Rights Reserved, used by permission.

About the Author

Vasyl Ostryi is pastor at Irpin' Bible Church and professor of youth ministry at Kyiv Theological Seminary.

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