For the last several months, I have been a bit quiet about my ministry and where I was serving. As you can imagine, this was not because I didn’t want to share, but rather because I was trying to keep myself and my ministry partners as safe as possible. For those reasons, I am unable to share specific details but will try to share more about what we were doing and how you can continue to help those serving Internally Displaced Persons in Ukraine.
I want to begin this reflection by thanking so many of you who consistently pray for me and support me, even when you aren’t exactly sure where I’m at in the world! I have been blessed with the skills and experience to serve in places that many others cannot imagine visiting while maintaining a sort of wide-eyed wonder at the world and all its diversity. And, more importantly, when I see the chaos, suffering, pain, and need in our world, my heart aches to go and help in whatever way possible.
A little over a year ago, when I first heard about the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation, I knew I wanted to go and help, I just wasn’t sure what that would look like. I waited, sometimes patiently, for an invitation from partners to come and serve alongside them. Then in September, I met leadership from Hungarian Baptist Aid, and the invitation came!
My first visit was to bring in a small medical team in December. I traveled to Ukraine, via Budapest, with doctors Anita and Rick Gutierrez (IM Global Servants to South Africa) and a good friend and Emergency Medicine Physicians Assistant, Melissa Wolfson. I wrote a short overview of our time working in mobile medical clinics in December 2022, in another journal posting. It was during this trip that I discovered my “next steps,” which was a return to work in the same community for several months.
Before going further, I want to assure you that I was safe. I was as far from the fighting of the war as is physically possible within the country. I never worried about my security, as our partners, Hungarian Baptist Aid and Transcarpathian Baptist Charity, along with the hotel staff where I lived, and the local community, all watched out for me! I was that “foreigner” driving around the Hungarian Baptist Aid vehicle who was helping people. So, please know, I was well-cared for during my stay.
I returned to Hungary/Ukraine in late January 2023 to serve alongside our partners who provide mobile medical clinics to IDP’s (Internally Displaced Persons) living in shelters in the far-western regions of Ukraine, near the Hungarian border. While I was there, I was able to help provide care to around 20 different shelters, organize the donated supplies and medicines, consult patients alongside several visiting medical teams, develop a clinic record-keeping system and a cloud-based patient registration, while also visiting patients for follow-up care after our medical clinics. I even held a well-child clinic at a nearby church one evening so that parents could bring their kids, after they finished work. I returned to the US in mid-May.
It has taken me a couple of weeks of rest and digesting all I experienced in Ukraine to be able to begin putting the experience into words. One part of my brain is full of the data…numbers of patients, medicines given, diseases seen, etc. The other part of my brain has taken a lot longer to digest the emotional trauma and suffering that I saw around me daily. These are the things that I WANT to share so more will understand, and yet I find the most difficult to express.
Most days, when we went to a shelter to hold a clinic, we were met by compassionate, helpful, and yet, traumatized IDP’s who weren’t sure what tomorrow would hold for them. Often, the first patients we saw in a clinic would be crying because they had just found out, in the last 24-48 hours that a family member had died in the war…a son, a husband, a father, or grandson.
I remember when a woman entered weeping, because she had just learned that both her husband and son had been killed.
We saw teenagers who were cutting themselves…marks left on their arms in an attempt to “control” something in their lives.
We met teen orphans who were now in charge of their younger siblings in a facility far from anything they knew as familiar. All they knew was that they were now in charge, and it weighed heavily on them.
I remember telling a woman that she was pregnant and the look of shock on her face, trying to reconcile how to raise another child without the father close by because he was on the frontlines. She had three other children with her and had recently arrived to a shelter because it was too dangerous to stay in her home in Eastern Ukraine.
A young man came to see me who was gaunt, pale, and couldn’t stop fidgeting. His eyes darted around the clinic and he rarely made eye contact. His nails were bitten down and there were dark circles under his eyes. He had been diagnosed with anxiety and depression several months earlier but said the medicine wasn’t working. Even when he was prayed for, he couldn’t close his eyes, but continued to look around, just watching.
I remember counseling a mother who had a child with autism. They were living in a shelter, and she was desperate to find any help for her son. She kept asking me, “What country can I go to where they have good support for us; where my child will get the help he needs?”
I held (and hold) each of these desperate stories (and many more) close to my heart.
I pray for their peace and safety and that the war will end so rebuilding can begin.
I circle in prayer, the leaders of Hungarian Baptist Aid and Transcarpathian Baptist Charity, so that they may feel cared for, strengthened, encouraged, and that they may have the resources they need to continue serving others.
It feels a bit helpless being this far away, I’ll admit. I stay in contact with my new friends and colleagues in Ukraine, often answering medical questions for them or waking up to a list of text messages telling me about their day. They continue to share their stressors, their grief, and their joys with me. I receive photos of family gatherings or IDP shelter registrations…anything they can think of to keep me included in their lives. One young woman, a receptionist at the hotel where I stayed, even sent me a video of her family home and farm, pointing out the plants growing and where the animals were kept! She knew I was interested in always learning more, and so wanted to share her family with me. I, in turn, sent her videos of a hike I recently went on, to show her what my world, here in the USA looked like.
It is such a blessing to be loved on and cared for in this way.
I’m not sure what the future holds for continued work in Ukraine, and I recognize that so much depends on what happens in this horrific war. In the meantime, I continue to rest in the following scripture:
1 John 3:18
“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”
“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
“This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Friends, please do not forget our brothers and sisters in Ukraine. Keep them in prayer, even when you don’t see any updates on the news. Repeatedly, my Ukrainian colleagues told me how surprised they were to hear that people in the US were praying for them. They felt alone and in this battle by themselves. When they heard that others, far from them and who didn’t know them personally, were praying…it brought tears to their eyes or smiles to their faces.
And pray for peace. It is not a small thing.
I have rarely worked with such a group of innately compassionate people. When asked if they were tired of helping, everyone always looked at me with confusion on their face. “What do you mean?” they would ask. “They need help, so we help. Why wouldn’t we?”
Let us show our love by our actions and follow the example of these dear servants!