Russland & Ukraine - die "neue Normalität"
When we were getting through the Pandemic we were thinking of “new normal” as a life, ministry and challenges we would face after it is over. But long before the end our “new normal” hit us with the challenges we did not even expect…
To say that the life has changed with the start of “hot phase” of the war (Here in Ukraine we consider 2014 as the year where the war has actually started and we often refer to 24/02/2022 as to the start of the “hot phase” of that war) may mean very little or too much depending on the context and circumstances you live in now. Those who chose to stay in Ukraine learnt to live with constant risk, with the news chats, with Air raids, with the pain and unanswered questions to God and with a very “short” future – one day at a time. As for me - I started to like mornings – I used to be pretty much not a “morning person”. Because if the morning starts for you, it means you are still alive and there are many things you can be thankful for.
Many people turned to God and come to the churches. A friend of mine, who is the pastor of the church shared that 70% of his congregation are the newcomers. Many people turned to the churches because they were helping with the food and basic things. Some came for food; some came for God – people of different age and background. The oldest baptised person this summer in our church is 83. The town she is originally from does not exist anymore. She shared that she used to live across the church all her life but only now she came to God.
When I say about my friend’s church I probably should mention that only 30% of his congregation either stayed in the country or returned back home after a short escape. The same is true about SU volunteers in Ukraine – many of them moved to the other countries because of the danger and uncertainty. But there are also those who stayed. However they are not our volunteers anymore – they do a lot to help other people who are suffering. The need is big so no wonder a lot of people are involved.
SU's first response
SU Ukraine was not aside as well – with the first opportunity we started to help families, children and churches. We hosted about 40 people at our campsite for the couple months and let local people use our facilities to cook hot meals for the village people, who had no electricity, running water and gas in their homes. As the shops were robbed and closed, they did not have chance to get food. So, we made distributions of food and hygiene packages at the territories which were freed from the occupation. This very practical help gave us a chance to share about hope they can find in Jesus. Even our first day camp for the kids we had in 2022 was called “There’s hope”. We wanted to point out to the One who loves and cares even through desperate situations.
In 2023 we were able to run our first residential camp since 2019. We called it this time “The Good News Camp”. We wanted to point our that among all horrifying news we get every day with Jesus we can have good news no matter what. When we were talking about the story of Jesus calming the storm and I asked kids what the most inspiring thing for them is there, a boy got up and said: “For me it’s Jesus and how calm He is in the midst of all the storm”. I must say the camp went well, there were so much joy in it! But the picture of it will not be complete if I fail to mention that with 6 nights at the camp, we had to spend 3 nights at the bomb shelter because of Russian missiles and drones which attacked us. Oh, how I wish I could be just calm like Jesus during these attacks! But the thing which troubled me even more was the fact that our kids were taking it as normal – they were not panicking, not complaining when taken out of beds in the middle of the night – they simple dressed up and went to stay at the bomb shelter. This is their routine now, something they live with every day, their “new normal”. Sadly, they got used to it very quickly.
Unusual camp activities
We continue to work on our bomb shelter at the campsite. Obviously, we did not have one before the start of the war. We just had a big basement under our kitchen which was stacked with lots of dusty things. Now we are turning it into a multy-function unit where we can hide from the attacks but also use it as an additional meeting and play space for kids during the quiet periods. This is our “new normal” – it is illegal to run any activity for kids or adults unless you have a bomb shelter. And instead of Fire drills we must practice running to the bomb shelter. We added some other “new practical skills” for kids. We learnt last year how to put out the fire with the firefighters from local emergency unit and this summer we learnt some basic skills for the first aid. One of our volunteers came to teach us how to help injured people – and the kids practiced it through the game. With all my experience in the camp ministry it seems surreal that we do or talk about this.
But kids are always kids and they think and plan some good and positive things. We tend to ask this question quite often – what do you dream of - and we did not stop asking it even during this time. Their dreams are very different – they dream about some toys and travelling to places, they have plans to become somebody. One of the girls said she wants to become a president to teach people to care for environment and sort out garbage. But of course, they dream for the stop of the war and when speaking up about this they add something else which I will not add here.
Two nations divided
We can not blame our children for their feelings towards our “neighbours” – if someone wish to do so, I would invite them to spend just one night at the bomb shelter with us. The war made a split between people in our countries. At it’s start many of us though that people in Russia did not know what is going on here and if we told them they would understand and could help to stop it. But we were wrong. People there are so affected by the propaganda that they either not trust us or approve the actions of their government. Sadly, Christians there have kind of the same position as everyone else. They are accusing us and call to repent.
But among those I talked to many just chose not to know what is going on. At the same time they would speak about helping Ukrainian refugees or going to run kids camps in ruined Mariupol. They shared their fears with me and speak about uncertainty, and they could mention about their debates in the church about taking the guns if you are called to Russian army. One of our Ukrainian staff who has friends in Russia asked me how I manage to support the contact with people there. I told him that sometimes it is very hard. He said that he could not speak with his friends there because of what he saw and heard during his trips to the de-occupied territories as a volunteer. He added: “I know that as a Christian I need to forgive them, but I just don’t know how to. Perhaps, one day I will”.
People are split, family bonds are broken. I had several calls and messages from friends in Russia and they were very sorry for what was going on. I am glad I have some good friends there still. Some of them had to leave their country because they could not live under regime or their life and freedom were under the threat because of their position. I am thankful for their support and courage.
Working under difficult conditions
In the same way I am thankful for the courage of our SU people who continue the ministry under very hard circumstances. This is not only because of their anti-war position but also because they relate to SU all over the world. Yes, if you are connected to a foreign organisation, you may be considered as a “foreign agent” and depending on a situation it could mean anything including extremism and terrorism. Most if not all NGOs who have connections with foreign donors are under this law. It means we cannot transfer any funds to SU movements there. And since they had to stop their registrations due to changed legal requirements and now working as “underground” movements it is very hard to fundraise locally.
So, when we refer to SU ministry in Russia we call them “ministry in restricted countries”. We still have three SU centres there but for security reasons I cannot mention the places and the names. For the same reason I cannot share their pictures because “big brother” is still watching over them. But they do not want to give up! They continue to work with the wide range of churches – both orthodox and evangelical, doing camps and Bible reading clubs, Christmas programs, supporting poor families and those who lost fathers in the war. They continue to visit the orphanages and work with special needs children, they go to remoted areas for the camps and hiking tours. They do parents’ courses and trainings for local churches. They do not want to stop. Some of them lost their salaries because SU grants have stopped and to find support outside the country is hard now – people do not want to support Russians. They lost many volunteers as well since people moved to some other countries.
How to continue?
I hear this question from time to time – does SU still work in Russia? What it means - we must stop to do so. But if we stop, who will take the light of God’s Word there? Who will help to raise the next generation with potential to make a change? And after all – all the wars sooner or later come to an end. Then who will be there to help to rebuilt and to restore? Here in Ukraine, we cannot wait to rebuild our broken cities and villages, homes, and families. We make plans all the time! Even with our “short” future – long term plans are possible! I wonder if it is the same with our neighbours. And if I am right, SU should be there.
So, we need your support and your prayers – for courageous SU people in Russia whose names I do not dare to mention, for every effort and initiative to raise a new generation of believers as people of God, those who will make the difference and will not live in fear. Pray for our nations. I cannot say - pray for reconciliation - since it may be very superficial and overlooking all the acute issues there. But please, pray for a possibility of a dialogue, for a chance to talk to each other and to hear each other again.
My Russian friend’s little son sent me a voice massage from his mom’s phone: “no matter what – I still love you. I am so sorry I was so little when I came to Kyiv – I do not remember much, and I won’t be able to come again.” I answered him: “no matter what – I still love you too and hope you will come to Kyiv again one day.”
God is good. One day it will be possible.
Scripture Union Global