February 2023 – Your generous support during the Christmas season is changing lives. I traveled to Ukraine in January to help deliver 200 wood-burning stoves and pay for three 40’ trucks of firewood. We traveled to the Donetsk area near Bakhmut, as well as to the Kherson area, Chornobyl, and the Hearts of Love Center. This is a brief account of our journey.
Lena Is Fearless
“Yes Jeff, we need stoves,” Lena said. “But we really need to be encouraged.”
A few moments later an air raid siren screamed its warning. We huddled with the kids in the hallway. There is no basement at the Hearts of Love Center. An hour later Lena, the director, gave us an interview outside. She was encouraged just by the fact that we showed up. They are resolved to continue serving despite the obstacles. She is so grateful for her sponsors at Mercy Projects.
What’s the Plan?
We arrived in the Donetsk region after a 10-hour drive from Kyiv and stayed with a local pastor. He, pastor Vadim, remained in the region despite the war to serve his church and community. “Jeff, thank you for coming,” he said. “What exactly are your plans?” He had a serious look on his face.
“That’s a good question,” I said. Three vans filled with 100 wood-burning stoves, clothes, and medical supplies were parked outside. He wanted to make sure we would give them to people who really needed them, who would install and use the stoves and not put them in storage somewhere. He wanted to know what the plan was. I actually wasn’t quite sure. Our partner Sergey wasn’t there yet. He knew the plan. I tried to make a joke but nobody laughed. I became worried.
We sat after dinner by the fireplace, warming up before going to bed in the dark. Electricity is a luxury these days for much of Ukraine. That night an air raid siren shattered the silence. The next morning Sergey showed up with the stoves and vent pipes. I too wanted to make sure we had a solid plan.
“We are headed to Toretsk,” Sergey announced. “People in the church are waiting for us.” It was about 40 miles southeast on the frontline. We squeezed into two vans. Three would draw too much attention in this active hot zone. With the sound of explosions in the distance, we unloaded some of the stoves at the church. A building across the street was demolished.
“This is the home of Sister Olga from our church,” an elder pointed to a small home in ruins. “It was destroyed by the missile that hit this school.” He pointed to the school rubble across the street from their church.
“Olga used to get up every morning at 04:00 am to pray. She always walked around her home and the school. The morning of the missile strike, however, she felt the Lord’s voice tell her to stay in her chair and pray, not to walk around. The missile struck at 04:00 am. She was praying in her chair. The roof collapsed and the windows shattered. Walls caved in. She wasn’t touched. She said a ‘bubble of protection’ was around her!”
We left Olga’s home and drove to an apartment building. The explosions got louder. People came out to see us. A woman with her daughter hugged us and thanked us for their stove. We carried it up five floors and sat down to have tea and cookies. The mother was a new believer. She couldn’t believe how God had answered her prayers. We cried and prayed together.
Living 4 Months in a Basement
Next, we moved quickly carrying stoves down to the basement. Our vehicles could become a target if we stayed too long in one place. Over 20 people lived together there. Women took turns cooking in the makeshift kitchen. The room smelled of people living with no ventilation. Carpets covered the concrete.
A 14-year-old boy, Roman, did his schoolwork online at a computer. There was both electricity and internet that day. Roman said he missed his friends and missed going outside to play, but now he didn’t know where anybody was.
A man thanked us for the stoves and said now they could heat two more rooms in the basement. A few people shared they didn’t know who was right or wrong, but they just wanted peace. One woman spoke up with an empty look in her eyes. “Pray for our peace,” she said. The pastor in Toretsk told us that 90% of his church had fled. But since March, the church had doubled in size. We were so encouraged to see the church serving others in a war zone. Yes, pray for peace, and pray for people’s hearts to be open to the Gospel as well.