I continue to be grateful for the ongoing support of so many of you towards humanitarian relief in Ukraine. Recently, through Facebook, I have come across a new opportunity that I want to share with you; it comes from a colleague, Rev. Michael Airgood.
My connection to Michael is that he, too, was a General Board of Global Ministries missionary. He spent a few years in Lviv, Ukraine and is now serving as a United Methodist pastor in Pennsylvania. As I write this, Michael is flying home from a quick
humanitarian trip to Lviv. With him, he brought $20,000 in support and suitcases full of medical supplies to distribute to the local United Methodist church and campus ministry that my wife, Stacy, and I were blessed to plant from 2000-2008. Since the war broke out, this ministry has become a makeshift shelter as people flood through Lviv, the last major city before the Polish border.
During his trip, Michael has been sharing some powerful personal stories of Ukrainians he has encountered along the way, weaving his own perspective with theirs. I invite you to follow him on Facebook, or see some of his posts on my Facebook page.
This one in particular (which is partially about Volodymyr Prokip, whom I interviewed last month) ends with an opportunity you might consider:
As iron sharpens iron…Lyubomir and Volodymyr are the founding and current pastor of St John’s UMC. Our friendship has grown and changed over these years as our roles in ministry have changed. When I tell a story that starts with “my pastor…”, I’m talking about one of these men. In different seasons of ministry and for many different reasons, we have each been shepherd to the other two.
I thank God for their work and ministries—even before the world was watching, these humble and courageous leaders were doing the good work of the Kingdom of God in Ukraine with the highest integrity.
Ukraine used to suffer from terrible societal corruption. It still exists—all the Soviet holdovers take time and intention to solve and the Ukrainian people are working diligently to move forward.
A decade ago, our student ministry faced a demand for a bribe. We upgraded our hot water heater and the government inspector demanded $20 to sign off. I listened as Lyubomir explained that we were Christians and would not pay a bribe. The inspector gave a list of nonsense “improvements.” We hired a contractor who explained to us that the “improvements” would cost $100 but paying the bribe only $20. “Yes, we know,” Lyubomir laughed. The contractor did the work and again the inspector demanded a bribe, this time $30. Week after week we played this game and danced this dance. We spent about $500 on contractors to make the “improvements” before the inspector finally signed off. Integrity.
In the first days of the war, Volodya oversaw our church and student spaces transformed into shelter for internally displaced people. 30 folks slept in every corner as church members took more into their homes. One of our student leaders had left their family car in Ukraine and offered to allow the ministry to use it. Volodya didn’t have a license (there’s no need to drive when public transportation is so reliable), but he immediately started the complex process of acquiring a license (paperwork, schoolwork, tests, private lessons, large fees) and began driving on the fourth day of the war. Daily he drove people to the border, transported medicines, and bought food and supplies for the dozens of internally displaced people cycling through the church. A large van would be a game changer if anyone is feeling extra generous.
His wife and sons are staying in Czechia—they refused refugee status but instead chose a program that provided six months of support and insurance for Ukrainians fleeing the war. The other European nations have provided so faithfully for their Ukrainian siblings—almost every city we’ve been in throughout Europe had Ukrainian language signs, billboards declaring support and solidarity, and volunteers waiting to assist those in need. The insurance became invaluable when their oldest son Luka broke his elbow in several places and required surgery. It was fully covered.
With a few exceptions, men are required to stay in Ukraine in case a nation-wide mobilization requires all men to fight. This of course means Volodya couldn’t be with his son to comfort him through surgery; he’ll miss family time for his son and wife’s birthdays this week. This is a sacrifice Ukrainian men are willing to make to ensure their families are safe and their nation free.
The United Methodist ministries in Lviv have discerned a new call on their ministry—they will buy a house in a nearby village for more internally displaced people to stay. After the war, it can be used for camping and retreats for the churches as the nation heals from the deep pain of Russia’s aggression.
Your gifts to UMCOR and the Ukrainian UMC will continue to provide for the daily needs of internally displaced people, but I am inviting you to once again reach deep into your pockets to give generously toward this new vision. These men lead with incredible integrity and rely entirely on the Lord’s provision for all that they do.
If you can support this new vision, you can give directly toward the student ministry account through the United Methodist church’s Advance giving—all of your donations go directly to this ministry.
Thank you for doing your part to help Ukraine. Let’s give generously and allow them to buy the perfect space God has waiting for them. Thank you!
Rev. Fred Vanderwerf is superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference's Southern Prairie District.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church