Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross
My first foreign mission trip was to eastern Ukraine in the Spring of 2002. I returned in 2003, and each time we flew in and out of Kharkiv (which is under siege as I type). We worked with the Bear Valley Bible Institute’s first foreign extension school, but also worked with brethren in the village of Slavyanogorsk.
We held Bible studies and taught English using the book of Mark and enjoyed success especially with young people and young adults. The influence of the Russian Orthodox Church was strong among the locals, but there was a congregation of about 30 there.
On my second trip, Kathy was able to go with me along with several other members of the Cold Harbor Road congregation in Mechanicsville, Virginia, where I preached at the time.
The memories we made together and with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine have left a lasting impression on my mind and my faith. Though I had always known that the church existed in places outside the United States, this was my first tangible experience with them. While we were separated by language and cultural barriers, we were drawn together by our common faith and hope. These first few trips increased my desire to teach and evangelize not only those in other nations, but also motivated me to try harder to do so locally. Those travels to Ukraine were extremely faith-building.
Right now, those brethren are displaced, distressed, and disturbed by the Russian invasion well underway. Their relatively modest houses and apartments have been at the center of fighting between Ukrainians and Russian separatists, with many of the cities in that region controlled by those separatists. They are in the crosshairs of danger, facing an uncertain future.
As I read the New Testament, inspired writers addressed congregations and asked them to care about, pray for, and provide the needs of brethren who faced various crises. There were the poor and needy saints of Jerusalem, whom Paul tells Rome that Macedonia and Achaia had financially supported (Rom. 15:26; cf. 1 Cor. 16:1). The writer of Hebrews told his audience, “Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body” (13:3). He praised them earlier in the letter for showing sympathy to the prisoners (10:34). We never know when similar circumstances might befall us. As Paul told Thessalonica, “For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out. They are not pleasing to God, but hostile to all men, hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved; with the result that they always fill up the measure of their sins. But wrath has come upon them to the utmost” (1 Th. 2:14-16). While their suffering was primarily spiritual persecution, Paul urged empathy and endurance.
What can we do for our brethren who are at ground zero of this awful conflict? We can better inform ourselves of the specifics there (https://christianchronicle.org/ukraineexplainer/). We can pray, congregationally and individually (daily!). We can listen for opportunities to assist our brethren. Heaven will be filled with saints from every nation (Rev. 7:9). These brethren are part of our “household”; let us stand ready to do good for them (Gal. 6:10). Remember them as they suffer!