Rescuing Families in Ukraine

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Calvary Aurora Rescuing Families from Sister Calvary in Ukraine

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos courtesy of Calvary Church, Aurora, CO

While Russian forces bombed a hospital in the Zaporozhye region in southeast Ukraine, a team from Calvary Church in Aurora, CO, (CC Aurora) were on a plane heading there to help. Their mission: to evacuate brothers and sisters from the Calvary Chapel in Zaporozhye to the west, across the border, and to safe habitation. The team—two pastors, a pastor’s wife, and an elder—had previously served in the city of 700,000+ people.

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The team of four Americans have all served before in Zaporozhye, Ukraine. From left: Elder Randy Schofield; Missions Pastor JJ Hedden; former Ukraine missionaries Emily Johnson and her husband Pastor Byron. Emily and Byron had been sent out from Calvary Church Aurora almost a decade ago to serve in Ukraine, where Byron was a Calvary Chapel senior pastor until they had to leave in 2020.

“This is personal for all four of them,” explained Pastor Ed Taylor of CC Aurora. In fact, Byron and Emily Johnson had been sent out from CC Aurora as missionaries to Ukraine nearly a decade ago. Having served at two Calvarys in Ukraine, Pastor Byron had been the senior pastor of CC Zaporozhye before they had to leave in 2020. He sent a message to the church there on March 1, letting them know a team was coming to help them, adding, “We love you Calvary Zaporozhye. Keep your eyes on Jesus!”

On Thursday, March 3, as reports went viral of the nuclear plant in Zaporozhye being bombed, the team of four were driving a woman and her children from Zaporozhye along shelled-out roads and crumbled buildings to safety.

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The wife and family members of a Ukrainian man at Calvary Church, Aurora, CO, were among those evacuated to a safer country. There are about 20 Calvary Chapel churches in Ukraine, say leaders, and they all are working together to get people to safety and minister to the displaced, distressed and grieving.

 

Close to Home
After Moscow invaded Ukraine on February 24, Pastor Ed Taylor asked from the pulpit if any of his flock had loved ones in Ukraine. He counted 15 people who stood and asked for prayer for a close relative—a mother, an uncle. One person had family in Urkaine and Russia, forcing two brothers to fight against each other, one on each side of the conflict. After the services, a Russian family and a Romanian family approached him, along with a woman and her brother who had just arrived from Belarus.

“From the beginning we realized that this wasn’t a problem ‘over there’—but that it directly affected our church family,” Pastor Ed explained. “And because these people are important to the heart of God, they are important to us.”

                  

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After hearing the worried reports from family members, Byron approached Ed: “He told me, ‘I have to go over there,’ and I told him, ‘Yes, you do,’” recalled Ed, who had visited Byron’s church in Zaporozhye on a short-term mission trip as recently as 2019. A fund was quickly organized to help evacuate believers from CC Zaporozhye, and those at Aurora gave generously to help the Ukrainian church which they had been praying for over the past decade. A few days later, the team of four was crossing the Atlantic.

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Women and children line up hoping to find passage out of Ukraine to Prague or other European cities. More than 1.7 million people have fled Ukraine in what the United Nations calls Europe’s fastest-growing refugee crisis since World War II. Most of them are women, children, and the elderly, as men must stay behind to fight against Russian troops.

 

Running to Danger
“I know this church is their heart, their flock,” Pastor Ed explained, speaking of Byron and Emily. “That’s a pastor’s heart: When danger occurs, they run into danger to help, to comfort, and to bring the Gospel.”

On the ground, Byron and Emily have been sharing updates via social media with the church family in Aurora. Just a day after arriving, they had already been able to get one woman and her children to safety. “We were able to receive three women and their children and get them to a safe location, and now we are hoping to pick up more today,” related Emily, who also asked for prayer for safe travels, adding, “It’s emotionally exhausting seeing all the pain of the women and children coming out.”

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In addition to the team from Calvary Church, Aurora, CO, many others are doing what they can to help Ukrainians in need. This makeshift booth offers free food, personal items, and toys for the children and women fleeing the country ravaged by war since Moscow invaded on February 24.

The next day, Pastor Byron reported, “We had a day that was just full of grief and pain, loss and tears.” He cited Paul’s words in Acts 20:24, which says, But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. Byron added, “Even as we are here to minister to people in a practical way, our goal is to minister and testify of the Gospel of grace, and how God’s grace is sufficient even in the war and the chaos.” Later that night, the believers were worshipping and “thanking the Lord for His grace and mercy. He is so good, even in the worst situation ever.”

Pastor Ed reported that within a few days, the team had already helped evacuate three families: 11 women and children and were working with several more. He added, “They are getting them over the border and processed—clothed and fed and settled into an apartment.” Men under 60 must stay in the country to fight. The CC Aurora team will relocate as many as they can before returning in mid-March. “We plan on debriefing when they get back,” Ed said, “and we’re going to pray and see what our next steps are. I’m pretty confident we will send another group and keep an ongoing relationship there.”

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A woman and her grandchild from Ukraine were among those evacuated by the Colorado team. The boy’s father attends Calvary Church, Aurora, CO, and—by God’s grace— the team was able to locate him and his family in Ukraine.

 

Led by the Spirit
Pastor Ed feels strongly that every church should be involved in the ongoing crisis in some way—whether to pray, to contribute to refugee needs, or to send those who are called over to help. “We can’t do everything, but we must do something,” Pastor Ed said. “Our trip was motivated by a love for the Ukrainian people and our connection to the church there in Zaporozhye.”

To the Church worldwide, Ed urged, “Whatever God has called us to—whether prayer or financial support—just be open to the Holy Spirit. We aren’t going to try to do everything, just to be focused on what the Holy Spirit is leading us to do. As the body of Christ, if we each do what God has called us, then God accomplishes a lot of things through His Church collectively. That’s part of being His body. Byron knew that God was calling him to go, and that if he didn’t, it would be disobedience to God.”

Ed added, “A lot of times, we want to know exactly what we will do and how it will work before we step out in faith. But the Lord isn’t always like that. Sometimes He guides step by step.”

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way, walk in it,”
Whenever you turn to the right hand
Or whenever you turn to the left.
Isaiah 30:21 

“When you have a burden for an area or a people, I think we can talk ourselves out of taking steps of faith instead of saying, ‘Okay, we’ll go. We have some idea of what God wants us to do, and we will know more when we get there as we depend on the Lord.’”

Pastor Ed recalled the 2012 theater shooting tragedy in Aurora, CO. “We knew we had to go. When we got there, we weren’t allowed access close to the theaters—just on the periphery. But then we discovered that’s where so many hurting people were—the family members and friends of the victims. There were so many opportunities to pray for people and minster. We just knew that we had to be there, so we went.” He added, “When we do what God has placed before us, He will lead us.”

Ed acknowledged, “We can’t all go. I wanted to go [with the team], but I just can’t in this season.” He believes those who send others out or pray for them will be rewarded by God as serving right alongside them, based on the story of David in 1 Samuel 30.

Loving Their Neighbors
An estimated 3.5 million Russian-speaking Americans live in the United States—from Russia, Ukraine, Lithuania, and other Russian-speaking countries. Colorado has more than 17,000 Ukrainian-born residents. Aware of their pain and fear for loved ones overseas during the current crisis, Pastor Ed has a heart to reach them with the hope of Christ. Last week, CC Aurora broadcast a message of hope in Russian on GraceFM, their radio station network in Colorado.

The radio message stated, “We know that many of you have friends and family in Ukraine. You’re feeling sad, confused, stressed … We want you to know we are praying for them and for you. You are not forgotten. Jesus tells us if we are tired, weary, or worried, to come to Him and He will give you rest. Turn to Jesus today with your cares, and He will encourage your heart. Jesus loves you, and so do we.”

“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

                  

For more information about Calvary Church in Aurora, CO, visit their website at: calvaryco.church

                  

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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