Hope of Christ Amidst Russo-Ukrainian War

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The Good News: Hope Amidst Horror

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Billy Rutledge

God is using pastors and chaplains to minister to the Ukrainian people in their hour of need—not only with food and shelter, but with the Good News of Christ amidst the horrors of war. Pastor Billy Rutledge of Hatteras Island Christian Fellowship, a Calvary Chapel, felt God’s call to travel to Ukraine and share the hope of Christ in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War. He discovered a small army of Christians—some from other countries, but also many Ukrainians—sharing the love of Jesus to those in desperate need. His stories and photographs on the ground over the last three weeks have helped the Calvary Chapel family worldwide connect and pray for those suffering in Ukraine as well as those ministering to them.

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Overcoming the language barrier, Pastor Billy Rutledge of Hatteras Island Christian Fellowship draws a laugh from a group of youngsters who had been displaced from their homes. Pastor Billy traveled throughout Ukraine, sharing the Gospel and his testimony with soldiers, refugees, and relief workers during the war.

Willing to Go
Though several groups turned away his help because Billy has cancer, one chaplain in Ukraine, Vitaliy Smolin, sensed God’s hand and invited him. Billy gave him an honest account of his condition: he had a broken back, was on daily chemo meds, and had an eye detachment that prohibited carrying anything more than five pounds. Yet Vitaliy responded: “Come and join the chaplains here. It will inspire our guys—you being willing to come while so many are actually leaving.” Billy knew the Lord had opened the door.

Billy visited the Christian relief center started by his friend Vitaliy and Natalia Smolin of Open Door Foundation Ukraine/Smolin Ministries. The Smolins have served in Ukraine for more than a decade. There, believers tirelessly shared the love and hope of Christ with soldiers, refugees, orphans, and workers dealing with the traumas of war.

In an online plea to his supporters, Pastor Vitaliy said, “We converted our whole house and office, and we are renting a camp [in Western Ukraine] where we are housing refugees … kids, moms, anyone who wants to come. We have many people coming from the east. It’s a crisis. This is a nightmare for all of the Ukrainians because none of us ever thought this was possible.” He added, “God is in control, and He is a sovereign God. … Things have been happening miraculously.” Courageous volunteers have been able to get food and medicine to people suffering in Eastern Ukraine, to some of the dangerous “hot spots” of the war. At the refugee center, they have ministered to more than 1,000 people—providing beds, food, clothing. American dentists and a doctor partnered with them to offer medical care. And chaplains came to offer spiritual care to those who are hungry for hope.

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At a Christian relief center in western Ukraine, a soldier pulls an orphan on a sled using a hula hoop. Soon all of the children wanted a turn, and the relief center rang with the happy shouts and squeals of children, who had been displaced due to the ongoing war. The center is operated by Open Door Foundation Ukraine/Smolin Ministries.

Haunted by War, Hungry for Hope
A young military medic in camouflage, Pasha (not actual name) sat with the American chaplain in the middle of a humanitarian relief center in Western Ukraine. He was thankful his new wife had made it safely across the border. He missed her, but he didn’t want her anywhere near the tanks and bombs and horrors of war. Around him children played while supplies were sorted and loaded onto trucks. The chaplain, Pastor Billy Rutledge, had chosen to leave the safety of America to come into a war zone. Pasha wondered why.

With his phone, Pastor Billy showed Pasha some pictures of his family, and Pasha also showed him a picture of his own wife. “We’ve only been married six months,” Pasha said. He wondered if he would make it back to her alive. Images of bodies in the streets, stories of murdered children, and unimaginable human devastation haunted him. The war had become a living nightmare. Pasha wished he could erase it all—the horror—not only from his mind, but from ever happening. Does God care?  he wondered. If He does, then why doesn’t He stop this war?

Pasha looked at Pastor Billy and wondered if he could ask him these questions. Though Billy was friendly, he also seemed to have a deep burden for Pasha and the other soldiers. Even more curious, Billy spoke about God as if he knew Him.

Pasha decided to share his burdens with the chaplain. He pulled up the videos on his phone that had been troubling him. Billy bent his head near as Pasha played videos of Ukrainian mothers and wives sharing about their children or husbands who had been killed or injured. Some of the women themselves had been wounded. Pasha interpreted their stories for Billy. One 30-year-old woman had blood on her face. Then came the video that haunted him most of all. Overcome with emotion, Pasha’s voice left him and he had to pause the video of the woman describing how snipers had shot her young son through the window in their home.

                  

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The Ukrainian people had been told that they would be safe if they stayed in their homes. The loss of this boy, and the awareness that there was nowhere safe for anyone, even women and children, was incomprehensible. Pasha couldn’t understand how men could be so evil, and how God could allow it. Tears streamed down the young medic’s face; he couldn’t hold them back if he tried.

Pastor Billy’s expression was full of compassion. He understood that Pasha wanted to know why God hadn’t stopped the terrible war. Billy said, “Listen man, God has never changed. It’s men who are evil, and sometimes He allows them to have their way. For those of us who are Christians, there are wonderful times where we feel like we’re on top of a mountain, but then there are also hard times. Let me show you something.”

Billy showed him another photo: a young suntanned, muscular surfer riding foamy ocean waves. “That’s me, before cancer,” he said. Pasha stared, his eyes darting from the photo of the fit athlete to the bony, grey-haired man with young eyes who sat before him. Billy laughed, nodding. “Yeah. I was strong and healthy, but then the cancer came. They say I’m dying. I hate living with this cancer, but I’m not angry with God. I am thankful for the opportunity that it gives me to share the Gospel.” Pasha was fascinated, and he leaned closer, wanting to catch everything Billy was saying.

Billy shared that even though mankind was sinful, God sent His son Jesus Christ to die on the cross. Whoever believes in Jesus will be forgiven by God for all of their sins, become a child of God, and go to heaven after they die. Then Billy looked at him and said gently, “God sees your sorrow; He wants to comfort you, Pasha. He wants you to be His son.”

The Lord is … not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9

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Pastor Billy Rutledge helps carry supplies into a relief center where they will be sorted, loaded on trucks, and sent to areas of greatest need within Ukraine.

Pasha’s heart was filled with wonder, and he sensed that Billy was telling him the truth about God. A truth he’d never understood before. More tears came. He wanted to tell his wife about this loving God and the salvation He offered. Billy prayed for him, and Pasha stayed by his side until he and his fellow soldiers left. They had come for dental care, but God had also lifted Pasha’s heart.

‘Tell Your Families about Jesus’
On another day at the same center, Billy talked to a different group of seven soldiers. He knew the men had been walking through a hellish season, but he wanted to warn them about the eternal hell they faced if they perished in this war without Christ. And they very well could, as thousands of Ukrainian soldiers had already been killed since the Russo-Ukrainian war had expanded into the innermost cities of Ukraine.

Billy looked at the men’s faces. As a husband and a father, he could understand these men’s desire to protect their families and their homes. He pulled out a picture of his wife, son, and daughter. “One day you will have to leave them. We don’t want to think about that. Because of my cancer, sometimes I wonder: Who will try to take my place as the father of my son and daughter?” The men listened respectfully.

Billy told them the story of Lazarus and the rich man from Luke 16: how Lazarus, a poor believer, went to a place of comfort after he died, but the rich man suffered terrible agonies in hell. The rich man begged that Lazarus could be sent back to earth to warn his loved ones about hell: “I beg you therefore, father [Abraham], that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment  (vv. 27-28).” Billy explained that Jesus had come to earth to warn mankind about death and hell, yet they would not listen.

“Men, the worst part of hell is not only the agony for yourself, but knowing that your family is also coming there, and there’s nothing you can do about it if you left them on the earth unsaved,” Billy explained. “Guys, if you have friends or a wife and kids who don’t know the Lord, you need to follow Jesus, and tell them the way to heaven, so they don’t go to hell.”

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Dr. Gordon Duval of Utah hauled large suitcases of precious medical supplies all the way from the United States to Ukraine, knowing that they were desperately needed. Here the medicines are sorted for treating people at the center and sending on needed supplies to hot zones in Ukraine.

He sensed the Holy Spirit’s presence among them, convicting each man of the truth of his words. “You may even believe that God is real, but that’s not enough. James 2:19 says, You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” The men were on the edge of their seats; every eye was on him. “You have to give your life to Jesus completely—not 80%, but 100%. You have to be willing to pray and ask God’s forgiveness, and He will give you life.”

He let the words sink in, let them think it over, silently praying that God would bring them from death to life. When he said, “Let’s pray,” suddenly all seven men shot to their feet. Billy led them in a simple prayer to repent of their sins and confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior. As they were leaving, men grabbed his hands to thank him for coming.

Soldiers for Christ
About a week later, Billy was in another location, sharing his story with a sizeable group of soldiers. He had been in Ukraine for almost three weeks, and he was grateful for the opportunity to stand before a large group of soldiers near the front lines, sharing his testimony and freely proclaiming the Gospel. This was what God had put on his heart when He prompted him to leave his own family behind and travel into a war zone: The soldiers on the front lines.

“Will you give your life to Jesus today? Will you choose to give Him all of yourself, and make Him your Lord and Savior? If so, stand with me.” Almost immediately, almost ever soldier in the room stood to their feet. It’s as if a King just entered the room, Billy thought, and indeed He has. “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Billy’s throat tightened as he looked into their faces. Thank You, Jesus, he thought, as he led them in a simple prayer of faith.

A Team of Witnesses
Billy knew that he could not take the credit for these men receiving Jesus. God had done the work by His Spirit and through His people. Not only were there thousands of believers praying for the ministry in Ukraine and for people’s hearts to open, but countless believers had been showing the love of Christ. Ukrainian chaplains had encouraged and prayed for hundreds of soldiers who were daily facing death. The soldiers at the center had not only heard the Gospel from him, but also had seen Christ’s love through the Christians who had come to be His hands and feet to the refugees.

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Having visited Ukraine on short term trips in peacetime, Christian dentists from the United States provided dental care to refugees, orphans and soldiers, working alongside a translator to diagnose problems. They often stopped to hug, pray, or encourage someone, showing the love of Christ. They praised their young Ukrainian assistant, Mariia, a Christian who also comforted children in their own language.

God’s compassion was evident everywhere. One Ukrainian man who oversees the relief center, Ruslan Mudrievski, has been a walking example of God’s love and graciousness. He related his own story: Years ago, when his 6-day-old infant child died, grief sent him into a downward spiral. But then God brought Pastor Vitaliy to share the love and hope of Jesus, and Ruslan came back to the Lord. Just before the war, he was setting up a new business so that part of the profits could go to orphan care. Now he serves refugees at the center, coordinating supplies and trucks, and comforting others with the same comfort he has received from Christ.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Even though his phone never stopped ringing, Ruslan could often be seen hugging a frazzled mom or child. Hundreds of children and orphans have come through the center, and Billy had watched as Ruslan squatted down at eye level to give them attention, to smile and listen, to hug the little ones.

Loving the Little Ones
Two dentists came from the U.S., acting as kindly old grandfathers to the children. They have traveled on multiple medical mission trips with Global Health Outreach’s Christian Medical and Dental Associations. Both in their 60s, dentists Philip and John praised their shy young translator, Mariia, as she assisted them in their work. Feeling encouraged and valued, Mariia spoke in loving tones to the children as they received treatment.

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Ruslan Mudrievski coordinates the supply and demand of relief supplies, food, clothing, medicine, and other items while still taking time to give attention to the children and refugees who come. He is a believer in Jesus Christ and shared his testimony with Pastor Billy.

A pediatrician with a gentle spirit toward his patients, Dr. Gordan Duval had lugged large suitcases full of medical supplies and medicines from his practice in Utah. “I felt like I was moving mammoths while I was traveling, but now it seems miniscule when presented with the need here,” he remarked. Many had asked for insulin, but he regretted that he had none. He listened intently to each patient’s concerns and did what he could for refugees, soldiers, and children.

Scores of little people were all too happy to get off of cramped buses and vans, having traveled for hours (what had once been a 6 hour trip from Kyiv had taken up to 24 hours for some). Some had seen terrible devastation—either their homes destroyed, or even having to journey past shelled out buildings. Once they arrived, children received hot meals and played in the wide open space of the center or outside in the sunny but chilly campground.

As youngsters rode scooters and played in the relief center, Pastor Billy had joined in—pulling a child on a plastic sled across the tiles, and it became a game that all the children wanted to join. One young soldier took his place, pulling the sled, and slinging it gently into a soft bag of clothing. Happy squeals of laughter filled the hall.

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The Russo-Ukrainian War has displaced hundreds of orphans, including these, who were fed and sheltered by Christians at a relief center.

The beauty of the body of Christ working together had been a powerful factor as men, women, and children had come into Open Door Foundation’s Christian center from the nightmare outside. Inside was the light and hope of Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit. God truly was a refuge for the oppressed, a strength to the weary in this land troubled by war.

The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; for You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.  Psalm 9:9-10

“This is a very difficult time,” Vitali said. “Thank you so much for your prayers and your support. …With God’s help, we will get through this, and come out better on the other side.”

                  

Learn more about these ministries at:
Open Door Foundation
Calvary San Diego

                  

(To learn more about Calvary Chapel University, visit their website or read our past coverage on the school)

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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.