Finding Refuge in the Family of Christ

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A House of Love & Refuge from War

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos by Josh Larson unless otherwise indicated

The Calvary Chapel family of believers in Ukraine and surrounding countries are truly serving each other as the body of Christ—caring for one another, risking their lives for each other, and opening their homes and hearts. Tanya Chmil and her mother, Mama Tanya, have seen the Lord’s faithfulness firsthand on their harrowing journey from Kyiv, Ukraine, to a safe, new home and church family in Budapest, Hungary.

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Missionary Cara Denney (center) hugs her friend Tanya Blinova at a bicycle give-away in Budapest, Hungary, organized by Pastor Árpi Horváth Kávai of G11, a local Calvary Chapel in Budapest's 11th district, and Pastor Stan Marinussen of CC Haarlemmermeer, Holland.

Flight to Safety
At 5 a.m., Tanya Chmil woke to the sounds of helicopters followed by explosions near her home in the capital city of Kyiv. Her roommate appeared in her doorway: “Kyiv has gotten attacked!” Tanya and her mother grabbed their bags and ran to a friend’s nearby home with a basement. Outside, the traffic was so bad that they couldn’t leave Kyiv that day. Instead, they opened their doors to others who needed a safe place to shelter and fed them. Early the next morning, a Russian plane was hit and fell in the Kyiv region.

When Tanya heard this, she knew immediately what they had to do. “I told my mom, ‘We need to go to the train station right now.’” Her mother nodded, and they headed out at 7 a.m. After praying, they found a bus with available seats, but the driver was only accepting cash. Tanya’s heart plummeted. As she debated what to do, her petite, older mother grabbed her hand and elbowed the crowds to get them onto the bus. Sending up a silent prayer, Tanya explained to the driver that they had no cash in hand—aware that there were many waiting in line behind them who did. Suddenly the driver told them to go take a seat. Tanya was stunned and grateful. “I felt that was the Lord who helped us get onto that bus; we didn’t have cash,” she recalled. “That was a miracle.”

                  

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Though it normally takes 20 minutes to get out of Kyiv by bus, it took four hours. As they inched along the road, all day news came in about shelling, leaving Tanya’s stomach in knots. Was this the right decision? she wondered, then reminded herself that God had opened the door. Please let us be safe, wherever we are going. Please protect us. The tension in the bus was almost palpable, and several times the bus driver left his side of the road to drive in the empty, oncoming lane. Their bus left Kyiv at 9:30 a.m. and arrived at 11 p.m. in Ternopil (Western Ukraine). “Actually, [we made] very good time, because some buses were taking a day and a half,” she noted.

At last they arrived in Ternopil, achy and relieved. Surely, here we will be safe, Tanya thought. But the next morning, the alarm sirens began blaring at 8 a.m. After a day of running up and down five stories to go to the basement, Tanya knew she had to get her mother out of the country. But where would they go, with no cash, no transportation, and few contacts outside of Ukraine? She prayed again, asking God what to do. A gifted translator, Tanya had been involved with Calvary Chapel church plants for years in Ukraine, including Ternopil. Was she to stay here or continue their journey? Her pastor from Kyiv, Pastor George Markey, had evacuated to Hungary and had invited her to help serve refugees there. Oh, how I would love that, she thought, but where will we stay?

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From left to right: Cara Denney, Margo Satenko, Tanya Chmil, and Masha Holina—along with Sadie, the dog—are roommates who have become like family, brought together by Jesus Christ amidst the war. The three Ukrainian women evacuated to Cara’s home in Budapest. Margo, Tanya, and Masha all assist in translating for the G11 church.

Then she got a text message from her friend Cara Denney, an American missionary who served in Ukraine for 20 years before moving to Budapest, Hungary, in 2018. Tanya and Cara had known each other for 20 years and had often served the Lord together in Ukraine—giving them a deep bond. “You can come to stay at my apartment,” Cara texted.

Sensing this was an open door from the Lord, Tanya replied, “Yes, we will come.”

Prepared by God
Sitting amidst moving boxes in her Budapest apartment, Cara suddenly realized God’s faithfulness over the last four years—and especially the last few weeks. All this time she had wondered why He had moved her from Ukraine, as her heart was still with the women and girls she had ministered to there. Then, just before the war started, God had put it on her heart to move closer to her local Calvary Chapel church (called G11). Quickly she had found a two-bedroom apartment, which had seemed extravagant for a single woman, yet she had felt that somehow God would fill it. Now everything made sense. Looking around her new home, she praised God for His faithfulness and began making room for “The Tanyas,” as their friends called them.

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Known as “Mama Tanya” by her other roommates, Tanya Chmil and her daughter evacuated from Kyiv to live with their friend, American missionary Cara Denney in Budapest, Hungary. Mama Tanya read her Bible during the harrowing evacuation journey to keep her mind on Christ. A young Muslim man noticed, initiated conversation, and then the two women shared Christ with him and his sister on the train. Photo courtesy of Tanya Chmil

Hope in the Dark
When Tanya told her mother that they had a place at Cara’s, a smile spread across Mama Tanya’s face. The older woman felt like she was seeing a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel. Thank You, God, that we are coming to the house of a friend, a sister in Christ. As they boarded the train for their next journey—from Ternopil to the Hungarian border and then to Budapest—Mama Tanya carried that hope in her heart. To keep her mind on Christ and not give in to the fear and chaos that threatened to close in on them, Mama Tanya pulled out her Bible and read it the entire way.

Unknown to her, a young Muslim man was watching Mama Tanya, noting that she read the Christian Bible. Later, when he and his sister were in the same train car as The Tanyas, he said, “I see you are Christians. I am a Muslim.” He explained that he and his sister were originally from Morocco and evacuating from Zaporhizha, Ukraine; the two women said they were from Kyiv.

As each person shared their story, Tanya said, “We don’t know why this is happening or what’s next, but God knows.” He asked about their God, Jesus Christ. Tanya related that He was God’s Son, sent to die for mankind. 

The young man looked thoughtful, then he said, “I am a Muslim, and I like to pray to God. But I don’t want to have three wives, or to kill non-Muslims.”

Mama Tanya spoke up: “When Jesus’s friend Lazarus died, He cried. He values life.” The young man nodded, and they spoke more about Jesus. By the end of the trip, they had exchanged phone numbers.

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From left to right: Cara Denney, Margo Satenko, and Masha Holina are sisters in Christ and roommates since Margo and Masha evacuated from Ukraine to Budapest, Hungary, to live with American missionary Cara. In total, five women share the two-bedroom apartment. Since the war began, these sisters have often wept and prayed together, bearing each other’s burdens in Christ. Photo courtesy of Tanya Chmil

A New Home
Cara greeted her friends with open arms, welcoming them to their new home. Soon two other young women from Ukraine came. Their house was filled with laughter, tears, fellowship, and the Ukrainian language—making the evacuees feel comfortable.

Nearly every day at least one of the women asked Cara when they needed to leave. More than once Cara told them, “Unless God shows you some place better for you, you’re all here.” The war could last a while, and rebuilding could take even more time, and she wanted her sisters in Christ to feel at home. With tears in their eyes, they hugged Cara. When a fifth sister (Margo Satenko) arrived, they felt like a family.

Church was also a sweet, unexpected blessing in a strange country. Having served refugees before, Pastor Árpád (Árpi) Horváth of G11 (Golgota 11, a Calvary Chapel in the 11th District of Budapest) knew that those who had fled to Budapest needed a community, not just a shelter for a few days. Recently, a Calvary Chapel in Holland donated bicycles, and the G11 church family distributed them to refugees—including the ladies staying with Cara.

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Cara (left) and Masha Holina share a laugh with their roommates while also keeping a close watch on their phones for news of their friends in Ukraine.

From the onset of the Russian invasion, Pastor Árpi had services translated to English, Hungarian, and Ukrainian, among other languages. The church doubled in size, with about 50 percent of the body evacuees. Margo helps lead worship and translate for the church services. On Sundays, first there is worship in three languages; then Pastor Árpi teaches the message; after a half-hour break, Ukrainians can gather again for two hours of praise and prayer in their language. Many say this time of sharing their stories and comforting each other has helped in their healing.

“It’s so nice because you don’t have to explain to everyone what you’ve been through or how you feel,” Tanya remarked. “They already know. I feel like I’m at home here. The believers at G11 have made us feel so welcomed.” Many of the G11 believers opened their homes to refugees, making room in offices and spare rooms.

Cara’s house became a gathering place for those first few weeks. Every Thursday night, roughly 20 other Ukrainians from the G11 church would come for worship, prayer, and fellowship. Tears, laughter, and food were abundant. People would share their latest heartbreaking news: a friend had been killed, or their hometown bombed. Believers prayed for each other, hugging and consoling one another. “Everyone feels welcome here; it’s been part of the healing process,” Tanya remarked.

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In their living room in Budapest, Cara (left) and her roommates discuss the often heartbreaking daily news in Ukraine. Cara didn’t realize until after the war began why the Lord had moved her from Ukraine to Budapest, and then into a larger two-bedroom apartment just days before her first evacuees arrived.

They are grateful that they have a safe place—not only to live but to talk and to cry. Mama Tanya reflected, “It makes me think of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. It’s like our tears are worship to Him.”

Cara added, “It’s like the song, ‘Just as I Am’—we can come to Him as we are, whatever we are going through, and God receives us.” Looking around the living room at her sisters, Cara said, “We don’t need a perfect church; we have a perfect Jesus. We need a real church that’s there for you when you need them.” Smiles filled the room.

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On left, Pastor Árpi Horváth of G11 (Golgota 11, a Calvary Chapel in Budapest’s District 11), talks with long-time Calvary Chapel missionary Cara Denney at an outreach for refugees.

                  

Click to learn more about Calvary Chapel Golgotta 11 (G11)

                  

(To learn more about Calvary Bible Institute, 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.

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