Refuge for Ukrainians in the U.S., Part 2

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Calvary San Diego Family Opens Arms to Ukrainians

Story by Christmas Beeler
Photos courtesy of the Seydel Family

Calvary San Diego, CA, spearheaded the effort to help thousands of Ukrainians who entered the U.S. through Mexico. More than 80 families from the church opened their homes to 1,500 refugees in four weeks. The church was a hub for hundreds of exhausted refugees—about half of them children—on their way to other U.S. cities. Other churches across the U.S. can now get involved.

Empty nesters Roy and Susan Seydel live in Bonita, a suburb of San Diego about 20 minutes from the beach. They are both involved at Calvary San Diego, where Roy is also an administrator at the school on campus. When Susan learned that refugees were staying at the church, she went armed with homemade chocolate chip cookies; a few days later, she and Roy opened their doors to the weary travelers.

David: God’s Divine Purpose
Ukrainian David Lodba, age 20, was looking for work in Brussels when he got a call from his mother: “Don’t come home; it’s too dangerous.” She wanted at least one of her 10 children to be safe, while the rest of the family did what they could in the historic city of Chernovitsy in the Carpathian foothills of southwestern Ukraine. The brutal war had already displaced millions of Ukrainians. Learning about a way into the United States through Mexico, David spent almost 25 hours flying from Brussels to Cancun to Chihuahua, finally landing in Tijuana near the U.S. border.

                  

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Disembarking, he found himself surrounded by hundreds of bewildered evacuees—few of whom spoke English, let alone Spanish. He followed the crowd outside toward the border. At a large gymnasium, more than 1,000 people waited, some sleeping on dozens of mattresses covering the floor. One of the few who spoke English, he began to help however he could. His heart went out to his countrymen who had been devastated by things they had seen and their harrowing journeys out of the country. At the U.S. border, he met a friendly group from Calvary San Diego offering people rides to their church for free food, showers, Wi-Fi, and a safe place to sleep. Gratefully he rode along.

At the church, he ran into Susan Seydel, a bubbly American woman who, while helping to cook breakfast, was carrying a plate of chocolate chip cookies to the hospitality room. “Good morning!” she said in decent Ukrainian.

“It’s morning?” he replied, disheveled and disoriented. She chuckled. Later Susan and her husband Roy would open their home to him and several other evacuees. More than 80 families at Calvary San Diego would host nearly 1,500 Ukrainian refugees from late March to late April, making national headlines.

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The Seydel family of Calvary San Diego took in several evacuees in April. On a visit to the beach, from left to right: The Seydels’ niece, Cassidy Edwords, Susan Seydel, David Lodba, and Roy Seydel. David stayed with the Seydels for 10 days, helping to translate for other Ukrainian refugees wherever he could.

With clear blue eyes and a quick smile, David quickly fell in love with the Seydel family and enjoyed hanging out at their church, talking with and translating for some of the masses of refugees that had gathered. At one point the church was so packed with people that some slept on pews—even on Sunday morning, before the service.

David could see God’s grace continually with him. Back in Ukraine, missionaries from Canada and Texas had taught young people conversational English through reading the Bible. He had enjoyed the classes and had come to believe in Jesus as his Savior. Never in a million years did he imagine he would need to speak English in America, yet here he was. David was awed and humbled at God’s plan. He was thankful that he could help translate for others. “This has all been the grace of God, who conducted me along my journey,” he said. “All glory goes to God; I am nothing. I just helped where I could—it was only my duty.”

One verse came consistently to his mind: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). Every day, God proved Himself faithful to David on his unexpected journey. “He shows such love to us,” David reflected. “I’m so grateful to the volunteers, the Seydel family, and the great family at Calvary church.”

The church was a joyful, bustling hub for refugees for about a month. “I met some really cool people at Calvary San Diego,” David recalled. “Everyone was so kind to me. I’m so thankful.” Some college-age guys took him surfing. Susan took him for his first In-n-Out burger, and to beautiful beaches. On Easter Sunday at Calvary San Diego, Roy even introduced David to Christian music artist Jeremy Camp, who had led worship that morning. Jeremy was warm and friendly, along with his wife Adie and their two daughters. David had enjoyed Jeremy’s music since he was a Christian teen in the Ukraine—he never expected to meet him.

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David (center) with Christian musicians Jeremy and Adie Camp and their two daughters. As a Christian youth in Ukraine, David has been listening to Jeremy’s music for years and was amazed at the chance to meet him at Calvary San Diego after Jeremy led worship there on Easter Sunday.

“How big is our God,” he testified. “One day we were at a restaurant having breakfast, and this grandma and grandpa paid for our meal. Through these small things, again and again, God has showed us how He loves us so much, how He takes such good care of us. Many people were helping us with so many things. I couldn’t understand why they were helping us; many American people really care what’s happening in Ukraine.” As for his family in Ukraine, he prays that God keeps them safe until they can cross the border to a neighboring country. Ukrainians must be sponsored by a family member or organization to evacuate to the U.S.

After staying 10 days in San Diego with the Seydels, David hugged his teary-eyed hosts goodbye and traveled in a van with a pastor and other Ukrainians to Oregon. Now he’s working on the process to apply for jobs in Portland and look for an apartment. “I need to stand on my own two feet,” he said, eager to start his new life in America. “I need some time to rest and pray and find out God’s plan for me. I’m sure He will show me what to do.” He keeps in touch with Roy Seydel, who calls to check on and encourage him. David added, “We’ll see what God has planned for me; I’m sure it will be good.”

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11

Refuge for the Weary
At Calvary San Diego, Susan Seydel’s heart broke on a busy Sunday morning when she spotted the bedraggled Ukrainian family with their sick little boy sitting at a table crowded with people. She knew they needed quiet and privacy. A big-hearted grandma of seven, Susan promptly asked one of the organizers, “Can I take that family home? That baby is sick, and they all need to rest.” When she and Roy got home, she entertained the 1½-year-old boy with her grandchildren’s toys so that the parents could tend to the sick 3½-year-old who also has a disability. After just one night’s rest, the young family was energized, and their little son was feeling much better. Susan and Roy—along with David, who was a great translator—took the family out shopping and then to the beach to see the sunset.

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Many host families in San Diego took their Ukrainian guests to the beach for a much-needed respite from the rigors of travel and fleeing the war. From left to right: Roy Seydel, David, Susan Seydel, and the first Ukrainian family who came to stay with the Seydels.

 

“When we got to the beach, they were so happy,” Susan recalled. “The father helped his son, who could not walk, put his feet in the sand. It was very moving. They were just laughing, smiling together.” They stayed only two and a half days before boarding another flight to Idaho.

After hearing their story, Susan reflected, “God was holding them in the palm of His hand and taking them in safety from one place to the next. You can just see the hand of God in everything.”

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A Ukrainian father introduces his son to Taco Bell at the Seydels’ home. More than half of the millions of refugees that have fled Ukraine are children.

 

Provision and Perfect Timing
The Seydels welcomed a second family: Max and Vikki and their two children. Susan and Roy were moved with compassion when they heard this family’s story. The husband had been working on a cruise ship when the war intensified, so Vikki took her mother, her two children, and their large dog in the family car and headed to Poland. “It took them four days of waiting in line [in their car] to get across the border of Poland,” Susan related. “And when they finally got across, their car died. A hotel took them in, paid for their car repairs, and housed them all for five days while the car was getting fixed. Someone even gave the little girl free horseback riding lessons.” Max met them in Italy, and they flew to Mexico City, then Tijuana.

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Many came from the snowy climate in Ukraine, and the Seydels took their guests out to see the sunshine and the beaches. On their sightseeing day with Max and Vikki, a heat wave reached 99 degrees, so the family found relief in a splash pad at Waterfront Park.

 

Calvary San Diego’s network of helpers met them on the other side of the border, and the call went out. “We got a group text about a family with two kids,” Susan recalled. “I said, ‘I’ll take them.’”

Max and Vikki had an uncle who offered to put them all in his rig and drive them for five days to their next destination if they could leave right away, but their luggage still hadn’t arrived. Susan felt that they needed more time, and that being stuffed into the cab of a semi for five days would be hard on the children. As the family worried about what to do, Susan started looking for plane tickets, but could only find four together for $400 per person. “Oh, that’s too much,” moaned Max, the father.

Suddenly she felt the Lord urge her to trust Him, that He would provide the money. “You just wait and watch what God will do,” Susan said. “I really believe that God will provide for these tickets. Can I book them?” she asked him; Roy paused and nodded. Although it was a step of faith, she noted, “I knew God would provide. He always does. But I believe it was a witness of the Lord for that family and our believing friends!” she reflected later. She reached out to her prayer group, two small groups from church, and put it on her social media. “My daughter, Jacqueline, shared my post. Money just started coming in from one person, then another. One woman reached into her savings for $200 because she hadn’t received her paycheck yet,” Susan recalled. “Within two days, we had raised all the money. It was a testimony to everyone of God’s faithfulness.”

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Max, Vikki, and their two children wave goodbye before boarding their flight for Kentucky. Feeling prompted by the Lord, Susan reached out to other believers at Calvary San Diego, raising $1,700 in two days for their flights. She believes God provided the funding as a testimony to the family of His faithfulness and His personal love for them.

 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. James 1:17

Max and Vikki were astonished and grateful. “This is a gift from God,” Susan told them. “God did this for you.” Then, in God’s perfect timing, their friend Sean Moody from Virginia came for a visit. He was a warm, funny guy who quickly bonded with Max and David. An evangelist at heart, Sean talked to them about Jesus.

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Sean Moody (far left), a friend of the Seydels from Virginia, bonded with the Ukrainian visitors and shared the Gospel with them. Here, the men took a trip to the store for ice cream. From left, Sean, Max, host dad Roy, and David.

 

“Many people want to help,” Susan noted. “Not everyone can host a family, but people gave, brought food, bought clothing.” Because the second family had lost their luggage, they needed clothes, and God provided. “Two women from our church bought new clothes for the kids. He wore his Captain America shirt for four days,” she chuckled. To show their gratitude, Vikki, a pastry chef, made Susan one of her favorites—a multi-layered Napolean cake.

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A pastry chef in Ukraine, Vikki makes Susan a multi-layered Napolean cake. In the background, Susan’s husband Roy waits with anticipation. Vikki, her mother, her two children, and their family dog waited in their car at the Ukraine-Poland border for four days. After crossing, their car broke down; a hotel took them in and paid for repairs. The Seydels see God’s faithfulness in protecting many of the refugees they met.

 

One day at the beach, a helicopter passed overhead, and Max declared, “We don’t have to worry that they’re Russians. We’re safe!” On another day at the beach, Max raised his hands, laughing, “Look at me: I’m on a beach in America! I feel so free!”

With tearful goodbyes at the airport, the Seydels prayed over the family who thanked them profusely, hugged them, and then made their way to Kentucky. A few days later, Susan and Roy had an even harder time bidding farewell to young David, who had become part of the family. 

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 1 John 4:7

Susan felt grateful for a chance to serve them all. “I felt as if God told me that these fragile, vulnerable people were His precious ones, and to take good care of them.” Some of her friends worried that she and Roy might be opening their home to criminals. “Didn’t Jesus have no place to lay His head? I know He would want us to welcome them,” Susan responded. “I’m opening my door, and I’m trusting Jesus.”

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With seven children and seven grandchildren of her own, Susan enjoyed spending time with the toddler of the first Ukrainian family that they housed. Here she holds him at the beach. She felt God’s love and care for the precious families and children who had left behind their homes and their country, fleeing the war in Ukraine.

 

An Opportunity for Churches
Because of their nearness to the border crossing, Calvary San Diego led the way in helping thousands of refugees get safely across the border. Assistant Pastor Carlos Kalczuk explained that this crossing was recently closed to Ukrainians, so the U.S. is allowing those who have a sponsor to apply online and fly directly into the country from Europe. This means that other churches in the U.S. can now step up to receive refugees in their cities.

Samaritan’s Purse has a long-term refugee resettlement program, for which churches can sign up and receive training. Originally started for Afghan refugees after the U.S. pulled forces out of Afghanistan, the program is still called the Afghan Resettlement Program—but also helps Ukrainian refugees. Samaritan’s Purse instructs churches about how to help care for refugees and what to plan for.

samaritanspurse.org

Read more about how Calvary San Diego started the effort to help thousands of families safely cross into the U.S. in Part 1.

                  

 

(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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