Russian Calvary Chapels Aid Refugees

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Russian Calvary Chapels Aid Refugees & Bring Spiritual Hope

Story by Kate Larsen

*Name changed to protect identity

The invasion of Ukraine has taken a toll on evangelical Christians in Russia. However, Calvary Chapel believers are responding by stepping up to help Ukrainian refugees in Russia, including missionary *Alexei. They are offering practical aid and spiritual hope.

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A Ukrainian refugee mother crosses the border.  Photo by Halfpoint / stock.adobe.com

“It’s a mess. It’s difficult,” Alexei related. “But when my wife and I prayed, the Lord confirmed that we were to stay in Russia and do ministry here. We will suffer here with our relatives, our churches, whoever, because there’s an opportunity for ministry.”

Alexei believes that Russia will never be the same. Many are choosing to leave because they are not in agreement with what is going on and are afraid of the direction it could go. He observed that due to the history between the two countries, most Ukrainians have family ties in Russia and vice versa.

According to another CC pastor in Russia, 1.3 million Ukrainians have relocated into Russia, with no belongings. He urged believers to pray for “kings, princes, and all men to be saved.”

Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4

Meeting the Need
As an average of 1,000 Ukrainian refugees daily cross the border into Russia, Calvary Chapel believers in Russia are waiting there to assist them. Most of the Ukrainians moving into Russia are from the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, provinces that broke away from “western” Ukraine during the fighting that began in 2014.

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Siblings huddle together in a bomb shelter during an air raid.  Photo by Olesia Bilkei / stock.adobe.com

Alexei’s ministry to Ukrainians has gone in three directions: to those waiting to enter Russia, to those who are in temporary housing inside Russia until the government settles them more permanently, and more recently to orphans.

Alexei’s first step was to provide basic nourishment for the refugees waiting in Ukraine to cross into Russia.

“You have to understand that people have been sitting in basements for months [of war], and it’s a long process to become a refugee [in Russia]. It’s not easy,” Alexei explained. “After they are brought to us, they are then gathered at schools or local places and taken through a very difficult process controlled by the Russian military. They profile the people and search through their phones and belongings, which lasts anywhere from one to three days. If they are cleared, they go up to customs control where there are lines of people. Because they are not fed, the government has asked volunteers to provide meals.

All the humanitarian and volunteer work taking place, Christian and secular, is being coordinated in Russia through the government, Alexei related. A local government deputy asked for help and resources as soon as the refugee flow started.

That’s when Alexei and other Calvary Chapel believers stepped up. 

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A Ukrainian refugee family waits at a train station to evacuate. Photo by Halfpoint / stock.adobe.com

Near the border, they worked in a café that had been rented by the local official. “We cook meals there. Normally it is Christians serving eight-hour shifts. When someone comes to serve, they are instructed on what to do—crossing the border into Ukraine to serve meals and tea, or to prepare the meals at the café. I remember one shift when I was just serving drinks non-stop for the whole night long—big canisters of tea and coffee. Soup is brought every two hours.”

Humanitarian and Christian groups rushed to meet the need. “What first started as one tent in the street turned into a huge welcome ministry,” Alexei continued. “Now there are full-on meals for those crossing the border, including a big tent where all kinds of supplies and care bags are handed out. We call this ‘border crossing headquarters.’”

Refugee Center Ministry
After they enter the country, refugees are sent to temporary processing centers (TPCs) in sport facilities and hotels for further assistance. And in those places, where there is a lot of individual need, they are given food and clothing, Alexei recounted.

This has become one of the main ministries for Calvary Chapel pastors and their teams. Volunteers have been gathering donations of underwear, socks, food, water, and bread. “We were also involved financially, because money started coming in from different Calvary Chapel pastors who gathered donations from their churches,” Alexei said. “I asked the coordinators at the refugee center about the best places to purchase diapers, hand sanitizers, bread, water, whatever is needed.”

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A grandmother pacifies a child in a bomb shelter. Photo by Pavlo / stock.adobe.com

But a more personal touch is needed and is often what makes the biggest difference, Alexei emphasized. How can I make a difference for a family? he recalled wondering. “And the Lord showed me a picture. Why not make personal gifts? So, I went to the store and found these little sacks for the girls and boys. I filled them with toys, candy, socks, toothpaste, and children’s Bibles. I brought lots and lots of Bibles.”

Alexei spends his time at the center approaching individual families, hearing their testimonies, and giving gifts to the children. People will pour their hearts out, just grateful to have someone to listen, he explained. “Then you share the Gospel story and the message of hope with them. They open up. They want to become Christians, and they pray with you. They want to have some kind of Christian connection,” Alexei continued.

As one on the frontlines, Alexei has had the opportunity to speak with countless refugee families. “I keep track of several families. We make sure they are treated well and that there is some hand of Christian fellowship nearby from different churches throughout Russia. I have contacted people personally and sent others money to care for individual families.”

Miraculous Hope & Heart Ministry
At the TPC, Alexei met a man, his wife, and their children. He shared the Gospel with them, and the children prayed the “sinner’s prayer” right there.

“They basically glorified God, saying how they were alive because each day they saw a miracle,” Alexei recollected. “Each day a bird, a white dove, would fly to their basement window during the month they spent in the basement. They didn’t have any heat or electricity, and yet they were among the lucky ones, because they had salo (traditional Ukrainian pork fat) and buckwheat. They would put the buckwheat in water overnight where it would swell up, and they would eat it. The white dove would come to the basement window as if to signify they would be OK.” 

Many, Alexei observed, also shared how they prayed Psalm 90 during the attacks.

LORD, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever You had formed the earth and the world,
even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.
Psalm 90:1-2

One woman, while still in Ukraine, knew nothing about having a relationship with God. She told Alexei that she only knew Psalm 90 because she had it on her “Orthodox card,” and started praying it one day as a ball of fire (or a rocket) was approaching her window. Alexei described her account: “It was as if an invisible wall had stopped it, so that it came in only as burning coals. The wall didn’t explode as it should have. Something stopped it.” 

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A loving mother, happy to be alive, holds her child in her arms in an underground shelter. Photo by Marko / stock.adobe.com.

Alexei added, “I have heard many stories like this one—it’s every family I talk to. They say, ‘You know, we have survived because the Lord has saved us.’”

Another Russian Calvary Chapel pastor sent a helper with lots of Bibles and gifts. “We took a family out to dinner for something nice, witnessing to them, sharing our personal testimonies, and praying for them. We took the kids to the park and gave them pony rides before taking them back to the center,” Alexei recalled. They also arranged to get the family to the doctor and to buy clothing and shoes.

Most of the refugees are glad to be in safety and in awe of the miracle of still being alive, Alexei declared. "Even though they have lost everything, they still have hope and joy—they don’t have bitterness or hatred." 

“But I will give your life to you as a prize in all places, wherever you go.” Jeremiah 45:5b 

Helping Orphans
Christian leaders are also helping children evacuated from three Ukrainian orphanages and a boarding school to a sports center in Russia. The children were relocated from Donetsk in eastern Ukraine before the war began.

This new area of child-focused ministry has been opened to Alexei and two other Christian organizations. They learned the specific needs, especially clothing and shoes, of children in the orphanage, then posted the need in Christian circles. “Volunteers provide a lot, and a lot comes from local charity organizations and funds,” Alexei said. Different Christian groups then arrange events for the orphans. At this site, there are approximately 500 relocated children and some individual families, Alexei explained. As the numbers increase, a larger place will be needed.

“We would like to maintain personal relationships with the principals of the orphanages and keep serving them as Christians. Typically, ministry includes humanitarian aid and a program,” he relayed. They must utilize a “general approach” to ministry in the state-governed institutions. “We are allowed to share the message from the Bible, bring Bibles, share the full Gospel story. We share incremental messages of Christian values and morals, or straight biblical values shared in a form of a story, crafts, or games; but we usually never perform rituals such as prayer.” 

Even with the limitations, he acknowledged, “I hope to sow the seeds of the Word of God—we had a chance to bring the Gospel story and leave very nice children’s Bibles, regular Bibles, and Gospel tracts for the staff.”

[God] … 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 1:4

A Return to Faith
Another of the Russian Calvary Chapels is assisting in the Crimea area, bringing humanitarian aid. They also work with refugees who cross the border by providing basic goods, help them buy train or bus tickets and connect with relatives in Russia, and take them to the temporary facilities.

The pastor reported, “I had a chance to take one family (husband, wife, and a child) out of Mariupol. Long before the war, the husband was a part of the evangelical church. Then he drifted away from faith, got married and had a child. On our way to the train station, he told me that he saw God`s hand protecting them during the shelling in Mariupol and saw God leading him and his family through the checkpoints. And he saw God in Christians who volunteer to serve at the border ministering to people with love in action. Before we parted, he told me that he understands it is time for him to turn back to Jesus. And his wife said that she wants to go to the church with him because she saw and experienced the goodness of Christ.”

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

A View to the End
Russian CC pastors ask for continued prayer for all affected by the ongoing hostilities.

One shared a broader perspective: “In my view, this war in Ukraine has become a catalyst for events on a global scale. These are the birth [pangs] Jesus taught about,” he said. “Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift your heads, because your redemption draws near” (Luke 21:28).

 

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A Ukrainian child waits at a train station. Photo by Halfpoint / stock.adobe.com

 

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.