On the Front Lines with the Gospel

Calvary Chapel Lynchburg team ministers to war-torn Kyiv.

Story by Jonathan Erdman
Photos courtesy of CC Lynchburg, VA

The October air was cool as a team of five men from Calvary Chapel Lynchburg stepped out of the train station and into the city streets of Kyiv. The atmosphere was far from peaceful as the business of the daily bustle of the city was interrupted by gunfire and explosions. The team from Virginia had barely stepped foot on Ukrainian soil when they were greeted by two Russian drone strikes.

Each man understood the risk they were taking by embarking on such a trip, and each one felt a sense of peace and resolve in the midst of the chaos that greeted them. They arrived with no translator, 10 days’ worth of food, suitcases full of power tools, 300 MP3 players loaded with the New Testament in Ukrainian, and firm resolve and trust in the fact that the Lord wanted them there for such a time as this.

The Lord’s Agenda

Derek Buchanan, Alex Tasker, Jeff Wade, Bryan Parlier, and Jeremy Geiss knew the trip agenda was vague—they were going to help build houses—and that was about it. They weren’t even sure if they would have food or shelter but were prepared to sleep outdoors if necessary. In spite of all this, Derek would write in his journal, I know in my heart that I am supposed to go.

Only a few days before the trip began, the team translator fell ill. Derek admitted that not having a translator is what pushed him out of his comfort zone the most. What he didn’t know at the time was that the Lord wanted the team to meet Maria.

Alex Tasker (center) and Derek Buchanan (right) talk with Maria (left) about the love of Jesus and why they had come to Ukraine. Maria, who speaks English well, helped them to speak with train employees. Alex and Derek were two of five men from Calvary Chapel Lynchburg, VA, who travelled to Ukraine in October to help rebuild homes—and much more. The men’s faith and their willingness to come all the way from Virginia made a strong spiritual impression on her.

Maria, a young IT professional from Kyiv, happened to be on the same train as the men. She overheard them attempting to speak with the train employees in English. She understood English quite well and considered translating for the men a good opportunity for practice.

Listening to the men and seeing their authentic faith left an impression on Maria. Using Maria as a translator afforded the team the opportunity to minister to her. She couldn’t quite comprehend, however, why a group of men from Virginia would build homes for total strangers so far away from their home without some sort of financial gain. As Alex recalled, “It was a surprise to her that no one paid us to come.”

This encounter would set the tone for the remainder of the trip. While the team could not see how things would come together, the Lord would provide exactly what the guys needed and more, exactly when they needed it.

Jeff Wade (front right) encourages Nicola, a Ukrainian man they met. The team from CC Lynchburg helped rebuild his house during the mission trip. Behind them (left to right) are Joachim (from Norway), and team members Derek Buchanan and Jeremy Geiss. Jeff, who speaks no Ukrainian, noted about Nicola, who spoke no English: “Every time I saw him, I would say, ‘I love you!’ It was the first time I had seen how love transcends all languages.”

Derek expounded, “God provided translators for us whenever we needed them the most. We were sheltered and well fed. He also provided us with clear avenues of communication to stay in touch with our loved ones on an almost daily basis. But most of all, He provided us with a calmness and peace in the midst of chaos. We never felt in any kind of danger.”

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” John 17:20

Many homes in and around Kyiv were destroyed in the attacks, leaving thousands homeless as winter quickly approached. In coordination with a Youth with a Mission (YWAM) group, the team constructed two tiny homes to help the locals brace for the cold months ahead.

Derek Buchanan (left) and a Ukrainian Youth with a Mission (YWAM) worker (right) help Nicola operate the MP3 player so that he could hear God’s Word. The YWAM group constructed tiny houses for locals in preparation for the cold months ahead.

Jeff, who has considerable experience ministering through construction and disaster relief confessed, “Even if you go on a lot of mission trips, there are some incredible ‘God-moments’ that always leave an impression.” And the Lord certainly did not disappoint during this trip.

The team admitted they faced some discouragement as the Ukrainian workers did not allow them to help with as many of the tasks as they were hoping. In a phone call with his wife, Michele, Bryan shared how tired and discouraged the team was. “We felt like we just weren’t helping as much as we could, but we were determined to get as much done as we could,” he recalled. Seeing a picture of the team with a local named Alexander, Michele pointed out to her husband that she could tell, based on the smile on Alexander’s face, they were certainly making a difference in his life. She was more accurate than they both realized in that conversation.

Alexander, an older gentleman, lost his home when it was struck by a Russian missile. Unfortunately, his wife was in the home at the time of the explosion and lost her life. The tragic loss devastated Alexander.

Jeff Wade (left) and Joachim (right) pray with Alexander, who lost his home after it was struck by a Russian missile; his wife died in that attack, leaving him devastated. Jeff shared, “I believe that the Holy Spirit came upon Alexander. We prayed for his salvation, and he was crying.” The team helped build his new home.

When the team began work on his tiny home, they gave Alexander one of the MP3 players loaded with the New Testament in Ukrainian. He kept it in his ear for a long time as he squatted in his garden listening intently to the words. One day, during a lull in the work, Jeff and another man were able to spend more time talking with Alexander and shared the Gospel with him, leading him to Christ. “When he was finished praying,” Jeff said, “he was wiping back tears.” Clearly the Lord laid two foundations that day: one for Alexander’s new home and the other for the new life Alexander found in Christ.

For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
2 Corinthians 6:2

Jeremy Geiss (left) talks with a Ukrainian woman from Bucha and a Japanese Canadian citizen on the train from Chelm, Poland, to Kyiv. The woman left her home in early 2022 after the initial attacks in her town. The five team members from CC Lynchburg took every opportunity to share the Gospel with all they met. They were on the sleeper train for at least 15 hours.

Sacrificial Servants

Igor Malitskiy, from CC Kyiv, along with a hired driver, picked the team up from the YWAM camp and drove them to his church for worship on Sunday. During the hour-and-a-half commute, they got to know Pastor Igor quite well. As Derek recorded in his journal entry for the day: Pastor Igor is a true Calvary Chapel pastor—he has a solid foundation in the Word and is faithful, kind, compassionate, and caring.

Igor his family had fled the city when the fighting began. Fearing they would not be able to get back into the country, Igor sent his family on to safety in Germany while he returned to Kyiv. He hasn’t seen his family in six months, but Igor hasn’t lost heart. He continues to preach, lead worship, clean, run sound—whatever is needed. The men were profoundly encouraged by his faith and challenged by his sacrifice to serve his people in the middle of difficult circumstances.

“But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 23:11

Team member Bryan Parlier (right) gives an MP3 player to Mischa as he shares Jesus with the youth who lost his home to the war. The team brought 300 MP3 players loaded with the New Testament in Ukrainian, offering them free to all.

The team also met Brigade Chaplain Sasha Andriyashyna while visiting CC Kyiv. Sasha is one of the charter members of the church and came to Christ when Pastor George Markey helped plant CC Kyiv. She served in the children’s ministry there for many years. Before departing the next day for the front lines, Sasha shared with the team how she had buried 30 of her friends in the last eight months. She challenged them to encourage others to come alongside her in ministering to the Ukrainian soldiers on the front lines.

At Calvary Chapel Kyiv, Army Brigade Chaplain Sasha Andriyashyna (far left) translates for Jeremy Geiss, Alex Tasker, Derek Buchanan, Jeff Wade, and Bryan Parlier (left to right).

Hands and Feet

Jeremy, a retired Air Force officer, was heartened by the resilience of the Ukrainian people. When ministering to them, he emphasized, “Our works were more important than our words.” He went on to describe how the people there were amazed that the team would leave the comfort of their own homes to come to a war zone and help build homes for strangers. Jeremy also pointed out that God is always able to use a willing heart stating, “I’m not anyone special, not a pastor or a missionary, just a regular guy, but God opened the door for me to be of use, and I raised my hand.”

The Lynchburg team works with a Ukrainian man on building a house in a neighborhood in Kyiv.

As the men reflected on their trip during the long journey home, the weight of it all was heavy on their hearts. Several felt a conviction to be bolder in their witness. When asked what was still needed in Kyiv, each man replied the same—hands and feet.

Bryan shared, “No one asked us for money. Everybody was asking for time.” Everyone they met with—whether it was a pastor, soldier, civilian—all asked for more hands and feet to come and help build homes, schools, teach English, or do summer camps. In spite of the challenges faced, Bryan concluded, “I’d go back in a heartbeat.”

Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”
Matthew 9:37-38

Team members meet with Maxim Mamakin (left), pastor of Makarov Christian Church, to discuss the Ukrainian fellowship’s needs.

Local & International Witness

CC Lynchburg Assistant Pastor Jeremy Grafman explained, “For our fellowship, being able to send this team after praying and providing financial support for those impacted by the war was a very encouraging step forward, as many here have a significant heart to help.” They had been counseled earlier by Ukrainian locals that without Ukrainian or Russian language capability, being physically present wouldn’t be very useful. “So we were blessed to begin hearing in the fall of 2022 that teams were in fact now able to serve and minister on the ground. I believe three of the five from our team had never been on the field to serve the Lord in missions before. We’re deeply grateful for their faith and obedience to the Lord’s stirring!”

Calvary Chapel Lynchburg is ministering to Russian CCs as well. “We’ve continued to provide funding, encouragement, and audio MP3 Bible sticks to the pastors, shepherds, and ministers there as well. We see it’s vital to pour ourselves out among the people Jesus died for in both of these countries. We continue seeking to advance the Gospel wherever the Lord allows!” Jeremy said.

He added that this trip gave them a chance for a local witness. “Our local ABC affiliate in Lynchburg ended up running two very favorable and impactful stories, so beyond sharing Jesus in Ukraine, our team ended up having some significant evangelistic opportunity here at home as well!”

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To learn more about Calvary Chapel Lynchburg, visit cclburg.com

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