Ukraine (MNN) — Ukraine’s ceasefire remains on the books in name only. Heavy fighting between pro-Russian and Ukrainian forces continues in Mariupol, which includes a fierce struggle for the Donetsk Oblast.
Fighting continues and the urgent needs of the people remain, even as winter will shortly give way to spring. Bret Laird with Slavic Gospel Association was in Mariupol on Monday. He says aside from the concern over a return to full-scale conflict, “Both sides are reporting that a major looming crisis is coming, because there’s not going to be a harvest this year. As you know, Ukraine is a very heavily agricultural economy. Most common folks depend on the food products that they raise in their gardens and on small farms to sustain themselves.”
The coming food shortage is barely making a blip in the headlines. Laird says, “Unfortunately, a lot of the land in the eastern part of Ukraine has unexploded mines or ordnance on it, so people are afraid to plant their fields.” He says in one area he visited, one farmer braved the risk and tried to plow his field. He hit a landmine and died. The result: nobody else is trying to plant.
With no crops, “A couple of pastors from the separatist-controlled side came out to try to receive some humanitarian aid (food products and other things) collected by the Ukrainian churches,” says Laird. Then, “as they tried to take that back to the villages that really need the help, they were stopped at check points and the aid was not allowed to go through.” What it means is there’s a whole area that is cut off from the international community. The only real way to get aid in there is to provide financial aid, he adds.
Sending money poses a whole other set of problems if you don’t have a trusted network in place to distribute funds. However, Laird notes, “We’re really grateful for these local church pastors that are risking their lives every day to take aid around to these villages. They know the needs, they do need evaluations, give us lists of families that have the need.” Churches in strategic locations serve as staging venues for food distribution to the needy regions. They are asking for help.
SGA’s Crisis Evangelism Fund helps local pastors who have few resources and enables their churches to distribute vitally important food aid, as well as Bibles, Christian literature, and other essentials. “As we are able, we raise funds and provide the financial support that enables them to purchase the needed products locally,” says Laird. “Unfortunately, the prices inside the conflict zone are very inflationary, and so it’s very difficult for the folks there.”
Financial aid, he goes on to explain, allows churches to purchase food and then create food packets that they deliver to needy people–but it goes further. The church members receive another food packet to give to someone else. “It’s local pastors that we know who are identifying needy families within their own congregation. And then, [for] those congregation members, we’re also giving them the opportunity to help a needy neighbor. So, they choose the neediest family in their immediate vicinity.”
When that Christian neighbor comes to the door with food, it starts a conversation. “Because the local churches are the distribution network, and because the food aid is being delivered personally by church members, it opens up wonderful opportunities to share the Gospel. We heard several reports, when I was there, of people coming to Christ.”
That’s been borne out in the churches, themselves, too. Several have seen twice as many people coming as they did before the war. What’s more, adds Laird, “We’re actually seeing some signs of a spiritual revival beginning to take place.”
$15 can help provide a food pack, which can contain items such as flour, cooking oil, pasta, and other staples, plus Christian literature. A gift of $56 will help provide warm clothing such as warm socks, scarves, sweaters, and jackets to the most needy individuals and families. Larger gifts can provide other items like mattresses, pillows, and bed linens, plus Bibles and evangelistic literature.
“Continue to pray that the Lord would use the conflict to cause people to turn their attention to spiritual things, to be willing to hear the Gospel, and to put their faith in Christ who is the only true Hope.”