[This blog was written twelve days before Russia invaded Ukraine – at this moment the war is escalating and the invasion is already taking lives. If you would like to pray about this situation, the 24-7 Prayer Network have provided a resource, and the International Christian Medical & Dental Association will be holding an online prayer meeting on 26 February at 13:00 GMT].
I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.‘ Psalm 3:5-6
Today is 12 February 2022. I woke up this morning praying for the people of Ukraine and Russia. By the time this article is published, we may or may not know if the conflict between Ukraine and Russia has escalated. If there is conflict, pray for peace. If there is no conflict, pray for peace. Who knows the hearts of men but God? Only God can change a man’s heart from stone to flesh. Pray for God to guard and guide the hearts of man.
Until this January, there was little knowledge, awareness, or interest in the army gathering on the Ukrainian border amongst the Ukrainian or Russian people. Why? Since the last revolt in 2014 during which the Kremlin-backed leader, President Yanukovych, fled from Ukraine, and with the subsequent takeover of Crimea and the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine by Russian backed separatists, there have been numerous military exercises near the Ukrainian border.
This is nothing new
This conflict with separatists has continued with daily skirmishes over the past eight years. In total, over 14,000 lives, both Russian and Ukrainian, have been lost and over a million people displaced. In September 2021, I was privileged to be part of a medical missionary trip to villages near the conflict line. Just two weeks before my visit, the outskirts of Avdiivka, a town just 500 meters from the conflict line where we held a clinic in a church, had been shelled. One civilian had died in the attack, which coincided with Ukrainian Independence Day. This was meant to scare, not necessarily harm or inflict damage, but an innocent life was taken.
For these people particularly, but indeed, for all Ukrainians, the threat of conflict is a daily reality. Life goes on amidst the struggle. People need to eat, shop, and work. Children need to attend school. In many respects, therefore, life is no different, moving forward day by day.
We should ask why this year is any different to previous years? Certainly, the rest of the world seems to be paying more attention. Until the past month, there was little talk amongst Ukrainians of an increased threat of invasion. My Ukrainian colleagues and partners would say that they would not know a crisis was being fomented if it were not for Western news sources. Only after some embassies began the initial evacuation of non-essential personnel did the Ukrainian President Zelensky comment, and then it was only to say it was too early to become alarmed. Again, life goes on despite the threats.
Prayer and division
Pray that ‘no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble‘. (Hebrew 12:15) There have been calls for prayer for and with both Russians and Ukrainians. Social media is buzzing with people showing support for one country or the other by adding the flag of Ukraine or Russia to their picture. I have seen people post comments to the effect that ‘If you are going to pray for that nation, then you should unfriend me now‘.
Jesus taught us there will always be wars and rumours of wars. James 3:14 says, ‘But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth‘. It is further written in James 4:1-2, ‘What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. People are often biased because of the news media they access.
The division between the people of the two nations is not as clear cut on the ground. There are many people who live in Ukraine and have family in Russia and vice versa. There are families with marriages between people of both nations. Pray for the ordinary Russian and Ukrainian people. They will be the ones to bear the burden of any conflict. As it is written in Romans 12:18, ‘If possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all‘.
However, the real reason for conflict does not lie in the people of either of these countries but in our leaders’ bitter jealousy and ambition. Therefore, pray for our leaders, in the West, in Russia and Ukraine.
Ongoing ministry in uncertainty
With this backdrop, we continue to minister in Ukraine to medical students and children and families living with HIV and AIDS. Students worldwide have lived wondering how online education will affect their future. In Ukraine, some students continue with lockdowns and remote learning. But this is not due to Covid but bomb threats of their universities.
There are students from all over the world in Ukraine living in this uncertain situation. On the one hand, their universities tell them to stay calm. On the other hand, their embassies, governments, and parents send e-mails and phone calls asking them to return home. If they wait too long, they will not be able to leave. Whatever happens, will be very sudden. There may be calm one day, with conflict the next. However, the day-to-day reality is no different. People still wake up, attend class, eat, study, and sleep.
This makes it very difficult to plan student ministries. Students are tired of online classes and online conferences. But how do you prepare for an in-person conference with 300 people under the twin threats of Covid and a conflict that may or may not take place?
Similarly, not much has changed in the day-to-day work of doctors. They care for patients, realizing they may soon be called to care for civilians and military casualties. A law has been passed to allow the government to draft female doctors into military service. Over half the doctors in Ukraine are women.
These issues are putting enormous economic and emotional burdens on the people. The pandemic and potential for conflict have led to a less stable Ukraine. Think of all the tasks you do each day, along with dreaming and planning for the future. Jesus taught ‘do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own‘. (Matthew 6:34) This teaching is easy to quote as I write thousands of miles away from both real and potential danger. Yet my heart yearns for peace for my friends in Russia and Ukraine who find it difficult because of uncertainty. Almost everyone I spoke with said something like, ‘we know God is in control‘ or ‘we pray for his mercy and protection‘. Life goes on. People are watching events closely, living as usual, and praying.
Pray for the people in both nations; that their hope may be in their certainty in Christ, which will enable them to have a constancy in the present.
We watch, pray, and repent, looking to God to change our hearts. When we are weak, he is strong.
Jim Peipon and his wife, Marianna, have been medical missionaries since 2001 and lived in Ukraine until 2017. Jim is a paediatrician and the President of Ukraine Medical Outreach, Inc. Their vision is reaching the world via ministry to national and international medical students in Ukraine and the USA to prepare the next generation of Christian physicians. Jim continues to mentor international graduates as they return to their home countries. Their team models compassionate, Christ-like care to children of families living with HIV/ and AIDS, bringing hope and the love of Christ to the children, their parents, and the medical professionals.