“It’s been a joy in the midst of all this tragedy to see how God’s people have responded. . . . God’s church is operating exactly like it was intended to, to minister to people and getting them hope and to share Christ with them.” This is how Keith Townsend, International Cooperating Ministries’ director for Russia and former Soviet Republics, characterizes humanitarian efforts underway in Ukraine.
He describes churches and ministry centers that are removing their chairs and pews so people can sleep in them: “They’re housing the people, feeding the people, making sure they’re taken care of with their medical issues and things like that.”
In related news, a fifteenth-century Romanian Orthodox monastery has opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees. Roughly one hundred people, mostly women and children, have so far taken shelter there. The archdiocese has offered hundreds of beds in monasteries and parish houses as well.
Samaritan’s Purse is operating an emergency field hospital in Ukraine and has stationed scores of disaster response specialists in the region. I am hearing daily about other ministries and churches that are working on specific projects to assist the Ukrainian people and the millions of refugees fleeing the country.
One more example: an American pastor in Bronx, New York, has traveled to Ukraine with a team of four others at the invitation of the Ukrainian military. He is working with the army to provide combat field trauma supplies. He says that as he serves soldiers and civilians who are “hit with a bullet or they’re hit with shrapnel,” he is also working to “provide spiritual, emotional, and psychological support and also to pray with people, to be a pastor to people, to share God’s love and to give them hope.”
Is Putin a “war criminal”?
When Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine three weeks ago, the Russian Defense Ministry said it was using precision weapons and claimed that “there is no threat to [the] civilian population.” Since that time, Russian airstrikes have hit a maternity hospital, a church, and apartment towers. Nearly one million child refugees have fled the country since the war began. Fears are rising that Russia could resort to chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction.
According to Ukrainian officials in the besieged city of Mariupol, Russian forces bombed a theater in which thousands had taken refuge, even though satellite footage shows the word children in Russian written on the ground near the theater. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russia in an overnight speech of deliberately attacking the theater. A Ukrainian news platform reports this morning that Russian troops have destroyed 90 percent of Mariupol and killed thousands of town residents.
In light of such atrocities, President Biden called Vladimir Putin a “war criminal” this week. He amplified his condemnation yesterday, calling Putin “a murderous dictator, a pure thug who is waging an immoral war against the people of Ukraine.” Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented, “Personally, I agree. Intentionally targeting civilians is a war crime.”
Tragically, analysts warn that we can expect such tragedies to escalate.
How the war “could get much worse”
Angela Stent, a former US National Intelligence officer for Russia and Eurasia, writes in Foreign Affairs: Putin’s “overarching aim” is “reversing the consequences of the Soviet collapse, splitting the transatlantic alliance, and renegotiating the geographic settlement that ended the Cold War.” As a result, “the current crisis is ultimately about Russia redrawing the post-Cold War map and seeking to reassert its influence over half of Europe, based on the claim that it is guaranteeing its own security.”
Another Foreign Affairs article warns that the war in Ukraine “could get much worse.” It explains that an “insecurity spiral ensues when the choices one country makes to advance its interests end up imperiling the interests of another country, which responds in turn.” The result can be a “vicious cycle of unintended escalation, something that’s happened many times before.”
Scholars point to “the stability-instability paradox, in which states, stalemated in the nuclear realm, might be more willing to escalate in conventional terms.” For example, Putin might respond to economic sanctions against Russia with cyberattacks on NATO countries. NATO leaders might consider such attacks to trigger Article 5 of NATO’s founding treaty, which states that an attack on one member state is an attack on them all, and respond with retaliatory cyberattacks on Russia. Such cyberattacks could prompt military responses leading to another world war.
Or conflict in Ukraine could spill over its borders. Russia could attack land transfers of support into Ukraine from NATO states bordering the war zone, which could kill or harm NATO personnel and trigger Article 5. Or Ukrainian forces could withdraw into NATO countries; if Russia attacked them there, this could also trigger Article 5.
When “I have no right to preach the gospel”
This growing crisis is an opportunity for God’s people to demonstrate God’s compassion in the power of God’s Spirit. The darker the room, the more necessary and powerful the light.
I was interviewed recently by nationally syndicated radio host Bill Martinez. As we discussed Russia’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine, he quoted this convicting statement in Proverbs 24: “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?” (vv. 11–12).
In other words, you and I are responsible to know what is happening, to pray about it, and then to find ways to answer our prayers personally. When we do this, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27) acts as the hands and feet of Jesus in our war-torn world. We demonstrate the relevance of our faith by the relevance of our service. Those who experience our courageous compassion will be marked by God’s grace at work in and through us.
This is the model of Jesus at work. Our Savior healed bodies so he could heal souls. He opened blind eyes so he could open blind hearts. He met felt need to meet spiritual need, and he calls us to do the same.
My friend Dr. Randel Everett is right: “I have no right to preach the gospel to a hungry person.”
What “hungry person” will you serve in Jesus’ name today?