Two minivans, white and yellow, drive through the forest toward the Ukrainian Baptist retreat center. It is dark and quiet.
During the two-hour drive, we see only a couple of cars passing us on the narrow road.
We are warmly welcomed in a newly renovated retreat center, where we find our beds for the night.
Only in the morning do we find out that some of the paths we crossed last night are still heavy with tank tracks.
We are in East Ukraine, a few kilometers from the border of the temporarily occupied territory.
With the Baptist World Alliance (BWA) and the European Baptist Federation (EBF) delegations, we are visiting local churches and a pastors’ conference in the Donbas area to hear their stories and support their work in this difficult time.
The Baptist retreat center where we spent the night had before us hosted about 60 internally displaced persons escaping the conflict zone.
We drive around the Donbas region and see and feel the wounds of Ukraine. Destroyed bridges, houses with broken windows and holes in the walls, tears in the eyes of elderly ladies.
In Kamenka, where we meet some of the village people, the gathered ladies ask, “Why do they bomb us, our houses and gardens? When do they stop?”
Even a couple of nights ago, the shooting had kept the ladies awake.
Yet, in the middle of this destruction we see and hear the stories of hope.
With the help of EBF member bodies and mission partners, about 200,000 people have received food packages, coal for heating, ceramic heaters and other necessary items.
“The greatest help we have received comes from the Baptist churches,” the people of this village say. Their handshakes are warm, their hugs are strong.
Pastor Vasilii, who coordinates the humanitarian projects in this region, takes us around and shows the work the churches are doing.
In Mirnograd, the “City of Peace” when translated into English, he has established a bakery that provides work for 11 people and bakes 700 bread loves a day.
Some of these are given out for free, some sold at a production price to those who can pay a little. God’s love and churches’ prayers are baked into these loaves, which become the “Bread of Life” for many people.
When we drive from village to village, we have to cross several checkpoints. Most cars are stopped and checked at these points. Our two minivans pass, usually without stopping.
Igor Bandura, vice president of the Ukrainian Baptist Union explains, “Pastor Vasilii is so well known in this region. All those manning checkpoints know that he is doing an excellent work helping the local people, so we get through quickly and without checks thanks to his good deeds.”
Life in this part of Ukraine is hard. The number of internally displaced persons who have fled the temporarily occupied zone is around 1.7 million people.
The biggest number resides in the Donbas area. The economy is badly affected, and it is hard for people to find jobs.
A lady who came to collect a food package from the church in Mirnograd stopped to talk with me.
“When will all this stop? I want to go back home,” she said with tears in her eyes.
While this tragedy continues, the Baptist churches in East Ukraine are committed to help those badly affected by the war.
Yet, they can do it only with the help of fellow Christians around the world, who support their work financially and with their prayers.
Join us so that even in this wounded country, people would find hope for themselves and hope in God.
Helle Liht is the assistant general secretary at the European Baptist Federation.