Front-line ministry in Ukraine
As the war in Ukraine drags on, chaplains are reaching soldiers with the love of Christ—thanks in part to First Free Rockford.
Jim Killam
February 15, 2023

Money sent by First Free Rockford is helping Ukrainian chaplains minister to soldiers on the war’s front lines.

First Free has a long relationship with their church, Cirkev Bratska (Church of the Brethren) in the east Slovak village of Hermanovce nad Topľou. It’s about 55 miles from the Ukrainian border. For a while early in the Russia-Ukraine war, the church hosted and helped Ukrainians who had been forced to flee their country. Hermanovce currently doesn’t have any refugees, but the church is finding other ways to serve its war-torn neighbors.

The Ukrainian military has about 300 volunteer chaplains from various denominations. Recently, Cirkev Bratska sent 2,000 Euro ($2,144 US) to the Jewish Messianic Congregation in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, to help buy a car for its team of chaplains. This was possible because of $2,000 sent to Cirkev Bratska last year by First Free Rockford. Two of the chaplains, Eugen and Anatoly, drove into Slovakia recently to visit the churches who funded the car.

Ukrainian chaplain Eugen (left) speaks at the church while his Slovak friend Janko translates.

First Free missionaries Pierre and Lisa van Vuuren serve with The Word for the World in Slovakia and attend Cirkev Bratska. Here is an excerpt from Lisa’s account of the chaplains’ visit:

Chaplains Eugen and Anatoly visited on Friday evening, Feb. 3, along with Brother Janko who translated. Even though snow was falling and the roads were slippery, many drove to hear their report and the church was full.

The chaplains thanked the Hermanovce church for the help that they sent. They expressed that they desired to bring glory to God through the testimonies that they would be sharing. They also hoped that people would be brought closer to the Ukrainian people through their stories so that we would pray for Ukraine.

The chaplains share the gospel, pray with the soldiers, and bring them food and other humanitarian supplies. Brother Eugen said that when he goes to the front, he hugs every soldier. When he does this, some cry. Then they stay to hear God’s Word. And then they pray, to call to God for help. He said that for some, it may be their last prayer. Two hundred soldiers die daily on both sides. He asked that we pray for God’s Word to remain in their hearts.

Brother Anatoly described the shock of the first days of the war when rockets destroyed their airport and their homes shook. He said when they saw Russian tanks coming, people began to run away with their suitcases. They could not believe what was happening. Brother Anatoly sent his wife and daughter to Poland. He stayed and initially helped a friend who had set up a mission to provide food and help to people.

One day, a young soldier who was a believer came to the mission and asked Brother Anatoly to pray for him and his non-believing young soldier friends. That’s when Brother Anatoly felt the Holy Spirit telling him to serve soldiers. Then a friend from Israel called him and asked him to visit a wounded soldier who was in a hospital 300 km (186 miles) away. The wounded soldier was depressed because he’d been told that his lower leg didn’t have enough bone and would have to be amputated. Brother Anatoly prayed for him and asked the soldier to pray too. Soon afterward, the doctor said that he could leave the leg; it would not have to be amputated. That is how God gave Brother Anatoly the certainty that he was to serve soldiers in hospitals.

Brother Anatoly said that not only are the hospitals filled, but also the psychiatric wards. Some of the Ukrainian soldiers he visits are deeply depressed. Those who have lost limbs especially need God’s love and care. He described one who had lost a limb and wanted to commit suicide. He told him of God’s love and then they went to a cross that was in the hospital and there they prayed. Later he heard from this soldier that he had received an artificial limb. Brother Anatoly concluded by thanking the church for their help and prayers to bring God’s peace to Ukraine’s wounded soldiers. When they hear about the love of Christ, God brings healing to their hearts. …

Brother Eugen gave an account of the Ukrainian military using tourniquets to help stop the bleeding of wounded Russian soldiers after a town was liberated. The tourniquets saved the lives of the Russian soldiers. Russian soldiers are also in hospitals in Ukraine, in special wards.

In answer to a question about the effect of the war on religion, Brother Eugen said that in Russia, Christianity is restricted. The same could happen in Ukraine unless Ukraine wins. If Ukraine wins, there will be spiritual freedom.

Then  Brother Eugen remembered one more story. A commander and some others were in a small house. When they heard shelling, the commander prayed, “Lord, save me!” Bombs fell on one side of the house, and on the other, but not on the house where they were together. The commander showed Brother Eugen a video of the house. Around it everywhere were craters and rubble— also in front of and behind the house. Brother Eugen with some others went to the house and prayed for the commander and soldiers. After their meeting, the shelling began again. Everyone lived. To God be the glory. Brother Eugen asked that we please pray for the soldiers. If Russia wins, he added, they won’t stop at the border.

Please continue to pray for the people of Ukraine and Russia, and for a peaceful end to this war. Feb. 20 is the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion.

The short video below shows some of the work being done by Eugen and other chaplains who serve soldiers on the front line. The group in the video is a new group of soldiers that had just gone to the front to replace a group that had been serving for eight months. Faces are necessarily blurred for the soldiers’ protection.

More: Here’s our story from March 2022 about Slovakian Roma Christians serving Ukrainians.

Jim Killam
Jim Killam is a journalist, author, teacher and terminal Cubs fan. He and his wife, Lauren, live in Rockford and work internationally with Wycliffe Bible Translators.


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