Sunday, January 15, 2023

New Year, Same War

While the war in Ukraine may not often be headline news where you are, let me tell you that it indeed still rages on. Soldiers die fighting, are injured or are declared missing in action, civilians are injured and killed, families are separated, homes are destroyed, electricity and heat and water are cut off for hours or days or weeks, students attempt to learn by flashlight in basements during air alerts, and the list goes on and on. While, by God's grace, we do continue to live in safety here in the western part of Ukraine, we are not untouched by the effects of war and our prayers are continually for Ukraine's victory in the war to come soon.

Collection of Russian missiles and rocket that have been launched at one of Ukraine's major cities

Children and adults suffer from the consequences of Russian shelling

School continues by flashlight in basements when necessary 

Destruction, massive destruction

Below is a picture of one of the power stations struck by a Russian missile on Saturday. One look at the devastation reveals why Ukrainians are living with power outages. Russia has been very intentional with targeting these stations. Our soldiers have successfully destroyed many of the Russian missiles that were launched, but some do get through and the destruction can have wide-reaching and long-lasting consequences. 

Yesterday's missile strikes across Ukraine resulted in a major hit on a multi-story apartment building in the city of Dnipro. One entire section of apartments was destroyed with 30 people killed and another 75 injured (as of this moment). More than 30 people are still missing. Search and rescue efforts continue. Please take a moment to look closely at each of these pictures (below) and consider what Russia has brought with its invasion of Ukraine...nothing but death and destruction...

Aerial view of the damaged apartment building

The residents of this apartment may have even had lunch in this kitchen just hours before the strike

Looking closely at the center of this picture, you will see a red blanket covering a girl sitting in a destroyed apartment waiting for rescuers to reach her. 

Stranded residents used flashlights to alert rescuers of their location

Cranes were used to rescue residents

Rescue and recovery is still taking place amidst the rubble

Our work at Agape continues even as these devastating events occur across Ukraine. Here is a portion of the story of one patient who recently spent a month at Agape. 

Oleksandr and his wife were injured during the summer in an explosion in the city of Bakhmut. As you can see, his injuries resulted in a double amputation as well as hearing and memory loss. His wife has spent the past 5 months in the hospital due to her injuries and is still awaiting a hip replacement before she can begin rehabilitation. His daughter's home was destroyed and she now lives with her small children in a preschool in a city nearby Lutsk. Oleksandr's son died in a car accident 2 weeks before the Russian invasion and his daughter-in-law has also had to flee her home with their small child. This family has been traumatized in countless ways by this war and they represent thousands of families suffering at the hands of the Russians. Please pray for Oleksandr, his family, and the many other families who have lost their homes and been injured and displaced by this war. 
At Agape, we seek to provide professional, individualized rehabilitation to each person who comes to our facility. Along side that, we seek opportunities to speak with them about the love of God and their need for a Savior. God graciously gives us those opportunities both one-on-one during our sessions and in larger settings such as morning devotionals. Please pray we will be faithful to seize these opportunities to point people to the One True Hope. 

A little fun during a PT treatment session

A wounded soldier working on walking again

An outing with my patient to a nearby bakery during our recent treatment session

A small team from Agape was able to make two trips over the past month to the de-occupied region of Kherson, delivering presents for children, medical supplies, and food to people in need. The people in the regions they visited constantly live without heat and electricity and state that they are surviving only because of the work of volunteers. Agape would like to partner with Fimiam Church to continue making these trips as the need truly is great. Please join us in praying for the necessary finances and supplies for these trips and the wisdom to know when and where to go. Below are a few pictures from the recent trips. 

Christmas was officially celebrated only on December 25 by many, if not most, Ukrainians this year. The previously celebrated date of January 7 has connections with the Soviet Union era and is no longer recognized by many Ukrainians. My home group came over after church for food, fellowship and fun together. It was a blessed day! 

I got to spend the three days after Christmas in the village with friends, mostly playing games and relaxing!

And last week we hosted our team of therapists for our annual Christmas party. Even Vadim was in Ukraine at the time and able to come (he and his family are currently living and working in Poland). Katya also got to come as she has returned to Ukraine from the Netherlands and will begin working again at Agape in a couple of weeks! So thankful for time spent with these dear friends who are now family!

We tried to reenact last year's picture but we are still missing three people

Please also join us in praying for Zhanna, our head chef at Agape. Her son was serving in the army on the front lines and has been declared missing. Several members of his team say he was killed but no body has been recovered so that is not official. Please pray for Zhanna is this obviously difficult time of waiting, that God would be her refuge and strength!

I trust and pray you all had a blessed holiday season and that the coming year will be filled with God's blessings in your lives. Thank you to all who pray for us and support us. If you would like to donate to the needs of Agape, please visit and click "Donate."

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Left Home, Went Home, and Came Back Home

It has been quite some time since my last update and, of course, very much has happened in that time! At the end of September, I left my Ukrainian home to return to my US home for 4 blessed weeks with family, friends, supporters, and new acquaintances. I was thankful to get to see so many of you and to share what is going on in Ukraine and at Agape. Thank you to the many who took time to get with me and for your concern and prayers for myself, Agape and all of Ukraine. Although my time in the US was not long, it was very blessed and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to make the trip. 

Several of you collected and donated scrubs for Agape employees. We actually received so many that I haven’t yet been able to get them all to Ukraine. Many, however, are here already and all of us at Agape are grateful for your generosity! That said, if anyone has men’s scrubs you would like to donate, please contact me as we continue to have a shortage.  

My return to Lutsk near the end of October was not a day too soon. We immediately had a series of situations that required me to substitute for therapists on our team one after another for about 2 weeks. As always, God’s timing is perfect! 

Several of our therapists continue to reside in Europe due to the war, so the number of patients at Agape is still limited to 11-12, but we have no shortage of people seeking our services. We continue to receive average citizens, soldiers wounded in combat, and we currently have our first civilian wounded during an attack on his city. In many ways, we are operating as normal at Agape. Rehab continues, birthdays and holidays are celebrated, and we even sometimes gather for after work activities. 

Katya, a dear friend and fellow PT, is the leader for group of people with disabilities that evacuated to Holland. Thankful she got to make a brief visit to Lutsk this fall, but really looking forward to the permanent return home of all who had leave Ukraine due to this war.  

Agape residents and employees celebrated Thanksgiving. 

In light of the ongoing war, however, there are also notable differences and nuances that have become part of a new “normal” for us. 

  • Signs now hang in the hallways of Agape to direct people to the designated “bomb shelter” locations in our building. 
  • Electricity goes out frequently. Thankfully, several years ago Agape purchased a powerful generator that can operate everything at Agape, including the elevator. So in a power outage, the guys only need a few minutes to get Agape back up and running. God is good! We are also hoping to be able to assist others in our village soon by designating a newly constructed room at Agape that has direct outdoor access as a place our neighbors can come to warm up, drink tea, charge devices, and use the internet when our village is without power. 
  • Three rooms at Agape are occupied by refugees who will remain with us for the winter. Among them are three ladies with disabilities and a mom (Irina) and her adult son who has a disability. They have now become familiar to us all and even pitch in around Agape wherever they are able. For example, I walked into the kitchen this week to find my former patient, Natalia, peeling potatoes. And Irina has taken on the responsibility of doing any needed sewing and also cleaning the rehab gym daily, which is no small task!   
  • Construction is moving forward on the Resource Center. This 3-story building will include an underground bomb shelter, a ground-level storage area for large equipment such as electric wheelchairs, and an upper floor for storage of smaller items such as nonperishable foods, hygiene and personal care supplies, etc. This a large and expensive undertaking, but it became apparent that it was necessary to construct this building even in the middle of a war.

So what is going on in our personal lives and the lives of Ukrainians? If you have been keeping up with the news, you know that Russia has been targeting Ukrainian energy infrastructure for some time now. Even as I write this (on Wednesday evening, November 22), I am working by candlelight and staying warm thanks to a fire in the wood stove. 

We, like everyone else, have stocked up on candles, batteries, water, and firewood. Agape was blessed with funds to provide firewood for 15 families and we were among the recipients. On Friday, men from Agape stacked it up nicely for us and also for another Agape family, finishing just in time for snow! 

Wednesday evening's power outage left basically all of Ukraine in a blackout and was the result of missile strikes across the country in the afternoon. It is difficult to describe the feeling of walking in our neighborhood or driving through the middle of the city and being surrounded by total or near total blackness. Our electricity was off for a solid 24 hours, but others experienced even longer outages. At our house, electricity is required for everything...light, water, and heating. The wood stove, however, provides us the opportunity to warm ourselves and food. We are also blessed to live near Agape and therefore have access to water, electricity, showers, and Wi-Fi for communication when needed. We know many other Ukrainians are not as blessed as us.   

Despite the current challenges each person in Ukraine faces to one extent or another these days, the spirit of the people is not shaken. In fact, Ukrainians appear more defiant than ever, certain that Russia cannot and will not win. The will of the people is to stand strong, even in darkness and cold. A quote by Ukrainian President Zelensky a few months ago has been appearing in various forms on social media in recent weeks and goes something like this: 

    Without gas or without you (Russia)? Without you.

    Without electricity or without you? Without you.

    Without water or without you? Without you.

    Without food or without you? Without you.

    Cold, hunger, darkness and thirst are not as terrible and deadly for us

    as your “friendship and brotherhood.” 

“Without you.” This is the sentiment of the Ukrainians I know and fuels the spirit to fight through the current difficulties in order to experience victory in a free Ukraine. 

There is so much more I could say, but for now I’ll close with some ways you can join us and support us in prayer:

  • Pray for those who have lost loved ones in the war. Just this week, a labor and delivery hospital in Ukraine was hit and a 2-day old baby was killed. Residential building across the country continue to be hit with civilians injured and killed. Soldiers are injured and killed daily. Pray for comfort, peace, and an end to this loss of life. 

  • Pray for the energy infrastructure of Ukraine to be able to be repaired after the repeated missile strikes so that thousands of people will not experience a winter without heat and electricity.  
  • Pray for us to recognize and seize opportunities to share the resources we have both personally and at Agape with those in need. As mentioned above, we at Agape are seeking ways assist our neighbors and also our employees and their families. Pray we have wisdom and adequate provision of resources to maximize our assistance to others in need. 
  • Pray for the construction of the Resource Center to continue to progress through the winter. 
  • Pray for thousands of Ukrainians who have inconsistent access to basic utilities, such as electricity, water, heat. Pray for government leaders, but also for churches and Christian organizations that are seeking ways to help their neighbors and communities. 
"Invincibility Stations" have set up around the country for citizens to warm up and charge up. 

Pray for Ukrainian victory in the war to come soon!! 

I am thankful God is still on His throne! Thank you for standing with us in prayer. If you have a desire to support Agape financially, please visit and click "Donate." 

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Unity in the Midst of War

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers meeting together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be were they to become “unity” conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship."

The Pursuit of God by A.W. Tozer

This quote stuck with me for some time after I came across it a few weeks ago and I came to see it's truth lived out in the Ukrainian church in these past months of war. I can only speak from experience in regards to my local church, Fimiam Church, but I believe it is a good representation of many, if not most, evangelical churches across Ukraine in these days. 

Fimiam Church has always been an active church body with brothers and sisters in Christ ministering in many spheres within the church and in society. But the onset of war led to the departure of over 100 church members to other countries and an influx of displaced people from other parts of Ukraine. Many ministries of the church were put on hold and new ministries, such as housing displaced people, daily prayer meetings, regular distributions of food and other humanitarian aid, and weekly evangelism services for the many displaced Ukrainians now living in Lutsk, needed to be organized and launched virtually overnight. New leaders needed to emerge to accept responsibility for these new directions of ministry. Displaced Ukrainian believers who found a church home in Fimiam Church desired not only to be knit into the church body, but also to serve as well. New ministries in the uncertain time of war, new leadership, new responsibilities, a near-constant need for flexibility, people serving alongside unknown and new people, and a rapid pace of change. It could have been a set-up for chaos, conflict, and confusion, but that is not what has occurred. Why?

First and foremost has been God's mercy and kindness to protect us from the chaos and conflict that could have taken place. Also, our pastors have led out in truly amazing ways, exemplifying humility and selflessness in ministry, reliance on God in prayer, and genuine and open love and concern not just for members of Fimiam Church in Lutsk and abroad, but also for other believers who came in search of a temporary or new permanent church home. I'm certain plenty of other good reasons could also be listed. 

But after I read the above quote, I slowly came to realize that the unity among believers at Fimiam Church and across many Ukrainian churches in this period of time is not a testament to the efforts of church leadership to teach on unity or attempt to "create" unity in the church. Instead it has been the automatic outflow of the individuals of the church being united to God in fervent times of prayer, in times of joint worship, and in personal times in His Word. Unity as a body of brothers and sisters has been the result of the unity of each individual with God. 

What are some other thoughts I've had recently regarding the war? In no particular order...

- War has brought a fresh realization that I am dependent on God for everything. He holds each of our lives and the outcome of this war in His hands. I can do nothing to stop the enemy, but God has all authority and so I pray to Him. When I awake in the morning, particularly after a night in which air raid sirens sounded, I thank God for His protection through the night and for the gift of a new day. I've read the news and I've seen the pictures. I know there are others whose lives ended on their beds when a missile struck their residence in the night. I do nothing to sustain my life through the night, so my day should start with gratitude to the One who does. 

- As a PT, I find myself hopeful that one positive result of this war will be improvement in the prosthetics and wheelchairs provided to people in Ukraine. There is a currently a great desire to provide the very best care and equipment to our wounded soldiers and that is good and right. Assistance is often sought from the West to provide the best prosthetics and wheelchairs. That is good, but I do hope that after the war, more Ukrainian prosthetists will have the knowledge, skills and materials to provide good prosthetics as this is an area that has been truly lacking. Also, I am hopeful that the process of obtaining a wheelchair will be streamlined and wheelchairs that meet the needs of the individual will be provided. So far we have had probably 10 soldiers with spinal cord injuries go through rehab at Agape. Thankfully, most came to us with a wheelchair, and sometimes a really good one, already provided to them. This is NOT the case for the average Ukrainian. Getting a wheelchair generally takes months, like 6-12 months, so if the person wants to be mobile at all they are forced to locate and purchase a wheelchair themselves, not a process most people can accomplish on their own. So I find myself increasingly hopeful that the rapid rise in the number of people with amputations and spinal cord injuries will have a positive result on the provision of prosthetics and wheelchairs in Ukraine. 

- I'm really glad I learned Ukrainian. Over the years, many Ukrainians have expressed surprise that I learned Ukrainian as many, probably actually most, missionaries learned Russian in the past. There were reasons for that, not the least of which is that Lutsk is a Ukrainian speaking city and I knew that ahead of time. With Russia as the aggressor and enemy in this war, many Ukrainians who have been Russian speakers are switching to Ukrainian, many Ukrainian speakers are trying to utilize less Russian words and phrases in their speech, and the topic of language comes up pretty often in various circles and strong opinions can be expressed regarding what language should or should not be spoken in Ukraine. All that to say, I'm increasingly thankful to have learned Ukrainian! 

- I'm thankful the Agape Rehabilitation Complex exists not just to improve people's lives physically, but to share the truth and love of the Gospel with them. The biggest need for us all is salvation from our sins. Only then can we live with true hope! And hope is something every Ukrainian seeks right now. I'm thankful we get to share the Source of true and eternal hope with people at Agape. 

- And to close, Ukraine is a beautiful country, don't you think? 

And Ukrainians are brave people! It's harvest time in Ukraine and the harvest is being reaped despite the war.

Please continue to pray for Ukraine, Ukrainians, the church in Ukraine and victory for Ukraine in the war!!