Olesia is a pastor’s wife. Normally she and her husband serve a church in a small town in western Ukraine.
However, these days, nothing is normal for Ukrainians.
Olesia’s husband continues to live in the family’s home, helping refugees who pass through as they head out of the country. He hosts as many as he can in the two school buildings the couple used to operate. He also travels back and forth to the east with his van packed with humanitarian aid. He sent Olesia and the couple’s three children to Prague for safety.
But in Prague Olesia found more than safety. She found a need for ministry.
“Olesia said she didn’t want to ‘waste time’ as a refugee, so she worked with a Russian language church to start a school and day care center for Ukrainian refugee children in Prague,” says Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley.
The Czech government estimates that more than 300,000 refugees arrived in the country as of the end of March. Almost half are children, and 80% of the adults are women. “Since the women are busy taking care of paperwork and other requirements, there was a natural need for day care and education for their children,” says Representative Foley.
Representative Foleys says that as Olesia began to care for the children, some of their needs were expected, like helping them deal with trauma, homesickness, and restless energy. But other needs surprised her.
“What is amazing is that children actually don’t know the Bible,” says Olesia in an interview with Serge, one of the US missionary organizations who is providing housing and aid to Ukrainian refugees in Prague.
Olesia found that she needed to start from the beginning, borrowing an English language children’s picture Bible for her lessons.
“We are very glad that God is using us, you know, and we are hoping that these seeds will grow, and the hope of salvation,” says Olesia.
“In the way most of our churches think, Olesia and her children are classified as refugees, and the goal is assumed to be getting them back home and returning everything to normal as soon as possible,” says Representative Foley. “But Olesia’s description of the children as ‘seeds’ is a reminder that God is always doing something bigger than what we can see or understand.”
Olesia is pictured with her husband, Pastor Joseph and her three children while she was still in Ukraine.
Representative Foley says that the “something bigger” bears many similarities to the missionary “surge” that launched Ukraine’s remarkable church growth in the first place in the period from 1989 to 1999.
“At that time as the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukrainian men were leading the underground church back out into the public square. So it was primarily women and young people who answered God’s summons to travel in some cases a thousand kilometers from home, to establish some of the first evangelical churches across the former Soviet countries in places like Siberia,” says Representative Foley. “The Ukrainian church had not yet acquired a missionary vision, and there were no seminaries or missionary training programs. The Holy Spirit simply moved some young Ukrainian Christians, many of them women, to go far away from home and evangelize. Since the missionaries were women and young people without titles or training, the churches often consisted of even younger people, as well as outcasts. In the midst of the chaos of the collapse of the Soviet Union, God used these unlikely, untrained, untitled church planters to ‘reboot’ the church.”
Representative Foley says that she sees a similar movement of God at work among Ukrainian Christian refugees like Olesia.
“I think women like Olesia should be thought of not just as refugees but as church planters,” says Representative Foley. She suspects that God may be using the conflict with Russia to “reboot” the Ukrainian church and, with it, the Christian communities of Europe with whom the Christian refugee women will come in contact. “As the scripture shows, sometimes it is when we are away from our home and country that our children first learn the Bible.”
This young Ukrainian refugee attends Olesia’s classes in Prague. She gave him a Bible as a gift.
Representative Foley has received a request from her organization’s sister mission in the region, Voice of the Martyrs Poland, to travel to the refugee areas along the border to provide Christian trauma recovery workshops to Ukrainian Christian refugees. Previously, Representative Foley has delivered the workshops for traumatized Christians from Eritrea, Cameroon, China, and North Korea. She says she is encouraged by the report of VOM Poland that there are many women like Olesia among the refugees.
“Olesia did not simply flee to the Czech Republic out of fear,” says Representative Foley. “As she says, she had a desire not to waste her time when the war broke out, but instead to serve. And it turns out that how Olesia is serving the Ukrainian refugee children is exactly how trauma recovery happens.”
Representative Foley employs a multidisciplinary trauma recovery method called “SFCR”, which stands for “Strengthening Family Coping Resources”. The method, developed by Laurel J. Kiser, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Maryland, has been adapted by Representative Foley especially for use by Christian participants. She says that the process of trauma recovery and church planting are surprisingly similar.
“Trauma occurs when people’s routines are disrupted far beyond their coping mechanisms,” says Representative Foley. “The best treatment for trauma is to ‘reboot’ those coping mechanisms within the traumatized person’s household or sphere of influence.” For Christians, according to Representative Foley, that ‘reboot’ takes the form of daily household worship. “What we see with traumatized Christians is that when even in the midst of their trauma they set aside a regular time for prayer, singing, and reading the scripture, not just by themselves but with those they live with or those around them, there is a measurable reduction in the hormones associated with stress. Family household worship is God’s scriptural method of recovery from trauma.”
The refugee children in Olesia’s class are not only receiving trauma care, but they are learning about the Bible for the first time.
“In many ways, the church planting surge by Ukrainian women and young people at the time of the Soviet Union’s collapse was a form of trauma recovery,” says Representative Foley. “The simple daily coping mechanisms of prayer, Bible study, and singing worship songs filled the gap left by the collapse of Communist ideology and daily life in the Soviet Union.”
Representative Foley says that whether Ukrainian Christian refugees return home, migrate to another country permanently, or stay as refugees for some time, she believes that the same mechanisms that help them overcome trauma will help the Ukrainian church to “reboot” as well.
“It’s too bad that churches around the world are regarding their work with Ukrainian Christians as done now that humanitarian aid has been provided,” says Representative Foley. “Really, the work of the church around the world to support Ukrainian Christians is just beginning. That work is about equipping Ukrainian Christians to rebuild their churches household by household, even as their ordinary households are disrupted. It’s about finding all of the ‘Olesias’ and equipping them with the vision and tools to seeing themselves as God-sent church planters and seed planters, not just refugees.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea is continuing to administer its Ukraine Christian Emergency Relief project to aid Ukrainian churches and Christians with their ministries. VOMK is also continuing to distribute Families of Martyrs funds to surviving family members of Ukrainian Christians who are killed in the act of Christian witness. Those who are interested in making a donation to either fund can do so at www.vomkorea.com/en/donation or via electronic transfer to:
국민은행 (KB Bank) 463501-01-243303
예금주 (Account Holder): (사)순교자의소리
Please include the word “Ukraine” or “Families of Martyrs” with the donation.