Among the refugees with whom Pastor Misha has been working are families of Christians who had to escape the war zone in Eastern Ukraine. One such family is the family of Natalia. Together with her mother and 3 kids she had to leave Donetsk in June 2014. Since that time they have been in Odessa region, trying to adapt to their new life. We visited them with Pastor Misha. Last year, we helped Natalia with the funds to pay for her apartment for 6 months. Now the six months for giving the funds is expired and we want to see how they are getting along with their life.
Working with the refugees, both Christian and non-Christian, we see different people. Many of them just sit and wait for any outside help to be given to them, both from the government and from the other donors. But they do nothing in order to take the responsibility for their own life. On the another hand, we see people trying hard to start over. We have much sympathy for these people and we want to help them first of all.
We entered an apartment house and went into the ugly apartment where Natalia has moved just a couple weeks ago. It is one room apartment with a kitchen. In a main living room there are 3 beds for 5 of them. The oldest daughter Anastasia (17) sits at the desk by the window and does her homework. She is a first year student at a teachers school. Samson (7) and Abram (4) are playing with model car’s. Natalia’s mom – Elena is at the kitchen making some tea for Misha.
We talk to Natalia and learn about her life. As a refugee she is paid $90 per month by the government. She also receives a monthly social payment of $50 per month for her youngest son. In order to meet the family budget she got part-time job at a state social center. Her job is to visit elderly people and take care for them. It is like a home care job. She is paid $45.00 per month at this job. So, the income for the family is $185.00 per month and the rent cost is $115.00 per month. She says it is hard to survive but the church and other groups are helping her with food stuff so they do not spend much for the food.
It is clear the family needs are not being met. Misha asked us to consider taking the kids on our kid’s support program, which we are willing to do. Hopefully we will support all 3 children with $50.00 per month each and that would help the whole family.
It is always a delicate moment to ask single mothers like Natalia “where is the father of a kids.” We asked her and Natalia explained that he left her right after the youngest son was born. What makes it even worse is that he was a church member. They’re divorced now and he stays in Donetsk but doesn’t pay any support for the kids and does not want to do anything for the family. We feel upset and discouraged. It is hard to imagine how difficult the daily reality is for this family. We see the fight for Natalia is for a good future of her kids.
Natalia and Anastasia joined Misha’s church and take an active part in the church life.
After a couple hours visit we left them and continued our conversation with Misha. He is a realist and understands that for a young woman like Natalia it is very hard to live without a husband. It is hard to see how she’ll support her family in the future without some external support given to them. So, Misha says, “I’ll be praying for her to find a good Christian man, who’ll be a good husband to her and a father to the kids.
Our work in Ukraine is impossible without pastors like Misha. They live among the people and know their needs and problems. If their congregations are not able to provide help to people, they give us (Emergency Relief Fund) information on those people in need and we help, when that is possible. Misha is a man with a big heart. About 15 years ago he started his ministry to the street kids in Odessa. He organized a soup kitchen for them and also started Bible lessons for the kids. When he walks on the streets, you see people greeting him. He is known for his heart and people know that “uncle Misha” will have a good word for them and other help as well.He calls me often with a new story of a person he met and needs some help. His phone rings all day long and he listens to people who have difficult situations. He comforts them on the phone and gives them instructions and encouragement. Misha is different from the typical portrait of a pastor as we think of it. He is right in the heart of people’s lives.
Misha is fighting with his own health issues. About 10 years ago his hormonal system became disrupted and since that time he is gaining weight even though he is on a strict diet. He is concerned about it because he does not have much strength. His is frustrated because he cannot labor in the ministry as much as he used to. He also is evaluating his ministry to the kids and to the refugees. He asks himself a question- “Do the people come for the meetings he organizes just to get something from him or is there a deeper interest in the Word of God.
When I visited a site for the refugees on this visit he told me that he had stopped going here because there is nothing else at the moment he can give to the people except the Word of God. He felt that people would not come to the meetings with him if he came with empty hands – without food packages and other stuff they need.
As we entered the building right away people started approaching him and asking him why he is not coming to them anymore. He told them he could come at any time but the problem is that he had nothing to bring to them. The reaction of some people right away was that they left us. But a lady came to us and said – “pastor you should come here even if, out of several hundred refugees, just 3 or 4 would come for a meeting, for a Bible study. And I know several people here who are deeply interested in studying the Bible with you”.
That was a great encouragement for both of us. We talked among ourselves and thought of crowds of people who were following our Lord Jesus Christ, just because they saw the miracles of the bread and fish. When involved in the ministry we will always have people following us for the wrong motives. But the joy for a pastor is to see 4 out of hundreds in whose hearts the Lord is working.
Lisa is 17. In 1999 she was diagnosed with leukemia and later on she was infected with the hepatitis. Since that day she is constantly fighting with both deceases. There were difficult surgeries – a bone marrow transplantation and other procedures. Her state of health requires a great amount of funds to pay for the expensive medications and tests. Once every 3 months, she goes to the hospital for the needed procedures. She is a sweet girl. She has to wear a wig due to all the chemotherapy. Together with her mom, Alyona, and sister, Sophia, they had to leave their home in the city of Lugansk, because of the war in Eastern Ukraine. They moved to Odessa, hoping that would only be for a couple of weeks. But since June 2014 they are still there and looks like they will not be able to move back to their home in the near future. They all live in a small room given to them for free rent by the Ukrainian state.
Before the war the family had no connection with the Christian church. The first contact with Christians they made here in Odessa region. Pastor Misha, with other people from his church started visiting the refugees in their camp, helping them with the food and also gathering with them for Bible study. The refugees are very vulnerable and they are hungry for any spiritual and emotional support. In the case of Lisa and her family, her sickness made them even more vulnerable. In Lugansk they had their apartment and Alyona had a job with a flexible work schedule. This allowed her to take care of Lisa. But when they got to Odessa they only had a small social benefit paid to them by the State as refugees. These funds were not enough to supply Lisa with the medications needed for her treatments. Pastor Misha and his small congregation started to collect money for this purpose and give it to Lisa. Since December 2014, we were able to give her some extra support through our Emergency Relief Fund program.
The hand extended to them by the church was given just when they needed it the most. They still cannot understand how in the world people who’re not related to them are willing to help them. They appreciate it a lot and do not take it for granted. Recently Lisa’s health has turned for the worse requiring a new course of medications. For the next several months they will need around $350.00 monthly in order to pay for it. They do not have it and the congregation doesn’t have such resources available.
When I talked to Alyona, I had to ask her directly – “if we would not be able to support your daughter with the funds for medications, what would happen then?” She thought for a moment and responded – “since we moved here, our life has been full of miracles. I hope that God will keep caring for my daughter and my family…”
I do not believe our meeting with people is just a chance encounter. I know there is a reason why Pastor Misha and I have met this family. So I’m taking this situation as described by Christ in Mathew 25:35, 36 and 40. It is not about Lisa only, but about serving Christ, by serving and helping Lisa.
Matthew 25:35,36 and 40:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: 36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. 40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.