Shortly before the start of the Ukraine war, Aidan Schooley brought together a small group of people to pray about the potentially dangerous situation. After the invasion began the group started to meet regularly, usually weekly, and continues to this time.
The situation is complex and messy. It’s hard to know how to pray. Viewed through the lens of God’s church, the gospel and the reality of spiritual warfare, however, things become much clearer.
Through our links with the senior leaders of ChristCentral churches in Ukraine, living in a city we will call X, we can feel the pressures and pain that the ongoing conflict has brought. Though X is not very close to the front lines, it is near enough to receive a constant stream of refugees. Air raid alerts occur daily and some missiles have landed. One poignant story is of a man who escaped Mariupol with great difficulty only to be killed by a missile while doing his new job in X. Everyone lives in constant tension, with reduced supplies, now also with frequent unscheduled power outages as Russia attempts to destroy civilian infrastructure. There is a similar situation throughout Ukraine, and the plight of citizens in the occupied areas is even worse.
Faced with such difficulties and pain, what is our response? Scripture gives a clear challenge:
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)
If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. (Corinthians 12:26)
In our prayers, we stand with our brothers and sisters in their suffering, weep with them in their pain, and rejoice with them in the blessings as God answers prayer.
The darkness gives amazing opportunities for the light of Christ to shine. The church in X has been able to receive hundreds of refugees, listening to their stories of pain and meeting their practical needs. Through the generosity of ChristCentral and Newfrontiers churches worldwide they have been able to give thousands of food parcels and items of clothing, as well as providing regular meals and temporary or longer term accommodation, including in their own homes. We pray for strength and provision for our friends to continue their demanding service to the refugees in their relentless needs.
Moreover, it seems that the tragic loss of so much has many people more open to God. Since the war began the church meeting in X has grown from 40 to 120, with a number of baptised new converts who have enrolled in discipleship programs. A wall in the church building has been demolished to make room for larger meetings. There have been similar experiences in many parts of Ukraine. The light shines more brightly in the darkness! Therefore, we continue to pray for the work of the gospel, grace for the converts and strength for the existing leaders, and new leaders to be raised up. We also pray for Ukrainian refugees in Leeds with whom we have contact.
It is incredibly inspiring to meet with these Ukrainian believers and hear their stories. Yet we are also conscious of the great cost to them, as they continue to pour out their lives in service to the Lord and those around them in such challenging situations. They need our prayers!
Finally, there is a spiritual battle to engage in. As we see the destruction and theft of so much Ukrainian land and property, together with the loss of life, we are reminded of the words of Jesus:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10: 10)
This wholesale destruction can only be seen as a work of Satan, to be resisted.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Ephesians 6: 12-13)
This perspective becomes even stronger on understanding that Ukraine has been a significant sending base for missions to surrounding nations, including Russia. All this is threatened by the invasion. Moreover, the church has been severely suppressed in occupied territories. According to the European Evangelical Alliance, Christians in Donbas are the most persecuted in Europe.
Therefore, in our prayer we seek to stand against the works of the enemy and to see God’s kingdom come. We “pray for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” (1 Timothy 2:1-2), because
this is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)
We pray for leaders, for a just peace and for the destruction of the works of the enemy, not out of nationalistic interests but for the sake of the gospel.
As time has gone on, we have felt that we should commit to praying this matter through, for as long as it takes. This is no light challenge and ‘Ukraine fatigue’ affects us all, but God is giving us the grace to persevere.
Currently around 6-10 people meet for 30-40 minutes every Sunday evening to pray, using Zoom. Sometimes we are joined by one or more of the leaders from X. Persistence is not always easy, but it is very rewarding, especially when we have the encouragement of answered prayer and inspiration from the lives of those we pray for.