Erin Boswell’s two youngest daughters might be too young to really understand what Ukraine is or what’s happening there right now. But her oldest two — Claire, 9, and Lily, 5 — have a better idea.
They know their mother loves the eastern European country. And even more than that, they know she loves her friends there.
“When the conflict started, I was obviously very distraught, and they knew something upsetting was going on,” Boswell recalled. “So we found ways to talk to them about it and tell them what was going on.”
The girls were familiar with Ukraine. Boswell had served there as a Journeyman with the International Mission Board after she went on a mission trip with Whitesburg Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama, and developed a burden for the country.
“I had interned with the church’s missions ministry in college, and a week before we went on the trip, I was told I would be going off to an ESL camp separate from my team,” she remembered.
Boswell was disappointed — she had been planning a lot of the things the rest of the team would be doing and was excited about it.
“But I went, and it changed something in me, and I just knew I’d be back in Ukraine,” Boswell said.
Over time, God opened a door for her to go back to the city of Poltava as a Journeyman. And once again, she’d be going it alone, with teammates supporting her from other cities. She said being the only IMB missionary in Poltava pushed her to develop a network of Ukrainian friends even faster than she might have otherwise.
“I developed relationships with many believers and nonbelievers, and they became my lifeline,” Boswell said.
She’s kept up with them since returning to the U.S. in 2010. She talks regularly with them, gets language lessons online and celebrates Ukrainian Independence Day every year with her daughters.
“They have learned to love my Ukrainian friends as well,” Boswell said.
Empty the piggy bank
So when they heard their Ukrainian friends were hurting, Claire and Lily wanted to do something about it. They’d been saving their money since they had visited a cat café in North Carolina, where the family now lives, because they wanted to start one of their own one day. They’d begun a baking business, selling cookies and pastries to make money to fund their café dream.
But one night Boswell walked into the dining room and found two envelopes lying on the table — one yellow, one blue — in the shape of the Ukrainian flag. Each was from one of her older daughters and contained the entirety of their savings.
“They had emptied their piggy banks into these envelopes to send to my friends who were trying to get west,” Boswell said. “They also said, ‘Can we open our baking business again to raise money for Ukraine?’
“And they were just so earnest about it, so I put on Instagram that they were doing that and said if you’d like to combine forces with us to help some friends we know in real life, Claire will make you cookies or banana bread.”
By the end of the day, Boswell had about $1,000 worth of gifts in her Venmo account. After a few days, they’d gotten up to $1,500. And now, a couple of weeks later, donations are still coming in. The total is more than $3,500 as of March 24.
“We’re doing our best to take in money and send it to people who have real needs,” she said.
Boswell noted all of her friends who have had to leave did so in a hurry. For those who are traveling, the money can help buy food and other necessary things. For others who have stayed behind, the funds can provide hot meals and also help people they’ve taken in who are refugees from other parts of Ukraine.
It’s tough for everyone, Boswell said. Since men between 18 and 60 have had to stay in Ukraine to fight, the wives and children who have fled are worried about their husbands, as well as older parents and grandparents who refused to leave their homes.
“One of the biggest things I find myself praying for is that [those who fled] would meet with kindness and the love of Jesus in their new places,” Boswell said, “that they would find people willing to take them in and care for them after a traumatic journey across their homeland and that the Lord would protect those they had to leave behind.”
She also prays regularly with her husband and daughters that truth would be made known and that God would protect the innocent.
“We are praying for healing for the hurt and devastation that’s happening,” she said. “It’s going to be a part of their lives for the rest of their lives and something that is unbelievably difficult to recover from.”
Even so, Boswell said her friends who are believers can see God’s hand in the middle of the heartbreak.
“I have a friend who has made her way with her family to western Ukraine, and she has been journaling her thoughts and the way she’s seeing the Lord at work,” Boswell said. “It’s amazing to see how she’s finding the Lord’s hand at work, and the beautiful things she’s finding in the midst of all the darkness and fear, and how she’s watching the church step up and serve.”
Boswell asked prayer for “the believers in Ukraine to be able to stand firm in their faith in these hard times.”