Rob Jackson said when he was in Ukraine in early July, a Baptist pastor told him the story of a young mother who showed up at his church.
“She fled with her two children from a place that was being bombed by the Russians,” said Jackson, director of the office of church health for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. “She was seven months pregnant, and when she got to the Baptist church, she went into labor and delivered the baby.”
The baby survived, but three days later the woman found out her husband had been killed.
“She wept and asked the pastor, ‘What am I to do now? I have no husband, no job and three small children. What am I supposed to do?’
“The pastor said he could multiply her story thousands of times,” Jackson lamented. “He told me we see on the news in America that it’s bad in Ukraine, but it’s worse than we could ever imagine.”
That’s why Jackson and two other volunteers from the U.S. recently visited pastors in Ukraine, as well as nearby Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria. In past years as part of a partnership with Ukraine, Alabama Baptists trained 150 pastors in the country. Recently, the seminary there asked if Alabama Baptists could come again and encourage them at a time when they need it most.
So Jackson, who also is president of Romanian-American Mission, answered that call, along with North Carolina pastor Billy Nale of Fairview Baptist Church in Dobson and Kentucky executive pastor Scott Riessen of Buck Run Baptist Church in Frankfort. Daniel Fodorean, coordinator of Project Antioch, RAM’s ministry in Europe, hosted the group that also visited Moldova, Romania and Bulgaria.
Running on empty
As they visited with pastors in all four countries, the group heard how pastors are stretched thin as they give everything they have to care for refugees who arrive at their doors. Money is running low, and workers are exhausted, Jackson said.
“In Ukraine, churches are getting smaller and older as many people flee and many younger men are drafted to serve in the army,” he related. “In other countries, where there might have been an influx of volunteer help at the beginning of the war, now that help is waning. The churches said they continue to have more needs but fewer and fewer people to meet those needs.”
So churches have found creative ways to try to help, and they’ve seen God continually provide, Jackson said.
His trip was paid for by donors who wanted to help support pastors, and he took $70,000 donated by Spring Hill Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama; Elkdale Baptist Church in Selma, Alabama; and other supporters of RAM. With that money he was able to support 25 pastors for the next three months.
“The money lifted their spirits because they’ve given everything away,” Jackson said. “They were also encouraged because I told them we were going to continue to support them in any way we can.”
Jackson said the pastors understand this war is an opportunity to make Christ known, and they don’t want to miss it. One church gave out 7,000 packets of food, sharing the gospel with each person who received one.
“This pastor shared that the war enabled their small congregation to share Christ with more people than any other single time,” Jackson said.
He asked the pastors what their biggest disappointment of this season had been, and their answer surprised him.
“They said they had thought, ‘Surely this war on top of COVID and economic problems would drive the Ukrainian people to their knees seeking God,’ but thus far it’s not happening,” Jackson lamented. “They say they rejoice over every one of the few refugees who have responded to the gospel, but they would love for Baptists to pray that God would draw the people to Himself.”
Jackson said it was an honor to represent Alabama Baptists as he encouraged pastors who are serving 24/7 on the frontlines and reminded them that Baptists in Alabama are praying for them.
“I think it also encouraged them just knowing that an American was willing to take on the risk of coming there to visit,” Jackson said, noting that crossing the border into Ukraine meant giving up the right to health insurance, life insurance and government aid.
A group of 20 pastors in one of the countries asked him to give a sermon of encouragement on the spot. Jackson said he prayed for God’s guidance and took the opportunity to remind the group they have hope and they need to keep running the race because this isn’t their home.
“They had tears in their eyes,” Jackson said.
He noted they asked for prayer for four things — that God would stop the war, that churches would stay united, that families would be protected and stay together, and that volunteers would be sent to help in the effort.
To read more on how a Ukrainian church is helping save lives, click here.