Gert Hijkoop – Netherlands:
In the first week of December we made a memorable visit to our friends in Uzhgorod, Ukraine. It was a privilege to see the work of the Rock of Salvation Church with our own eyes, to meet with people and in particular with Edik and Liana and their son, Adam.
Uzhgorod is a beautiful town on the border with Slovakia, built on both banks of the river Uzh, with a town centre that speaks of prosperous times in the past. For myself it was my first ever visit to Ukraine, and so I cannot compare what we saw with life in Ukraine in peace time.
At first sight life in Uzhgorod seemed to go on as quite normal, apart from the lack of street lights by night and working traffic lights during the day. Traffic is busy. Shops and restaurants are open, with people enjoying themselves and going about their daily life. When the air alarm went off (only once during our visit), it seemed to be ignored by everyone, as so far no attack has been directed to Uzhgorod during the war. So, the town appears to be a ‘safe’ place in Ukraine. But behind the ’look’ there is the awareness that this could easily change as during our stay, someone remarked that, “The people’s response will change as soon as the first rocket hits Uzhgorod.”
It would also not be the first time for Uzhgorod to suffer from war. A quick look on the town’s Wikipedia page shows that the area has experienced multiple periods of war, with much suffering and cruelty coming with it.
Our closest encounter with war was meeting with the refugees that are housed in the hotel and cared for by the church (under the capable and committed leadership of Edik and Liana). Their stories hit home:
- an elderly couple from Donetsk, leaving behind everything, yet grateful and full of joy;
- a woman with her 97 year old mother from Charkow, who had to hide underground for days before fleeing to the west of Ukraine;
- an elderly couple from Krematorsk, with an invalid son staying behind in occupied territory;
- a mother with two teenage sons from Luhansk, with their husband and father in Kiev, not knowing whether their house in the east is still standing. The eldest son is now almost 18 and has to enlist soon for the army;
- a mother with daughter and granddaughter from Donetsk, living like the others together in a hotel room. After having first fled to Lviv, they had to flee again because the missiles were coming close;
- a young couple, with the wife having MS and the son needing medicines as well;
- an old widow, who had lost everything, and who had a son who was a medical specialist in Mariupol but has now gone missing; she does not know where he is;
Despite their stories and life in a cold and often dark hotel (with no heating and only light for part of the day), these people showed an amazing resilience and also gratefulness that is sobering and also humbling, in light of our own infinitely better circumstances. It made us realise how privileged we are to be able to support Edik and Liana in their care for these people.
On Friday, the team went to a gipsy church outside Uzhgorod, with Emma serving God’s loved ones there with the Word and on Saturday, there was a visit to a real Ukrainian spa followed by a prayer meeting later that day. Sadly, there is no first hand report from me on these activities as I had to self-isolate due to a positive Covid test.
On Sunday morning I was able to join the others again for church. The room was packed, filled with people and passionate worship and prayer led by Edik, Liana and Adam, serving as family. One realises the great commitment they show in this as well, given all the work they do in helping the refugees. What was particularly striking was the bold prayer for full victory over Russia together with a heartfelt prayer to bless their enemies, with no attempts to address questions of how to reconcile both. Kevin preached his heart out on the beatitudes from Matthew 5 and was well received. With real strength and full of faith Edik followed up by leading the mInistry time for prayer for healings, further encouraged by people sharing their testimonies of provision and healing.
After a wonderful Ukrainian lunch at a restaurant there was some time to wander through town. In the evening we had supper with Edik, Liana and Adam at their apartment (a suggestion to skip that in order to give them a break fell on deaf ears). We parted without knowing who was more blessed by our visit, they or us.
On Monday morning we were blessed with an exercise in patience at the border, which ate into all our spare travel time for the journey home. But Kevin and Emma rally-drove us (as a capable driver and navigator) over the many and very long single-lane roads through Slovakia and into Poland, returning us safely, and on time, to Krakow airport…and to home.