By MICHAEL HARRISON
For Krystiyan Rudenko [not her real name], the Russian invasion of Ukraine is more than world news, or even world history. It is her story, and now, forever a part of her history. Living in Kiev, the daughter of a Baptist minister, the future became ominous for Krystiyan, as it did for all Ukrainians in the early days of Russia’s “special military operation.” With Vladimir Putin’s perceived objective of seizing their nation’s capital and annexing their country, Rev. Rudenko and his wife determined that they should arrange for their 20 year old daughter’s emigration to safety in Romania. That passage to sanctuary would come by way of the team at Finding Hope Ministries.
Fast-forward six months to August of this year: With the securing of Kiev and the successful defense against Russian military advances, the future looks appreciably less stark for Ukrainians. And 20 year old Krystiyan is getting homesick. Her return trip into Ukraine would again be facilitated by Finding Hope Ministries. On this occasion, the team would be comprised of two drivers/translators and three Alexander County natives: Tori Jolly, Kevin Powell, and myself. In addition to Rudenko, the team would carry mattresses, food, bottled water, and Bibles.
With a delayed start on the morning of August 4, and further delays in trying to cross the Romania/Ukraine International Border, everyone, especially the drivers, was growing impatient. Finally arriving at a village church where our delivery was to be made, it was shortly past 7:00 p.m. local time.
What we learned upon arriving is that, since the beginning of the war, Ukrainians have gathered in their churches every evening at 7:00 for prayer vigils. Our arrival coincided with the meeting of villagers who had just begun their prayers for their country. Upon entering the sanctuary, we were witness to congregants who were not seated or standing, but on their knees, on the floor, praying audibly for Ukraine.
After prayers, villagers rose and sang a single hymn. At the conclusion of the service, the church’s pastor, Artem Melnyk, asked if we would like to address his congregation. While speaking, we began to hear rainfall on the church’s rooftop. But by the time we dismissed, the rain shower had ended. Upon exiting the church sanctuary, we were met with a spectacular rainbow which seemed to end just behind us, between the church and its annex [see photo], where we were about to park our van for unloading. The sight of God’s rainbow signaled to me that our anxieties of “running late” were unwarranted. We had arrived at the precise moment God had intended, and He was there with us.
Later that evening, Rev. Melnyk’s wife, Daryna, prepared a wonderful traditional Ukraine dinner while the pastor talked to us about his village’s experiences in the war. He described how, in the early days of the invasion, air raid sirens would sound and villagers would retreat to their basements for shelter. But as the months wore on, Ukrainians began paying less attention to the alarms until eventually they were ignored altogether. He related that if citizens scrambled at every alert, they would get very little done and wouldn’t have much of a life. They came to realize that control of their individual fates was an illusion, and they made conscious decisions to place their lives in God’s hands.
After spending the night in private homes, our hosts saw us off on our return trip to the border. Traveling several hours and nearing the border, I texted my wife, Ginny, that we were approaching it. She replied with prayers for our smooth crossing. After passing through two checkpoints, I mistakenly messaged Ginny that we were crossing into Moldova. It was at this point that we were halted by border police a third time. When an officer approached our driver’s window, he held a paper, on which he pointed to the name of Krystiyan Rudenko and asked where she was. Our driver explained that she is Ukrainian and was on her way home, to which the officer responded, “That’s a problem.” He ordered us to remain where we were — while he went inside his office for about an hour.
While sitting nervously in our van, I texted Ginny that I was unsure what was going on, but that immigration wanted to see Krystiyan and that we didn’t have her. Ginny replied that she was alerting the prayer chain. About an hour later the border officer returned to our van and our driver asked if everything was alright. The officer motioned for us to proceed and said in English, “No mention, no mention.” I still have no idea what the complication was, but I feel certain that we were brought through it by praying residents in and around Taylorsville.
Tori, Kevin, and I were blessed by the opportunity to be of service to Finding Hope Ministries and to the people of Ukraine. And we are grateful to those who carried us in prayer. It is a partnership of faith.
Finding Hope is a certified 501c3 charitable organization. To partner in this ministry, we ask that you include us in your prayers. You may also make a tax-deductible donation by mailing a check or money order to:
Finding Hope Ministries
PO Box 309
Taylorsville, NC 28681
If you would like a representative of Finding Hope to speak to your church or organization, please contact Kevin Powell at 828-514-2719 or Mike Harrison at 828-352-4131.