'Shells fall every few seconds', Gennadiy told Martin Tatham, speaking from the quiet of his home in Pereshchepyne, some 70 kilometres north of Dnipro, reliving the experience of his recent visit to his native village and surrounding area on the front line in eastern Ukraine.
He had been travelling a great deal in the previous weeks. Apart from this mercy trip to the Donetsk region, there were the regular 180 kilometre round trips to buy food and other supplies for the displaced people who come to the church for help each week, and he had just returned from a journey to Lviv, 1,000 kilometres away in the west of Ukraine, where he had been able to pick up medicines and other vital supplies. All this in the trusty Renault minibus bought from appeal funds early on in the crisis. Gennadiy believes it is a miracle that this vehicle has never needed any repairs, in spite of the hard tasks it is asked to perform, and the heavy loads it has borne for months now.
And off went the minibus again, into the perils and dangers of the front line, along with Gennadiy's musician son Viktor (who has military experience) and Gennadiy himself, supported by the prayers of many who knew they were on their risk-filled way to those places Gennadij knows well, and whose people are dear to him. He stopped to pass packages of aid (food, torches, literature, and other supplies)to soldiers at checkpoints, prayed with them, and told them the gospel message. Many of their comrades have been killed by now. Gennadiy feels the spiritual need of men who are in such a dreadful, dread-filled situation. Some of them would never have listened to Gennadiy under normal circumstances, but now they listened respectfully. 'The main thing is not to die without God, without accepting Jesus''It's very easy to preach the word of God on the frontline. People who look in the face of death every day better understand the need for faith in God.'. In a Facebook post, Gennadiy said
Then in the small town where he was born, as firing goes on incessantly, sometimes very close, sometimes slightly farther away, Gennadiy and son Viktor stopped their van and looked for those who would very hesitantly and fearfully appear from dim basements where they have not even been able to wash for months. 'Imagine the smell'. They are people with no idea of what is going on outside their cold, lightless little world, as they have no electricity, no Internet, no mobile phone connection. No shops, no basic health care, and no interest in their plight from anyone outside their town, they know. Except for these two men who have risked their lives to bring them food, blankets, Bibles, water, torches,and some medicines, who come when they can with bread, and who never leave without sharing Biblical truth with them. 'We love you. God loves you'
This has been an exceptionally mild winter. Yes, there is snow, and there are below-freezing temperatures. But we thank God for this mercy of not-as-harsh-as-normal conditions, which undoubtedly have helped these people and thousands like them to survive in the harsh climate of eastern Ukraine. Even so, for people whose health has deteriorated so much in the past year, winter has been one more trial they have had to face.
Back to Pereshchepyne. Supposedly to rest, but Gennadiy confesses 'Sometimes I am so tired I can't sleep'. We asked about his health, knowing that he has a (benign) tumour in his head which a few months ago needed treatment. He replied that in war-time, 'the small diseases disappear!' There is the normal pastoral ministry to attend to, the home groups to organise, the sermon preparation to press on with, the prayer meeting to attend, the displaced people to pray with, comfort and care for. He has been able to help other churches receive generators and power banks and so on from the supplies sent out from our funds. And of course there are the blankets! After the arrival of the first of these, Gennadiy wrote, 'We started to give the blankets in the church for refugees and needy people. This is a big help for many and people are so thankful to get such a blessing. One lady told us she was praying for a warm blanket but didn't believe she would get such a beautiful one. Another lady told us that the blanket she got from us was the best in her life. Thank you, dear friends, for your gifts, which made so many people be happy in such a difficult time for Ukraine! God bless you!'
So much to pray for. Yet Gennadiy would have us focus on his own need to not become hard and callously vengeful, or to hate all Russians. 'The problem is Evil, not the Russians', and 'Our biggest enemy is Hatred'. He also wants us to pray that he and his church would be neither just social workers nor just 'religious people'. He urges each of his congregation to seek to be 'a man (or woman) of God'.
We thank the Lord for this man of God, for his supportive wife, Elena and for their church 'Way of Salvation'. We know you will continue to pray for them and for all those to whom they have reached out boldly and faithfully with the wonderful news about hope in Christ.