Earth is my footstool. 

by Japhin John, YWAM Kyiv 10.04.22

When I try to recollect what happened on February 24th, everything blurs. I remember waking up to someone hammering on the door. “It has started. Kyiv is under bombing”. The next thing I remember is how we got on our knees. We prayed a desperate prayer. God, what will become of all the church plants? God, all the missionaries who have invested their lives in this country! All the pastors and their families. God, do not let this work for your kingdom come to nothing.
Ukraine was an island of freedom. Surrounded by many unfree states where evangelism is illegal and missionaries have to work underground. In January, I welcomed a team from Germany in Kyiv. We shared the Gospel in the streets, visited drug addicts, orphaned children, and refugees from the East. Telling them about the hope that can only be found in Jesus. Ukraine was a land of revival: Where teens on the streets are open to talk about Jesus. Where drug addicts repent and have their lives changed radically. A country rising from its dark Soviet past and searching for meaning.

43 days ago we came desperately before God. In the days that followed, we learned to distinguish the distance of battles around Kyiv based on the sound of explosions. Today was the first day we not only heard but saw with our own eyes the extent of the destruction. We headed to the recently liberated villages around Kyiv with 100 food packages in our trunk. Hoping to provide the most basic supplies for people who survived this nightmare. 
In the first village, we meet three ladies (or babushkas, “grandmothers”), Sveta, Luba, and Valya. They were under Russian occupation for 21 days. Luba tells how Russian soldiers came into her house, put a gun on her chest, and settled in her house. For 21 days. I cannot even imagine the horror she must have gone through. She says she considers herself lucky. Others whose houses were occupied were shot on the spot.

During this time, Sveta took in more than 20 neighbors – her house was not occupied. She shares how the village secretly organized itself. One baked bread in the basement and distributed it to others. Another one passed on medication to others.

Valya says, We were scared when we heard the sound of whistling bullets above our houses. There was no place to go They were standing in our front yard. We just got on our knees. We are thanking God. He saved us.

On her phone, she shows me photos of the completely destroyed little church. Nothing but rubble and ash. I remember my prayer on the first day of the war. Here is the reality, my fear has become reality – places of prayer are in ruins. But then I look at Valya’s face. It is filled with faith and trust. She says she has never prayed so much in her life. Everyone was gathered in her home. The church may be destroyed, but Valya’s faith is not. Perhaps more villagers came to know Jesus in those 21 days of occupation than have walked through the church door in the last few years.

We drive to the next village. We meet Valentina. A self-painted sign hangs on the fence around her house, “People live here”. She tells how three tanks were standing in the field in front of her house for three long weeks. One tank shot at her house from less than 10 m away. First they hit the ground floor, then the roof. Her house is completely burned out. Only the sign on the fence is still there. “People live here”.

Gradually more neighbors join. We hand the food packages into their grateful arms. But more than receiving simply food, you can tell they just want to talk to someone. With strangers, they don’t have to hold anything back. I can sense our visit bringing them out of oblivion. They feel seen. Us being there tells them: You are still part of this world. The dark veil of evil and lawlessness that had reigned over them for 21 days is finally lifted.

We made sure to thank every single babushka. They didn’t pick up a gun. But their steadfast endurance held off the invasion. Today, the whole world knows the names of their small, sleepy villages. We live only 25 km away. For me, their faces will always be the faces of the resistance.

Some locals lead us to the most destroyed street in the village. We walk over splinters of glass. Everything is destroyed. Our eyes are on the ground; the soldiers warn us to look for mines. We can’t believe it, but at the end of the street, a babushka is sitting in front of her shattered home. She was lying in bed when the tank shelled her house. She was the only one in her street who survived. And she stayed.

Many say Ukraine has a victim culture. Children memorize the grim poems of national poet Shevchenko at school, and learn about the long history of Ukraine’s oppression in history class. 

But I think we need to change our understanding of Ukraine. After 43 days of war, I can say: Ukraine has a hero culture. Heroism is engraved on the babushka’s warm faces. For some, heroism means courageously defending your country against an evil attack. For others, it means believing in good even when they have seen evil reign. Heroism means hoping even when all hope seems lost. Perhaps the Ukrainians themselves did not know what was in them. There is one good thing in this horrible war: It shows the world what real heroes look like. It shows what true faith looks like. It blooms and bears fruit even when churches are in ruins. God says, Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool. What kind of house could you build for me? – The truth is that God is building this house within us. Indestructible.