Christian ministries serving as 'God's distribution system' amid Russia's war in Ukraine

A woman is evacuated from a burning apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, 2022, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people, Ukraine emergency services said as Russian troops intensified their attacks on the Ukrainian capital. - A series of powerful explosions rocked residential districts of Kyiv early today killing two people, just hours before talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume.
A woman is evacuated from a burning apartment building in Kyiv on March 15, 2022, after strikes on residential areas killed at least two people, Ukraine emergency services said as Russian troops intensified their attacks on the Ukrainian capital. - A series of powerful explosions rocked residential districts of Kyiv early today killing two people, just hours before talks between Ukraine and Russia were set to resume. | ARIS MESSINIS/AFP via Getty Images

A Christian ministry leader says Ukrainian churches and Christians worldwide are operating as “God’s distribution system” by helping those whose lives have been upended by Russia's attacks on their country. 

International Cooperating Ministries, a nonprofit organization working to ensure “a healthy church is within walking distance of everyone in the world,” is one of several groups working to provide assistance to Ukrainians fleeing the eastern region of the country, which has come under attack by Russian troops since Feb. 24. 

Keith Townsend, who serves as ICM’s director for Russia and former Soviet Republics, elaborated on the humanitarian efforts already underway by the organization’s partners on the ground in Eastern Europe in an interview with The Christian Post.

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Townsend explained that ICM was founded to construct “church buildings for different ministry organizations in different countries” in addition to building “Hope Centers and providing discipleship material to existing churches so that they could nurture their believers.”

“These churches and Hope Centers in western and southern Ukraine, in Romania and Moldova and other countries like that, are taking in the refugees,” he said. “Because we don’t have employees overseas, we use substantial indigenous ministry partners that we work through.”

Townsend explained that while the organization doesn't normally do humanitarian relief work, ICM received “such an outpouring and a request from our partners that had the ability to take care of these refugees that we opened it up to our investors and donors to provide funds for relief through our partners.” He told CP that “we’re currently channeling relief through our partner Bible Mission Global out of Frankfurt, Germany.”

While ICM is headquartered in Hampton, Virginia, and Townsend resides in Jacksonville, Florida, Bible Mission Global “has offices in Kyiv and offices in Moscow and offices in Moldova … and they have warehouses and they are sending containers and trucks through this distribution system.”

Townsend said Bible Mission Global has three warehouses in Ukraine and a warehouse in Moldova from which they ship food and other necessities. From there, the churches and the Hope Centers take the lead.

“They’re housing the people, feeding the people, making sure they’re taken care of with their medical issues and things like that,” he added.

Townsend rejoiced that "the Church is doing what it was designed to do” by acting as “God’s distribution system” through “taking care of people and sharing Christ with them at the same time.”

He added, “ICM is serving as a conduit for our donors and trying to help with some of the logistical issues in terms of people that want to send relief from the states to these different places.”

“It’s been a joy in the midst of all this tragedy to see how God’s people have responded,” he said, adding, “God will do what he wants with this conflict but God’s church is operating exactly like it was intended to, to minister to people and getting them hope and to share Christ with them.”

Townsend cited basic medical services such as ongoing medicines for blood pressure and diabetes as the greatest health needs faced by the people pouring into the churches and Hope Centers. He noted that the churches and Hope Centers are full right now, and “they could use 10 times the room if they had it so they literally are at capacity.”

“And what they tried to do is, they tried to actually get the church members to put the people in their homes also," he said. "So people are taking them in, it’s mostly women and children, they’re taking them in, putting them in their homes and then the churches themselves have taken out the chairs and the pews and all that stuff and the people are actually sleeping and living at the churches and they have kitchens set up to feed them.”

Townsend praised the church members for “doing a remarkable sacrificial job of caring for these people.”

"They’ve opened up their homes, they’re working to take care of them, they’re making sure that they’re fed and clothed properly and have their medical needs taken care of," he said. 

In some cases, the lack of space at churches and Hope Centers has forced officials there to “move them on” to another location where “there might be space” for them. “They’ve got a good network of human connection going, they know where the Red Cross centers are.”

“The Ukrainians have contacts in Romania and Moldova and Poland where they can refer people to. So they’re doing the best they can [by] helping all the displaced people from the churches that had to evacuate and then trying to push people on to wherever they need to go.”  

Townsend suggested that the churches and Hope Centers became overwhelmed because “nobody expected [a Russian invasion] to happen in this magnitude.” He also painted a picture of an atmosphere of uncertainty stemming from the fact that nobody knows how long the conflict will continue.

In the course of a week, people have donated $500,000 to ICM to help them with their Ukraine ministry efforts. Townsend elaborated on the process that ICM’s partners on the ground undertake to ensure that necessities reach as many people in need as possible.

“It’s about $30,000 to buy what’s [in] the truck, all the food and supplies and then to pay for the transportation. That’s probably going to go up,” he predicted. “That’s been kind of an average so far of about $30,000 for a large container truck and then smaller trucks that can pull trailers, $6,000 or $7,000 for one of those.”

Emphasizing that “there’s a lot of driving involved,” Townsend detailed how “trailers go to the warehouse and then smaller trucks and trailers load up and go all throughout the country to our different locations … dropping off supplies and going back.”

He expressed a desire to “ramp it up” by providing “a greater flow of goods from America,” loading containers in the U.S. and sending them to Poland where they can then be distributed by ICM’s partners on the ground.

The invasion, he added, has made eastern Ukraine “very difficult to get to.” At the same time, he attributed the fact that there are “plenty of trucks and transportation available” to the “shut down” of industries in Ukraine because of the war.

“Normal truck traffic that would be carrying trade back and forth, that’s pretty well stopped, so … there’s a good supply of transportation resources to get supplies in," he said. "That’s not been a problem. It’s been more of a problem trying to secure enough food supplies. A lot of the countries, Moldova, Romania and Germany, have restricted the amount you can buy at one time. They’re worried about their food warehouses running out of supplies for their supermarkets so you’re having to go further into Europe to try to find food.”

In addition to concerns about running out of supplies and space, Townsend pointed to the winter weather in Eastern Europe as a source of strain on churches and Hope Centers seeking to minister to those fleeing the war-torn areas in Ukraine: “It’s just awfully cold right now. … There’s been a greater demand for clothing for … heavy coats and gloves and things like that.”

Because of the cold temperatures, churches and Hope Centers housing Ukrainian refugees have an increased need for gas. “You’ve got to keep these buildings warm, not just for church services and special activities,” he maintained. “The heating demands have gone up for the churches and the Hope Centers,” which has made the gas bills go up. Gas is “another financial cost they’ll have to deal with."

Townsend also expressed concern that many of the churches and Hope Centers will find themselves in danger “as the Russians move west.” He warned that “they’ll be in jeopardy for sure.”

ICM has had to respond to crises in the past because, as Townsend put it, “We’re constantly dealing with partners, that their areas are either under attack by radicals in their country or the churches are being closed or burned.”

In one case, ICM worked with partners on the ground to provide assistance to Nepal, which had just experienced natural disasters and earthquakes. He characterized the actions taken by ICM during the Russia-Ukraine crisis as different than how the group has responded to crises in the past.

“We typically serve as a channel to our partners and people can donate directly to our partners, but this is a case where it was a big giant need where we had capable partners right away and we couldn’t wait to try to just let our partners receive donations. So we’re just serving as a conduit right now and trying to make sure that we understand  what their needs are and get them the funds that they need when [they’re] available.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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