Evangelist Franklin Graham, the head of the international humanitarian organization Samaritan’s Purse, is urging Christians worldwide to pray for the leaders of both Ukraine and Russia as the charity will open a field hospital in western Ukraine this week.
In an interview with The Christian Post, televangelist Franklin Graham discussed Samaritan’s Purse's efforts to minister to Ukrainians fleeing the regions of their country targeted by Russia for western Ukraine.
The group is setting up a field hospital in Lviv, which the 69-year-old son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham hopes will begin accepting patients as early as Wednesday.
“We went to Ukraine and asked if there was a need for that,” he said. “As soon as we told them we could bring a hospital, they were very eager for us to do so.”
Graham said that the people who’ve left behind their belongings to flee the war-torn regions of Ukraine have general “health needs” that need to be addressed as well as injuries sustained as a result of the war.
“You’ve got people that are diabetic, you’ve got people with heart conditions, high blood pressure, all of these kinds of things are just normal everyday problems of life,” Graham said. “On top of that, you have a lot of people that … have been wounded … due to the shelling. And so, you have to throw that into the mix.”
“We will be doing a lot of treating trauma,” he predicted. “We won’t be doing elective surgeries or anything like that.”
Additionally, Graham stressed the importance of prayer as conflict engulfs Eastern Europe. He responded to criticism he received last month for encouraging his followers on social media before the invasion began to pray for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Graham specifically called on believers to pray that God would work in Putin’s heart to avoid war. However, some critics felt that his call for prayer should have included people in Ukraine.
Graham told CP that Christians must “pray for those in leadership,” adding that “praying for them does not mean that we support them.”
“It doesn’t mean that we agree with them,” Graham said. “We’re doing what God commands us to do, and that’s to pray. I would encourage people to continue to pray for the leaders in this part of the world that an agreement can be reached.”
Graham warned that “this carnage that has taken place” in Ukraine will “damage the relations” between Russia and Ukraine for “many years to come.”
“I’m not a supporter of Putin, but I am a supporter of having good relations. I think it’s important that we have good relations with all the nations of the world,” Graham said.
Graham, who also heads the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, has also been scrutinized in the media for his past meetings with Russian religious and government leaders.
“When I go to Russia, we’re not there for political reasons,” Graham elaborated. “We’re there for spiritual reasons. … We want to have an impact with the churches. Russia’s the largest landmass in the world, and … they go from one time zone to the other. … This is a huge country and we ought to try to help the churches as best we can.”
Graham attributed his past meetings with Putin and Russian leaders to a desire to “try to be a positive force in Russia” to “benefit the work of evangelicals” and “try to improve the relations with churches.”
“If we don’t go and if we don’t talk to them, then nothing happens,” Graham stated.
In the past, Graham has not hesitated to take action in opposition to Russian policies.
In 2016, he moved the World Summit in Defense of Persecuted Christians set to take place in Moscow out of Russia because of opposition to a law passed in the country that severely limits the freedom to evangelize in public.
Specifically, the law banned evangelism outside of churches, restricted missionary activities in residential neighborhoods and required Christians to obtain permission before they could share their faith with others.
Graham rescheduled the summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., in May 2017.
Samaritan’s Purse, a nonprofit founded by Baptist Pastor Bob Pierce in 1970 to respond to conflict zones and natural disasters worldwide, has a relationship with Ukraine that dates back to 1996.
The charity has cultivated a network of 3,200 churches inside Ukraine that it has partnered with as part of Operation Christmas Child, an initiative to send shoeboxes filled with Christmas gifts to impoverished children across the globe.
“Since 1996, we’ve taken them over 12 million shoebox gifts,” Graham shared.
Samaritan’s Purse gave around 660,000 shoeboxes to the churches this year and distributed about 400,000 of them before the war broke out.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to distribute the rest once the fighting stops,” Graham said.
Graham concluded the interview by encouraging Christians to “pray for the people” in the path of war because “they’re suffering tremendously,” adding, “it’s just terrible what’s happening.”
On Monday, Graham shared a request from the Baptist Union of Ukraine asking “every Ukrainian, every family, every Christian and the entire world community” to participate in a Worldwide Prayer for Ukraine that begins Tuesday and continues through Wednesday.
The Christian leader expressed gratitude “for the churches and pastors across Ukraine and how they are ministering to their communities during these dark and trying days.” He detailed a conversation between the Samaritan’s Purse team in Ukraine and a church leader there. The church leader said his “biggest fear” was an inability to “worship freely” in the event of a prolonged Russian occupation.
“He said death would be better than to be told that they could not openly talk of God. May we all have that same conviction and boldness. God bless and protect them!” Graham proclaimed.
In addition to religious freedom, Graham said freedom as a whole hung in the balance amid the conflict in Ukraine.
“I’m concerned about freedom, period. Not just religious freedom but freedom,” he said.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org