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My plea to the Church in America: Don't turn your back on Ukraine

People put flowers at a 'memory wall' for fallen defenders of Ukraine in the Russian-Ukrainian war, during a ceremony commemorating killed Ukrainian fighters, on Ukrainian Volunteer Day, on March 14, 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine. Last February, Russia's military invaded Ukraine from three sides and launched airstrikes across the country. Since then, Moscow has withdrawn from north and central parts of Ukraine, focusing its assault on the eastern Donbas region, where it had supported a separatist movement since 2014. But the threat of aerial attacks persists across the country. | Getty Images/Roman Pilipey

There’s a conspiratorial narrative growing that the U.S. government’s aid to Ukraine is being funneled to bad actors, the Biden family, and Ukrainian officials. As a non-profit leader serving 1,800 churches in Ukraine, many of which are on the frontlines and coordinating efforts with the military, I see no signs of this conspiracy.

The only conspiracy that appears to be true is that Vladimir Putin’s end game is to steal and destroy his neighbor.

I’ve just returned from Ukraine, where our delegation from CityServe International assessed the situation on the ground and delivered life-saving aid. Cities inside and alongside the warzone, like in Kherson, are in desperate need of tangible love and compassion. It is heartbreaking to see young children and the elderly shivering in the dark.

With much of their energy production gone, and their infrastructure and power grid repeatedly attacked by the Russians, the people of Ukraine are truly in a “light or death” situation. In addition to providing life-saving food, medical supplies, and shelter, we are furnishing churches with generators that will turn on the heat and electricity. In a country starving for energy, these generators transform their churches into places of refuge for those left to freeze in the dark with no electricity in their homes. Church buildings have become multi-functioning. Sanctuaries are now safehouses and trauma centers. I witnessed this firsthand last week while in Kherson when speaking to a congregation there. The generators turned this church into a literal lighthouse of warmth, light, and hope. As I spoke to the congregation the sounds of Russian bombs pounded nearby, yet it did not stop the people from praying, worshiping, and treasuring their church family.

We also visited Bucha, the site of a Russian massacre, and the location of the well-known mass grave. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to distribute 1 million meals in that bereaved community. Our trip ended in Kyiv, where we dedicated five new C-train homes for Ukrainian families. These are temporary, prefabricated homes that provide shelter for homeless families whose homes are uninhabitable due to Russian shelling of residential areas. We also established a site for a future Family Trauma Center in Ukraine’s capital city.

This is all part of our ongoing effort to offer aid to distressed individuals and families throughout Ukraine. So far, we’ve assembled a network of over 6,000 churches in Eastern Europe that are aiding the people of Ukraine seven days a week.

One Ukrainian pastor I met told me, “In 2022, we have shed more tears than any other time in our lives.” I saw those tears on the ground in Ukraine myself. Yet the people I’ve met are strong, resilient, and brave. Nevertheless, both as individuals and as a country, many are facing the darkest season of their lives.

Imagine what it would be like for you and your family to go through something similar. What would you think of people blessed with an abundance of provisions, shelter, and electricity in other parts of the world refusing to help you because of compassion fatigue or fictitious conspiracies swirling about in the news and online?

Perhaps you have a philosophical problem with the level of government involvement and spending in foreign countries far from here. But nobody is advocating for a “blank check” policy for America’s support of Ukraine. Nevertheless, the amount of humanitarian aid getting to Ukraine is minuscule compared to the need, especially during the winter. To save lives and to protect the most vulnerable, all Americans will need to accept their responsibility to — personally — be a part of the solution for the “least of these” in Ukraine. Our “neighbor,” as Jesus made clear, means more than just our friend across the street.

That’s why I am pleading with the church in America, and across the world: please don’t allow political debates back home to cause you to grow numb to the plight of innocent victims in Ukraine. Our brothers and sisters there are in desperate need of food, medicine, shelter, and electricity. I’ve held their hands, prayed with them, and heard the bombs falling in a short radius from where they sleep at night.

This is a critical moment, and we can’t turn our backs on their suffering.

Dave Donaldson is co-founder and CEO of the charitable relief organization CityServe International based in Bakersfield, California.

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