Last week we visited two villages about 60 km. from the war zone. We travelled 4 hours to get there (about 200 km). On the return our driver thought a different road would be better, but unfortunately it took 6 hours. That added up to 10 hours of driving time for one day, but the inspiring visit with the church leaders in this region was worth the trip!
The pastors of the church spend time with the soldiers at the front line, offering counseling and friendship. They spend the night with them and have gained their trust. More soldiers die from alcohol poisoning and other causes than from combat. The pastor spoke of the church being ill-prepared for the horrendous crisis facing the people in and near the war zone. Young men are facing life and death decisions, families are losing their loved ones and their homes, and many people have lost their jobs.
Now the pastors tell us there is an awakening in the churches. Denomination used to be important but now they see it as a miracle that churches across denominations are working together. People are experiencing a vibrant faith because they see God at work. To love God and their neighbor is the most important.
We saw two fine examples of this. The church has purchased two properties with the help of the Mennonite Centre. One home is being developed as a halfway house for released prisoners. The men are learning building skills as they renovate the house and are being couselled as they adjust to living with others in the home and returning to function in society. The other house is being developed as a rehabilitation centre for drug addicts. There is much space for a garden, orchard, raising animals for food, and bee hives.
In the next village we met Oksana who was involved with renovations of a building that was used for a church meeting place for about 40 people. A bakery and coffee shop was being planned for the rest of the space. They hope to open in April. She had her workers lined up and ready to begin. Some of the bread would be distributed free of charge in villages affected by the war that were suffering from lack of food and water. We admired her strong spirit and willingness to provide hope for the people in the area. We were all invited to her home for a wonderful meal, together with two of the pastors. When we left her home we noticed a plaque beside the entrance: "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!" (Joshua 24:15)