The Great Commission and God's Heart for the World
Partners with the President with Julie Lauderdale.
You don’t have to look too hard to discover that the world is a broken place terribly marred by the effects of sin. Perhaps you see it in your own life or your family or you see it in your community and the news. Amidst all the trouble, it's easy to lose heart.
Thankfully, God has good news for these broken times. I’m reminded of what Jesus told His disciples in the Gospel of John:
“A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:32-33).
In trying times, God is not shaken, and He encourages us to find confidence in Him and enter into service of His kingdom. He calls us to go into this broken world to share the good news of Jesus (Matthew 28:19), making disciples of all nations. His heart beats for lost people, people on the margins, people who need a Savior—everyone. Whether we’re in trial or blessing, God’s heart is for everyone to come to saving faith in His Son, Jesus.
February 24 marked a year since the war in Ukraine began. Millions of women, children and elderly fled to neighboring countries as refugees. Those who stayed behind endured the hardships of war. In the midst of this tragedy, a collaborative EFCA ReachGlobal effort ensued. Leaders from Crisis Response and the Europe division went to work to keep missionaries safe and partnered with local churches and pastors as they served Ukrainian refugees, providing care, counseling and ministry resources to help these local leaders navigate the many challenges of the unfolding crisis.
To provide insight into the ministry opportunities ReachGlobal has seen in Europe and Ukraine, I’ve invited Julie Lauderdale, a member of the Europe Division Leadership Team and Director of Ukraine Response, to contribute on this topic. Julie and her husband James spent 15 years in Ukraine as ReachGlobal missionaries, planting churches and developing relationships. Today, with their background and connections, they’ve returned their ministry focus to Ukraine. I encourage you to take a few moments to read her article and watch our interview.
“What’s in our hands?”
When war broke out in Ukraine one year ago, the ReachGlobal city teams of Europe explored this question as displaced Ukrainians flowed into bordering countries. The city teams mobilized the churches in their communities to help create a safe and welcoming presence in train stations, refugee centers, coffee houses, ministry centers and schools throughout Europe. From Budapest to Bucharest, Prague to Innsbruck, Banska Bystrica and others, here‘s how leaders responded:
- “Is cleaning port-a-potties at midnight in the train station really worth my ministry investment?” asked the Budapest city team leader. Her answer: “Yes, because I’m doing it together with members of my Hungarian church and we are growing deeper in humility and relationship.”
- A group of 15 adolescents from a Ukrainian orphanage were evacuated to Innsbruck. The ReachGlobal Innsbruck City Team partners with four churches that provided them with tutoring, camps and spiritual instruction.
- International Christian schools in many cities where we have ReachGlobal staff welcomed Ukrainian students at reduced tuition to offer some stability to the women and children who evacuated without their husbands and fathers. Together, with international churches in these cities, many families are being soaked in the gospel.
Great Commission in Ukraine
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age’” (Matthew 28:18-21).
In the chaos of war, I have been comforted by the grounding of the Great Commission. The Church shines brightly in these conditions as walls of division fall and everyone pulls together in unity doing all that Jesus commanded. Disciplemaking goes on in deeper ways: serving the least of these becomes obvious and reassuring one another that He is with us is our hourly prayer. In these times, the Ukrainian church is modeling this beautifully, and I’m inspired by her maturity, unity and resilience.
Disciplemaking goes on in deeper ways: serving the least of these becomes obvious and reassuring one another that He is with us is our hourly prayer. In these times, the Ukrainian church is modeling this beautifully, and I’m inspired by her maturity, unity and resilience.
After the initial influx of refugees slowed, we caught our breath and asked, “What’s in our hands within Ukraine?” The answer was historic partners: we have Evangelical Free Church Ukrainian pastors, partners from another evangelical network of over 100 churches and relationships with theologians and seminaries throughout Ukraine. We asked how we could help. They requested trauma care and chaplain training, as well as pastor respite care. In January, we provided all three of these things through the generous donations to the EFCA’s Ukrainian Refugee Response. Here are three examples of conversations we had with these pastors and leaders:
- A pastor asked for help to disciple new believers: “Before the war, our church was around 70 people, but because we are near the front lines, only 11 church members stayed. Since then, we have seen 600 new believers come into our church. We are seeing revival but are overwhelmed with helping them grow.”
- In January, eleven months into the war, the Evangelical Free Church of Ukraine (EFCU) commissioned and sent a young couple to Kryvyi Rih, just 65 miles from Russian-controlled territory to plant a church. They expressed their conviction that war should not stop church planting and asked for help supporting and encouraging this couple. We helped them financially and, when it’s safe, we hope to send short-term teams to help with evangelism and discipleship.
- After 9 months of shepherding his flock, an evangelical leader came to us in Budapest for rest. In his exhaustion, he shared his deep needs: “I was not able to read my Bible for four months, and I may have places in my heart that need healing from an unwillingness to forgive.” He and his wife spent a month in the U.S., counseling with friends and mentors, and they returned to Kyiv with new strength.
Pastor and chaplain training
Another question we asked was, “How can we prepare our churches theologically to receive soldiers when they return?”
Before the war, our church was around 70 people, but because we are near the front lines, only 11 church members stayed. Since then, we have seen 600 new believers come into our church.
Pastors and chaplains in the region face significant and unique challenges, and they need training and equipping to meet these challenges. A pastor gave an example of another church in his city that had a soldier return from the front lines after having his leg amputated from a war injury and being put under immediate church discipline for killing. We were able to talk through the Biblical difference between defending your country and murder.
Ukrainian men ages 18-60 are not allowed to leave the country. This makes it difficult for pastors to receive care and training. Thankfully, we have been able to establish a ministry base in a small town in western Ukraine where they can come in relative safety. Although there are power outages, the air raid sirens are less frequent and pastors can find respite from the constant needs of their ministries.
The chaplain trainings happen in groups of 15-20, with a certificate program addressing trauma care, spirituality vs. religion, spiritual assessment and spiritual care, loss, suffering and grief, medical terminology and first aid and the importance of self-care. It is powerful to see the strength these pastors gain from fellowship and collaboration. The participants appreciate ReachGlobal providing chaplains with experience and expertise as well as being cared for by pastors and staff familiar with trauma care.
As you might imagine, pastors in this region can quickly become overwhelmed by the pressures of ministry in a war-torn country. We want to do what we can to provide a respite for them. A few months ago, we asked one of our EFCU pastors in eastern Ukraine what his greatest heartache was. He said, “Not being able to parent my children.”
We arranged for his wife and young children to meet him in western Ukraine for 2 weeks at a bed and breakfast to just be together after 11 months of separation.
Relationships with people on the margins
“What’s in our hands historically and currently?”
We have a bounty of relationships with people on the margins. In the early 2000s, the number of people with HIV grew in Ukraine, and we asked how the church would engage this problem. We organized a nationwide faith-based HIV/AIDS symposium to raise awareness and our churches intentionally invested in these communities.
It is powerful to see the strength these pastors gain from fellowship and collaboration.
Soon after, two of our missionary families gave birth to children with special needs and realized that there were few resources available for support. As a result, they invested in this ministry opportunity, eventually leading to church plants with families caring for disabled children.
Kyiv missionary Pam D’Andre leads a team of faith community nurses that train lay people to care for the elderly and disabled in their communities.
These historic and current partnerships allow ReachGlobal to minister to people living with disability in unique ways: We’ve helped the disabled evacuate and provided trauma care, respite care and Bible studies for the caregivers of these communities. We supported the newly disabled soldiers and their families and helped churches understand their unique needs. We partnered with city governments to visit the elderly and shut-ins who cannot leave their buildings during the frequent power outages.
God has a deep heart for those on the margins. The relationships we’ve built over these many years have paved so many pathways for ReachGlobal missionaries to serve and share the love of Christ. As missionaries continue to serve during a traumatic time in Ukraine, the investments we’ve made with local churches, pastors and people on the margins provide more opportunities for God to work.
God has a deep heart for those on the margins. The relationships we’ve built over these many years have paved so many pathways for ReachGlobal missionaries to serve and share the love of Christ.
Continued ministry in Ukraine
Moving forward, we plan to continue monthly trauma care, chaplain training, pastor respite retreats, as well as care for the disabled and support refugees in Europe. In addition, our partners have requested:
- An online class on crisis response from a biblical worldview.
- Facilitation for reconciliation between Belarussian, Russian and Ukrainian staff of a partnering organization.
- Coaching of pastors around the question, “What does church look like now?” at a summer gathering.
I’ve seen God’s hand at work in Ukraine and the surrounding countries through the ministry of ReachGlobal and faithful missionaries building relationships and pursuing the Great Commission with great urgency. Ministry in Ukraine changes rapidly and you play an important role in helping ministry happen. Please continue to pray for the people of Ukraine, that God would bless them in this difficult time, and also pray for ReachGlobal missionaries as they serve local churches and ministry leaders.
What a blessing it has been to be part of this Great Commission in Ukraine over decades, from early church planting after communism, to expanding relationships outside of Ukraine and now coming alongside in a time of war. Thank you for allowing this opportunity to explore this Great Commission through the lens of ReachGlobal’s investment in Ukraine past and present.
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