Lilly, the church secretary for First Belgorad-Dnistrovsky Church in Ukraine, shows a room originally designed for youth ministry that now holds food and clothing for helping local residents in need. The church that opened Feb. 20, 2022--just four days before the war--has been meeting every evening for prayer and worship, and feeding tens of thousands of local residents including returning refugees.
“(In) understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left.” 2 Cor. 6:6-7
That word in three languages was commonly used in Ukraine and Moldova to describe the response of Christians to the death, destruction, and disruption unleashed by Russia’s Feb. 24, 2022, invasion.
Before the governments, before the large NGOs, it was faithful followers of Jesus Christ who rose to the occasion in Eastern Europe by rushing to the border to comfort, transport, feed and shelter victims in obedience to Christ’s command in Matthew 25:31-46.
A church in Moldova transports and cares for nearly 2,000 refugees. A family in a village takes in 240. A volunteer network of drivers picks up refugees and takes them to safety. A congregation in Ukraine feeds 1,500 people in one day and meets every night for more than 100 days for worship and prayer. In its first official “bridge” project, Kingdom Bridges Ministries partnered with and supported these efforts through a network of resources, funding, and encouragement with a goal to “help the helpers.”
This team was smaller by design due to the logistical challenges, featuring founder Pastor Jeff Copeland and Ronnie Hall from Robertsdale, Ala., First Baptist, and Dr. Andrew Daigle and Craig Myers from Murfreesboro, Tenn. From late May through June, they found themselves humbled, thankful, and challenged by the faithfulness of God’s people every step of the way:
⇒Starting in Chisinau, Moldova, they reconnected with Holy Trinity Christian Center, which team members have partnered with for 20 years. Pastor Alex Malancea’s congregation had taken in nearly 2,000 refugees over three months. They also started a mobile medical clinic and directly transported Ukrainians to safety, many rushing to the border in their own vehicles to bring displaced people to their homes and churches at their own expense. In late May, Daigle and Myers fellowshipped and worshipped with church members who took a short pause to clean up, resupply, and refill their spiritual reserves to continue this ministry.
Describing the work of the church, this veteran spiritual leader’s eyes teared up as he shared how the church packed meals for refugees to eat on the journey and how one little girl said that was the best part of the traumatic experience.
“And you realize how these are people who cannot offer a thing in return,” Pastor Alex said, his voice breaking with emotion as he compared that to God’s grace in salvation.
At Holy Trinity, Daigle and Myers met the amazing Coada family--Drs. Igor and Galina and their daughter, Victoria. Dr. Galina went to med school at age 15 and graduated at the top of the class. Since February, the family has traveled virtually non-stop around Moldova to provide medical care for refugees.
Asked about the response of the Body of Christ since the start of the war, she thought for a moment and said, “very beautiful.”
“I was moved. All churches sent teams to the border with food and transportation,” Dr. Galina said. “For sure it would be worse without the Christians.’”
While in Chisinau, this team of doctors went to several locations to provide care and counsel to refugees, and developed a strong bond in Christ. Having prayed for a translator for the team, Daigle and Myers quickly realized God had led them to the best—Victoria, a first-year medical student whose amazing English was combined with knowledge of medical terms and genuine compassion for people. Victoria would become a part of the Kingdom Bridges team for the duration.
⇒Camp Vatici—One of their first stops together was a Christian camp in Vatici north of Chisinau, which had taken in hundreds of refugees. The number was down to about 70 on Sunday, May 29 when Daigle, Myers and the Coadas saw several dozen people.
One was a young man named Alexei, whose college education was interrupted by the sounds of war. He and his mother came to Moldova from Nikolaev, Ukraine, an area near the front. He said he was surprised by the help from such a poor and small country like Moldova, and the “beautiful” location where they were staying.
Camp director Mihail Senogaci said the transformation of the summer camp into a shelter started the second day of the war. He put out a message on Facebook saying, “we’re open for refugees,” and it soon filled up with groups of 80 to 180. The day of this visit, displaced children were seen enjoying a playground and basketball court, paddling a boat around a pond, or riding a zipline across the water. Senogaci described the ministry as “hard but beautiful.”
“They came during the night after waiting at the border. They were insecure, stressed and we smiled and welcomed them warmly,” he said.
Senogaci became a believer while serving in the Moldovan army when someone challenged him to read the Bible for himself. For him, repurposing the camp as a shelter for those in need was a natural outgrowth of his faith.
“I am so glad I met Jesus in the Army and started to live life according to His teaching,” he said. Throughout the ministry, he said, supplies would show up at the right time from unknown sources— products showing up at the camp or anonymous donors saying meet me at the store and I will buy what you need.
“Christians were involved before the government, taking care of refugees,” Senogaci added. “The government came in after two weeks and asked us what to do.”
⇒Antonesti, Moldova: Moving south, Daigle, Myers and Viktoria stayed with Igor and Christina Oprea. This couple with four children of their own has cared for numerous foster children. Since the war began they also had taken in a total of 240 refugees into their home, one of several built around Moldova and Ukraine by a German philanthropist for families who agree to raise orphans there. In nearby Caplani, elderly home director Viorel Cebotagi showed the team a children’s home being built across the street which received funding from an anonymous donor through Kingdom Bridges. Viorel shared how several people in the village who were out of town said, “Let refugees use our homes.”
⇒Palanca, Moldova: At a camp built for temporarily housing and processing refugees, Myers met members of a volunteer Christian transportation ministry. One of them, Igor Socot, explained how Moldovans raced to the border in their own vehicles when the war began, finding refugees as they crossed on foot with only what they could carry. “I saw people helping with their own means long before the big NGOs started,” Socot said.
Later the ministry became more organized with about 10 regular drivers from area churches. At the border, Socot said one of his challenges is preventing commercial drivers from unfairly persuading refugees that they couldn’t trust the Christian transportation group and should instead pay for a ride. He would make sure they knew the service, like God’s grace, was offered free.
“I would fight off the commercial guys who would tell lies like ‘they will take you to their church and lock you up,’ or ‘make you hear their gospel,’” Socot said.
Another participant in the transportation ministry, Nicolei Eugin, said the streams of refugees started on Feb. 24 and on that first day Christians were already bringing food to them.
“People from local churches were using their personal transportation bringing them to their homes and churches,”
Eugin said, explaining that it was about 1½ months before the large UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) camp at Palanca featuring tents, NGO offices and buses was up and running. The response was not limited to evangelical Christians, but Nikolai Voiteac, another driver, said it has provided these believers with an opportunity to glorify God.
“Many have started looking at Christians and Baptists differently. They thought we were a sect, but when they saw how we helped it changed their mind and many have started coming to church,” he said.
⇒ Belgorad-Dnistrovsky, Ukraine: On June 1, the full Kingdom Bridges team continued on to First Belgorad-Dnistrovsky Church. Led by young pastor Valentine, this church officially opened with a service of dedication on Feb. 20. Four days later Russia launched the brutal invasion. War had not directly affected the city, but its impact was all around—sirens blare in the morning and evening warning of missiles launched from the Black Sea into other parts of Ukraine. A bridge connecting the city to Odessa had been destroyed by Russian air strikes. Refugees returning home faced economic challenges and difficulty in finding food and medical care.
On a tour of the church, Valentine and church secretary Lilly showed rooms one by one that had been repurposed—a youth room now a clothes closet, a nursery now a storage room for food, the sanctuary now a place where thousands warmed up or cooled off while hearing the good news of hope in Jesus and receiving prayer for their families and nation. The church soon began efficiently and compassionately offering food, clothing and other help.
On June 2 church members and the Kingdom Bridges team distributed 1,500 bags of staple food—the most up to that point. Early in the morning, hundreds lined up outside the church property. As the heat became oppressive, believers handed out water on the street. Inside, teddy bears made by ladies of Jubilee Shores United Methodist Church, were given to children with the message “Бог Любит Тебе”—God loves you. Older visitors received crosses hand embroidered by Kathy Robinson of Robertsdale First Baptist, whose late husband, Larry, had been to Moldova on mission. Pain medicine, vitamins and shower kits from Dr. George Astin through Blessings International were also distributed. Hundreds also registered to see the Coadas and Dr. Daigle in a medical clinic. Ukrainian believers are faced with the difficult dilemma of whether to leave, if possible, or stay. Valentin shared how he was struggling with that decision until God led him to the story of Gideon in Judges 6.
He said the example of this reluctant leader helped inspire him to stay and lead his church in this spiritual battle.
“The angel greeted him and said, ‘God is with you mighty warrior,’ before he had done anything at all,” he shared.
Kingdom Bridges supporters helped the church purchase a van for transporting people and supplies, and find new sources of food for the distribution. Valentine’s appeal for help continuing the food ministry can be viewed here.
Nehemiah writes that those rebuilding war-ravaged Jerusalem did so with one hand, while holding a sword in the other. Likewise, followers of Jesus Christ in Romania, Moldova and Ukraine are fighting evil with “weapons” of compassion and truth. They are showing God’s love in tangible ways while sharing how Christ conquered the sin that is the source of all the world’s problems, including war. In this poor region of Europe, Christians have given out of their scarcity to faithfully obey the words of Christ. We in the Western church can help them from our plenty to continue doing so. Please help this “beautiful” ministry by giving through Kingdom Bridges.