The televised sights of Ukrainian trains boarding thousands of people, mostly women and children fleeing their homeland to bordering nations, called to mind the experience of my Ukrainian sister-in-law who fled with her parents and brothers during World War II, frightened, cold, and hungry but on their way to the long journey to America. The happiest day in my brother’s life was when he married Marta, this beautiful, talented woman in 1972. By then, her family had settled and she and her brothers had become highly successful professionals in their careers. They lived near Washington, D.C. and every time a political march was organized on behalf of Ukraine, which was under the Soviet regime, my sister-in-law and her mother were there to advocate for their native land. Marta died unexpectedly in her fifties leaving my brother and their two sons. I am now recalling her words to me after one of the marches against Russia at the time. “We want Ukraine to be free again; it is historically the genesis of the Russian people and we must liberate it from Russia. We must always be aware that Russia will try again to control it,” she said, committed toward democracy for Ukraine.
And so it has. Throughout the thin history of presidential elections since Ukraine’s liberation in 1991, there is a trail of corrupt political detritus stemming from covert collusions of some politicians with Russia. It’s as if the hungry bear, while removed, still had its claws within Ukrainian soil. Consider the poisoning of the country’s third president, Viktor Yuschenko, who eventually survived but to this day is unsure of who the would-be assassins were. Events like this are not the stories of Cold War fiction.
How does our loving God look on all of this evil of domination? For sure, Jesus is on those trains carrying the escapees. The mystic Caryll Houselander wrote movingly of her experience of suddenly seeing Christ in every passenger on a London train right before the air raids went off during the blitz in World War II. She continued to see Him running in the streets, picking up the children, searching for hiding. Elie Wiesel once described how the men in his detainment camp were rounded outside one early morning to witness the shooting of a young boy by the Nazi guards. This was a punishment to the men for some indiscretion they had committed. The boy was sixteen. The men were told anyone trying to help the boy would also be killed. He was hanging on a pole by his wrists. One of the prisoners screamed uncontrollably: “What kind of God could allow this? Where is our God now?” Someone else from deep within the crowd, like the conscience of each man there, shouted, “Our God is on the wood with that boy!”
This is the God of accompaniment. This is where Jesus can be found most defiant, most loving, most caring. Only the eyes of faith allow us to see this. The Hebrew Scriptures are full of narratives of God accompanying the Israelites through deserts and persecution. The Christian Scriptures describe more individual journeys toward decisions to be made: the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the woman who washed His feet, to cite a few. Jesus’s whole life was a life of accompaniment. This is how he best illustrates that God is with us.
Is there any action you can take on behalf of the Ukrainian people? Maybe a march or a protest? Perhaps a prayer service? Perhaps financial and food and clothing donations? Check to see where Ukrainian churches exist near you. They can advise.
Become informed. This means extending your source of media consumption. If there are study groups available, join them after you have checked out their credibility.
Make a day every now and then, which you can call your Sabbath day. During this time fast, and pray several times throughout for the intention of peace in Ukraine. Engage with friends in prayer sessions applying mindfulness techniques to connect with those suffering in all wars, but especially in Ukraine at this time.
A Prayer for Peace in Ukraine
Loving Creator, unite us with the people of Ukraine.
Help us to be of comfort to them in prayer and personal involvement.
Soothe them in their anguish and fear.
Help them to know you love them and will guide them to the horizon of peace.
Temper those commanded to attack. Convert the aggressor and soften his heart.
Be with the courageous who stand for principle and with us who struggle to help and extend our compassion. Amen.