Faith brought Kent and Inga Friesen together in Ukraine, and it will keep them there throughout the Russian invasion.
Kent moved from Abbotsford to Ukraine in 2000, after living here for 20 years. Missions work took him to the west of the country, where he lives now with Inga.
This week, they will celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
“Some celebration,” she jokes over the phone. Their special day will be just like all others since the invasion began. They will cook and deliver food, they will follow the news, answer phone calls and emails and jump to meet any and all needs.
As missionaries, it’s what they do. But as the invasion intensifies, so does the need for help.
They’ve been checking in each day with their home church in Abbotsford, Central Heights, offering reports on military activity and their spiritual wellness. The church has been collecting money online to help them continue their work. (See link at end of story.)
As military vehicles rumble along their street, Inga says it’s like watching a war movie. The reality of the invasion has hit big cities and small towns. The Friesens live in a smaller city where Inga teaches English, and the influx of refugees has overwhelmed the community.
The largest cities in Ukraine – Kyiv, Kharkiv, Donetsk – are all in the east and home to millions of people. They are easily accessible to Russian forces. Residents from those places have fled west, escaping to Moldova, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia and Poland. Immigrants within Ukraine have also been fleeing, to get home to places like Nigeria and India.
The Friesens have been meeting with all types of people coming through their town.
“We are overwhelmed with refugees,” Inga says. “Kids, orphans, (because) parents send their kids with someone, because they are staying behind to fight.”
Kent says he has seen the tenacity of the Ukrainian people firsthand through the years. It is little surprise to him that Ukraine is fighting back.
“People have suffered for a long time here, even after the fall of communism,” he said. “The people here have suffered from one corrupt leader in government after another, so they’ve known really nothing except to struggle and fight and survive.”
There were preparations in Ukraine well before the west was paying attention.
People in the east secured apartments in the west as safety nests. There were practice air raids for months in Kyiv, sometimes in the middle of the night. Inga says many people never took the threat seriously.
The Russian invasion in 2014 only occupied Crimea, and many thought the new threat would result in something similar.
This week, Inga cleaned out her basement to make room for refugees, encouraging neighbours to do the same. Everyone in the country is doing their part.
“Our daily life is really not daily anymore,” Inga says. “Things change drasticially from hour to hour, whether it’s accomodating refugees, coordination of food, finding food, taking people across the border.”
When asked if they are personally taking people across borders, she said: “We’re all doing that.”
“The whole city is at work, and not just missionairies.”
They’ve been given no time to rest so far, just enough time to sleep. But through it all they are still making time to pray.
“During communism we weren’t allowed to touch the Bible or to read the Bible,” Inga says. Her closest experience with religion was decorating eggs at Easter.
“Then with the Soviet Union falling apart a lot of missionairies came this way and started talking about God,” she said. “I just want to work so hard, so much, that people would start saying ‘glory to God’,” instead of ‘Glory to Ukraine.’
“It’s very important to just do God’s will,” she said.
Kent says his faith has also given him a “degree of calm” in the face of war, frustration, anger and fear.
“Without it I’m not sure how we’d get through,” he says. “I know that it doesn’t matter what happens to me because I’m in a relationship with God and I’m ready to go when He says it’s time to go.”
Those interesting in helping their mission can visit https://www2.teachbeyond.org and search for the Ukraine Relief Fund.
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