As temperatures plunge, desperate families see church-based 'Heat and Hope' centers as their only hope
LOVES PARK, Ill. -- Hundreds of local churches across Ukraine are transforming their facilities into critical aid centers, providing safety, warmth and hope for thousands uprooted by war.
Up to 95% of those coming to the "Heat and Hope" centers at local churches are not practicing Christians, but see the church as the only hope, according to U.S. missionary Eric Mock.
According to Mock, vice-president at Illinois-based Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org), the gritty determination of local pastors across Ukraine -- many going door-to-door in freezing temperatures to check on their neighbors -- is making a big impression on Ukrainians normally apathetic about religious faith.
"Many of the pastors say: 'If this is my day to die, this is my day to die. I am going to keep ministering until God takes me,'" said Mock, who just spent several days visiting churches in the war zone.
Mission 'Heat and Hope'Winter Heat and Hope Project.SGA is supporting hundreds of local evangelical churches across Ukraine through its
The project has so far supplied hundreds of power generators and stoves to local churches, as well as thousands of warm blankets and millions of meals.
"It's unusual for a U.S. organization to be invited behind the curtain, so to speak, to work alongside the local people," Mock said.
"These are people who have lost all hope. They've been stripped of their dignity and have no idea where they're going next. They have nowhere to go. If they are suffering, we suffer."
Natalia trekked miles – pushing her daughter in a wheelchair – to find safety at a church after soldiers broke into her home and parked a tank in her front yard. Desperate, she told God: "If you'll rescue me, I will follow you." Like many others, Natalia says the war has driven her closer to God -- and that's given her new hope.
At the Heat and Hope centers, churches offer Bible studies to people -- like Natalia -- who've typically shunned religious faith. Now, though, they're open to the Christian message, even studying the Bible by cell phone light during power outages.
War Tests ChurchesPastor Mykola, who leads a church in Irpen, a suburb of Kyiv, said: "War tests the local church.
"Family conflicts and divorce, economic crisis, migration, increase in orphans and single mothers... these are challenges that the church must be ready for."
He has seen hundreds of new people, including children and teens, come to his church since the war began, and 5 new churches have opened in his area. "People are more open to the Gospel than ever before," he said. "It's important for me to stay here where there's need, and not to go where there's comfort."
Founded in 1934, Slavic Gospel Association (SGA, www.sga.org) helps "forgotten" orphans, widows and families in Russia, the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russian-speaking immigrants in Israel – caring for their physical needs and sharing the life-transforming Gospel. SGA supports an extensive grassroots network of local evangelical missionary pastors and churches in cities and rural villages across this vast region.