“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place,” says our Lord in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:6). I have read these words numerous times, but they sounded very different when the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out. War was not a distant reality anymore but became a part of our lives. Trouble, worry, and panic are natural reactions in such times, but the words of Christ show us another way: with Him we can fight anxiety. As Leon Morris put it, “[The disciples] have one thing going for them that the general public has not: they know that God is over all and that his purpose will in the end be worked out.”1 The gospel of Christ will triumph even in the midst of war.
We witnessed this triumph in the past five months. I am a pastor in Budapest, Hungary. Our church is part of a small, confessional Presbyterian denomination, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Central and Eastern Europe (RPCCEE). The RPCCEE has sixteen churches in Hungary, Romania, and Ukraine. Since both Hungary and Romania are neighboring countries of Ukraine, all our churches were affected by the war directly or indirectly. As a response to the horrors of the war, our relief ministry targeted two main areas. First, we wanted to aid the people who stayed in Ukraine. Even in Ukrainian areas farther from the actual war zone, there is a shortage of food, fuel, and medicine. Many people lost their jobs and cannot survive if there is not some help from outside. Second, we needed to help the people who left Ukraine and looked for shelter in Hungary or Romania. According to recent data, 6.1 million individuals have left Ukraine since the start of the war. Of this six million, around one million refugees fled to Hungary and another eight hundred thousand to Romania. As our churches were engaged in helping the refugees, we experienced the power of the gospel to strengthen in faith, hope, and love.
The gospel unites people in faith. This might be best illustrated by the story of a dear Christian lady named Natalie, who once lived in Ukraine. She left her country a few years ago and became a member of our church in Budapest. She always had a zeal for sharing the gospel. She was among the first volunteers to help when the war broke out. Every day, after she finished her work, she went to the railway station in Budapest where the refugees were arriving. She was there to help them, comfort them, and interpret for them. But Natalie is an ethnic Russian. She was born in the Soviet Union, outside the area that is now Ukraine. Her native tongue is Russian. She traveled through many of the Soviet socialist republics before settling for a time in Ukraine. She said, “I have never heard any reproach for my Russian language, which I have spoken all my life.” But then the war broke out—and perhaps more than anybody else she found herself being torn apart. Russians fighting against Ukrainians—the two peoples she calls her own.
But the gospel can heal what sin has torn apart. There is a huge divide between Russia and Ukraine, but the grace of Christ is powerful to cross it. Natalie wrote down her testimony for the refugees so that the gospel would be among the first things they received in Budapest. She witnesses this way: “Dear Friend, we can have hope for the future. Only God can give such comfort. I call Him Father because I know whom I believe. I love His Son because He died for my sins on the cross. I am forgiven. . . . Do not fear. Give Him your worries and sleep well tonight. He knows your pain, your thoughts, and your fears. He will take care of you.” And she writes also to the Russian people: “I want to love you, no matter what, with the love of Christ. You are part of my story; we were born in the same country.” This is the gospel in action. The gospel removes hatred and gives love. The grace of Christ brings unity where there was once division. Through faith in Christ, Christians are one. This faith-induced unity is on display in the church.
Furthermore, the gospel gives hope. I wrote briefly about the hardships of those who stayed in Ukraine. They live day by day with shortages of food and fuel. They are in constant danger. But as Christ urged us, we are not to be troubled. The war might have made lives harder, but it did not change the most important fact of life: we are worshipers of the triune God. Worship is the pinnacle of the Christian life; it cannot be set aside even during a war. Air raid sirens might howl, but they cannot hinder Christians gathering for worship. And as the Word is preached, there is hope. The reports we receive from our churches in Ukraine are full of thankfulness—thankfulness that God has still preserved them, that they could worship and enjoy Christian fellowship, and that instead of being passive, they were able to serve and organize a summer camp for teenagers. The hope of the gospel overcomes the darkness of war.
Where there is faith and hope, the deeds of love will grow. The one million refugees who entered Hungary created an immense need, and our churches—like many others—opened their buildings for the needy. Our small property in Budapest hosted more than eighty people during the first two months, most of whom were Christian brothers and sisters. Many who fled from the horrors of the war found shelter and even gospel hope. Our Hungarian and Romanian churches together with the generous support from churches abroad stood for this cause collectively. Amid all the dark events, this unified eagerness to help testifies to the unity we have in Christ and the love that we have for one another. As Jesus promised, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Indeed, people have started noticing the love. A man from our church was asked to transport some refugees from one railway station to another in Budapest. It was a group of sixteen—three adults and thirteen children. They hadn’t known each other before the war, but the conflict brought them together. Our man stepped up to greet one of the ladies who knew a little English. With few words and much body language they started to interact. The refugees were exhausted, so our man told them that he would take them somewhere to eat. “But we have no money,” the lady said. “I will take care of it,” our man assured her. During the lunch, the lady shared their heart-wrenching story. But when they said goodbye to each other, the lady concluded: “I cannot understand how people can say that there is no God. Our experience tells that God is there, loves us and helps us.” Despite the innumerable sufferings they went through, there was an even stronger beacon of light that shone through the darkness: the love of Christ through the good deeds of His body, the church. The way this group was helped by Christians left a stronger imprint on the soul of this lady than all the sufferings combined. In this way, our deeds may help people glorify God (1 Peter 2:12).
Faith, hope, love–—the gospel triad has become visible in the relief ministry to the Ukrainian refugees. But ultimately, they point us to the Christ of the gospel, and they show us that whether in war or peace, He is our greatest treasure.
- Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Matthew, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1992), 598.