By Grace Thornton
Imagine if you lived in Texas, and on a day’s notice you had to leave and you ended up in Florida. “All your belongings, your home, your job, your friends—they’re back in Texas, but you can’t go back there because it’s too dangerous,” Russell Woodbridge said. “You have to start life all over again. Where is your hope? Where are you going to look for answers?”
This is the climate in Ukraine, where Russell serves as an IMB missionary. He encounters people all the time who fled their homes in the eastern part of the country when war broke out a few years ago. And in the midst of that heartbreak, he and other Ukrainian believers want to help them find a hope that transcends the uncertainty of war.
“A year and a half ago with the help of Ukrainians we started a new church plant that specifically tries to reach these people who have been displaced and lost everything,” Russell said. “We’ve seen people come to Christ and be baptized.”
Through the seminary where Russell teaches, he’s been able to mobilize displaced believers to plant churches among other displaced Ukrainians. He’s even seen them plant churches beyond Ukraine’s borders. One student went to Central Asia and led people there to faith in Christ. Another planted a thriving church in Poland.
“This is what we’re about—training Ukrainians to go with the gospel to the nations,” Russell said. “It’s been a joy and a privilege for me to come alongside them.”
Back in North Carolina, Russell’s home church feels the same way about his work. J. D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, says their partnership with Russell and his wife, Ingrid, encourages the church and enlarges their faith.
“We pray, we give, we go — not because we have to, but because of what God has promised He’s going to do among the nations,” Greear said. “We get to have a front-row seat in what was formerly one of the most closed places in the world. It’s our honor to be connected.” That’s the blessing of working alongside the IMB, he acknowledged.
“Being a part of this great network of churches provides opportunities that maybe you couldn’t do if you were by yourself,” Greear said. “It helps us engage in ways that are meaningful and not just a flash in the pan.” That’s the same whether your church is 50 or 5,000 strong, he said. Regardless of size, churches “can be directly engaged in the exciting things God is doing in the most unreached places on the planet.”
Russell agreed. “It takes all of us — American churches, IMB missionaries, and Ukrainian believers,” he said. “It takes all of us working together to reach the nations for Christ.”
• Ukrainian believers to plant strong, healthy churches that spread rapidly among the lost in their country and beyond.
• Churches to come alongside the work overseas and support them with prayer, funding, and volunteer help.