When the war started and Russian bombs began falling on Kyiv, missionaries Marie and Japhin John had to decide whether to leave the capital.
“We had our bags packed because, it’s just like you are in rush, and there’s a new situation; all of a sudden, you wake up in the morning, you hear the sound of bombs, so you’re in a rush, and you’re like ‘Wow! What is happening here?'” Marie said.
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“It was not an easy decision until we prayed. But once we prayed, it was a very easy decision,” Japhin added.
Japhin is from India. His wife, Marie, is German. Both are missionaries to Ukraine with the group Youth With a Mission.
“Growing up in India, and also doing ministry in India, this was not my first time being in a dangerous situation, in fact, this is the third time,” Japhin said.
They decided to stay because of a commitment to serve the Ukrainian people, despite the very real danger to their lives.
“We are also, like the commitment in marriage, saying, ‘in good and in bad times,’ we are not only here trying to make an impact when times are favorable. And when everyone is leaving, this is the time when we actually need to stay,” Marie told CBN News.
The heart of Kyiv is now a fortress of concrete slabs, sandbags, and metal structures aimed at stopping Russian tanks. Today half the city has already evacuated. The staff of YWAM Kyiv is focused on ministering to those who are still in the city.
Thirty minutes south, Japhin and Marie sprang into action, turning the sprawling YWAM campus into a humanitarian aid hub.
A ministry worker named Natalia and her two sons work in the kitchen making meals for folks in the neighborhood. “It depends on the day, sometimes there are days when we cook for a thousand people, sometimes 500 or 600,” Natalia said.
While driving to deliver supplies, Katarina, a YWAM missionary from Finland, told us, “The only thought that gave me peace was to go back to Ukraine, so that’s why I’m here.”
“I’m not saying that God was the one who forced me to go to the war zone, or it’s somehow that I didn’t have a choice, I had a choice, that was my choice. My choice was to come here, and God opened the door,” she added.
Katarina evacuated just before the war started, but she returned days later. Now she hits the streets of Kyiv delivering food and other aid supplies to those unable to leave their apartments. Each visit ends with a time of prayer.
While Katarina makes her daily deliveries, an aid worker named David, who normally handles maintenance on the YWAM campus, is making dangerous missions to evacuate people trapped behind Russian lines.
“Every time when I go to these areas I prepare myself that I might not get out of there. I pray every time. I’m not counting, but I’ve evacuated more than 100 people. I just work and work as long as I can, and as long as God allows me to help,” David said.
In another part of campus, Yuliia, who has been with YWAM for five years, is on the phone taking orders from a nearby neonatal hospital.
Almost every other day, YWAM campuses in Germany and other European countries ship medical supplies to Kyiv for distribution.
When they’re not handling day-to-day logistics or sorting through all the supplies coming in from around the world, Japhin and Marie visit elderly homes, bringing food and lots of warm hugs.
One elderly woman said, “We are so bored, but the time flies when you are here. It is so tender, it is something for the soul, it is so pleasant, it is wonderful.”
For Japhin, Marie, and others at YWAM, ministering in Ukraine’s war zone is ultimately about fulfilling a commitment to serve.
“I think it’s not so much about handing out food packages or cooking meals or distributing some humanitarian aid, that is not the main thing God has been preparing me for, because everybody can do that,” Marie said. “But the hard thing to do is to do it while you hear the shelling of bombs and while you see continuously on the news, how in your city, not far away from you, a building is burning and people are dying. But I just do it because of love for the country, and because of commitment, to saying I’m not stepping away. If I feed two people or if I help to feed a thousand people a day, maybe in my heart it does not make a difference, because my commitment to God is just the same.”