When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Board of Missions felt a burden to help. Supporters donated $137,487.99 to help with Ukraine relief. Nelson Randolph, bargain hunter extraordinaire for the Board of Missions, took two trips to Ukraine in both June and August of 2022 to distribute supplies and provide encouragement. Here Nelson shares what he saw on his trips.
OV: Who did you visit in the Ukraine?
NR: On both trips I flew to Warsaw where I met a missionary couple that we partnered with in Kosovo for almost 20 years. They were asked by their mission agency to help out in Poland with the refugee situation. They drove us into western Ukraine.
OV: What supplies did you bring them?
NR: On the first trip we took mostly medical supplies which had been requested. We took Bleed Stop, trauma tourniquets, and trauma kits. A trauma kit is a small backpack with dozens of first aid items inside. We also brought 500 handheld solar Bibles. They had been sent to me from an anonymous donor for our transport. On the second trip we took only medical supplies. Some of the Ukraine monies received by the Board of Missions were used for some of the medical supplies.
OV: What needs did you see while you were there?
NR: Both times when we visited fuel was in short supply. We made sure we topped our van before we left Poland to cross the border, and we took several containers of fuel along. Since we were in the western part of Ukraine (the Ukraine is big and the war is in the eastern part), we only saw sandbagged checkpoints every ten kilometers or so. Most were unstaffed. The biggest need we were asked to meet was for medical supplies. Many of the troops had none or very little. Items such as socks and sunglasses or safety glasses were also mentioned. Between trips one and two I had the opportunity to help negotiate a very large shipment (worth over $1,500,000) of safety glasses, socks, medical supplies and other items for less than $30,000. All those items were shipped via several containers and arrived in the Ukraine in early fall.
OV: Ukraine seems like such a depressing place right now. Did you see anything joyful or hopeful?
NR: On the first trip, we had the privilege of having lunch with a local pastor and his family. During the lunch he began passing around some pictures of his church and congregation. One of the pictures showed about two dozen Ukrainian children holding Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. The pastor was not aware that I am a year-round Operation Christmas Child volunteer. I asked about the picture and just sat and listened while he shared how important OCC shoeboxes are for their church, how they use them to bring young people into their church and then, of course, their families. It was about that time that my missionary friends mentioned that I was active at home building shoeboxes. Then the pastor said, “We decided as a church several years ago that since shoeboxes were so important to the life of our church that we as a church would begin to build boxes as well. We build only 75-100 shoeboxes per year, but we have really benefited from helping, even though it is sacrificially.”
OV: How else did you see God at work in the Ukraine?
NR: I was impressed with most people in the safer part of Ukraine in the west. Almost all Christians are helping in the war effort in one or more ways. I was introduced to several what we might call “sweat shops” where ladies young and old work long shifts to make army green T-shirts and underwear for the soldiers. Each set was packaged with a couple different war related Bible tracts and a New Testament. I saw others who worked long hours canning food for the front. The jars are full of rice, carrots and meat. We were offered a jar and we refused. I personally met two men, both retired Ukrainian army chaplains, that risk their lives almost weekly to drive supplies to soldiers at the front. They hand out lots of things and always ask each soldier if they have a Bible, if they have read it recently, do they have any questions, or would they like to talk. I asked one of the chaplains for permission to ride with them for their deliveries next time I come, and I was shocked when he said YES right away.
OV: Did you have any “ah-ha” moments during your trips?
NR: On the second trip we had only been in the Ukraine for about a half hour when we came upon a checkpoint that was manned with several soldiers all dressed in full battle gear. A middle-aged soldier came to the driver’s window and asked for passports. I was riding shotgun and had all the passports open and inside each other so the soldier could just flip them open and check our mug shot with our actual faces which is the usual practice. When my missionary friend handed the soldier the passports, he looked down and saw “United States of America” on top. The soldier said, “United States of America, God Bless You Everyone!” and then he handed the passports back without even opening them. Chills came over me and everyone else. No one said a word for the next couple miles of our ride until I said, “Boy, there aren’t many countries in the world where that would happen.” And we all agreed that was true. I still get choked up thinking about it.
OV: Do you plan to go back?
NR: Yes, plans are in the works for me to return to Ukraine. I look forward to bringing more supplies and to seeing God at work in Ukraine.