Ukraine: why I chose to stay
Mission partner Alison Giblett shares why she chose to stay among her community in Ukraine even as violence swept in.
It seemed unthinkable, then improbable, then increasingly likely – and then on 24 February Russian forces entered Ukraine.
As the world watched, aghast, for many in the Church Mission Society community, hearts lurched, thinking about CMS people in mission in Ukraine: Alison Giblett, who has been a mission partner there since 2004, Valery Alymov, a local partner and church leader near Kyiv, and Anya Manchuliak, another local partner who grew up in Crimea and works with Valery and Alison in Kyiv.
A matter of principle
In times of crisis, CMS’s policy for mission partners is for them to seek guidance from local colleagues as to whether to stay or leave. Alison consulted Valery, who supported her desire to stay as long as she could, bearing in mind her deep connection to the country and its people forged over many years. Alison is also no stranger to local unrest – back in 2014 during the Maidan political protests she and Valery and others from their church set up a tent, offering people Bibles and prayer. She told the remarkable story of a military chief whose life was spared when a bullet struck his chest – and hit the New Testament he’d received from the team.
Yet what was unfolding now was several times more catastrophic, so why take the risk and stay?
Alison said, “I believe that God called me to serve him in Ukraine. He didn’t say only when it was easy. What right do I have to serve people in the good times if I am not willing to stand with them in the hard times?”
In the eye of the storm
Citing Mark 4, where Jesus calms a storm and the hearts of his fearful disciples, Alison added, “How can God teach us to trust him through the storm if we are not willing to go through it when necessary?” (Mark 4:35–40)
In the first days of the crisis, Alison and Anya managed to join Valery and his wife Olga on the outskirts of Kyiv, along with 40 or so members of their church; they stayed together in a farmhouse. As the violence around them grew and food, water and internet became increasingly scarce, the group moved westward and at the time of writing (mid-March) they had reached a place of relative safety.
Together at the edges
Everyone around her has had to make tough choices, Alison pointed out. She said that their church, whose name has been withheld here for security reasons, believes three foundational things:
- They are stronger together
- Their united prayer of faith can have a powerful effect
- Their continuing presence is a witness as well as resistance to evil
Alison shared, “Along with many, we are praying day and night for the war to end and specifically that attacks we hear about will not be successful. As a church community we have already been in three different locations and God has used us to intercede for each place. We prayed intensively for a village that we were in when there were attacks on both sides and bombs fell nearby. Praise God no soldier or citizen was killed.”
She added, “Everyone in our church has the free choice of whether to stay…. People have chosen depending on family commitments, personal convictions and opportunities.
“Whenever I have prayed about what I should do I have always had peace about staying, with the assurance that God is not only in control but working things together for our good.
“My desire is to stay and fulfil my part of bringing God’s will to pass here in Ukraine, however, if my presence here becomes a burden, creates an increased risk for those around me or if I am told to leave I will leave and seek to help from a distance.”
Alison, Valery and Anya, with their church family, have been receiving local hospitality and doing what they can, when they can, for others, including praying, worshipping and sharing what food they have with people in need. They continue to collect resources to help people in the present and future, as the people of Ukraine are likely to remain on the edge for quite some time.