By Sharon T. Markey
June 6, 2023
Located in Western Ukraine, the city of Ternopil has been mostly untouched by the Russian invasion. In the midst of the chaos of war, Ternopil has been a safe haven. It is here that the music ministry of Room For More has been able to flourish under the leadership of Calvary Chapel missionary Jon Markey. Jon and his family make their home in Ternopil, where Jon writes and produces powerful worship songs in the Ukrainian language that speak to the current situation. By releasing them on YouTube and every major streaming platform, he makes these songs of hope and comfort immediately available to people all over Ukraine.
Last month Room For More toured central and eastern Ukraine, encouraging believers through worship nights in six different cities. The situation in Ukraine is far from stable, with frequent air raid warnings in much of the country. For many, shelling, missiles, and drone attacks have become a normal part of life. People in some areas live with the constant threat of bombardment without warning. They are so close to the front lines that there is no time to activate the air raid warning systems before it’s too late. But despite the challenges of life under these conditions, people are not giving into fear or despondency. Many are tired, burdened by the extraordinary stresses of their life. Some are overwhelmed. But over and over again in each city, the Room For More team met inspiring people who refused to abandon hope and joy in the face of oppression and uncertainty.
One of the first cities they visited was Zaporizhzhia. Located a mere 20-minute drive from the frontlines, this is one of those cities where people have no warning about incoming missiles. One would expect such a place to be dismal, depressing, and destroyed by the war, but Jon said that they were amazed to discover that Zaporizhzhia had “so much life, so much joy”!
The worship night was characterized by a “refreshing simplicity,” as everyone recognized their need to gather “to exhale, to sing, to encourage each other.” Over and over again, people expressed how much it meant to them that Room For More had come. Many musicians have left Ukraine, and of those who remain, none of them travel to Zaporizhzhia anymore. The Room For More team realized that their mission to use music to spread the hope, peace, and joy of the gospel is desperately needed.
The visit to the city of Nizhyn in northern Ukraine was possibly the highlight of the whole tour. The Calvary Chapel pastor there has a harrowing evacuation story that is, sadly, not uncommon. He and his wife had to flee through a minefield with their children while Russian fighter jets swooped above them. They returned home last autumn and have been very active in reaching out to their city and serving displaced people. When Room For More visited, they arranged two worship nights in different churches on the same day. Despite the hardships they are facing, people worshiped God with enthusiasm. A van full of kids even came from a church within artillery range of the Russian border. Shelling is a part of their daily life. It’s painful to imagine what it must be like to live under those conditions. They were so excited to meet Room For More and pose for a group photo with them, and they shared that Jon’s songs have been a profound source of comfort and encouragement in the midst of everything they have suffered.
The worship night in Kyiv was hugely significant for the Room For More team. Some of them grew up in this city and still have close ties to people there. But as the evening approached, it wasn’t clear if anyone would show up. Kyiv had been targeted by nighttime missile and drone attacks almost every day for the past week. Between the danger of being out at night when there was a greater risk of air raids and the fact that no one had gotten a full night’s sleep for days, it would have been understandable if everyone stayed home.
But they didn’t.
They were exhausted, but they came. As they sang, their tension melted away, and these courageous people found joy. They rejoiced in the face of the darkness, defying the forces of evil to quench their praise.
While Jon and Aaron had been away from their families on tour, their city had been hit by rockets for the first time since the start of the war. As a result, many who came to the Kyiv worship night asked how their families were. Jon was moved to tears by their concern. “These people live with explosions as the background music of their lives,” he said, “and they were worried about us.”
Everywhere that Room For More went, people were so grateful that they had come. Things like these worship nights are vital right now. The Body of Christ in Ukraine desperately needs encouragement and rest, and they find both as they worship together at the feet of Jesus.
One of Jon’s songs that Room For More has been sharing widely is a passionate prayer for Ukraine. Click the link below to listen. The English translation is below also. While you listen, pray for Ukraine and her people!
Prayer For Ukraine
Maker of all we see,
Listen to our prayer,
Raise us from our knees.
Lord, You alone
Are the Almighty Good One.
Lord, come and save us, heal us,
Deliver us from pain.
Lord, give us freedom,
God, You are mighty.
God, come defend us.
You are the only
One who can heal us.
Just One, Strong Tower,
There is none like You.
Come down, show Your power,
The oppressed cry out to You.
May Your glory shine upon us,
May our God never forget us,
May Your hand be always on us,
And Your grace be ever with us.
Give a future to our children,
Fear and evil, all forgotten.
Let them know the joy of Your life,
Let them always walk in Your light.
Lord, You have spoken
Your care for the poor one.
Lord, You are near to the broken,
The orphan is Your son.
Bring back the smiles
To all of our faces.
God, You are mighty.
God, come defend us.
You are the only
One who can heal us.
By Olya Syniuk
One of the biggest challenges people face in a new country is integrating into a new social circle. With all the differences in language, culture, accepted daily routines, and other details, it is not easy to feel "at home" in a foreign country. Adapting takes a long time.
The situation is even more complicated if you are a refugee. On the one hand, the move was not something you planned and prepared for: you did not have enough time to say goodbye to your old life, so you are often not ready to accept your new one. On the other hand, you almost never feel equal to the locals: they may pity you or want to help, but often they are not ready to make you a part of their lives.
That is why we, the BridgeUA team in Hungary, see such great value in creating Ukrainian-Hungarian communities. And we can already share our first success story. Recently, a team of people from Calvary Chapel in Philadelphia, USA traveled to Hungary to help us serve Ukrainians here. With their help, we organized a holiday celebration to bring together Ukrainian and Hungarian women in the city of Veszprém.
Despite the language barrier, the women were able to make earrings together, have lunch together, and even have a lesson in traditional Hungarian dances!
The church in Veszprém did a short Bible study. The story of Hagar, who was forced to flee into the desert while pregnant and met God there, touched the hearts of the Ukrainian women, who are also going through trying circumstances. At the same time, it was obvious how good this time was for the Hungarian women, because they too received spiritual encouragement, care, and an opportunity to practice the love of Christ.
We all need healing.
We all need community.
And each of us has something to share with others.
By Olya Syniuk and Sharon T. Markey
April 4, 2023
You never get used to war. Over a year has passed since the beginning Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The news cycle may have moved on, but the war continues, and Ukrainians all over the world continue to face grave difficulties. BridgeUA Europe has been working with refugees in Hungary and Poland. The majority of these Ukrainian families are from the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. Even if the war were to end tomorrow, they would have nowhere to go, because their cities are ruined.
These women and children face enormous challenges. For the most part, their husbands and fathers are still in Ukraine, if they haven’t been killed defending their country. They are on their own, and they have to fill out official paperwork in an unfamiliar language, find lodging, find a job and learn new job skills to support themselves (many had to get factory jobs), enroll their children in schools where they don’t speak the language, figure out how to navigate an unfamiliar medical system, and the list goes on. Even simple tasks become overwhelming when you don’t understand the system and can’t speak the language.
On top of these challenges, these families are struggling with loneliness and wrestling with deep spiritual questions. They are searching for answers and for community. Nadia, a refugee whom we met while doing aid deliveries around Hungary, has a typical story. Her husband is still in Ukraine, and Nadia is taking care of her 10-year-old sister and her own child.
Nadia told us, “You don’t have to bring us anything—just come and spend time with us. Our greatest need is spiritual.”
Over the last year, we have developed relationships with hundreds of Ukrainian refugees all over Hungary. We started by simply meeting their physical needs—groceries, toiletries, clothing. Then in the fall, we also took them school supplies. At Christmastime, we gave gifts to the kids. As a result of consistently showing these families the love of Christ in practical ways, we now have Ukrainian communities in five cities across Hungary.
We want to serve these families’ physical needs, help them form communities, and be a bridge between Hungarian churches and the refugees living in their cities. Many Hungarian Christians would like to help, but they don’t know where to start. When they minister alongside us and see the positive impact they can have in the lives of these hurting people, they want to get even more involved!
Our ultimate goal is to form discipleship communities that will multiply through the refugee population, bringing the hope of Jesus to these scattered and hurting people. This has been a year of great trial and pain, but it has also been a year of deeper faith and hope for a better future.
By Sharon T. Markey
Svieta and her husband Ruslan had two daughters and lived in Mykolaiv, Ukraine. Svieta had a flourishing business as a specialty baker, and her husband installed swimming pools. For two years before the war, Svieta and her daughters had been attending an evangelical church in Mykolaiv. Under Svieta’s gentle urging, her husband went to church with them from time to time. It made a positive impression on him, but he considered himself a traditional Orthodox Christian and was not interested in his wife’s version of Christianity.
Mykolaiv is located in southern Ukraine, not far from Kherson, a major Ukrainian city that was captured by the Russians during the first week of the war. When the war started, Ruslan quickly realized that he needed to get his family to safety. He drove them to the Moldovan border where they said goodbye (shown above), and Svieta and her daughters continued on alone. What he didn’t tell his family was that he also felt a responsibility to defend his country from the Russian invaders. Once his girls were safe, Ruslan returned home and enlisted in the Ukrainian army. But before that happened, he made another life-changing decision. Influenced by his wife’s faith and the teaching he had heard at her church, he prayed to Jesus, asking Him to become his Savior and the Lord of his life.
From Moldova, Svieta and her daughters made their way to Budapest, Hungary because of better educational opportunities for the girls there. We met Svieta when she became part of a weekly Bible discussion group for refugees in Budapest. As we studied the Bible and prayed together, our small group really started to function as a church.
After he enlisted, Ruslan was quickly promoted to a position that put him in charge of a group of young soldiers. Ruslan felt a fatherly affection and responsibility for these men, calling them “my boys” in his conversations with Svieta. They were sent to fight near Kherson, where the determination and sacrifice of the Ukrainian army eventually liberated the city from the Russian occupiers. But tragically, every one of the young men under Ruslan’s command was killed. Ruslan was devastated by the loss and tormented by survivor’s guilt. Then nine months after he had escorted his family to safety, he was given military leave to go see them. Just days before that trip, he was in an auto accident. It was a head-on collision on an improvised military highway. He was killed instantly.
Stunned and grieving, Svieta and the girls tried to make preparations to return to Ukraine for the funeral. Our little Bible discussion group came around them in their hour of need, giving them money for travel expenses and helping them find train tickets. “I don’t know how I would have made it through without them,” Svieta said. “They are like family.”
Once in Ukraine, Svieta left her daughters with relatives in the southern port city of Odesa and continued on alone to the family’s home in Mykolaiv, where she was to collect her husband’s remains and transport them back to Odesa for burial. Though every moment in Mykolaiv was risky, she also wanted to go to their apartment to pack up some things she wanted to take back to Hungary, since she didn’t know if she’d ever get another chance. She knew she couldn’t waste any time. Rockets kept flying overhead. One even smashed into a neighboring apartment building while she was gathering the things she wanted from her apartment. When she entered their apartment, the first thing she saw was a carefully packed bag, filled with all her baking supplies. Her husband had prepared it to give to her at their planned reunion, a final love note, sent from beyond the grave.
The funeral took place in Odesa on the very day that the family was supposed to have been reunited. After they took care of all their affairs in Ukraine, we were able to pick up Svieta and her daughters and drive them back to Hungary. When they arrived back in Budapest, one of the ladies in the Bible discussion group had a big pot of borsch waiting for them, and other church friends spent time with them in their apartment, playing guitar and singing worship songs together. The following week, our little refugee church community held a memorial service for Ruslan, with Svieta and her daughters sharing their memories of the man who had been such a devoted and loving husband and father. There were tears, but there was also laughter, and the family expressed gratitude for the chance process their grief with a loving and supportive community.
The lives of these dear ladies will never be the same, but they are not giving into despair. They’ve added new life (in the form of an adorable puppy) to their family, and Svieta is preparing to start a baking business again. She also has another new venture. Inspired by how her Bible discussion group supported her and her family through their loss, she is on a mission to help us start similar groups for refugees in other cities around Hungary, so that no one will have to face their troubles alone and everyone can have an opportunity to meet the God who cares for the hurting.
By Sharon T. Markey
October 19, 2022
Today we met Andriy when he came to our apartment to get a can of sweetened condensed milk for his children. It’s a popular treat in Ukraine but very hard to find in Hungary. We recently got some from Ukraine and posted an announcement about it on a chat group for Ukrainian parents in Budapest. Within an hour, all 20 cans were spoken for, and Andriy was the first person to come claim one, which we were selling at cost.
Andriy is the father of a family from the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), one of the two break-away republics in Eastern Ukraine that had been the site of fighting between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian army since 2014. Though Andriy and his family were pro-Ukraine, they chose to remain in their city after it became part of the DPR because it was their home. Prior to the Russian invasion on February 24, 2022, the family was coming under increasing pressure to relinquish their Ukrainian passports and get DPR documents, but they decided that, if it came down to it, they would leave the DPR before ever giving in.
After the Russian army occupied their city in February 2022, Andriy, his wife, and their two children (ages 6 and 7) hid in their home for three months. They finally managed to escape through Russia. Andriy was smuggled into Russia to avoid being taken by the occupiers. Once in Russia, the family made their way to the Latvian border and then continued on to Hungary, where Andriy’s sister had been living for several years. Andriy found a job, and the family is trying to rebuild their life. They don’t know if they will ever see their home again, but they are grateful to be together and to be safe.