Is There Hope for Ukrainian Refugees?

The number is truly staggering: over four million Ukrainians fleeing their homeland to escape from Russian forces who invaded their country six weeks ago. The normalcy of life as these Ukrainians had known suddenly came to a halt and having lost everything, many are now refugees living a hand-to-mouth existence.

It is a familiar story my parents told me growing up because they themselves were refugees who fled communist North Korea during the Korean War (1950-3); they and their families, like so many Ukrainians, lost everything during the process. It is a bleak picture of a life with seemingly no hope to get back on track. 

Yet, you would be surprised how resilient people can be, especially those whose God is the Lord. It is not without reason that Proverbs 24:16 says, “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again.” And, historically, it is with people facing incredibly challenging times that God carried out the most amazing work of redeeming the lost, like what He did in Antioch 2,000 years ago.

Arguably the most significant church to emerge while the church in Jerusalem “lapsed into . . . complete obscurity by the end of the 2nd century . . . after the city of Jerusalem fell to the Romans” in AD 70 (Kee 1965: 245), was Antioch Church in modern-day Turkey. Not only did this church become the hubcap of vigorous missionary activities (e.g., sending out Paul and Barnabas), but also by the end of the fourth century, “one-half of the about 500,000 inhabitants of Antioch became Christians” (Neill 1987:29).

So then, who were responsible for starting this stunning Christian movement in this gentile city? Acts 11:19-20 records that “those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen, . . . men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus.”  This is to say, God used nameless refugees to spark an incredibly significant Christian movement at the outset of Christianity. 

Looking at two colleagues of mine who were refugees themselves, what these early believers did in Antioch becomes all too believable. Ramin from Iran became a refugee after escaping from Shiite Muslims in his homeland, who became hostile towards him after he became a believer. More than a decade removed from those difficult days, Ramin is now a pastor and a fearless defender of the Christian faith in America. Then there is “Minh” from Vietnam whose story is all too familiar as tens of thousands of Vietnamese fled their country after it fell to the communists in 1975. Finally coming to America nearly 40 years ago following a lengthy stay at two refugee camps, he worked hard to become a nurse. And, after having become a Christ’s follower, Minh, upon taking an early retirement, returned to Vietnam where he currently serves as a missionary.

Yes, with God, there is always hope even in our worst moments. Need further proof of this? 
Having lived in Mexico for many years, I have many friends there, including two men who were deported from the U.S. after living here for many years as illegal aliens. One is “Javier” who had lived and worked in California long enough to buy a modest house and raise a family. The other is “Carlos,” a pastor who was held at a detention facility for undocumented aliens for several months before being deported. Just like refugees from Ukraine, Iran and Vietnam, Javier and Carlos lost everything overnight with no place to go—it was a nightmare for them and their families. As their friend, I know how devastating the deportation was for both.

Now, I understand that what I am about to say would make zero sense, even be offensive, to those who do not adhere to a biblical worldview; but for those who do, realize that deportation was the best thing that could have happened to Javier and Carlos from the standpoint of eternity. How?

Javier came to believe in Jesus Christ at a retreat where I spoke during the aftermath of deportation and amid crumbing marriage. He would eventually enroll in a local Bible institute and become a leader in the church; once, he seriously considered dropping everything to go to China as a missionary. As for Carlos, after initially taking a factory job to support his family, he met a boss who later helped him to join the largest Baptist church in the city that, in time, installed him as the pastor of its daughter church.

The Old Testament is not silent on this matter, for many Israelites in antiquity would readily empathize with the likes of Javier, Carlos and Ukrainian refugees, because they themselves were deported to Babylonia following its crushing invasions of Judah. Most of them would never set foot again on their homeland. One person was Daniel, who was forcibly taken when he was still a teen; he would never see his families again. How devastating this experience must have been for Daniel, but when seen through the lens of spirituality, deportation was God’s way of drawing Daniel near to the LORD, so much so that he would later become a great prophet of God, while serving as a top official in three different administrations.

So, even as we lament over refugees and deportees, we recall the words of Jesus: “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn. 16:32). And often it is through these trials that we learn “not to rely on ourselves but on God” (2 Cor. 1:9). I hope you would agree that being drawn to God is far better than anything material America has to offer.
Here is hoping that the horrific ordeal Ukrainians are currently suffering will “lead [them] to Christ that [they] might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24b). And that is the experience of many refugees, including my parents who rose from the ashes of a terrible war to lead productive lives, marked by their decision to believe in Jesus. Yes, there is eternal hope for Ukrainian refugees.