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Standing at the Ukrainian border, I watched an old man begin to sob uncontrollably as he crossed into Romania to safety. He leaned against one of the barriers and pointed at the sky, his clothes covered in mud, his body frozen by grief and unable to go on. Volunteers told us he was saying his house had been bombed.
All around him, I watched the never-ending stream of refugees crossing wearily into Romania. Night was falling and the temperatures had plunged below freezing. It was a constant flow of people. Some were on foot, others in buses or cars, nearly all women and children. One of the officials said that just the day before, 15,000 people had come through this one crossing point – a vivid illustration of what has become the fastest-growing refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
I saw so many mothers carrying babies and young children. Exhaustion was written across their faces. They were utterly worn out by the trip, the weight of the unknown future, and by the emotion of having to leave behind husbands, fathers, brothers and older sons.
I’VE SEEN UKRAINIAN SUFFERING UP CLOSE AND WE MUST CONTINUE TO SEND CRITICAL LETHAL AND NONLETHAL AID
So much pain, right there on display in front of me.
And probably right there on display in front of you, if you’ve been watching any news in the last few weeks. But it isn’t just limited to Ukraine.
Even before Ukraine’s war, nearly 426 million children already lived in conflict zones.
Even before refugees fled Ukraine, more people than ever had been forced from their homes – 84 million people. That’s more than one-quarter of the entire US population.
Add that to news headlines on hunger and famine and stories from our staff in places like Afghanistan, where things have gotten so bad that we’ve heard of parents making the unthinkable choice to sell one of their children just so they can afford food to save another from starvation.
It’s the type of real, sometimes gut-wrenching, hard beauty that changes us forever.
Heartbreaking. Chaotic. Utterly overwhelming. So much pain in the world that it feels hard to process. Our first instinct might be to turn away, but I believe that if we look into the pain, we’ll also see beauty. It’s the type of real, sometimes gut-wrenching, hard beauty that changes us forever. And for me as a Christian, it’s a beauty that brings me closer to God.
Beauty like the Ukrainian children I saw hugging their mothers or kissing their cheeks to bring comfort in that rare moment when the women’s steely composure would slip.
Or closer to home for me, a refugee father named Vladimir. He carefully tended to his 16-year-old son Bogdon, who has special needs. It was clearly a struggle for them to take this journey, especially with Bogdon’s physical challenges. Finding a way to shower and even just moving from one area of the shelter to the next was so hard.
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But Bogdon’s father was unbelievably tender with son, and I could see the love between them. At regular intervals during our conversation Bogdon would call out “Papa” and touch his father’s face or hold his hand – craving his Papa’s attention. This reminded me of my own daughter with special needs, Andrea, who also calls me “Papa” and so often does the same thing. A beautiful love amid the pain.
And that old man, sobbing and unable to continue on. There was beauty there too. Immediately a volunteer came over and held him in a tight embrace. In a few minutes he was able to carry on. He struggled onto a bus, heading to the next stop on his journey. Two strangers who will likely never meet again. And in that human connection – beauty. The type that I will remember for the rest of my life.
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As Christians, we know that God is present in the pain. That’s the starting point to embracing the beauty. And it’s realized in our response to suffering. It’s there when we look at every person in crisis and see Jesus, and we remember His words in Matthew 25:35: “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in… ”
I saw those familiar words come vividly to life at Ukraine border as volunteers and aid workers helped those fleeing the conflict. Seeing that type of beauty changes us. And it strengthens us to be part of the solution – but only if we’re willing to first step into the pain.
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