For some years I had the privilege of ministering in a military community.
Our North Carolina church was five miles from the largest Marine Corps Air Station in the world. Twice a year some of our men would disappear for a few weeks. In the summer they would go to Turkey and in the winter they would go to Norway.
It was all for the purpose of NATO maneuvers.
After a time we moved from North Carolina to Munich to facilitate biblical training for those behind the Iron Curtain where such studies were officially forbidden.
So we did what we could unofficially.
At the end of 1987 (it was the week Pete Maravich died) I met secretly with a group of Polish students at a ski resort in a place called Jelenia Gora.
In the middle of one of the meetings a group of seven or eight young men suddenly stood up and walked out.
I hoped I hadn’t caused offense and at the end of the session I asked why they’d left. I was told they were reservists who were going away on Warsaw Pact maneuvers.
It was a moment indelible in memory.
I was jolted by the realization that I was now ministering to the other side. I was now concerned for THEIR safety.
I had made a spiritual investment in them just as I had made a spiritual investment in those they were being trained to fight.
Later we lived for a number of years in Russia. During that time we made friends in Ukraine.
In the summer of 2014 I was present at a conference for Christian workers in Kiev. There I renewed my friendship with a young Ukrainian couple who had been a part of our Budapest church for a year. They’d driven with three small children from their home on the eastern border, nine miles from Russia.
To this day they’ve never been back.
During what they expected to be a few days away Russian separatists took over their neighborhood.
All they salvaged was what they had in their car. Their house, furniture, family photos, hidden jewelry, winter clothing, children’s toys – all gone.
In February this same couple got out on the last KLM flight from Kiev.
They hope to go back of course .
But for the time being at least they’ve forfeited everything a second time.
Everything, that is, except their faith.
At the moment they are being hosted by a church in the North Georgia mountains.
I hope to see them three days from now.
I have friends on both sides of what Russians are not allowed to call war. Of course I have far more friends on the Russian side.
Which makes it all the more painful to admit that I’m honestly not much interested in seeing the conflict from both sides.
Russia is the clear aggressor and their reasons for justifying the invasion are lame to the point of being laughable.
Except we can’t laugh.
And we know the Russians cannot allow missile sites to be built by NATO on their border.
That much is understandable.
But there are no missiles.
Historically the Russians have made the loudest protest against DEFENSIVE missiles!
And Ukraine is not a member of NATO yet.
Wars always produce unintended consequences. The Russian President’s fondest wish has been to wreck European solidarity. Yet his strategy has united Europe more solidly than at any time since 1945. His actions have proven, more than any other action could have proved, the urgent need for nations bordering Russia to align with NATO.
I now find it unbearable to watch the news.
Two of my greatest heroes took opposite positions on the advisability of even accessing the news.
Spurgeon said he always read the newspaper to find out how his Heavenly Father was governing the world.
CS Lewis said he never read newspapers because he preferred what he called real treasures during the limited time available for reading. He warned that habitual newspaper readers (like myself) would find themselves paying excessive attention to a train wreck in France, the divorce of an actress in Hollywood, or the birth of quintuplets in New Zealand (I’m paraphrasing badly from memory).
He went on to say that even during those times when it seemed most necessary to read the newspaper (in war time for instance) after peace came and the documents were declassified, we were bound to discover that they’d been lying to us all along.
Even today with reporting so immediately accessible in real time we have to allow for a certain amount of propagandizing from both sides.
Nearly every day we are told simultaneously that Kiev is about to fall and that Russia has lost the war.
Mind you if Kiev does fall that by no means proves that Russia has won the war.
Kabul fell immediately but today the Taliban rule Afghanistan.
Ukraine may Talibanize their population and fight to the last man.
Indeed there are indications that that is exactly what they intend to do.
If they do mean to resist to the last drop of blood Russia is in for a costly, unwinnable slog.
If I were asked whether the West should do more to help Ukraine my answer would be an emphatic “yes.”
If I were asked whether I have any expertise or moral authority to render an opinion I would say “definitely not.”
I’ve never served in the military.
Let combat veterans render their judgments. They know the true cost of war.
Do I agonize over the cruel deaths of Ukrainians and Russians?
Of course I do.
How could I not?
But if I were asked, would I give the life of my only son for the deliverance of Ukraine or even if asked whether I would offer his life for the end of all wars I’m sure my answer would be “no”.
In the 40 days since the invasion began I’ve made my own microscopic contribution to getting both Russians and Ukrainians to safe havens.
Many Russian Christians are mortified by what their government is doing.
They leave because they can’t bear not speaking out and if they do speak out they could go to prison for 15 years.
My only counsel is that we must pray.