Power of prayer cannot be underestimated

“Those who are involved in humanitarian projects and pastoral care are familiar with loneliness, anhedonia, weakness, despondency, cynicism... But all this was washed away with water and wiped off with towels,” Denis Gorenkov, a Baptist pastor in Ukraine, reflected on the footwashing ritual with MWC president Henk Stenvers.  

From 22 to 25 February 2024, MWC president Henk Stenvers visited Ukraine with a team from Dnipro Hope Mission (DHM).  

At a location in the western part of Ukraine, DHM convened some 25 Baptist and Mennonite Brethren pastors and spouses who work on DHM-supported projects. Many of the pastors serve close to the frontlines, or even as chaplains.  

The DHM team included trustee and founder Joshua Searle, American board members Rodger and Margaret Murchison, and Baptist theology professor Max Zimmermann from Theologische Hochschule Elstal in Germany. They welcomed the MWC president to join their delegation after he asked for their help to facilitate a meeting with the MB pastors. 

The purpose of the visit was to give the workers a few days of rest, opportunity to share their experiences and to show solidarity.  

“To pray, to listen, even to visit for three short days seems so little,” says Henk Stenvers, “but the importance of knowing that there are people thinking of them and praying for them cannot be underestimated.” 

Henk Stenvers carried extra luggage to Ukraine containing 400 handwritten cards from Doopsgezinde churches around the Netherlands. Menno’s Global Village, a Dutch Mennonite youth initiative to connect young people all over the world initiated and directed the collection.  

The time together concluded with a worship service where Max Zimmermann delivered an inspiring message from Ephesian 3:14.  

But the most powerful moment, as shared by the Baptist pastor above, was an evening of footwashing and communion.  

The weekend included teaching on rest and self-care. There was also time for the pastors to share their experiences.  

They spoke of giving food and shelter to the flood of displaced people in the early days of the invasion.  

They spoke of serving as chaplains and the pain of losing friends and church members to the violence of war.  

They spoke of their anger toward the invasion and the war, and the broken relationships with Russian people.  

They spoke of the relentless job of serving the physical and emotional needs of the people.  

They spoke of how the small free churches have become “visible” in society as they offer helping hands to anyone who asks.  

“We cannot walk in your shoes, but we can do as Jesus did and wash your feet,” said Henk Stenvers. The five members of the DHM delegation washed the feet of each person in the room. For many, it was the first time to experience the intimate and vulnerable ritual.  

“I introduced it as a symbol of serving,” says Henk Stenvers. “After that, we shared communion which symbolizes our being together in community, and also our peace witness. It was a very emotional evening.” 

Three MB pastors who were part of the delegation spoke with Henk Stenvers about the Mennonite church in Ukraine.  

With assistance from European and North American Mennonite churches, the MB churches have distributed more than 2000 tons of humanitarian aid (food, comforters and other supplies) has been distributed. They work closely together with other Protestant churches, like those of DHM, in the relief work. 

“In times like these differences are less important than helping the people in need,” says Henk Stenvers. 

About Association of Christian Mennonite Brethren Churches of Ukraine 

Established in 2004, there are now about 1 000 members in 18 congregations in the Mennonite church in Ukraine.  

Six congregations are in occupied territory. They mostly meet in homes; communication with the main body can be difficult and they face government suspicion.  

The church and the Mennonite Centre in Molochansk that MWC leaders visited in 2019 have been taken over by the Russian army and are now used for military goals or propaganda.  

How can you pray for Ukraine? May God keep the people of Ukraine, especially our Anabaptist-Mennonite brothers and sisters in Christ; Christ enfold them; and the Spirit guide them in this terrible time. May God strengthen their arms so they will not grow weary of serving. May Christ walk alongside them in their grief and mourning. May the Spirit move their hearts toward revolutionary enemy-love.