Last month, myself, Tim and Matt left the Fresher-filled streets of Fallowfield for a youth conference in the Czech Republic. After an early start, a delayed flight where they shut down all UK airports for 45 minutes (RIP Queenie), we landed in Krakow, Poland. We arrived at the conference centre in the rural countryside of the Czech Republic and joined together with around 100 other young people and church leaders from all over Europe. The majority of attendees were Ukrainians who have now been displaced to European countries like, Portugal, Belgium, Poland, the UK and Germany. While some were still in Ukraine and had taken long trips to ensure that they could make it over safely. It was a big wake-up call to see the extreme lengths (and long car journeys, 10+ hours) that these people would go to be in fellowship with one another, to come to worship together and to hear God’s word. It was a privilege to witness friends reunite and embrace and then to be welcomed into that group too! I think I had my first selfie no more than 20 minutes into arriving in my dorm room.
Throughout the course of the conference we heard so many incredible and inspiring stories of how God was at work despite the traumatic and dangerous circumstances that are facing Ukrainians right now. One guy we got chatting to in an evening recounted carrying his friend in a supermarket trolley (the rubble on the ground made it impossible to push) to the nearest hospital after being hit in cross-fire. To then have to walk 2 days in a different direction to safely re-enter the city. He also shared stories of people becoming Christians during all of this and showed us a photo of a Ukrainian soldier getting baptised with a jug of radiator water! Despite the devastation of separated families, couples, lost friends, everyone spoke of God’s faithfulness through it all. On one of the days a group of young people shared about their new life in Munich and how they are now planting a church, learning German and seeing young people come to faith! The same day David Devenish was sharing on being a scattered people and advancing the gospel, it was so inspiring to see them actively out-working this even after everything they’ve been through. These people had seen their homes in ruins, fled their country, some leaving fathers, brothers, husbands behind and are now preaching the gospel in countries they never expected to find themselves. What’s more, they radiated God’s goodness.
On the last evening, Matt and I got roped into a classic fire/acoustic guitar worship session where the majority of the singing was in Russian. Up until Matt put us forward to lead a song, I initially sat firmly in my seat on the back row until they shouted ‘bring your sister!’ 1 minute later we find ourselves leading a ropey rendition of Waymaker, that probably did nothing for CCM Music’s reputation. Still, it was a great evening! One of my favourite parts was listening to them sing worship songs in Russian and after a couple of lines figure out the songs they were singing and then joining in. One song they sang was ‘ See A Victory’ by Elevation Worship. The lyrics in the chorus, ‘I’m going to see a victory, for the battle belongs to the Lord’ relating to 2 Chronicles 20 where it says, ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.’ I found it so challenging that these guys could so earnestly sing these lyrics when they are yet to see a victory in their homeland, when their families, lives and churches have been fractured and scattered. Then the bridge, ‘You take what the enemy meant for evil and You turn it for good’ – Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Our friends from Ukraine are actively taking the evil that has been inflicted on them and using their unforeseen circumstances to see God turn it to good, preaching the gospel and advancing the Kingdom in their adopted countries. What they are doing is a blueprint for how despite our circumstances, our limbo-seasons, our relational situations, even in the face of political warfare, God can move. He can work through us, leading us to people-groups, cultures and countries we never expected and that is exactly what he is doing right now through these guys. And we can get alongside our brothers and sisters who have fled Ukraine and those who have had to remain in prayer, praying that God would uphold them, bless them and go with them. It was an impactful and challenging week, making friends, hearing testimonies that were mixed with extreme trauma but also incredible faith and coming together as one family, one church bringing it all before God in rural Czechia.
Final highlight was watching Tim Simmonds awkwardly sign multiple copies of ‘Multiplanting’ in Russian with a wide scope of different novelty pens.
Beth de la Mare
Beth is one of the leaders of the Fallowfield site of Christ Church Manchester, and also works across all the sites to make the church run smoothly!