Prior to evacuation in 2022, Kanöot and Sarah Midkiff were church planters in Ukraine for 10 years. Find out how God has used these N.C. Baptists in Ukraine, Hungary, the Caucasus and Poland to care for refugees and reach the lost.
When Kanöot and Sarah met in youth group at Five Points Missionary Baptist Church in Wilson, they had no idea their friendship would blossom into a marriage focused on serving the Lord overseas. Prior to evacuation in 2022, the Midkiffs were church planters in Ukraine for 10 years.
Find out how God has used these N.C. Baptists in Ukraine, Hungary, the Caucasus and Poland to care for refugees and reach the lost.
What was the first church plant your family helped start in Ukraine?
Kanöot: In the fall of 2014, we and three other families prayed and started a church in a rented office. As churches gave to Baptist Global Response, now called Send Relief, we were able to pass out food bags to the internally displaced people (IDPs) from the East after the first conflict started in Ukraine.
As other family members and friends came, the church grew. We moved into a new space, a pink beauty salon. We finally maxed out with three services and 150 people each Sunday.
That group has continued, and now, during this second phase of the war — the one that’s most recent — they’ve remained in Kyiv. The church has continued to use that location as well as another one that’s much larger. They’ve been able to baptize so many, more than 60 people over the last eight years.
How were you serving in Ukraine before you were evacuated?
Sarah: We moved out to Lviv in April 2021. That’s when we joined the theological education team [serving with Ukrainian Baptist Theological Seminary] and started working with a church plant just outside Lviv.
Were you prepared to evacuate from Ukraine?
Kanöot: Our landlord told us [troops were] never coming here. He said it’s just a bluff. When we received the call from IMB leadership to grab our “go bags” and pack up to leave, we were helping with a wedding for the new worship leaders of our church plant.
God gave us a wonderful gift to serve right up to the very end. We hosted 12 of the groom’s Ukrainian family members after the wedding in our home overnight. It still moves us today to think that He gave us that privilege … to say goodbye in a healthy way. That helped the next 30 days in Budapest [Hungary] go a bit better. I think we slept in 12 different beds before we had a temporary assignment outside of Ukraine.
How did you decide what to do after the evacuation?
Kanöot: We had just arrived in the Caucasus mountains with our team leaders when news of the war officially came out. We were with young guys who had been begging our theological team, “Please come train us [in God’s Word].” Yet, Sarah felt this compelling desire to be where the most Ukrainian speakers were going to be. She kept thinking: There will be so many Ukrainians moving into a country where they don’t speak the local [Polish] language, isn’t there something that God would allow us to do there to help?
Sarah: We ended up moving to Poland on temporary assignment in March of last year. All through the summer and fall, we helped with a new church plant among Ukrainian refugees.
Have you been able to transition back into Ukraine?
Kanöot: Our hearts have always remained here even while we’ve been trying to get permission for our feet to remain. While we’ve been serving and overwhelmed by God’s graciousness in His blessing through our local partners in Poland, we’ve been quietly coming back across [the border to Ukraine]. We want to continue to be long-term partners — and on behalf of Southern Baptist churches — to be as present as we can.
Do you have any fear when serving in a country at war?
Kanöot: It can be more real for us when I look at my mom and see her face. She doesn’t worry … [but] she prays a lot, and the ladies in her Sunday school class at Parkwood Baptist in Gastonia also pray.
There’s an air raid alarm app on everyone’s phones – we use it as a prayer alert. When those air raid sirens go off, it reminds us to pray, to think about our church partners, our neighbors, and the new believers in our church plant.
How have you witnessed the war affect Ukrainians?
Kanöot: It’s humbling to see how Ukrainians are pulling together. It’s heartbreaking, but they haven’t lost hope yet. The ones who have faith in the Lord are continuing to cling to that faith. We’ve heard testimonies of how God has answered specific prayers and shielded people when they shouldn’t have remained alive. One group felt confident it was because they had just read Psalm 91 aloud [and God protected them].
A family in our local church plant shared that every Ukrainian family has been touched by the war. They’ve either lost a son, or a brother or a cousin, a dad, a granddad. Primarily young men are coming back to the hospitals; they’re missing a hand or part of their leg, or both. This trauma and visual reminder of the sacrifices they’ve had to make are going to remain.
What has God taught you through the past year of uncertainty?
Sarah: We need to make the most of each day because we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow, especially with refugees. We have an opportunity at this one outreach, or this one ladies’ Bible study, or English club with kids. Will we ever see them again? We don’t know. We’re trying to make the most of every conversation that we have because we know this might be our only time to share the gospel.
How have you seen God working in Ukraine?
Sarah: During this difficult time, the Lord has opened the hearts of Ukrainians. They’re seeking to know more — like any of us when we have a challenge. They’re turning to the Lord in a different way than we have seen before.
We’ve had lots of opportunities to distribute Bibles and other literature. As we give them food bags, we tell them, “We do this because we love God; and Jesus loves you and He cares about you, even in the midst of this unbelievable difficulty that you’re all facing.”
How can N.C. Baptists pray for Ukraine?
- Pray for Ukrainian pastors who feel abandoned.
- Pray for the traumatized — the wives who lost their husbands and the children who lost their dads.
- Pray for the struggling marriages of people who are separated from their spouse due to the war. Men are not allowed to evacuate from Ukraine.
- Pray for good rest for pastors and their church teams who have stayed in Ukraine to serve others for over 450 days. Many of the air raids and attacks happen at night, causing sleep disruptions.
Throughout 2023, N.C. Baptists are praying for missionaries, church planters and unreached people groups through our Praying for the Nations prayer guide. Will you join us in praying for the Mikdiffs and the countless other North Carolina families who have given their lives to serve and accomplish the mission of God?
To learn more about Praying for the Nations, visit PrayNC.org.
by Lizzy Haseltine, N.C. Baptist contributing writer