Mikhail Kovbanyuk admits he’s been overcome with emotion and had trouble sleeping since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Thoughts of family members and friends who remain in Ukraine occupy Kovbanyuk’s thoughts, along with horrific stories and images that have been shared with him.
“If I showed you the things my friends have sent me, not all of us would be able to bear it,” he said.
Kovbanyuk serves as lead pastor at Source of Life Evangelical Missionary Church, a predominately Eastern European congregation in Woodfin, a small town just north of Asheville that sits along the banks of the French Broad River in western North Carolina.
The vast majority of Source of Life’s membership is Ukrainian, and many of them, like Kovbanyuk, have friends and family in Ukraine, some of whom have taken up arms in the conflict with Russian forces.
“This is not a special operation as some claim,” Kovbanyuk said, referencing the words that Russian President Vladimir Putin used immediately prior to attacks on Ukraine two weeks ago. “It’s a war.”
Source of Life Church has hosted weekly days of prayer and fasting since the conflict started, while also providing direct support to assist those fleeing Ukraine.
Sergei Drok, the church’s missions pastor, went back to the region before the onset of the fighting. As the conflict began, Drok helped evacuate about 40 children from an orphanage in central Ukraine that the church still supports. Drok worked to evacuate the children through Poland while “literally under bombing,” Kovbanyuk said.
Family members have reported to Kovbanyuk that bomb sirens pierce the air repeatedly. When the sirens sound, they only have about three minutes to seek shelter underground.
“This is the reality for my family members there,” Kovbanyuk said.
During a recent worship service at Source of Life held Sunday, March 6, Kovbanyuk and others encouraged church members to continue to trust and depend on the Lord for strength. Representatives from the Buncombe Baptist Association and the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina joined them to worship, pray and express unity within the body of Christ.
“What hurts one believer, hurts the other,” said Perry Brindley, associational mission strategist with the Buncombe Baptist Association. “This is a kingdom matter. We weep with you, and we weep with those who are fleeing, with those who are hurting and with those who are caring.”
Brindley said Source of Life Church is one of four churches with Eastern European natives that affiliate with the local association and the Baptist state convention. The others are Bethel Romanian Church, First Moldovan Missionary Baptist Church and Asheville City Church.
The greater Asheville area has a sizable Eastern European population that began settling in the region in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Through their affiliation with the local Baptist association and state convention, those churches are supporting relief efforts that N.C. Baptists are coordinating in Eastern Europe. N.C. Baptists currently have missions teams ministering to refugees who have fled to Hungary and Poland.
In a message to Source of Life Church’s congregation, state convention regional catalyst Steve Harris said the international crisis in Ukraine represents a gospel opportunity for the church.
“The church is called to welcome those who have come here from other nations, to care for them as our own and to bring them the good news of the gospel,” Harris said. “We will support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine as they fight for their freedom. But ultimately we will trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
“Our hope is in God’s ultimate victory.”
Brindley encouraged N.C. Baptists to continue to pray for Eastern Europeans living in North Carolina and for the conflict in Ukraine.
“Pray for these congregations and for God’s protection upon Eastern Europe,” Brindley said.
Harris said he was encouraged by the “strong faith” exhibited by members of Source of Life Church.
“It was a very moving experience to see the strong faith of these Eastern European believers whose families and loved ones are in the line of fire,” Harris said. “I am so grateful for our partnership with them.”
Kovbanyuk said he is thankful for those who are praying and expressing support amid the conflict.
“I am grateful to everyone who is praying for us and standing by our side,” he said.