Phil Wagler of the Peace and Reconciliation Network reflects on what God might be calling us to do: Pray Kingdom prayers. Be aware of the humanity of our neighbours and those in the conflict zones. Be sacrificial, and cheerful about it.
It has been a week since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and the world is reeling and wondering what comes next. Are you wondering what to do?
The Peace and Reconciliation Network (PRN) has been responding alongside numerous national and global partners, seeking like you to wade through all the news (and fake news).
Based on what we are learning about this evolving situation, allow me to provide a guide for your Christian response right now:
Pray Kingdom prayers!
Sometimes we forget prayer is the work. When we pray, however, we must pray Kingdom prayers with a mind toward righteousness and wholeness increasing – and injustice and hatred ceasing – on all sides. The Lord is Creator and King over all the earth, so we must pray not from nationalistic fear or fervour, but with a heart cry for God's Kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
On March 3 PRN and The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada hosted a national prayer gathering with the following prayer points:
- For peace and reconciliation. Peace-making and reconciliation requires truth-telling, humility and listening on all sides, and for the Church in Ukraine, Russia and around the world to be courageous witnesses for King Jesus. They are our family. Thankfully the many believers in Eastern Europe are being enormously courageous right now.
- For de-escalation of hostilities. There is evil being perpetrated. We must pray for the fighting to stop. A Russian church leader has written with great risk that right now no amount of letter writing or protest will stop the war – even though that type of witness is necessary. He writes, "Everyone needs the slaughter to stop. Can we, Russian Christians, stop it? Do we have the power to do it?...War can be stopped by God. That's why we call on Him." This from someone who has been speaking out within Russia about his country’s aggression in Donbas since 2014 with other church leaders.
- For wisdom in complex humanitarian initiatives. Organizations, governments, groups and individuals want to help. The situation is desperate, but also rife for corruption, further conflict and abuse. The border chaos as people flee is fertile ground for human trafficking and other evils. And don’t forget the same organizations and governments seeking to respond in Europe are also responding to other tragedies and human needs in other places that cannot be forgotten.
- For the church, people and leaders in Ukraine, Russia, NATO and the UN. We are called to pray for all leaders that we may live in peace (1 Timothy 2:1–3). While this is the most dynamic global conflict, it is not the only one. Our whole wide world is quaking, and leaders with even the smallest responsibility could surely use God’s people obediently praying for leaders in all places.
There is much rhetoric on both sides that has helped escalate the conflict, and it runs the risk of making things worse. Western and Russian media are not unbiased, and the sorrow Ukraine is experiencing has a long backstory. So be aware...
- Of what and who you're listening to. You likely have relationships with Christian organizations and denominations that have people on the ground in Eastern Europe. Prioritize their updates just like you would when listening to individuals with direct contacts in Eastern Europe. Beware of biased or anonymous news. Seek a balanced range of information sources. Go beyond just Canadian and American sources to also check the BBC, Al Jazeera, and Radio Free Europe. However, don't just be a news junkie. The news cycle moves quickly, desensitizes us and makes us forget the things that were happening just ten days ago. It's easy to simply turn these horrific events into evening entertainment.
- Of your own biases. If you grew up in the Western world, you’ve probably seen movies where the bad guy spoke with a Russian accent. The news right now can awaken latent seeds of ungodly bias, fear and suspicion. On the other hand, it's also possible to point frustrated fingers at the attention this conflict is getting because an issue we care about has slid down the headlines, and this can also be ungodly bias producing ungodly fruit (and even inaction).
- There are Ukrainians and Russians in your community. To be Ukrainian is to be filled with grief, fear and understandable anger right now. To be Russian is to be increasingly concerned about how you are perceived. How might you be an ambassador of reconciliation with your Russian or Ukrainian co-worker or neighbour? How can you humanize this moment as you live with all people made in the image of God?
- And don't forget the battle around you. We must respond to what is a major and very real threat to the well-being of this planet. I personally have very dear friends living in the thick of unspeakable horror. At the same time, most of us are quite powerless to make much tangible difference on the Ukrainian-Polish border (and consuming another breaking-news post doesn't count). However, there is much in our communities that this conflict may be awakening us to engage. Can you help prepare your church for what will be an influx of refugees? Can you do something about the divisions in your church regarding the pandemic? If we're not engaged locally our global screaming is very shallow. Al Jazeera, for instance, is reminding Canadians of yet another Indian Residential School gravesite that calls for compassionate and just attention.
Be sacrificial...and cheerful about it!
Everyone will pay a price for what is happening on the Dnieper River. Gas and food prices are rising. Sanctions against Russia will cost them and you. Realize that a conflict like this cannot just be over there or someone else's problem, it will and must impact you. So...
- Do not complain! Accept you must be involved. Invite your family and children into the discussion, and ask how you will sacrifice as a Christian to be involved in the solution. If Jesus' disciples in the comfort of the West simply go on living while complaining about how much more it costs to go to the ski hill or out for a nice dinner, we are not obeying the way of Jesus and not seeking first His Kingdom and His righteousness.
- Do something! We just entered the season of Lent, a time of repentance, denial and soul-searching awareness of our need for the grace of God in Jesus Christ. That could not be any more relevant. So, give up something, do something (our family joined a rally in our city this week) and get creative so you can give cheerfully. Consider a plan to give in two areas:
- Immediate relief. Give to trusted and well-positioned organizations that are on the ground and continue to be involved in other needs around the world. Consider giving, no strings attached, to that organization or ministry so they can be resourced and remain active in all the needs they have responsibility for. Major events like this obviously need resources, but an outpouring of one-directional generosity can rob from elsewhere. Did you know that when you direct to a specific project (and there are many great avenues now to be generous with Ukraine including the World Evangelical Alliance) and receive a charitable receipt, that organization must use the money for that directed purpose? So give something to the needs in Ukraine, but also remember that when you give without strings attached you empower the organization to a more generous response in all their work – including this current conflict in which the need is great.
- Rebuilding and reconciliation. This is where I'd invite you to consider PRN or similar work that seeks to cultivate the peace of Jesus through the local church. By giving to work like this, you invest in longer-term reconciliation. For PRN this has already started. Our teammates in Ukraine and Poland are already bringing trauma counselors to the borders and need help to do so. But, in the long run we need to resource our global team to support the reconciling work that is going to be needed in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus when the hostilities end, while continuing our support of peace and reconciliation initiatives in places like Cameroon, Israel-Palestine, and Canada. If you have capacity to help us grow our work, please do so at TheEFC.ca/Donate (use the code WEAPRN).
Phil Wagler is North American regional coordinator for the World Evangelical Alliance’s Peace and Reconciliation Network and serves as a pastor in Kelowna, B.C. This blog series is produced in collaboration with the WEA PRN. Read all the posts at faithtoday.ca/reconciling.