War retreat provides ‘soul care’ for Ukrainian ministers

By Sue Sprenkle


It’s a four-letter word. There’s no rest in war. There’s no rest amid the missiles and gunfire that have plagued Ukraine for the past year.

Yet, when Mike Domke, International Mission Board missionary, looked at a network of 60 Ukrainian pastors and missionaries, he knew that’s exactly what they needed — to rest and rejuvenate by doing nothing.

Ministers from all over Ukraine gathered for a time of rest and prayer. They shared stories of what war has been like and how their ministries have shifted. Most are provided for physical and spiritual needs at the same time. IMB Photo

“You want us to come and do nothing?” the weary and beaten ministers asked dumbfounded when Domke invited their families to a War Retreat back in October sponsored through Send Relief and other partners.

Since the war began, the word “rest” has not been in their vocabulary. Most opened their homes and churches to the displaced. They shuffled many to the borders to safety.

This network of ministers worked with Send Relief, the IMB and Southern Baptists to care for the physical and spiritual needs within the country of Ukraine. The ministers and their families put feet to generous financial gifts. Food packets were provided for close to 95,000 families while more than 69,000 hot meals were prepared for those seeking temporary shelter from the combat zones. This group shared the gospel with 42,000 people; close to 1,000 of those made professions of faith.

The ministers and their families were tired yet pushed on because the work was not finished. Anatoliy Schmilikhovskyy, pastor of Transfiguration Baptist Church in Lviv, said at that point during the war, soul care was more important than they initially realized. The War Retreat was the first time many had an opportunity to slow down and process.

Praying together was one of the highlights at the War Retreat sponsored by Send Relief and other partners for Ukrainian pastors, missionaries and their families. It was part of the healing process of helping each other in the midst of the ongoing war. IMB Photo

“It was a way for us to not feel alone in this,” Schmilikhovskyy said. “To be with people in the same situation and doing the same job as you was something special. No seminary in the world can prepare you for ministering during a war.”

More than 80 came to the retreat center in Lviv, Ukraine. One family drove 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), bypassing some combat zones. Eduard Myrmyr, pastor of Great Change Church in Izmail, couldn’t believe how fast everyone bonded and shared experiences.

For the first time in months, children ran and played. Women gathered in another section of the retreat center with easels, paints and brushes for an art therapy session. Men drank coffee, talking and teasing each other. Strangers became old friends within a few minutes.

Art therapy provided time for attendees of the War Retreat to paint and relax after spending a year in the midst of war in Ukraine. IMB Photo

“I feel like I’m in a story that I could only read and dream about before,” Myrmyr said about the last year. “Thank you, brethren, for the rest, inspiration and education. In the middle of darkness, evil and hopelessness, He finds people who bring warmth, acceptance and grace to wounded souls.”

Domke said the goal of this retreat was to allow people to talk through the trauma and hardships. Ministers often end up hearing others’ problems but rarely have someone to share their own burdens. In this atmosphere, it was safe to talk about decisions to stay or go or even how to distribute food and blankets fairly. It was safe to talk about the pain of loss and voice their nightmares. This was a place to cry, pray and praise God … a place to celebrate lives transformed by the gospel and people baptized.

The War Retreat’s goal was to help those ministering during the war a chance to rest. One way the group rested was by praying for each other. The ministers and their families said it helped them to not feel so alone or overwhelmed by the needs surrounding them this past year in Ukraine. IMB Photo

Many of the ministers were astounded that something as simple as “rest, talk and prayer” could make such a difference. Schmilikhovskyy explained that the pastors spend so much time meeting physical needs that they forget to care for their own minds and souls.

“To have an event just for taking care of people who spend their time taking care of people was monumental,” Schmilikhovskyy said, thanking Send Relief and the other partners for sponsoring the War Retreat. “It is a big honor and blessing for us to have partners like you helping us. It is a reminder that we are not alone. Together, we rest in God. Together, we serve Christ.”

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Sue Sprenkle writes for the IMB.

Published March 15, 2023

Sue Sprenkle

Sue Sprenkle is a writer for the IMB.