Serving in Ukraine’s warzone
Every few days, Maia Mykhaliuk swaps her business suit for military fatigues and leads her team out to Ukraine’s eastern front with aid supplies.
Up to now, they’ve made 52 trips to the war zone, serving more than 30,000 people. Even with the protection of the Ukrainian army, it’s dangerous work.
She admits, “There is always a risk during those trips of getting under bullets and shelling or being captured by Russian terrorists. I cannot say it’s not scary. When you can see explosions, when bullets cut the air around you, just like any human, you feel your heart galloping. But I know that I am there because God wants me there, and that I can trust Him for protection. I think the Haggai Leader Experience taught me that the safest place is in the middle of God’s will.”
Maia grew up in a communist home. Her father was a loyal Communist Party member, so she never heard about God. It was only when she went to the university, majoring in English, that she met a group of American students and was told about Jesus for the first time.
In Kiev, she is now a successful businesswoman, executive director of the training and consulting company, Business Consulting International, a wife to her husband, and mother of two teenage children. She hadn’t thought much about Christian ministry until she was invited to attend the Haggai Leader Experience in 2006.
“It was mind-opening,” she recalls. “I had always been very focused on Ukraine. Attending the Experience opened my heart to the world. Spending a month with women from around the globe put a ‘face’ to every country. The world became smaller. At the same time, my sense of urgency for missions became bigger.”
Since then, she has trained many Ukrainian leaders and has served in Haggai and other training events in Russia, Romania, Kazakhstan, Barbados, the Philippines, and Brazil. In total, she has passed her training on to more than 1,000 other leaders.
It was thanks to her Haggai Leader Experience that she decided to found a photography school. She had not anticipated in 2006 that events a few years later would turn her into a war photographer. And yet, within weeks of hostilities breaking out between Ukraine and Russia, Maia found herself reporting for CNN.
VIEW MAIA’S 2016 HAGGAI GLOBAL SUMMIT PRESENTATION:
She realized she was fiercely patriotic. “I do not feel any conflict between Christ-likeness and my passionate feelings of patriotism. But God has also placed each one of us into a particular country and setting to accomplish His unique calling for each of our lives. I believe I am Ukrainian (not Russian, American, or Indian) for a reason.”
What particularly irks her is the constant barrage of Russian propaganda claiming that she, as a Russian speaker, needs to be liberated from Ukraine.
“I have lived now for 20 years in Kiev, in central Ukraine, and I have never been treated badly for speaking Russian. I do not need Russian protection. Soviet propaganda used to plant the idea that educated people speak Russian and only peasants speak their national languages, like Ukrainian, Belorussian, or Kazakh. But nobody believes that nonsense anymore. I don’t see Russians as any more urban or sophisticated than Ukrainians.”
Most of Ukraine remains unaffected by the war. Walking through the streets of Kiev, you wouldn’t guess that the east of the country was locked in a battle with its powerful northern neighbor. Life goes on as usual.
Maia, though, couldn’t shake a concern for the five million Ukrainians trapped by the fighting. She started praying for the chance to connect with a volunteer movement. She says, “God answered that prayer, as He often does, giving much more than I even asked for. He gave me leadership over one of the largest volunteer groups – Wings of Generosity and Care.”
This group now brings together more than 3,000 people. More than 80 percent of them are non-believers. Maia works alongside them to raise funds and bring food and blankets to the war zone. She now sees how her time at Haggai International prepared her for what was to come.
“We see a lot of people coming to Christ, both among the volunteers, and among those we are helping. The experience I had at Haggai International revolutionized my ministry and my life.”
Repeated trips to the war zone have given her a new take on what it means to forgive.
“We have been twice in situations where locals coordinated mortar attacks on our aid convoy – the same people we just brought food to. Usually it’s because of brainwashing by the Russian propaganda they still watch on their TVs. I am grateful to God for working in my heart and helping me forgive and love people who tried to kill us. We keep going back again and again, and that helps them to gradually get their minds freed.”
Maia prays for President Putin, and for the conflict to be resolved.
She has become, in effect, a high-performing missionary – fluent in the language, culturally savvy, clever, and influential. And nobody is paying her to do what she does. Having completed her Haggai Leader Experience, she’s driven by her own God-given passion and determination.
Meanwhile, in Ukraine and elsewhere, the world is closing its doors to conventional forms of Christian missions.
The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine has received “conflicting information about what will happen to religious visa holders who leave the country for a short trip abroad . . . they will be allowed to enter Ukraine for 90 days, like any other U.S. citizen, but it is not clear whether they will be able to remain longer.”
The work of the Kingdom hasn’t changed – but the world has. And Haggai leaders, like Maia, are getting the job of missions done.
Executive Director of the Business Consulting International
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