Olga Rubel said she was deeply disturbed when she heard news of Russian invasions into her home country, Ukraine, in 2014.
“I was so shocked that I couldn’t even do any of my work,” she said. “But God told me that he is good.”
Rubel, who serves as a program coordinator with the Mennonite Church in Ukraine, said the message that God is good came in the form of volunteers and others who contacted her with a desire to help the internally displaced people (IDP) living in Ukraine as a result of the conflict.
She and other members of the church began the relief efforts by coordinating food and water distribution. Since then, their work has progressed into a longer-term program as they focus on meeting with families, addressing the trauma people have faced, and dealing with the legal issues of starting new businesses.
In all of this, Rubel said, she recognized a great need for healing in Ukraine.
“I’ve met many internally displaced people who feel nothing but anger. There’s a lot of bitterness there, and I was looking for a specific way to reconcile people.”
At the same time Rubel was working on the front lines of the IDP camps, George de Vuyst, who serves in Ukraine with Christian Reformed World Missions, was also searching for a way to bring reconciliation. His search led him to a workshop called “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict,” a curriculum developed for victims of another horrible conflict: the Rwandan genocide.
De Vuyst decided to adapt what he’d learned from this workshop to the situation in Ukraine.
“Even before this recent conflict with Russia, Ukraine has been a deeply wounded nation, said de Vuyst, who has been serving in the eastern European nation for 18 years. “Its people have been denied their own language and even their ethnic identity. So much so that most people outside of Ukraine think of it as Russia.”
He assisted in introducing the “Healing the Wounds of Ethnic Conflict” workshop in March to several ministry leaders in Ukraine, including Rubel. In May he led the workshop with 20 people from Ukraine, Russia, and Hungary. This diversity was essential for many of the workshop’s exercises.
At these events, participants shared their own people’s perspectives on the conflict with Russia, delved deeper into the effects of trauma, and explored God’s intent for the wide variety of people he created. Through these exercises, Rubel witnessed many of her negative ideas toward others disappear, she said.
“Instead of seeing different people, I began to see God.” Now she is applying some of what she learned to her work with other Ukrainians who have experienced trauma.
De Vuyst plans to continue leading workshops like these to help people recognize their greater identity in Christ.
“Pray with us for continued healing and reconciliation, and for the continued growth of God’s holy nation of which we are all citizens,” he said.