Vineyard churches in the Nordic region have been active in Ukraine since 2005 when collectively they sent out a team from various churches in Sweden to Odesa with the purpose of planting a church there. The leader of the church plant then was Henrik Ahlström from the Norrköping Vineyard. Jim Mumper was the pastor of the Norrköping Vineyard and was the overseer for the Vineyard Nordic’s work in Ukraine and Russia.
As life happens while being on mission in foreign countries, Henrik as well as one other team member from the Norrköping Vineyard, both each met their wives in Odesa. After several years passed these couples eventually relocated back to Sweden with their wives who have now integrated quite well in Sweden. Currently, one of the Ukrainian wives serves as Children’s pastor in the church in Norrköping.
Spinning the time machine forward to March 24 2022 – Russia starts their war against Ukraine, with rockets and missiles hitting several cities all at once creating terror across the nation. Henrik’s wife, Olya, and Andreas’ wife Nastia received reports of missiles being fired into Odesa and their families wanting to get out. So on the 4th day of the war, 4 of us drove down to the border and retrieved these families.
Returning back to Sweden, honestly we didn’t have a plan, but when we got back home, we took these people we rescued into our homes to stay. It was of course quite a shock for these displaced family members, but they all experienced peace and safety in Sweden. But something happened on that trip. In actuality it was a combination of things that happened. First of all, I, Jim Mumper, had another “calling encounter” with the Lord. God broke my heart for the plight of Ukrainians in general, and in specific, those we brought up to Sweden. The second thing that happened was the response from so many people on social media to what we did. Honestly, all we did was drive 1600 kilometers down to the border area, spend the night, and then pick up some people and drive back to Sweden. A good number of my friends asked me how they can support what we were doing. People from Europe, the US, Hong Kong, Australia. We didn’t have any fundraiser or plan. We just reacted to the emergency, and yet people were wanting to get involved.
So we had people wanting to help, I had a “calling encounter” where God broke my heart for the hurt and pain of these people having to leave their homes and all that their lives had been because of this war. Having been a missionary for over 30 years, I had my experience with refugee camps over the years. Here in this situation, with a family living in our home, a vision was born to change the narrative of the “refugee” experience. As more and more people were expressing their desire to support what we were doing, we decided that we would reach out to a network of people we had in the Vineyard churches in the Nordic countries to see if there were families who would be willing to take a refugee family into their homes. We had a bigger response than expected. So a plan started to develop. It really has been a plan on the fly, but we were early responders to this crisis and we just sensed God breathing on what we put our hands, feet and hearts to.
The financial response led us to offer Ukrainians we knew who were still in Ukraine that wanted to leave, a place to stay. Mind you, most of them were people we knew as family connections, church relationships within the Ukrainian Vineyard network, or people known to the people we assisted already. So word spread that we would pay transport by flight for anyone who wanted to leave Ukraine and come to either Sweden, Norway or Denmark. Truth be told, most Ukrainians want to stay in Ukraine – it's home, but were also in need of safety, so leaving only with some reluctance!
Currently in the Vineyard Nordic, we are housing 40 displaced Ukrainians, providing them with the support and aid that they need to live in our society and thrive. Of course, surviving is good, but thriving is even better, so that is our goal for our friends. So far we have been able to provide food, housing, local transport and phones and more for these 40. From the donations we received, we are able to care for these families for at least one year. About 20 of them are in Norrköping Sweden about 10 in Larvik Norway, and 5 in Stockholm Sweden, with others in other places.
In addition to these 40, we also send financial support to other groups who are housing displaced Ukrainians, both inside Ukraine as well as in the border regions. The support is going to groups who do not have easy access to support funding for the aid they are giving. In addition, we were able to purchase a 9 seater minibus and send it in to Ukraine as a gift to one of the churches in Ukraine that are involved with providing aid and transport for people in need of getting to safer places. We were also able to fill the bus with various aid, such as food, mattresses, blankets and clothing.
In early May, I was able to travel to Ukraine to meet with some of our friends there. While there we were able to meet with a group who just arrived to Lviv in eastern Ukraine from Mariupol after enduring 26 days under siege in a bunker with little food and water. We were able to provide rent for them for a few months, and are monitoring if they need to stay longer, then we will support them for a longer period. We also met with some displaced Ukrainians in Poland that we were able to help with their flights to the US where they had a family to host them.
While we didn’t have a plan to begin with, except to rescue some people, we have now developed a plan that we are following in the Nordic Vineyard. There are 4 phases to our plan, and we work the first 3 in tandem
Emergency phase – initial rescue including transport, initial stage housing in church family homes, registration with the Migration Department, language learning, school registration for kids.
Intermediate phase – finding a temporary living situation where our friends can begin to establish themselves in the society and regain some autonomy, providing food support, rents, utilities, phones, internet and local public transport fare cards, etc. In this stage they are able to live fairly autonomous and get around on their own and live somewhat on their own terms with our aid and assistance.
Longer-term phase - finding housing for an indefinite amount of time, furniture and household furnishings and goods, general support for rents, utilities local public transport, bicycles, and food support as needed. By the time they are in this phase, the government is providing some support for food for them, but not for rents. We also assist them in their language acquisition with the goal of finding work to support themselves. We have just entered this phase and we should have enough in our budget to support the ones we have in our care for at least one year if needed. With the stability we currently have, we are looking to return to the earlier phases and bring some more families under our supportive care. We will likely begin with some of the families who are in refugee centers close-by and in need of more support than they are currently getting. We also will continue to be attentive to our friends who are still in Ukraine in case the war gets worse that it is now and they feel the need to escape.
Rebuilding phase – when the war is over we want to have the support necessary to repatriate our friends, support them for a time – maybe 6 months or so. Some of our friends have no home to return to, so rebuilding their lives will be quite a challenge. Many of them will not have their jobs to return to. We would like to be able to provide assistance for them for getting jobs, including assistance for needed training, marketing, etc. In addition, we will be supporting the re-establishment of our churches in the nation.
Two personal experiences in closing. Two weeks ago, a Ukrainian woman who is a dual citizen with Sweden and the president of the local Ukrainian club here in our city told me something that really was a blessing to hear. She is active in our whole region and visits all the refugee centers in our region. She told me that the Ukrainians we have in our care are by far the best adjusted and emotionally healthiest of ALL the displaced Ukrainians she has met here. A big part of that is because our church has really taken this opportunity to bless our guests and help them integrate. They have all become a part of our church family in such a special way. Having a Ukrainian Children’s pastor has made this also easier than it could have been. Our guests are socially connected at a deep level because of the church.
The other personal experience is that for those of us who have hosted Ukrainians, most of us have expressed the feeling that having these people in our homes, it kind of feels like we have Jesus in the flesh, in our homes. It is SUCH AN INCREDIBLE BLESSING!
I have been a missionary for a long time. I have seen God move in incredible ways when we just align ourselves with the places where He is doing His work, which is often with the brokenhearted, the marginalized, the poor, the homeless, victims of injustice, the refugee. As I said, we didn’t have a well thought out plan – we only responded to a crisis of need. What that has led us to has been a challenging but rewarding adventure. We couldn’t do it without the prayer and financial support we have gotten from the Vineyard Nordic churches, as well as other Vineyard churches around the world, in the US and in Australia, from friends and from family. But we definitely could not do it without the prayer and the incredible amount of financial support from one of my top missionary inspirations and friend, Jackie Pullinger and St. Stephens Society in Hong Kong. A missionary who has outgiven us all – combined – twice over!
A little footnote. Whenever we step out of our church comfort zone, we find Jesus is there. We also often find resistance from the enemy. Working with displaced Ukrainians, I have actually found that the biggest critique and attack for actually caring for and housing our Ukrainian friends has come from the larger church body locally.