Ukrainian Conflict Hits Home for West Texas Missionaries 2/19/14
CBS 7 News
February 19, 2014
ODESSA/UKRAINE-As violence explodes in Ukraine, missionaries from an Odessa church are caught in the middle while on a two week mission trip. At least 25 people have been killed and hundreds more have been injured after protests in the eastern European country.
But the group from First Baptist Church in Odessa says they are praying and will continue their plan to teach English.
Despite the risk, dozens of other churches in West Texas send members to foreign countries to minister or serve.
Most West Texans who go abroad to serve say they know the risks. And while this group may not be heading to Ukraine anytime soon, even in the midst of deadly protests, they are keeping their faith.
Images from Kiev, Ukraine, the city where eight Odessa missionaries are staying. The church members are just two miles away from the center of the violence.
"There were tanks in the streets and with the unrest, they stayed inside the church where they were at and where the school is being held,” said First Baptist Church Odessa Pastor Byron McWilliams. “I think family members are praying more now than ever before.”
The group is there until next Friday to teach reading. They say as long as people come, they will continue their mission.
“Their testimony right now is showing God’s selfless love because they’re staying put,” said First Baptist Church Member Jeff Wash, whose wife is with the missionaries in Ukraine.
"It’s not an accident. They are there right now in the middle of a revolution and our people get to be on ground zero and be a witness for Christ,” McWilliams said.
About 400 students still came to their reading session despite the violence.
Meantime, back home in Odessa, another church prepares to send missionaries to Africa, where a state department warning and violence is also a concern.
"Any missionary, especially an international missionary, has made up his mind, ‘I'm going to an unsafe place,’” said Chris Harrington, missionary leader at Immanuel Baptist Church in Odessa.
And go they do. This year's trip will mark the third in a row for the church, bringing much needed help to the country.
"We don't want to be reckless in what we do, but we know that Jesus Christ has commanded us to go," Harrington said. "To see the joy in a little African boy or little African girl or even in Texas or anywhere we go, that’s what it’s all about.”
Harrington has a simple message for the Odessans in the Ukraine.
"I know you go with God’s protection, but I just want you to know your brothers and sisters in Christ across town are praying for you,” Harrington said.
It’s just after six in the morning in the Ukraine and we're told the church members are safe, but were not allowed to leave their church overnight. A call for a truce by the Ukrainian president could lead to a reduction in violence this week.