Letters from Ukraine: “Treasures for the Heart”

About 30 years ago, a pastor moved as a missionary to Ukraine to minister there. When the war broke out, he and his wife could have left, but their hearts told them to stay.

Last year, he wrote asking if he could translate parts of my book We Make the Road by Walking into Ukrainian for his congregation. I found what he wrote so moving that I asked permission to share selections with you. We need glimpses of the human experience in war-torn places in our world, whether Ukraine, Gaza, wherever. Every person, every child, every family … precious human beings, beloved and fragile and of immeasurable worth.

Emblazoned upon our souls are shapes my wife and I never dreamed would occur. An Iranian drone sounds like a moped, a Russian cruise missile sounds like a bottle-rocket on steroids. We know the difference between the sound of an explosion when our air defense intercepts a drone or missile near us and the sound and feel of explosions near our home upon a successful strike. And the air raid sirens, the first notes of that sound immediately triggers alarm as we brace ourselves for explosions to follow.

On day two of the full scale invasion we completed our plans to open a refugee shelter. Over the coming months we provided hope, love, a safe place with warm beds, a shower and meals to hundreds. We prepared them for the long trip to Poland and beyond. We educated them on the signs of human  trafficking and connected them with networks in Europe for safe passage.

Once the refugee crisis ended we transitioned our work to help rebuild war damaged homes in formerly occupied areas at no cost to the home-owner. As we worked in these areas we offered children’s camps to help them understand, respond and heal from the trauma they experienced.

This crime against humanity we are living in is a field of soul shaping invitation. I am thankful to Father Keating for his centering prayer gift, one I have practiced now for several years. It helps me in further discovery and centers my soul in the midst of trauma.

Some months ago I considered writing you to inquire of a possible short meeting. Marcus Borg introduced me to the idea of God as non-interventionist, a subject I am eager to learn more about. If you should have a few minutes in the coming months I would be grateful for time to learn from you on this.

But to my request. Between COVID and the full scale invasion our church is now 18 people. In light of my new journey, serving as a shepherd now looks very different for me and us. I have purchased a copy of your book, “We Make the Road by Walking,” and have downloaded the support materials. We will take a chapter a week in 2024 to help shape our journey together in 2024. I am writing to ask your permission to translate just the stories to be read aloud in our gatherings into Ukrainian. We would not translate the entire book, but only those short sections. We will not reprint, save or distribute anything we translate.

Thank you Brian for your work and the witness of your life


Of course I was happy to grant permission to use the book. More recently, he wrote …


Good morning Brian,
I awoke this Sunday morning to the beauty of a gently falling snow. A fresh white blanket now covers the ground and trees in the forest near us. It is a magical scene. Today is our first Sunday following the The Road We Make by Walking. I have prayerful chosen chapter 19 and the message of hope and change offered by John the Baptist and Jesus.

I sat reading and reflecting on what you have written, taking notes in preparation for our church gathering. The Spirit inspiring me by the stories of Solomon, John and  Jesus and their families. These stories have a special and personal meaning for us in Ukraine. We share the uncertainty of those in the first century, the longing for freedom, justice and renewed hope. We too think of the past, the days before the sirens began piercing our peaceful lives. It is estimated we have all heard 16,000 since February 24th, 2022.

As I sat in contemplation of how God would take this lesson and make it our own, the reality of the present shattered the beauty of this new day. It begins with a few notes, those we know so well, sounds that demand our attention, almost at a soul level before you even hear them, another siren. Now what shall we do, leave the relative safety of our homes to gather, wait for the “all clear”, or meet online? One week earlier our city was hit by seven cruise missiles, all civilian targets. Five hundred yards from our village home, the remains of a downed Iranian drone destroyed a small museum honouring the life of a hero who gave his life fighting Soviet oppression.

The story you share in chapter nineteen becomes very personal for us in the context of our lives. We reflect on the past, endure the present, and long for a different future, one that promises our children never again know the horrors of missiles destroying our homes, schools, hospitals and families.

Thank you my friend for your messages of hope, for your life, a prophetic life which exemplifies the invitation from God, to see differently, to think differently and be inspired by our personal welcome from God to journey together as one in and for peace and love in this world.

Peace be upon you this Sunday morning,


Then a few days ago, he wrote to let me know I could include his name and the name of his church when I post this, but I decided not to do so. He has enough troubles already, and I know that some people can’t resist adding more. So, I’ll leave him to decide when his “coming out party” should be.

Hello Brian. I am humbled at the thought of including our plight in your blog, thank you. Yes, please share whatever you would like and feel free to include my name. Our church is …

A search of both by people will find much of my past in the conservative evangelical world. I would not want to confuse any of your readers. I am thankful for my past, but have moved beyond that to embrace Christ in a growing contemplative way. I have not yet “come out of the closet” as a mystic and contemplative, which, when that happens, will result in levels of alienation from some, and loss of much or all of our missionary support. I enjoy the encouragement of CAC, and am excited about the grassroots reformation within the church occurring in our lifetime. I plan this year to begin sharing openly my experience of deconstruction and reconstruction ( My coming out party!). And trust God for what comes next.

I am finding treasure within the experiences of this war. They are there, sadly at such a tragic cost.

We live in a small village on the edge of XXX … Our village center is filled with coffee shops, restaurants, museums, pubs and beautiful architecture. In the first months of the full scale invasion we averaged 2 or 3 sirens a day. Our city had been struck often. Many of the explosions were not far from our home. I became easily triggered by loud noises. We have had several cruise missiles and drones fly over our house. The sound is unmistakable. I am still alarmed by similar sounds.

On a beautiful fall day the first year of the full scale invasion, I met my friend [Jim] for breakfast in a favorite coffee shop . [Jim] was visiting from [a Western European country]. As we sat enjoying conversation and our food, there was a sudden loud BOOM. I was immediately shaken and thought, “They have penetrated our air defenses so we could not respond,” and braced myself for what might come next.

I looked at [Jim] who sat, unmoved, and in peace, enjoying his eggs. Then another BOOM. This time I noticeably jumped and [Jim] said, “What’s wrong?”  “You didn’t hear that?” “No, hear what?”

Then the third BOOM. I nearly came out of my seat. [Jim] looked at me, “Maybe you shouldn’t be here.” There is a construction site next to the coffee shop. When a dump-truck raises it’s bed and the load of gravel slides out, the tailgate swings back into the truck creating a loud BOOM that sounds like a missile or drone strike absent the pressure wave.

I spent time reflecting on that experience. I thought of God speaking to little Samuel who was inexperienced at distinguishing God’s voice and presence. God spoke to my heart saying, “I am helping you grow to be equally triggered in the awareness of my presence and voice in you.”

“I will give you the treasures of darkness, and hidden wealth of secret places, So that you may know that it is I, The Lord, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name.” (Isa.45:45:3)

A word from my wife as I was lost in my Dark Night of the Soul just a year earlier. I have learned the journey may be costly, but the discoveries along the way are filled with treasures for the heart.

Wishing you peace & joy,

I hope you’ll join me in praying for this dear couple, their congregation, and all who suffer from the arrogant decisions of violent men, in whatever country, of whatever political persuasion or religion or race. War is hell. May more and more of us learn what makes for peace. And may every war cease … We pray with tears.