David Kee (’85), associate professor of business, shares his Global Outreach experience in Sopot, Poland, in summer 2022.
From afar, the war in Ukraine is a news blip and has little effect on our everyday lives — until you live with those affected by the war and it changes you. It changed me this summer.
One of the many perks of working at Harding University is the numerous opportunities we have to serve. My wife, Paige, who teaches communication, and I returned for the second time to Sopot, Poland. As part of Global Outreach, we worked with the local church and the Sopot Bible Institute. Four Harding students accompanied us this year.
We expected this trip to be much like our previous experience, but the war in Ukraine changed our plans. More than one million Ukrainians sought refuge in Poland from the ravages of war. A few thousand made their way to Sopot. Our hosts, Molly (’70) and Annabelle (’04) Dawidow, and the Sopot Church of Christ provided lodging, food and other support services to a large number of refugees, many of them Christians. So, in addition to teaching the Bible to Poles and Ukrainians, we found ourselves putting together boxes of food and supplies for refugees living off-premises, organizing events for the children, and helping coordinate the movement of funds and materials in support of the refugees. Our busyness was overshadowed by our awe for the faith and hope of our new friends. Seeing their homes destroyed and their lives turned upside down, even the loss of relatives and friends, did not deter their commitment to live joyfully for the Lord.
Among others, we shared living quarters with one group of refugees who were members of the Mariupol Church of Christ in southeastern Ukraine. They sheltered for more than 50 days in the basement hallway of the church building with little water, food or clothes. After a harrowing 2,000-mile trip through Russia, they finally made it to Sopot, leaving behind the ruins of their entire hometown as well as family and friends, victims of the Russian invasion. Other Christians from Kyiv and Kharkiv also joined us with similar stories. Despite so many reasons for sadness, these brothers and sisters encouraged us when we thought it would be the other way around. They were joyful and full of promise for the new life they were going to have to build. Without understanding Ukrainian or Russian, we kept hearing the phrase: “Slava Bohu!” — Praise God! Their faith was actually strengthened by their experience, and they continued to share the gospel and build up everyone around them. What a witness to the hopeful nature of our faith!
Along with our group of students, Kyra Joiner Smith, Kate Hutson, Ola Kalafarski and Sargent Erwin, Paige and I learned the ultimate value of missions: We went to serve and ended up being served ourselves. We grew in our faith via the expression of love and hope we saw in the Sopot church and the Ukrainian refugees. We are thankful that Harding and its many donors make it possible for us to be a part of God’s great commission.