If I am totally honest, I’ve been trying to hold the Ukraine crisis at arms-length. I haven’t been able to face the endless news bulletins, breaking stories, political commentary and over-full Twitter feed!

It’s not because I don’t care. Quite the opposite. It’s because I care too much.

Poland people who have fled Ukraine

Faces of the those caught up in the Ukraine conflict: people who have fled Ukraine stand at a temporary camp in Przemysl, Poland, on 28th February. PICTURE: Reuters/Yara Nardi.

Really, it’s because I have moved into self protection mode. There’s just too much going on:

• Twelve months ago, we saw the conflict in Myanmar and I’m still supporting Burmese friends who care deeply for their nation, even when the stories have disappeared from the nightly news;

"[O]nce I start seeing this broken world through the lens of God’s call to justice, I can no longer be a spectator."

• Six months ago we were shocked by the images of the conflict in Afghanistan. I have spent numerous hours supporting my Afghan refugee friend here in Australia as he still waits for a path to Permanent Residency eight years after arriving;

• Last week a friend died after a long illness;

• COVID continues to decimate some of our nearest neighbours such as Papua New Guinea; and,

• The Tonga volcano eruption and the Queensland floods remind us again that nature can be cruel.

My heart is heavy and overwhelmed. Honestly, I don’t have space for another disaster.

I resonate with the prophet Habakkuk when he says: "How long, O Lord, must I call for help? But you do not listen! 'Violence is everywhere!' I cry, but you do not come to save. Must I forever see these evil deeds? Why must I watch all this misery? Wherever I look, I see destruction and violence. I am surrounded by people who love to argue and fight." (Habakkuk 1:2-3/NLT).

So I’ve tried to keep the ‘destruction and violence’ at arm’s length. That is, until I talked to Anya* this past Saturday morning at our neighbourhood pop-up coffee event. Anya herself is a refugee from World War II and the Cold War. She is elderly, Ukrainian and can be hard to understand at the best of times.

Through her heavy accent, and trembling voice, she told me that just two days ago a Russian bomb had killed a number of her family members back in Ukraine.

And that was it. It all came crashing down for me. I could no longer hold it at arms-length. This invasion was no longer a theory. It was personal. It had a name, a face and a story. I now had skin in the game.

It made me realise that once I start seeing this broken world through the lens of God’s call to justice, I can no longer be a spectator.

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Tim Keller finishes his book, Generous Justice, by saying: "A life poured out in doing justice for the poor is the inevitable sign of any real, true Gospel faith."

And so I have hope. This overwhelming internal groaning I feel is the deep compassion of God for his people. I can align myself with it, and trust that God will make room in my soul and my emotions to carry it.

Justice is personal. It calls for a personal response. 

So I take a deep breath, trust God’s goodness again and look for ways to act with generosity and kindness, even if it’s just sharing a cup of coffee with a friend.

steve woods2

Rev Steve Woods is a church relationship manager with Baptist World Aid Australia, serving South Australia and the Northern Territory. He lives in Adelaide.

*For privacy reasons, Anya’s name has been changed for this story.