I was a stranger and you invited me in

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine shows little sign of ending despite the recent high-level meetings. Ukraine has two official languages: those in the west speak Ukrainian and those in the east speak Russian. Russia, and the rebels they are backing, are exploiting this by appearing to support the grievances some Russian speaking Ukrainians in the east have against the government in Kiev.

Over the past year Russia has illegally annexed Crimea, which conveniently gives them control of the warm water seaport of Sebastopol. A Malaysian civilian airliner was shot down killing 298 people. Major cities in eastern Ukraine are now war zones with massive destruction of property. The brand new international airport in Donetsk, built for the European Football Championships in 2012, is now rubble. Donetsk is the same size as Birmingham. In the conflict 5300 people have died and 1.5 million have been made homeless. Thousands of men, women and children have fled for safety to cities outside the war zone including Kharkov, the second city of Ukraine.

Yet in the midst of this appalling situation good things are happening. I have friends who live in Kharkov. They are Christians and attend a small Baptist church. Christians in the Baptist churches have been helping the refugees who are fleeing the fighting. When buses carrying refugees arrive in Kharkov they are met by Christians who provide food and clothing for the people and help them to find somewhere to stay. The Baptist church buildings have become temporary homes for refugee families and the Christians have also welcomed refugees into their own homes. Ukraine is a poor country and the war has increased the price of everything, yet the Christians are willing to share their own limited resources with strangers who are in great need. Christians in Britain are also sending gifts to help them.

One of the greatest commandments God has given us is, “You shall love your neighbour as you love yourself.” Jesus said that his people feed the hungry, give drinks to the thirsty, clothe the naked and provide homes for the homeless. Then he added, “Whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you do for me.” Jesus himself is the supreme example of self-sacrificing love. The apostle Paul wrote, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

The Lord Almighty is with us

Do you like to keep up to date with the news? With 24 hour news we can catch up on what’s happening around the world at any time of day or night. Inevitably the news is just a very small snapshot of what happens on any one day. Overwhelmingly the reports are about bad and sad things. Have you ever asked yourself what effect watching the news has on you?

This past week we have heard reports of the mysterious disappearance of a Boeing 777 aircraft with 238 people on board. The aircraft may well have been destroyed, killing all on board. We have seen pictures from Crimea of soldiers with tanks and guns and menacing security guards wearing black balaclavas. There have been live broadcasts from the South African courtroom where a disabled man, who has amazingly overcome his disability, is charged with murdering his attractive girlfriend.

These reports all remind us of our helplessness to stop bad things happening. With all our technological skills we can’t find the missing plane. The best efforts of the United Nations seem powerless to influence events in Crimea and Ukraine. The tragic events of a dark St Valentine’s night in Pretoria, when Reeva Steenkamp died, cannot be changed.

So it is good to take time, amidst the never-ending sadness of life, to fix our eyes on the living God and to hear his word. He speaks so directly and helpfully into the tragedy and turbulence of our troubled world. Psalm 46 has strengthened and comforted generations of people like us.

“God is a refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.”

We can all find refuge and strength in the living God. He does not answer all our questions, but he assures us of his presence and gives us real hope. “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.”