Woman of the War

Three lessons God taught me through my new Ukrainian friend, Yana.

Your prayers and support have sustained suffering Ukrainian Christians amid a devastating war. You’ve empowered them to read and share the hope of God’s Word in the face of death, destruction, and despair.

This spring, I had the honor of meeting one of these dear Ukrainian sisters. Her name is Yana.

Yana is a steadfast follower of Jesus Christ, a loving mother, a passionate teacher, and the proud wife of a Ukrainian Bible Society employee.

She is also a refugee.

I spent a week with Yana in Poland during an American Bible Society trip to evaluate the overwhelming need for Bibles among Ukrainian refugees. Yana, who served as our team’s translator, gave me a new perspective on the suffering caused by the war in Ukraine.

Yana taught me three lessons about hope, faith, and joy I’ll never forget—and I knew I had to share them with you!

1. Even when you lose everything, you can always share the hope of Christ.

Imagine having just a few hours to pack a suitcase before fleeing your home….

This was the reality for Yana and for millions of Ukrainians this year who fled their homeland to escape war.

In 48 short hours, Yana kissed her husband goodbye through a bus window, slept at a border crossing in freezing cold weather with her two children (with only their suitcases for a bed), and arrived at the doorstep of total strangers in Poland.

Yana didn’t even have room in her suitcase for her Bible.

But as I got to know her, I saw that Yana’s most treasured possession wasn’t something that you can pack in a suitcase. It was her hope in Jesus. Even when she was forced to go weeks without a physical Bible in her heart language, the eternal promises of God’s Word were hidden deep in Yana’s heart.

“I know who my Savior is, and I know his plan for me,” Yana told me. “That’s really my hope.”

After arriving in Poland, Yana didn’t waste any time sharing the hope of Jesus with others. With Yana as our translator, our team met Ukrainians who saw missiles strike near their homes and who ran for their lives across the border. Without fail, Yana would take time after our interviews to embrace weeping Ukrainian mothers, pray with them, and encourage their families with words of comfort and hope.

And while Ukrainian and Russian Bibles are still scarce in Poland—where more than 3.9 million refugees have fled since February— Yana still joyfully shares God’s Word when she can. She has already given Polish Bibles to the family who hosted her during those first days in Poland.

“I am really happy that I can share God’s Word here, even in this situation,” she said. “It’s a blessing!”

And yes, I am very happy to report that Yana and her children have all received Ukrainian Bibles to sustain them in this season of exile.

2. Don’t stop reading God’s Word—even in your hardest moments.

At first, Yana didn’t think that her family would be apart for so long. “All of us hoped that in a few days, maybe in a few weeks, we would return home,” Yana explained to me.

As the days passed and each morning brought more tragic news of the ongoing war, discouragement and despair threatened to sneak in. Still, Yana and her family clung to God’s Word—and made sure that the Bible remained part of their daily routine.

Each evening, Yana would say goodnight to us around 9 p.m. and return to her room, where she’d join a Zoom call with her children and her husband. Even after long and exhausting days, they would spend time talking, praying, and reading God’s Word as a family.

“The Bible is always important for us, especially now,” Yana assured me. Her family finds special comfort in the Psalms, which helps them bring their burdens to a loving heavenly Father.

Until they are together again, God’s Word remains a shelter for Yana and her family, reminding them every evening that they are not alone.

3. The joy of Christ can’t be put out by suffering.

On our last night with Yana, my team wanted to capture her story on video.

We filmed her interview in a small courtyard at dusk. As Yana told her story, the city grew quiet. Pigeons cooed and swooped overhead. Curious faces peeked out of upstairs windows. And all around Yana, the courtyard lights glowed warmly.

As I watch the video now, those lights remind me of the joy of Christ we witnessed glowing in Yana’s heart.

Joy isn’t the first word that might come to mind when you consider Yana’s situation. When I was with Yana in Poland, her parents were trapped in a besieged city. Her husband was risking his life to deliver humanitarian aid and Scripture back home. And, while they were safe from air raids in Poland, Yana and her children grieved the way this war has changed their lives forever.

“From time to time, we feel this sadness,” Yana told me. “We miss Ukraine very much. We miss our city, our school, our work, our parks.” But despite the trials she has faced, Yana’s joy is undimmed. And it’s real.

The more I got to know her, the more I saw that Yana’s joy isn’t a distraction from her pain. It isn’t a mask to hide her suffering, or a crutch to keep her from falling apart.

Yana’s joy—deep and wide and written all over her face—is rooted in Jesus Christ. I saw it overflow to touch everyone around her. And I saw how it affected the way she viewed the broken world around us.

“There will be a time when we won’t have any crying, any suffering, any death, any wars,” Yana reminded us toward the end of our trip. Until that time? “All of us can be the tools which God can use to help other people,” she said.

I thank God for giving me a living, breathing (and smiling) example of that truth in my friend Yana!

Watch Yana describe her harrowing escape from the war in Ukraine: ABS.Bible/Yana

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