By Grayson Hester
The war in Ukraine, which began with an invasion that Russian President Vladimir Putin expected to last three or four days at most, has now dragged on for more than a month.
This is due in large part to the resilience and indefatigability of the Ukrainian people, whose spirits have stayed the course as truly as any weapon or armament. The war’s surprising longevity can also be attributed to the relative incompetence of the Russian army, bogged down as much by mud as they are by poor morale.
Regardless of the source, however, the fact remains that this war, older now than some of the babies caught in its crossfire, has decimated Ukrainian cities, spurred more than four million Ukrainian women and children to seek refuge in other countries and, as the international community learned the day of this writing (April 5), has devolved into the inconceivable—what many world leaders are calling a genocide in the suburbs of Kyiv.
The situation in Ukraine evolves rapidly and looks increasingly to be, at least for the near future, unceasing. That is to say, the interview conducted for this story took place on March 8, merely a week after Putin’s initial invasion. An innumerable number of things have changed since then; yet still more have remained depressingly the same.
War is still hell. People are still in need of aid, food, of water and, above all, peace. And CBF and its Global Missions field personnel are still rising to meet these needs as best they can.
Dianne and Shane McNary, the subjects of the March 8 interview, are one such example.
Called to Slovakia, one of the nations that borders Ukraine, this wife-and-husband duo have dedicated their lives to helping people who are without a home, displaced by war and strife. For most of their career, they have centered their efforts on the Roma people.
Now, their focus has broadened to all the Ukrainians who now face a nomadic existence.
“We work primarily with Roma, but not exclusively,” Dianne said. “We are going to be working in whatever role it is, with whatever group of people.”
This work, thus far, has taken a two-pronged approach, thanks to the binational predicament in which Dianne and Shane find themselves. When Russia first invaded Ukraine in February, Dianne, who usually lives with Shane in Slovakia, was actually in the United States, traveling to various CBF churches to report on their work back in Europe.
Regardless, the couple sprang into action with Dianne serving as a command center of sorts and Shane doing the on-the-ground work of directing resources where they were most needed.
“I rarely do anything without checking with her,” Shane said. “Everything I have done has been checked with her beforehand. It would be too stressful in one place, for us to talk about these things.”
Dianne handled communications, answering questions in the U.S. and directing Shane where he should go. Shane, using her intel, leveraged connections to the point of his traveling to the Slovakia/Ukraine border in order to donate needed supplies.
At the time, this border, located on the western side of Ukraine, was far removed from the conflict. But recent reports of Russian pullouts from Kyiv have heightened both suspicions and anxieties that Putin’s army is soon to redirect its focus on the areas surrounding Lviv, a city in Ukraine.
Rather grimly, Shane has asserted that if the war were to come to Slovakia, the war would come to the globe. This outcome is still unlikely, but not implausible. And even if the war never were to expand beyond Ukraine’s border, our call to be global citizens will remain.
This is exemplified in the international work undertaken by Shane and Dianne, embodying in real time, the kind of worldwide co-laboring CBF Global Missions seeks to practice.
While Shane delivered resources on the border of Ukraine, Dianne answered questions on the border of Missouri. She also heard stories that solidified the spiritual closeness of the Ukrainian people, a proximity that exists in spite of physical distance.
“In a church in Missouri, I met two women who had been on a short-term team with us a few years ago,” she said. “One grew up as a missionary kid and had a broader world view. The other woman had grown up about a half-mile from the church. But she came to Slovakia three or four years ago. She is that church’s witness.” Dianne then recounted what this woman told her. “‘Ever since I heard that they invaded Ukraine, all I can think of is those people. I’ve been there,’ the woman said. ‘A piece of them is with me, in my heart.’”
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, Shane was waylaid similarly. When he received a call in Slovakia from the U.S. state of Georgia, he pulled his car over. On the other line was a Rotary Club member from a rural part of the state who, in Shane’s retelling, demanded answers about what was going on, not from a place of compassion, but from a place of frustration at higher prices stateside.
If Dianne’s interaction demonstrated global citizenship in the positive, this phone call showcased the absence of feelings of global citizenship. “I don’t know the emotion to attach to it, this call from the Rotary Club,” Shane said. “One of the things you could do is try to imagine what it’s like to be a global citizen. This significant war, that has had global impact, may not all happen just to raise your prices at the gas pump.”
CBF field personnel need not imagine what it’s like to be a global citizen; it is a tangible, dirt-under-the-fingernails reality they live every day. But for those of us in the U.S., whose connection to Ukraine is all-but-exclusively facilitated by news reports and donation links, it is important to remain aware of our connection with these seemingly far-flung people.
“What can happen in this world that is not that far away? We Americans still believe we have insulation from things that happen,” Shane said. “It’s not just self-centeredness, but self-‘turned-ness.’ It’s not serving us well and makes it more difficult to respond when people have deep needs.”
Turning toward the other isn’t simply the right thing to do; it’s our call and our mandate as Christians, no matter how long it takes. “I’ve been encouraging [people] not to forget that this is a long-term issue,” Dianne said. “Keep paying attention. Remain involved. This is gonna’ be with us for a while.”
Even (maybe especially) when such connection results in anxiety and grief, what lies on the other side is transformation. What lies on the other side is indeed the Kin-dom of Heaven itself.
Donating necessities like diapers and school supplies, pajamas and food, meets critical bodily and spiritual needs. It is this material work with which Shane is primarily concerned.
But acts of compassion for refugees, of which Jesus’ family and therefore God’s self, was one, also meet humanity’s deepest need—spiritual, equitable connection. The façades of borders and the conceits of power fall away, laying bare the messy, holy, wondrous Image into which we are all born and because of which we give and grieve and love.
“I’ve seen people changed who came to Slovakia and then returned to the U.S. There was transformation in that movement,” Shane said. “That’s why I drove two hours [to the border], to make sure people had this experience, so that giver and receiver could be transformed.”
Because of this, we are never without hope. And in the midst of these grim days, Dianne and Shane still manage to find glimmers of it. “The thing I find hopeful is the willingness of people to open up their homes and to donate things,” Dianne said. “They want to give and make a difference, because they see someone. There’s still that willingness to be open to people, to be open to help, to do whatever you can.”
“Hope never dies.”
This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 issue of fellowship! magazine. Read online at http://www.cbf.net/fellowship.