In the middle of February we were expecting a group of young people from Scotland. The situation in Ukraine was difficult and tense, but not critical. We were asked: “Is it safe to come?” and we answered: “Yes”. The young people and their leader Jackie Ringan arrived on 14 February. The next day we had a planning meeting and discussed our plans and the programme of visits to schools, churches and clubs for teenagers. And the next week things came to a head. The tension grew: public transport into Kiev stopped, there were rumours that fuel supplies would be cut off. In a short time we had many experiences that were new for me, let alone for our Scottish friends. We passed many checkpoints and massive queues at petrol stations. Every evening when we said goodnight we had no idea what the next day would bring. We would say: “If the phones are still working we’ll phone round and head out.”

For me this was all quite unusual and worrying, but how did our Scottish friends feel without knowledge of the language or a complete picture of the situation? But all this time we saw God’s hand blessing and keeping us safe. As we visited different places the young people chatted, telling about Scotland and learning about Ukraine, and there was the opportunity to share God’s good news. In a time of uncertainty we had the opportunity to point to the One who loves us. For me this was a time of special trust in God, where God taught me to trust him even more.

"I became aware, for the first time really, that God's people are everywhere. It seems pretty obvious, but I suppose I had never really thought about it before. I particularly enjoyed the smaller churches: the very real sense of community, and also God's tangible presence helped me to realise that you don't need to be in a big, city church service to feel the Holy Spirit – just gather with one or two others, and he is there. It was so obvious, but before I just didn't get it. Now I do, in a big way." Kirsty Geddes
"Being in one room with less than 20 people round one table gives you that feeling of community. I also realised I have brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. I knew beforehand that there were Christians in every country, and they were my brothers and sisters but, I had never experienced this before." Calum Keyes
"It was a real privilege to be there at the time we were and to witness what we did - I will never forget the impact that had on my life and my walk with the Lord. I learnt to trust him more whilst away and learnt that just because we are not in a particular country and not suffering the same way as the Ukrainians are we can still pray for them. Ukraine are in desperate need of prayer at the moment and in some ways I wish I was still there as I feel like I have abandoned the people we met there but I think the thing I can do is constantly keep them in my thoughts and prayers." Kirsty McAuley
"I have been involved in helping young people make up shoe boxes and yet have never seen the end result of these being handed over to young people. What a privilege to see the faces of children and young people as they opened these boxes and saw the gifts... I write this at a time when some people in Scotland would like to put a stop to children making up shoe boxes in schools for Samaritan's Purse and Blythswood – there is no need to convince me to speak out about the benefits of this partnership. I was thrilled by the variety of experience the gap year were offered: small and larger churches, youth event, schools for language and gifts, clubs and the opportunity to visit Maidan. Praying in Maidan whilst hardly a highlight was perhaps a defining moment as we saw the presence of God's people at the heart of the square – not hiding somewhere at the back but right in the midst both ministering to people and crying out in intercession. Each time I have been in Ukraine, I've returned home challenged and blessed but I have no doubt that I've returned to Scotland with Ukraine “under my skin” in a way that has never quite happened before and simply leads me to be committed to pray day by day for friends and the country of Ukraine." Jackie Ringan

Words by Timofei, SU leader in Ukraine, and originally published in their prayer newsletter. Get in touch if you'd like to get their newsletter, or find out more about the gap year.