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Speaking Jesus to Ukraine Refugees

By John Lundy
CE Europe, Europe, Global, Russia, Ukraine, turmoil

UPDATE: April 5, 2022

Ukrainian refugees — such as these women crossing the border near the Polish town of Chelm — have the opportunity to hear The Story of Jesus through an ongoing partnership between TWR and Jesus Film Project. The dramatizations are being heard in both Ukrainian and Russian nightly, leading up to Easter. [photo courtesy of] 

One day after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, Brandon Neal received an email.

“Hey, what can we do?” Tom Terry asked on that Feb. 25.

The two men, who have worked together for some time on the audio version of the JESUS film, quickly collaborated on a way to assure that war refugees would be able to hear words of hope wherever they found themselves.

Neal is deputy to the director of global services at TWR, which brings the hope of Jesus to millions of people in more than 190 nations and in more than 300 languages. Terry is the head of global broadcast strategy for Jesus Film Project, which has presented the Gospel of Luke to billions of people in more than 1,800 languages. It’s an outreach of Cru, which is the name of Campus Crusade for Christ in the United States.

The two Christian mission agencies have collaborated for years in producing and distributing the audio version, called The Story of Jesus. As effective as the original film version is, it can’t reach everybody, Terry explained.

“An audio project will let you sometimes reach into an area where we don’t have television,” Terry said in an interview from Washington state, where he was visiting family.

Although the war was only in its second day, Terry correctly foresaw the coming wave of refugees – more than 10 million Ukrainians to date, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, including over 4 million who have left the country.

The Story of Jesus already was scheduled to be widely broadcast in a series leading up to Easter. But Terry wondered if the schedule could be bumped up in the Ukrainian and Russian languages – both spoken in Ukraine – and if the broadcasts could reach nearby countries where many of the refugees were anticipated.

“If there’s anything you need in a war-torn country, it’s hope,” Terry said. “And Jesus offers that.”

The project came together in a couple of days, Neal said. Since March 14, episodes of The Story of Jesus have been airing twice a night, once in Ukrainian and once in Russian, on a schedule that will continue through April 22, he said.

“We were just trying to reach as many as we could,” Neal said.

The transmitter used for the project reaches countries housing refugees, including the portions of Moldova, Romania, Slovakia and Poland that are closest to Ukraine.

Although it’s too soon to evaluate the impact of these particular broadcasts, Neal and Terry are confident that God’s Word will not return empty (Isaiah 55:11).

“My hope is really that a person or a family will be traveling and that one evening will turn the radio on and they’ll encounter Jesus,” Neal said. “I imagine a mom and kids sitting there and listening to it while her husband’s back there having to fight.”

It’s a tragic season, but it’s also opportune, Terry said.

“The bottom line for me is I want people to know and love Jesus,” he said. “And that often happens through great tragedy.” The Story of Jesus is available here in a multitude of languages.

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