Sometimes a small amount of effort can yield much information and fruit. In making decisions, and especially when we are making decisions about large amounts of money, we want to have accurate and up-to-date information. When we are dealing with a huge international crisis impacting tens of millions of people, it is hard to know where to look for information that we can trust. A survey of those whom we already know and trust is a great place to start. Mission organizations often do not recognize how simple it really can be to conduct such a survey.
When the current phase of the war in Ukraine started in February 2022, SEND created a Help Ukraine Fund and assembled a Eurasia Emergency Response Team. The team quickly put structures in place that would effectively and efficiently distribute donated funds. Our goal was to have maximum impact for the Kingdom by working in partnership with people who we already knew in Ukraine. For the most part, we based our decisions on how to distribute relief funds on anecdotal personal information from various sources inside Ukraine. SEND International had spent 30 years building personal relationships with churches and people serving in the country. These relationships provided a rich source of helpful information about needs and opportunities to help.
The rate of the provision and distribution of relief funds has ebbed and flowed over the last 18 months. But for the most part, it has seemed like a frantic sprint to review requests for help, distribute funds, and gather follow-up information. And then we do it all over again in a few weeks. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
Pausing to re-evaluate
The Emergency Response Team recently paused activity to re-evaluate the response direction based on available funds and current information. In other words, we decided that it was time to stop, catch our breath and check to see if we were really addressing the right needs. To help us in our re-evaluation, we sought the perspective of our partners in Ukraine. We did a quick survey of a cross-section of in-country partners who are active in relief ministry.
In total, we surveyed 22 partners who are in active war-related ministry inside Ukraine. They varied in location and spheres of service. They serve in the 11 regions marked on the map below. Their roles varied – from pastors and ministers to theological educators to regional leaders and country-wide leaders. Amazingly, 100% of those surveyed responded.
A short survey
In our survey, we asked just two questions:
- In your region, what are the current, war-related, most important needs?
- In your opinion, what will be the most important war-related needs in the next five months?
In response to each question, we gave a list of options to choose from. We also gave our partners the option to write in other comments for each question. We designed the survey in this way so as to get the most information from our partners with the smallest demand on their time and energy. The survey also suggested that the participants could write to us personally to give a more nuanced response.
Here is a sample of some of the things our brothers and sisters in Ukraine said in the survey.
Winter is coming
- Since we are expecting a cold winter, we will need generators and warm supplies for the homeless or those fleeing occupation.
- If the electrical infrastructure will be targeted in the fall and winter again, then we will need fuel for generators. For the generators at our seminaries, if they are on all day, we would need around 3500-4000 hryvnia of diesel fuel a day.
- I think the major material needs for the next five months will be fuel for generators. Right now, the news often says that this winter will be worse than the last one. I don’t really understand why they think that but I think that we will lose electrical power often.
Spiritual help needed
- Right now, retreats are also a real need and any support of people. Everyone is already both very emotionally and physically tired from the war.
- I think the most important things in the near future will be 1) fuel for generators, power packs (to recharge phones) and flashlights, 2) medicine and hygiene supplies, and 3) comforting people in their suffering from this horrible war.
- Spiritual help. Brothers in the age range of 50-70 are providing a lot of physical and technical help. Other ages are mobilized to the war. They use cars that are 30 years old. Fixing cars, caring for families and delivering help to people are difficult. Help with this if you can.
- In the near future, it will be very useful to have a retreat for ministers who have served IDPs and been involved with humanitarian ministries. If Russia will target the electrical infrastructure again (this is probable), then the most important things will be fuel for generators. Also, there is still a great need for emotional and spiritual support for IDPs, families, and church members who have lost loved ones in the war. (This often includes the provision of food, things and medical help).
- I think that one of the challenges for the churches will be working with soldiers who are experiencing both physical and emotional trauma.
The top needs
The analysis of survey responses yielded excellent fruit. The information we received will help give us direction for the distribution of remaining funds.
The top three responses in response to the current needs were retreats (23%), food (18%), and spiritual support (18%). “Retreats” refer to a respite or a break from the stress of war, or as much as that is possible. A retreat includes, at a minimum, a relocation to a safer place and some form of rest.1 See another blog post about the weariness of those helping Ukrainian refugees. Sometimes these “retreats” are more like a conference, with believers gathering for fellowship, worship and encouragement. Another mission organization has hosted several retreats where most of the time was for reflection, long walks, and fellowship.
There were two clear top responses for needs in the next five months. They are fuel for generators (50%) and spiritual support (32%).
The needs are changing
It seems clear that the current needs are changing. Up to this point in time, SEND has given much to help with transportation, housing, food, generators, stoves, and hygiene products. But, according to this survey, the most important current needs are rest for ministers, food, and spiritual/emotional support. It is not clear why the respondents did not list “retreats” as a top need in the next 5 months, but it is quite possible that our Ukrainian partners see retreats as more feasible only in summer.
But the theme of “spiritual support” appears in both lists, and points to some long-term needs in Ukraine. Trauma recovery and spiritual support will likely become increasingly important in this war-torn country. For those who responded to the survey, the long-term spiritual and emotional impact is ever-present on their minds. They want to get through the winter, but they see a bigger need on the other side.
Confirmation of some impressions
Upon reflection, the results from the survey confirm some things we were already anticipating. In various conversations I had suspected that retreats or times of respite for those in relief ministry would be increasingly more needed. We also thought that gas for generators would be important for winter months. But those thoughts were based on just a few conversations and impressions. The survey showed us that our thinking was very much in line with our partners.
The projected needs through the winter are in line with our current thinking. The respondents clearly indicated that fuel for generators and spiritual support are the top two felt needs. They also mentioned food, hygiene products, and housing assistance in the comments. When the location of these comments was considered, they seem to be coming from the regions that form a corridor from the conflict zone to western Ukraine. This corridor is the route that those fleeing the war zone are taking. So those ministering to these IDPs will continue to need financial assistance to provide food and basic necessities to those who pass through their churches and shelters on the way to safety further west.
Learning from those on the ground
This type of information takes some energy and time to gather, but the technical side of gathering this information is relatively simple. The payoff is more than worth the effort. Our simple survey is providing valuable insight for future planning.
Furthermore, this survey demonstrated our desire for true partnership with our Ukrainian brothers and sisters. Our desire is not to “use” them simply as distribution points for our help. We want to find out from those on the ground the best way to align our help with their efforts. We want maximum relief and maximum impact for the Kingdom, and this means that decisions about priorities cannot simply be made by those who are holding the resources. In our 21st century world, we can make use of easy-to-use communication resources to reach out and gather information from those who are dealing face-to-face with needs on a daily basis.
A survey built on relationships
However, the survey was more than just a communication tool. I’m convinced that the high response and quality of information was primarily due to the depth of the relationships we already have with our partners. Many wrote separately and expressed their appreciation for the fact that we asked for their input.
The Emergency Response Team is currently reviewing this information to continue to best use the resources God has entrusted to us. I am grateful to our in-country partners for their service and for taking time to give input.