Columbus missionary couple already planning eventual return to Ukraine

Already, Columbus Baptist Church members Tony and Coretta Hansen plan to return to their missionary work in Ukraine — as soon as it is safe to do so. They feel their members at Pearl Baptist Church that they lead in Zhytomyr, a city of about 250,000 people, will need them as much or more than ever amid physical, emotional and spiritual rebuilding.

“It was very emotional for us to leave,” said Tony, a four-year church pastor there supported by Columbus Baptist Church and other Christian assemblies. “We know that if we had waited another three to five days, we couldn’t have made it out.”

They made it home just days before Russia invaded and launched a war and just ahead of an already scheduled March furlough that is a normal part of a missions timetable. They have been texting and emailing many of their 25 church members every day, checking on their safety and praying.

“There are wonderful young people there we consider to be like our grandchildren,” the 62-year-old Tony said.

The nation is predominantly Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic spiritually, according to the clergyman. The husband and wife duo previously ministered at Landmark Baptist Church in Bedford before going to Ukraine.

They understand that some people may never understand why they would plan to return to such a volatile area, including one that they fully knew could be dangerous long before they ever accepted their assignment. But their local pastor, the Rev. Charles Kennedy, gets it.

“I always tell people that the safest place to ever be is in the center of God’s will — and that includes amid the aftermath of war,” Kennedy said.

Just the other day, Kennedy was especially pained when he saw on network news coverage that Russian planes had bombed a school in Zhytomyr. Kennedy has visited the Hansens three times in Ukraine and assisted with their ministry, including at a youth camp.

“I have stood next to that school,” Kennedy said.

He added that the Hansens and the local church recently safely arranged for one family to leave Ukraine and get to Romania, where they have a sufficient place to stay. Only the father stayed behind to continue to help Ukrainians fight.

“I believe that the Russian military and (President Vladamir) Putin have greatly underestimated the Ukrainian people,” Tony said, referring to their determination. “I think Putin has suddenly been seeing that this invasion is going to be much more costly than he ever realized.”

Tony respects Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his leadership amid tremendous pressure and a reported three assassination attempts.

“He has been leading the country more toward Western ties and Western development,” Tony said. “And younger families with children have been experiencing this type of life and they want their children to be able to grow up in that type of life in a Western-type of society where there are freedoms.”