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How This Missionary Loves Ukrainian Refugees and Their Enemies // Madison Perekotiy

"What if this enemy becomes a brother or sister in Christ, would that not be a great party in heaven? And why wouldn't I want that?"

— Madison Perekotiy

We are so glad to have Madison Perekotiy on the podcast today to talk about what it means to love our enemies with the love of Christ. Madison and her Ukrainian-born husband Yuriy have been full-time missionaries since 2018, first in Ukraine and now in Romania. In this episode, she and Natalie talk about what it’s like to have enemies in an ongoing war, how the character of God helps us to make sense of difficult circumstances, why the gospel is so important to remember when we are tempted to hate instead of love, and why the future restoration of all things offers great hope in the here and now. 

SEPTEMBER DWELL VERSE

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.” — Luke 6:27

LINKS FROM THE SHOW

Learn more about Madison Perekotiy

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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT: Hey, welcome back to the Dwell Differently Podcast. I'm your host, Natalie Abbott, and today we are talking about our verse that we're memorizing together this month. It comes from Luke 6:27. “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you.” (READ MORE)

This is a hard verse. It's a verse that I've been kind of bumping up against a lot as I've been memorizing it and thinking about it and praying about it and studying it. It's just like, man the application of this verse is really hard. But to talk about that application with us, we have Madison Perekotiy.

She is a missionary. She's currently stationed in Bucharest, Romania with her husband, who is Ukrainian. His name is Yuri. And previous to the war in Ukraine they were serving there. I would just love to hear your take on this verse, Madison. And thank you so much for joining with me today.

Madison: Yeah, I'm really thankful to be able to do this and this has been helpful for me even to kind of go over the context of this verse to remind myself about what we're going to be talking about today, about who God is and what he's asked us to do.

Natalie: Well, before we get started, can you just give our listeners a little: this is who I am, this is what we're doing, this is our heart for serving the Ukrainian people specifically right now, refugees in Bucharest?

Madison: Yeah. So the short version is I met my husband on a mission trip. So God might actually call you for real overseas if you go on a short term trip.

And we met in Ukraine. He did not know English when we met and then got married. We lived in Ukraine a little bit in the States a little bit and went full time overseas in 2018. So we moved to Odessa, Ukraine, which is like this big port city on the black sea. And we were working with vulnerable children and families.

That's really our heart [00:02:00] is for, you know, single parent families, kids who've been in institutions and are coming out of that. And we also serve the deaf community, which is the largest unreached people group in the world. And then we were visiting family in the States when the full scale invasion began in February, 2022.

And so we had to make the tough decision. We have four kids, so we had to make the tough decision that we would not go back to Ukraine and that we would also not start over last year in Europe. So we spent the last 18 months in the States and then we just moved here to Bucharest a month ago. God really chose Bucharest, Romania for us. And so we're still trying to figure out what he has here for us. There are lots of refugees who are over 550 days into this full scale invasion. 

Some people may not know the war actually started eight years ago, so it's been going on now for its ninth year. So there are lots of people here who are seeking a purpose for their lives who have lost so many people who are dealing with ongoing, unbelievable trauma and stress.

And so we just felt like the Lord didn't spare our family from that so that we could stay in Alabama— though it's great with family there. And so anyway, that's how we ended up here.

Natalie: So, when you say the war's been going on for 8 years, in terms of your husband, how has that affected his family and people that he knows being Ukrainian himself?

Madison: Yeah. So when the war began in 2014, we were actually in the States because I had just had our first child. Actually weirdly it was for the first time we were looking back going, Oh, we had planned to go back to this area. Most of the missionaries and Ukrainians that we knew in that area ended up leaving. His parents were one of the million plus Ukrainians who were displaced since 2014. So they left and went to the other side of the country along with his brother and his sister as well. And they have now evacuated out of Ukraine— his parents and his sister, but his brother has actually been drafted and he's serving right now on the front lines.

And so it's just really tough. All of our partners, all of our [00:04:00] friends over this long nine year span have now experienced displacement multiple times, have experienced this war multiple times over, and it just keeps going.

Natalie: I think it's interesting that from the context of our normal listeners and people in the United States, like we can be so just tuned out to the fact that this is an ongoing struggle for so many people that have real life, concrete enemies who are not there for your good, but actually they want your stuff.

It’s interesting because in the context of this passage, that's what we're talking about is, when your enemy says, you know, give me your coat. Well, you're supposed to also give them your cloak. So, much of this verse just hits a different way. In the context of this verse, it's a different way when you're kind of seeing it through this different lens.

Which is why i'm so thankful that you're here to talk with us about this because I think it really gives us a fuller understanding of what Jesus is really talking about here and I honestly feel like maybe my first question to you is how does this verse or this message that Jesus is giving us in this verse, kind of distasteful? How does it rub you the wrong way? And I think it rubs all of us the wrong way to a degree, but I feel like you're standing on a lot more ground in terms of how it could rub you the wrong way.

Madison: That's a great question. And I think distasteful is the right word to use. There's something Almost, you know, just instinctive or guttural about wanting revenge and wanting the wrongs to be righted. And so when you read a verse like this, when Ukrainian churches are dealing with this question that their family members have been abused, murdered, taken captive, even when I, as an outsider, physically being outside Ukraine during this time hear about children being kidnapped hear about the aftermath of all these things, even rescue workers, giving their lives to try to [00:06:00] get, get people out of rubble.

And you just think, well, how in the world could I forgive? Could I love the people who are doing this to other people, and you this situation is not unique to Ukraine. You know, there's several civil wars going on right now. I do think, especially in the context of the Western world, we don't think about those things because it doesn't impact our daily life.

Just like if there's a natural disaster, everyone might be focused on it for a specific amount of time, and then we just kind of move on. But because this has affected our lives now for 530 plus days, of course, it's distasteful to think about the people committing these atrocities and what that looks like.

And I do think there's a distinction between the people actually committing these acts versus maybe the citizens of the country who can't really say anything because they will go to prison and, and they're not committing the acts, but are they supporting it by being silent? So there's all these complicated questions that are involved in who is this enemy and what are they doing and what am I supposed to do?

So I think part of that comes from a righteous anger which we see in scripture that God does hate sin. He hates these things that are happening. He hates the death and the destruction, right? It was not a part of this original plan pre Genesis chapter three. And so I do think it's okay for us to in agreement with God, hate those things that are evil, but not because it gives us some sort of satisfaction or reason to exact some sort of small minded human form of revenge because that's never going to be complete or just because we are we're broken.

Natalie: Yeah. So let me just read the full passage so people can kind of share a little bit more. Actually, I'm gonna move down to what Jesus says later in verse 35 through 36 It says,

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

How does that ground this understanding of this verse? You know, because I think sometimes when we read a verse out of context and we're like love your enemies, you know, I don't want to do that.

But when we come up against this idea of God himself being merciful as a means of motivating and enabling equipping us in fact to be merciful. How does that impact this verse?

Madison: I think part of it is, you know, what you just read where it says, be merciful as your father is merciful.

I think part of it is recognizing that we are the broken. That we were enemies before any of these other enemies we're talking about today be they general or specific and that because of our brokenness, we come into this world taking after Adam, taking after that sinfulness. And so those of us who have repented and turn to trust in Jesus as our Lord and savior, we get to say that we're not enemies anymore.

And that is a huge privilege that it's a blessing. It's a gift, a free gift of salvation that we don't deserve. So I think that's step number one is recognizing where we were in our darkness and where so many people still are. 

I think the 2nd part is that it's kind of that reflection of God's character. So if we (Genesis 1:26) are made in the image of God, we are the Imago Dei. We're supposed to be a reflection of who God is. And of course that's going to be only a mirror, only some sort of whisper of who he is, because we, we can't even comprehend even from all we have in scripture, what that would be like to even, you know, we see that Moses wasn't allowed even to see him because he's that powerful, but if we're supposed to reflect him, if God's word is supposed to shape us to be more like Christ, which is what it's supposed to do, that's the refining of sanctification, then we're supposed to reflect who God is and God is [00:10:00] merciful. You know, Jesus says later in a different gospel in Matthew 5 he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good and since rain on the just and the unjust, right? So the sun means a new day. That means new breath. That means new chance and rain in that context, especially geographically would be a blessing, right?

So he's sending blessings on both the just and the unjust. He's not discriminatory in his common grace. He's giving all of us these gifts of, of living in this world that he created. And so part of this is in our striving, sometimes we can try to be like God in a way that we're not able to. And so it's only by the Holy Spirit in us working as we're trying to be more like Jesus that I think we're able to do that.

But, you know, He gives even our enemies gifts that we don't deserve. We do a lot of “navel gazing” as my friend Hunter Beless likes to say— just looking down at ourselves and thinking about ourselves all the time. But there's just this common grace, these common gifts that we all get, and we don't understand it because our understanding of what is truly fair and just is really not perfect or whole like his is.

Natalie: Wow, so the interesting thing to me in this passage, is that God doesn't just tolerate us, and because he doesn't just tolerate us, he doesn't call us to just tolerate our enemies, but we're supposed to forgive. Not just in a theoretical sense. I just wonder, how do we move past our hatred and even beyond tolerance to forgiveness?

Madison: Hmm. This is such a hard question because I think particularly in our situation, it's ongoing and it's kind of, it's kind of unfathomable. I wanted to read a little bit, I'm going to skip around, but this is all from Psalm 10. This Psalm has really brought a lot of comfort and truth to us since last year.

I had a friend that at the beginning when the invasion started pretty much every day she was texting me just [00:12:00] chunks of scripture. And she said, “I can't do anything for you, but I can do this.” And the day after the invasion started, so on the 25th or 26th of February, she texted me this Psalm and it has brought me so much comfort in who God is and honestly, comfort in how small I am in my understanding of revenge.We don't know who wrote this. It may be David. It's not attributed to anyone specific, but the psalmist starts out by saying, 

Why Lord, do you stand far away? Why are you hiding yourself in times of trouble and arrogance? The wicked hotly pursue the poor, let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised for the wicked boasts of his desires of his soul. And the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord and the pride of his face. The wicked does not seek him and all his thoughts are. There is no God. 

And the psalmist goes on to describe all these things he's doing. He's ambushing in the villages, the helpless are crushed. God has forgotten us. He'll never see it. And so he's begging God to just come up and take care of the afflicted. And then he says, In the middle of the psalm,

Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, you will not call to account?

And the next verse is the hope says, 

But you do see Lord, for you note mischief and vexation that you may take it into your hands to you. The helpless commits himself. You've been the helper of the fatherless. Break the arm of the wicked and evil doer, call his wickedness to account until you find none more.

So there's this picture of God that even if we don't see the satisfaction of something coming to justice or full vengeance being taken, God is the Avenger. He is the one that gets to take up that mantle because none of us, absolutely none of us could do that. And so we may not see the fruition of that now, but I think that makes it a little bit easier for me to work toward the process of forgiveness because I know that in the end, perfect justice is coming for those who do evil and do not repent.

There are just absolutely wicked people doing wicked things in Ukraine in the last year and a half and continuing [00:14:00] to do them for so many various reasons. We can't even understand, but I know that God will hold them to account until he finds absolutely nothing else to account for. And just that picture of a courtroom of somebody who's guilty of all these crimes and God's going to call every single one of them to account.

Who am I to think that I could even participate in that in a helpful way? To think that I would be some sort of helpful, like law clerk to this perfect judge that we have as our father. So I think that's really helpful to think about in the context of forgiveness and I also, forgiveness is a choice.

And I think that that helps to think about too, that it's not some magic button we push. We're not going to open our Bible and read some verse and then all of a sudden we can forgive, it's a process. I don't know that I've gotten to a place of forgiveness at all of the people doing this to Ukrainians, and we say innocent civilians, obviously I don't mean that in the spiritual context, but people who have done absolutely no aggravation, no aggressive moves on their part are just being absolutely bombarded with what will impact future generations for many years to come. So, yeah, I think that the forgiveness is such a hard piece and it's like you said at the beginning, it's distasteful to us because something about that seems like you're letting go of all of the sinful, atrocious things that happened. But knowing that God counts those in the end is where I've, I've found some hope.

Natalie: Wow. I love that you're using scripture as an anchor for your anger, honestly, and I think that you have every right to be angry. Like you said, does this just righteous anger of this is a wrong that's being committed against people who have not done anything to deserve this and so I love that, you're holding in tandem these two ideas of like, God calls me to forgive, God is merciful, God, you know, if he asks these things of me, yet [00:16:00] also God is the God of justice and God is not going to allow these, wicked things to go unpunished. So I just, I love that. You kind of alluded to this a little bit, but how would you say this has been hard for you?

Madison: Hmm. I think that one of the hardest things to do has not been to only pray for peace, for justice, for an end to this war, but to also pray that the Lord would grip the heart of somebody like Putin or somebody in leadership who's doing these things or the average soldier who is is being made to do these things that God would just grip their hearts and that somehow they would come to turn and trust in him. It feels gross to pray for that.

Even though that's what we want. We're missionaries for goodness sake. That's the whole point is that we would draw people to praise Jesus, that more people would be in heaven with us. And yet I have such a hard time praying for that. You know, how that kinetic sand that kids play with? Well, I've played with it too, because it's so satisfying, but it literally just slips through your fingers. And so praying for Vladimir Putin to come to know Jesus feels like I'm just letting go of all these horrid things he's done. But again I'm not, like we already mentioned, actually praying seeking that control over the outcome is actually, you know, it's prideful and it's this illusion that's going to create peace.

It's not actually going to create peace. I would like to control the type of punishment or the limits on what I'm praying, like, please only bring peace, but definitely let, like, burn these other people to the ground. Like, just in those moments of absolute judgment.

Yes. I'm like fires. Is that a thing? Can we, can we do that? But something about our enemies, getting the rain too feels very [00:18:00] unjust, even though it's part of God's system of justice and grace. I want them to only deserve wrath. But I only deserve wrath, so who am I to put that on them? 

So I think that's been really, really hard to pray for those not just that they would stop, but that they would come to seek Jesus. I, at this point, I've almost lost hope for that. Not that God couldn't do something miraculous, but just this ongoing, ongoing evil is it's hard to imagine anything changing.

And you think about Pharaoh, you think about other leaders, even Israelite leaders in the old testament, and there were some that just had hardened hearts and they were absolutely not going to change. And God did call it all to account. He absolutely did. So I guess I still have a tiny hope because I trust that the Lord is good and sovereign and that if he called them to themselves, I hope that they would turn to him. But yeah, that's been really difficult.

Natalie: So do you find any kind of freedom in that struggle that you have of trying to get to a place where it's like, I do, like, I love how you said, like, I also deserve God's wrath, like, outside of Christ, that's what I deserve. Like, I am God's enemy. And, kind of seeing yourself, in the same grouping as these people who are your, physical, actual enemies.

And also seeing yourself in the same place as them. You know, that outside of Christ, I am an enemy, I do wicked things. I know that in my heart, I need Jesus. So how is kind of working through this process of even praying for your enemies, which is what Jesus commands in the verse following our verse, he says, you know, pray for those who persecute you.

If that's what he's asking from you, what keeps you doing this Madison? You specifically because I feel like that's where the rubber really meets the road. It's not like that one and done kind of forgiveness of like, Oh, well, you know, I forgave them and [00:20:00] now I'm good.

I'm just not going to think about them anymore, but it's like, this is in your face every single day. Yeah. Thank you. And I'm sure there are days when you, when you, you have a more forgiving heart and days when you're just like, I'm not doing it today. I'm not going to go there.

Madison: Yes.

Natalie: But, is there something that you experience that makes that a freedom for you?

Madison: So my husband and I talk a lot about, you know, cause he's, he's Ukrainian and he has even more of this deep desire for things to come to an end. This deep kind of righteous anger over things cause it's his people.

This is happening to his family, his friends that are suffering because of this and they're mine too. But I, I'm, I got the privilege of marrying into that. And it is who he is at the core of, of being on the human level of being Ukrainian, you know, after being a follower of Christ.

So we talk a lot about how it's like this ebb and flow. We used to think David was kind of like this dramatic writer. You know, you go through the Psalms and it feels like you're on an emotional roller coaster with him. Like things be great, things be bad. And you just kind of have to take the ride with him.

But now I identify with him so much, particularly that first four to six months last year after the invasion began. And so I think that when we see that story of David and Saul. I mean, the things that this person who he served under, then this person trying to kill him and, but he's friends with his son and all these complicated things and you see David's behavior through that.

And you see him crying out to the Lord. You see him literally hiding from his enemies. And so I think there's been freedom in that, like, we're not the only ones. I'm not the only person who has struggled to forgive an enemy. I'm not the only person who has struggled with anger. Sometimes righteous, sometimes probably not.

Because I'm sinful. Right? And so I think that's helpful to remember. I'm not the only one. And then I think, especially in the context of this passage, if you read from the beginning of the chapter, Jesus is actually doing things in front [00:22:00] of the Pharisees, like healing on the Sabbath and performing all these miraculous things before he sits down and says all of these things that he says in this chapter.

And those were to become his enemies. And he knew that. He knew that. So he's telling people, love your enemies and pray for them and, and do more than that. Love them. And he's actually knowing that he's going to have to put that into practice to these people who will eventually put him on the cross.

Of course, that was God's great rescue plan from the beginning. But I also think that reminder that the gift of Christ is a kindness that's supposed to lead to repentance. That's what Roman chapter 2 says, that this gift of kindness, it's supposed to lead us to repentance.

And so what if this enemy becomes a brother or sister in Christ, would that not be a great party in heaven? And why wouldn't I want that? And so I think just keeping that perspective bigger than myself with a lot of things is really helpful when to think about freedomand forgiveness and letting go.

And I want to bring this down to like, to a personal level where the enemy in someone's life might be someone that really hurt them like really badly. It might be even a close friend or family member who has become an enemy. It could be a situation that they're in. It could even be somebody who's been hurt by somebody in the church.

Right? So there could be these things that have been really hurtful in someone's life that are not a dictator that are not some other country or, or a war going on. That's not the normal generalization we can take from this passage. But just to know that Christ has gone before us in all these things is a comfort to know that like in Hebrews says that we have this great high priest who's gone before us and he is the one that paid for all those unjust things that happened to us. It’s a great comfort to me.

Natalie: I was reading an article actually by Tim Keller last night that was talking about sort of the, the great undoing of all of the horrible things and it was such a comfort to me to read that and to think about you know, that the new [00:24:00] heavens and the new earth are a restoration of what is right now.

It's not that they are brand new in the sense that you know, God's going to annihilate everything and start all over and rebuild something completely different. But there's this restorative process, this redeeming of all things so that, it's something about the things that are happening right now in your life and with the people who are your enemies that it's not just going to like be annihilated and go away and where you're going to never remember it again, but somehow God is going to make it so beautiful that in heaven, when you think of it, it will no longer bring tears to your eyes.

Madison: I'm so glad you said that. Yes. I was thinking about, you know, the Jesus storybook Bible that's, that's how she paraphrases it at the end, but the day with no more tears and no more sadness. And that's what I think about. I think about that because I am seeing so many tears and so much sadness.

Just the past two days we've been helping to interpret at a medical clinic. A team of doctors came from the States and are doing free medical care for Ukrainian refugees who live here in Bucharest. The stories that people were sharing with me, I can't share them because it was confidential, but the tears in their eyes that these people who have lost family members, who've lost their homes, who've lost everything, who say they're fine, but they're not because they're worried every day about some friend or family member.

And just to know that the Lord is going to wipe all those away. And it's so hard to explain that to someone when they just have no hope that there is a day coming, but it's just not here yet. But I. I long for that day when all the brokenness is gone. I remember the first time I read that story in the Jesus Storybook Bible, we were doing foster care and something just really, really hard had happened with one of the kiddos in our home.

And I just sat on my office floor, just crying over this children's Bible. Because it reminded me of the truth that there is an end to this suffering. [00:26:00] And that's the hope that I have is that it's going to end. And that could make me callous, right? I could choose to become bitter about what's happening now and just go, well, I'm just going to check out and wait for him to come back or till my life is done or whatever.

Right? But why would I not want more people to be able to be with me on that day when our eyes are completely free of tears? It is the ultimate hope that we could give to people.

Natalie: Yeah. And, and even like that story, that restoration story, it doesn't start when Jesus comes back. It's right now.

Redemption is now. Today is the day of salvation. Today is the day that God is calling people into his glory, into his plan, and the making of all things new. One last question that I want to hit before we finish, because you talked about this just a little bit— is this verse telling us that we should be a doormat?

Should we just let our enemies walk all over us? How do you walk that line? Where is the line that we draw with the people who have abused us or hurt us or who are enemies where we say no, that that is not, that is not what Jesus is calling us to.

Madison: Yeah, I think that's a good and really hard question. The social worker in me wants to give the caveat of course, if there's something actually happening, physical and verbal and emotional abuse, those things to involve someone who is trained and to involve someone who's a believer, who's trained to help intervene in those situations because this is not what the verse is telling us to just lay down and take it to be a doormat.Not at all. 

What it's encouraging us to do is the counter cultural thing, right? In situations where able, instead of engaging in that back and forth of anger and sin and harsh words. I think the example with the war that's happening in Ukraine would be someone who's fighting to protect their country versus someone who took up arms to just get back at all of the things that the Russian army did to them.

Right? So those are the motivations I think [00:28:00] where the difference is. And it's so important to remember that whenever we think about like, okay, who is this enemy? Well, the real true enemy is the one we call the enemy. It is Satan. He is wanting to absolutely destroy anything with light in it, to absolutely destroy any hope, to destroy our understanding of who Christ is.

And to destroy our understanding of love and faithfulness, all those things that God encompasses that you can find in relationship, right? Karen Purvis says this— it's an attachment thing, but everybody was born looking for someone who was looking for them. And we spend our whole lives seeking out someone who was looking for us and the Lord is the one that's looking for us miraculously. Why? Why is he looking for us? We have nothing to offer him, but he made us that way to look for other people. And so in the context of relationship, when things are broken, they can be healed in relationship too. And sometimes that comes this side of heaven and sometimes it's going to come afterwards.

But no, we weren't meant to just to just be a doormat, but we were meant to hopefully exude kindness and love in a way that draws others to Christ. But, also knowing that's not our responsibility. My husband and I talk about this so often that I sometimes feel convicted.

Oh, did I do enough? Did I do enough? Is that person not going to be in heaven because I didn't? Well, no, well, that's the wrong perspective to take in the first place. Right? But even in experiencing hardship, adversity. With enemies understanding that the whole point of that is to draw myself closer to Christ, to look more like Christ and praise God if that enemy turns toward Christ too, because of the way that I've been behaving. And I think just taking that kind of, again, zooming out is so important when we're thinking about these things, because we can tend to get in just the microscopic view of what's going on in ourselves. And that's important too, but coming outside of it is really helpful to see God's ultimate [00:30:00] purpose in a lot of these things that we don't understand.

Natalie: Madison, I want to keep talking, but we are out of time. This has been just really helpful to me personally. I love to hear your perspective and your honesty about the struggle to forgive our enemies. I think it's a struggle for all of us. I wrote a devotional for Dwell, maybe a year ago that said you know, forgiveness isn't an option, essentially.

And I never have received so many emails back from people who either were like, man, I agree. It's so hard. I'm struggling. Would you pray for me? And other people who were like, no, you're wrong. Like, you're wrong. There are some people that you shouldn't have to forget and I was like, whoa That was it struck a real chord.

And I think the reason it strikes a chord is because it's hard for us. It's really really hard But I appreciate you Just sharing that with us and joining with me today. So thank you so much and thank you for Spreading the gospel and being in a really, really hard, unique situation with your family and your kids and your husband and all the things.

And may God just continue to protect and to guide and to just bless your ministry there in Bucharest and show you exactly what he has next for you.

Madison: Thank you so much. This was an encouragement to me as well. So I really appreciate the opportunity.

Natalie: Awesome. Thanks, Madison.

Dwell Blog/Podcast Featured Content

Madison Perekotiy

Madison and her husband have served as full-time missionaries since 2018, first in Ukraine and now in Romania.

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