Students gather to pray for the people of Ukraine

With inspirational messages behind her, GCU freshman Hanna Perri seeks God’s solace in the Prayer Chapel during Monday’s afternoon gathering to remember the people of Ukraine.

Story by Rick Vacek
Photos by Ralph Freso
GCU News Bureau

They stood in quiet murmurs of circles outside or sat in silence inside the Prayer Chapel on Monday, these Grand Canyon University students contemplating a conflict halfway across the world that feels so close to home.

Many of them were strangers before this warm afternoon on the final day of February, but the conflict in Ukraine had brought them together in a way only a crisis of this magnitude could.

They were toddlers or weren’t even born yet when 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan became household terms across America. But now they must come to terms with what this new challenge means, and they turned to their foremost refuge – God.

Sophomore Riley Ohlin (right) and freshman Joelle Jonas pray outside.

It began with an email from Erik Nelsen, Director of Spiritual Life, to his staff on Friday. We should get students together to pray, he wrote, and the plans were shared on social media and announced at Chapel on Monday morning by Dr. Tim Griffin, whose GCU role includes University Pastor.

Despite the short notice, about 50 students came to the Prayer Chapel a few hours later to appeal for God’s help and guidance. Nelsen and his staff were there to pray with them and, if necessary, offer consolation.

First, Nelsen and Global Outreach Manager Njenga Maina addressed them and read from Psalm 10 and Hebrews 4:14-16.

“But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted; You consider their grief and take it in hand,” the psalm proclaims.

In other words, Nelsen said, trust in God. He’s fully in control.

The students then were invited to pray and meditate in whatever way was comfortable. Most of them repaired to the courtyard outside and stood or sat together for more than a half-hour, getting to know each other if they hadn’t before.

Aaron Koehne of the Office of Spiritual Life prays with a group of students.

“It’s cool that some people find community through a prayer group,” Nelsen said, looking outside to the assembled students.

Aaron Koehne, Spiritual Life's Local Outreach Coordinator, was stationed in one of the prayer circles with students and said the pain and suffering they are witnessing reminds them of the urgency of spreading the Gospel.

The afternoon was most meaningful to Liza Dmitriyev, who grew up in Uzhhorod, Ukraine, on the west side of the country. Her father is from Donetsk, to the east. She has friends in the besieged capital city, Kyiv, and she helps with Spiritual Life’s English as a Second Language ministry.

She is in touch with family and friends there almost every day. Her father’s family is still there.

“It means a lot,” she said of Monday’s gathering. “It means that people care. People understand the weight of it. Prayer is a powerful thing, and that’s something we are able to do, if nothing else.”

Maina was part of her prayer circle.

Liza Dmitriyev (right), who grew up in Ukraine, is embraced by other students after their prayer session.

“We prayed for peace and consolation and for the church there,” he said. “We prayed for all the work the church is doing and for people fleeing. We prayed for wisdom in world leaders as they try to come up with positions that are for peace and consolation.”

When it was finally over, they seemed reluctant to leave. They walked away slowly, quietly.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need,” is part of those verses in Hebrew.

Better yet, the students found consolation in approaching His throne together. Strength in community – the GCU community. It creates prayerful bonds that are essential in a struggling world.   

Contact Rick Vacek at (602) 639-8203 or [email protected].


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Bible Verse

(Moses addressed Israel, reminding them of God's deliverance of them from Egypt, and His commands given to them:) "You saw with your own eyes the great trials, the miraculous signs and wonders, the mighty hand and outstretched arm, with which the Lord your God brought you out (from bondage and delivered you.). The Lord your God will do the same to all the peoples you now fear." (Deuteronomy 7:19)

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