Aaron Pierce’s hooded sweatshirt is emblazoned with the phrase, “Seek Discomfort.”
The creators of one of his favorite YouTube channels, Yes Theory, use that motto.
“I resonated with it personally,” Pierce said Thursday, March 10. “Just the idea that I want to take risks and live a life that’s not comfortable.”
Pierce, the international mission director for the U.S. headquarters of Steiger International in Eden Prairie, motions to his computer screen. A few minutes earlier, he played a video where Steiger volunteers talked of their efforts to help the Ukraine people caught in the crossfire of war.
“That’s what we’re doing here,” Pierce said.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, the faith-based, non-profit Steiger International has been using its resources to help people in that country much differently than it did before.
“We’re not normally kind of a crisis/humanitarian organization,” Pierce said. “We’re a Christian organization focused on global youth culture.”
As its website states, Steiger “grew out of a passion to reach young people who would not walk into a church.”
Pierce said Steiger does that worldwide with a significant footprint in the Russian-speaking world. That includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. It also has a strong presence in Poland, “where most of the Ukrainian refugees are going.”
“We had a huge network of people who were really motivated and connected that got to work in meeting the kind of needs that we saw right away,” he said of Steiger’s efforts after the invasion.
From two computers in his Eden Prairie office, Pierce coordinates the on-the-ground humanitarian efforts of Steiger city teams and volunteers in Ukraine and Poland.
“Weird, right?” he said. “This little office where I can be sheltered from it all. There’s even a little bit of guilt with that sometimes where it’s like, ‘How can I just go on about my daily life when that’s going on there?’ There’s always bad things going on in the world, but this is so personal.”
According to its website, Steiger serves as a channel of funds and supplies for disaster relief in Ukraine and those crossing the border.
These efforts provide Ukrainians with necessities such as food, first aid, blankets, and generators. (Donations to Steiger’s Ukrainian can be made on its website.)
“Or, we got someone stuck that’s trying to get out,” Pierce added. “The stories are pretty awful, not just the bombing, but you’ve got these long lines of primarily women and children waiting to get through the border. It’s wintertime, and so it’s pretty devastating what’s going on.”
Over the last couple of weeks, Pierce said Steiger’s efforts have evolved. So far, Steiger’s call center has received 1,500 online requests for help throughout Ukraine.
“We’re bringing supplies across the border (from a warehouse in eastern Poland), and then we got vans and vehicles in there and they’re going on runs into different parts of (Ukraine), into dangerous parts of the country,” he said.
‘They’re running to the fire’
About 20 Steiger’s Kyiv team members remain in the war-torn city, helping in any way they can.
“Steiger’s strongest team (in the region) was in Kyiv,” Pierce said. “Many people on that team were evacuated, but a core group stayed behind because we had a building there. (They’re) living in the basement in Kyiv. That group is going out to the bomb shelters into the different places and meeting the needs of people and comforting people. They are helping people.”
In a way, Pierce said what they’re doing on Ukraine’s frontlines is consistent with Steiger’s global ministry.
“It’s meeting people’s needs, where it’s happening,” he said. “It’s just responding. Christians have done this for centuries. They’re the ones that have run into the black plague and care for people. They have always sacrificed themselves for the other, and they’re doing that now. And meeting the needs of the situation.”
When will it be time for those helping in Ukraine to leave?
“We’ve brought that up several times and say ‘Is now the time to get out?’,” he said. “And they feel no. They’ve said, ‘We need to stay.’”
Pierce said those still there in Kyiv have a “network to escape,” but have chosen against that for now.
“They’re the real deal,” he said. “They’re not running from the fire. They’re running to the fire.”
‘A sense of defiance’ against the Russians
Because of the war, everything Pierce thought Steiger would be doing in the Russian-speaking world is up in the air.
“And, not just in Ukraine, but Russia and Belarus, too, where we have a strong presence as well,” he said.
In all, Steiger has 12 city teams in the Russian-speaking world. Of those 12, five are in Ukraine, four are in Russia, and one is in Belarus.
City teams worldwide work to reach the global youth culture in the city they serve by developing a culture of “seeking God” and building relationships with young people, Steiger’s website states.
Not surprisingly, tensions among the teams have emerged.
“The Ukrainians have been pushing the Russians and the Belarusians to step up, protest, do something,” he said. “They’re stuck because the government is clamping down. If you just mention the word war (in Russia), you could go to jail. It’s a lose-lose situation.”
He said the mood among the volunteers in Ukraine toward Russia is anger.
“There’s also a sense of defiance,” he said. “I think that is a piece that (Russian President Vladimir) Putin didn’t realize.”
He understands it’s human nature to become numb to what people see in the news. But, he encourages people here in the U.S. to keep the Ukrainian people in their thoughts and prayers and continue to support organizations like Steiger or others providing help.
“Let’s continue to stay behind it,” he said. “I think this is this is one of the great injustices of our time. This is akin to World War II and the Nazis.”
And he agrees that it could escalate.
“That’s the other scary thing about all of this,” he said. “Who knows where this goes? I can tell you our people in Poland are feeling pretty afraid right now about that. Because they’re kind of the next domino.”
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