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A humanitarian helper: San Marcos resident returns from relief trip to Ukraine

Matt Rath

Samaritan’s Purse employee helps an injured girl, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Ukraine.

On Feb. 24, 2022, like the rest of the world, San Marcos resident John Meeks watched the news of the Russia-Ukraine war unfold from home. Upon seeing the suffering of the Ukrainian people, he went on a month-long humanitarian relief trip with Samaritan’s Purse to Kyiv, Ukraine, from Nov. 9-Dec. 7, 2022. 
Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.
Blake Welch, Samaritan’s Purse’s regional manager for Ukraine, is responsible for supporting the organization’s country office that’s operating in different Ukrainian cities.
“What we’ve been doing is just responding to the humanitarian crisis [in Ukraine] because people have been suffering there for a year now,” Welch said. “Most of what we do is taking place along the front lines of far eastern Ukraine where the greatest need in the country is.”
It wasn’t until John met with a friend, who had just returned from another month-long relief trip with Samaritan’s Purse in Ukraine, that he knew there was something he could do to help.
“I told my friend ‘man I wish there was something more I could do’ and he said ‘John, Samaritan’s Purse needs people with international business experience.’ So the next day I filled out an 11-page resume and went through a rigorous interview process that lasted several months,” John said. “It was a really daunting process to be accepted into the volunteer program.”
During his business career, John was based in Jakarta, Indonesia, among other countries in Asia. He gained experience in negotiating cross-border transactions and international finance, making him a great applicant for Samaritan’s Purse and its relief efforts. 
Karen Meeks, John’s wife, was aware of the increasingly dangerous warzone her husband would be in, but she knew it was something he wanted to do and supported it.
“I just felt like we had thought about it, he had it in his heart and for that door to open I just felt like this must be the right path then,” Karen said. 
Since John was based in Samaritan’s Purse’s country office in Kyiv, communication with Karen was relatively easy.
“I was fortunate to be able to talk with Karen almost every evening. We were being bombed three or four times each week as Putin pushed to weaponize winter by destroying the energy and water infrastructure of the country,” John said. “During the harshest times, it meant everything to me to be able to just talk with her over the secure communication line we had back to America. She was my rock during my deployment.”
On the trip, John and his team helped internally displaced Ukrainian people by providing them with resources like medical aid and emergency field hospitals staffed with surgeons, nurses and ER doctors, as well as shelter, water, food, sanitation and hygiene resources.
John learned multiple lessons in his efforts to bring humanitarian relief to Ukraine. The biggest one was learning how much the work he was doing meant for the people he was helping.
“First, I got an appreciation for how fragile life is. Second, I learned we are nothing without hope, Ukrainian people lost hope and we were there to give them back that hope. Third, I understand how powerful of an organization Samaritan’s Purse is in doing good on this earth,” John said.
Based on his first-hand experience of the Ukraine warzone, John said the news had not adequately addressed the violence or the effect of the war on the population they were trying to help. 
He remembers seeing signs along the streets of Kyiv warning people of bomb-stuffed teddy bears from the Russian Air Force.
“The Russians were dropping these toys in the city and inside them were explosive devices. So when the children, who were looking for some kind of peace, would pick up these toys, it would explode in their hands, killing or maiming them,” John said. 
John found peace in knowing what he was doing was bringing hope to the people in Ukraine even though he was often frightened by the bombing and violence.
He said he had an encounter with an employee when he went to exchange his U.S. dollars for Ukrainian money. When he presented the money, she asked John, in a stern tone, where he was from and what he was doing there.
“When she asked why I was here, I said I am here to save lives and alleviate suffering, and she broke down in tears on her desk,” John said. “She looked up at me, her tears pouring down her face, and said ‘thank you for being here, we are not alone,’ and that is why I went to Ukraine.”
John’s discomfort from the cold and hard work in certain situations worried Karen. In the end, however, she knew he would be safe.
“Mostly I had peace. I feel like the organization he went with was very specific and careful about everything and they told us they were big into safety at the very beginning,” Karen said. “So, I felt like he was in the best place he could be given the circumstances.”
While John was in the Samaritan’s Purse country office in Ukraine, he and the employees worked with other relief organizations such as the United Nations, to provide the most effective humanitarian aid to the displaced people. 
“I was a tiny, tiny, tiny part of this enormous effort to get the resources to all these people,” John said. “I realized once I got in the country office that was where I was supposed to be to help in this crisis.”

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  • Samaritan’s Purse employee tends to displaced Ukrainian, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Ukraine.

    Matt Rath
  • Samaritan’s Purse employee helps an injured girl, Friday, March 18, 2022, in Ukraine. 

    Matt Rath
  • A portrait of Karen (left) and John Meeks, Monday, July 4, 2022, in Ridgeway, Colorado. 

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