Yury Bondarenko, MD, MPH

Yury Bondarenko, MD, MPH, is a psychiatrist and addiction specialist. He grew up in Russia (formerly the USSR) where he studied medicine and later worked as director of the health ministry department of Rostov-Kalmylkian SDA Conference from 2001-2013. In 2013, the Ukrainian Union of Seventh-day Adventists invited him to open a medical clinic on the outskirts of Kiev where he oversaw the building project to completion. Since then the Kiev clinic has served as a center of influence, offering lifestyle programs as well as acute dental and medical services.

Swimming with Crocodiles

in Spring 2023   |
Published on 07/01/2023   |
5 min | <<|>>

In war, it is very important to keep a sense of humor.

So I’ll start with a little funny story that some of you must have heard.

A rich wealthy man held a luxurious party at the back of his mansion, where he had a pool that doubled as a home for live crocodiles, which he loved to collect.

The millionaire who also had a beautiful daughter suddenly thought up a dangerous idea to stir things up.

At the beautiful occasion, the millionaire took to the stage and stated his proposition that he would give a million dollars or his single daughter to anyone who could swim safely across the pool filled with the fiery animals.
Immediately, as the rich man finished his speech, there was a loud splash as a man jumped into the water.

He screamed and swam with all his strength towards the other end while he received cheers and encouragement from the crowd.

Fortunately, the young man made it out of the swimming pool alive with his shirt all battered and some slight injuries on his body due to scratches from the crocodiles.

The millionaire who was so impressed commended him for doing a great job and passing the test. He added that he didn’t think anyone could survive the life-threatening trial.

Holding his end of the bargain, the millionaire asked the tired young man if he wanted his beautiful daughter or a million dollars.

The young man angrily answered that he didn’t need his money or his daughter but wanted to know who pushed him into a pool filled with crocodiles.

Who would have thought the young man was swimming just for his life!?

My dear friends and colleagues!
Someone pushed our country into a pool of crocodiles.

To Survive.
Pushed Me, our team of the Angelia clinic, our families, pushed into the war.
We didn’t choose war.
We didn’t believe [in it] and we didn’t want [it]. We didn’t plan [it].
We just ended up in the water with crocodiles.
We’re in a war.
But not only us.
There are thousands and millions of Ukrainians.
Many of them are [in] much [more difficult circumstances] than us.

We have to swim as a team in this pool of war and, at the same time, provide comprehensive care to those who are bitten, wounded, dying.
War is a very difficult experience.
It’s catastrophic. Stress you can’t get away from.
Imposed violence.
Great collective violence.

Along with the rockets—anxiety arrives. And along with the power and water cuts, peace and regular life are turned off.

But we swim, swim hard, adapt and, as usual, help those who are worse off. We swim in this crocodile pool not for awards, not for money, and not for recognition.

We swim because we are doctors. We are nurses. We are medical professionals surviving and helping [at] the same time.
Because we are children of God.

What makes us alive and work in a country where there is a war?
What gives us the strength to get up in the morning and move on?
After all, the medical profession is already a very stressful job.
What gives us the strength to go twice a week to a mobile clinic in other cities, sometimes very close to the mouth of a crocodile?—I mean very close to the front line.

How can you save yourself in such conditions and not go crazy, not burn out, not be disappointed?
What inspires us?
What is our resource?

The first is the knowing that best place to be [is where] you are needed the most.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ was in the hottest spot in the universe—the Earth—a place where He was needed the most.

He is our teacher. We have learned and are learning at His feet. At his school. In his Alma Mater.

Loma Linda is where we were taught this.
[We were] taught not just to heal the heart of the patient,
But make the heart beat joyfully.
We were taught not just to treat the kidneys and their filtration capacity,
But learn to filter what is happening around.
We were taught not just to treat vision,
But to teach our patients to look at the invisible.
“For what is seen is temporary, but what is invisible is eternal.”
And no war will take away the eternal from you.

We were taught not just to heal an insomnia, but to find a reason to fall asleep with a clear conscience and endless trust in the One who guards your sleep.

We have been taught to not just treat depression because of lost homes, jobs, and maybe lost loved ones.

We were taught to show to our patients what cannot be lost. A resource that will not run out, unlike relationships and loved ones that can leave our lives.

We were taught to point a patient to eternal mansions there, to work from which you want to live, and which you will not lose.
We were taught to teach the patient to get to know and communicate with the closest One that no one will take away from you-with Jesus.

We were taught to make man whole.
Thank you, Loma Linda!

So, it helps us to live in this world of war, realizing one’s need and
to be exactly where it hurts the most.
And where you are needed like nowhere else.

There are many suffering people and places in Ukraine.
Therefore, we need more medical equipment.
To save more effectively those who are in the pool of war.
We need more brave doctors,
those who are not afraid to jump into this pool of war to save more and more and more.

The second is
—in Ukraine are miracles all around.
Permanent wonders.
Prayers answered.

We rejoice at the miracle of the release of the prisoner from Mariupol – one of our patient’s son in law. We prayed for this miracle for 10 months.

We rejoice for the guy who survived during the shelling on Saturday few weeks ago. We prayed for him at this same time on this very Sabbath and the Lord spared his life.

We rejoice for the brother of our colleague who walked five kilometers, wounded, and survived.

We are happy for the patients of our mobile clinic.

One guy helped at the mobile clinic. He was accidentally invited to do an ultrasound. He did not want to because nothing hurt him. It turned out to be cancer in the initial stage. He was operated on and he lives. And there have been many such accidental early-stage cancer diagnoses this year, as well as many calls of gratitude and tears of joy from these patients and their families.

My favorite miracle is the story of an over 70-year-old patient who went through 60 years with a cotton ball and two wax plugs in his ear. He did not know about it. Sixty years ago he was diagnosed with unilateral deafness, and all his life he thought he was deaf. Our ENT doctor “accidentally” looked at him. It was an unplanned patient.

Every time our mobile clinic goes to a city where there are shellings, we are always safe; there is always no shelling. It may be [happening] in another part of the city, but not where we serve our patients.
[There are] visible and invisible miracles. We record the ones we see in our gratitude diary.

This is a memory resource.
It inspires to serve further in the war.

The third is
—a continuing sense of God’s presence.
A clear feeling that God is near. Guardian angels are nearby. God is here.
And that’s exactly what we are dreaming of, right?
It feels like you are surrounded by a constant prayer presence.
God is near.
Yes, war is ugly, sin is terrible.
“But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
God is near. You are talking to Him. You have a relationship.
And it’s soothing.

The fourth is
—conscious suffering.
Yes, it’s hard for us.
Yes, it’s not easy for us.
But we know for what and why we suffer.

Let me read a quote from one book:

“God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be led, if they could see the end from the beginning, and discern the glory of the purpose which they are fulfilling as co-workers with Him. Not Enoch, who was translated to heaven, not Elijah, who ascended in a chariot of fire, was greater or more honored than John the Baptist, who perished alone in the dungeon. ‘Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake.’ Philippians 1:29. And of all the gifts that Heaven can bestow upon men, fellowship with Christ in His sufferings is the most weighty trust and the highest honor.” —Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 224.

Above all gifts—The Greatest Honor is to suffer in fellowship with Him.

Eternity is worth suffering temporarily.
Hear me please:
—Eternity with God is the only reason why it is worth enduring suffering, limitations and hardships.

Especially since life goes by so fast, so fast that the memory will eventually forget all the most painful.
As one of my professors said: the best quality of memory is to forget.
And Uncle Alzheimer can help with this.

No matter how difficult it was for us, there, in Heaven, I firmly believe in it—
we will say: we got to Heaven so easily!
This is a look beyond the horizon, my friends!
Look over the war.
Look above.
Look at what will be.
No one can take eternity away from you, so it’s worth waiting for more.
This is the difference between vision and myopia.

The fifth thing that helps us to live during the war with an open heart and not closed is
—Sincerity to yourself, your family and God.
Sincerity, frankness, genuineness. The family will appreciate it.
God also appreciates [it].
Sincerity is useful to me—to be honest with myself.
War takes off the masks.
War takes away your political correctness.
War makes people simple and open.

In war, you are who you are.

Sincerity is the best brand of a doctor, husband, dad, mom.
Sincerity is must have issue for relationships, and sincere relationships are needed in war. They help to live as safely as possible in such conditions.

As a Christian psychotherapist I often advise patients who have a war in the family to be gentle and sincere. This is salvation from evil. Tenderness and sincerity is the soft and effective weapon of victory, the tool of healing.

Of course, there is also a physical, social endless resource that no one will take away from you: these are cardio workouts, and a homemade waterfall—a shower for 15 minutes under running water. This is hugs for 15 seconds continuously. It’s singing, a lot of singing. Just sing, sing in the shower and in training. Anywhere.

It is important that the resource is infinite. A resource that no one will ever take away from you is the fire of the Holy Spirit in you, which will never go out. It burns and does not burn out. He is burning, not you. His role is to burn, and my role is to be a jar for the Fire.

If you understand this, professional burnout is impossible.

This is you, a weak person who needs fire in the soul.
This is you, a smart but weak doctor because you are a human being.
A man who gets tired, needs strength.
There is a God who does not get tired. He is your Fire and your Strength.
God who will never leave you.
He is a resource that is always available.
And that means you’re not alone. And you are not alone.

You know, I grew up without a father.
Of course, God blessed me with a wise grandmother, a workaholic grandfather and a tender mother. But I grew up without a father, or so I thought.

But I didn’t know a simple truth: Father has always been for many years nearby.
And I didn’t know.

As when Jacob exclaimed:
Truly God is present in the place of Sem, but I did not know.
And I didn’t know.

He swims with us and with our guardian angels in this terrible pool. He is here. He is nearby. He saves us, and our patients through us. He chose us, saved us, and saves them through us.

He performs a feat in this pool of war, full of waves of pain and red with blood. War is a place for heroism.

The prophet Isaiah wrote:
“He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied” Isaiah 53:11:
He will look with satisfaction at the feat of His soul.

I want Him to look with joy of satisfaction.
I really want my Father to look at the feat of his soul and smile, because He is my Abba Father.
For the Father to say, well, it’s not in vain that I raised you, and for my Lord Jesus to look at me with joy.

And He said—(well, not in vain) not in vain I died for you.

I want God to be happy.
He deserves it.
I want my life, our clinic to be part of His feat.
And then I’ll feel good.
I will say,
It is well with my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul.

We all know very well, dear colleagues, this our feeling of satisfaction and happiness when the patient feels better, when he is saved, when he is happy.

Yes, it’s hard now.
Yes, it’s very hard right now.
Yes it’s a narrow path.
But I love this way.
I am grateful to Him,
And it’s conscious suffering.
And it’s not heavy, because eternal life is already coming
‘Cause He’s leading the way.
He is here.
He leads.

As sung in one of my old favorite psalms, written in Siberia during the communist era:

Live for Jesus, die with Him,
Can you wish for a better way?
Worth the fight, worth the fight
It is worth giving your life for this.

We in Ukraine are waiting for the last day of the war.
We are waiting for the end of the war on this planet.
We live and work.
We are waiting for the last day when it all ends,
And it will be Victory Day.
His victories,
All glory to him.

But it’s still a war
And His warriors are singing

I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back
No turning back

Thank you very much.

<< | Table of Contents | >>