The Elders began throwing food away — everything had to go since they weren’t coming back.
The Ukraine Kyiv/Moldova mission president had called and said they had four hours to pack everything before the mission driver would come to evacuate them to Kyiv. The driver arrived two and a half hours later.
This would be the first of three evacuations that Elder Sam Powell, now a sophomore majoring in international studies at BYU-Idaho, would make before being reassigned to the California Roseville Mission.
For Powell, it wasn’t just leaving his mission — it was leaving home. Powell’s father worked as a foreign service officer, which required his family to move every two years. His family lived in Ukraine from 2011 to 2013.
“It was one of the longest times I had lived in a place,” Powell said. “Here in the U.S., … We don’t know what war is. … Sure, you can play video games and say, oh, yeah, you do know this stuff, but it’s nothing. … I’ve seen pictures of mangled bodies on streets that I used to walk down.”
He expressed gratitude for the increased shelter that missionary service provided from seeing pictures and videos of the carnage on social media.
Within the turmoil, Powell saw already-faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and people not of his faith turn to God. Church members used a group chat to check up on each other daily.
“(They) just went full throttle into the gospel, even harder than they had before,” Powell said.
Powell stayed near the Kyiv Ukraine Temple before transferring to the neighboring country of Moldova, just southwest of Ukraine.
While there, he conducted a baptismal interview over the phone for a young boy with his mother. He heard people running and asked if they needed to reschedule. The mother responded adamantly that it needed to happen then.
From the sounds and from what he knew about their location, Powell decided it was likely they were running from soldiers.
Powell flew out of Europe Feb. 28, 2022.
Students in Rexburg don’t fear missiles raining down or unexpected invasions by enemy soldiers. Those studying at BYU-Idaho can enjoy a view of the Grand Tetons on a clear day, unobstructed by smoke from grenades or artillery fire. They’d have to cross an ocean to find the nearest war zone. But recognizing what others are going through brings increased perspective and self-reflection.
“I take a lot less for granted,” Powell said. “Safety, security, friends, people, memories. Like, there are roads that, even if I were to go back to Ukraine after everything is over, just don’t exist anymore. You know, like my apartment. I don’t think it’s there anymore. Because my apartment block got hit by a missile strike. Like, it’s gone.”
So what does this mean for someone in Rexburg?
“I think things can easily be made political,” Powell said. “It’s important to make sure that we think about things respectfully to both peoples, the Russians and Ukrainians that are literally fighting and dying.”
Powell underlines valuable principles for BYU-Idaho students and followers of Christ.
“It’s really easy to be opinionated,” Powell said. “But we need to think about things. Critically, as in like, specifically, exactly. We need to think about things properly, which is a great thing to do here in college. That’s why I’m here, is to learn how to think properly and how to process things.”
He believes that the vehicle to understanding one another, along with being informed, is charity.
“When you see that sort of a conflict, you have to do something, and I chose to try and eliminate any sort of conflict from inside of me that could lead to that one day,” Powell said.
President Russell M. Nelson spoke about this in his conference talk last month.
“Contention drives away the Spirit — every time,” President Nelson said. “Contention reinforces the false notion that confrontation is the way to resolve differences; but it never is. Contention is a choice. Peacemaking is a choice. You have your agency to choose contention or reconciliation. I urge you to choose to be a peacemaker, now and always.”