Sometimes, life works as a big puzzle.
Sometimes, God plays a hand so that puzzle can be completed.
This was the case for Brad Haywood, Foundation Academy elementary physical education coach, who returned recently to the U.S. after spending three-and-one-half weeks in Europe delivering humanitarian aid for Ukraine.
Everything started in April, when Haywood felt a calling to serve after seeing the war between Russia and Ukraine escalate.
“Whenever I tell this story, it’s not about recognition or being commended for doing a notable cause,” he said. “Because at the end of the day, I’m a regular person, I’m no better than anyone else. There’s far more generous and serving people out there than I am. But whenever I feel called, whenever I feel God beating in my heart, I want to be obedient to that. Sometimes I fail, but here what I want my story to be is that God is going to pin you; He is going to call you. He puts something in your heart, and the questions is, ‘What are you going to do?’ … When we are obedient, someone gets loved.”
THE JOURNEY TO PALOWICE
On Good Friday, Haywood approached his pastor at Discovery Church, Don Cousins, and asked whether he had a point of contact in Europe.
Cousins connected Haywood with the head of the Quo Vadis Institute in Austria, Andrzej Turkanik. Discovery Church previously had sent money— a week of its entire budget — to the institute when the war began.
“That’s how I connected to the church in Palowice, because I asked Andrzej if he knew of any humanitarian aid effort who needed extra man power, and he said (they) needed it,” Haywood said.
This church, Church of Free Christians in Palowice, is located in southern Poland only a few hours from the Ukrainian border.
“I reached out and gave them my dates (May 15 to June 7),” Haywood said.
After setting the dates, Haywood contacted the New Jersey-based Volunteers for Ukraine organization.
“(They) paired people who wanted to go to Ukraine with people who wanted to fund the people who wanted to go to Ukraine,” he said. “People with two different callings: Some people felt the call to support financially and some to support physically.”
A couple from New York funded his trip to Palowice — which itself had several legs. Haywood first traveled from Orlando to New York and from there to Warsaw and Kraków, Poland. From there, it was about an hour ride to Church of Free Christians in Palowice.
“I would call that my base of operations,” he said. “That’s where I was working out of, where all my stuff was. That’s where I would start the trips, because the church was the one buying the humanitarian aid.”
THE WORK BEGINS
For 25 days, Haywood and other volunteers of the Church of Free Christians in Palowice drove supplies from Palowice, Poland, to L’viv, Ukraine.
At first, Haywood drove across the border with other volunteers. The truck left Palowice at 10 p.m. and got to the border at around 2 a.m. Because Ukraine is an hour ahead, that would bring them up an hour.
“I didn’t realize how far north it was, so the sun starts coming up at 4 in the morning, and at 5 in the morning, the sun is all the way up in the sky like it’s 10 in the morning,” Haywood said.
The volunteers arrived in L’viv at around 6 a.m., unloaded the van and then drove all the way back to Palowice, to arrive at around 1 or 2 p.m.
“Then, we would rest,” Haywood said.
It took about five to six hours to cross the border to Ukraine; volunteers had to go through Polish customs and passport control, because Ukraine is not part of the European Union. The same happened when they returned to Poland.
“People who were not on the humanitarian aid capacity were sitting on the border for days,” Haywood said. “It was the humanitarian people who got the priority to go first.”
Since his first day there, Haywood knew he would be driving the van filled with supplies to and from Ukraine. Most of the volunteers at the church at Palowice were people who attended the church regularly, work regular jobs all day and then volunteer to drive all-night to deliver supplies to L’viv.
“They were exhausted,” Haywood said. “I was a breath of fresh air for them.”
At one point, Haywood and another volunteer drove to Lublin, Poland, to pick up pallets of antibiotics, and then drove the van directly to L’viv. They were about to expire and needed to get there as soon as possible.
It was then when they met a group of people who had driven about 19 hours — from England, to take a van loaded with food and aid supplies.
During that specific trip, Haywood and the other volunteer drove directly to Ukraine and spent the night there before making their way back to Palowice.
“People were making an effort to create a chain that went all the way across Europe to get aid to Ukraine,” he said. “A group from Germany would drive from Stuttgart, nine hours to Palowice and drop food off. Then we would take that food … to L’viv, drop it there and they would put it in vans and take it even further.”
Once Haywood was used to going through customs and passport controls, he drove to Ukraine by himself. He would leave at around 4 a.m. and get to L’viv at around 11 a.m., stay for a while and then come back to Palowice.
Before he left Palowice, the couple who sponsored Haywood contacted him. The wife is from Poland. She had gone to Warsaw in April to volunteer and met a Ukrainian refugee whose husband was enlisted and mother and brother were in central Ukraine. The woman had given birth in Warsaw and told the lady who sponsored Haywood that her mother and brother had no access to food.
“I truly believe God heard this family’s needs, and I believe the people who sponsored me to go over there — it wasn’t a coincidence,” Haywood said. “I really believe it was orchestrated by God, that He knew that through these pieces; through myself, the church in Palowice and through the couple in New York, that we would be able to come together and meet the needs of this family in Ukraine.”
This particular time, Haywood drove to L’viv with the supplies and then with another volunteer two-and-one-half hours more into the small village, where the brother and the mother of the woman were.
Haywood spent 10 years in the U.S. Army, was deployed five times and went to Iraq three times. His wife, Asha, is in the U.S. Army Reserves, and has given him full support since the moment he told her he wanted to go to Poland.
“She understands right off the bat that we have a call to serve and a duty to serve,” he said. “And so, for her, there was no objection whatsoever.”
Foundation Academy was a huge support as well; the school allowed Haywood to leave during the last two weeks of classes.
“They know that God had called me to serve in this capacity, and they didn’t try to supress that,” he said.