By Eron Henry and Robert Dilday
Baptists are ratcheting up their assistance to the growing refugee crisis in Europe, as increasing numbers of migrants are fleeing war and economic dislocation for safer havens.
European leaders are struggling to develop a humanitarian response to hundreds of thousands of migrants, especially from the Middle East and Africa. The surge has both raised tensions in some European nations and spurred volunteer assistance efforts by European citizens.
The Baptist World Alliance said Sept. 15 it has allocated an initial $15,000 through its relief and development arm, Baptist World Aid, to Hungarian Baptists to aid refugees in that country.
Bela Szilagyi, vice president of Hungarian Baptist Aid told the BWA that HBAid’s temporary shelter is filled to capacity, indicating that this was the first such facility provided in the country for the refugees.
He said medical assistance has already been extended to some 700 refugees. “Most migrants who are ill suffer from upper respiratory issues, skin diseases and swellings,” Szilagyi said. “Thirty percent of those seeking medical attention were children and 70 percent were adults.”
In addition, Hungarians have distributed water and food at the Nyugati and Keleti train stations, as well as hygienic kits, medicine, disinfectants, diapers, baby food and toys.
“Many of our churches are busy responding to the challenge in many different ways,” said Thomas Klammt, commissioner for immigrants and refugees of the Union of Evangelical Free Churches in Germany. Congregations in Germany are “offering language courses, assistance in practical needs, even opening their houses and rooms for refugees to stay or find protection,” Klammt told the BWA. Guidelines to assist churches offering shelter in their sanctuary have been published.
In May of this year, Baptists in Germany passed a resolution on “Welcoming Christ in the Stranger.” Klammt reported that the Baptist union “has appointed a representative to the church commission that is directly addressing the Government Department for Migration.”
Christoph Haus, general secretary of German-based EBM International, said that in Germany, “we expect a number of 40,000 during the upcoming weekend and the next week. Last weekend it has been 25,000.”
Open the churches
“Right now very many refugees are arriving into Sweden,” said Inga Johansson, coordinator of church and society for the Uniting Church in Sweden, which includes Baptists. “The Uniting Church in Sweden has many congregations active in supporting refugees. We from the Uniting Church in Sweden urge congregations to open the churches for meeting places where refugees can receive support, counseling, language training and more.”
The Christian Council of Sweden has a committee working on migration issues, Johansson said. “We as a church are very keen that we, together with other organizations, support refugees and asylum seekers.”
The immigration crisis will be a major topic of discussion during meetings of the European Baptist Federation, one of six regional fellowships of the BWA, to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, beginning Sept. 23.
Meanwhile, the Baptist General Association of Virginia has sent $5,000 to Austrian Baptist Aid, an arm of the Austrian Baptist Union. Austria is both a destination for many migrants and a transiting country for others seeking refuge in Germany. The Austrians are currently providing food and shelter at this time with a long-term plan under development.
“Virginia Baptists have a longstanding relationship with Austrian Baptists dating back to our partnership with them over a decade ago,” said Dean Miller, team leader of the BGAV’s glocal missions team. “Our current relationship involves our Venturer program and sponsorship of a church planter in the area — Cesar Sotomayor — who has been working with immigrants and refugees as part of his ongoing church planting strategy. The Austrians are trusted friends and we are more than happy to walk alongside them at this time.”
Miller said a group of Virginia Baptists will attend the European Baptist Federation meeting next week to participate in discussions on the crisis. “This will allow Virginia Baptists to engage in firsthand conversations with those who are on the front lines of this crisis and gain a better understanding of the overall response and how we might move forward with a comprehensive plan with our partners.”
Miller said Sept. 15 an additional $20,000 has been sent through the European Baptist Federation to assist Ukrainian Baptists working with refugees from the eastern part of their country, which is embroiled in unrest. Thousands of Ukrainians have fled the country’s border with Russia for safer locations in the western Ukraine.
“A detailed plan has been developed by the Ukrainian Baptists in partnership with the EBF to provide immediate assistance to refugees in their country,” said Miller.
In another development, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship announced Sept. 10 it has sent $15,000 to field personnel in Macedonia and Lebanon to assist with humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees.
An estimated 4.1 million Syrians have fled their homeland during four years of civil war, creating the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide in 1994. Most are in neighboring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan but now are spilling into Europe. Financial contributions to refugee efforts may be made:
Eron Henry is associate director of communications for the Baptist World Alliance.