Russian bombs, missiles, artillery shells and gunfire have been unable to prevent Ukrainian Baptists from joining the global effort to help the victims of deadly earthquakes that struck the Middle East last month.
“After over a year of war in Ukraine, Ukrainian Baptists continue to minister generously to those in their communities and even outside Ukraine,” the European Baptist Federation said in a recent release. “One of the first donations EBF received for supporting efforts in Turkey and Syria was from the Ukrainian Baptist Union.”
In a March 22 report, the federation provided an overview of the conditions in Ukraine, Syria and Turkey and about the global Baptist effort to ease suffering through material and spiritual aid.
Ukrainian Baptists provided assistance to Syria and Turkey even as they continued to help fellow Ukrainians afflicted by the war, the report says. “They look forward to the ways they can bless others and respond to future crises with the knowledge that they have learned in the past years.”
The armed conflict has provided ample opportunities to acquire that knowledge as 8 million Ukrainians have fled abroad and another 5 million remain internally displaced since Russia invaded in February 2022.
“Despite the pain and suffering they endure, our brothers and sisters still give abundantly and in return are reaping abundantly,” the report states. “A team of 10 sisters from the Vinnytsia Church has baked over three tons of home-baked goods for those in need since the war began.”
There have been lulls in the fighting in some regions recently, according to Igor Bandura, a pastor and vice president of the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christian-Baptists. “I never thought I would be grateful to be stuck in morning traffic,” he joked.
When he is in church, during a Sunday service, it is almost possible to forget that his country is at war outside the walls of the church, he added. “Life is still vibrant in protest of the war.”
Congregations also have been able to grow in some parts of Ukraine, the report notes. “In early March, the First Belgorod-Dnístrovsk Church in the Odessa region held a baptism service for 30 new believers from across three churches. They join over 3,000 who have been baptized over the past year.”
But engagement in church and relief work has been hazardous to the health of all too many Ukrainian Baptists, according to the update. “Reports of church members injured or killed loom heavy. A young leader from the EHB Transfiguration Church in Lviv was killed in combat. One pair of men from Poland, Marek and Oleg, were struck by a missile in their van as they were delivering aid close to the front line. Marek is still in critical condition in the hospital with shrapnel in his abdomen.”
Global assistance channeled through the Baptist Forum for Aid and Development, or BFAD, has exceeded $6 million, which does not include contributions from Baptist congregations, individuals and unions.
One project BFAD spearheaded with regional and global partners was to provide generators to help Ukrainians through the winter.
“We were worried about how we would heat the room in the winter since everything is heated with electricity, but the Lord answered our prayers through you,” a church in Dnipro, Ukraine, says in the federation report. “Now we use this generator almost every day because the light is turned off two-three times a day for four hours. But thank God and thanks to you, we have heat and light thanks to the generator.”
Generators also are part of the campaign by BFAD and its partners to help people in Syria and Turkey devastated by a 7.8 magnitude quake on Feb. 6, and a 6.3 magnitude quake on Feb. 20. The disasters killed more than 50,000, destroyed more than 160,000 buildings and displaced nearly 2 million people.
“In Syria, Baptists are able to offer morsels of hope where no hope could be found even prior to the earthquakes,” the federation report says. “They have been able to deliver hope through 6,200 blankets, 5,725 pullovers, 2,600 jackets, 7,035 food rations, 6,555 hygiene kits, and 6,800 diapers to those in need. Churches opened their doors from the beginning to support those in need and will continue to serve for the months to come as communities recover. The earthquakes have made the region even more unstable, and much support will be needed to help millions of vulnerable people.”
In Turkey, Baptist churches are distributing food, clothing, hygiene items, sleeping bags and rental support to displaced individuals and families.
“With good cooperation with local governments, Turkish Baptists will be able to distribute 150 generators to areas most affected by the quake,” the report says. “Pastor Ertan Cevik was able to visit Syria with a Red Crescent team to deliver food aid in areas that are difficult for governments and aid groups to reach due to the ongoing political strife.”
While support from German Baptist Aid has been crucial in the quake response effort, other unions have stepped up, the report says. “Hungarian Baptist Aid’s Rescue 24 rescue efforts were crucial in saving lives in Turkey, and the team continues to monitor the on-going situation and stands ready to respond to any further crises.”