More than 150 days of war in Ukraine have transformed Baptist congregations into much more than houses of worship.
“Baptists have become centers for food, shelter, electricity and water. Equally importantly, Baptist churches are centers of respite and psycho-social care, where people continue to come for fellowship even after food distribution programs have ended,” the European Baptist Federation said in its latest report on the condition and operation of churches in Ukraine and surrounding nations.
The federation also reported that international contributions continue to support Baptist associations and ministries serving internally displaced Ukrainians and those who have fled the country since Russia’s February invasion. The United Nations estimates 7 million people are displaced and 5 million have left for refuge in other countries.
Since the beginning of the war, more than 4 million Euros have “poured in from around the world in a powerful and unprecedented show of solidarity. In reality, the amount is significantly higher as 4 million only encapsulates what has come directly to the EBF response and does not take into account the millions more given directly to efforts by Baptist unions, churches and individuals,” EBF reported. “This has allowed Baptists on the front lines to distribute tons of food, house thousands, and provided the fuel to transport hundreds to safety.”
The federation also reported that ministers and congregations in Ukraine have continued, when conditions permit, to provide worship services, fellowship and pastoral care.
“Churches continue to celebrate baptisms every week. In the Kharkiv ‘Blagovistya’ Church, seven new members were recently baptized. This is the third baptism of new believers in a church that is only one and a half years old.”
A Baptist church in Rivne, Ukraine, recently hosted a camp attended by more than 450 children ages 5 to 16. The youth came from more than eight cities in the region, including Kyiv, Luhansk and Donetsk.
“It was a time of respite where the children could breathe amidst the hardships they face every day,” the report explained. “Also, an integral part of the camp was chatting with parents who could share their pain, reflect on God’s word and unwind with a cup of coffee and snacks in a pleasant atmosphere.”
Pastoral care also has been provided to Ukrainians who have returned to communities recently liberated from Russian forces, the federation said.
“In areas recaptured by Ukraine, some have returned to survey the damage to their cities and homes. Those returning don’t know whether they will find a few broken windows or a pile of rubble. Some churches are already seeking temporary repair supplies to fix buildings, but immensely more will be needed, even just for temporary repairs before winter comes.”
Where and when they can, congregations have continued to operate logistical hubs providing food and other supplies to neighbors, communities and entire regions. One congregation, the Evangelical Baptist Brotherhood Church, has served as a distribution site for the UN World Food Program, distributing more than 2,700 tons of food, EBF said.
“This is in addition to the 4,486 tons of food and other aid they distributed through support of the Ukrainian Baptist Union. Churches in these areas continue to act as beacons of hope, providing energy, food and water to those in need where resources are extremely limited.”
Meanwhile, Baptists in neighboring countries have remained dedicated to welcoming refugees into their homes and churches. “Ukrainians have been incorporated into church services and summer activities. Baptist churches continue to house, feed and help displaced Ukrainian people with registration paperwork as well as provide psycho-social support. Local churches and unions continue to respond in the ever-changing contexts.”
Marsha Scipio, director of Baptist World Aid, said regional organizations also have made significant financial and logistical contributions throughout the crisis.
“I am so proud to say that our Baptist unions have been working tirelessly and sacrificially to touch the lives of these displaced persons,” Scipio said July 11 during the 2022 Baptist World Alliance annual gathering in Birmingham, Ala.
Igor Bandura, vice president of the Ukrainian Baptist Union, added during the gathering that the prayer and financial support of Baptist Christians worldwide have played a crucial role in helping Ukrainians endure the Russian onslaught.
“Without this bigger sense, this bigger reason, all the suffering is senseless and useless. So, this is why we continue to serve and why we continue to pray and why we need all our brothers and sisters to stay in solidarity with us. Because when we are fighting spiritually for Ukraine, we are fighting for freedom, dignity and freedom to preach the gospel.”