When Russian troops invaded Ukraine in February of this year, Baptists on Mission began mobilizing immediately and had a team of volunteers from North Carolina on the ground serving in the region just weeks later.
Many volunteers on that initial team worked at a help center in Hungary along the Ukrainian border, welcoming and ministering to refugees as they fled their war-torn country. Others served in a warehouse in a different part of Hungary to pack donations of essential items that would be delivered to refugees. Both teams ministered to refugees living in temporary housing by providing prayer, worship services and ministry to children.
Wednesday, Aug. 24, marked six months since the start of Russia’s invasion, which ironically came on the 31st anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the former Soviet Union.
N.C. Baptist volunteers have been a constant presence in the region from the outset, and they will continue to minister and serve there as the war drags on with no apparent end in sight.
“We can’t forget about the Ukrainian people,” said Richard Brunson, executive director of N.C. Baptists on Mission. “The war is still going on, and we don’t know when it will end.”
Baptists on Mission have spearheaded efforts that have sent 51 teams totaling 426 volunteers to serve in the region to date. One team is there now, and another is scheduled to leave later this month. Baptists on Mission plans to send more teams in the future.
Since the beginning of the war, more than 1,000 people have expressed interest in going to serve through Baptist on Mission’s website.
“We’ve had a phenomenal response from North Carolina Baptists,” Brunson said. “We’re thankful for the way North Carolina Baptists have responded to the people in Ukraine by praying, giving and going. It’s been a huge encouragement to the Ukrainian people.”
Volunteers have served in Ukraine, Hungary, Moldova and Poland, ministering to refugees and internally displaced people in a variety of ways. Volunteers have helped sort, pack and distribute food and essential supplies, as well as provide medical and dental care.
Since May, several teams have served at the Baltata Ministry Center in Moldova, which houses anywhere from 150 to 300 refugees per week. The facility is owned and operated by the Moldova Baptist Union. During the day, volunteers have conducted children’s activities similar to Vacation Bible School and at night, they have taught English as a second language to adults.
Volunteers have also worked on other projects around the center, including light construction, painting, landscaping and yard work.
In Poland, several teams have assisted churches with feeding and organizing supplies for refugees, while providing a variety of ministry to women and children through Bible studies, sports camps, recreational activities and English as a second language classes.
In April, David Crabtree, longtime news anchor with WRAL-TV in Raleigh, N.C., traveled as an embedded reporter with a Baptists on Mission team that served in Poland and Ukraine. Crabtree provided regular reports on the team’s work at a church in Poland and delivering Bibles in Ukraine.
Later in April, Robert Hefner, pastor of Pleasant Garden Baptist Church in Pleasant Garden, N.C., joined a team that included Brunson, N.C. Baptist Executive Director Todd Unzicker, and other statewide pastors and ministry leaders on a trip to Hungary and Ukraine during Holy Week.
“We saw firsthand the many ways God has blessed the fruitful partnership of Baptists on Mission and Hungarian Baptist Aid in the region,” Hefner wrote in an article after the trip that primarily focused on what God taught him about prayer during that experience.
“God continues to teach me that the invitation to us to join Him in His work also means that we can in part be the very answers to our prayers,” Hefner wrote. “I know God wants each of us to pray. Baptists on Mission and our Eastern European partnerships can certainly use them. I’m convinced God wants us to give, as churches and individuals, to the continuing work there. I believe God is calling some of us to go and directly serve in the work.”
Earlier this month, a team from Hefner’s church traveled back to the region to minister and serve in Ukraine and Hungary as part of a weeklong mission trip.
Brunson said Baptists on Mission plans to send more teams to the region to serve between now and the end of the year. He added that talks are underway with Ukrainian Baptist leaders about a long-term partnership to help the country rebuild after the war is over.
When that will be, no one knows. But until then, N.C. Baptists will continue to serve in Ukraine and Eastern Europe offering help and hope in Jesus’ Name.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more about serving or supporting Baptists on Mission’s ongoing response in Ukraine, visit baptistsonmission.org/ukraine-crisis. To give to the North Carolina Missions Offering, which supports the work of Baptists on Mission as well as other ministries, visit ncmissionsoffering.org.