Methodists in countries bordering Ukraine are opening their churches and homes to give refugees a safe place to stay, temporarily or longer.
"It was rather a given that in light of the attacks and horrific events happening in our neighboring country, we as a church community would respond in whatever ways we could," wrote Rares Calugar, Superintendent of the UMC in Romania. What he formulates for his region applies to Methodists in the countries bordering Ukraine in general.
Urs Schweizer, the assistant to Bishop Patrick Streiff, who is responsible for the area, serves as coordinator and reports on the involvement of the UMC in the individual countries. "Contacts have existed for a long time between the UMC in eastern Slovakia and western Ukraine, and these are now being used to help the people in Ukraine with money and donations in kind," said Schweizer, describing the situation in Slovakia. Traveling to Ukraine and back is difficult, however, because even for people with Slovakian citizenship the waiting time at the border can be up to two days. In Bratislava and Michalovce, the first refugees are accommodated in the church buildings. They are also provided with food and hygiene items.
Similarly, in Bulgaria, UMC congregations are opening their churches and houses to refugees who need temporary shelter. Although Bulgaria does not border directly on Ukraine, according to Methodist Superintendent Daniel Topalski there is also a Ukrainian community there, which is not small in number. This community helps friends and relatives who have left Ukraine.
At Przemysl UMC in Poland, about 16 km from the border, there have been contacts with Ukraine for many years. The UMC Church Council in Poland is currently looking into how the church's premises can be adapted and improved as soon as possible to accommodate refugees. "These rooms would most likely only serve as temporary housing," Schweizer says, "since most refugees want to move on to the West."
Describing the involvement of the UMC in his country, Polish District Superintendent Slawomir Rodaszynski wrote in an email. "Many United Methodist congregations open their buildings and chapels to refugees from Ukraine. We offer warm places, food, water, hot drinks and help." The UMC in Warsaw, for example, is currently hosting about 20 refugees, he said. "We buy warm clothes and shoes, especially for children." In addition, the refugees are provided with meals.
Aid has also begun in Hungary and Romania. In Romania, Methodists are not only offering temporary shelter. They are also working to find housing for refugees who do not know where to go. "As many families are fleeing without the father figure of the family, this process allows for them to find a place to stay with confidence of credibility," wrote Superintendent Rares Calugar. They can get to know the people of the UMC and then move into a family long-term solution. "It allows for them to feel as safe as possible through the process."
Methodist organizations in Europe and the USA are collecting donations to ensure this help continues in the longer term. "In the bishop's office in Zurich, we try to coordinate relief efforts in the different countries in the sense that we provide the responsible church leaders with the resources they need," Schweizer said.
"We know that the needs will continue to shift and change as new families join us over the coming days and weeks," wrote Superintendent Rares Calugar, "but we are ready to lean into the Spirit and provide where we can, connect to other support where needed, and work together to be a space of refuge, safety, and healing."
Author: Sigmar Friedrich, Zurich