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Embracing Ukraine at the Baptist World Alliance

Central to the meeting of the Baptist family in Birmingham, Alabama 11-15 July for the Baptist World Alliance Annual Gathering was the unwavering support for the Baptists in Ukraine as they continue to minister amidst conflict. In a special forum dedicated to updates on the Baptist response to the war, key leaders recapped the extraordinary responses over the last 5 months, and looked forward to continuing to support our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

Since the beginning of the war, over €4 million has 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.

€ 1.5 million has already been distributed to the Baptist unions inside Ukraine and in the neighbouring countries to support their efforts to care for refugees and displaced peoples. This translates to tonnes of delivered food, hundreds of tanks of gas to transport people, and weeks’ worth of electricity to warm the churches housing those who have fled.

Leaders from EBF and BWA emphasised the human cost of the conflict and the impact that churches are having in this time of crisis. Marsha Scipio, Director of Baptist World Aid praised the churches of Ukraine and its neighbours for being the hands and feet of Christ, the Church in action outside the walls of the church.

Helle Liht, EBF Assistant General Secretary and Rachel Conway-Doel, BMS Team Leader for Relief, noted the importance of the impact of this conflict on individuals and families. Too often individuals get lost when the number of displaced peoples has reached over 14 million. Helle and Rachel recalled their trip to Lviv in April, where each person they interacted with told their own story of impact by the war. Despite the pain each person is facing, Baptists are continually choosing to transform the pain and heartbreak into a blessing for others.

Keynote speaker Igor Bandura, Vice President of the Ukrainian Baptist Union, made this clear as he shared his own perspectives on the war. For Ukrainians, this is not simply a war over land. It has morphed into a much more symbolic war, with their identity as a nation and the values they represent at stake. Yet despite the atrocities reported in their country, Ukrainian Baptists are responding with love and compassion.

In the first weeks of the war, Baptist churches led the national effort to support people on the move, offering accommodation, food and logistical support. It took weeks before the established churches in the country caught up with the efforts of Baptists. As areas in the east have lost access to infrastructure, Baptists have become centres for food, shelter, electricity, and water. Equally importantly, Baptist churches are centres of respite and psycho social care, where people continue to come for fellowship even after food distribution programmes have ended.

Bandura emphasised God's faithfulness even in these confusing and challenging times. Entire churches have left the country, yet the churches that remain are baptising new members every single week. He expressed uncertainty about what the future will hold as the war continues or when it ends. However he was certain that God would continue to use His Church in Ukraine to be witnesses to good news and restoration in the midst of destruction and despair.

While the response so far has been incredible, needs will continue to rise in the months to come, as the effects of war ripple out into the world. The millions displaced in and around Ukraine will have continued needs as they try and rebuild their lives. Rebuilding funds will need to greatly exceed the initial aid money that has been given.

The BWA forum also explored how the war has destabilised areas already suffering from challenges and current crises. Baptist leaders from Lebanon, Nepal, and Nigeria shared how the war was negatively impacting their contexts. From increased energy costs, shrinking grain supplies, access to medicine and medical training, the war is spotlighting how crucial Ukraine is to the global economy. Millions more will feel the pain of this conflict in the months and years to come. Further, as Russia and its allies have been cut off from the rest of the world, so too are Baptists in those contexts, facing their own struggles to continue ministering in volatile and challenging circumstances.

The consistent prayer expressed by leaders in the forum was that the unity displayed by the Baptist family in response to the war must continue. Baptists are proving to the world the magnitude of what is possible when they stand together. We pray that God will continue to embolden and encourage the Baptist family to be united in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.

You can read a resolution passed by the BWA General Council in Birmingham on the war in Ukraine here.


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