Alan Donaldson, EBF’s General Secretary, shares an update on how the war in Ukraine is affecting Baptists across the EBF region.
As the war in Ukraine passes into its eight-month, nations and Baptist Unions across the European Baptist Federation (EBF) region are dealing with the changes and challenges that the war has brought. The big question being asked in Europe right now is how long will neighbouring nations support Ukraine.
NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) allies say they will support Ukraine as long as it takes. Especially to build an air defence system after the last two weeks of aerial bombardment. Yet, as NATO nations supply Ukraine with armaments diminishing their own supplies, the question remains, how far NATO nations are willing to go to protect Ukraine?
A Lithuanian government minister recently said, “Ukrainians are fighting a battle for all of us - so we shall give them what they need.” This is the typical response of the Baltic states and Poland which continue to give proportionally more than other nations. A recent digital summit held in Tallinn, Estonia explored questions around protecting national digital infrastructure including submerged internet cables and pipelines. Significant work is being done to protect against cyber sabotage in the surrounding nations with a particular concern for soft targets like smart metres and internet browsers. Moldovan cyber security teams report an increase in cyber attacks of five-fold compared to the pre-invasion rates.
And winter is just around the corner.
There are fears not only in Ukraine but across Europe of low gas supplies, low fuel supplies, and attacks on electric power generators. Ukraine is already rationing energy with around 30% of its power station capacity disrupted. In recent days the vice president has asked that Ukrainians outside of the country not return this winter in order to conserve the electricity they have. There are fears that in Europe this winter other nations will also suffer significantly.
Fuel prices including household electricity and gas have increased significantly throughout the region. Families wear extra clothes in their homes to reduce the amount of power consumed. For most it will be nothing more than an inconvenience of switching off power, putting on an extra jumper, skipping a meal, or spending more time in public buildings. But those already vulnerable will suffer the most. The rising cost of living varies between 10% in the UK and 178% in Lebanon for 2022.
In the face of this energy crisis, the question of refugees continues to loom. Currently, Europe is housing 7.7 million refugees with 1.5 million residing in Poland alone. Moldova, Europe’s poorest country hosts the highest number of refugees per capita. Countries are wondering how long they will stay and where they will stay this winter, as many are still in temporary housing.
In the Netherlands there are political tensions around the housing of Ukrainians on luxury cruise ships, a temporary housing solution also used across the region from Scotland to Estonia. Leaders are faced with tough questions like, How can we afford to house Ukrainians but not increase benefits for the disabled by inflation?
Churches are asking similar questions, resembling the challenges that faced the early Church in Acts 6. Particularly Baptist leaders in the neighbouring countries ask, How do we balance ministries before the war with new ministries?
The very nature of Baptist Unions is changing. Currently, the largest Baptist churches in Poland are Ukrainian speaking. There are possibly more Ukrainian Baptists than Polish Baptists in the country right now. A significant number of Ukrainian Baptists are also present in the other neighbouring countries. How do you respond to that? How does that change the shape and ministry of the local churches?
There is a recognition that Unions need to deal with these circumstances carefully and get things right. This is no longer a temporary emergency response where we do our best with the resources and challenges we face. Churches are undergoing an existential change that will last, fundamentally changing the culture of the Church in the region.
It is also shaping future conversations within the EBF. The EBF staff team pivoted for the emergency response. Now we have to ask new questions about the long term. What will it look like for us to walk faithfully with our member bodies at a time of such great turmoil and stress?
When the EBF Council was asked to list the central issues for future exploration they included: Disaster response, Cultural / Societal / Demographic Change, Peacemaking / Reconciliation, Constant Change, and Capacity Building in Unions. These will be issues to face for many years to come.
Amidst all of these regional changes, we must also consider the situation faced by our Russian Baptist brothers and sisters and those living in Belarus. Right now in Belarus, there are a significant number of Russian troops participating in military exercises along with Belarusians. There is a great fear among the Belarus public that they will be forced into the war by Russia.
Russian Baptists are suffering under sanctions. They suffer financial loss as well as the loss of relationships. They have chosen to be very cautious about what they are condemning publicly but have recently restated their pacifist views in an act of resistance relating to possible forced conscription.
As a nation and a Church Russians are currently experiencing a migration of their own. Many of the younger generations are leaving for Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Serbia, and Armenia leading to a significant brain drain in the country. It is reported that there are hotels in Georgia where Russian companies have relocated young tech-savvy staff and their families to work and live in the community attempting to salvage the industry struck by sanctions.
Churches in these nations seek to welcome and give support to those in need who have been forced into migration, yet the presence of so many Russians is leading to questions such as: What should welcome look like? Is welcoming a threat to long-term safety? Will Putin come to protect these Russian citizens in the future as he claims to protect the Russians in Ukraine today?
Though Ukraine continues to bear the brunt of the challenges, trauma, and damage from Russia’s war, the war is drastically affecting the whole region. More and more nations are being drawn into the increasingly complex war response. EBF, along with nearly every Baptist Union and Convention in the region, continues to faithfully and prayerfully wrestle with these questions, seeking to discern “what the Lord requires of us” in these challenging times.