Stories from one church in Romania discovering the gift of becoming a place of refuge for Ukrainians.
Across the EBF region, hundreds of Baptist churches are changing as they welcome those fleeing from Ukraine. Some have welcomed a few, while others, especially those in Ukraine’s neighbouring countries, have transformed into dual-language congregations almost overnight. One such church is Biserica Baptist Church in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Below are excerpts from an update from the church on how their church has changed over the last months.
Everyone that comes to the city of Refuge brings their own personal experience– dramatic stories and trauma. When the Church becomes a city of refuge, things change and we become a place of comfort, healing and transformation. This was our experience as a church in the last couple of months, receiving our refugee brothers and sisters from Ukraine. We did our best to be a blessing to them and we experienced God’s blessings abundantly.
Jesus' special visit to us
On February 24 when the war in Ukraine started, we did not get the details of God’s plan. We simply realised that Jesus will pay a visit to us in a new special way and we should be ready to host. With that in mind, we had our shortest but most fruitful church board meeting – we opened everything we had as a church for Ukraine refugees, including church facilities, campsite and church apartment, plus our full support. A refugee team was appointed and an action plan and structure were settled the next day. We wondered how we could provide for all possible needs. God responded in just a few days and the church offering next Sunday was beyond any expectation. We were overwhelmed by the high number of people that opened their houses to host Ukrainian families, and volunteered to provide clothes, food, transportation, translation or donate to this cause. We basically experienced God’s provision to start fulfilling His plans.
The Ukrainian community in our Church
We assisted over 300 Ukrainian Refugees since the war started. Some of them were brought by us by bus from South of Moldova. For some others, we drove to the border to meet them. Some others contacted us by Telegram, Viber or simply called us. We hosted some of them for a night or two, some for a week. We heard from one lady that was in transit to Italy ‘I NEVER experienced so much love in all my life. We want to be part of such a church, so please help us find one like yours in Italy.’
Many Ukrainians were interested in staying here in our Church and being hosted by our families to wait for the war to stop and then return to Ukraine. Over the last month, we had an average of 90-100 refugees that decided to stay. Currently, we host 87 Ukrainians, of which 49 are Children. They are much more than just numbers, they have become a community, a community of faith. We learned we may do a lot for them, but the best will be to help them become a community. God sent here two pastors - Ivan and Oleg - from Dnieper and Cherkasy and Roman, a great evangelist from Mariupol. After that, we got three Sunday School Teachers (Iryna, one of them is the National Leader of the Children Ministry in Ukraine). After that, we welcomed the Tutkyevich family - a whole professional musical family from Odessa.
So, our Church worship is now Romanian and Ukrainian, not only as a translation but also as input - Ukrainians are now a constant part of Church services - songs, messages, prayers and Ukrainian Classes in Sunday School for Children. Now Roman and his team already shared the Gospel with over 100 Ukrainians in the City Canteen where a lot of unchurched Ukrainians go. They were also distributing Bibles, and Bible literature and some of the people he met, visited our church.
The church continues to reach out in a myriad of ways including hosting refugees in homes, providing food, and transportation, providing spiritual and emotional support, aiding in legal and registration support, job placement help, medical assistance, coordinating humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and a children’s ministry in Ukrainian.
Creative workshop for Children
We are so blessed to have over 49 Ukrainian children in our community, along with their families. We tried to hear their voices and understand their prayers and needs. Art is a good way to communicate in a trauma environment and so we helped them paint. Iurie Cojocaru, one of the best Christian Artists in Cluj, led us on this journey to Ukrainian kids' hearts. It has been impressive to see great gifts but even more touching to see their prayers on canvas. ‘May the Lord have mercy on Ukraine,’ ‘God loves us very much,’ ‘Peace for Ukraine,’ ‘May the Lord protect Ukraine.’ Simple but meaningful prayers through art. Marina, one adopted girl from Odesa drew ‘Ruins through my window’ and one small girl from Mariupol painted ‘My house.’ A few hours later they found out their apartment building was bombed again and is now a ruin. She and her family have no home to return back to Ukraine.
All this experience helped us hear children's hearts cry and see their hopes revived. It helped the parents discover the treasures in their kids. It has been a special moment that was a step in healing for kids and parents. We had a couple of hours when time stopped and joy refilled everyone. All artworks together built the image of a dove, the most suggestive symbol of the peace that the world and especially Ukraine are starving for.