Alan Donaldson, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, visited Polish Baptists 1 March - 3 March to see firsthand the Kingdom work they are doing as they respond to the crisis in Ukraine.
“In Poland, you feel the breath of this war”. The voices of the Polish people cry out for freedom for Ukraine. The repeated conversation is that freedom for Ukraine is freedom for all. The border transactions are of women and children arriving from Ukraine whilst Ukrainian men gather at the Polish border ready to cross in buses to join the army. The tension of the unfolding neighbouring war fills the borderlands.
Meanwhile, the local Baptist church in Chelm is filled with life. It is not tension that you feel as you enter the building but life, peace and joy. Children laugh and play while mothers prepare for onward journeys. The church piano plays a variety of tunes, none of the hymns, as the children practise their piano lessons.
Pews are in the pulpit and beds fill the sanctuary, the balcony and every available space. Ukrainian and Polish families work side by side, making food, receiving donations and cleaning the toilets. The laundry vibrates as the three new washing machines continue their endless 24-hour cycle. The supply rooms are full of children excitedly selecting new clothes and discovering new toys that have been donated. The kitchen supplies a constant flow of soup, snacks and familiar hot meals for those arriving and packed lunches for those departing. It is hard to believe that this refugee centre, serving 400 people a day was a church wondering what to do with all the space it had. As the pastor comments, “Never before have we seen such life in the church”.
Within 24 hours the 400 guests are moving. German Mennonites arrive with cars in the middle of the night and 25 people are again on the move. As morning breaks hundreds begin to move on in their own vehicles as they fan out across Europe. The Polish Baptist ministers make calls and a transport arrives to take one family to their Warsaw seminary where they can stay for a week or so. The summer camp centre will be ready in a few days when extra heating has been added and 80 more families will have a home for 10 days to make longer-term plans.
The church's Wi-Fi strains as Facebook becomes the friend of the refugee. Needs are shared and local hotels arrive with clean linen for the beds, food for the evening meal and people connect with other centres for their onward journey.
Yet every so often you see in the corner of the room a face staring deep into space. A mind lost in worry and fear. A church member approaches and stops for a while listening intently, gently questioning and quietly blessing. The busyness has not left the room but in that space, there is privacy, intimacy and deep emotion. At that moment the gospel message is simply that you are noticed in the crowd. The good news is to be listened to, to be prayed with, to be understood and to experience the presence of the one who feels the gentle touch of the women in the crowd who is in need of healing.