On May 18-19, Baptist leaders from Ukraine, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova gathered together in Vienna to pray, strategise, and discover the common threads of how God is moving across difficult circumstances. EBF brought together the leaders to provide a time for critical reflection and fellowship in the midst of such challenges.
At the outset of the war, Baptist unions in and around Ukraine sprang into action to respond to the needs of those displaced because of the war. Baptists remain at the centre of this work, continuing to sustain humanitarian aid and hospitality efforts across the region. However, four months into the war, the dynamics are changing, especially in the countries bordering Ukraine.
Leaders along the border recounted similar stories in each context: How did churches shut down all activities to house and care for refugees on the move. How church members pooled their resources to buy needed goods for those displaced. How many churches are now dual-language congregations in Ukrainian and the local language (in fact Ukrainian congregations are now some of the largest Baptist churches in bordering countries). They praised their members and pastors for their sacrificial service in such a time of crisis.
Yet, other stories surfaced about the cost of such intense hospitality. Some members in local churches are feeling neglected as many pastors' time goes to the great needs of their newest congregants and neighbours. Others are wondering if their summer ministry facilities, which across the east are almost all housing refugees, will be open to minister to the young people of their unions, some of who have not gathered together for years because of the pandemic. While compassionate to the plight of Ukrainians, many wonder what will happen to the mission to local populations.
In other communities, refugees have already left, either toward further destinations or back into the west of Ukraine, leaving churches that were a hub of mission and solidarity only weeks ago practically silent now. Many unions are beginning to think about aiding in rebuilding efforts across the border in Ukraine. While the world may be ready to move on, the war continues and Baptists in Ukraine continue to respond to the same repeated needs of thousands.
In Ukraine, it is difficult to think about rebuilding, where the immediate needs continue to be so great. Their focus is only on giving temporary materials to protect from rain and wind damage. This is characteristic of all of their work – bandages to keep the country alive in the midst of war. In many regions, the daily reality has been the same since Russia's invasion or has only become progressively worse as the weeks drag on. Leaders at the meeting spoke of the dichotomy of modern war – war-torn towns have gadgets, but no food or water. Many families are questioning whether or not they should have children and in what context they would raise those children.
Leaders also asked critical questions about what peace realistically looks like after the damage of the past four months (and the eight years before that). Prayer life has come into sharper focus as Baptists are asking, what are we praying for when we pray for peace? What are we praying for when we pray for hope? Further, as the war has sharpened the divide of national identities, leaders are contemplating the intersection of national identity and identity in Christ. Many are asking, how to be a people that lives out the truth of "one faith, one hope, one Baptism" in the midst of so much suffering.
The Baptist family in Eastern and Central Europe and around the world will continue to wrestle with the increasingly complex and interconnected problems of the war in Ukraine and the aftermath that will come from sustained conflict and international tension. Our Baptist brothers and sisters remain grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support and trust that we will continue to walk with them through the pain, joy, and challenges of the months to come.