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Unexpected Guests

There are few places in the world where you could go on a Sunday morning and hear a sermon translated from Serbian to Spanish, Russian, and Chinese. And yet, that is the reality that Baptists from the Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia find themselves in as unexpected guests have arrived in their churches. Regardless of language, they are sharing Christ’s love to those who they encounter. 


Serbian church and refugees 1

The Knock-On Effects of War

While we continue to highlight the experiences of Ukrainians who have been displaced by the war in their nation, many people of other nationalities have found their lives disrupted by the conflict. As the geopolitics of the conflict have split nations into one side or the other, those on the “other side” are often forgotten. Serbians have experienced living through the complications of a complex geopolitical war in the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s and know what it is like to be unwillingly brought into conflict because of their country’s political stances. Now, 30 years later they are perfectly placed to minister to those who are on the “other side” of our current geopolitical climate.


Soon after Russian forces invaded Ukraine, people began arriving in Serbia just as in other countries around Ukraine. Some Ukrainians came, but consistently Russians and Belarussians have arrived in Serbia seeking relief from involvement in the conflict. The first wave that arrived in Serbia were families who were relocated when IT companies left Russia to keep access to global markets. Most families were faced with the choice of moving or losing their jobs. Later as the war progressed, many men arrived alone in Serbia seeking to avoid conscription into the army or involvement in the war. Other Russians have trickled in, some being kicked out of EU countries and others leaving unsure of their future at home and seeking new opportunities. There are roughly 500,000 Russians who have come to Serbia since the war started. 


From even further afield, Cubans and Chinese people have come to Serbia. The Chinese people that Baptists have interacted with are mostly persecuted Christians who fled China to be able to practise their faith. Many had been jailed multiple times before they left and made their way to Serbia. Cuba, one of the most politically isolated countries in the world, is experiencing widespread shortages of fuel, food, and medical supplies. Cubans are increasingly coming to Serbia to escape the hardship. Serbia is one of few places people from all of these contexts can easily travel to, with some hoping they might be able to later enter into the neighbouring EU countries.


Prepared to Serve

Ministering to those who have left their homes and who are in need is not a new phenomenon for Baptists in Serbia. During the Yugoslav wars and in the years following they ministered to those who had been displaced through the Serbian Baptist humanitarian ministry Bread of Life. They continued to serve Roma people and the elderly in need after the war and responded to the floods in 2014. Though Baptists have experienced persecution in Serbia as a minority in the Serbian Orthodox context, their dedicated humanitarian aid work has built trust within their communities, both with local authorities and those in need. Their faithful work has situated them perfectly to respond to the needs of those who are displaced. 


Though most people that Serbian Baptists serve are not direct victims of war and have not experienced violence themselves, their needs and experiences of displacement are remarkably similar to those who have fled for those reasons. Many came to Serbia against their own choice and are now left in limbo on how they should continue to live. Most are separated from loved ones or spouses without opportunities to have in person connection. They are in great economic need and have struggled to find housing. All have experienced the destabilisation of uprooting their lives and looking for a new place to find belonging.  


Serbia church and refugees 2

Abundant in Hospitality

Baptists have been reaching out in a variety of ways to address the needs of those who are now in Serbia. They have financially supported some through grocery assistance and have provided some temporary housing to those who have just arrived. Through the network of churches, they have reached out to those who have moved across the country looking for stability. And they have worked to address spiritual and mental needs, trying to provide services and Bible studies in Spanish, Chinese, and Russian. Through pastoral care and community events, Baptists are faithfully showing Christ to their neighbours, no matter what nation they are from. Some Russian speakers have expressed their deep gratitude to Baptists for providing a place where they can feel welcomed, at peace, and have their experiences heard. 


Remarkably, Baptists in Serbia are not sharing their hospitality out of an abundance. A significant proportion of members of Baptist churches of the Union of Baptist Churches in Serbia are in high need, either with special needs, elderly, or living on the poverty line. When a partner recently visited projects in Serbia, he expected to be faced with the reality of this poverty, and yet he was amazed by the warm and abundant welcome that he faced, remarking,

“You all are rich in hospitality.”

Their witness of hospitality speaks volumes of Christ’s work among the Serbian Baptists. 


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