Romanian Baptists Welcome Ukrainian Refugees — Romania shares a 613-kilometre border with Ukraine and since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, around 400,000 Ukraianins fleeing the war have arrived in the country. Many more are expected.
The Romanian Baptist Union, one of the largest Baptist Unions in the European Baptist Federation, immediately responded and set up a coordination team covering the entire country.
Helping to lead the response is Dr Oti Bunaciu, a member of the Executives of both the Romanian Baptist Union and the EBF, and also a Vice-President of the Baptist World Alliance. His own charity working with Roma children, Project Ruth, has found the extra capacity to receive and care for refugees. Oti has spoken of the way in which a core team of 14 regional coordinators across Romania came together quickly to ensure that after welcoming at the border, those coming from Ukraine can be sent onwards into the care of Romanian churches in other parts of the country.
EBF General Secretary, Alan Donaldson, visited Romania from 14-16 March, and has provided this reflection on the depth and quality of Romanian Baptist hospitality to those whom they think of as their ‘guests’ in this ongoing crisis:
I am overwhelmed with the depth of pastoral care being shown to thousands of Ukrainian guests arriving in Ukraine by local Baptist Churches. For the last two weeks and for the foreseeable future the Romanian Baptists are providing a 24/7 service of care and compassion for guests fleeing the war in Ukraine."
The phone of my host never stops. Our car has broken down, can you help us get the spare part? We have a flat tyre, can you help us? All I need is a bathrobe and a place to stay, can you provide a bathrobe? Can you help me get documents to travel to Israel? My father has Alzheimer’s, can you provide specialist care? My friends are all in wheelchairs, can you provide transport? To all these questions and many more, the answer was always, yes! Time after time the Romanian Baptists showed compassion for the individual in the crowd.
It reminds me of Jesus who feels the particular touch of one woman in the crowd or notices Zaccheus in the branches of a tree. Each guest is noticed and greeted despite the huge pressure the volunteers are under.
The attention to detail given by the hosts reflects deep compassion and empathy for those who are suffering greatly. Pastoral listeners are available to hear the tragic and emotional stories of suffering loss within Ukraine. Romanian men go out of their way to ensure the emotional security of the woman and children that they transport around the country. Safeguarding and respect are a priority for the hosts, especially in a context where almost all guests are vulnerable women and children.
The service of Romanian Baptists towards their Ukrainian guests is very similar to the service you would expect from Airbnb or Uber. Each church has a fleet of drivers, cars and vans available. Each has a number of beds in churches and home hosts ready to be used. As a new guest arrives and an old guest moves on, the arrangements are made for transport from the border or the city to the right place for that particular family. One church even has a series of QR codes to register guest arrivals, departures and needs. They are bedding in for the long haul and want to ensure that they do their best for each and every person.
In faith, Romanian Baptists sow their mustard seed. They give their homes, their vehicles, their food and then they give money so that aid can be taken from Romania across the border into Ukraine. As they do all this one Ukrainian family tells another of the help they have received and so more and more people call them on the phone to ensure a place of safety when they cross the border. Each night 4,000 Ukrainian people stay as guests of Romanian Baptists. Every day they experience the pastoral care of listening, enabling and fulfilment of simple but specific needs. They experience the dignity of being loved and treated as a unique individual made in the image of God.
In a conversation with Alan Donaldson at the Ukrainian border, Romanian Baptist Pastor Catalin Croitor spoke of the motivation of Romanian Baptists to help their Ukrainian brothers and sisters, “The Bible reminds us that it is far better to give help rather than be helped. So for us, it is a blessing, an opportunity. We offer this help to all our brothers and sisters, not only believers… And as they come here they find peace and hospitality”.