Mardie and I arrived in Bucharest a week ago. We’re staying at an Airbnb just 250 steps away from a Ukrainian Refugee Center, housed in one of the largest Baptist Churches in the city. At Cristi’s initiative, our lead pastor of the International Church, this network of seven city churches have called themselves UBC 22 (Ukraine Bucharest Churches 2022).
Earlier this week we toured the Center with Vera, long-term member of our International Church, Ukrainian by birth, who is working as the communication and translation coordinator. Various people were scurrying about the property. Construction workers were building shelves, tables, carrying supplies, others were finishing the bed frames so the mattresses could be moved off the floor - often 15 to 20 in a room. Women were sorting clothing and supplies or preparing the lunch meal at outdoor serving stations.
The decisions are different now. Initially, it was crazy. Olya, Vera’s sister, says, “At first, I couldn’t sleep. My work colleagues gave me four days off work and then did much of the work on my desk so I could answer phone calls. People were frantic to leave the Ukraine, to figure out how they could leave, which border was open, which border had now closed. Often, they would change their minds many times and new arrangements had to be made.”
People arrived by the scores to the center. At one point, mattresses were spread across the altar and down the aisles of the sanctuary. People needed an immediate place to sleep for a few days, a time to orientate themselves, to recover from the trauma from which they had fled. They hoped it would be over soon and they could return to their homes by Easter or soon after.
Now, the reality of the war has settled in with its ongoing length of time, the totality of destruction of homes and the infrastructure that will take years to rebuild. Workers are tired from the high adrenaline of the war. Now, the decisions for those displaced have become: shall I put my children in school, where do I learn the language, what kind of work can I get, where and how do I rent and pay for an apartment?
A day after we arrived, I attended the prayer and worship gathering at the International Church. I watched as young 10-year-old, Bogdan, tried to wipe the tears from his mother’s eyes as she sat crying during the worship moments. Other women from Ukraine were also weeping, it was a powerful moment!
On Sunday evening during the Ukrainian gathering, Pastor Cristi spoke to me of a Ukrainian lady who was present, who has been attending the church since the beginning of the war. When she first got off the train in Bucharest, she was afraid to even go into a building for fear of it being bombed. Now she has recovered, she has been restored, and is no longer afraid. Our Lord’s presence and the support of the community around her, has healed her.
Please take a moment to listen to the 3-minute video where I speak with Vera Katsel about the impact of the war on her life as the 10-12 van convoy prepares to head for another Ukrainian crossing.