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A Conversation with UMC Clergy Serving Churches in Ukraine

Saturday, September 10th started early! To join clergy and laity from Ukraine, Europe, and the United States for those of us in the West meant 6:00 AM. An infinite blessing at 6:00 AM.

Bishop Christian Alsted opened our time together on ZOOM. He shared, “…hope for those who have nothing to return to, and a Hope that is in Jesus Christ. It was a theme that recurred again and again throughout the two hours together.

The meeting was a sharing from multiple clergy serving in Ukraine. Again and again, I was struck by their spirit and courage – I know my words here will never do justice to their faith presence to me, to other allies, and obviously, to the people they are serving. People who literally have lost everything but the clothes on their backs and each other. Elderly people who can’t, or won’t, leave their cities – or what’s left of them. People who care for those elderly and won’t leave them behind. People who stay with pure hearts in the country, their country, that they love.

The clergy shared with us the difficulties of those first months. No one, including clergy, had previous experience in this level of the relief effort. The toll is both mental and physical. The understanding of war is now an education that happens daily. Seeing the fear in people’s eyes, how to respond, how to give hope. They cannot assure people that they’ll be able to return home when not only is their home gone, their cities, in many cases, are simply gone too.

Can you imagine? For one moment, can you place yourself there?

How to answer the question – why did God let this happen? A question the clergy hears again and again.

Remembering the beauty of many Ukrainian cities, now decimated by Russian bombs and bullets, the churches are serving as refugee centers. As we met on this, the 199th day of war, there is so much loss, yet they are not breaking down under the weight of such a mighty enemy. While some are fighting on the front line, others, such as the churches are helping in the back. A place to stay, food, humanitarian aid, and spiritual support – the running theme among the clergy. Sheltering refugees was and is, paramount. Clergy are sacrificing their lives and time to do this. Many are serving where the fighting is still going on – they can hear the fighting, see the fighting.

These ongoing days and nights like nothing we have ever known… here.

Sunday services bring strangers among their midst. Many people “entering a Protestant church for the first time.” Churches who are providing programming, besides what has already been mentioned, such as children’s activities, sports, celebrations of birthdays – the kinds of activities we are used to. Serving the people with the war… just beyond. They pack boxes of food to transport to needed areas, sometimes within close proximity to battle. They’re helping with transportation to neighboring countries for those who seek that kind of assistance.

I learned that there are basically four areas that all the churches are trying to respond to: general work with refugees, housing & clothing, boxes of food, and shelter outside of Ukraine. But also – providing schooling for children and streaming worship services when possible. Being… the church. These, my friends, are our family and the very best of our Christian family.

Of course, they are asking for our continued prayers and support. One of the needed prayers was “that this won’t last much longer.”

Medicines are needed for hospitals. The churches are trying to help with that. How to help people when all communications are destroyed; the churches are trying to help with that. What about the upcoming winter? The cold, the lack of food, warm clothing, possibly heat – even adequate shelter – and for how many people by the time winter arrives? All the same wartime problems but magnified by temperatures that can go as low as the freezing mark or less, daily.

The clergy talked about all of these things, including the very foundation of life that has been destroyed for so many. And yet…

They didn’t cry. They were not despondent. Serious, but not broken. Courageous. They declared that God is the “best assistant.” They know that the needs will be long-term, including many months, likely years, once the war ends. They asked for us to pray “that our country will be free and released.” As they noted, at some point, “life will have to start again.”

We are beyond grateful that one of our Desert Southwest Conference clergy, Rev. Mel Munchinsky, leads the effort for Mission Together Ukraine. The Conference-wide Day of Prayer for Ukraine is on November 6, 2022. I hope you and your church will participate. If you would like to help financially, an Advance has been established specifically to Ukraine: #14053A. These dollars can be accessed by the Ukraine UMC clergy and directed to help raise and recover the local economy.

The link is: https://umcmission.org/advance-project/14053a/.

Photos of Ukraine

 

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About the author

Billie K. Fidlin

Billie K. Fidlin is the Director of Outreach & Justice for the Desert Southwest Conference. She is a graduate of Western Michigan University and attended Claremont School of Theology for religious studies. Ms. Fidlin currently serves as the President of the Arizona Faith Network in her second term. She is President & Founder of Whisper n Thunder Inc., and sits on various boards including the Justa Center and the Phoenix Police Department's Faith Advisory Council. Her awards include the UM Foundation for Evangelism 2004 Distinguished Evangelist; 2016 Church Women United / United Nations Human Rights Award; 2018 Servant Leader Award AZ Faith Network; 2022 Southern Poverty Law Center Certificate of Recognition; and 2022-23 Class of Who's Who in America.

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