CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- What’s the best way to help the people of Ukraine? For United Methodists who have developed mission friendships in countries such as Romania and the Czech Republic, the answer is obvious.
Knowing their friends are already housing refugees and driving critical supplies to the besieged country, some Holston Conference members are aiding the people of Ukraine by helping United Methodist pastors and churches they know personally in central Europe.
“We really consider these guys to be family,” said the Rev. Barry Kidwell, a Chattanooga, Tennessee, pastor who has led mission trips to Romania since 2009. “They need our support, and we need to realize: This war is not going away, and we have Methodists on the front lines already.”
More than 3.2 million refugees have left Ukraine since Russia started its invasion of the country on Feb. 24, according to the UNHCR: the United Nations Refugee Agency. Although most have fled to Poland, other European nations are also aiding families and individuals.
The Three Rivers District of Holston Conference has been sending mission teams to the Czech Republic since 2006, as well as hosting Czech teams in Tennessee. When Betty Yeomans-Barton learned her Czech friends were already receiving refugees, she sent out a notice last week to Three Rivers District churches about the need for financial help.
Since then, the Three Rivers District office has received $1,000 in donations earmarked for the Czech District of the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe, and more is coming, Yeomans-Barton said. Munsey Memorial United Methodist Church in Johnson City, Tennessee, was one of the first to designate its upcoming Easter offering for their district’s Czech partners.
“Bottom line, it was those personal relationships we built through our district partnership that makes it easier to help Ukraine,” said Yeomans-Barton, Three Rivers District administrative assistant.
In Romania, about 50 families and 30 orphans were being cared for by United Methodist churches and mission centers last week in the Central Conference of Central and Southern Europe. Kidwell said his ministry sent $8,400 in aid to Romania, and more money from individual donors is on the way.
Kidwell is founder and director of Mustard Tree Ministries, an outreach for people without homes in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Kidwell is also an associate pastor at First-Centenary United Methodist Church. Over the last 13 years, Kidwell befriended Romania’s three United Methodist pastors over 20 mission trips, participating in their ministries serving the poor.
Some of the funds sent by Mustard Tree Ministries this month were used for food and medical supplies that were driven in a van from Romania to Ukraine. The driver of the van was the Rev. Samuel Goia, pastor of two United Methodist churches in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Goia drove 200 miles to deliver the supplies to the Rev. Oleg Starodubets, a United Methodist district superintendent in Ukraine.
“Samuel called me on his way back from Ukraine,” Kidwell says. “It was 1 a.m. where he was, and he was tired and needed someone to talk to, to keep him awake.”
First-Centenary United Methodist Church has already taken one $6,000 offering to support partners in Romania helping refugees and orphans from Ukraine. The church plans to take additional offerings, including on Easter Sunday, to send to both Romania and UMCOR, said the Rev. Will Lauderback, minister of teaching and contemporary worship.
Lauderback, who has participated on two mission trips to Romania, said First-Centenary partnered with Mustard Tree to fund construction of a United Methodist church in the village of Comșești in Cluj-Napoca in 2019.
“We know UMCOR will be there over the long term, but we also will send support to our partners in Romania who we know are already helping the refugees,” Lauderback said.
In the Czech District, the Rev. Jana Krizova, missions coordinator, said several of the 22 United Methodist churches in the nation are caring for Ukrainian families in churches, homes, and Christian aid centers, providing food, child care, clothing and shelter. While preparing for many more refugees who will be passing through or seeking more permanent shelter, United Methodists in Czechia are locating and upgrading additional space in parsonages, apartments and church attics, she said.
Agape United Methodist Church, the Russian-speaking congregation in Prague, is stepping up in a big way, working with other churches to load a van with supplies, which they drive to Ukraine every Thursday.
“Eighty percent of the Russian congregation is Ukrainian,” she explained. “This is their activity because they have friends in Ukraine.”
Three church members take turns driving the van through Slovakia and Hungary to the Hungarian-Ukrainian border. They give the shipment to a Christian pastor who takes most of the supplies to parts of Ukraine where Russian forces have done the most damage and where the need is highest -- “where people are starving,” Krizova said.
As they aid their neighbors, Czech natives, especially those who are older, are reminded of the 1968 Soviet-led invasion of their own country, Krizova said.
“We need to support Ukraine because their struggle is actually ours,” she said. “We admire them and pray for a miracle and we pray for, yes, for peace. There are too many people suffering there already. We also pray for some peaceful arrangement that will last.”
In Romania, Goia asked for prayers as well as financial aid to continue helping those who are fleeing war in Ukraine.
“The way I see it is that we can be co-workers in this,” Goia said. “… You can support or help us with prayers and financial support so that we can provide accommodation, food and all their needs until they find out what they will do from now on.”
How to help
Give to Czech Republic in Mission Together, Advance #00399A
Give to UMCOR International Response and Recovery, Advance #982540
Give to Eurasia in Mission Together: Ukraine and Moldova, Advance #10453A
For more information about giving, see FAQ: The Crisis in Ukraine.
Annette Spence is editor of The Call, the Holston Conference newsletter.
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