A First-Hand Account from Ukraine
By the Rt Revd Josep Rosello Ferrer
The Church without Walls
Things happen faster than we can conceive in our world. Decisions must be made in a heartbeat. It was such an event that prompted me to travel to Hungary and Ukraine. I was discussing with some friends when an opportunity presented itself. “Lord, are you suggesting I should go to Ukraine and Hungary?” I prayed. It was nearly midnight on Friday, and there was a strong sense of urgency. As a result, I wrote to my churchwardens, stating, “I believe I should visit Hungary and Ukraine. I believe it is what the Lord desires from me.” The response arrived in the morning, and they agreed with my decision that Christ Church Exmouth should send me.
I soon found myself arranging a flight for Sunday afternoon, arriving in Budapest at midnight and resting for a few hours before meeting up with my friends, Norbert and Leslie. They have been working in Hungary for five years, assisting Ukrainian refugees on the Hungarian border and welcoming them into safe refugees’ camps.
We drove nearly four hours to Hungary’s border with Ukraine. There, we meet with nine Ukrainian families, including nine children, who have special needs. They found a location for them to remain for the night before being transported to the final lodging thanks to a collaboration between the local administration and my friends. They were overjoyed to be in a secure place after a journey that took them 800 miles from the west of Ukraine to Hungary.
On the same day, I went to a refugee camp within a few minutes’ walk from the border. A wonderful local congregation was preparing to receive up to 100 refugees in the next days. They will primarily be gipsy Ukrainian refugees who have fled the fighting zone. It was a delight to watch so many folks with so little give so much. They were going above and beyond to ensure that Ukrainian migrants were welcomed and had all they needed.
Bethany Gateways missionaries Norbert and Leslie were able to raise funds to assist Hungarian churches in welcoming the refugees. The needs are more than we can understand, but their commitment to be there for people in need and to love them was a reflection of their love for God and for their neighbours. There are working with various evangelical denominations in Hungary and Ukraine.
During my time in the refugee camps, I met a group of interns from Bethany Global University in Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA), my former college. These young people assisted the local church by painting and cleaning the rooms where the refugees will be staying soon. The pastors prayed for one of the pupils who was not feeling well. It was an opportunity to observe the church at work.
On Tuesday, we returned to see the families with special needs. They were having difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings, and we were all tasked with assisting them. Many of those families had everything just a few weeks earlier, and now everything was in a suitcase. One of the young women told me that her fiancee was fighting on the front lines and that she was getting ready to enter university in September. Everything changes because of the war.
We travelled to Ukraine in the evening. The border crossing was difficult, but we were able to continue our journey to Mukachevo, where we met with a local pastor. He described how the city has welcomed almost 40,000 refugees from West Ukraine. We pray with him and for the church mission in this season.
Following that, we travelled to Uzhorod, which is close to the border with Slovakia. Where we bought food and other necessities, the church has become a refugee house. The evangelical churches are collaborating to bring housing, food, and the gospel to those who are leaving behind their previous lives. In this church, we were prayed together in three different languages (Hungarian, Ukrainian and English). There are multiple nations but only one church.
Even though they offered a place to stay over the night, we had to be back to Hungary. We travelled through the night.
On Wednesday, we visited the refugee camp and we spent time talking with gypsy refugees. Interestingly, many Ukrainian refugees speaks Hungarian, because their region used to be part of Hungary before the First World War.
Before I realised it, I was back in Budapest on Wednesday evening and flying back to England Thursday morning.
My visit has highlighted the urgent need for the church to respond to the challenges that lie ahead. The Lord has given us a great opportunity to advance His Kingdom in midst of so much suffering and tragedy. Many English families are eager to welcome Ukrainian migrants, which, to my surprise, was news to them, as many refugees did not have the UK in their radar.
As I write this, there is an opportunity for me to return to Ukraine and bring more food and other items, such as projectors, to share the Jesus video with the refugees. Please pray for the Church in Hungary and Ukraine, and if possible, assist us in helping Ukrainian refugees.
The Rt Revd Josep M. Rossello Ferrer is the Minister, at Christ Church, Exmouth and Bishop Guardian of the New Anglican Mission Society (NAMS).