Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Lutheran Disaster Response

European fuel shortage: Refugees and hosts face a challenging winter

“Energy blackmail”

The European Union is a world leader when it comes to replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy. The World Economic Forum reported early in 2022 that the EU had “passed another milestone in the race towards a zero-carbon future,” sourcing 22 percent of its energy from renewables in 2020 – ahead of the 20% target the bloc had set in 2009.

But that won’t be enough to keep Europe warm this winter, as a fuel crisis the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II grips the continent.

Officials have warned of potential rolling blackouts, manufacturing disruptions and economic fallout from the natural gas shortage, a direct consequence of the war in Ukraine. Prior to the war, Russia supplied around 40 percent of the natural gas used to heat European homes, businesses and houses of worship. In response to Western sanctions, Russia has severely slowed delivery of natural gas to the continent in a move some have called “energy blackmail.”

The Russian supply of natural gas to Europe has fallen nearly 90 percent since this time last year. The shortage, coupled with inflation, rising costs for electricity, and a shortage of hydroelectric power due to drought, creates something of a perfect storm as temperatures fall and demand rises. There have even been reports of people hoarding wood to burn for warmth.

 

The church prays for warmth

Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka and his family with Svetlana (left), one of the refugees from Ukraine who is staying in the Lutheran parish in Krakow.

For churches and others hosting refugees from Ukraine – some 7 million have left the country to find safety elsewhere in Europe – the impact will be compounded. In Krakow, Poland, for example, a Lutheran congregation has had a dozen families living in its parish hall for more than six months. Their utilities costs had already increased significantly due to the additional use of water, electricity and natural gas. Pastor Lukasz Ostruszka says he’s praying for a warm winter.

“Our government says everything will be okay, we will have gas, we have a plan,” he says. He laughs a bit. “They don’t have gas. They don’t have a plan. Warm winter, that’s the only hope.” Pr. Lukasz says he tries not to worry about it, though, since he has so many other things to worry about. “I hope God will help us,” he says.

“It will be a big problem,” says the Rev. Marta Bolba, pastor of Mandak House, a Lutheran congregation in Budapest, Hungary. “They’re saying the bills for heating will be seven times higher than normal. It’s not a poor people’s problem, it’s really the whole society; how can we pay our own bills?”

 

A sustainable future

Wind turbines in a field

Wind turbines in Slovakia.

European leaders met in early October to begin discussing possible mitigation strategies and will meet again later this month.

The crisis, says the United Nations, “underscores the urgency of transitioning away from fossil fuels.”

“As long as energy security is tied to oil and gas, it will remain susceptible to market volatility and price shocks,” says a recent report from UN Women. “And the role of fossil fuels in agricultural production and distribution—for example, natural gas’s role in the production of nitrogen-based fertilizers—means that oil price shocks also drive increased volatility in food prices.” This means it’s not just the Europeans trying to stay warm through the winter months who are suffering the consequences of the shortage. Its effects are being felt around the world, most acutely in the poorest nations.

While this church would welcome an increased sense of urgency globally to break our collective reliance on fossil fuels, we also recognize that such a change won’t come quickly. As we pray for, and work toward, a more sustainable future, we walk alongside our partners in Europe as they face a difficult winter.

 

Emily Sollie is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband and 4-year old son, and is a member of Lutheran Church of the Reformation. 

Eastern Europe Partner Spotlight: L’Arche

As Russian forces advanced on his town in Ukraine’s heavily contested Donbass region, a group of friends helped to save Igor Gusev’s life.

Born with cerebral palsy, Igor has lived independently with some limited support and the companionship of a beloved black cat. His community shunned him, but for the efforts of his few friends.

A photo of Igor Gusez in his wheelchair in a garden.

Igor Gusev fled Ukraine after the invasion by Russia and is now living in Poland.

As bombing and violence approached his home, Igor’s friends packed him and just a bit of luggage into a car and headed west.

While Igor sadly had to leave his pet behind, he found new friends – and support – in the L’Arche community in Poznan, Poland. The Polish L’Arche communities have rapidly transformed themselves into a network of emergency care for people living with disabilities and their caregivers.

Igor’s disability is physical, but he appreciates the care he receives for the soul, too. “In L’Arche I met sincere love, peace…and respect,” Igor said.

For most of his life, he has moved independently by crawling on his four limbs. His fully functioning left hand allows him to dress himself or hold a cup of coffee. Escaping a war, however, proved far more difficult to achieve independently. L’Arche’s nearly six decades of experience indicate that people like Igor have a greater challenge fleeing disasters like war, and finding access to services.

A volunteer organization in Poland came across Igor and, once understanding his needs, asked if L’Arche could help. L’Arche was able to find a place for Igor even as L’Arche Poland’s communities filled with refugees. He likes to live as independently as possible, but he reluctantly asked his new L’Arche friends for help moving around a house not fully adapted for someone in a wheelchair. L’Arche is making sure Igor and many others get needed care.

L’Arche’s two communities in Ukraine have also been helping people fleeing war have a safe space to land and, in many cases, to continue to nearby countries hosting refugees. In Lithuania and Poland, the communities have also opened their doors, with even staff and volunteers hosting guests from Ukraine in their homes.

L’Arche communities in Poland have joined other local organizations to craft a tapestry of services aimed at supporting people with disabilities and their caregivers.

“In [the] Wroclaw community we have created a day-care place where every mother who needs at least a few hours of respite will be able to safely leave her child and take care of other urgent matters for her own and their good,” L’Arche Poland National Leader Agnieszka Karolak said.

You can find out more about the work of L’Arche around the world on their website.


Your gifts to Eastern Europe Crisis Response are supporting partners like L’Arche in eight countries, including Ukraine. Thank you!

Situation Report: Ukraine and Eastern Europe (July 7, 2022)

Lutheran Disaster Response has raised over $10 million in support of refugees and internally displaced people in Ukraine and surrounding countries. New partnerships in Eastern Europe include:

  • L’Arche has nearly 60 years of experience supporting people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities and knows they are among those most at risk in times of crisis. It is providing immediate relief to refugees with disabilities in Ukraine, Lithuania and Poland. Activities will include purchasing accessible vans to transport people with disabilities within Ukraine and along the border, building the capacity of local disability service providers and adaptations for people with disabilities who evacuated under duress without the necessary support for life with disabilities. This project allows L’Arche to live out their mission on behalf of those with disabilities and their surrounding communities as they work to survive and to help others to their greatest ability, even while under the threat and impact of the current war.
  • International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) is the international humanitarian aid and development agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of the United States of America. IOCC is providing humanitarian assistance to refugees and internally displaced peopele in Ukraine, Romania and Poland. This humanitarian assistance includes distributing essential items, securing temporary accommodations, training volunteers and helping students continue remote education.
  • Lutheran World Federation has expanded its programming to the Czech Republic, where it is working with local partners and churches to retrofit multipurpose spaces to accommodate refugees from Ukraine.

 

Partner Update: Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECACS)

An image of two people, a man and a woman, in a stocked warehouse in Slovakia.

Warehouse in Pozdišovce, Slovakia, where the congregation stocked supplies to shuttle to the hospitality tent. Rev. Denisa Kuruc Vargova, pastor of the church, is pictured with her husband, Andrej Kurue.

Now four months since war began in Ukraine, the ELCA’s partners in Slovakia are assessing their response to date and planning for the medium and long term.

During the initial acute phase of the emergency, the Evangelical Diaconate coordinated a humanitarian tent at the Vyšné Nemecké border crossing, where volunteers from all over the region came to help. Working in 12-hour shifts, volunteers were available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to offer food, drinks, information and logistical assistance. The ECACS congregation in Pozdišovce, about a half hour drive from the border, stocked a warehouse with supplies that they shuttled to the border, and offered lodging for both refugees and volunteers.

“Some of these people have lost everything,” said Lucka Martonova, volunteer coordinator for the border ministry. “We are here for them, to provide some food, some water … accommodation, transport.”

As the situation evolves, needs are changing. A joint meeting of representatives of the Evangelical Diaconate ECAV in Slovakia and the Protestant Agency for Diaconia and Development – Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe took place in June to evaluate the use of existing assistance, monitor current accommodation needs and prepare for future cooperation. As the needs of the refugees change, so must the response of the church.

 

Be a part of the response:

Pray
Please pray for people who have been impacted by the war in Ukraine. May God’s healing presence give them peace and hope in their time of need.

Give
Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Eastern Europe Crisis Response) will be used in full (100%) to assist those impacted by the war in Ukraine.

To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.

Repentance, Reconciliation, Restoration: A Missionary Update from Slovakia

The following is a newsletter update from Rev. Kyle & Ånna Svennungsen, ELCA missionaries in Slovakia.

 

Greetings dear partners in ministry!

We are writing to you from Bratislava, Slovakia. At Bratislava International Church, our theme for Lent is ‘Walking with Jesus: Repentance, Reconciliation, Restoration.’ This theme was chosen before the war in Ukraine began and it has taken on a whole new meaning in these last four weeks. Not only is there need for repentance, reconciliation, and restoration with our Creator; but also with one another.

Someone once said, “Sometimes in the worst of times, you see the best in people.” Despite how the world aches each day from more news of innocent lives being destroyed in Ukraine, we also see God at work in so many ways as a result of this war. We see people from around the world opening up their homes to Ukrainian refugees. We see donation centers overflowing with goods to be shipped to Ukraine or for refugees to pick up supplies as needed. We see free transportation offered for any Ukrainian refugees from the surrounding countries as they flee in search of safety. This is just a snapshot of the many other efforts we see from so many kind people. It seems the world is certainly walking with the people of Ukraine during these dark days, just like we believe Jesus is walking with them too.

We have been blessed to be able to buy goods and deliver them to donation centers. These donation centers put out new lists daily that call for items of greatest need. Kyle has volunteered at a donation center that organizes thousands of goods from clothing, to toiletries, to non-perishables and more. Some of these goods are shipped directly to Ukraine and other goods shared with refugees in our own community. Many of our friends here have opened up their homes to refugee families, people they’ve never met but happily welcomed. Others in our congregation have paid for hotel rooms that serve as temporary housing for refugee families.

The main train station in Bratislava has an ‘Info Point’ setup for all the Ukrainian refugees arriving there. Ukrainians can travel for free on regional trains and other public transportation in all of the neighboring countries. Some refugees have attended worship with us and we have helped with putting some up in hotel rooms. Many are unsure of where they are going, or where they might want to settle, and are unsure of when and if they will be able to return to their home.

Once they claim refugee status/seek asylum in a country, they cannot leave that country. It is a big decision for refugees to make when they are already overwhelmed from fleeing their war torn country. Many are mothers with children and the elderly who have just left behind the men in their life; husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles, etc. These people are simply overwhelmed and exhausted. At the train station, they often collapse from pure exhaustion as they exit the trains. There is always a crisis team available to help with psychological and medical needs. At the Info Point, there are also people from the city office ready to offer assistance with housing, legal aid, and information about the city and the immigration process. A local cell phone company has even offered free SIM cards so refugees can use their cell phones.

There are two waiting rooms designated for the refugees; a family room and a general waiting room. In them are free microwave meals, coffee, tea, mattresses, blankets and more. The family room is mainly for mothers and children to use as they wait for their next train or need a place to spend the night. There are mattresses, travel cribs, high chairs, changing tables, toys, a TV with kids shows and movies, and couches. There are also free clothes, strollers and baby carriers for them to take if they need them. It is a helpful place of rest for these tired mothers and families.

Ånna organized a group from church to clean, disinfect, and organize these waiting rooms. They watched as families came and went, finding hope in the excited faces of children when they saw all the toys. It seemed to be for them a sense of something familiar in an unfamiliar time and place. They were even able to play with the children, and give just a moment’s break to their mothers. It is almost unbelievable for us to imagine what they are going through, but then we witness it with our own eyes. The strength and resilience we see in these mothers is truly inspiring. The bravery of the men who stay behind to defend their country, their home, leaves us in awe. We’ve heard their stories first-hand and see them walking with Jesus in bold ways. But most of all, we see Jesus in them and their experience, and our call to walk with them.

As we journey through the rest of this Lenten season, we invite you to notice with us all the ways in which the Ukrainian people walk with and embody Jesus. Be bold in your own response to walk with and embody Jesus for those in need in your community too. And most of all, we invite you to join us in unceasing prayer for peace to rise from the ashes of this war as soon as possible. Pray with us that leaders may see reason and the extreme toll this is taking on so many innocent people. Thank you for your concern and prayers. Your support carries us through each day. Know that even though we do it 5,000 miles apart, we are walking with you through this trying time and praying for you every step of the way.

 

 

Lutheran Disaster Response is responding to the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe in partnership with the Lutheran World Federation and other local and global partners.

Situation Report: Afghanistan Humanitarian Crisis

 

Be a part of the response:

Pray

Holy God, as you have accompanied your people through times of captivity, wilderness, and exile, shelter and sustain all those who flee persecution, oppression, warfare, violence, hunger, and poverty. Open our hearts and homes, our gates and doors, so that they find safety, peace, and welcome – a place to live in freedom and without fear; through Jesus Christ, our refuge and our hope. Amen.

Give
Thanks to generous donations, Lutheran Disaster Response is able to respond quickly and effectively to disasters around the globe. Your gifts to Lutheran Disaster Response (Afghan Humanitarian Crisis) will be used to support Afghans in the United States and Afghanistan.

Connect
To learn more about the situation and the ELCA’s response:

  • Sign up to receive Lutheran Disaster Response alerts.
  • Check the Lutheran Disaster Response blog.
  • Like Lutheran Disaster Response on Facebook, follow @ELCALDR on Twitter, and follow @ELCA_LDR on Instagram.
  • Download the situation report and share as a PDF.

5 Ways to Support Refugees and Migrants

 

At the end of 2019, there were 79.5 million displaced people around the world. That’s 1% of the world’s population.

The Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, where nearly 1 million Rohingya currently live. Photo: Y. Franklin Ishida

26 million of them are refugees, people who leave their countries of residence due to conflict or persecution. 45.7 million of them are internally displaced people, who, for the same reasons, move to other areas in the country. Refugees are protected under international laws. There’s also 272 million migrants worldwide. Migrants choose to cross borders for many reasons – searching for work or education, escaping hardships as a result of natural disasters, reuniting with family – and are protected under domestic laws, but not international law. Lutheran Disaster Response is dedicated to supporting displaced people – and so can you! Here are a few ways to support refugees and migrants in your daily life: 

 

1. Worship with refugee and migrant communities 

There are ELCA congregations around the country with ministries that support refugees and migrants from around the world. The ELCA is a sanctuary denomination, meaning that our faith calls us to walk alongside refugees and immigrants. Through the AMMPARO strategy and support of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, the ELCA shows its dedication to welcoming immigrants and refugees, regardless of country of origin.   

2. Help children gain perspective on refugees 

By talking about refugees with children, you are showing why it is important to be compassionate and treat others with dignity. Learning about refugees and immigrants from a young age can prepare children for when they interact with them throughout their lives. Try using this educational toolkit from the United Nations Refugee Agency or find age-appropriate books 

3. Support migrant and refugee-owned businesses 

Find refugee-owned businesses in your area and support them. If there aren’t any in your town, try online! If you own a business yourself, try to source from refugee or migrant artisans. This is especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, when small businesses of any variety are struggling. 

Iraqi refugees crossing the Hungarian border. Photo: ACT Alliance/Fekete Dániel

4. Understand why this issue matters 

As people of God, we are called to love our neighbor and care for those in need. The ELCA social message on immigration says “The presence of newcomers in our church and society heightens our awareness of these realities and of the experience of new immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in the United States. This awareness makes us more appreciative of the gifts our new neighbors bring and of the barriers as well as the opportunities they encounter. 

 

5. Donate 

Lutheran Disaster Response supports refugees and host communities around the world. Donations to the South Sudan fund, the Middle East and Europe Refugee Crisis fund, and AMMPARO will be used in full to support our work with refugees and migrants to bring them hope and renewal in a tumultuous time.  

 

 

Adapted from “5 ways to support refugees during the coronavirus crisis from the UNHCR