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.