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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. 

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.

A History of Welcome

When war came to Ukraine and desperate people began streaming across the international borders in the frigid days of late winter and early spring, the Rev. Miroslav Mató knew he and the members of his parish would be called upon to help. 

Located in Gerlachov, a small village in Slovakia about 200 miles from the Ukrainian border, Rev. Mató and his wife, Rev. Jana Matóva, prepared to offer refuge.

Rev. Miroslav Mató with some of the refugees from Ukraine that his congregation in Slovakia is hosting.

“Our congregation has three buildings that were used for summer camps for youth,” he explained. “We decided to provide these as houses for refugees … We had almost 100 refugees traveling through our congregation in a few days, and 41 of them are staying for a longer term, saying they are wanting to stay here until the war is over.”

The outpouring of generosity from parishioners has been nothing short of miraculous, Rev. Mató said, with people helping refugees from Ukraine find jobs, enroll children in school and access medical care. 

“In these two months, I could see more miracles than in all my life,” he said. “People were helping, they opened their hearts to help, and I could see more and more love than I ever have before.” 

The chance to offer refuge to neighbors in need, he told his parishioners, was an opportunity to put their faith into practice. 

“I can see a lot of God’s love in this situation,” he said.  “As I preached in my sermon [at the beginning of the war], we can now in practice show what we have studied and learned theoretically, we have an opportunity to show it in real life. God is helping us and when we are at the end of our strength, He has always answered our prayers.”

Another Lutheran pastor in Slovakia, the Rev. Michal Belanji, recalls immigrating from Serbia with his parents as a teen, to escape the war that tore apart his home country in the 1990s. The church was there for his family in their time of need, he said. Today, his church in Janoskov is hosting 38 refugees from Ukraine. 

“We help because we were helped,” he said. “It’s the reason why we are here.” 

All over the region, Lutherans have opened their hearts, homes, churches and communities to people fleeing the war in Ukraine. According to data from the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 21, approximately 2.8 million of the 8 million people who fled at the start of the war are still in neighboring countries. Others have either moved on to other countries or returned home to Ukraine. Poland is currently hosting 1.2 million of those refugees; Slovakia 79,000 and Hungary 25,000. 

 

A Lutheran Legacy

The Lutheran legacy of welcome goes back a long way.  

“When the Lutheran World Federation was established 75 years ago, in the whole of Europe there was a refugee crisis after World War II,” explained the Rev. Tamás Fabiny, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH). “People had to leave their country and go to a different place. So that is already part of our identity … to be a Lutheran is to welcome refugees.”

Rev. Tamás Fabiny (far right), ELCH Bishop, with a volunteer teacher at a school for Ukrainian children in the basement of the ELCH offices in Budapest.

Lutherans in the U.S. established a ministry of welcome in the era of World War II, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), founded in 1939. LIRS resettled more than 30,000 refugees from Germany and elsewhere in Europe in the aftermath of the war, and has since assisted more than 500,000 refugees from all over the world to rebuild their lives in the U.S.

While the current situation in Ukraine is creating the largest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II, other conflicts over the years have also led people to seek refuge and provided opportunities for the church to live out its ministry of welcome. An attempted Hungarian uprising against communism in 1956 led nearly 300,000 people to leave the country, Fabiny said, and many of those people built new lives in Austria, Germany, and even the United States thanks to the welcome of Lutherans. 

“I had the opportunity to visit several of these Lutheran communities,” he said, and “people told me how wonderful it was that they were received by families who gave them shelter, helped them find a job, or the church was opened for them. So we know what it is to be a displaced person because hundreds of thousands of people left Hungary in ‘56.”

The end of the Cold War and the Romanian revolution in 1989 also brought refugees to Hungary, he said, as did the Balkan war in the early 1990s, and the civil war in Syria in 2015. When he put out a video statement in support of welcoming refugees, as part of a 2017 UNHCR campaign, however, he received a great deal of backlash for his message. The political climate in Hungary had become more hostile toward refugees, he said, and his message of welcome was not well received by the general public. 

But part of his role as a church leader, he says, is to speak out against injustice, following in the footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is important for the church not only to act in service to our neighbors, he says, but also to pray and reflect on our calling as Christians to work for peace and serve our neighbors. 

“We have to reflect theologically on war and peace,” he says. “We had to learn from the Nazi time when many churches were supporting Hitler theologically. There were just a few, like Bonhoeffer, who criticized [Hitler]. I think it is very important for us as a church to have prayers, of course, and also theological reflection. Action should come after that.”

 

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. 

Situation Report: Ukraine and Eastern Europe (June 6, 2022)

More than three months since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, fighting continues to intensify as humanitarian conditions deteriorate. The United Nations’ OCHA Ukraine: Humanitarian Report estimates that 6.6 million people have fled the country and 8 million are displaced internally. While the majority of the people who crossed borders to safety have remained in the neighboring countries, others have continued to other countries in Europe and beyond. The UN estimates that more than 24 million people — more than half of Ukraine’s population — will need humanitarian assistance in the coming months.

The policy in Ukraine that prevented most men between the ages of 18 and 60 from leaving the country has resulted in forced separation of families. Far from their homes in Ukraine and often from their husbands and extended families, many mothers with children face the difficult challenge of creating a safe space and a version of stability for their families. In addition to continuing to meet the immediate needs of arriving refugees including food, shelter, hygiene kits and medical supplies, our partners in the region support those fleeing the violence in Ukraine with assistance in psycho-social care, pastoral care, housing, job searches, language study, school admission, legal services, cash assistance and other key integration support for individuals and families. Our support is also reaching communities not eligible for state-sponsored services for refugees, including Roma people and third-country nationals fleeing the violence in Ukraine.

Partners: Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland (ECACP), Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Romania (ECACR), Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia (ECACS), Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary, German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (GELCU), and in collaboration with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), ACT Alliance, Church World Service (CWS), Hungarian Interchurch Aid (HIA) and Phiren Amenca.

Partner update: Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hungary (ELCH)

A Ukrainian-language school in the basement of the ELCH office in Budapest, Hungary, provides structure and learning opportunities for children who fled Ukraine with their families due to the war.

As the early-spring influx of refugees has slowed, the humanitarian needs have changed. In a recent interview on the ELCH website, Anna Gyöngés Kelemen, the head of the ELCH diaconal department, observed that “our tasks have changed to the extent that the focus is not on providing rapid assistance at border crossing points and nearby settlements, but on providing assistance to those who remain in Hungary temporarily or permanently in the medium and long term.”

One of the ways the church is assisting is through a temporary school for Ukrainian children, set up in the basement of the ELCH office in Budapest. Though not an accredited educational institution, the school provides structure for children, allows them to continue learning, and enables their caregivers to have time to work or seek employment. The volunteer teachers are themselves refugees from Ukraine as well. The school serves children in first through eighth grades and approximately 50 children attend each day.

ELCH congregations, as well as the national church, are also assisting refugees with longer-term integration needs such as financial support, counseling, housing and more.

 

Partner Update: Lutheran World Federation

As of the end of May, LWF has opened two of six planned enrollment centers for refugees in Poland. The two centers, in Gdansk and Wroclaw, will serve a combined 37,000 families. Families will be able to enroll in a multi-purpose cash assistance program as well as access services including counselling for children experiencing post-traumatic stress and referral services for victims of sexual and gender-based violence.

“I have mixed feelings about today,” said Allan Calma, LWF global humanitarian coordinator, at the opening in Gdansk on May 17. “I am happy that we can open this center today, but I am also thinking that we should not have an enrolment center in Gdansk. This war is not right, it is not right for women and children to flee their homes, to leave their husbands and fathers, and flee for safety.”

“This war has divided a lot of people,” he added. “But all I could see in the past weeks was people coming together and trying to be human.”

The additional centers will be based in Ostróda, Zgierz, Bielsko-Biała and Bytom Miechowice, and will support a total of 56,000 households or about 168,000 people.

 

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.

 

Syria: Raising Awareness Against Gender-Based Violence

 

Children from Za'atri camp attend a puppet show that raised awareness against gender-based violence.

Children from Za’atri camp attend a puppet show that raised awareness against gender-based violence.

Since the onset of the Syrian conflict in March 2011, the crisis has continued to grow in size and scope. Millions of Syrians are seeking refuge in neighboring countries. In coordination with Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Lutheran Disaster Response is assisting the Syrian refugee population in Za’atri camp, located in northern Jordan. Za’atri camp is hosting approximately 125,000 Syrians, who are all seeking life-saving assistance.

In addition to providing shelter and non-food items, LWF is also implementing psychosocial interventions at Za’atri. In August, LWF hosted a puppet show to raise awareness against gender-based violence. The show was attended by many women and children, who are the most vulnerable among Syrian refugees as they are particularly at risk of sexual harassment and exploitation. The activity provided a fun and safe atmosphere for the attendees.

These refugees have been driven from their homes due to violence and hunger. Through your generous gifts, we are there to provide basic humanitarian needs, and we are also there to implement these important programs that educate about conflict and how to re-build. As security in the area of Za’atri continues to be a concern, these programs can be life-saving. We will continue to work with LWF to provide assistance to this impacted population.

World Refugee Day 2012

Poems of Hope from Kakuma, Rukiya Ibrahim, 19.

When The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) was founded in 1947, its first service program provided assistance to refugees in Europe. Today the LWF continues to work with and for refugees and displaced persons, providing service and care for 1.2 million of the world’s refugees and displaced persons in Africa and Asia. In these camps, people from many nations live side by side seeking refuge from conflict and natural disaster.

The theme of the United Nations World Refugee Day 2012 is “one refugee without hope is one too many.”

A young Ethiopian woman, Rukiya Ibrahim, who lives in the LWF-managed Kakuma refugee camp, in northwestern Kenya, puts it powerfully: “when we do have hope that tomorrow will come and that tomorrow will come with a new change within itself, a new place to build you up, then that gives you hope to carry on.”

The ELCA, a member of the LWF, works as part of this 145 Lutheran member church communion which represents a total of 70 million members. This means that 70 Lutherans together take care of one refugee in this world.  As a member of the the LWF, the ELCA is dedicated to our vocation to uphold the rights of the poor and oppressed and promote dignity through our continuing work with refugees through ELCA Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger. Every person we serve has a history of struggle yet has hopes and dreams for the future.

On World Refugee Day, we are reminded of the suffering of too many people who are living as refugees and internally displaced persons in our world. But we are also reminded of the difference we can make by offering a basis of hope for the future through the efforts we participate in as a member of the Lutheran World Federation. 

As a meditation for the day, I want to leave us with a poem written by Rukiya:

Came as stranger
with lost hope
no home
and became your members

We found friends and family
a safe ground to stand
strength and a helping hand
a new life and a chapter to carry on

You made us see far
unlocked our potentials
with strength and hope
we stood firm

You took time and listened
came down and reached us
brought us to light
and exposed our hidden talents

We have dreams and visions
hopes and missions
to fulfil our live ambitions
and reach every hill top

Now we are up and strong
built on strong base
stand with every race
and move on same pace

Thank you for your continued commitment to serve and provide hope to those most in need.  ~ Megan Bradfield, Director for International Disaster Response, ELCA.

 Gifts to ELCA International Disaster Response allow the church to respond globally in times of need. Donate now.