Six Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers leave Easter Sunday (April 17) for an eight-day trip to Poland to minister to Ukrainian refugees.
Ron Crow, director of Kentucky Baptist Disaster Relief, said more than 2.3 million refugees from Ukraine have sought refuge in Poland as a result of the Russian invasion of their homeland. Crow spoke at a news conference at the KBC Building Tuesday (April 12), explaining the work that faces the volunteers.
The team will assist First Baptist Church in Gdansk, where between 40 and 80 refugees are being cared for — the majority of them being women and children. Their work will include providing meals, cleaning, upkeep of the building and possibly helping remodel to make room for more refugees.
“It’s very different from what we typically do — normally we go in following a major disaster. This is more of a compassion response,” Crow said. “We want to love on the people and share the love of the Lord Jesus Christ and hopefully open the door to the gospel. There will be language barriers, but God always provides an open door to overcome those barriers.”
Crow explained that Send Relief, a compassion ministry involving both the International Mission Board and North American Mission Board, asked state Baptist conventions in Kentucky, Ohio, Louisiana and Mississippi to make a six-month commitment to the work in Poland.
“Each of the four conventions will send one team a week for the next six months,” Crow explained. “We’re grateful for the opportunity and for those who have responded (to go to Poland). Pray for these volunteers who are going to a foreign land to care for people.”
In addition to praying for the work, Crow said people can support it by going to kybaptist.org/ukraine, and all donations made will go to the Ukrainian refugee relief efforts.
‘As long as we are needed’
Crow also talked about the possibility of a long-term presence in that part of the world. “One of the beauties about disaster relief is we know about flexibility. We are praying this will end quickly and possibly our time to go will end. But we are flexible, staying attuned to what is going on. Even if the war ended today, the need will be there awhile. We are committed for six months, but we will continue on as long as we are needed.”
Brad Willis, community ministries and missions pastor at Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville, will serve as team leader for the trip and spoke on the volunteers’ goals. “We hope to be a light of Christ, to help them (refugees) in their time of need as they have been displaced and put in situations that no one should ever have to be inside of, be there for the women and children and be a listening ear … and be a friendly face.” He asked people to pray that the team “will be a help to them.”
Willis said he has had the opportunity to serve refugees in other areas, such as Afghanistan, and prays “the Lord will use some of those moments to help me minister to them.”
Also volunteering for the trip is Mike Embry, a retired master sergeant from the Kentucky Air National Guard. He has done missions and disaster relief work in Russia, Madagascar and the Bahamas. “I want to give God the glory — how neat it is to serve through Him, how neat it is that we have six individuals from Kentucky that our churches are going to send out and they can pray for us to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. I hope we can be a blessing to these people.”
Willis and Embry will be joined on the trip by volunteers Katherine Rexroat, Karen Hayes-Ritchie, Debra Kramer and Coy Merry.
‘We must respond’
John Barnett, KBC mission strategist and Send Relief ambassador for refugees and displaced people, said “unfortunately this is a defining moment in our lifetime. As a church, we must respond by serving those who are in trouble and also serve by sharing the love of Christ. Over 11 million people in Ukraine have been displaced. We’re partnering with local churches, coming alongside them to serve and engage.”
“Through the Cooperative Program, through our praying and giving and going, we are working together,” Barnett emphasized. “We didn’t just show up in the crisis time, we’ve been there for decades. We have been going alongside, working in the local communities, working with the churches, even planting churches and serving the community. Through cooperative giving, we’ve been able to impact 14 countries with 37 compassion projects going.”
“It’s not about us, it’s about the Lord and serving Him. We’re not there to wave our flag, but there to serve and share the love of Christ,” Barnett added.
“This trip to Poland is nothing new in terms of our presence,” said Lawrence Smith, KBC communications director. “The Southern Baptist Convention has been in Poland and Ukraine for a long time, but this is a different capacity, a different task we’re undertaking now.
“We’ve planted churches there for years, now we’re going to help those churches as they navigate this crisis caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.”
Barnett said the needs “are as you can imagine — trauma, displacement, fear, the fathers that are left behind. We get updates on a regular basis on the current conditions. The people are in a safe place and being well taken care of.”
Willis said from all reports, no danger is expected related to where the team will serve.
“We will trust the Lord as He takes us to different locations,” Willis added. He noted that the team will take purses and messenger bags for the women, who will use those to carry paperwork and other items. Also, there will be coloring books and games for the children.
Embry mentioned that he served in the Central African Republic when UN peacekeepers were there. “There was definitely a threat there … God watched over our team while we were there, and I believe God will protect our team as well.” He said the greatest concern for many may be COVID-19. “But we all trust in the Lord that it will all work out.”
Looking ahead, Barnett said President Biden has approved up to 100,000 Ukrainians being allowed to come to the U.S.
“We don’t have an exact number that may be coming to Kentucky,” Barnett said. “We work alongside resettlement agencies to help to welcome families. We work through local churches who come alongside families and do the simple things — find apartments, get set up, develop community, (help with) hiring and jobs, schools and ESL if necessary. We are ready and prepared to help them … journey from crisis to community.”