By Ralph Stevens
Special to The Baptist Paper
Medyka, Poland — it’s a place where the people have a few numbers tattooed on their hearts and minds.
43.3 miles — the distance to Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration camp.
6 million — the number of people, primarily Jews, who were killed during the Holocaust.
77 years — the length of time since Auschwitz, which is located in Oswiecim, Poland, was liberated.
Fresh on the mind
It’s a lifetime ago, but not long enough for the Polish people. It’s fresh for them. And they are not going to stand by and let history repeat itself without offering their lives to stop it.
That drives the way they react as they watch the war in Ukraine unfold. Their city is right on the border with Ukraine, and refugees have poured in.
I saw this firsthand when I traveled there recently with a missions team. The emotional impact of this one-week trip has been staggering. Memories and thoughts continue to flood my mind and set off empathy, love, anger and frustration, all bottled together within minutes of each other. There was joy, however, in serving these people. The refugees are the least of these that Jesus speaks about in Matthew 25:40 — “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
Many of those we saw were the low-income of Ukraine, those who had never traveled before, so they carried their valuable possessions in shopping bags. Many left homes without toiletries or another set of clothes, or with limited formula for their babies. Children left their friends, neighborhoods and schools on a moment’s notice and had no chance to say their goodbyes. Many families will never return to their homes and are hoping to start a new life somewhere else.
A chance meeting
I had a chance meeting with two young men about 25 years old as we sat down to eat dinner before driving back to the hotel. Sebastian and his friend Adam are representative of most of the Polish people. Neither speaks Ukrainian, and neither knew any Ukrainians before the war began, yet they are heavily involved in the war effort. They are driving supplies to the front line to resupply the Ukrainian military. They work to establish warehouses in Poland that are collecting supplies and moving them to the men who are fighting the Russian army. These two young men decided to act because there is a great need.
Willing to help
Many other Polish people have also jumped in to help. May 3 is Poland’s Constitution Day, like our Independence Day. There are Polish and Ukrainian flags bound together everywhere in Warsaw and Krakow.
The government opened their borders without restriction, made public buses and trains free for the people of Ukraine and are simplifying the process of legalization. Polish families have opened their homes, they are creating jobs, and all have put their lives on hold to serve these people. Why? Because they remember.
The Ukrainian families that we met — mostly women, children and the elderly — were gracious and appreciative though some expressed despair. Many did not know what they were going to do or where they were going to go.
On the first day, we met Sasha, who was by himself in the train station. Brad, a member of our team, speaks Russian and went to speak to him. Sasha is 15 years old and knew he could not go home for fear he would be killed, but he heard the gospel that day and is a new believer.
Illya is 12 years old, an aspiring soccer player. His mom, brother and sister are at the refugee center in Warsaw. He has an older brother in Turkey who is a professional basketball player. Illya’s family hoped to emigrate to Berlin soon to start fresh.
We also met a young girl about 17 years old. She was there with her 12-year-old brother in the train station in Krakow waiting for a train. She does not know where her mom or dad are, she just fled the country with her brother and is now looking for work and taking care of him.
God is not silent
During this trip, at times I was overwhelmed by what seemed like God’s silence in the situation of the Ukrainian people, but I was reminded that He is not silent at all. He is moving and speaking through His people, sharing the love of Christ. If we do and say nothing, then how will He be heard? How will He be felt? Are we not the hands and feet of Christ, His body?
God’s people must respond. What will we do with the treasure we have been given? In God’s story, we (believers) have a story like that of the Polish people who remember the numbers. We know what it is to suffer and be given new life, and what we do with it shows what we truly believe. Do we open the doors for those that are in need? Do we point them to hope? Are we meeting people at the front lines of their lives?
I am changed and amazed at the goodness of our God. He has raised up people from all over the world to help the Ukrainian refugees. We saw people from all nations set up and ready to help, working side by side to serve the helpless.
However, it is our responsibility as believers to carry the good news that will change their eternity.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Ralph Stevens is a member of Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and traveled with a missions team made up of former missionaries to Ukraine and others from various states in late April. To read more about the team’s efforts, check out this feature by Sharon Mager of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.