Lutheran World Federation (LWF) representatives have met in Poland and Slovakia and are meeting this week in Romania to plan the Lutheran emergency response for refugees fleeing war-torn Ukraine.
Australian Chey Mattner, former Executive Director of Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS) and now Head of Operations of Lutheran World Service, is a member of the LWF delegation, which aims to determine how the worldwide Lutheran organisation can best respond to the refugee crisis through the local Lutheran churches.
Chey reports, ‘We were on the Polish/Ukrainian border soon after the invasion began. (People here don’t call it a war because that’s not a true reflection of what’s happening.) It was bitterly cold, too cold for snow. The temperature at night was -12˚C. People were arriving at border crossings. Some were picked up by people they knew, others by complete strangers, while many were taken to nearby reception points.
‘Congregations have opened up their doors across the country. They have welcomed people in and provided food and a warm bed, even though many of these households are poor themselves, still heating their homes with coal.’
Sadly, alongside the selfless outreach being extended to refugees by churches, there is the threat of abuse by those with darker motives. Predators and opportunists are among those welcoming refugees into neighbouring countries.
‘You have women-headed households who are extremely vulnerable, extremely tired and just want to be taken to somewhere safer’, Chey says. ‘Providing registered transport and finding safe spaces for them, through churches and other organisations, is a top priority [in these neighbouring countries] right now.’
Everyday Lutherans are leading the way in this emergency response.
Chey says, ‘In Slovakia, the response from the Lutheran church has been remarkable. They have worked quickly with other denominations to negotiate a space in the small strip between the Slovak and Ukrainian borders to set up a tent where emergency goods are provided to weary children, mothers and grandmothers.
‘The Lutheran schools have welcomed children into their classes and are planning to renovate disused buildings to accommodate more students.
‘Bishops have rolled up their sleeves to become humanitarian coordinators – identifying needs, making contacts with congregations, the Lutheran youth fellowship, the Lutheran women’s fellowship, organising trucks of food, water, sanitary kits, and so on.
‘There is no time for dithering here. People are getting straight into it without thinking twice. They’re making space in their small homes, and giving what they can to serve their neighbours, just like Australian and Kiwi Lutherans do when they respond to a crisis.’
ALWS has pre-committed a minimum of $50,000 to the emergency response for the people of Ukraine, and donations are welcome. Visit alws.org.au or call 1300 763 407.
(Compiled from reports by Jonathan Krause [ALWS] and LWF www.lutheranworld.org)