Thousands of Ukrainian Christians find solace in Polish Baptist church
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28, NIV).
This verse embodies Chelm Baptist Church’s (CBC) response to Ukrainian refugees who have made long and arduous journeys out of their homeland and who are burdened by the loss of life as they knew it in Ukraine.
The Polish city of Chelm is located 16 miles from the border of Ukraine. Pastor Henryk Skrzypkowski and members of CBC opened the Christian Transit Center (CTC) for Ukrainian refugees and have received more than 2,000 refugees. The center has beds for 200 people, and their registration desk and kitchen are open 24 hours. Many of the refugees come in the evening, seeking shelter and a place to sleep. The church also supplies necessities. Some refugees stay for a warm meal and a rest before their journey onward. Refugees are directed to Polish Baptist camps in other cities.
Sasza is one of the many refugees who found solace in the center. Sasza traveled to Chelm at the beginning of the exodus and before the enactment of martial law, which requires men 18 years and older to remain in Ukraine. The 20-year-old Ukrainian believer came to the CTC with his sisters and mother. His father remained in Ukraine to fight.
Sasza’s family has since moved to another city in Chelm, but Sasza remained at the center as a volunteer. He receives arriving refugees. He speaks Ukrainian, some Polish and English, and bridges language barriers for other volunteers.
“His attitude is encouraging for all of us here. He never takes praise for himself, but gives all the glory to God,” Joanna Marcyniak, a Polish Baptist volunteer, said.
Marcyniak attends a Polish Baptist church in the city of Poznań and traveled to volunteer her time to manage the church’s Facebook page and post updates.
In addition to serving those who come to them, the church sent two cars to the border with medication and food this week.
On March 6, for the first time in the church’s history, CBC’s Sunday morning service did not take place in their sanctuary. To continue the ministry of the Christian Transit Center, the service took place in Chełm’s Community Center. The worship service opened with “Amazing Grace.”
The lyrics of the third verse were apropos for Ukrainian refugees:
“Through many dangers, toils and snares,
We have already come;
T’was grace that brought us safe thus far,
And grace will lead us home.”
During the service, Skrzypkowski spoke from Matthew 14, where Jesus fed the 5,000. He said we might be tempted, like the disciples were, to send people away.
This stood out to Marcyniak.
“Jesus didn’t send the hungry people packing. Even though we might have a temptation to wash our hands of the responsibility, it’s not what Christ teaches us. We want to be closer to Jesus and the kingdom of Heaven, not to this world,” Marcyniak said.
Skrzypkowski shared in his message that what stood out to him was how Jesus organized the feeding. Jesus instructed the disciples to organize the crowd into smaller groups to provide for their needs. The church in Chelm is working toward this, and the call extends globally, Skrzypkowski said. He called for unity and organization in the days and weeks to come.
“We have to organize ourselves. I don’t mean just Chelm, I mean the whole Christian world,” Skrzypkowski said.
“We have to employ more people,” he continued. “We have to build relationships and cooperation in the countries where refugees are going – Latvia, Germany, the U.S., and other countries. They have to trust us, and we have to trust them, that the people are going to join you through our ministry, that they are going to be safe, and that they are going to have a new life.”
During service, church members had the opportunity to listen to volunteers visiting from the U.S., Latvia, and Ukraine. Austin Duffey, from NewSpring Rally Church in Anderson, South Carolina, and Justin Brenensthul, from Grace Baptist Church in Brunswick, Ohio, spoke.
Both were among the first volunteers to arrive.
Thomas, a representative from the Baptist Union of Latvia also shared.
“When I arrived here, I was just amazed at what you guys have done. You have transformed your church into a house of hope and love,” he said. “The volunteers and staff work tirelessly.”
“Maybe it really took a tragedy like this to wake up the sleeping giant that is the church of Christ. I am just happy we are united by this love that we have received from God and that we can serve others in need,” Thomas said.
Thomas shared from Matthew 25:37-40: “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Thomas encouraged those present at the service that they were living out these verses.
“Everything that you do has eternal value – all the cooking, all the cleaning – and I believe the Ukrainian people can see and feel that,“ he said. “Although they are frightened, scared, panicked, and worried, after a day or two staying in your church, they are relaxed; they are welcomed. That is the kingdom of God.”
The church was not charged for the use of the center on Sunday.
The community – mostly non-Christian – in Chelm rallied behind the church. A pharmacy provides medicine free of charge. Hotels and restaurants provide food at no cost, and others have volunteered their time and services.
“We can see people from all over this town are moved by the scale of actions of this church,” Marcyniak said.
Church members and Christians frequently gather to pray for Ukraine in the church’s sanctuary. Prayers and songs are voiced in multiple languages – Polish, Ukrainian, Latvian, and English.
“We want to encourage one another with the Word of God and confide in His grace and unlimited mercy. We sing, listen to testimonies, and together we entrust our worries and everyday struggles to Him,” Marcyniak said.
CBC asked for Christians to join them in prayer for the following:
- Good organization of Polish churches, so refugees can be safely and properly housed.
- Communication with the Western world as well as with Ukraine.
“God is providing us with strength, and we are grateful for each one of your prayers,” Marcyniak posted on CBC’s Facebook page.
To follow the ministry of the church, visit their Facebook page.
Caroline Anderson is a writer for the International Mission Board.
Cover photo: Two Ukrainian refugees sit on beds in CBC. The church opened a transit center to receive refugees (photo by Martin Linza).