SBTC DR joins multi-state Send Relief response as Ukrainian refugee crisis intensifies

Ukraine refugee SBTC DR
A young girl and her family are among millions who have fled Ukraine in recent weeks. PHOTO COURTESY PRESIDENT.GOV.AU

On the heels of the return of a Send Relief Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to the U.S., Southern Baptists of Texas Disaster Relief personnel will join other Southern Baptist Disaster Relief workers in a coordinated effort to serve the needs of Ukrainian refugees fleeing their country following the Feb. 24 Russian invasion.

Some 3 million refugees to date have fled Ukraine, with more than half going to Poland and others headed to various European Union countries, including Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, and Hungary, various news agencies reported. According to figures released by UNICEF on March 15, children comprise about half of the Ukrainians seeking refuge in other parts of Europe.

From March 4-14, SBTC DR chaplain and assessor Linda Mitter of Rockwall participated with the DART crew in Poland on a fact-finding and assistance mission to help plan SBDR’s overall response to the crisis. Mitter joined five SBDR representatives from North Carolina and Ohio, including two state Baptist DR directors: Tom Beam of North Carolina and John Heading of Ohio.

Mitter said the team observed a coordinated response to the refugee crisis along the Polish-Ukrainian border. Numerous Polish Baptist churches are helping to temporarily house and feed refugees and, for migrants not en route to another European country, assisting them to find permanent housing in Poland.

SBDR teams from various states are now deploying to help Polish churches and Baptist organizations in the manner prescribed by the DART observers.

Under the coordination of Send Relief, SBTC DR’s role will shift from Poland to Moldova and Romania, SBTC DR Director Scottie Stice said.

“Many facts and patterns of refugee movement that Linda discovered in Poland are similar to what can be found in Romania and Moldova,” Stice said. “Romania is considered the second destination of choice for those fleeing Ukraine.”

On Monday, March 21, Wally Leyerle, SBTC DR associate, and SBTC DR volunteer Lynn Kurtz of Waxahachie, will join SBDR workers from Missouri and California to travel to Romania on a discovery mission similar to the original DART mission to Poland.

“They will be fact-finding and setting up support for Romanian churches helping refugees. They will also assist in establishing a border ministry not unlike that of Pastor Carlos Navarro and West Brownsville Baptist in the Rio Grande Valley,” Stice said. The Romanian border outreach will provide refreshments, charging stations, and otherwise assist the refugees as they prepare to move to their next destinations.

“It’s a small window of ministry before they move on,” Stice said, adding that SBDR—and SBTC DR—involvement is expected to expand to nearby Moldova soon.

What initially began as a one-month deployment of four teams spread out over 30 days in Eastern Europe is now expected to become a six-month mission, which will also involve helping Baptist groups coordinate shipments of supplies from Poland, Romania, and Moldova to seminaries, churches, and Baptist organizations within Ukraine, Stice said.

Arkansas Baptist DR will be joining SBTC DR, California, and Missouri, he said, explaining that once DR teams get the systems operational, churches will have the opportunity to also send teams to assist in the ministry, supplementing DR volunteers.

“We’re there to be a blessing to the Romanian and Moldovan churches as they minister to the Ukrainians. At the same time, we pray for the gospel to go forth,” Stice said, confirming that a second multi-state SBDR team including SBTC DR volunteers is scheduled to depart for Romania on March 26.

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