Send Relief leadership visit Romania and Moldova

By Caroline Anderson

Send Relief leadership recently traveled to Romania and Moldova to listen to, pray for and determine the needs that each of the nation’s Baptist unions have in their ministry to Ukrainian refugees.

Bryant Wright, president of Send Relief, said the organization is working alongside the Baptist unions, organizations that represent and serve groups of Baptist churches, in Ukraine, Romania, Moldova and other surrounding countries in their efforts to serve Ukrainian refugees.

“Send Relief is all about serving and carrying out the ministry of compassion, and we have a tremendous opportunity to do that in this crisis,” Wright said.

Send Relief President Bryant Wright joins Ion Miron, general secretary of the Moldovan Baptist Union for a tour of the Baptist Center and Children’s Home in Moldova. IMB photo

Wright traveled on the April 8-12 trip to Romania and Moldova with Jason Cox, vice president of Send Relief International, and Scottie Stice, the director of disaster relief for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

Wright said his hope in times of disaster or great humanitarian need is that the local church would lead in the vision and mission. He said Baptists in Romania and Moldova are doing just that.

Baptist unions in Romania and Moldova began reaching out to Ukrainian refugees from the onset of the war. Both the Romanian and Moldovan Baptists were first responders, jumping in vans to travel to meet refugees crossing their nations’ borders. They arrived well before local authorities mobilized.

Send Relief leadership visited the sites of churches that have been housing refugees and met with local pastors. Three hundred thousand Ukrainians have fled through Moldova, the majority staying in Baptist churches, camps and the homes of Christians.

Pastor Catalin Croiter, a regional director of Baptist churches in the Romanian Baptist Union, and Ion Miron, general secretary of the Moldovan Baptist Union, showed Send Relief leadership how they converted basements and summer children’s homes into refugee housing.

Wright and the team followed Miron and camp director Ion Botouari toured the  Baptist center and children’s home on a frigid Moldova day. The team walked outside to meet the 340 refugees who had found solace in the camp’s warm buildings. Only two of the camp’s rooms were available.

Stice said he noticed the uncertainty, but also the timid hope, in the eyes of Ukrainian women and children who found safety in the camp’s cafeteria. Refugees who have passed through the camp have moved on to 14 different countries.

Baptists in both countries continue to meet the needs of refugees by providing housing, food and transportation. They are now emphasizing sending aid into Ukraine to help the nearly 7.1 million internally displaced persons residing in Ukraine.

Christian corridors

After a Sunday lunch, the Send Relief team listened to Andrei Malanciuc and Pastor Vasilii Sazachin, pastors of Bethany Baptist Church in Balti, Moldova, share how they are carrying supplies into Ukraine and the need for fuel. Bethany is considered the strongest church in the region and has been a mission-minded church for many years. Send Relief leadership will be following up with the church to send relief in their convoys.

Sitting in a hotel room in Chisinau, the team spoke via Zoom with Valeriy Antonuk, president of the Ukrainian Baptist Union, Igor Bandura, the vice president, and other union leaders. Bandura shared how the Lord led them to form contingency plans before the war started.

Wright and Cox asked Ukrainian Baptist Union leaders how Send Relief could do more to help in a defining season in their nation and church’s history. At the end of the call with the leaders, Wright voiced a prayer for wisdom on how to celebrate a risen Lord in a fallen world.

Send Relief President Bryant Wright prays for Vitali, a Ukrainian refugee staying in a Baptist church in Romania. Wright listened to Vitali’s story of how he escaped from the city of Bucha and traveled with his family across the border to Romania. Wright shared a message of hope and prayed for him. IMB photo

Send Relief plans to send funds to assist the Baptist union as they evacuate Ukrainians from the eastern parts of the nation and provide funds for medical supplies, food, clothes and other supplies.

Wright said aiding internally displaced Ukrainians is a priority for Send Relief. The trip enumerated how to best accomplish this through the Romanian, Moldovan and Ukrainian Baptist unions. Cox said the Baptist unions have a strong network of churches, and Send Relief wants to come alongside and support them in their efforts.

Basements, bandwidths and barbeques

The Send Relief team had the opportunity to speak with and pray for refugees. The team spent time talking with Vitali, a Ukrainian, Muslim man who made his way from the Ukrainian city of Bucha with his wife, son and their pregnant cat to Emanuel Baptist Church in Calafindesti, Romania,. Before saying goodbye, Wright and team members placed their hands on each other’s shoulders and prayed.

The Send Relief team attended a cookout hosted by a Romanian mayor who was also a refugee and now has a heart for refugees. Wright shared a message about worry and anxiety with the group of mostly women and children.

Referencing Matthew 6:26, Wright asked, “Who of you, by being worried, can add a single day to His life? What Jesus tells us is very hard to do, especially when you have lost so much. Especially when you do face an uncertain future.”

After his message, Wright prayed for a woman who was moved by the message.

Wright said if the gospel is not shared as physical needs are being met, a tremendous opportunity to share hope is lost.

Cox agreed.

“We are in the business of being the bearers of help and hope,” he said. “Man’s greatest need is not physical help, it’s spiritual hope, and that’s what is so exciting about what we get to do, we get to reach the greatest need they have while still being completely genuine and authentic in meeting their needs with Christ-like compassion.”

Wright and the team visited the border of Romania and Ukraine and met a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief (SBDR) team made up of SBDR volunteers from California, Missouri and Texas. The volunteers handed out supplies to refugees crossing the border. One volunteer shared a story of a Ukrainian woman she prayed for that day who had lost two of her brothers during their escape from Ukraine.

Meeting medical needs is another avenue where Send Relief is investing. Send Relief leadership met the SBDR team providing medical services at the Baptist children’s camp. At Emanuel Baptist Clinic in Chisinau, Moldova, the team heard how the clinic met the medical needs of refugees.

Responding to the call

Christians have responded generously to the call to give, Wright said. To date, more than $8 million has been donated to Send Relief and the International Mission Board (IMB) to support Ukrainian relief efforts. So far, Send Relief has deployed 12 volunteer teams and 84 volunteers to Eastern Europe.

“We’re grateful for the generosity, but sad for why it is coming in,” Wright said.

Send Relief funds have already been donated to the three unions, and more projects are underway as a result of the trip. The Southern Baptists of Texas Convention recently committed $300,000 to the Moldova Baptist Union.

Cox said the next phase is determining how Send Relief can minister long-term, meet the acute needs of Ukrainian refugees and discover how Southern Baptists can continue to contribute.

You can continue supporting the work of Southern Baptists in Eastern Europe by giving here:

Published April 18, 2022

Caroline Anderson

Caroline Anderson writes for the IMB from Southeast Asia.