As war rages on nearly a month after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine created a refugee crisis across Europe, Foursquare Missions International (FMI) workers and helpers are continuing to make a difference in the lives of countless victims. And while their stories may not grab major headlines, these dedicated servants are offering help in practical ways that bring hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.
One of the most heartwarming of these stories is that of Nana, an adoptive mother of two young girls. Having fled to Slovakia, the family found refuge in a house for refugees in Horsky Park, Bratislava, where Gary and Joy Peiss serve as Foursquare global workers under the Apostolic Church of Slovakia (ACS) and as pastors of City Church International in Bratislava.
After giving them cookies and chocolate, Joy asked if they needed anything else. Because of the language barrier, at first Joy struggled to understand Nana’s answer.
“The woman used hand gestures and emotional expressions to help me along,” Joy says. “I realized the youngest girl needed a doll to cuddle, to help her sleep. In that moment of realization, I felt this was the biggest thing I had been asked to do so far.”
“God is good,” says Gary, adding that the reactions from refugees they assist are, overwhelmingly, expressions of thankfulness. “Some are too broken to share it in a real expressive way, but thankfulness, often accompanied by tears and hugs.”
“Every day, FMI workers are serving these refugees by finding them housing, emergency supplies of food, medicines, clothing and human community in the face of evil.” —Jeff Roper, FMI global associate director to Europe and MENACA
Jeff Roper, FMI global associate director to Europe and MENACA (Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia), says the numbers helped are stretching into the thousands.
“Every day, FMI workers are serving these refugees by finding them housing, emergency supplies of food, medicines, clothing and human community in the face of evil,” Jeff explains. “I could not be prouder of FMI workers than I am right now. We all feel overwhelmed at the amount of need. But it is making a difference for thousands of families who are suffering incredible loss, and deep fear and anxiety.”
In Poland, which has accepted the largest number of refugees, FMI worker Travis Mielonen says Foursquare is making a difference by knowing people not just for their needs, but by their names.
“We want to not just place people in beds and rooms,” Travis states. “We want to provide human connection, to know their stories, and provide as much human dignity as possible in these very hard times.”
In Slovakia, Gary and Joy Peiss of City Church are coordinating with ACS churches nationwide and Slovakian humanitarian aid organization, Integra, to meet needs at the border, within cities in the east, and in Bratislava. This includes matching incoming refugees with offered housing and making sure needs are met at a short-term refugee home.
Gary says City Church is focusing its efforts on three primary areas, starting with local refugee assistance. Second is Ukraine in-country assistance, sending buses with supplies into the war-torn nation and out with about 50 refugees per trip. Third is the logistics of helping refugees with food, clothing, short-term housing or transportation.
While they are presently seeing more short-term housing needs with the initial wave of refugees, the longer the war continues, the more likely they will see long-term needs, the FMI worker says.
“This will be people who were reluctant to leave until the war was literally on their doorstep,” Gary says. “And, who did not have friends or relatives that they could stay with in other parts of Europe.”
In Poland, Travis and his wife, Alexis, are finding their first direct work with refugees to be fulfilling, as they partner with Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) at the border, host displaced people in their home, and mobilize others to help bring hope. The most rewarding aspect is seeing the burdens lifted when people realize they are in a safe, secure and helpful environment, one where they can freely process their situation.
One of their most moving experiences with a refugee family involved an American-Ukrainian volunteer who came to Kraków with his wife. On the first day in the Mielonens’ home, the Ukrainians were able to find a way for his parents back in Kyiv to reach Poland. Because the woman falls a lot and her husband has dementia, there had been a fear of the elderly couple getting separated.
“However, through a network of churches they had good care the entire way,” Travis affirms. “Although they arrived with only the clothes on their back, it was a beautiful reunion at the Polish border.”