UCC delegation heads to Europe to track Ukraine response

The United Church of Christ has collected almost $3 million through an emergency appeal for the people of Ukraine. On Jan. 27, almost a year after the Russian invasion displaced 13 million, church executives are traveling to the region to see what their needs are and how faith partners are responding using UCC gifts.

The UCC delegation, led by Associate General Minister the Rev. Karen Georgia Thompson, will spend 14 days abroad. Much of that time will be with historic partners and churches in Hungary, Greece and the Transcarpathia region in southwest Ukraine. The group will also spend three days in Moldova as a partner of Church World Service.

This little girl is part of a family of four who left their home in Eastern Ukraine after the Russians attacked and took a train west with everything they could carry. This photo was taken in a shelter in Berehove (Western Ukraine). Courtesy: ACT Alliance. Permission was granted for photos and stories to be shared.

Thompson, the national executive who oversees Wider Church Ministries and is co-executive of Global Ministries, will be joined on the trip by three colleagues — the Rev. Josh Baird, who leads Wider Church Ministries’ Global H.O.P.E. team; the Rev. Peter Makari, Global Ministries executive for the Middle East and Europe; and UCC Director of Philanthropy, the Rev. Kent Siladi.

This is the first UCC trip to the region since the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Deep roots in Hungary

Their journey begins in Hungary and Transcarpathia, where the UCC delegation will be participating in worship, meals, discussions and visits with people of the Reformed Church in Hungary and Hungarian Interchurch Aid. A stop at a refugee ministry and possible conversations with Ukrainian families are also on the itinerary.

“The UCC has a historic tie and deep roots in the Reformed Church in Hungary,” Makari said, noting that the RCH is one of the denomination’s longest and active partnerships in Europe. “We have engaged with them on migrant and refugee issues for many years, predating the Ukraine crisis, to be sure. This is an example of how existing partnerships can offer benefit in situations of emergency.”

A volunteer offers guidance to a refugee family at a newly established support center for Ukrainian refugees, run by Hungarian Interchurch Aid at the Budapest airport. Photo: LWF/Albin Hillert

In addition to offering assistance to Ukrainian refugees in Hungary, Makari said the UCC, through its deep ties with the RCH, has close relationships with the Reformed Church in Transcarpathia, “so we are able to support the needs of internally displaced persons inside Ukraine through that connection.”

Partners in Greece, Moldova

After several days in Budapest and Transcarpathia, where some of the trip will overlap with partner visits with representatives of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Disaster Assistance, the group will head to Greece.   

“While Greece may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking about Ukrainians fleeing their country, Greece has received people, and our partner there, Perichoresis (related to the Evangelical Church of Greece), is providing comprehensive care for families in Katerini (northeast Greece),” Makari said. “Through this relationship, we are able to assist by supporting accommodations and utilities, as well as food, hygiene and medical/health care. In addition, we support language-learning and psychosocial counseling for children, and vocational training for women and young people as they adapt to life outside of Ukraine.”

“While I have visited partners in Hungary before, this will be the first opportunity to visit with partners in Greece,” Thompson said.

After a few days in that country visiting with families, pastors and representatives of Perichoresis, the group heads to Moldova for three days of meetings arranged by Church World Service.

“Being able to travel to the region is a way of showing our solidarity and support of partners, a way to learn more about the work that is happening, and to see ways in which we can further support the efforts and to bring back information to assist in informing members of the UCC about how we can assist in days to come,” Thompson said.

First-hand witness

“For almost a year, we have responded from a distance to the plight of people affected by the war in Ukraine,” said Baird. “The church’s generosity continues to be channeled through many partners to people in need of assistance. This trip is an opportunity to see first-hand the impact these gifts are making and to convey, on behalf of the church, our ongoing care and support.”

Local volunteers help Hungarian Interchurch Aid distribute 500 food packages in March 2022. Packages contained cooking oil, rice, pasta, canned food, sugar and tea. Photo credit: Fekete Dániel/HIA-Hungary / ACT Alliance.

To date, Baird said, the UCC has distributed $210,660 in relief. “Of that, $125,000 has gone to ACT Alliance for supporting five main partners … and designations of some of that funding specifically to Hungarian Reformed Church Aid and Lutheran World Federation. Other grants have gone to Perichoresis, the Reformed Church in Hungary, to Church World Service, International Orthodox Christian Charities and L ’Arche.

“By spending time with partners and visiting with people who have been displaced, we will learn of emerging needs and shape the next stage of our response,” Baird continued. “We will receive their stories, their hopes and concerns, and we will share together in prayers for a just and abiding peace.”

Both executives said the timing of this trip will enable them to get updates on grants that have been given, to meet with some who are utilizing those funds and those who have been helped by them, and to see first-hand where more assistance is needed. Baird believes their visits will benefit planning for the next phase in UCC’s long-term response.

Ongoing needs

“The war in Ukraine is unlike most crises that we respond to because it is still ongoing,” Baird said. “While relief activities after a disaster, for example, typically last for a period of weeks or months, the ongoing, indiscriminate, and unpredictable use of violence against the people of Ukraine essentially means that a new crisis is occurring on a regular basis.” 

Thousands of people from across Ukraine left their homes for safety in other countries. ACT member Hungarian Interchurch Aid met this group at the Hungary/Ukraine border to provide relief to arriving refugees. Photo: HiA

And when assistance begins to bend toward providing more sustainable support, like language assistance, education for children and workforce development, funds gifted by UCC donors can be used to put those programs in place.

“We have been heartened and moved by the generous outpouring of support from 5,000 United Church of Christ donors. This trip to visit our partners will allow our team to see and hear of their life-giving work and ministries with those impacted by the war in Ukraine,” said Siladi. “We will share our impressions and let the church know more details about how their dollars are making an impact and a difference among the most vulnerable population of this horrendous conflict.”

As Thompson said, “We hope to come away with a better understanding of the collaborative efforts being made in the region to affect the layers of need and response to the war, the refugee crisis and other emerging needs.”

“Our relationship with the RCH will continue after the immediate needs of Ukrainians have subsided,” said Makari, “and we are grateful for sustained connections that can be drawn upon in times such as these.”

Follow the UCC delegation blog here for stories of the journey through Hungary, Transcarpathia, Greece and Moldova.

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Categories: UCC Ukraine response United Church of Christ News

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