You can see from the video that it is a clean, well-organised and peaceful space. How did the centre come into being?
Ola says: ‘When we learned from the news about the outbreak of war in Ukraine, my heart was already prepared to serve….. At that time, we were receiving information from the media that thousands of Ukrainians were crossing the Polish border, and the number was growing by the hour. Huge queues formed at the border and the waiting time to enter Poland extended to dozens of hours.'
Ola was convinced that their congregation had to get organised and offer relief‒fast!.
‘I began to think that we must do something as a church, that this is our time. At that moment a family from Ukraine was already at our house. Olga with her husband Andrei and their two children (2 and 8 years old) and the bus driver Juri. They brought 120 mothers with children to Poland in one 50-person bus. They slept standing up all night waiting at the border crossing’.
When approval to set up the centre came, Ola found out how other churches were getting organised, asked for their advice, and she and others in the church set to work:
‘The Lord protected us on every front. From the very beginning, EMF became a support for us. We needed bedding, sheets, pillows and towels, We only had mattresses and quilts. A few days before the war broke out, we completed the renovation of the hall and bathroom with shower - Praise God for keeping us safe! Thanks to your quick support, we shopped and our places were ready to receive people... as soon as we finished making the beds the first phone calls began. Literally the Lord was preparing us for this time.’
Ola is now the official coordinator of the centre, which has a strategic location, close to the main bus and train stations in Warsaw. Members of the church are volunteers there, and we asked Ola to tell us more details about how their hostel works:
‘Our relocation point accepts refugees for 1-3 days. We provide accommodation, showers, hot meals,clean underwear, personal hygiene products, places for children, clean clothes, and shoes. From the beginning we have been operating as a church thanks to the support of my brother Adam, who is an EMF missionary. We take care of everything, from transporting people from the border, or from the stations, to psychological support, or health care if necessary. Our goal is to relocate and evangelize as much as possible in such a crisis - we look for destinations for our guests in Poland and abroad.’
When asked what she and her team do on a typical day, Ola told us that every day is different.
‘There are three main people in charge: Slawomir Foks, who is in charge of the building and accommodations; Pavlina, who organizes the cleaning and cooking schedule; and me, who takes care of supplies, coordination and contacts with refugees. One of my tasks is supply - at first, I used to get food from donations, but soon realized that was not enough to feed a group of over 20 refugees every day - we needed fresh milk, butter, vegetables, fruit and cheese. Here again, EMF was supportive. providing us with funds to purchase fresh produce. Every day, the volunteer on duty checks what shortages we have in the kitchen and passes this information on to me. The first necessities such as fresh bread are replenished on site. Other products are purchased in large markets. Shopping is done 2 - 3 times a week. In addition, we had to create a whole structure, organize baskets for dirty laundry, separate waste, dryers for laundry, washing machine, linens, and towels. Initially, the laundry was taken home by church members, but it was too difficult logistically and too much of a burden on people. We bought a dryer and received a washing machine as a donation. Washing bed sheets is done several times a day’.
This is non-stop work, Ola confesses:
‘I answer phone calls and messages from dawn to dusk. We are organizing travel, finding support for people who are staying with us, looking for destinations, looking for contacts in churches outside the country for refugees. People are accommodated mainly in the evening or late at night - thisi s how trains and coaches from the border come to Warsaw. Our pastor lives on the spot, so most of the time it is him who takes people in. Recently we have been trying to get some volunteers on the spot so that pastor Slawek can sleep sometimes. 😊 We are learning every day. We have obtained Bibles and evangelistic literature for our guests - materials that give hope and encouragement. Often our day begins at dawn and ends in the middle of the night - for example, the phone from the railway station rings to see if we can still receive a mother with children. We have had several pregnant women with very young children, people with disabilities, the deaf, the elderly - challenges arise every day. When the situation at the borders calmed down a bit, new difficulties began. The people coming are in a worse mental state - the trauma, the images they have seen -they need help and support, and our goal is to surround them with love, and to give hope by reminding them that God is in control. However, this is not easy when there are not enough hands to do the work! Toilets need to be cleaned twice a day, bathrooms and floors too; someone needs to cook warm meals.
It is tiring work, and the refugees are in a poor state when they arrive, as Ola remarks:
‘There are people among the refugees who are willing to help and ask what they can do, but most of them need to rest and sleep - even during the day - and collect their thoughts -what next? Some are terrified and want to return to Ukraine. They are overwhelmed with fear. We do what we can to calm them down and meet their most basic needs, like a change of shoes, clean underwear, medicines, and restorative sleep. More and more people have symptoms of exhaustion and fear. Going down to the bunkers every night and hiding in cold shelters during every bomb alarm lowers immunity significantly. Children also need care. We have made a playroom where they have toys, art materials and their mothers often sleep -they are so tired, stressed, and exhausted from the journey - so then there the children are left without any concern about safety. We also have to take care of them while their moms gather strength’.
We wanted to know what the greatest joy was for those on the team., and Ola doesn’t hesitate. She highlights:
‘...the opportunity to do God's will - to serve others, and to put Christ's words into practice - this is the time when the church shows its true face - when we give hope to people -when refugees say "I must read this Bible" - because they see the church in action. This is a great encouragement. One woman wrote us a letter; she is a believer, but everything she saw in Ukraine weakened her faith and trust - she was so grateful that she could be with us for a few days and see our work - see how it is to love not with words and language but with actions and truth. This is a blessed time for the church - for believers. And God confirms to us that He acknowledges this work; even though at times we are physically exhausted He sustains us, strength returns, and physical fatigue is nothing to the spiritual joy we have. We look at human suffering - it is hard, but we are even more strengthened by the fact that our only hope is God and in Him is our only support and our joy. Romans 5:3-5 becomes very real for us.
We imagined there must be very difficult moments. ‘Yes!’ is the reply.
‘The hardest thing is that we can only help a part of the people, that the needs are so great and there are so many tasks to be done, that also Poles are starting to be exhausted; our families, our volunteers need prayer and support, places in Europe where our guests can find safe homes. At the moment Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, is already overcrowded - renting an apartment borders on the miraculous; the houses of church members are full of refugees. We have to look for places further away. We can also see that there is a shortage of groceries in the stores. That's why we are stocking up, because we realize that the crisis will continue and we won't be able to provide food for everyone. We also receive new information about the needs of those who remained in Ukraine. Worried wives and mothers tell us about the lack of water and electricity. We would like to organise the most necessary things: food in cans, thermal clothing, medicine, portable chargers, underwear and socks, hygiene products for men (shaving foam,razors, toothbrushes, toothpaste), flashlights, thermal blankets, etc... The list is long, but any help gives comfort and hope to those who are here and to those who are left behind in the Russian-occupied country.’*
What does Ola say motivates her to give so freely in this exhausting relief effort?
My God - My Saviour - Jesus -he laid down his life for me. My family and children listen to the gospel; they know the bible, but now they can see it in practice. The words they have read and heard are becoming real. I know that God compensates for our losses -giving us what is most important - eternal life, His love and peace in our hearts. Right now, my children can see that we not only speak, but live God'sword for real. Their hearts need saving too. When you see people around you who are afraid, who have no hope, and you know that there is peace in your heart,and there is no fear, then you want to give that to others. You want to share that with another person - the perfect love you have received.’
* Since writing this, Ola and friends at the church have been arranging for a shipment of essential goods to be taken to Kharkhiv on Saturday April 9. See the end of the video, and attached photos.