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EASTERN EUROPE TEAM UPDATE
Pastor Simi Bilti

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…

This verse, Matthew 25:35, describes exactly what our congregation did through their generous donations to the Ukrainian Relief Fund. During our 10-day trip through Poland, Romania, and Moldova, we encountered many hungry and thirsty strangers and displaced people, as well as many of our brothers and sisters who are working tirelessly and sacrificially to serve those in need.

Our first stop was Warsaw, Poland, and we intentionally looked for pockets of displaced refugees who were temporarily settled there. We came in contact with a Ukrainian pastor who, despite the fact that he came to faith just five years ago through a street evangelism event, was now fully invested in ministry–hosting refugees in a rented space and ministering to their emotional and physical needs, all with minimal support from a church in Sacramento. After listening to his story, we were made aware that one of the refugees had just come and was in need of his attention, so we prayed, blessed him and the ministry, and continued our journey.

Our second meeting was with another pastor, and he came with bags of toys that he was preparing for an event for refugee children. During our meeting, he constantly looked down to check or silence his phone, and I realized that this man was extremely busy, tired, and worried about the ministry he was running in his rented Polish Baptist church.

He presented the multitude of tasks he had to do every day and the challenging influx of refugees and asked us to pray for more leaders to help him in ministry. We prayed for him, encouraged him, and blessed him. He then promptly excused himself and left, most likely to attend to one of the phone calls he was missing while talking with us.

On our way out, our Russian-speaking team members engaged in a conversation with a lady in the office who, despite her doctorate in Judicial Law, was forced to flee Ukraine, and she admitted she had no idea what she was going to do next. When one of our team members offered her a gift she got teary-eyed and hugged us.

As we left the building we were all silent for a while trying to hold our emotions in check before we opened up with each other about our feelings and observations.

We travel from Warsaw to Krakow to see a few other missionaries and pastors involved with hosting and caring for refugees, and similarly, we found brothers and sisters working tirelessly to keep up with the rapidly increasing numbers of refugees that overpowered their small and understaffed ministries.

From Poland, we traveled to Romania, landed in Bucharest, and took a five-hour bus ride to a town bordering Ukraine where a very small group of pastors was serving as counselors, translators, and anything the refugees needed. They took us to the border where a huge tent was placed to host refugees and offer immediate help for those that arrived on a ferry from Ukraine every half hour. While we were looking around, a government official came and told us that to protect the refugee's dignity, we were not allowed to take pictures and record videos.

When he realized who we were, he came back and told us that he is the person appointed by the government to run this specific refugee camp, and without the help from the Christian volunteers, he would have no resources or ability to do it.

Shortly, our missionary contact came and gave us a tour, explaining that because of the credibility he gained with the authorities and the amount of time he spent there, he was able to present the gospel to refugees and authorities! When I asked him who is supporting his ministry he told me that he has no committed sponsorship and he and his wife are renting a room in a nearby church to be closer to the refugee center and save on the cost of transportation.

It was five o’clock in the afternoon when we prayed and blessed him and his wife. As the next day was Easter Sunday, he went home to prepare for the services that he would preach in multiple churches, beginning at six in the morning. Praise God!

From Romania to Moldova it was a four-hour ride and we were picked up at the border by our own Highlands Community Church missionary whom we have been supporting for many years. I felt a sense of relief to see a familiar face.

In Moldova, our goal was to visit, encourage, and assess the ministry we've been working with for a long time, and to visit the refugee centers we recently helped financially. We were deeply moved to see how the Christians in churches, homes, and camps teamed up together and in unity were helping the refugees in need of shelter and daily living necessities.

When leaving one of the refugee centers organized by the Baptist Union, two ladies came and asked our driver if they could ride with us to town since the camp was set on the outskirts of Chisinau. I quickly realized that their English was very good and we engaged in a casual conversation. They told me that they are both journalists working with a very reputable news agency and were forced to flee due to threats made against them.

When I asked about their families, their eyes filled with tears because both of them had sons and husbands they left behind. I told them that I will pray for their safety and one of them thanked me and said:

"We are not very religious people and actually, we are ashamed that these Christians running the camp are so nice and are taking such good care of us even as we are not one of them.”

I assured them that I'm not a religious person either but I do have a relationship with Jesus and encouraged them to seek that relationship for themselves. Their testimony reminded me again that by our generosity we were practicing Jesus's teaching.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in…

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