by Matt Reagan
What I saw during my recent trip to Poland was more heart-wrenching than I thought it would be, but also more beautiful than I could have imagined.
From the moment my friend, Rafal, picked me up from the airport, every minute of our 2-hour drive was packed with story after story—each one tragic, emotional, and heavy. Rafal, a pastor, and his wife, Agnieszka, have been heading up a trauma counseling triage for Ukrainian refugees housed at the Proem Ministries site in Zakościele.
Within hours of receiving news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Proem converted their Zako camp into a ministry hub for refugees. They have brought hundreds of people—primarily women and children—from the border, loving them, listening to them, and helping them in any way possible.
Every available space is being utilized. Areas unsuitable for housing are storing basic needs items and clothing, while free rooms with plumbing are now equipped with washers and dryers. It’s inconceivable to think how much has been accomplished in such a short time, especially considering the incoming flow of refugees has been nonstop.
Never had I been in a country that was a neighbor to an active war, and while I knew there were millions of Ukrainian refugees, I’m not sure I was ready for their stories: A mom with a baby in her arms that she had delivered in the midst of the violence just six short days earlier. Families in car lines who, while they escaped, watched in their rearview mirrors as the bright light of explosions eerily lit up the communities they loved. Entire busses and vans filled with women and children, who having just left their husbands, fathers, and brothers behind and were now getting into vehicles driven by men they didn’t know, headed to a place they had never been, with no money and no idea if and when they would return.
Refugees who came early may have avoided the violence, but they haven’t avoided the sting of devastation and loss as they receive tragic updates from family and friends. I’ll never forget sitting in a crowded lunchroom and hearing the deafening quiet as a mobile phone rang—a heartbreaking harbinger of news of a lost home or loved one.
However, it wasn’t long until I began feeling another intense emotion. It didn’t replace what I already was feeling—I’m not sure I’ve had such opposing emotions in the same moment—but right there in that darkness was the brilliance and beauty of God’s presence through His Church…and it was overwhelming.
It started with the “coincidences”:
• I remember sitting with Rafal more than three years ago and, as I heard his passion for trauma counseling, thinking, “That’s a little specific for the leader of a church planting network, but okay.” Agnieszka became a professional trauma counselor and she and Rafal spent the last several years equipping their church. They are now leading a church with a heart for trauma counseling in the same town as a camp packed with refugees paralyzed by trauma.
• A young Ukrainian pastor and his wife who had connected with Proem months earlier were about to quit on their calling, but the Proem team felt God was leading the team to pull the couple in and prepare them. That young couple, who speak fluent Ukrainian, are part of the backbone of the ministry now at Zakościele.
• A group of Ukrainian trade workers in town last Summer saw their construction project delayed. The workers came to the Proem camp to see if there was any work to be done. The camp had just cleared a part of their land and had leftover lumber. The Ukrainian workers ended up building an enormous storage structure that spans the length of the back of the property. While the camp figured they would need it one day, it now serves as a donation distribution hub for the region.
Everywhere I looked, there was a story of God working ahead, preparing His people, providing like a good Father.
I saw God bringing unity where unity didn’t make sense. The Ukrainian and Polish people have a complicated history. It’s not mine to discuss or understand, but both groups spoke about it. It wasn’t until they told me why they shouldn’t have been friends that I gained an eye for the beauty of what I was witnessing: Church members flooding into the camp for an opportunity to love and serve their Ukrainian neighbors, hair stylists cutting the little kids’ hair, and others serving by playing with kids, sweeping, mopping, sorting, and cooking.
I also saw God on display through the radiant love of the local church. I wish you could have seen the way they loved these women and children. It so humbled me. Like-minded churches from all over the world called Proem saying, “We’ll take 30, we’ll take 60,” but when the Church takes in people, it doesn’t just give them a place to sleep and food to eat, it adopts them. After being greeted with banners and meals, friendships and love, women who had been nervous to go to another country tearfully said, “Thank you for loving us and sending us. We’ve never been loved like this in our whole lives.”
That’s Jesus, that’s His Church. When it gets dark, the Church is so radiant, the most brilliant thing in this world.
My heart is still so heavy, praying that God will end this war. My heart also is so full, as it was so good for me to see the Church being the radiant force for light in the darkness.
Matt Reagan is the Associate Pastor at Southeast Christian Church.
More than 4 million Ukrainians—mostly women and children—fled to neighboring countries within the first month of Russia invading their homeland on February 24. Poland took in the most refugees—2.3 million—representing an almost 6% increase to its population of 38 million.
To assist, Southeast has donated $275,000 to Mission Partners in the region as of the end of March:
• $150,000 to Proem Ministries. In addition to hosting refugees at their camp in Poland and helping them find longer-term housing in Poland and other European countries, Proem is partnering with churches in Ukraine, delivering food and other supplies regularly.
Learn more at proemministries.org.
• $100,000 to Josiah Venture. Involved in a disciple-making movement in Ukraine for 15 years, Josiah Venture is hosting refugees at multiple facilities in Poland and Czech Republic. Team members have relocated to surrounding countries to care for refugees, while other staff are ferrying medicine and food to Ukrainian church partners.
Gather for daily prayer on the Josiah Venture Prayer Room app or at pray.josiahventure.com.
• $25,000 to Convoy of Hope. The humanitarian and disaster relief agency is sending small, unmarked vehicles into Ukraine to deliver food, water, hygiene items, clothes, and other relief supplies. As of the end of March, Convoy of Hope served more than 100,000 displaced Ukrainians.
Learn more at convoyofhope.org.