By Laura McKillip Wood
Poland has accepted upwards of 3 million Ukrainian refugees since Russian troops attacked their neighbor in late February. Some Polish people have welcomed refugees into their own homes, while others have provided rental properties free of charge. Poland and its people have mobilized to provide shelter, food, and other aid to this huge influx of people from Ukraine . . . but it has taken a toll.
“Poles are afraid,” says missionary Jay Bowyer. “They are living their daily lives with the threat of war looming large.” Some people are stockpiling food and water in case Russia attacks Poland.
Bowyer and coworker Colette Ladan run Graceland Ministries, located in Krakow, Poland. Their work focuses on creating a community of Christ followers by reaching out to businesspeople who want to learn English. Jay and Colette are Canadians who offer English lessons using faith-based materials and allow participants to share their life experiences. If students express an interest in growing deeper in faith, they then become a part of a community that meets regularly for Bible studies and other activities.
Since the start of the war, Jay and Colette frequently have abandoned their regularly scheduled events and just talked with students, giving them a chance to share their worries, anger, and fears.
“[Students] feel the looming doom at work [and] at home with the news blaring continually,” Jay says, “but when they come here, it’s a time to laugh, a time to feel normal, a time to be with people who care.” Jay and Colette provide some stability to the students’ otherwise chaotic and tense lives.
Risa* is a Polish woman whose husband’s family lived in Ukraine until the bombing started. Four of his relatives fled to Poland and now stay in Risa’s apartment with her own family of five and their pets. To say life is messy and complicated is an understatement. Risa, who is part of Graceland’s ministry, says she was tempted not to go to the meetings because she was so tired. But she realized, “It’s the place where I can hear laughter, where people listen to me, and where someone will pray with me. I need to come, and it is so good for my soul.”
HELP FOR REFUGEES
Graceland has purchased clothes and supplies and helped pay rent for refugees in their circle of influence.
“My family can’t believe that people who don’t even know them want to be so generous,” Risa says.
Jay and Colette have also used funds to help people stay in a building that formerly was a church; the shelter provides time for Ukrainians to transition to new locations.
In another instance, they gave a young woman who has been involved in their Bible studies an envelope of cash and encouraged her to pray about what God was leading her to do with it. She has been volunteering to help refugees since the beginning of the war, and this gave her a chance to listen to God’s leading and bless some young moms who have fled from fighting.
Jay worries that people who have offered rent-free housing to refugees will soon start to feel the pinch.
“Those who can afford more will be able to find places to live, [and] those who can’t will be put out,” she says. She hopes Graceland will be able to collect funds to help people who need it.
Jay tells of Vika* who fled bombing with her elderly father. He recently became very ill and had to be hospitalized. Vika teaches English online but has had trouble making enough money to pay the expensive rents in Krakow and provide for her father’s care. Jay and Colette have opened their classroom/apartment for Vika and her dad to live in.
*Not their real name.
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, lives in Papillion, Neb., and writes about missions for Christian Standard.