The people of God working together
Illustration of loaves and fishes by Maran Garai
Half the pastor’s study space was typical. A desk, a computer, books (and more books!), the requisite theological certificates on the wall. The other half seemed jarringly out of a place. A map of Ukraine with strategically placed pins, two-way radios, a key rack for a fleet of vehicles, and a large whiteboard with a list of items like food, tourniquets, first aid kits and fuel.
The study was at an inconspicuous church, Biserica Crestina Baptista Sfanta Treime (Holy Trinity Baptist Church), down a narrow winding street in the heart of Bucharest. I visited it during a recent trip to Romania.
Pastors Felix and Chris graciously showed my colleague and me around the place of worship which now doubles as the logistical hub for a refugee centre.
In late February 2022 several local churches in Bucharest jumped together on a Zoom call just after the beginning of the war in Ukraine to explore what God was calling them to do.
Hours later, Russian-speaking refugees from southern Ukraine started showing up at the church’s doorstep. In an instant, the churches knew what they had to do: Whatever was needed to help these people in crisis.
Pastor John, lead pastor of Holy Trinity, directed his staff to get mattresses. After a quick trip to Ikea, they had dozens of mattresses scattered around the church. Churches in the area, under the name Ukraine Bucharest Churches ’22, would see more than 10,000 Russian-speaking Ukrainian refugees – or guests, as they prefer to call them – accommodated and transited through one of their centres over the next four months.
Pastor Felix shared that his own church had been trying for years without success to raise funds to purchase a church van. Today, the cooperative of churches jointly owns a fleet of 11 vehicles to take people to the embassy, train stations and doctors’ appointments. They also convey food and other necessities into Ukraine.
During our tour we began discussing how, when confronted with crowds of hungry people, Jesus told his disciples, "You give them something to eat!" To which the disciples astonishingly replied, "That would take more than a half a year of wages!" (Mark 6:37). To the disciples’ surprise, Jesus took what the disciples had, a mere five loaves and two fish, and exponentially multiplied it to feed the multitude.
Our hosts shared that at the outset of this work, their response was like the disciples: "How in the world are we going to manage all this with nothing? Prior to the war none of us had ever been involved in a ministry to refugees!" And yet here they were, daily witnessing God’s miraculous provision.
God is not only multiplying the finances, food and clothes needed to help these refugees. He’s multiplying people, too. The churches have seen more than 800 volunteers mobilized to serve those in need, including, astoundingly, people we met who have quit their jobs to work full-time for the initiative in service to God.
When we asked what their greatest need was, our pastor hosts did not say funds. They insisted it was prayer. For, as they admitted, without God’s help, nothing they have done could have been accomplished.
God can take our tiny efforts and multiply them exponentially to meet what otherwise appears to be insurmountable human need.
That led me to one of the more ground-shaking epiphanies I’ve had in a while – in our efforts to help those in greatest need (a laudable and virtuous thing) we can miss what God wants to do for and in us when His people band together, relying on the Spirit to shift priorities and plans in response to God’s calling.
The needs in front of us here in Canada may not seem so dramatic, but they are pressing. Thousands of people are homeless on the streets. Thousands of Indigenous people still wait for clean drinking water. And refugees are arriving here too, not only from war-torn Ukraine but from other places like Iran and Afghanistan.
Maybe with our Romanian brothers and sisters we must ask, "Lord, what are you calling us to do?"
For a short interview David Guretzki did with the Romanian pastors, click here.
It’s still unclear whether the pandemic is really over. We now know our churches can pivot when necessary. This small group of Bucharesti churches reminded me that walking in the Spirit may mean being ready, permanently, to pivot. It doesn’t take just a willingness to change priorities, but a willingness to work together with other churches and organizations for a common gospel cause.
We know there is a multiplication effect when we work together for a common cause. But we still need to learn how God can take our tiny efforts and multiply them exponentially to meet what otherwise appears to be insurmountable human need. The problems are huge, but God is an exponentially gracious and giving God for those who will but trust Him in that need.
David Guretzki of Ottawa is executive publisher of Faith Today and serves The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada as executive vice-president and resident theologian. Illustration of loaves and fishes by Maran Garai