Serving a church in exile
CLUJ-NAPOCA, Romania — The baptistery here is full of vegetables.…
CHERNIVTSI, Ukraine — From here, it’s less than 25 miles to Romania.
That makes this western Ukrainian city, which hasn’t yet endured an attack from Russia, a respite at the end of a long journey for some 60,000 displaced souls who fled from the east. Hundreds of them have found a temporary home in the meeting place of the Chernivtsi Church of Christ.
The church also is a respite for Christians from other parts of Europe who come here to deliver aid — from five hours away in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, or beyond.
Related: Serving a church in exile
On a Saturday morning strollers sit on the church’s porch awaiting distribution to families in need. Next to them are boxes of Ukrainian- and Russian-language Bibles awaiting transport to Romania, where refugees have requested them.
Inside, mattresses and blankets line the auditorium. About 30 displaced people live here now, though they come and go frequently, said church member Artum Budzhak.
Budzhak, 18, grew up in Chernivtsi. Before the war, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the church had an average Sunday attendance of 10 to 15 people, he said. Now the average is 50 or more.
“I have a lot of friends here,” Budzhak said. Among the displaced are young Christians from Dnipro, a city in central Ukraine. Their minister, Dima Galuk, came with them.
“David wouldn’t leave his sheep,” Galuk said, referencing the Old Testament king. “I came here because I really want to help.”
Also among the displaced is Nikita Bazylev, a church member and professional basketball player from the eastern city of Kramatorsk. He continues to train with a team in Chernivtsi.
Dennis Sopelnik continues to train ministers here. The instructor for Bear Valley Bible Institute of Ukraine has been displaced twice since the conflict in eastern Ukraine began in 2014. Now he works among his fellow believers in Chernivtsi, teaching Bible courses.
In the midst of war, “we still need preachers, we still need teachers,” Sopelnik said. “We still need people who can spread God’s Word.”
Dmitrov Haliuk, minister for the Chernivtsi church, said that hosting the displaced has strengthened his belief that there is “one God, one love, one family” in the church.
“When people write me from the U.S. and from other countries — people I don’t even know — and offer to share their supplies and their homes with us, it’s very inspiring,” Haliuk said.
Many Ukrainians have accepted those invitations and have moved into western Europe. Opening the church building as a temporary home for them “was really a question of saving people,” Haliuk said. “We can’t say how happy we are to serve.”
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