From MTW Missionary Bob Burnham recounts a week of both fleeing and serving: On Thursday morning, Feb. 24, Russia’s blitzkrieg triggered a flurry of activity…. A few hours later I was putting my team on a ferry to Romania, where they were received first by the wonderful people of Romania – both believers and non-believers – and then ultimately by the MTW Team in Brasov (the Ebbers and Kreider families.) The love and generosity of the MTW team, their local church, and Romanians have been overwhelming to this day. We’ve been brought to tears many times by their provision of meals, open arms and open homes, free transportation and whatever else is needed at a moment’s notice.
From here, we are networking with believers doing relief work in Moldova, Spain, Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine. As soon as we arrived in Brasov our refugee work began. We were awakened by the ringtone of our phones; people on the line asking so many questions: “Do you know how to get buses to the border? Do you know other ways to get out? Are there people who can help us as we travel? Who are they? Where will they meet us? What should we take along? If we come to you, can you help us? Where will we live?” And these questions continue now, 9 days later.
Several families got rides to the border, but due to traffic had to walk up to ten miles in the mud, with luggage, pets and little children in tow, only to reach already packed borders, with no bathroom facilities along the way or food available, in near-freezing temps. The train stations are overrun with tens of thousands of people, and sometimes the trains don’t show up.
Bob went to meet Sasha, a 16 year old, at the border and rode the bus with him to Bucharest. Sasha’s parents had dropped him off alone at the border with the simple instructions, “Somehow get to Prague and find your brother.”
We try to coordinate and meet people, but there are mix-ups. Some arrive in the middle of the night and find that everything is full and there is nowhere to find shelter, so they stand in a station or parking lot waiting for a ride to anywhere else. Many of them have only the clothes that they’re wearing, and push on in a stupor, wondering the entire time if they’ll ever be able to return to their home country, or even if they’ll have an intact home to return to. They also carry the fear associated with not knowing whether the loved ones left behind – grandparents, fathers, medical and civil servants, husbands, brothers, sons, classmates, boyfriends, and even pets – will survive the next attacks.
The emotional and physical toll on them is brutal. Panic attacks, nervous breakdowns and spending all day crying seem to be the norm. People are sometimes so internally conflicted that they can’t commit to their own decisions. We’ll work for hours to arrange transportation out, only to have them put it off another day or say they just can’t leave, even if it means them staying and dying there.
[We are already doing some crisis counseling.] One of the refugees from Kyiv gave her phone number and offered her assistance, saying she needs to keep herself busy and barely sleeps due to the nightmarish images constantly in her mind. Please pray for qualified, God-honoring trauma counselors who can speak with these Ukrainians in their native language.
To get our people out, we have to find drivers who are willing to pass through multiple check points or risk their lives to go into areas where they could be shot. What’s amazing is that many of the drivers who are willing to do this are Christians doing it for free. They’re not professional taxi drivers, but programmers and clinic directors and pastors who have families. Yet, they risk their lives to save others.
One Romanian driver went all the way to Nikolaev [which was under threat of attack]. God moved the hearts of the bridge guards to allow 9 women and children to cross, even though it was past the curfew. Our pastor in north Odessa housed the 11 of them in his home before they made their way back to the Romanian border.
Our mission funds have been used to help people get out, but also were given to our church members still in Odessa, providing food, specialty items and medicine for maternity wards, the elderly and disabled who can’t (or won’t) leave, and buying beds and mattresses for emergency shelters for dozens of children.
Here in Brasov, our team was donated the use of six new apartments, along with access to an overflowing donation center, allowing us to give homes to 32 Ukrainians for as long as they need them! Our teammates each serve this growing community with attending to needs, applying for documents, listening, washing clothes, taking them shopping and cooking meals while they’re still getting settled.
Thank you for standing alongside us in your prayers, encouragement and giving which enable us to point others to the One Who will one day certainly usher in a new kingdom.