This past summer, Bishop Wilma Kucharek visited our companion church in Slovakia. In her visits with pastors, seminary leaders, and church leaders, the Bishop received updates on the situation in Slovakia as the church ministers to the needs of the large influx of Ukrainian refugees in their midst. Conversations with leaders of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Slovakia, leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Faculty of Comenius University in Bratislava, and with a number of Slovak pastors illustrated how the Slovak Lutheran church, through their congregations, conference centers, and seminary have been providing humanitarian aid to these refugees, welcoming them into their midst, into their congregations, and into their homes, providing them with food, shelter, and basic needs.
Appreciation was also given for the financial and prayerful support from the Slovak Zion Synod in response to the needs of these refugees fleeing from war-torn Ukraine. Thanks to the generous response of people within and even beyond our Synod, we have been able to partner with the Lutheran Church in Slovakia in meeting these on-going needs and make a difference in the lives of others.
While in Slovakia, Bishop Kucharek was able to preach in several of these congregations which were on the front lines of receiving refugees crossing the border from Ukraine into Slovakia, and to speak with those who were directly impacted by your generosity, including two single mothers who have made a Lutheran congregation their new home in Slovakia. A pastoral reflection by Dr. Thomas S. Drobena of Holy Trinity, Stafford Springs, CT on the impact and importance of this collection for Ukrainian refugees is printed below.
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
Since early this year we have been supporting ministry among the many refugees fleeing war in Ukraine. While we mourn such needless conflict in any land, this humanitarian crisis struck many Americans as especially distressing because of how close to home Ukraine and Eastern Europe seems for many people. After several months our bishop was able to visit with some of the congregations and some of the very people that our financial support helped resettle.
Two such people, of the many tens of thousands that our congregations and our partner churches have supported, were two sisters, single mothers, who arrived in the mountains of Slovakia with nothing but the clothes on their back and their small children. These two sisters have had to restart their lives in a new place, learn a new language, and try their best to keep in contact with their family and friends who are still in Ukraine, unable to leave, or who have fled to other countries. Although they are Orthodox, they have found a new family in the Lutheran congregation that welcomed them. For many, this time of crisis has become one of appreciating the reality that Christians are one family. We support each other, pray for each other, and even if we are separated by a great distance, we can rely on one another.
The earliest Christians took this very seriously. Saint Paul tells us not just to show hospitality to those who come knocking, but actively offer hospitality to those who are less fortunate than us (Romans 12:13). A commentary on Romans from the second century explains, “When it says we should be solicitous in hospitality, it doesn’t mean only that we should receive guests who come to us, but also that we should seek them out… that we examine and inquire diligently everywhere, lest by chance there be a guest in a public square who would have to sleep without a roof.”
Saint John Chrysostom writes, “Think of this then, about Christ. He is wandering and a pilgrim, needing shelter; and you spend your time adorning the floor, the walls, and the capitals of the columns… all these treasures can be taken away… what you can do for your brother who is hungry, and immigrant, or naked, not even the devil himself can take away from you.” We often acknowledge all the things we “can’t take with us,” but forget that our neighbor is the one thing we can.
Often, we are challenged to give of our time, or our financial resources, to help those in need. But Jesus calls us to give our whole selves to one another, the same way he has given his whole self to us. We do not just give because we are in a comfortable position and able to give, or because we feel bad for someone else, but because we want to share our lives with them. We would share our home, we would share our bread, and in a large world where our hearts are turned to those who we maybe cannot invite in, we share our wealth. But we also continue in prayer for them. Through the ministry of our friends and coworkers in the Gospel, and through visits like our bishop’s, our hearts are delivered to those in need as well. So that they do not feel like simply recipients of charity, but like sisters and brothers who belong with us to one family and are welcomed and loved the way Jesus has welcomed and loved us.
Let us pray that we would also be transformed by these encounters, by the invitation of our Lord to seek out stronger relationships with our brothers and sisters, to help each other get to the Kingdom of God and, whether we are giving or receiving, to open our hearts to each other and experience Christ’s love in the sharing of all God has given us.