Ukrainian Refugees In Poland Redefine What It Means To Be A Church

By Erik Tryggestad
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While some Ukrainian refugees plan to stay in Warsaw, Poland, others are looking for jobs across Europe and some hope to return home. (Photo: Warsaw Church of Christ / The Christian Chronicle)

Bizarrely, Yura Taran of Warsaw, Poland is thankful for all the years he abused drugs.

It was another life ago, before he became a Christian and then a minister for a Church of Christ in the eastern Ukrainian city of Zaporizhzhia.

But the poison with which he polluted himself had lingering effects. He’s not healthy enough to serve in the Ukrainian military.

Neither is fellow minister Boris Sanzhura of Kramatorsk. He’s thankful for the nagging eye problem that resulted from an old injury. It’s a “thorn in the flesh,” as the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 12. But it allowed him to cross the border with members of his congregation while other men were required to stay.

They can’t serve their country by taking up arms. But here, they can serve their flock by taking up the cross.

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“God turned what was bad into good,” Taran said.

The two ministers live among more than 50 Ukrainian refugees in a small apartment block in Poland’s capital. Across a busy suburban street is a cemetery with a memorial for Polish soldiers who died in World War II, when Russians played the roles of liberators and occupiers in the Eastern European nation.

Churches in the U.S. helped Polish Christians secure and rent the brand-new facility for the Ukrainians. Eastern European Mission has contributed funds to help with vehicle repairs and supplies. Łukasz Kondracki, a third-generation member of the Church of Christ in Warsaw, and his wife, Nicole, help coordinate the relief effort.

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Anya Sanzhura, a Ukrainian refugee, covers newly planted seeds in her garden behind the duplex in Warsaw, Poland. Sanzhura became a Christian in the 1990s. (Photo: Audrey Jackson / The Christian Chronicle)

On a Thursday afternoon, as workers installed an oven in an upstairs kitchen, Kondracki talked with Taran about vacuum cleaners and yard equipment — in a mix of Polish, English and Russian.

Linguistically, “we’re breaking all the rules,” Kondracki said. As for the work-in-progress facility, “They told me this doesn’t have to be a five-star hotel, but don’t be like what’s going on across the street,” he said, motioning toward the cemetery.

The apartments are appreciated, said Taran’s wife, Yulia. They allow greater privacy than the refugee centers they stayed in on their journey here. In the complex’s spacious backyard, the Ukrainians are setting up a tent for devotionals and planting a vegetable garden.

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Outside the apartment building that has become their temporary home, Ukrainian refugees celebrate the baptism of a new believer. (Photo: Warsaw Church of Christ / The Christian Chronicle)

Some plan to stay here for a few weeks as they look for jobs and new lives in other parts of Europe. Others wait for a chance to return home.

It’s a tough wait, Yura Taran said. They get word that things have quieted down and start to think about going back. Then they learn of a new attack.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainians have revitalized the Warsaw congregation, which had dwindled to a handful of worshippers in recent years, Nicole Kondracki said. Mission efforts here have struggled, and supporting churches have pulled out. The Kondrackis plan to move to Alabama in July.

In recent weeks, church attendance has topped 60. Church members have rented an auditorium to accommodate the growing congregation of refugees.

“Church” itself has taken on a new meaning for the Ukrainians, Yura Taran said. It used to mean “sitting for two hours, singing songs and then going home.”

“We’re not doing that here. … Here, we’re in each other’s faces, at each other’s throats!” he said with a laugh. “We’re loving each other, respecting each other, trying to bless each other. And inside of us everything is calm and peaceful.

“This is our Exodus. Soon, we will find the promised land.”

This article was originally published by The Christian Chronicle.

Erik TryggestadErik Tryggestad is president and CEO of The Christian Chronicle. He has filed stories for the Chronicle from more than 65 nations.

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1 thought on “Ukrainian Refugees In Poland Redefine What It Means To Be A Church”

  1. Baptists and other Evangelicals are not protected “traditional religions” in Putin’s authoritarian paradise.
    Though Christian Nationalist Patriarch Kirill justifies the Ukraine invasion as a way to crush other Orthodox Churches there, Baptists and other Evangelicals are next.

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