Published Apr 18, 2023
Volunteering through Disaster Relief has given me the privilege of meeting many extraordinary people doing all kinds of extraordinary things. Shortly after the war in Ukraine began, I traveled to Romania as part of a Disaster Relief team tasked to assist the churches and ministries aiding Ukrainian refugees and to discover avenues for California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief to help in the ongoing crisis response.
The churches and a variety of other Christian ministries in and around Bucharest were doing a remarkable job taking care of families in crisis. We met with pastors and leaders, toured their facilities, and listened to their stories. We saw how they were shifting and reassigning their resources in order to rescue displaced people. Their staff and volunteers were working incredibly hard to feed, house, and assist as many people as they could. Their ministry calendars were cleared, their classrooms were turned into bedrooms, and their budgets were redirected to crisis care. Volunteers rushed in to cook, clean, provide childcare, and translate – all the many big and small tasks necessary in this emergency.
These churches and ministries were operating within an already established network of evangelical organizations. The various organizations had a connection of support and an open-handed sharing of resources. If one group needed shampoo and soap, another group stepped up to supply that need from what they had available. It looked remarkably like the early church when Luke wrote, “And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common….and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need” (Acts 2:44-45). An early church model of love and support was happening all around Bucharest.
We spent a couple of days at Casa Shalom – an orphanage used to house refugees. They asked if we would be willing to prepare meals for two days so their overworked kitchen staff could have a break. We were excited for a ‘hands on’ opportunity to serve. However, excitement quickly bumped up against the challenge! We needed to figure out what to prepare, how to get the food, how to prepare it all in a strange kitchen, and how to make it all happen using metric measurements.
As part of our first meal, we made cabbage soup. It had seemed like a great idea, but while the soup was bubbling away, it suddenly occurred to me that we were cooking cabbage soup for Romanian and Ukrainian people – cabbage soup is a staple of their diet. We didn’t know anything about cabbage soup – we were just following a random recipe we found online! Then it was brought to our attention that one nationality ate a particularly spicy version of the soup, and the other ate it more … mildly. I worried we might spark an international incident among people who had previously been living together peacefully. In the end, everyone was extremely indulgent; they ate our Americanized version of their soup and were quite gracious to us.
For the next meal, we thought meatloaf sounded like a hearty – and safe – idea. We knew how to make it, and it seemed to us that it would be internationally acceptable. As we were preparing the meatloaf, I noticed kitchen staff members sneaking around the corner into the kitchen one or two at a time and quietly observed what we were doing. Then I heard snickering and laughter coming from the other room. I found a teenager who could translate and learned that they were laughing at the giant “meatballs” the crazy Americans were making! Having never seen meat in a loaf shape before, they found it quite amusing.
Despite our limited ability to communicate, we enjoyed our days with the staff and families at Casa Shalom, and we were happy to provide some comic relief for their weary cooks.
We did what we could to encourage and support the people we met, people who were making profound personal sacrifices to come to the aid of others. They encouraged and challenged us with their living example of loving your neighbor. It was both humbling and motivating.
It was a beautiful picture of the Church at work.