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Acts of Welcome

An update from Ellen Smith, mission co-worker serving in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Poland

Fall 2022

Write to Ellen Smith
Individuals: Give online to E132192 in honor of Ellen Smith’s ministry
Congregations: Give to D500115 in honor of Ellen Smith’s ministry
Churches are asked to send donations through your congregation’s normal receiving site (this is usually your presbytery)

Greetings all!

This letter is rather overdue. It has been a busy fall with travel and the BURM (Belarus Ukraine Russia Mission) Network’s annual gathering. I was expecting additional travel, finally to Ukraine with a group from the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), but Mr. Putin made that impossible with bombings and drone attacks in October. So, much prayer is needed for Ukraine.

In September, Luciano Kovacs, area coordinator for Middle East and Europe, and I traveled to Moldova with a Dutch team from Kerk in Actie. The trip has been in the planning for a year and was originally supposed to include Ukraine and the chance to share our partners with one another. Luciano and I had not yet visited Moldova, so it was a privilege to have our Dutch colleagues introduce us to the country through their partners.

Moldova is one of the poorest countries in Europe. It is outside of the European Union and its eastern border is occupied by Russia, so it is in a vulnerable position. As part of the former Soviet Union, its resources were siphoned off to Moscow. The Soviet Union used forced migration to break up community ties, relocating Moldovans and others to distant parts of the Soviet Union. When people returned to their homeland, what they might have owned was not returned. Today, one-third of the population of Moldova works outside the country, because salaries are so low. The effect of this is that their children and their parents are left behind. Sometimes, the children are left with grandparents or neighbors, but sometimes they are left on their own. The elderly often feel forgotten by their children. Even so, when Russia attacked Ukraine in February of this year, thousands of Ukrainians flooded into Moldova and the Moldovans, without hesitation, responded. It was chaos at the border, but nearly everyone we talked to was there to receive people. Others waited further inland to provide reception across the country. Many of the refugees used Moldova as a transit country, heading further into Europe. Others, wanting to stay close to home and to the fathers, brothers and sons in their lives, remain in Moldova. Proximity to Odesa made it easy for people to go back home periodically to check on their homes and family members that stayed behind. Many headed back for the start of the school year, as things had been relatively quiet. The recent attacks have changed all of that. Winter is coming and the attacks have destroyed so much infrastructure that Ukraine will be hard pressed to provide for people if they all return now.

Kerk in Actie has been engaged in Moldova for many years. The refugee crisis is new, but the problems for both the Moldovans and the refugees are similar. One of the organizations we traveled with focuses on home health for the elderly with trained nurses and psychologists. Those same staff members have been present at the border as people fled from the war. They are also working in refugee centers across the country. Another organization has been providing after-school care and elder care on their premises. With the influx of refugees, they found ways to provide housing and support for families, integrating them into their existing programs. In the north of Moldova, less populated and poorer, we met with two churches that have started a program that engages young people in volunteer service to the elderly in their villages. Kerk in Actie made it possible for the church to buy washing machines. The teen volunteers go to the homes of elderly residents to gather their laundry, which they wash and then return to their neighbors. They also haul water (think village well) and help in other ways around their homes. There are other villages that hope to be able to join this project engaging youth volunteers. It could be a wonderful way for PC(USA) congregations to engage with both Kerk in Actie and Moldova. On my last day in Moldova, I was able to stop by YMCA Moldova, which is engaged in youth outreach and refugee ministry. They are working to grow their outreach to youth, both Moldovan and Ukrainian. My last meeting was with a Roma advocate. She is Roma herself and has been working tirelessly in Moldova for equal rights for the Roma population and equal support for the Roma refugees from Ukraine. There are so many possibilities, and they impress me with their energy and vision.

The BURM network gathered in early October in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was a hybrid meeting. For those that gathered in person, it was refreshing to be together again after two years. We are thankful for what Zoom has made possible, but better together. For the conference we had a speaker from Poland talking about refugee ministry and the ways their seminary is looking at building models for congregational vitality. Following this, we had a panel discussion looking at history, the rise of populism in Europe and the world, and the connections between fossil fuels and war. Finally, we had the president of LCC International University in Klaipeda, Lithuania, talking about their diverse student population (Ukrainians, Russians, Belarusians, Georgians, Armenians, Central Asians, Syrians, Afghanis, Iraqis, etc). They have historically gathered students from across the former Soviet Union. More recently, they have been focusing on students from war-affected countries.

The BURM network drafted an overture for the General Assembly, which was moved forward by Utah Presbytery, with concurrence from many other presbyteries and unanimously affirmed by the General Assembly this summer. It is an overture encouraging deeper engagement in Eastern Europe. Travel to the former Soviet Union is limited at this point, but it is important for us to look more closely and understand all the gray area. Therefore, the network will be working on a toolkit for churches. The network is also planning travel study opportunities for 2023. It has been a heartbreaking year for this network, but gathering together was helpful.

If you would like to be a part of the work to prepare the toolkit, please be in touch. There is already discussion about book studies and video discussions. In the midst of tragedy, it is good to be a part of something creative.

I have begun receiving invitations for itineration again, as churches have asked for updates. With the lifting of travel bans, in person visits are also possible. If you are interested, please be in touch.

Peace and blessings,


Please read the following letter from Rev. Mienda Uriarte, acting director of World Mission:

Dear Partners in God’s Mission,

What an amazing journey we’re on together! Our call to be a Matthew 25 denomination has challenged us in so many ways to lean into new ways of reaching out. As we take on the responsibilities of dismantling systemic racism, eradicating the root causes of poverty and engaging in congregational vitality, we find that the Spirit of God is indeed moving throughout World Mission. Of course, the past two years have also been hard for so many as we’ve ventured through another year of the pandemic, been confronted with racism, wars and the heart wrenching toll of natural disasters. And yet, rather than succumb to the darkness, we are called to shine the light of Christ by doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

We are so grateful that you are on this journey as well. Your commitment enables mission co-workers around the world to accompany partners and share in so many expressions of the transformative work being done in Christ’s name. Thank you for your partnership, prayers and contributions to their ministries.

We hope you will continue to support World Mission in all the ways you are able:

Give – Consider making a year-end financial contribution for the sending and support of our mission personnel (E132192). This unified fund supports the work of all our mission co-workers as they accompany global partners in their life-giving work. Gifts can also be made “in honor of” a specific mission co-worker – just include their name on the memo line.

Pray – Include PC(USA) mission personnel and global partners in your daily prayers. If you would like to order prayer cards as a visual reminder of those for whom you are praying, please contact Cindy Rubin (; 800-728-7228, ext. 5065).

Act – Invite a mission co-worker to visit your congregation either virtually or in person. Contact to make a request or email the mission co-worker directly. Email addresses are listed on Mission Connections profile pages. Visit to search by last name.

Thank you for your consideration! We appreciate your faithfulness to God’s mission through the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).




Rev. Mienda Uriarte, Acting Director
World Mission
Presbyterian Mission Agency
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

To give, please visit

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6

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