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)

Dear friends,

It has been more than a year now since the crisis at the Belarusian border began in August 2021. In response to sanctions and international pressure following the 2020 elections in Belarus, which most view as stolen, Mr. Lukashenko initiated a targeted operation of the Belarusian regime to bring would be migrants from war affected countries in the Middle East and Africa to Belarus in order to push them to the borders of the EU (Poland, Lithuania and Latvia) in an effort to destabilize and exert political pressure on the European Union. In cooperation with travel agencies in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, and providing free Belarusian tourist visas, the regime lured desperate people with the promise of easy and safe access to the European Union. The reality was that after a few days in Belarus, the migrants were moved to the borders and forced to cross into Poland, Lithuania or Latvia.

In response to the sudden influx of these migrants, in order to stem the flow, both Lithuania and Poland established 15 km exclusion zones – zones in which all constitutional rights were suspended, press and aid workers were barred, and the area became heavily militarized. In both Lithuania and Poland, fences have been constructed with razor wire on the Belarusian side. In Lithuania, those crossing the border have been rounded up and put in camps. In Poland, the border guards have, against EU and international law, practiced push backs, forcing the migrants back to Belarus, often across razor wire or rivers. Returning to Belarus, the migrants have faced harsh treatment by the Belarusian border guards and then been forced back into Poland, a process often repeated multiple times. In the Polish forests along the Belarusian border, many migrants have been struggling to survive and move on to Western Europe at great cost to their health and risk of life. Too many have died. The migrants include women and children, as well as disabled people – desperate for a safer and better life.

I have been following the crisis for most of the year. A loose network of aid workers, mostly volunteers, has developed. They work with locals in the area and have established a hotline that migrants can call. The group has treated frost bite, hypothermia and trench foot, helped women in labor and people with disabilities. The stories are heartbreaking. The government uses propaganda against the migrants, labeling them as terrorists and has made it illegal to help. As a result, many have been afraid to step up, including some churches. The Polish Lutheran Church has been an exception. They responded early in the crisis, sending supplies to the area and engaging in other ways. Their last shipment, however, was February 15, and then another border crisis began – the massive influx of Ukrainians fleeing the Russian invasion of their country. As four million Ukrainian refugees flooded into Poland, the Belarusian crisis slipped out of focus, but Grupa Granica (one of the groups in that loose network of aid workers) has continued to serve.

In July and August, I made my second trip to Poland for this year. I was visiting partners from previous trips, as well as potential new partners. After months of trying to connect with Grupa Granica, a Polish colleague was able to arrange a meeting with two of its members. We sat across the table from them for two hours, frequently interrupted by urgent phone calls, listening to their stories. Migrants are wandering throughout the forests on the eastern border, desperately trying to avoid the border guards. As Grupa Granica receives calls for help, volunteers go into the forest to provide first aid, dry clothing and warm soup. Often, they can do no more. They must avoid the border guards also. The group is working hard for political change, but it is slow in coming. They have been able to get individuals to hospitals in severe cases and have been able to get some into Western Europe. The volunteers are growing exhausted and fighting burnout, but the need does not go away. They have a doctor who is helping them, but they need a medical tent or some kind of structure where they can better care for people. They could use more doctors and they need medical supplies.

After two hours of an extraordinary conversation, we exchanged emails and our new friends slipped away to face the ongoing crisis. Two borders, Belarus and Ukraine. Two very different responses. Please pray for the migrants already pushed back to Belarus, the migrants wandering the forest in Eastern Poland, the people preparing to flee their war-stricken countries unaware of what they will face, and the aid workers struggling with exhaustion and heartbreak. Please pray for migrants everywhere taking great risks to cross borders, seeking safety and hope. Please pray for peace for all the many countries ravaged by war.

The BURM network will be gathering for their annual meeting October 6-8, at First Presbyterian Church in Green Bay, WI. This meeting will be hybrid. We hope as many as possible will join in person, but there will also be parts of the meeting that you can access virtually. If you would like more information about the BURM gathering, please let me know.

Grace and Peace,


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 (cynthia.rubin@pcusa.org; 800-728-7228, ext. 5065).

Act – Invite a mission co-worker to visit your congregation either virtually or in person. Contact mission.live@pcusa.org to make a request or email the mission co-worker directly. Email addresses are listed on Mission Connections profile pages. Visit pcusa.org/missionconnections 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 https://bit.ly/22MC-YE.

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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