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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,

We are coming up on the six-month anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine, and the war continues. The Ukrainians see that their plight is now less of a focus globally. It is no longer front-page headlines. It is hard to see where this war is headed or where and when it will end. There is much speculation, but little clarity. What they have, what we have is the here and now.

I recently returned from Lithuania, Poland and Germany. I was told that 40% of Germans think that Ukraine should give up land to bring an end to the war. Many across Europe are growing weary of the crisis, guests in their homes, and the competition for jobs and housing. Some Ukrainians have returned home, but many cannot. There is nothing left to return to, and the rebuilding needed is far off. For the refugees, their trauma often leads to lethargy and helplessness. It is hard to adapt to another culture, learn another language, learn another way of doing things, and study by another educational system. All of these countries are in the European Union. They have different rules and restrictions. It’s difficult.

Lithuania borders Belarus, Russia (Kaliningrad), Latvia, and a narrow stretch of Poland called the Suwalky gap. It is an uncomfortable place to be situated. Its history is intertwined with both Russia and Belarus. Many Belarusians in exile have taken refuge in Lithuania. Now, refugees from Ukraine have also come to Lithuania.

Some people have been in refugee camps. Not the ideal situation, but churches and NGOs have worked to provide summer camp programs for the children. No one was prepared for what came to their borders. Many have worked to receive the refugees well, but it is hard to see what’s ahead. For everyone, the crisis has moved into a new phase.

This was not my first trip to the country, but it was my first trip to Vilnius, the capital. Through friends of friends, I was introduced to the Hope Center and Larisa Čerkaskajato. Larisa began working with the poor and needy of Vilnius in the early 90s. The transition after the collapse of the Soviet Union was hard everywhere, so the needs were great. Relying on support from individuals, churches and mission organizations she was able to provide a range of support. Seeing the need for more support, a warm meal for the very poorest, she worked to open a charity canteen in 2006 and a second in 2011. This was the beginning of Hope Center. Along the way Larisa has also provided Bible studies and spiritual support, as well as referrals to rehabilitation centers.

About two years ago, the city of Vilnius a funded project to replace one of the old canteens with a new and modern center for social services, a complex to include a kitchen and dining room, showers and washing machines, and nine rooms to provide temporary housing for the homeless and people in crisis. The gift from the city was the building. They thought they would equip it gradually as provisions became available. Within weeks of the center’s opening, the war began in Ukraine, and very quickly the space planned for temporary housing of local people in trouble was filled with Ukrainian refugees. They raced to find beds and other needed items. The war has changed directions for so many organizations. No one knows what’s next. For now, there is a great concern for how they will financially support the Hope Center. Winter is coming and fuel costs across Europe are skyrocketing. The refugees are finding work, but many are being exploited. They work long hours for meager pay and have no energy when they return for Bible studies or fellowship or anything else. No one knows what lies ahead. Speculation doesn’t help. We all have the here and now.

I have much still to share with you. Over the coming weeks, I hope to share at least two more newsletters. I learned a lot on this trip. Please pray for the refugees and the countries that have taken them in. Across Europe, people are afraid of the future. The Russian threat is ever present.

The BURM network will be holding a hybrid annual gathering. If you are able to join us October 6-8 in Green Bay, WI, we will be very glad to see you. If you would like information on how to connect virtually, please let me know.

Grateful for your prayers,


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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