PC(USA) delegation to make solidarity trip to Eastern Europe

Visit follows unprecedented outpouring of support from Presbyterians amid war in Ukraine

by Darla Carter | Presbyterian News Service

Poland is among the countries the PC(USA) delegation will be visiting. (Photo by Ellen Smith)

LOUISVILLE — A Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) delegation will travel to Eastern Europe this month in a show of solidarity with people in and near Ukraine as the war with Russia continues to create death, destruction and displacement.

The four-person delegation, which includes representatives from Presbyterian Disaster Assistance and Presbyterian World Mission, will visit Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland and (tentatively) Ukraine, from Jan 26 through Feb. 10.

PC(USA) partners “have been very glad to hear that we are coming,” said Ellen Smith, Regional Liaison for Eastern Europe and a member of the delegation. “It is important to show up. That World Mission and Compassion, Peace and Justice (CPJ) can show up together is a good message.”

Delegates from CPJ are Susan Krehbiel, Associate for Migration Accompaniment Ministries for PDA, and the Rev. Dr. Laurie Kraus, Director of Humanitarian and Global Ecumenical Engagement for CPJ. World Mission is represented by Smith and Luciano Kovacs, Area Coordinator for the Middle East and Europe.

“We’ll be visiting the partners that have received generous support from our Presbyterian members, and we’ll also be able to meet with people like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and some of our other international partners,” Krehbiel said. The trip will be very rich “because it will have both the more grassroots response from local congregations and meeting with some of our larger international organizations.”

The trip follows an unprecedented outpouring of support from Presbyterians after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, in what has been described as an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian War, a conflict that began in 2014. Since the invasion nearly a year ago, tens of thousands of people have been killed and millions of people have fled the country, according to the New York Times. There’s also been displacements inside the country.

Presbyterians showed their deep concern by responding to a PDA appeal that has provided $10 million for the PC(USA) response, including the immediate, ongoing and long-term recovery work needed to help people affected by the war. The appeal was led by PDA Migration Accompaniment Ministries (formerly Refugee and Asylum).

Susan Krehbiel is associate for Migration Accompaniment Ministries for Presbyterian Disaster Assistance. (Photo by Rich Copley)

During the upcoming trip, “we’ll of course meet with many of the people who are organizing the different programs and services to refugees, and we’ll actually do some site visits where Ukrainian refugees are living, so we’ll be able to see some of the programs in real time and be able to learn from our church and faith partners about what this experience has meant for them — the challenges, the joys,” Krehbiel said. “For many of the local congregations and local volunteers, this is something new for them.”

In addition to focusing on Ukrainian refugees, “we have intentionally asked for them to also share with us the overall refugee situation, so if they’re serving refugees of other nationalities. … Some of those countries, not unlike the U.S., do have xenophobia and do have racism, so we do want to understand if there’s any disparity in treatment.”

That’s one of the ways the trip ties in with the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 invitation, which is directed toward eradicating poverty, dismantling structural racism and increasing congregational vitality.

“Witnessing how our faith partners serving others made vulnerable by war and displacement, in the midst of an often chaotic and uneven response by national governments, teaches us about how to be a Matthew 25 church,” the delegation noted.

Other connections to Matthew 25 include being “able to witness and share the catastrophic poverty inflicted by the war, explore the impact on climate change and global militarization,” members of the delegation said.

Krehbiel added that visiting partners is a “way of showing solidarity for them as well as (to) deepen our understanding, and not only of what they’ve done from last February ‘til now, … but also to help understand how things are transitioning as the war continues and the displacement continues. It will help us anticipate and understand the things that they will need in the future.”

Keep an eye on PC(USA), PDA and CPJ social media for updates on the delegation’s journey.

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