Within a couple of weeks of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February, Serenissima Ministries had begun to welcome refugees. A southern corridor for refugees was established through Romania where many facilities were overwhelmed by the amount of people escaping the initial attacks of the war. Russia may have invaded to destroy the Ukrainian’s lives, but they actually pushed tens of thousands into the caring arms of many churches.
Initially, we thought that Serenissima might be a ministry of hospitality and welcome where people could find lodging for a few days to a few weeks and then move further down the corridor into Italy and Spain. However, as we worked with our local government and the precious people who were arriving at our facility, we quickly learned that days were going to turn into weeks and then weeks would turn into months. We would not be a “pass-through” ministry, but rather, one that would become a full mercy ministry to settle whoever we could. Our people really stepped-up to shoulder the burden and over 75 volunteers helped us get through the first couple of months. We were completely exhausted, but the Lord constantly supplied and He continues to do so to this day.
We had no idea on a social care and mercies level how many requests and needs our new Ukrainian friends would have. But just to give you an idea, when our friends arrived, there was a whole process of documentation which had to take place that was and is extremely complicated to take them through. All of them needed SIM cards and data plans to stay connected to home and family. We have numerous medical needs and prescriptions in the group including one with cancer treatments and another with a serious disease & pathology. To care for each of them, there are multiple specialists and chemotherapy treatments to follow and organize. Then, our new special friends need clothes which are adapted to Italian weather along with new beds, new shoes, 3 meals a day, and washing machines to run 24 hours a day to keep it all clean. After the first few weeks, we needed to quickly coordinate Italian language lessons, job interviews, and houses and apartments to rent for their lodging needs. Almost immediately, they were asking how their children could continue with school online and to be registered for local schools which were not ready to host Russian-speaking children on such short notice. Additionally, every request requires transportation and coordination of rides so just going to the park is an event in itself. We purchased brand new bicycles for all of them so they could access more places. One area of need and difficulty was sending money back and accessing funds that might not be there anymore. And this is just the short-list. We are so grateful to the precious people of the Serenissima Ministry Group who have been providing for them and loving them on this practical level for 4 months now.
Praise the Lord, also, that He was able to help us finish the construction of our industrial kitchen only one month before the war began. And while we encountered many problems and stress-tests to get it started, we’ve finally been able to resolve the problems and provide 3 meals a day consistently all of this time. We’re also grateful to have had the foresight to build showers into our facility some years ago. We knew those showers would be helpful someday — we just had no idea they would be used for this purpose.
As we enter the Summer months, we continue to need assistance as our expenses have risen sharply to provide in-depth care and resettlement for our friends. You can help us by going to our giving page and donating to our Ukraine relief fund if you would like to join us and enable us to further fulfill this mission.
At the same time, we have also been able to hire a few people to handle many of the logistics and allow our pastors to be more involved in ministry efforts to our Ukrainian friends. We are so grateful for the life-long friendships the Lord has already given to us through this trial-turned-blessing. Our friends are joining us for all of our services, special Bible studies, personal counseling sessions, and now gatherings made just for them with music, videos, and stories for their children, too. We recently remarked, “It’s like planting a whole new church inside of our church.” Pray with us for the settling of their physical lives and spiritual souls in the Serenissima (shalom) of Christ!