As the pandemic has dragged on through the year, the BGAV, BGAV churches, and partners abroad have morphed to meet the needs of our rapidly changed world. Despite all of the changes, God’s mission of loving people has not changed. Through it all, our focus:refugees mission partners have stayed committed to loving the least of these around them and adapted to addressing new needs during the pandemic.
Fighting COVID-19 and the winter cold in Croatia
Over the past months, the situation for refugees in Bosnia has become increasingly dire. As both COVID-19 and complicated political battles rage, thousands of refugees are left out in the cold. Locals have lost their patience with those sleeping in their streets and their forests, and reports continue to surface of the violence that refugees are subject to by local police authorities. Neighbors from Croatian Baptist Aid (CBAid) are expending tremendous amounts of energy to provide for those refugees left to fend for themselves.
Over the past months volunteers and staff with CBAid have distributed shoes, clothes, hygiene items, sleeping bags, backpacks, and food, as well as accompanying refugees into grocery stores, where in some regions they are banned from entering without a “local.” The present and future challenge is weather. Winter can be brutal in the Balkan region and far too many refugees are sheltering in makeshift camps in the forest or abandoned buildings. BGAV support will be going towards an industrial generator, food parcels, and blankets to aid in their winterization efforts in the coming months.
Unfortunately, a virtual mission trip with our Croatian partners was canceled in October because Toma Magda, the director of CBAid contracted COVID-19. Thankfully, Toma and his wife Ksenija, have both recovered and are not suffering any complications. Virginia Baptist churches remain steadfast in their prayers for the work of CBAid both within Croatia and in Bosnia as they desperately try to serve those most in need.
Maintaining connection in Austria
For the Austrian Baptists working with refugees, finding ways to stay connected has been one of the greatest challenges of the past months. With shifting regulations on the number of people who are allowed to gather and many refugees wary of even small gatherings, maintaining vital community has been difficult. The continued isolation and anxiety of the pandemic adds weight to already heavy and burdened hearts. Through virtual worship services, virtual bible studies, Zoom prayer nights, and phone calls, the Austrians are doing their best to provide a sense of belonging and community, though virtual communication is always made more difficult with language barriers.
While many asylum cases were delayed earlier in the year because of the pandemic, court hearings have resumed with hygiene restrictions, sometimes limiting the ability of Austrian Baptist volunteers to accompany refugees to their hearings as witnesses. Despite this extra obstacle, there have been a string of positive asylum rulings in recent weeks– bright moments of light in the midst of darkness. Others continue to wait.
The Donauhof social construction project in Vienna continues to progress, though some recent complications with members of the neighborhood district have delayed the project. Workers continue to slowly develop the old hotel ballroom into a functional event and worship space, though both large events and church services are on hold temporarily. Meanwhile, the Baptist church in Linz is embarking on a new construction journey of their own: next year their current church will be torn down and a new multi-functional church and social work space will be built. Both of these projects in Austria will creatively engage the local community and allow for expanded refugee integration projects.
Manassas Baptist Church will go on a virtual mission trip to visit Austria this coming Saturday, December 5 at 10 a.m. to see updates on the Donauhof construction project and learn more about how the Austrian Baptists are serving refugees.
Re-building hope in Lebanon
The country of Lebanon continues to real at the compounding crises that the country is facing. From the continued economic crisis, the pandemic, political instability, and rebuilding after the blast at the Beirut port, hope is a rare commodity. Yet, the Lebanese Baptists’ history of opening up their hearts and their homes to the hurting mean they are seasoned professionals in offering hope in times of hopelessness. As they open themselves up to serve others, they find that they themselves and their churches are transformed.
“I come home in the evening exhausted and overwhelmed from all of the needs, but with a smile on my face because I know God is at work.” These are the words of Rosette Mansour, the Senior Partner Relations Officer of the Lebanse Society for Educational and Social Development (LSESD) and an active member of a Baptist church in Beirut, Lebanon. She and others from her church have been faithfully serving both refugees in their community and those whose apartments and homes were destroyed by the blast. She, along with other members of the LSESD staff, shared her experiences of service in a virtual mission trip with First Baptist Church of Alexandria in October.
Members of FBCA were able to learn and engage with the good work that LSESD does in equipping local churches to serve refugees at this time. LSESD has expanded their food voucher programs, are continuing to distribute hygiene kits including masks made by local seamstresses in a vocational program, and are working to distribute winterization items to those living in exposed shelters.
The LSESD team admitted their exhaustion– the crises are affecting themselves in addition to their communities. Their hearts weigh even heavier at the deaths of some key elders within the Baptist community over the past few weeks. The virtual mission trip ended with a time of prayer, a moment of bearing each other’s burdens and uniting together in solidarity.
Sustaining a mission partnership like focus:refugees seemed like a daunting task at the outset of the pandemic. With the impossibility of international travel in the past months, we have missed our normal opportunities of sending short-term teams and volunteers to our partners as well as the opportunity to host our partners in Virginia. So over the past few months, with more scheduled in the coming months, churches have embarked on virtual missions trips to “visit” and connect with our partners across the world. These trips have allowed a time for churches across the globe to learn from each other, pray together, and nourish relationships.
It is these mutually beneficial, holistic relationships that have made virtual engagements feel less like “mission trips” with partners and more like family Zoom calls with relatives we may be physically distanced from, but no less connected. More than ever, these connections have shown that we are all united in solidarity as the body of Christ, committed to enacting God’s mission of loving all of those around us.
You can view recordings of the past virtual mission trips and learn about upcoming trips by visiting the Virginia Baptist Partnership Missions Facebook page. You can learn more about the focus:refugees partnership by going to bgav.org/refugees
Register for the Virtual Mission Trip to Austria, Saturday, December 5 at 10:00AM here.