Associate pastor Brian Whittaker, along with the Christians in his church, has moved heaven and earth to support 17 Ukrainian refugees arriving in the UK. Despite the sacrifices required, he says the church must respond to this humanitarian crisis


Source: Reuters/Thomas Peter

People who fled Russia’s military campaign against Ukraine wait at a train station hoping to board a train to Poland.

On Sunday morning we welcomed 17 Ukrainian refugees to our church. They’d been in the UK for just a few days.

The family consists of Mum, Dad, and their 13 children, plus Auntie and Grandma. As they are the family of one of our church members, they were able to flee to the UK sooner than most using the Ukraine Family Scheme visa. We prayed through their perilous journey across the border into Poland, and then awaited their visa approval, which required multiple six-hour round trips to the embassy.

They landed on British soil with just the clothes on their back and a small rucksack. They were collected by a convoy of cars, thankfully equipped with enough car seats for all of the children!

The size of the family means that they are unable to stay with the Ukrainian woman in our church. Long-term the council is committed to providing them with accommodation, but in the short-term we face a huge problem. We have had lots of generous offers from the church, but considering all that the family have been through, we didn’t want to split them across multiple homes.

Thankfully, someone within our congregation has a large home which is used for Christian retreats and can comfortably sleep all 17 members of the family. This is by no means a long-term solution, or even a mid-term one; the retreat is booked out for several weekends, so they need to vacate the property on those dates. It also has no internet connection and it is a considerable drive to the church.

Transport is also a problem, both on a Sunday and midweek to access vital support. But our church has been amazing. For every problem, we’ve worked hard to try and find a solution. We even had a local primary school volunteer their minibus for the first weekend. It has been amazing to see people step forward and give sacrificially.

Given that it’s a huge task, some might ask why we are doing it? We’re doing it because of our love for Jesus, who was once a refugee

During the service on Sunday we reserved seats so that the family could sit together. We heard a presentation charting their devastating experiences, beginning back in 2014 when they had to flee the Russian war in Donetsk. They arrived in Kyiv with nothing and had to start all over again. And they did. They made a new life and built their own home on a piece of land outside Kyiv, only to have to flee again and leave it all behind, possibly never to return there again. It was heart-breaking to hear what they’ve been through.

But it was also inspiring. Their faith in Jesus has remained steadfast despite all they’ve been through. They’re a musical family, and they asked to sing for us during the service. The Dad grabbed the guitar and all 17 of them praised God in Ukrainian. It was a moving experience.

Supporting them is a colossal task. Transport and accommodation are just some of the issues we face. We’re also supporting them in opening new bank accounts, applying for benefits, sourcing English lessons, driving lessons and finding school places. The list goes on. It’s not easy. It is costly for our church.

Given that it’s a huge task, some might ask why we are doing it? We’re doing it because of our love for Jesus. He was once a refugee who fled his home because of a violent political leader. He knows what it is like to have nowhere to live. He knows what it is like to be mistreated. His heart is for the outcast, the lost and those in need. He commands his people to care for the poor and provide for those who have no food. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when we care for his people, we are doing it for Jesus. Jesus is glorified when his people sacrificially give themselves to provide for those who are the most vulnerable.

If the church does not rise up and care for those who have lost everything, who will? It is time for the church to be a beacon of light for those who most need it.