BGAV Venturer reflects on summer working with refugees
Jason Williams is a rising Sophomore at William & Mary and a Connecticut native. After hearing about summer mission opportunities through the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM), Jason spent five weeks serving as a BGAV Venturer missions volunteer alongside a Baptist church in Wroclaw, Poland, supporting their efforts to reach out to refugees affected by the war in Ukraine.
After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February of 2022, millions of Ukrianians poured across the border of Poland and sought refuge in Poland. While the numbers have decreased significantly since the war began, and many only stayed in Poland for a few weeks before moving on to another country, millions still remain across Poland. Baptists in Poland, though only numbering a few thousand themselves, have served over 16,000 people since the war began. One such church was where Jason served in Wroclaw.
Tucked into the southwestern corner of Poland not far from the German and Czech borders, Wroclaw is a typical small European city complete with grand cathedral spires stretching into the sky and quaint old buildings lining a central square that is famous for its winter Christmas market. Tourists dropping in for a weekend might not notice many signs of being in a country bordering a warzone other than the Ukrainian flags hanging from windows and shops across the city. Yet, with eyes to see and ears to hear, one would notice many of the shopkeepers and waiters are Ukrainian themselves and many of the cars on the street with Ukrainian license plates. Even in the safety of western Poland, there are small signs of the war further east.
Before the escalation of war in 2022 (with the war starting with the invasion of Crimea and eastern Ukraine in 2014), around 10% of the city were Ukrainian. However, since then, refugees have increased the population of the town by nearly 190,000 people, a 30% increase. The town has responded with incredible solidarity, housing refugees, providing for their needs, and quickly helping them integrate into society. The Baptist church in Wroclaw continues to support these efforts even over a year after the war began.
In Jason’s first week he was able to serve at the church’s outreach center for refugees, working alongside a mix of local volunteers and many Ukrainian refugees who now volunteer at the center. Though there was a language barrier, they were able to work together, laugh through any miscommunications, and provide hospitality for those coming to the center. He was amazed by the warm welcome and hospitality of the Ukrainian volunteers commenting, “even though they didn’t have a lot they were really generous in making me feel welcome.” Having received hospitality from the church, they were able to return the gift to others.
After the first week, the center was moving to a new location and Jason was able to help box up the materials and donations from the first center and move them to a new center where the church will continue their ministry to those in need. At this point, many of those coming to the center are some of the neediest people, as they are without strong familial support in the city and might find themselves on their own. Polish Baptists across the country are committed to serving these people who have little other options for support.
In the meantime, Jason integrated into the life of the local church, including connecting with a second church in the city. This included going to services, helping lead worship, attending home group Bible studies, connecting one-on-one with people from the church and attending a small regional youth conference hosted by another church. As it was his first time in a non-English speaking country, and his first time working in a foreign ministry setting, he learned much from his experience there.
He was refreshed by the way Baptists were working within the landscape. Though they are such a small part of the population, they were bold in their outreach efforts and built up goodwill in their community through their social work. He reflected that Christianity in the US often has a bad name and many accuse Christians of being hypocrites for not matching their actions to the teachings of Jesus. He was encouraged to see the Church be the hands and feet of Christ in a powerful way and could see the impact this work had on the witness of the church. This gave him a sense of hope in what the Church could be. He observed the reality that many churches with small resources are able to do so much in comparison to big churches with many resources who do so little.
The relationships Jason made also made a deep impact, particularly with some people from Ukraine and Belarus within the church. He had never met people from this part of the world and could connect places from the news with real people who had experienced the horrors of war. Yet while they spoke of the war and their support for Ukraine, he was amazed by the resilience and tenacity of those who had been displaced and their desire to just live a normal life. With so much pain and suffering reported on the news, he was left with the impression that people are inherently good, just trying to build a better life for themselves and their families.
As he looks ahead to a new year of school in the fall and serving on the Coordination Team for the BCM at William & Mary there are a few lessons he will take with him. He is hopeful for the possibilities for the future and the work that the Church can be a part of in making the world a better place. He has a broader vision of what God is up to in the world and the diverse ways in which people can connect and worship God. And he has a renewed commitment to intentionally creating spaces of community and connection in order to build relationships. He is excited to bring these lessons back with him to Williamsburg in the fall.
Jason expressed his deep gratitude to Virginia Baptists for making his time in Poland possible. BGAV and Impact Missions have had longstanding partnerships in Europe and have supported Polish Baptist efforts serving refugees over the past years. Through generous support of churches and individuals in Virginia, service opportunities like the one Jason experienced are possible and missional relationships continue to deepen across the world.