Rev. Tony Vincent, Associate Pastor, Trinity Baptist Church, Seneca SC
In 2012, my church, Trinity Baptist Church in Seneca, SC, began a six-year partnership with Project Ruth in Bucharest, Romania. When Trinity’s Missions Committee, Trinity on Mission, wanted to develop a missional relationship with a ministry outside the United States, this long-time CBF partner was an obvious choice. I had known of their good work for years and a nearby sister congregation had also developed a long-term relationship there. I had gotten to know Project Ruth’s leaders through CBF friends at General Assemblies in the past.
Over the next six years, Trinity sent more than 50 people on five different short-term trips to work alongside our friends at Project Ruth. We provided summer activities, Bible stories and fun for Ruth School kids as well as at other rural church and school locations heavily populated with Roma children. We painted classrooms and hallways at the Ruth School; we provided a vision clinic for the neighborhood that saw hundreds of Project Ruth’s neighbors receive a vision check and eye glasses; twice we had groups of our local public school teachers forego their spring breaks to go and offer continuing education classes for teachers at the Ruth School and other partnering schools. This partnership has continued to invigorate Trinity’s missional engagement in the world.
After our six year “official” partnership commitment ended, our Trinity on Mission team continued to support the good work that Project Ruth was doing, sending them occasional financial support.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, when travel and face-to-face work were put on hold, we grieved over the loss of opportunity to “go and do” missions. As the pandemic eased, there was an eagerness to jump back into missional engagement in our world. When Russia invaded Ukraine and set off a humanitarian crisis at the Ukrainian/Romanian border, our attention quickly returned to Project Ruth.
Almost overnight, Project Ruth’s leadership mobilized to become a safe space and to help facilitate passage for over 400 Ukrainian refugees, including 187 children, to other areas of Europe where they had family and support. On top of the truly remarkable daily ministry they were doing throughout all of Project Ruth’s vital work, they provided safe travel and over 7000 nights of “safe sleep” for refugees. The very beds that had so graciously housed our team members were now full of war refugees fleeing violence in their homeland.
Our Trinity on Mission team quickly voted to send $2000 to Project Ruth to support this additional work and encouraged church members to give more to fund this work. Our remarkably generous congregation responded with an additional $29,000 that was sent along to fund those early hard days of work among refugees.
When the flood of refugees slowed, the people of Project Ruth turned their attention to helping those who remained in Ukraine. They heard of a need for food staples for families still in Ukraine and devised a plan to provide boxes of food that would provide a family of four with a week’s work of nutritional food. This meant that the leadership of Project Ruth had to take a crash course in logistics, packaging science and in nutrition! They raised funds in excess of $100,000 from several different donors and began the hard work of packing and shipping food boxes back into Ukraine.
On a Thursday morning in mid-September of this year, I phoned my friend Mihail Ciopasiu, executive director of Project Ruth, just to see how he was doing. I heard in his tired voice about the work they were doing and the toll it was taking on their staff. I also heard that a group of folks from NC CBF churches would be coming to help them. I asked if they could use another team to help pack boxes and he quickly said “yes, please!” On the following Sunday morning, I asked if anyone in our church could give up a week to go and do some heavy lifting and, by Sunday evening, I was booking flights for a team of five from our church who would go and help.
We arrived in Bucharest in early November and, in just a few days, our team packed more than 600 boxes and loaded 1,250 packed boxes onto a truck headed across the border. That’s 20 tons of food that we loaded into a truck bound for Odessa, Ukraine. It was hard and beautiful and love-filled work.
One of the most beautiful and meaningful moments was a visit to the small town of Danes, Romania. CBF had provided funds to purchase and distribute hundreds of “winter kits” consisting of winter clothing and personal items for refugees. We had the opportunity to deliver some of those kits. A small, agricultural town, Danes has a Baptist church, and Pastor Florin welcomed us warmly. He took us to a house that this small church had rented and invited us inside. This little home looked and sounded like the first floor of our church back in Seneca, which houses our weekday preschool. This sweet church in this small town had recognized that most of the Ukrainian refugees in their community were women with young children. They saw a need for childcare for these women, to provide educational and loving, safe space for children to color, play and grow. So they had opened a temporary preschool program for refugees. The love that poured from Pastor Florin and the ladies helping with this program was palpable. These children were safe, cared for and, thanks to CBF, better prepared for the coming winter.
When I asked Pastor Florin how his church had decided to start this ministry, he smiled and said, “We saw a need and realized that we could do this; and we just did it. God pushed us to do this.”
I smiled through tears and said, “That’s why we’re here; because God pushed us here, too!”
Thanks be to God for all the ways that God “pushes” us to more giving, more “going” and more loving into our world.
Project Ruth concluded this year’s food project by sending 5,750 care boxes into Ukraine. That’s 23,000 Ukrainians that were provided a week’s worth of meals in the midst of war in their land. In the next few months, Project Ruth leaders will evaluate where things are in Ukraine and whether they need to start again with the food ministry or shift their energy in another direction.
Our church will find ways to join with them and support them as they continue their missional work with refugees and those affected by the war in Ukraine. I hope other CBF churches and individuals will find ways to prayerfully support this beautiful work of love from this long-term CBF Missions Partner in Bucharest, Romania. Our church is more attuned to the movement of God in our world because of our relationships in Bucharest and we are honored to join with them in this life-giving work.