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  • Writer's pictureGrace Episcopal Church

Serenissima Ministries: Ukraine Relief

Updated: Apr 7, 2022

By Victoria French

We, in the United States, are in the unique position of knowing that our country plays a large role in the world stage while never really having to confront world events - like a war - in our day-to-day lives. We are just physically so far from other places - separated by oceans and man-made borders.

My husband, Micah French, and I have lived in Italy for the last few years while he serves in the U.S. Air Force at Aviano Air Base, and we have been heavily involved in our church’s response to the worst refugee crisis that Europe has experienced since World War II - something we would never have had the chance to do back home. Almost immediately after I found out that Italy was beginning to receive people fleeing Ukraine, I messaged one of our church leaders to ask what we were planning to do. Little did I know that Serenissima Ministries had already created a three-phase plan on how we were going to be like Jesus in this time.

Step one began at about the beginning of March. This was the “collection and donation phase,” and the church came together to donate clothes, medicines, blankets, baby food, baby formula, food, and more. In the end, with the kind donation of gas, drivers, and trucks by a local company, all of this supplies was sent Eastward to bring relief to those in Ukraine who needed it. This was not a mission without risk. One of the drivers’ trucks was bombarded - the donations lost. We still have yet to hear from him. It’s been three weeks.

Step two is receiving and hosting, and our first wave of 16 guests arrived on Monday, March 21st, at approximately 1 a.m. after volunteers from our church picked them up at a refugee camp in Romania. Four others arrived a couple days later. To accommodate everyone - children included - our nursery and Sunday school classrooms were converted into dorms, and the church was called upon to sacrifice their time in love to support these families. People donated ready-made toiletry bags for each person before they arrived. Congregation members also volunteered to be put on the schedule to clean the church, cook meals, arrange children’s activities, transport people to and from events/ appointments, and sleep at the church with them. People showed up. While I was mopping, chopping onions, or setting up my bed to sleep in the sanctuary, I was struck by how willingly and lovingly everyone had given up their free time to be there.

It was through this time spent with joyful believers serving that I noticed that our guests from Ukraine were also joyful. One man staying with us had already gotten a job after two days of being here. Another family was reunited with a family member who lives not 30 minutes from us. The children everyday are excited to use the English or Italian that they know to communicate with us, and they never stop playing. Some of our guests have even started to ask questions about Jesus after our attending translated church services and singing the Lord’s Blessing with us in Ukrainian.

So, though they have been through a continually traumatic experience, these are not downtrodden people. They are hopeful, resilient, and practical. They are kind and hardworking. They never thought they would be refugees, and this circumstance is not their identity. They fully intend to eventually return home.

Phase three will be placement. On Wednesday, March 30, 15 of our original 20 guests moved to their residence to which the Italian government directed them after they received their official Italian documents permitting them to stay here. This will happen for all of our guests, and Serenissima is so integral in this process because we are a location of first arrival. We assist them in navigating a complicated process. While we have said goodbye to these 15, we expect 50 more for the next wave, and we are now prepping. Laundry is being done. Surfaces are being cleaned. We will be ready to host more when the time comes, and we hope to continue relationships with those who left.

Jesus directed us to care for the widows and orphans, for the persecuted and oppressed. As our pastor, Rob, says, this is true religion - to love and help our neighbors. Serenissima is loving and helping its neighbors every day, and especially now.

Thank you for reading, and for supporting Serenissima’s mission.

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