There’s so much to process so here’s some initial starter thoughts:
1. Poland, and its people, are absolutely amazing. I live in London where that is a high Polish population, so I know this already, but it was amazing to see the country again firsthand. How they are organising and helping, and how they Peugeot dealer in Kraków helped with our car was wonderful. 1,000,000+ refugees have come through already. Meanwhile…
2. Some of the people being displaced have no idea what’s going on to them. One elderly couple on the minibus had probably never left the small Russian speaking region that come from and now found themselves heading to the capital city of a major neighbouring country. Many of the people assume they will be going home very soon. It feels like a time of shock when people are in the early stage of the grief cycle.
3. Ukrainians love soup. Fortunately, so do the Polish.
4. Almost all the displaced people are women and children plus a few elderly men. Any make of vaguely fighting age has volunteered or been conscripted to stay back and fightIf love ones are safely abroad it makes us staying back much easier, so finding ways to communicate is crucial, and that is why the power banks power banks we sent out fully charged were so well received. Wives could recharge their failing phones and reconnect with whoever had stayed behind to fight for the country, or call any contacts, relatives or friends of friends of friends to see if they could stay with them somewhere in Europe.
5. I wouldn’t mess with a Ukrainian. These guys are not going to give up any time soon.
6. On a related note, I wouldn’t say no to the help of Ukrainians. Imagine you lived in a country where there was a deficit of workers able to help in one industry, for example agriculture/hospitality. Now imagine there was a huge number of displaced workers looking to contribute and make a life for themselves in a new country. One UK businessman had a business employing nearly 30 Ukrainians, which he will now seek to relocate to Spain not here, because he could only get one of the workers into the UK!
7. It is incredibly cold still in Poland and Ukraine. Just after we recorded footage for the BBC snowflakes started to fall, but the air temperature in wind chill was consistently bitterly low. But, that said, there are plenty of clothes in Poland already, and they don’t really need van loads of secondhand coats
8. The aid industry is a complex space.
Appeals to give through disaster relief committee seem well-intentioned and founded compared to just just randomly sending a van of stuff without on the ground contacts. But it does get complicated when you realise the executive teams of many of the big UK charities earn £1million+ a year between them. (I haven’t done all the maths to support this but just google ‘charity commission annual report’ and name of big charity and it’s there for anyone to work out for themselves. I did that for two of the big names and both of them had £1 million+ executive wage bills). One of those charities spent £28million a year on fundraising .
There are also a number of people who are clearly drawn to drama and disasters. I came away thinking I need to learn a lot more about this industry and how it could be safeguarded from both mavericks and corporate mentality. But most people just seem to want to help. It was great to give things directly to people (such as a teddy bear knitted on the Isle of Wight into the hands of a young girl needing comfort, powerbanks etc), But what has been even more overwhelming have been the people opening up their homes to take in displaced Ukrainian, and in Germany especially queues of people at train stations waiting to meet people they’ve never met and take them home with them. Thank you for everyone in the UK who has got in touch to say you’d love to do that too. Keep writing to members of parliament and let them know.
9. A little goes a long way. I think I just turning up in a dog collar and being around was an encouragement for a surprising number of people. Each of the individuals and families reunited after a minibus trip with us was a starfish put back in the ocean. Ukrainians in the UK were thrilled and delighted that so many of you following the story on social media had clearly not forgotten them and their friends and country. Don’t underestimate the power of doing something simple and small. One person said when Russian speaking Ukrainians evacuate out to the west and see smiling western faces waiting to receive them it does more to undermine Putin’s propaganda than anything else.
10. There is a massive value in ‘amplifying’ the voice of people who have gone through tough times.
It was amazing to travel around with two people who have recently evacuated… you can hear the story from Dan’s perspective on this BBC interview https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0eODNReS5E, or tune in to LBC on Tuesday 15 March c.2:30pm to hear a half hour special with him and others telling the story from their own perspective. Our news media have done a great job of this in this high profile situation, but there are other ‘forgotten’ areas/conflicts where there are also voices we need to here. My hope is that SOMA can help with that too.
And, a few thoughts about this SOMA UK trip that might help anyone thinking about doing a short-term trip like this one. I know several people have said they’d like to:
1. There is a clear place for a lightweight organisation like SOMA UK that can respond quickly, connect personally and do small things that make a disproportionately big difference.
2. SOMA UK always operates at the invitation of a bishop. This trip was seriously enhanced because the Bishop of Kensington encouraged local churches to support Ukrainian national Anglican priest Revd Sergiy, and his Ukrainian contacts and congregation collected supplies and packed and filled the van. It was also enhanced because the Bishop of Europe Robin Innes, who have been in contact with his chaplaincy trying to evacuate members from Kyiv, asked if we would consider giving people a lift back from the border, when SOMA UK reached out to him to offer support. This led to the idea of driving out a van to support Sergiy, and then morphed into the idea of driving out a minibus so the trip in both directions would be fruitful.
3. SOMA UK almost always operates with international teams. The reason the trip was able to be a success was because of the Ukrainians in London, and Ukrainians in Poland who we joined up with. So we took the minibus to a depot where some Ukrainian paratroopers had been collecting to take supplies straight over the border the following morning areas where they are sorely needed. That was all arranged by Ukrainian contacts in the UK. Dan, who I travel with, has Ukrainian wife and had been living in Kyiv until a week or so ago. At Kraków we picked up one of his contacts, Vika, who operated as interpreter on one level, but was much more than that and became part of the team. She had only cross the border herself three days earlier in a 30+ hour ordeal, and she went back with us to see how she could help. It was actually moving to see how Vika relished being able to help people on this trip and how good she was at it as she befriended the small girl on our minibus trip back through Europe a few days later. It also meant we could ask her what she and others actually needed when she crossed the border 3 days earlier and so when we shopped at the local supermarket with your donations she was able to take a lead.
4. SOMA UK relies on intercession. That is to say it relies on God, but is carried along by the prayers and intercessions of the saints, as many (in this case hundreds of people) at home got to join in the mission in their prayer times. We felt literally carried by God and prayer throughout this trip. I was even more remarkable witness is that at least at the outset, we went well you might call a conventional Mission team. In fact I would’ve been the only ones of the three of us who would’ve had any chance of getting through a vetting process for mission teams in terms of church attendance etc. But back in 1995, in Romania, on a mission team, I come alive in my faith having barely gone to church in the previous year. Turns out sometimes if you wanna meet God you’ve just gotta put yourself out there, and that’s what happened to all of us on the trip together. The prayers of people covering us turned us all to God (see Dan’s testimony in previous blog)… God was our strength and stronghold.
5. SOMA UK needs new friends and partner churches to send on trips, connect with the worldwide church and make that difference in prayer and on the ground. If you could be part of the adventure, or introduce us to your church please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d love to follow up. Becoming a partner church or partner/supporter is a huge encouragement and we’d love to keep connected.
6. This trip had at least 7 purposes: supporting a local London vicar who had collected aid, sending much needed aid to just the right places, amplifying voices of people there, bringing hope, transporting people home, raising profile of the situation in Ukraine through using international media and broadcasting. In God’s economy there was also the further purpose: changing each of us on the team and working in those who supported and prayed as well. It’s good to know what you’re about before you go, but more than that, good to trust God when he gives you a nudge and to expect him to work out multiple purposes for you too.
7. This trip was hugely enhanced because our local community in West London generally were involved (thanks to All Saints Hanworth and team), the deanery was involved (donating aid/coming to the prayer night at HT Hounslow), our local church was involved (prayer and hugely generous giving), the local school was involved (donating bus and aid), and through the media and social media hundreds of other people felt involved. It felt like being part of a huge team. If you do something like this it’s great to have a coalition of supporters so more people get to see what God is doing.
Please be in touch if you’d like to connect on any of the above, or comment below.