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Missionaries Care for Ukrainian Refugees

March 30, 2022

Resonate Global Mission missionary Jeff Bouman rushed to the Budapest Nyugati train station in Hungary. That morning, Bouman and his colleagues learned of a family with a newborn baby who had just arrived from Ukraine. They were huddled in a bus, trying to stay warm.

“I quickly went there, naïvely expecting a mom, dad, and baby,” said Bouman. “When I found them, I learned that there were two families traveling together, with a total of six adults and five children.”

Bouman hopped on the bus and told the family that his church—just a five-minute walk from the train station—had a place for them. He helped them gather what meager belongings they had been able to pack and take with them from Ukraine. And he carried their sleeping two-year-old as he led them to the church building, where “they were able to sit, clean up, charge phones, eat, and begin making plans for their next step,” said Bouman.

More than 2.8 million people have fled Ukraine in the past few weeks, and more than 255,000 have sought refuge in Hungary, where Resonate missionaries Jeff and Julie Bouman serve. The Boumans work mostly with international students living in Budapest, but as refugees from Ukraine have arrived in the city, the couple’s work has adapted to interact with them in ways that only God can orchestrate.

International Students Who Were in Ukraine

One night a Kenyan student—who is part of the international student group the Boumans minister with at their church—met a group of Nigerian students who had been studying in Ukraine. They were at the train station and had nowhere to go.

“He called our pastor, very late, and was able to get permission to bring a few over to our church,” said Jeff Bouman. “One thing led to another, and soon there were about fifteen, all medical students who had, until the week before, been studying medicine at a university in Kharkiv.”

“They had traveled three days continuously from there and were happy with what we had to offer, which was basically a place out of the cold, with internet, toilets, warmth, and welcome.”

The next morning, the Boumans and their church community provided the students with breakfast. And since then, they’ve been providing 24/7 care for refugees who are mostly from Nigeria and connected with the medical profession. The father of the newborn on the bus, for instance, was a Nigerian-born cardiologist working in Ukraine.

These refugees face unique challenges, said Bouman. In addition to meeting basic necessities such as housing, food, and clothing, they are also wrestling with challenging questions about their future and all of the work they’ve poured into their careers and schooling in the past few years.

“The people our church is serving—mostly university and graduate students who are third-country nationals—are facing very difficult decisions and legal questions about their status as students,” said Bouman. “Imagine being in your sixth year of medical school, just about to take your final exams and planning to graduate in May, and having this happen.”

Some students are wondering when they’ll be able to return to finish their studies, residencies, and exams. Other students are researching whether they can transfer to universities in Hungary or in other European countries.

“We are helping them as best we can with these difficult questions,” Bouman said.

God’s Guiding Hand

In the meantime the Boumans are working with their church community to meet the refugees’ short-term needs. They’ve also been assisting the Reformed Church of Hungary’s refugee ministry, which is focusing on more long-term needs for all refugees, including housing, education for children, language learning, and trauma healing.

The Boumans have been encouraged by the businesses and volunteers who have dedicated time, energy, and resources to help refugees. In their church community, for instance, which averages 20-50 people in attendance every week; 30 people in the congregation stepped up to serve. They have also received 30 donated mattresses as well as meals and other supplies.

And the connections keep multiplying. “Our international student fellowship, which is made up mostly of Kenyan students, has been able to meet twice now with the largely Nigerian-born students who have been displaced from Ukraine,” said Bouman.

One night, they rented pool tables at a local billiard hall so that the two groups could get together, talk with one another, and have fun. To be able to provide an evening like that during a time of crisis was an important way to show care, he explained

“It seems clearly providential that our focus has become African students fleeing Ukraine – at least for now,” Bouman said. “It was entirely unpredictable, but in retrospect we can see God’s guiding hand in how things have played out.”