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Alabama church has ‘boots on the ground’ in Moldova to aid refugees

Jeff Copeland, pastor of First Baptist Church of Robertsdale, Ala., records a brief video March 6 outside a church in Chisinau, Moldova, where he worked for a week helping Ukrainian refugees. FBC Robertsdale has partnered with churches in Moldova for 20 years.

Ukraine is a long way from Robertsdale, Ala., – more than 5,700 miles, in fact. But that vast expanse isn’t stopping the people of First Baptist Church Robertsdale from being involved in the war-torn area.

Jeff Copeland, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Robertsdale, and Josh Lilly, the church’s family pastor, left March 4 to spend a week helping refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. Copeland has formed a network of Ukrainians, Moldovans and Romanians to help meet pressing needs. The United Nations reported March 2 that more than 2 million refugees have left Ukraine. According to the BBC, more than 82,000 refugees have fled to Moldova and more than 84,000 have taken refuge in Romania.

Financial gifts through local churches, the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and Send Relief are being used to purchase food and other items needed to help refugees fleeing Ukraine. FBC Robertsdale photo

Putting boots on the ground takes planning and organization. Lilly explained that a team from FBC Robertsdale flew into a neighboring country where another pastor picked them up at the airport and delivered them to a border crossing where yet another pastor drove them to their destination. Once on site, the Alabama group began providing food, offering support and helping move refugees from Ukraine to Moldova.

Though the crisis in only weeks old, the ground work for FBC Robertsdale’s involvement in ministering to refugees has been laid for two decades.

20-year partnership

“For 20 years, FBC Robertsdale has been working with churches in Moldova,” Lilly said.

Four years ago, they expanded their missions involvement and partnered with a congregation in Ukraine. The pastor of that church has promised to help anyone who calls, Lilly said. The pastor said food banks have been set up, but the fighting is growing more intense.

“News here is getting worse every hour,” the pastor reported, noting the fighting in the streets of Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. “There are street battles now. Everyone who can hold a weapon has risen to defend the capital, including students, schoolchildren and even the retired.”

The network set up by FBC Robertsdale is working to purchase and supply food to those remaining in Ukraine, Lilly said. Food, water, baby items and medications are being moved through the border to church partners, to help bring the light of Christ into the darkness.

And thousands have responded to the call to help. Leaders from FBC Robertsdale have asked for prayer for the Ukrainian people and for safety for the Alabama team as they spread the love of Christ wherever they go.

Sense of urgency

The Alabama congregation of some 200 has always had a missions focus. However, helping the Ukrainian people, now under Russian attack, may be the greatest mission they’ve ever undertaken.

Noting the long-term partnership in Moldova, Sylvia Thomet, administrative assistant at FBC Robertsdale said that it only made sense to get involved.

“When our friends needed help, we stepped up,” Thomet said. “In the world in which we live, it’s so easy to connect with people. Facebook, websites and other social media showed 80,000 people wanted to help. It’s been amazing, the response we’ve had.”

Youth pastor Thomas Ray said the church is simply following the Great Commission.

“Our pastors are … serving people and being the feet and hands of Jesus,” he said.

Rick Lance, executive director for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, and Paul Chitwood, president of the International Mission Board, are among the many voices urging Southern Baptists to pray for the people of Ukraine and those in the surrounding region as they face the crisis caused by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

“It is important that Christians keep our focus on God, ask for His protection of the innocent and trust that His justice will prevail,” Chitwood said.

How to support Ukraine

The cost of housing and feeding a refugee is estimated at $25 per day. To donate to Southern Baptist relief, visit sendrelief.org.

To find out more about FBC Robertsdale’s efforts and ways to give, go to www. firstrobertsdale.com or call 251-947-4362.