PEARLINGTON, Miss. (BP)–For the last five summers, the Madison Baptist Association in Huntsville, Ala., has dispatched teams to Philadelphia to help fix up the houses and churches of Ukrainian immigrants there. This summer, the Ukrainian churches returned the favor.
About 40 members of six Ukrainian Baptist churches loaded up and journeyed south to Pearlington, Miss., to support the Madison Association’s efforts to renovate hurricane-devastated homes and churches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“It’s a true partnership,” said John Long, associational missionary at Madison Association in Huntsville, which has helped build or renovate three Ukrainian churches in the Philadelphia area. “We helped them and they’re now helping us.”
After Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast a year ago, the Madison Association adopted Pearlington, one of the hardest-hit towns on the coast. Baptists from Huntsville have since made 17 trips to the devastated town — tearing down, rebuilding and renovating homes.
“We scheduled the Ukrainian guys to do the framing and roofing on six houses, and then our guys came in and did sheetrock and finishing work,” Long said.
The Mississippi conditions were a shock to the Ukrainian mission team, who acquired a taste for sweet iced tea and southern fried chicken during their short stay in Pearlington.
“John came to Philadelphia and did a presentation for us,” said Filip Moshkovsky, youth leader at Ukrainian Evangelical Baptist Church in Crum Lynn, Pa., and organizer of the mission trip.
“But to see it in person is shocking,” Moshkovsky said. “You touch the rubble. You stand next to a boat on top of a house. We did a lot of work, but it felt like we only put a scratch on a very big project. There is so much left to do.”
Moshkovsky was only 6 years old when his family left the Ukraine for the United States.
“We came because of religious persecution,” he said. “We were Christians. My mom said nothing could have been worse than the situation we were in.”
The Moshkovsky family was welcomed into the local Christian community in suburban Philadelphia and eventually his father, Anotoly Moshkovsky, became pastor of a local Ukrainian Baptist church.
“So many of us came to this country with nothing,” he said. “We were helped so much. This is a way to help the country that helped us out.”
Moshkovsky said the concept of a mission trip was new to them, but the trip was embraced by dozens of Ukrainian Baptists in Philadelphia, who either made the trip or provided financial resources for others to go.
The Ukrainian group of 40 — from ages 14 to 76 — left Pearlington with plans to return.
“We’ve never done this before, but we’ll do it again,” Moshkovsky said. “It’s where people need us the most.”