Unsettling Advent 2022, Day 10 - Word&Way

Unsettling Advent 2022, Day 10

“[Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt.” (Matthew 2:14)

The town of Chełm, Poland, sits about 15 miles from the Ukrainian border. The little-known city of around 60,000 people suddenly became a key stop this year for hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing Russian violence.

Thousands of Ukrainian refugees found sanctuary for a night or two in the sanctuary of a Baptist church in Chełm. I met the pastor, Henryk Skrzypkowski, over the summer and he told me about the church’s refugee outreach that started without any warning or preparation. Once the war started, dozens of people suddenly showed up at the church. So the congregation practiced what they preached and welcomed their neighbors.

The daily numbers quickly grew, eventually rising to nearly 250 one night. The church scrambled to set up beds throughout the building and to serve hundreds of hot meals daily. Many refugees had spent days traveling across Ukraine and then waited for days at the border to enter Poland. They hadn’t slept on a bed, showered, or eaten a hot meal for days. They got all of that at the church.

Mattresses fill the sanctuary of the Baptist church in Chełm, Poland, after the pews had been stacked up to make more room. (Chris Cook/Future Leadership Foundation)

This experience of hosting more than 3,000 refugees for at least one night in just the first month of the war transformed the church. Pastor Henryk told me it completely changed their church life: “It was like a revolution.”

Most of the refugees were women, children, or elderly persons as men of fighting age stayed in Ukraine. Young mothers carried their infants, swaddled to keep them warm in the winter cold. All were fearful. Worried about loved ones still in the warzone, and concerned about what awaited them as they continued their journey in a new land.

As I think about those refugees fleeing a genocidal foreign dictator, I also wonder where Joseph, Mary, and Jesus spent the night on their journey from Bethlehem to Egypt. Where was their Chełm, their place for a safe place to sleep and to enjoy a nice meal from strangers? And how were those people changed by serving refugees, by unknowingly welcoming in the newborn King?

We can set up a ceramic Jesus in our nativities or include a plastic Jesus in our pageants, but perhaps the real revolution we need is the one that comes from welcoming Jesus in the flesh among the least of these shivering while crossing a border.

Brian Kaylor is president & editor-in-chief of Word&Way. Listen to his podcast interview with Henryk Skrzypkowski to learn more about the church’s outreach to refugees.