Nothing quite compares to this: A reflection on the war in Ukraine

By Charles Franzén

As director of Humanitarian and Disaster Response for World Relief, and someone who has attended a Church of the Brethren congregation for many years, I am stunned and saddened by what is happening in Ukraine.

As a member of the Integral Alliance, World Relief has witnessed many natural and man-made disasters over the years. Nothing quite compares to this. The scale and rapidity of destruction, and the potential economic and humanitarian impacts that are starting to be felt across the globe, make this a peculiarly unique human-generated crisis.

World Relief was founded almost 80 years ago to respond to the depredations and destruction that resulted from World War II. What we see today is an eerie foretelling and mirroring of that vast cataclysm, which impacted everyone on earth.

In the past 20 years, World Relief has resettled more than 13,000 Ukrainians, 40 percent of the total who have immigrated to the United States prior to the current conflict. Our hearts are joined with the Ukrainian people; their suffering is our suffering; and their pain is our pain.

Refugees from Ukraine arriving in Slovakia by train. Photo by Jana Cavojska, courtesy of Integra

To respond to this unprecedented crisis, World Relief has launched an appeal to support our partners, both international and local, who are working tirelessly today in western Ukraine, Slovakia, Romania, Moldova, Poland, and Hungary. They are providing basic needs, accommodating displaced people, providing transport for people to borders, and receiving refugees crossing the border to other countries. They are linking refugees with host communities and a myriad of other activities to ensure that those who wish to remain are supported where they are, and those who wish to flee are provided the means to do just that. In this harrowing time, supply corridors are being established between the outside and those remaining in Ukraine. Also, needs are being provided to those who must endure periods of waiting and uncertainty as they are being registered at the various borders.

While we grieve at the losses, we must care for the living by providing basic needs through local churches and local church networks. As our appeal gains strength, World Relief will expand its capacity to assist those in need and establish new partnerships with those working on the ground.

Many readers will understand that in this part of the world, disinformation and data manipulation are now being used as weapons of war. This weaponization of information, so familiar to us from totalitarian regimes of the past, is something we have to guard against. Our neutrality as humanitarian aid workers is necessary, both as a witness on behalf of the truth, but as Christians called by Jesus to love our neighbors as we would ourselves. Although this is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, it is–interestingly enough–not a conflict between peoples; it is a conflict of a supremacist ideology rooted in the old Czarist imperial construct and the vast multi-national empire of the former Soviet Union.

The Church of the Brethren has an important role to play in praying for the people of Ukraine, and for the people of Russia as well, and for the leaders of both nations. It is only through dialogue and diplomacy that the weapons of war will be silenced and it is only through prayer and forgiveness that these modern swords will be transformed into the plowshares of peace and a restoration of sanity.

Ukraine with its 45 million people is not the only crisis in the world. World Relief works in many places where vulnerabilities are legion and where the needs of poor people have been neglected just as long as nations have existed. While we grieve for the people of Ukraine, and look for the many ways we can help, let us not forget the brothers and sisters whose essential lifesaving and transformative programs we support in other vulnerable parts of the globe. As Jesus said, the suffering of even one of my sheep is an unbearable suffering for all.

We must pray for peace and restorative justice for all of God’s creation.

— Charles Franzén is a member of Westminster (Md.) Church of the Brethren.

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