Ukrainian refugees helped by Staunton Church

STAUNTON — When Pastor Gene Arey saw footage of a Moldovan church housing refugees crossing the Ukrainian border, he felt agitated. All he wanted to do was go help, but he obviously couldn’t in wartime. But he still had to do something, so he started collecting money from the Harvest Church community to send to those in need.

While many Americans felt the same emotions when they saw similar images on the news, Arey’s images were different. Indeed, Arey was receiving messages from old friends and colleagues via WhatsApp as he received updates from Moldova and Romania on the situation on the ground.

For nearly two decades, Arey and his wife, Linda, traveled to Moldova, Romania and Ukraine to preach in churches and speak at conventions. Now, the friends they made during these trips tell them about the difficult condition of the refugees who arrive painfully in the country.

“They said the mothers coming in were crying, the kids were crying, because they didn’t know if they would see their daddy again,” Arey said.

Arey’s colleagues in Moldova have been working to find shelter and food for refugees entering the country, but the average church income is less than $100 a month, according to Arey. Despite this, the church was able to rent an entire hotel to house refugees while buying groceries to help feed the thousands of people fleeing violence in Ukraine.

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“They’re crossing the border, some of them walking, it’d be like walking to Waynesboro [from Staunton]…and a lot of them end up empty-handed,” Arey said.

Harvest Church International is still accepting donations, and they say most of the money donated will be sent to Ukraine. For them, it helps to know that their money will directly help the people there rather than going through organizational bureaucracy.

Ukrainian refugees fleeing to Moldova and Romania have been helped by local churches, such as those helped by Harvest Church International.

The Areys are able to coordinate payments via WhatsApp and send money via Western Union in Moldova. Of all the avenues explored by Arey, this is the one that would make the funds available to his friends the fastest. The church has collectively raised nearly $4,000 already.

Communication was not always easy, as the large number of people crossing the border kept the churches busy. Arey remembers feeling worried after not receiving messages from one of his Moldovan colleagues until the early hours of the morning in Moldova.

“We just wanted to make sure they got the messages, and they said they got them, but it was such chaos,” Arey said.

Arey still hasn’t heard from his contacts in Ukraine despite his attempts to contact him. “I don’t know if they’re cutting off communication or exactly what’s going on, but we emailed and got no response,” Arey said. A colleague of theirs who had moved from Ukraine to Moldova told Arey that communication had been sparse.

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“You think that’s scary for us, don’t you?” For everyone, it’s so much scarier. When you leave your town, you don’t know if you’ll come back or not. And if you come back, how will it be?

For Gene and Linda Arey, they see how callous Americans can just watch the invasion on the news, but put themselves in the shoes of their colleagues and how they would react.

“We just ‘Oh yeah, okay, I get it, I know, I’m going to pray for them. But prayer alone…we need more than just prayers.”

The News Leader has not been able to verify the donation process – it is an informal network. If you want to donate to a more established project, check out a few shared by USA Today that have been reviewed by Ukrainian journalists here.

—Akhil Ganesh is a social justice reporter at The News Leader. You can contact him at aganesh@newsleader.com and follow him on Twitter @akhildoesthings.

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