March 31, 2022
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
In the middle of the Lenten season, United Methodists all over the world continue to advocate for peace in Ukraine and focus on what it means to be better Christian neighbors as pandemic restrictions loosen.
During the Spring virtual board meeting on March 24, directors of the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) received reports about the Russia-Ukraine war and its impact on European countries.
Kari Solveig Hay of Norway and Tilman Sticher of Germany, who serve on the European Methodist Council, shared their perspectives about the unfolding war, the European response and the humanitarian migration crisis from Ukraine.
Northern Norway shares a 123-mile border with Russia. All crossings on the lengthy border between Norway and Russia are closed to travel and to trade. “I had gained good friends and fellowship with our Russian neighbors crossing the border many times,” says Solveig Hay. “Now that’s gone.” Since the invasion Solveig Hay said she and others “are still in a state of confusion and shock; they were not prepared, never expecting to have a war about land in Europe again.” Tensions are high and Solveig Hay admitted that even her neighbors Sweden and Finland are considering talks with NATO for the first time in their history.
Tillman Sticher lives in Germany 700 miles from the Ukraine border, Kyev is approximately 1,000 miles away. Sticher said energy prices are on the rise. “Even though Germany depends on natural gas from Russia, many people believe in boycotting Russian natural gas anyway,” declared Sticher. “The consequences of this war go far beyond the incredible suffering of the Ukrainian people. It will impact all of us for a long time.”
In the first month of the war, more than 200,000 refugees from Ukraine arrived in Germany, and many more are expected. “The willingness to help is big in Germany, for example all Ukraine refugees can travel by train and local public transport systems for free,” said Sticher. But not all refugees are welcomed into European countries as Ukraine residents of African origin are often detained in European immigration facilities.
In Norway, more than 5,000 Ukrainian refugees have been accepted into the country. Norwegians have opened their homes to refugees and part of a network of support raising money for food, clothes and transportation.
United Methodists in Russia
The United Methodist Church is considered a minority Church in Russia. That dynamic creates a difficult situation for Bishop Eduard Khegay of the Northern Europe and Eurasia Central Conference in Moscow, Russia. “We are all concerned for Bishop Khegay,” said Solveig Hay. “My hope is that as peace makers, our United Methodist Church in Russia can still offer a common arena to openly talk and worship during this overwhelming crisis.”