Where have all the young men gone?

After a very long trip my friend Chris walked into what you would probably describe as a fairly modern looking, normal, average church. It took him a couple of minutes to work out exactly what was wrong with the scene before him. 

For many the first hot meal in days.

Then it struck him, the room was full of old men, women and children…there were no young men.  It was only then that he really realised the implications of being on the border of a war zone.

Chris & Yvonne Street with the Pastor and his wife in Romania.

I should have said the church in question was Biserica Cristina Emanuel Church in the city of Galati in Romania.  These people tucking into a free hot meal were the lucky ones, the refugees who had escaped from Ukraine.  The old men were the grandfathers who had left Ukraine to look after the daughters and grandchildren.  The missing young men were the sons and husbands who had stayed behind to fight against the invading Russian Army.

Waiting at the harbour for the next boat full of Refugees.

Galati is a port town on the River Danube and is the first port of call for many ships leaving Ukraine.  During his time in Romania Chris would stand at the harbour with the volunteers from Wales who had gone to support that little church and wait for the next ship to arrive with the latest huddled mass of humanity.

So how did he find himself in Romania?

I don’t think this was the job that Chris envisaged he would be doing when he started working at British Gas as a 17 year old with 3 ‘O’ Levels and a few GCSEs. Coming from a solid working class family university wasn’t even talked about and he had left school and gone into a steady job with British Gas.  It was only by chance that he was asked if he would like to join their new ‘computer’ team.  Back then Chris says the computer in question was the size of 2 small houses and no where near as powerful as the mobile phone he uses to keep in touch with his friends in Romania.

Whilst not having the pieces of paper to show he was ‘clever’ it soon became clear that Chris could see ‘the bigger picture’ and he swiftly rose through the ranks.  When British Gas was privatised Chris found himself right in the centre of the process and with that experience he soon found himself head hunted a number of times.  With each job came a bigger budget to manage, more people to corral and more hours spent flying around the world.

Sian Phillips presents Grand Slam Theatre (Christ Street & Mal Pope) with the Arts & Business Top Award 2013.

At the age of 50 Chris decided to retire from the world of business and take over the management of a large church in Cardiff.  It was around that time I first met Chris and soon realised he was a straight talker who understood business.  Within a few years Chris was helping me start my own theatre company and as I said to him last week when I called for a chat, I still have a roof over my head so it can’t have gone too badly.

Since leaving the world of business Chris has continued to lead seminars on ‘Business & Finance’ but he has also helped mentor all sort of businesses…and churches. For the past few years Chris has been mentoring the Pastor of the Biserica Cristina Emanuel Church.  He has visited Romania and also hosted the Pastor and his wife here in Wales.  So the connection was made.

Galati is no stranger to war and destruction. It has been fought over since Roman times. During the Second World War the town was bombed by both the Luftwaffe and the Soviet Air Force. After the War Romania found itself under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu.  After his overthrow in 1989 Romania has found a way to develop into a working democracy and joined the European Union in 2007.

The arrival of more refugees at the church.

With so much suffering in living memory I suppose its not hard to understand how the Romanian people have reacted so kindly to the refugees arriving in their towns and cities over the past month or so.

Chris had flown out with a small team from churches in Cardiff and after a 4 hour mini bus ride arrived to see the latest influx of refugees having food provided freely by the church.  So many scenes stuck in Chris’ mind. 

Greeting the new arrivals.

Being a grandfather he could empathise with the old man who had brought his daughter and his grandchildren across the water. People had escaped with only the clothes on their back and what they could carry.  He told me about the joy he saw from a group of ladies who were given a selection of donated clothes.  One lady tried on a jacket and turned to the others to ask what they thought.  They all laughed and told her it was perfect.  Chris said for the whole time he was there she always wore that same jacket.

Chris also told of the heartache that would spread through the church when the call came through that one of the husbands or sons had been reported killed back in Ukraine. 

When Chris was there last month the turnover in refuges was pretty quick.  It is said the first to leave a conflict zone are the ones who are better off or who have contacts, family or friends in another country who can help. 

Chris had been in touch with the pastor last week to plan a new trip in May and things have changed noticeably in recent days. As time passes and things get worse, the less well off, the less well connected also have no option but to leave the war zone, but they have no where to go.  This is starting to become a problem for churches and organisations like Biserica Cristina Emanuel Church.  If they can’t find new homes for refugees before long they won’t be able to help any new refugees.

With the fear that vulnerable women and children can easily be exploited it’s good to know that through churches connections frightened families are being taken care of by certified people.  Whilst there, Chris saw coaches organised by Church groups come to Galati to collect families and take them to new lives in Germany and Spain.

More supplies arrive at the Church.

With so much horrific news coming from Ukraine you can feel helpless. Maybe connecting with people on the ground you know can help might be a way for us all to do something and know we will make a difference. Sending clothes and toiletries has been helpful but the news from places like Romania is that whilst people are grateful the real need now is money.

This little church used to run on a budget of 3000 Euros per month.  At present they are spending 80,000 Euros a month feeding and clothing their guests. What you will know is that if you support their work the money really will go where it will make a difference.

As for Chris, well he is currently organising another trip to Romania in May.  There are a number of reasons to go again he told me.  Firstly, they really can help and support the army of church volunteers.  After weeks of supporting refugees the volunteers are tired. Seeing people come from across Europe to support them has given them strength to carry on. Secondly the more people who go to help and then come back to tell the story here in the UK the more people might be encouraged to help and support this wonderful work.

To contact Chris  info@walesleadershipforum.org.uk

Various links to Biserica Cristina Emanuel Church including how to send money directly via paypal  https://linktr.ee/BisericaEmanuelGL

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