Methodists in Truro help Ukrainian families

30 November 2022

Methodist churches are playing an invaluable role in supporting Ukrainian refugees across the country. Here we hear what Truro Methodist Church has been doing to help. 

Back in the spring of 2022, when the Ukrainian refugee crisis was unfolding there was considerable interest from members at Truro Methodist Church in helping. Originally some thought that we might house a number of families in our churches but that was not permissible under government rules. We called a meeting and asked any interested parties to come along and discuss how we might be able to assist the would-be hosts and their Ukrainian guests. We were amazed at the response and the number of people who came with such a wide variety of gifts and enthusiasm as well as questions.

At that very first gathering we discovered that the best thing for Truro Methodist Church to do was provide a drop-in facility where we could help in practical ways offering friendship at the same time. A couple of our member families went a step further and applied to be hosts themselves.

Since we started our Thursday afternoon church cafe drop-ins, we have made some good friends and have been humbled, as well as challenged at times, to provide the necessary assistance and support.

At the start, we wondered about communication but we have been blessed by the help of several Ukrainian local residents who have been in Cornwall for many years. They love to come along to translate or to just listen to the outpouring of their native language when guests are not able to share with their hosts or us. A couple of them have their own relatives in Ukraine so are really empathetic. We have sourced several (free) avenues for learning English and most of our new friends are now becoming fluent – the children in particular.

We organised social events to start off – one at Epiphany House, an Anglican retreat venue, with the assistance of the staff there, where we had a massive bring and share picnic with Ukrainian music and a short time of reflective worship. We also arranged a summer BBQ where we met more families.

Starting in September, we tried a slightly different approach, opening the café, known as Sambells, from 4pm each Thursday with the first hour for chatting with tea, coffee and biscuits. This gives those with issues a chance to make us aware of them and see if we can help. Then, from 5pm to 6pm, there is something more casual on offer to suit all ages that rotates through the month. Thursday’s can feature food, a craft activity, music or sports.

The sport, we have table tennis and badminton kit, appeals more to teenagers but it means that their parents have space and freedom to talk over the stories coming from their loved ones in Ukraine or their own problems and experiences as they settle into a Cornish winter!  At the time of writing they all have very real concerns for their family members struggling with power cuts, which has a knock-on effect on their ability to communicate. They have been relying on mobile phones and the internet to keep in touch, usually daily, but with little or no power at the receiving end this has sometimes meant days with no contact and it is very worrying and unsettling. There is a good deal of feeling guilty that they are safe and far removed here in the UK whilst others suffer so terribly.

One Thursday, we arranged for a representative from the council came and talk about housing options. Our local interpreter is absolutely brilliant and people came from many other areas of Cornwall to put their questions.

We have a few funds that we have been using mainly for the food for our organised events and we received a grant so we can crisis manage all that we get asked for. When our guests arrive in the area several, generally older, people needed smartphone handsets so they can access things like free bus passes.

The small team of volunteer helpers know that the wider church family is often ready to add further assistance.  As winter comes there is a need for shoes, wellies, warm clothing, waterproof cycling protection, fluorescent jackets, uniform extras for the children and much more. Added to these issues several families are now facing finding their own rented accommodation having been with their hosts for a six month period and are having to move on.

Some people in Ukraine celebrate Christmas on Jan 6th and 7th.  We are planning an evening consisting of a meal in our hall that our Ukrainian friends will cook ending with music, and hopefully, dancing, which is traditional to both our cultures. We want to give our guests the opportunity to invite their hosts along. We have always aimed to support hosts as well as guests and in doing so though we have made some really lovely new friends

We hope and pray that the situation in Ukraine will not be too prolonged but there are very few signs of optimism yet so our work is necessary.

Jesus said, ‘I was a stranger, and you invited me in’. (Matt 25 31ff) Let’s pray that we will be told that rather than the opposite!