Letter from Megan: The radical hospitality of God’s people in the Netherlands
Over five million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia invaded, most of them women and children. Nearly 100 of Last Bell’s community members are now navigating life as refugees. From the moment of evacuation, they lived desperate questions every day: Can we safely cross the Polish border? Where will we stay? How will we afford basic necessities in an advanced European economy? How will my child go to school? How do we become official refugees and receive subsidies?
In my travels in May, I was able to witness firsthand the life of our diaspora. When our van drove up to the property in the city of Vriezenveen, The Netherlands, forty moms and kids greeted us with clapping and tears. They were so eager to see Oksana and Andrey face to face. The red Last Bell van obviously represented home and all that had been left behind when missiles began falling in Zhytomyr.
In the Netherlands, we reconnected with our moms and built relationships with our new Dutch friends. They’ve given up resources, time, and even their own comfort to take in our people. During our visit, they kept giving. After church on Sunday, one of the “birdies” (mentors to our refugee moms) warmly invited us over for tea and strawberry pie. In another town, the mentors again greeted us with dessert!
All our new friends were ready to sit around a table and share a meal, working hard to understand each other even with a language barrier. In Vriezenveen, we held a big evening of thanksgiving for the volunteers – giving gifts, eating together, and thanking God for these relationships. They are shining light in the darkness.
It was an honor to share a table with L. He’s a businessman, born and raised in Vriezenveen. When the war in Ukraine began, L. was praying and asking God how he could personally respond to the suffering he saw on the news. When he knew what God wanted him to do, he acted immediately. On a refugee website, he posted his availability to host a large group. Staff member Yuliana found his post just as their Poland location was getting too crowded. Leon and his family and friends chartered a bus for our group and quickly put together housing on family land. Their welcome was a healing salve for our moms and kids: Christian community, help applying for refugee status, engaging opportunities, bikes for kids to ride to school, and the most wonderful gift – our refugees’ “birdies.”
That evening at dinner, L. shared his heart, and I witnessed the Body of Christ responding to this war. In that same holy space, I listened as our moms weighed the most difficult decision: should they return to Zhytomyr, where they would be at home, sleeping in their own beds—a risk to their lives and their children’s lives—or settle more permanently in this foreign place?
In the midst of these questions, we’re so thankful that our refugee moms and kids are together, both our group in Vriezenveen and smaller groups elsewhere. Those community clusters are essential for their well-being. In Vriezenveen, the mentors are a vital part of their nourishment. And we’re thankful for the 700 euros/month from the Netherlands that helps each family meet their basic needs.
During this time of suffering the last few months, God’s people showed up!