HANSON – There may not be a lot of Americans hoping they will be sent to Ukraine anytime soon, but that’s just what the Rev. Dr. Peter Smith of the First Congregational Church in Hanson is hoping will happen for him.
“Whether I get to go there or not, we’re trying to support this need because it’s a long-term need, and the people it serves are very often moms and children, the elderly,” Smith said, noting that when the invasion happened he couldn’t help thinking about friends he had in Ukraine. Then a notice about the Samaritan’s Purse mission popped up in his Facebook feed.
Smith has been hired by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian Relief agency, to serve as a part of their Disaster Assistance Relief Team, which works in partnership with the United Nations High Council on Refugees (UNHCR) to coordinate the work of the several relief agencies responding to international crises.
If Smith is sent, he envisions a three-to-four week deployment with the deacons taking over Sunday services while he is gone, treating it as a kind of sabbatical.
To fund his trip and the greater mission of Samaritan’s Purse, the church is hosting a chicken dinner fundraiser on Saturday, June 25. While the dinner is sold out, a multi-media presentation will also be held so those interested in making tax-deductible donations in support of Ukraine relief work may learn more – and enjoy dessert. More information is also available on the church’s website fcchanson.org/donate-2/. It will also help what Smith terms “donor fatigue” from a long-term crisis where donations are needed.
He said he knows from his own experience that the Ukrainian people are incredibly stalwart.
“They have a very extensive security system as far as creating a network of safety around us,” Smith said, noting that volunteers must also pass a security check, including a CORI check, a number of references and drug testing.
A number of specialty occupations from medical personnel to construction, meals and security specialists.
In Ukraine, Samaritan’s purse is operating an Emergency Medical Field Hospital, several mobile medical units, and an extensive distribution chain for both food and non-food items. Transitional Housing as well as Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) facilities wherever necessary will be provided by the organization. While about 5 million people have left the country, about 6 million are estimated to be displaced within Ukraine.
“That’s the main thing,” Smith said. “If they’re not in their home, and may not be in their home city, how do you take care of them, how do you help them get back?”
He said the call had gone out for people with skills or adaptable skills and, while he’s been a pastor for 37 years, he has managed programs and projects all through that time.
“They wanted people who have international travel experience and are comfortable traveling on their own,” he said, noting that as a backpacker for 30 years, he is also accustomed to living rough. They are also sending people who are comfortable sharing their faith.
While Ukraine is one of the locations currently being staffed, Smith acknowledges he could be sent anywhere, but he is hoping he would be sent to Ukraine.
“I still have names and addresses of the teachers I worked with while I was there,” he said recently. “The Trustees and Deacons of the church were very open to my using scheduled sabbatical time to be part of a response to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II.”
Still, he said his job with Samaritan’s purse is to be a “good soldier” and go where he is sent. He’ll know where that is soon — and when the word of his posting comes, he’ll have less than 48 hours to be on his way.
Other possible locations for a deployment in charity are to the Caribbean, as hurricane season has begun; Mosul in the wake of the Isis insurgency; or Nepal, which is still recovering from a recent earthquake. He has already done work with Samaritan’s purse with a half-dozen countries in the past, including Tanzania in 2006 and a previous mission in Ukraine.
“They look at the skills [of a volunteer] and see what they need,” Smith said. “This is long-term,” he said of the Samaritan’s Purse Ukraine mission, which also demands flexibility. “We don’t know how long it’s going to be, but the crisis really is continuing to happen. … What you may think you’re going for you’ve got to be able to change to what the real needs are.”
Smith said volunteering for the mission was not easy, but he has been on Samaritan’s Purse assignments before and said the work is worth the screening and training. Those applying who are approved for training are briefed on all the organization’s projects, of which the most well-known is Operation Christmas Child, in which churches taking part pack shoe boxes of gifts for children in need around the world. Smith said the charity does 10.5 million of them each year.
“But that also provides an infrastructure,” he said. “Part of the training we had was how to get materials at the right price, at the right place, at the right time and how to distribute them in an orderly fashion, without mob mentality and being vulnerable to thievery.”
Heavy tarps for temporary shelters, blankets, jerry cans (used to transport water or gasoline) and personal hygiene kits are being supplied.
“When they go to Ukraine, the internally displaced persons are often sleeping on church floors,” he said, noting Samaritan’s Purse also provides meals, either using church kitchens or other facilities. “[They] send over a DC-8 every week filled with supplies.”
He also credits Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen with success in setting up an organization based on a great idea without lot or bureaucracy to fulfill it’s mission of feeding people in disaster areas. World Central Kitchen is also in Ukraine.
“Those are probably the two fastest places to get meals into people — Samaritan’s Purse and World Central Kitchen,” Smith said. “They’ve got a very good reputation.”
Smith said the briefings provided during the training session from which he has just returned indicated Ukraine is much more intact than a Westerner might get the impression of.
“While we certainly are serving in Jesus’ name and make no bones about it, we are obligated to — and are happy to — serve impartially,” he said of the situation, which also demands political neutrality.
While it is not the main focus of the effort in Ukraine right now, Smith said that, in the wake of alleged war crimes on the part of Russian soldiers — including murder and rapes — spiritual comfort may also be provided.
“That’s particularly happening at the hospitals,” he said, noting that emergency field hospitals are faced with the need to treat Russian soldiers when they come in.
“They [Samaritan’s Purse workers] are very much ‘How are you doing, beyond your body, how are you doing? Have you had much loss and where are you finding strength through this time?’ If somebody has faith, as many of them do, they are encouraged to offer a prayer.”
Samaritan’s Purse also provides post-deployment counselors for their people to help process the trauma they may have witnessed, much as the American Red Cross now does for its disaster volunteers. Samaritan’s Purse also follows up with people six months later to ensure they are readjusting to their regular life.