Behind the Lens: Ukrainian Muslim man hears gospel in Romanian Baptist church

Emanuel Baptist Church in Calafindesti, Romania, is a small church, but its members have a big heart for Ukrainian refugees. The pastor, Cornelus Miron, was one of the first responders at the border with Ukraine as the war broke out and people started to flee into Romania. His pioneering work led to Romanian Baptists and Southern Baptist Disaster Response teams working together at the border, greeting the refugees with water, snacks and a mobile phone charging station as they cross the border into Romania.

The church filled its basement with mattresses to accommodate as many refugees as possible. When this photo was taken, they were housing 25 people. 

Amongst the refugees, one couple stood out: Vitali, with his long beard, and Luda, with her gray hijab. The Muslim couple fled with their 16-year-old son and a pregnant cat, from Bucha, Ukraine. The family unexpectedly found themselves in the church. 

Vitali used to own a fast-food café in Bucha. Once it was destroyed in the war, he and his family fled. They hope to move to Switzerland to start a new restaurant. Though he was born and baptized into an Orthodox family, he decided to become a Muslim 18 years ago.

Bryant Wright, the president of Send Relief, shared with Vitali the true meaning of the cross and Jesus dying for our sins. He explained Jesus’ death and resurrection with the help of translation from Mick Stockwell, an IMB missionary.

Vitali, well-versed in the Quran and the Bible, insisted that, “Jesus never said He was God, or God’s Son.” Wright shared Bible verses that pointed to Jesus being the Son of God, including the passage from John 8:58. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.”  Without getting into any debate, Bryant and Mick were able to pray for Vitali and left hoping the truth will set Vitali free.

Meanwhile, my colleague, Caroline Anderson, sat across from Luda. With tears streaming down her face, she showed Anderson photos and videos from the catastrophes in Bucha on her phone. They were extremely graphic.

“I was at a loss for what to say in the face of such grief and atrocities,” Anderson shared. “Words seemed so shallow. Sometimes what traumatized people need the most is a safe space and a safe person to mourn and lament with in their suffering – someone who acknowledges the pain and doesn’t gloss over it.”

Anderson asked if she could pray. Clasping her hand, she prayed in English, knowing though Luda couldn’t understand, God did, and He’s listening.

“Hearts will probably never fully heal, but I pray God would be close to Ukrainians who suffered and those close to you who suffered. I know you saw and heard so many hard things, and I pray God will be close to you,” Anderson wrote on Google translate.

Later that afternoon, Vitali and Luda attended a cookout where Wright shared a message about worry and anxiety with Ukrainian refugees. Emanuel Baptist Church, where Vitali and his family are staying, also holds a Bible study twice a week. The seed is sown in their hearts. Pray that they will respond to the truth and accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord. Pray also their move to Switzerland will be granted soon as they seek to start a new life in peace.

Some names may have been changed for security.