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26 August 2022
Colonels Cheralynne and Kelvin Pethybridge lead the Salvos in Eastern Europe.
Facing the crisis in Eastern Europe
Australian Salvation Army officers (pastors) Colonels Cheralynne and Kelvin Pethybridge lead the Salvos in Eastern Europe. This vast area comprises the nations of Bulgaria, Georgia, Moldova, Romania and Ukraine. Salvos Magazine caught up with the Pethybridges while they were recently back in Australia for a short break.
Salvos Magazine: How long have you been in Eastern Europe?
Cheralynne Pethybridge: We arrived in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, where the headquarters for this region is located, just over four years ago.
SM: What relationship do you have with The Salvation Army in Russia?
Kelvin Pethybridge: Russia became a separate command [Salvation Army region] in 2014 and is overseen by International Headquarters. We continue to work closely together. We share the Russian language, work together on a magazine and have a strong relationship. Until recently, we also shared an IT department.
CP: All the officers know each other, and many have trained and worked together. They are friends and, in some cases, family.
Salvos throughout Eastern Europe are assisting locals in need, refugees and displaced people.
SM: What are the Salvos’ focus areas in Eastern Europe?
KP: In 2020, we set a five-year plan with the theme ‘Faith and Courage’, based on Joshua chapter 1, verse 9 and without knowing what was just around the corner. We are focusing on building strong churches, developing leaders and sustainability. It’s a grassroots mission strategy, and the crisis has focused that. We are championing Psalm 46, especially verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” To do this in the midst of chaos requires faith and courage. Over the past four months, we have also frequently looked at verse 1, which talks about God being our refuge and strength in times of trouble. We are grateful that all our people in Ukraine are safe and are thankful for the prayers of people all over the world for this.
SM: Can you describe what it’s like to live knowing that fighting is going on just a few hundred kilometres away?
CP: The day after Russian forces crossed into Ukraine, we went to pick up our permits to live in Chisinau. We were confronted by rooms full of people, young families, all trying to leave, to get as far away as possible. It was confronting and surreal, and we just went and had a coffee [to discuss what to do next]. We were wanting to do something ... and we continue to respond today.
KP: In other ways, life is normal, but yes, surreal. There is a sense that this could go on for some time, and the longer it goes, the more normal it can seem. It’s not like in Ukraine where our pastors and people are working, serving others, and then sirens go off, and they dive into bomb shelters. When the immediate danger is over, they come out and resume what they were doing. It’s a different world. We just want them to look after themselves too and stay safe.
CP: The Ukrainians in our churches and centres are our heroes – they continue doing children’s ministry, Bible studies, worship, holiday clubs – as well as looking after many internally displaced and traumatised people. Officers around the world have been galvanised to support and help their Ukrainian brothers and sisters in whatever way they can.
SM: How is The Salvation Army in Europe responding to the crisis?
KP: There are many stories online available in Salvation Army publications that outline this.
Food and other products are distributed to refugees throughout the region. In Moldova, churches have turned buildings into accommodation to help facilitate the constant flow of people coming in and out. Over 100,000 people have stayed in Moldova. We give out vouchers, mainly for children who are so disadvantaged in this crisis. In Romania, our teams have left border areas and are now at Romexpo in the capital, Bucharest, assisting with vouchers, caring for children who need some sort of normality, anti-human trafficking work, and other social and spiritual outreach. In Georgia, Ukrainian refugees are staying mainly in the town of Batumi on the Black Sea and the capital, Tbilisi. A restaurant in Batumi is feeding Ukrainian refugees every day. In Bulgaria, teams are in the capital, Sofia, and on the border, caring for the refugees still coming in.
Salvation Army teams in Bulgaria are assisting refugees from Ukraine.
SM: How is the region managing financially with the huge influx of refugees?
KP: Money has come in from around the world, mainly through The Salvation Army World Service Organisation (SAWSO). So far, we have given out more than AUD$4.5 million in four months – some into Ukraine directly, some into other countries supporting refugees. Some other major Salvation Army contributors are the USA, Norway, Sweden, UK, Switzerland, Netherlands and Australia.
CP: There is a taskforce set up to look at the future of Ukraine in the long term. Their work will focus on looking to the future and what to do to restore normality. We are praying our existing churches will still be in operation. Some, such as the Donetsk Salvos that is still operating may have to locate. We don’t know how the future will look and will be praying to continue the ministry and look for new opportunities.
SM: With everything you face, what motivates you to get up each morning and keep going?
CP: Knowing we have people on the frontline doing amazing things. We are there to support them in that, through active prayer and practical help. We are a conduit for what we can get them access to.
KP: A sense of what we can do to help those on the frontline make a difference. God has placed this work in their lap. It’s a faith thing. We tell them that if they don’t have the resources they need, just do what they need to do, and we will work out the funds. It’s a challenge, but we desire to make the resources available to them to do the work.
SM: How can people here in Australia help the work you do?
KP: First and foremost, pray – for peace, for strength and courage, and for protection. Financial support can also be given via SAWSO.
To donate to The Salvation Army in Ukraine and those supporting refugees, go to: bit.ly/3OgWHAB