Hey Change Maker!
My guest this week is Rachel Ross of Forget Me Not Ministries in Tinca, Romania. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because FMN is one of our in-country partners AND this is Rachel’s 3rd time being on the podcast.
We begin the episode by reintroducing Rachel and the work she is doing to aid and empower the Roma people in Tinca, Romania. Our discussion then shifts to the main topic of the episode: the war in Ukraine and FMN Ministries’ role in helping refugees. FMN Ministries is located about four hours away from one of the major Ukraine/Romania border crossings. Some of the Ukrainian refugees come to seek temporary housing (weeks or months), while others seek more long-term housing in the hopes of riding out the war. Rachel describes the emotional toll the war has taken on many of the refugees: fear, uncertainty of the future, and hopelessness.
We then shift to discussing how FMN Ministries’ decision to aid Ukrainian refugees has impacted the organization from a financial, operational, and cultural perspective. The war has put a financial strain on FMN Ministries as the price of gas and wheat (Ukraine is one of the top producers of wheat) have skyrocketed. These inflated prices have affected budgets, utilities, and provisions that the ministry is able to provide for both the Ukrainians and the Roma people they support. Finding employment for the Ukrainians coming in has been a burden on their hearts. Some refugees are very interested in working and helping, while others need more time to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced. The language barrier is also a challenge. Rachel relays that they frequently rely on Google Translate to communicate. Romanian and Ukrainian culture share some similarities in food and language, but the ministry is still learning and working to understand cultural differences.
Next, we talk about what prompts someone to pack up their families and seek refuge in another country. For some of the refugees, their decision to escape was a preemptive decision. However, most of the people coming to Forget Me Not Ministries are those escaping attacks going on in their village, town, or city. These people are literally outrunning bombs and rockets with their children in hand. Rachel discusses how not everyone who has left the Ukraine has done so with the blessing of their family. Many were forced to leave eldery parents, husbands, and older sons behind. Some refugees even went underground for a period until it was safe enough to come out and find transportation out of the Ukraine. While some families were prepared for the war, most were not. We talk about how refugees often carry a negative stigma, but in reality, leaving their homes and countries is the last choice they want to make.
After that, we discuss how FMN Ministries was able to pivot to serve the Ukrainian refugees. Rachel responds that at first, the decision to open their doors to the refugees felt overwhelming and scary. She was worried about finances and how the Roma would perceive the refugees. Specifically, she worried that the Roma would feel as if their needs were being ignored with this new influx of refugees. However, in reality, God has provided so many people to come alongside their ministry to provide aid. Rachel has been amazed too by how willing the Roma were to jump in and help the refugees get settled. She relays how empowering it has been for people who have traditionally been on the receiving end of aid to then be able to turn around and help and feel like they have something to give.
Rachel and I then shift to talking about the people who have come through FMN Ministry’s doors, or who are staying with them now. Most of the refugees have been women and children, though a few are escaping with their husbands as well. Rachel describes the intensity she feels from groups who are escaping and coming with whatever they can carry. Not only are the people in these groups unfamiliar with each other, but they’re also arriving to a group of strangers at FMN Ministries. However, over time, Rachel has started to see hope blossom in the refugees. They are beginning to feel peace and are giving themselves permission to recover.
Most of the refugees who come to FMN Ministries are women and children. Rachel describes how the war has forced many women to become single mothers overnight. Having had to flee without their husbands or eldery family members, most of these women have lost their entire support system. She wonders what these women have had to do day after day, and for how long, to protect their children. Many of the women carry fear and nervousness around being sold or trafficked during this period of unrest.
Towards the end of the episode, we discuss what’s giving Rachel hope. The realization that God is so much bigger than this situation, that He knows the future and has a plan, gives Rachel peace to think through the challenges she faces every day. The support and partnerships with others is also inspiring to her. She loves seeing what God orchestrates between people, and she finds joy watching what others are doing to help. She also finds hope witnessing everyday moments of joy from the refugees, like when she sees the Ukrainian children painting, playing, and laughing. Even though they don’t speak the same language, Rachel receives a lot of hope watching the refugees find peace once more.
We finish up the episode by talking about how listeners can practically help Ukrainian refugees. Rachel encourages listeners to engage in prayer. The ministry always has obstacles they’re trying to work out as they try to do what’s best for the refugees coming in. She asks for prayers of wisdom for how to best use the resources the God has provided, as well as wisdom for what steps to take next. If listeners are interested in assisting from a financial perspective, they can donate directly on www.fmnministries.org. Finally, Rachel encourages listeners to send messages of hope to the refugees. The messages are shared directly with the refugees and are printed out to be posted on walls. Listeners are encouraged to email Rachel directly with their messages.