A pastor of a church in Catalonia has opened his home to thirteen people who have fled Ukraine. Eleven of them are between 8 and 18 years old.
Over 3.6 million people have left Ukraine since the Russian invasion began on 24 February, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Migration is particularly intense in the border areas, especially with Poland and Romania. But as the days go by, more and more people have already arrived in several countries of the European Union.
In the Spanish town of Vilafranca del Penedès (Catalonia), Gabriel Torrent, the pastor of the Evangelical Baptist Church of Vilafranca, has hosted thirteen refugees in his home, ten of them minors and orphans.
Some weeks ago, Torrent, along with his church and others from the rest of Catalonia and Spain, had launched a campaign to collect humanitarian material that in the coming days will be transported to Romania, where they are supporting a local church that is only 40 kilometres from the customs border with Ukraine and has attended over 2,500 people who have crossed the border.
Now, with thirteen other people in the country house where he lives with his family, he makes a "call for help" in the hope that "God's people can respond in this situation".
Question. How many people have you hosted and of what age?
Answer. We have taken in eleven children and two adults. One of the children turned 18 the day after crossing the border. The fact that he was still a minor made it possible for him to cross the border. Knowing him and seeing his innocence, I am shocked that this boy, just because he would turn 18 years old, could have been recruited and be shooting and trying to kill other men. The ages of the children range from 8 to 18 years old.
Q. How did you make the decision to host this group of refugees?
A. I don't think it was our decision. I think the Lord has been guiding us in this process in a very clear and evident way. It is something we had already done with other people who had other kinds of problems.
When we knew about this need, we simply explained it in our church and many believers were willing to open their homes for people who might need it. We are just one more, but we live in a country house, with more space, and we thought it was appropriate that they could be here.
We were praying from the beginning, because a great fear we had was that we would get involved in things that are not of the Lord. That we might put effort and resources into things that the Lord has not required of us. But now we clearly believe that God is leading in all of this.
Q. How was the process of receiving them in your home?
A. We had the help of Cristian, a Romanian friend who lived in Spain for a long time. We planted a church with him in the city of El Vendrell here in Catalonia. Three years ago he moved to Romania, which is 40 kilometres from the Ukrainian border.
When all this happened I asked him how we could organise ourselves to help. He started sending me videos and information. I made a very simple video asking for help, and I shared it on social media.
But things started to grow. They gave us a trailer to fill with materials and send it. Different doors began to open, such as the collection of humanitarian aid material and the bank account to which we could make donations. But there was a moment when Cristian warned me that we were going to have to prepare our houses.
I prepared the church for that and the refugees started to arrive. The first to arrive were this group of orphans we have at home. They arrived very helpless. It's difficult for anyone to host so many people. As soon as Cristian saw them, he thought of us and simply sent them to us.
The journey was complicated. They travelled through the Christian NGO Remar, but there was some confusion and we were scared, because we have heard that mafias take advantage of this to traffic people.
Remar is working very hard and very well, with all the excellence they can, but this is a crazy time. Everyone is doing what they can. But the journey of the boys to get here has been long and hard. They have been travelling for about ten days, because they come from the east of Ukraine. They had to cross the whole country, then the border and almost all of Europe.
[photo_footer] The children have started to attend the primary and secondary school run by the Evangelical Church of Vilafranca del Penedès./ courtesy of G. Torrent. [/photo_footer]
Q. How do you organise your day to day life?
A. We are not organised yet (laughs). They have only been here for a few days. I am now travelling to Ukraine and there are many things to attend to, but I believe that the Lord is at work. They practically don't go out of the house, not even to the garden. I think they are afraid to go out and they need to recover. They sleep very much and we are waiting for them to rest, they need it.
Q. Most of the children are minors, what are the legal steps to take with them now?
A. Before they left Romania, when I knew they were coming, I got in touch with the City Council, which has helped us a lot. They spoke to the Directorate General for Child and Adolescent Care of the Catalan Government (DGAIA), and they started to work on it.
Two days ago they confirmed me that the children were already under the guardianship of this institution and that we now have to go through a legal process as foster parents so that the Administration will finally grant us permission for them to stay at home.
Schooling is also underway. The City Council is in charge of it, but for the moment they have started in the primary and secondary school that we have in our church.
Q. What about their families?
A. We don't know about their families. Some of them have died because of the conflict, not now, but years ago. But we haven't had time to find out more. We are just trying to organise ourselves so that they don't lack anything.
Q. To what extent do you encourage other Christians to open their homes and host?
A. Absolutely. But not only Ukrainian refugees. There are many people in need. I am not saying this but the Lord himself calls us to be hospitable and to love our neighbour.
We have done this in a very careful way, and we understand that not everyone can host. In our church there is a team that identifies people who are able to do this, also from outside the church, and advises them on this.
It is important for us that they are people we know, because many mothers with children are arriving and that makes it more sensitive.
You can welcome them, but with great care. We must also think that it is a very different culture, and that there will surely be tensions and conflicts. It seems that this situation is not going to end in two weeks. We could be talking about months, or I don't know how long.
It is important that we do not let ourselves be carried away by the passion of the moment. Above all, it is God's answer to our prayers that will determine whether we should host or not. This requires us as families to pray and seek His direction.
[photo_footer] TThe children are now under the guardianship of the administration and Torrent and his family continue to host them while the official fostering process takes place../ courtesy of G. Torrent. [/photo_footer]
Q. You are going to Ukraine now, what are you going to do there?
A. We are going to bring the materials we have been collecting. It has been very hard . I never thought a trailer would be so big. At first I was going to go with the person who is going to drive the trailer, but finally another volunteer came along who can also drive the trailer, so we will go twice as fast because they will be taking turns on the trip.
That is why my wife and I are travelling by plane. She will take care of the medical issues, because we are carrying a lot of medicines. I will take care of the logistics with Cristian in Romania. The trailer will get there. Once there, we have an open road that allows us to enter Ukraine with vans. It is a ministry that his church is doing in Romania, and every day they cross the border several times to transport humanitarian aid material.
We have contact with several Baptist churches in Ukraine who are distributing the material to anyone who comes to pick it up. I hope to travel in one of those vans to be able to justify everything we have done from here. At the beginning of the campaign we organised in the church, I made a commitment to the donors that I would take it myself, and now I have to fulfil it.
Q. What prayer requests would you like to share?
A. I think this war is stupid and pointless, but I know that I say this only from a very human point of view. It has the sense that God is going to give it. I have great hope in what God is going to do, because He glorifies Himself in the worst, and if all this conflict would lead to the salvation for eternity of some people, then it would make sense.
That is my prayer. May the Lord save many people. May we stop navel-gazing and look up to heaven. May the world ask questions that really matter.
We've been so numb in our places of comfort, and I think these crises can help people ask important questions that maybe they have overlooked for too long. May many come to know Him personally and may we, together, enjoy a precious life at His side.
I also call Christians to pray for the children who are in our home. They are precious, but they come with many problems. Some of them have physical pain. We believe one of them has spina bifida. And there are also psychological and psychiatric problems that we have to explore.
Pray for them and for their teachers, and that we will really be able to love them with God's precious love, which leaves no one behind.