Refugees Reaching Refugees

A displaced Ukrainian pastor and an ABWE missionary unite to serve refugees through church plants in Poland.

From Message magazine issue "'I Will Build My Church'"

For many, the war in Ukraine started in February 2022.

But for Pastor Maksym Sliazin, it began eight years earlier as he fled Russian-backed separatists launching a violent offensive against his city in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. As the separatists fought for control, Maksym gathered his young family and a few belongings and tearfully left their home and the church where he faithfully served as worship leader. Radical separatists later set fire to the church building.

Maksym and his family arrived in Gdansk, Poland with the first wave of Ukrainian refugees.

“God started using my education and my experience in ministry to plant a Russian-speaking church for all post-Soviet residents—Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, and Moldovans,” Maksym explained. “We were serving refugees, being refugees.”

Overwhelmed by the needs, Maksym began praying for God to provide an American missionary to partner with him in his fledgling church plant. When ABWE missionary Ron Davis arrived in Gdansk in May 2022, they compared the timeline of his call to Poland with Maksym’s chronology of prayer. To their amazement, the steps of Ron’s journey to the field—first planned with his wife and then revived after the Lord called her home—synced perfectly with Maksym’s periods of focused prayer. Maksym had effectively prayed Ron to the field.

Ron and Maksym now lead a dynamic ministry at Fourth Baptist Church. With the influx of refugees since February 2022, attendance has swelled from a core of 60 members to 200. Poland has welcomed more Ukrainian refugees than any other nation, with over 1.5 million applying for residency and millions more passing through its borders, the UN reports, and the church has intensified efforts to meet ever-changing needs.

“There’s so much work, so much happening . . . and so much opportunity, that the only thing we’re limited by is that there aren’t enough hours in the day,” Maksym conveyed.

The church rented an office to serve as a base for distributing aid and sharing the gospel with new arrivals desperate for hope and stability. Conscious of the need for long-term relationships, Maksym and Ron are planting daughter churches in cities hosting large refugee populations. A church plant in Tczew was inaugurated this spring.

Despite the unique challenges of refugees reaching refugees, Maksym instills in his congregation an attitude of service. “We don’t like fat in the church; we like muscles,” he teaches. Ron explained: “As soon as someone comes, they are drawn into ministry and into the life of the church.” Through this gospel partnership, lives are transformed.

“God is doing tremendous things right now,” marveled Maksym. “Poland is the most blessed place in Europe.”