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Greater Europe Mission, with U.S. Office in Monument, Pivots to Help Ukrainian Refugees

In a normal week, the 655 people who work with Greater Europe Mission would be engaged in evangelism, discipleship, biblical education, and church planting. Only 10 of those workers would be ministering to refugees.

But nothing has been normal since Russia invaded Ukraine, and now GEM, with its U.S. office in Colorado, is pivoting to protect its endangered workers and shift resources to deliver humanitarian aid and spiritual support to the estimated 4 million to 7 million Ukrainians who may become refugees as a result of Russia’s unprovoked attack.

Daniel Cociuba, who works with GEM, is a pastor and church planter in Timisoara, a city in Romania, a poor country of 2 million. By last Sunday, 80,000 refugees had already arrived in the country, and cars lined up to access the border stretched for 8 miles.

Founded in 1944 by Bob Evans, a U.S. military chaplain, GEM never engaged in ministry to refugees until 2015, when Syria’s war destabilized the region, causing a flood of immigrants to Europe. The crisis was captured in images of bodies washing up on the shores of the Greek isle of Lesbos, including a young child in a red sweater.

“Care for refugees was not our day job, but we felt that we couldn’t be there as Christians and not respond,” said John Gilberts, senior vice president of GEM.

In 2016, GEM created Refuge, a division focusing on migrants. Now that team will be leading GEM’s efforts in Republic of Moldova, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, the countries surrounding Ukraine.

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“We’re redirecting people to Ukraine and bringing the lessons we learned in Lesbos to help refugees, who are often taken advantage of every step of the way,” said Gilberts.

Mission to Europe

Jesus told his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations.” For centuries, the modern mission movement focused on Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

But Evans felt a different calling after he was injured by a mine in France near the end of World War II. He discovered during his recovery there that most locals were not Christians, and felt God calling him to bring the Gospel to France at first, and now in 21 countries.

GEM says Europe, which was once thoroughly Christianized, has become a “prodigal continent.”

One missiologist describes Europe as “so post-Christian that it is pre-Christian.”

The 47 member nations in the European Commission are markedly different, but most have seen signs of declining religiosity for decades. A 2017 report from Pew Research Group says only 10% attended church weekly, and less than 2% claim a personal relationship with Christ.

GEM partners with Bible seminaries, 1,000-year-old churches, Christian camps and other groups to reach “the 750 million lost souls in Europe.”

Some workers volunteer for refugee work, but Gilberts says after six months of such work they need months to recover.

“When you serve refugees, you’re confronted with the brutal reality of humanity,” Gilberts said.

At a glance

History: Greater Europe Mission was founded in 1944.

Countries served: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Kosovo, Latvia, Macedonia, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United Kingdom.

Offices: Founded in the U.S., GEM is now based in Frankfurt, Germany, with “sending” offices in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. that provide funding and missionaries.

Employees: 655 workers in Europe, with 30 at U.S. office.

Income: Nearly 20,000 donors helped GEM raise $23.7 million in 2021, $22.8 million in 2020, and $23.5 million in 2019. GEM spends 73% of income on programs, and 27% on administration and fundraising.

Prayer guide: People can pray Ukraine using a guide GEM offers at: https://gemission.org/pray-for-ukraine/

Donate: Those wishing to contribute to GEM’s work with Ukrainian refugees can do so at https://gemission.org/donatemissionary/ukraine-refugee-response/

The original version of this article was first published by the Gazette

Steve Rabey

Steve Rabey is a veteran author and journalist who has published more than 50 books and 2,000 articles about religion, spirituality, and culture. He was an instructor at Fuller and Denver seminaries and the U.S. Air Force Academy. He and his wife Lois live in Colorado.