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Grace and Love - The Hurrelbrinks

"So many situations that you will face here are just emotionally draining and very tiresome," Dan writes. Yet he and Maria face every challenge with grace and love.

Maria and Dan Hurrelbrink founded Barnabas Ministries in Brasov, Romania, nearly 30 years ago. Their ministry first focused on outreach and services for poor families and the elderly in their community. However, their experiences exposed the great need of orphaned and abandoned children. They met this need with grace and love, quickly seeing the fruits of their labors. In less than 10 years, Maria and Dan's faith based charity had grown, expanding to a new location in Sebis, Romania, where construction began on Casa Ezra, a new orphan and ministry center that provides youth programs and promotes adoption.

Despite the couple's 3 decades of experience working with some of the most vulnerable populations in their Romanian community, they never expected to be at the center of a humanitarian crisis. But Maria and Dan are not backing down. With more than half a million displaced Ukrainians fleeing their homes and into Romania, locals like the Hurrelbrinks, are rising to the challenge and Casa Ezra is preparing to provide shelter, aid, and resources to those in need.

I first met Dan through a training and networking program for nonprofit organizations. Dan, representing Barnabas Ministries, was the only member of the program from outside the United States and learning about his organization's unique challenges was fascinating. But what I found most compelling was Maria and Dan's willingness to meet all challenges head-on with grace and always finding ways to better the lives of those they helped through love.

This is not the first time the Hurrelbrinks have provided aid during a globally recognized humanitarian crisis. In 2011, at the start of the humanitarian crisis in Syria, Maria and Dan worked to bring over a group of multiple displaced Syrian families. "We worked hard to coordinate their escape from Syria. We were prepared to receive them at Casa Ezra where we could provide shelter and resources." Dan retells the story with great sadness as their plans never came to fruition. "No matter what we did, we couldn't get them out. They were stuck in Syria."

With great regret and anguish Dan explained that in the end there was nothing Barnabas Ministries could do to help the families escape. Eventually Maria and Dan were informed that the group of displaced Syrians they had been working so hard to rescue had all become casualties of the Syrian Civil War. Devastated, but determined for this not to happen again, the Hurrelbrinks are once again opening their doors and hearts during another humanitarian crisis. This one, closer to home.

When I first started hearing about the influx of displaced Ukrainians crossing into Romania, I immediately thought of Maria and Dan and their orphanage. Though I had lost contact with Dan after our nonprofit program ended, the organizers were able to help us reconnect. I reached out to the Hurrelbrinks to find out what Barnabas Ministries' response was going to be to this new humanitarian crisis on their doorstep and how I could help.

Dan's response was almost immediate and we have now been writing back and forth for a couple of weeks brainstorming on ways people back in the States can help. First off, Dan let me know about some of the logistical problems with providing aid to displaced Ukrainians. "We [Barnabas Ministries] are living about 3 1/2 hours south of the western border [with Ukraine] and our area is off the evacuation routes where all the refugees are travelling through Romania." But, that doesn't mean Maria and Dan have lost any of their drive to help.

Romania, Dan clarifies, "is mainly preparing to take in those that will be poorer and not able to travel further into Europe or possibly hope to return. We personally are ready to receive refugees from near Kiev but as of yet they have been trapped not able to leave... We do not yet have many refugees in this area. Although that could change very fast if a ceasefire is declared or evacuation routes are opened." Currently, Maria and Dan are praying for a ceasefire while preparing to receive extremely vulnerable populations of displaced Ukrainians.

"Our desire is to work with [whole] communities" Dan explains in one of our emails, "[we are preparing] for a longer term of [care] 3 months, 6 months or longer to be established here in this area" for the support of these communities of people who have had to flee their homes. But, as Maria and Dan experienced during the Syrian humanitarian crisis, displaced people are having a difficult time escaping Ukraine. Especially now that the war has escalated and more travel restrictions have been imposed, getting vulnerable and sometime immobile people out is nearly impossible.

"This tasks seems daunting but well worth it." This message of hope from the Hurrelbrinks keeps them and their staff working to provide aid.

In Dan's most recent email, the Hurrelbrinks had both good and difficult news. He writes to me excited about my plans to go help in Poland. "How are your plans coming along for your travel to Eastern Europe? Hope all is going smoothly. Here things are changing weekly and it looks like you made a good decision to go into Poland to see the refugee crisis at the epicenter."

Dan, selflessly, emphasizes the need for assistance in Poland since over "2 million Ukrainians have passed through Poland, 1/2 million through Romania. The roads and train lines are much better via Poland." But he reveals something interesting, echoing his warnings from our previous communications, "The Ukrainians tend to be afraid of Romania which is kind of like the wild west of Europe. The last weeks everyone is rushing to get to Germany, France where the governments are offering tax credit money for children of refugees. So at the moment nobody is wanting to stay here in the East, the U.N. is expecting that if the war continues the poorest refugees will end up here in Romania creating a crisis."

Maria and Dan are hopeful that "the war will end and that will not happen." But they are preparing anyway. They also make a great point. While countries like Poland are experiencing a major wave of displaced people into their cities, it is smaller countries like Romania that may experience a more devastating impact. Countries like Romania simply do not have the governments, infrastructure, or social programs in place to provide long-term support for displaced people. Moreover, like Dan mentions, Ukrainians know this. Therefore, those who choose to flee into Romania are doing so because they have no other options. They are among the most vulnerable populations to leave Ukraine.

While it is great that people in Poland are receiving the aid and support needed to manage a surge of more than 2 million humanitarian victims into their country, we cannot forget about the little guys, like Romania, who are going to be stretched thin. However, despite limited resources and little to no government help, Romanians are rising to the challenge.

"A few days ago [Barnabas Ministries] had a young lady stay with us," Dan writes in his most recent email. The woman's husband, they learned, "works at a border crossing helping to get aid into Ukraine and further into the war torn areas where it is really needed. This is a key connection because now we can gather supplies here knowing that they are heading deep into Ukraine where the need truly is, near the frontlines." Maria and Dan are glad to find a way to help even before a wave of displaced Ukrainian families come to their doors.

"Diapers, baby milk, bottles and other items, medicines and hospital supplies are on the top of... the list" of items needed internally in Ukraine. Maria and Dan are happy to "buy a lot of these items here and it is much closer to transport them into Ukraine from here than elsewhere." But funding is quickly going to become a problem.

"This may be a good project for you to think about being a part of," Dan writes. "We have some friends using this contact to deliver a semi-truck of aid on Monday and if all works well we will begin to prepare a shipment from our area. People [in the States} could help in two ways, paying for and helping us to buy the items on their lists or paying for the cost of the transportation and fuel (our diesel is $8.50 a gallon)."

Maria and Dan hope that I can help them find donors and supporters interested in providing long-term aid for both those still trapped in Ukraine and the most vulnerable who have fled to Romania. A message from the Hurrelbrinks:

"If you would be interested in this project feel free to contact [us] with any questions or ideas you may have [to help]."

I hope to continue raising awareness about the Hurrelbrinks and Barnabas Ministries. It is my greatest desire that their story gets to the right people who are able to support and sponsor Barnabas Ministries humanitarian aid projects in and out of Ukraine. The Hurrelbrinks are amazing people doing incredible work for those who need it most. Yet, despite all their own stresses and hard work they are still looking out for others. Dan signed off his email with a bit of advice for my upcoming aid trip:

"Have a wonderful day and get some rest you will need it, so many situations that you will face here are just emotionally draining and very tiresome."

Amen Maria and Dan. Amen.

If you are interested in learning more about Barnabas Ministries please visit their website:

You can donate directly to Barnabas Ministries online or donate to Fat Mama's Travel for a Cause as Barnabas Ministries is now one of the aid programs we will be supporting through both monetary and supply donations.

Additionally, if you are interested in making a donation of physical items to Barnabas Ministries please reach out to Fat Mama Travels here. We will be happy to assist in the coordination of physical donations to the Hurrelbrinks in Romania.

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