Matthew and Sara Titus, members of Chapel Street Church in Geneva, have been missionaries in Prague for 10 years.
When Russia invaded Ukraine, their mission changed from evangelism to assisting refugees.
“When there was this big buildup, nobody really believed they were going to invade,” Matthew said, referring to the Russian troops gathering on the Ukrainian border. “Most people didn’t think anything would really happen, that Russia would actually invade.”
The invasion happened on February 24, a Thursday. On Monday, Matthew’s group had organized to create housing for Ukrainian refugees.
“We found these first three apartments and were there on March 4, cleaning up,” he said. “We had all these refugees coming in and all of them in temporary housing situations. They were in large areas where people are just huddled together. It was better than being in a bombed out building, but it’s not sustainable.
Working with local churches and international organizations, Matthew said he has renovated apartments for more than 110 Ukrainian refugees.
“We have never seen people in the Czech Republic so united and eager to help,” Matthew said.
Czechs have a lot in common with Ukrainians when it comes to Russia, he said.
After World War II, the country – then called Czechoslovakia – was liberated from the Nazis, but was under the rule of the former Soviet Union from 1948 to 1989. It was then that the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union began a process of dissolution. , its satellite countries eventually become sovereign nations.
“Our landlord was telling us when they were under Russian occupation…you couldn’t live a normal life,” Matthew said. “If you didn’t comply, you would go to jail – or disappear.”
To meet the needs of the new refugees, Matthew said they partnered with a local non-profit refugee organization, a church group, friends and anyone willing to help.
They rely on a core group of 10 leaders and volunteers, but are aided by 150-200 others who could be working on any apartment or project at any given time, doing everything they can each time. they can, he said.
Apartments need to be cleaned, refurbished, remodeled, and outfitted with furniture, washers and dryers, bedding, and other necessities.
Matthew, 43, is a graduate of St. Charles East Secondary School. His wife of 21 years, Sara, 44, grew up in a Christian missionary family in Colombia.
“We have always been committed to helping people who believe in God – and those who don’t – to meet and see the things they have in common and learn from each other,” said Sarah said. “So we have always done missionary activities as part of our work. It’s one more way of being missionary with people.
The couple have six children aged 5 to 16. They had four when they arrived in the Czech Republic, the fifth was born in Prague and the sixth was born in the United States while on a home mission in Fox Valley.
A Chapelstreet pastor, Reverend Bruce McEvoy, who is in charge of local and global ministries, said the Titus family was in the United States for six months last year before returning to Prague in January.
“So quickly the world in Europe turned around and they realized the opportunity they had to care for vulnerable people,” McEvoy said.
This fits with the mission of the church as it has been resettling refugees for 25 years, he said.
“We have workers in Poland and Estonia doing the same thing as Matt and Sara,” McEvoy said.
Donations to support refugee work in Prague, Poland and Estonia can be made to serve the world through the Chapelstreet website, ruechapelle.Eglise.