No question, this was a tough year. You may have lost a loved one, or you may be struggling with finances or mental health. My heart aches for all of you who are suffering in this pandemic.
Our students and orphan-led families, many of whom were living in poverty and ill health before the crisis, have been hit especially hard.
We invite you to spend just one minute with Director Andrey, hearing his heart for orphans. And, if you are able, please consider making a donation to Last Bell before the end of the year.
In spite of the unusual challenges, we reached over 675 orphanage graduates in 2020. But we urgently need your help to finish the year with the resources to continue consistently serving our vulnerable teens and families who are so close to God’s heart. Will you join us with a joyful gift?
Some of our youth have family. Do they still need help?
Many of our youth have parents or guardians still living. But they still need help! Family relationships for these “social orphans” are often complex, and they don’t have the support they need.
Sasha White’s father took his own life, and his mother drank and left him home alone. When Sasha was four or five, he was in a traffic accident and became physically disabled. His mother lost her parental rights, and his grandmother became his guardian, a common situation.
Twice, she enrolled him in orphanage schools. Twice, she removed him because he was being bullied. He studied at home for three years, returned to school for three years, then studied computer basics at a trade school for disabled students. But his problems continued at university, and he left after a year. Even though Sasha had family, he didn’t have the resources to complete a higher education.
Sasha moved into a social dorm in Zhytomyr and began working various jobs. We met him during life skills lessons at his dorm. He took our lessons to heart, seriously working on personal development. He was often surprised by the support he received: advocacy at the dentist, used clothing, and quality time with our staff at the Day Center and one-on-one. He always expressed gratitude.
Sasha dreamed of learning to be a programmer. Naturally, we thought of our friends at Hebron IT Academy. We’ve mentioned Hebron in several stories, and for good reason! Hebron was developed by Christians specifically for orphans, so we often help our youth apply. Sasha was so happy for the opportunity. We loaned him a computer, and he began preparing persistently. He was accepted, and in August we helped him move to Lviv.
Because of the pandemic, Hebron students are under some travel restrictions. But they continue to attend church, and our staff stay in touch with Sasha and encourage his progress. We love learning about the needs of each unique orphan student, and working with our community to meet them!
What is Last Bell Ministries all about? In three minutes, learn about the loving care and practical help our staff offers to orphanage graduates in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. If you want to be part of this exciting work, please consider us in your year-end giving. God bless you and yours this holiday season!
Last Bell staff members deepen their understanding of sexual violence
For many reasons, including privacy, we don’t share stories of sexual violence with our supporters. So this newsletter won’t mention names or details. But we do hear those stories, and we grieve when we learn that one of our youth has been sexually abused.
At the end of October, we hosted the Child Rescue Service for a training on how to teach children and youth about sexual violence. Yulia S. and Oksana had attended one of their trainings a few weeks prior, and were so impressed that we invited them to Zhytomyr.
Yulia is a former orphan herself, so she’s experienced orphanage life firsthand. Even so, she was surprised by everything she learned in these trainings. “I couldn’t even have imagined how widespread the problem of sexual violence is in our country,” she said. And children in orphanages and foster families are even more likely to be abused in this way.
The information from Child Rescue Service was incredibly helpful, Yulia said. Children in orphanages and trade schools often don’t have a reference point for what kinds of relationships are normal. They don’t know how to protect themselves, or who to talk to when they need help. The training offered lesson plans to cover all these difficult topics with our youth. Most of our staff attended, but we also invited our friends from local churches who’ve been visiting vulnerable children in their homes.
2020 was a difficult year to gather, but even so this was not the only training our staff attended. Last Bell’s mission requires us to stay humble and keep learning. Orphans’ history and situations are complex, and we’re grateful for the wisdom God offers us through our partners and their unique professions and expertise.
Two weeks ago, the woman who taught the first training (in front of the group below) died from COVID-19. It’s a loss for her family and friends, but also for Child Rescue Service and those they serve. Please pray for God’s safe keeping of all the teachers and trainers in our region whose experience is irreplaceable!
When Vova was eight, his parents lost guardianship because of drinking and neglect, then his mother died. He was moved from one orphanage to another, then into foster care and the trade school system. Like many orphan boys, Vova responded to trauma by losing himself in alcohol, other substances, and fighting.
We got to know him during life skills lessons at his trade school. Because of his dangerous associates, to save his own life he had to drop out of school and move to Kyiv. He was caught stealing there, and spent two months in a detention center.
This summer, he resurfaced in Zhytomyr. He was admitted to a homeless shelter, then kicked out. Meanwhile, he’d lost his passport, the most important piece of ID for a Ukrainian. At nineteen, Vova’s life was a mess.
He needed divine and human compassion. We helped Vova acquire a passport, supplied hygiene kits and food, and helped with job-hunting. Vova himself suggested Hebron IT Academy, where several of our guys have studied computer skills.
Almost every day for two weeks our staff met with Vova to prepare him for admission. He didn’t have a computer, so he studied at our Day Center computer lab. To everyone’s surprise, he was accepted! We helped him organize documents, pass a medical exam, and purchase transportation to Lviv.
Now, Vova is at Hebron, focused on learning, and wants to avoid his old habits. Vova has just begun to mature; he tried to start a fight with a teacher, and could have been expelled. But the school graciously gave him time. He asked for forgiveness, and was reinstated. One of the men on our staff calls often to encourage and advise him.
Thanks to your support, and God’s compassionate timing, when Vova hit rock bottom our staff were waiting, ready to help him make a fresh start!
Dasha‘s mother misused alcohol, and her grandmother died when she was ten, so she grew up in an orphanage. She and her husband faithfully participate in our Stop the Cycle program. They’ve renovated two rooms in their apartment, but the remaining repairs are too costly for Sasha’s Ukrainian salary. The walls, ceilings, and plumbing are in bad shape. So we’re stepping in to make the Zingel home safe for their family.
Natasha and her daughter Arina used to live in one room of her childhood home with several other family members. They lacked gas, running water, and often electricity. Now we have the opportunity to restore this home. Much needs to be demolished, and the walls and roof remade. We’re researching other repairs.
“I didn’t have stability in my childhood,” Natasha shared. “I want to pour all good things into [Arina], because my parents didn’t raise me well.” Natasha and Arina are staying at our Shelter crisis housing facility. She teaches the children at church, and helps former orphan Masha P. run her orphanage soccer ministry.
Of the $20,000 needed for these two projects, we’ve already received $5,000, for which we’re very thankful. Will you consider a gift toward that most basic of needs – four walls and a roof – for these two precious families?
Thank you again to everyone who gave toward summer camps. Here’s one encouraging story from each of our camps: Stop the Cycle camp for orphan-led families, and camp for orphan students. God is using your gifts to transform orphans’ lives in Zhytomyr!
Stop the Cycle Camp Comes Full Circle
It’s a great blessing when orphanage graduates give back in our community. Two former orphans, Yulia S. and Anya H., have joined our staff. They were also leaders at family camp this year. But they weren’t the only ones!
Three former orphans who graduated from our Stop the Cycle program in 2016 were leaders at camp: Sasha and Alona Kaplun, and Oksana Orendovskaya (along with her husband Vova). During the years when Oksana was a Stop the Cycle participant, God especially touched her heart at camp. This summer she led Bible classes for camp kids, and at an evening meeting she shared about how God found her, changed her life, and helped her through difficult trials (like thyroid cancer—she’s now cancer-free).
Staff member Yulia shared, “Every day I was overwhelmed with great joy that my friends were serving God with me in this camp!”
Youth camp was an amazing time for all! The director of Educational Outreach, Lena Voznyuk, shared about orphaned youth Seryozha and Valya, a brother and sister who are part of our Day Center community. Valya is a quiet young woman who’s been taking guitar lessons with one of our staff. Now she’s teaching her Last Bell friends, and at camp they got together to play and sing worship songs.
In 2019, the team was worried about Seryozha and whether his behavior would cause problems at camp. But God touched his heart there, and his lifestyle has changed dramatically. This year, he was a helper. Every evening he toured the camp territory to make sure everything was in order, and in the mornings he got up early so he could wake everyone else.
“I believe only God can change hearts so dramatically,” said Lena. “This camp and the youth who came are special – they’ll be future camp leaders! They have so much potential and life. Valya and Seryozha needed just a little care, attention, and love and their amazing personalities opened up. And this is just the beginning of their path with God!”
If you’ve dreamed about visiting Last Bell in Ukraine, now is your chance! On this virtual Discovery Trip, we’ll visit our Day Center and Shelter, chat with orphanage graduates, and tour historical Zhytomyr. We’ll focus on the Restoration Project as we raise funds to restore orphans’ homes.
So make a cup of tea and a plate of Ukrainian sandwiches*, and join us for ANY OR ALL of these short, free Zoom sessions:
Thursday September 17th 7:30 PM (brief intro) Saturday September 19th 11:15 ~ 11:45 ~ 12:15 Monday September 21st 10:30 ~ 11:00 ~ 11:30 (all times EDT)
There will be breaks between sessions. Here’s what you can look forward to:
Tours of homes that have been restored, and homes that still need restoration
Casual visits with our staff and youth at the Day Center and Shelter
Q&As with current and future orphan beneficiaries of home restoration
Seeing the sights in historical Zhytomyr
A conversation with Andrey and Megan about our needs to complete renovations
We’d love to see all our friends, whether you can donate or not. We’ll send the Zoom link to our whole mailing list, but if you RSVP by September 10th and include your address, you’ll receive a colorful itinerary in your mailbox.
See you soon!
*Ukrainian-style tea is black with lots of sugar available, served with assorted cookies or sandwiches. Ukrainian sandwiches, called kanapky, are open-faced, often rye spread with butter or mayonnaise and topped with thin slices of sausage, cucumber, tomato, or all three.
Ukraine’s COVID-19 infections are spiking, setting case records every week. It’s starting to hit close to home, too, with at least one family member of our staff now in recovery. We’re concerned about our whole community, but when a crisis occurs, the ones already at the bottom are hit hardest. We wanted to share with you how the pandemic is affecting vulnerable orphan kids and youth.
Young orphans sent back to families
In the Zhytomyr region, about 3,000 kids lived in orphanages. But only 300 had official “orphan status,” meaning their parents were deceased or had lost custody. When the pandemic began, the other 2700 were sent home. They’ve most often been removed from their families because of abuse or neglect, and now they’re back. This is a real crisis. As Director Andrey put it, “Kids are thrown away again.”
Even though our primary focus is older orphans, we couldn’t just do nothing. So we partnered with social services and procured a list of ten of these families, then organized a group of local church members to visit. We’ve already heard about some positive outcomes from this outreach, which we’ll share later in the fall. But our friends can only reach a few kids. School is starting soon, and then the cold winter months will arrive. God loves these children, and we ask you to pray with us for their protection and for miraculous help.
Trade school students sent home, too
Trade schools also closed for quarantine. Just like the younger kids, many teenage orphans at trade schools were sent home to relatives who’d neglected or abused them in childhood. We don’t know yet what will happen with classes this fall; for now we’re trying to stay in touch by phone and through social media. Last Bell is often an orphan teenager’s only source of help in a crisis.
About 40 orphan youth are still in Zhytomyr, living either in social dorms (not associated with schools) or in apartments, some managed by Christian organizations like Hope for Orphans. So we’re taking the opportunity to work more deeply with these young men and women.
Many businesses have closed, of course. Rent and groceries aren’t getting cheaper, but work is even harder to come by. One of our youth, Slavik, had a good job repairing phones, then repairing laptops. But now he’s hearing, “We’ll call you back when there’s work.” That’s the story everywhere.
Please pray for our young people in the villages and in the city. And pray for our staff as they mentor those near and far, and offer the practical help that keeps our youth out of deep poverty.
“If I give all I possess to the poor… but have not love, I gain nothing”(I Corinthians)
Advocating with a doctor, renovating a home, tutoring for college exams, or other kinds of help have the most healing power when love is their source. Our staff aren’t checking off a list of good works or flaunting their charity. Orphanage graduates need genuine compassion, hearts open to their joys and distress – the “reparative mentoring” we talk about in our Core Values. That’s why the fun, purely relational events are so important, including birthdays.
When Vova was three, his dad killed his mom and went to prison. Vova was taken to an orphanage. When he was six, another family took custody of him, and the mother of that family died recently.
In healthy families, birthdays can be an affirmation of personhood, a tangible reminder that you’re loved. Your friends and family say, “I’m glad you were born!” But until last month, no one ever celebrated Vova’s birthday. No one told him, “You’re unique, you’re somebody, you matter.”
So we wanted to make Vova’s 18th birthday special. Staff member Vasiliy took him out in a rowboat, where he learned how to row for the first time. He also tried sushi – a big treat!
Vova really enjoyed his birthday. But deep healing requires loving care over many months and years. Vova needs to be enfolded in our loving community – which includes you! Thank you for bringing your prayers, donations, and volunteer efforts to this healing work.
Orphanage graduate Ira moved into our Shelter facility last year, and baby Sophia was born in September. Recently, our Mobile Unit took Ira to the region where she grew up to help her establish safe housing. She applied for a housing grant in her hometown and completed other paperwork. Then we drove to her old home.
While she was in town, Ira was able to reconnect with some of her family. Her uncle was happy to see her, and introduced her aunt and cousin.
Ira’s aunt brought out a newspaper clipping all about the death of Ira’s mother, her father’s drinking, and her siblings. Ira’s mother drowned, likely under the influence of alcohol. Ira’s sister was adopted out of country, and her new family doesn’t allow contact.
Ira’s dad wasn’t home, but we did visit her mother’s grave.
We love helping our youth reconnect with family, when possible. Orphans often need logistical help and emotional support to do this. Since her visit, Ira has been talking to her aunt on the phone. Her cousin will soon be a dad, so she’s been gathering things to pass along for the baby.
Right now, safe housing is Ira’s big project. She’s waiting to hear about the grant. But when Sophia is old enough for kindergarten, Ira wants to find work assisting children with disabilities. Your support allows us to help Ira with her education and career, so she can end the cycle of poverty and abandonment and plan a bright future for herself and her daughter!
Thanks again to everyone who helped make summer camps possible! Our first camp begins in just a few days. Would you pray by name for our staff leading camp, and the requests they’ve shared?
August 3rd – 9th is our Stop the Cycle camp for orphan-parented families. This cohort will celebrate their graduation from the program after returning, so this is their last camp. The staff include Andrey & Oksana, Yulia S. & Sasha A., Sergei & Anna, Anya H., and Lillia.
Sergei asks for prayer for good weather, for God to preserve life and health, and for some campers to come to know God during the week.
Sasha A. asks for hearts to be open to Jesus, and for positive change after camp – to see moms, their husbands, and kids attending church.
Stop the Cycle director Oksana asks for “the Lord to work in hearts and plant His truth… We also ask that the Lord protect from illness and injury, and give beautiful weather.” She also asked for prayers for traveling, since the drive is eight hours one way with mothers and small children. “But it’s worth it!” she added. “Camps are always a special and very important time.”
August 10th – 16th is our Educational Outreach camp for orphan students. The staff leading this camp include Lena V., Lena A., Yulia N., Sasha T., Vasya & Luba, and Vitaliy.
Luba asks God to bless the road and the drivers.
Lena V. asks for prayer that the staff would be “a good example of God’s love for [our youth],” and that they’d come to know God; for cohesion in teamwork; and for the health of all our youth and leaders at the sea.
Lena A. shared, “During this time we’ll have the opportunity to show God to our youth in various areas. Our dream is that everything sown in their hearts will germinate and bear fruit. We want their hearts to change, to be healed, and to receive peace.”
Thank you for praying. We’ll share email stories about camp in September, but be sure to follow us on Facebook to see photos in real time!