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Pray and Help from Home

March 25, 2020

Friends,

This is a scary time for everyone. But we’re not helpless! We can pray, we can follow all the guidelines to keep each other safe and healthy, and we can reach out online or by phone.

Here are some ways to support orphanage graduates and staff during this crisis:

Pray

Please pray for health for our staff, youth, and families, including the small children at the Shelter, where illnesses get passed around. Pray especially for staff members Lena V., who is sick (not the coronavirus), Yulia N. and Anya C., recently recovered, and Lillia, resting after minor surgery. Pray for former orphan and staff member Anya H., a doctor; next week, she’ll become the receptionist for a new sectioned-off ward at the Zhytomyr hospital for patients with cold, flu, and COVID-19 symptoms. Pray that income and housing will be stable for all orphanage graduates. Pray also for mental health and spiritual growth, even when no one can attend youth meetings or church services.

Write

This is a great time to write a note of encouragement or prayer for orphanage graduates or staff. Children could draw pictures or write letters for our Stop the Cycle kids who are similarly stuck at home. Teens and young adults could write to orphan students. Email notes or photos of drawings/letters to Emily and she will pass them along. Feel free to be creative!

Give

Orphanage graduates are vulnerable during a crisis. Some will lose income. Many have pre-existing health conditions. We’ll help with groceries, utilities, housing security, transportation, and other needs. In medical emergencies, our staff are on the front lines, advocating and paying for medical care. If your income isn’t affected by the pandemic, would you consider a gift to meet these extra needs?

Thank you for reading and reaching out while you stay in! Keep watching your inbox for stories about how we’re serving our youth right now.

“Little connection to the world”

A Visit to Katya in Bykovka

Last week we introduced our new Stop the Cycle Mobile Unit. One of our first destinations was the village of Bykovka, 1.5 hours away over terrible roads. Once a resident of Shelter Crisis Housing, Katya F. still brings her kids to our monthly meetings for moms by walking 2/3 mile to a bus.

“The village has little connection to the world,” said one staff member. There’s no post office or store; a bus delivers food once a week. Katya receives state funds for her children, but there’s nowhere in Bykovka to withdraw money.

We know Katya’s kids aren’t going hungry. So they’re better off than some families we know. But Sasha, our Mobile Unit driver and a dad himself, said it touched his heart to see how they lived: bare rooms, children without socks or shoes. “Praise God this winter was really warm,” he said. Katya’s water isn’t safe so she gets it from a neighbor, and the house needs some work.

We’re so glad we can reach these remote villages and better meet the needs of orphan-parented families. Many of you donate used coats and boots, a huge help. Financial gifts help us provide groceries, pay for fuel, and in so many ways allow us to serve these vulnerable families. Thank you!

Using Everything Wisely

The Mobile Unit also transports moms to medical appointments and government offices, to church, or for outings in the fresh air; picks up donations from local friends; and transports our Educational Outreach staff to distant trade schools for Life Skills Lessons.

Introducing our Stop the Cycle Mobile Unit

Stop the Cycle Visits Orphan Moms

When an orphan becomes a mom, she needs a lot of help. Some of the moms in Stop the Cycle are too far away to visit us often. So our Mobile Unit is going to them!

Nina, Valya, and Anya were glad to see our new Mobile Unit arrive. These orphan moms live in villages far from Zhytomyr, in difficult circumstances. They were grateful for the groceries, diapers, gently used clothing, and other supplies we brought.

Visits help them feel loved and not so isolated. Staff member Sasha shared that the three moms served their visitors not only tea but something to eat as well – a sacrifice for them but an important gesture in Ukrainian culture.

This is also an important opportunity to take stock of a mom’s living conditions, which she might be too shy to share. Her home might need minor renovations or insulation for winter. Many villagers don’t have a clean water supply, so we check on that as well. And we learn about the safety and health of a mom’s relationship with her boyfriend or husband.

Our Mobile Unit is an expansion of holistic care for orphan families. Watch for our next blog with details about Katya, one of the first moms we visited.

You’re Part of the Team

Your prayers and gifts make it possible for our staff to meet the deep needs of orphan moms. Thank you!

“Trade schools” & education in Ukraine

Now that Christmas break is over, many orphan students are back in trade school or college for the semester. But what does a “trade school” look like in Zhytomyr? And why is education is so difficult for orphanage graduates?

In Ukraine, all students graduate after 9th or 11th grade. Most go to a trade school, college, or university. But these terms are a little different in Ukraine. (Consider that an orphanage is called a “boarding school,” which in the States is associated with wealth and prestige!)

A trade school in Ukraine

On the surface, there are a few similarities. Both countries have four-year colleges, with some colleges feeding into universities with master’s and doctoral programs. Both countries have technical schools, or “trade schools” in Ukraine.

Students at a medical institute in Zhytomyr

Beyond that, the Ukrainian system still feels post-Soviet in many ways. Few students, even university graduates, work in the fields they studied. Where tech schools in the U.S. often provide streamlined access to employment in high-demand fields, trade schools in Ukraine are really just the lowest level of the state-run system, the default option for low-income families and those who aren’t strong academically. Trades can be irrelevant or outdated. Those who study to be cooks or wait-staff may find entry-level jobs, but those who study tractor-driving never do. A trade school certificate in Ukraine is like our high school diploma.

Staff member Sasha and students at a school for people with disabilities

Many of our youth come from poorly-run orphanage schools, so only trade schools will accept them. And the selection of trades is even more arbitrary for orphans, who may be placed wherever there’s an opening, without reference to their desires or strengths. Good students may progress from trade school to college to university, but orphanage graduates often struggle even with basic studies.

Staff member Yulia with two students from trade schools

So how does Last Bell help orphan teenagers succeed in their education?

  • We intervene at the beginning of trade school or college and offer life skills lessons, tutoring, guidance, basic study skills like using Word, and lots of encouragement.
  • We welcome all students at the Day Center, and they visit after school to use the computer lab, have a snack and a hot meal, and do their homework.
  • We offer Ukrainian language/lit classes, English lessons, and English camps.
  • We assist academically promising students with university entrance exams and tuition.
  • If their strengths are in other areas, after trade school or college we help them seek out work opportunities, and prep them for interviews by role-playing.
  • Through the Restoration Project, some youth are learning the home renovation trade.

We’re passionately seeking new vocational opportunities to help our youth overcome their disadvantages in a difficult system. For example, we’ve helped several students begin studying Information Technology at Hebron Academy. Already we’ve seen many inspiring successes! But this is an area of deep need for our youth, and we appreciate your prayers as we seek new ways to meet it.

We recently celebrated this young woman’s trade school graduation.

She studied to be a cook, but she’s very shy, so we’re helping her with job applications and role-playing job interviews.

Education in Ukraine & Denis’s Dream

Dear friends,

In a recent video chat with staffers Yulia N. and Sasha T., I learned about Ukraine’s education system, and the story of Denis, an orphan student. Denis happened to be at the Day Center, so he came into the office for a few minutes at the end of the meeting. He shared a special dream that surprised everyone!

Denis at Last Bell camp

Before Denis joined us, Yulia and Sasha described the disheartening state of the Ukrainian educational system. Everyone wants to go to university, but few Ukrainians, even university graduates, find work in the field they studied.

Education is even more challenging for orphans. After 9th or 11th grade, most orphans go to trade schools, where some trades (like tractor-driving) offer no job prospects at all, and they may be placed in a trade they didn’t choose. Many don’t know how to study well, research, or use a word processor. And every message since childhood tells them they have no worth and won’t succeed.

Denis (third from right) graduating from the orphanage

Denis’s mother (now deceased) left when he was a toddler, and at six he was removed from his father’s care. He grew up at the orphanage in Berdichiv, which has a better school than most. Many of his classmates went to college or even university. Denis studies auto repair at a Zhytomyr college that feeds into the National Transportation University in Kyiv.

Denis is a strong student. But without family, he still needs support. His many health challenges include otitis, eye problems, and bronchitis that turns into pneumonia. Last Bell donors helped pay for eye surgery. We provide medication, clothes, and hygiene supplies.

Denis has attended the Day Center every day for the past two years. Like any teenager coming home after school, he has snacks and a hot meal, and uses the computer lab to research and print assignments. Staff members have become his closest friends.

Cleaning up the Shelter grounds; Denis in front with a trash bag

When Denis joined the video chat, he squeezed in shyly but comfortably beside Yulia, who translated. I asked how Last Bell helps with his education. He shared a list: English lessons; upcoming Ukrainian language/lit classes; the computer lab; having a quiet place for homework. He loves singing, and talked about singing at Last Bell gatherings.

Then I asked if he’ll be more successful because of Last Bell.

“I can study better,” he said, “and I realized I can enter the university – and not just for my profession (to be a mechanic). I have a new dream. I want to be a teacher. I see the leaders of the Day Center, and I see a good example of how I could talk to students.”

Denis helping set up a tent at camp

We know you share our hope and excitement that Denis and other orphans will beat the odds, thrive in their education, and give back. We’re working hard to find or create practical educational opportunities, so our 2019-2021 Strategic Plan includes exploring vocational trade certifications, building relationships with the restaurant business, equipping vocational mentors, and pursuing corporate partnerships in Ukraine. Please pray with us as we meet this need!

-Emily Millikan

Housing helped Sveta & Alona give back

YOUR gifts bring hope and healing, years after they’re given!

Sisters Sveta and Alona were ready for university studies, but had no housing or funds. Over two years ago, we helped the girls get an old, broken apartment from the state. Sveta and Alona share their story and situation in this interview:

Our Restoration Project crew renovated the apartment in 2017. Since then, it’s become a true home. Both girls study hard: Sveta to be a chemistry teacher, Alona a psychologist. Both have launched home-based businesses.

Sveta and Alona volunteer with Last Bell and in church, and welcome friends in need. Because they’re settled and safe, they can extend grace and hospitality to others.

Every donation to Last Bell transforms the lives of orphanage graduates and their families, and ripples out in unexpected ways to many others.

Many thanks to all our friends for your support in 2019, and happy New Year!

Time with Last Bell turned Nadia’s life around

Orphan mom Nadia wanted a master’s degree in education—a big dream! She needed a safe place to live, funds for grad school, and childcare. In November of 2017, she moved into our Shelter facility. We helped with clothes, food, babysitting, and medical needs. A friend babysat too, and Nadia used her disability pension to pay for school. On January 4th, 2019, Nadia received her M.Ed.!

Because of her degree, Nadia got a good position in private day care. It fits her education perfectly. With her new salary and savings from staying at the Shelter, Nadia moved into her own apartment in August. Nadia became a Christian, and now serves in children’s ministry at her church. Two years of investment from Last Bell completely turned her life around.

Nadia’s just one of many orphan moms and dads breaking the orphanage cycle in our city. Your donations make this happen!

December Letter from Last Bell (2019)

Dear friends of Last Bell,

We’re ending the year with joyful hearts. We’ve reached over 475 orphanage graduates in 2019 and expect our numbers to grow. As you read about our youth flourishing, we hope you’re inspired. Your response to the orphan crisis is changing the trajectory of these precious lives.

Two years ago, Last Bell made bold commitments to thinking sustainably about how we operate and measure our ministry success…

Click to read our December Letter

A Conversation with Megan

We’re ending the year with joyful hearts. We invite you to celebrate with us: by God’s grace we’ve reached over 475 orphanage graduates in 2019, offering deep services to meet their complex needs. We’ve seen our youth flourishing and the orphan cycle ended in many families.

I’d love to tell you about the orphanage graduates I’ve met and my personal experience seeing Last Bell’s work in Ukraine! Would you join me for a brief conversation?

To go deeper, we welcome you to read our full December letter, where we share three special stories about our youth, along with the first data returned from our Wellness Initiative. For example, we’ve learned that through our Stop the Cycle program, $1500 prevents one child from becoming an orphan.

Friends, we’re so grateful that you come to know and love our youth, think about them, ask about them, pray about them, and give toward their wellbeing and the transformation of their community.

You equip us for this work. Would you consider giving a year-end gift?

The Impact of Educational Outreach

Yuliy went to an orphanage at a very young age. Both his parents are deceased. He lived with extended family for a time, but he was verbally abused and his government stipend was taken to pay off debts.

The challenge: Yuliy was on track for university. But a congenital problem with one eye made studying almost impossible and gave him headaches. Plus he was shy. He had an arbitrary placement in college studying construction.

How we helped: In February of 2018, when Yuliy was 19 years old, a Last Bell friend paid for surgery to replace one ocular lens. Our staff advocated for his medical needs. Now he can see! His vision isn’t 20/20, but it’s normal.

The impact: With his vision restored, Yuliy became more confident meeting people. More importantly, he was able to think about his future. In 2018-19 he took prerequisite IT classes, and this fall he matriculated as a full-time student of computer programming at Hebron IT Academy. It’s not easy, but he works hard. It’s only because of better vision that Yuliy can study on screens for so many hours and pursue this dream.

Yuliy began to follow Jesus and attend church. He avoids thinking about the years when he couldn’t see. But he always says, “You’ve become my family. Thank you for your support, kindness, and help. Now I know who I am. Now I know God.”

Difficult Cases & the Gift of Time

Scholar Nicole Roccas writes, “We need time— to perceive God’s love, time to understand it, time to accept it (or not). Finally, we need time to respond…”

Because of the early childhood trauma so many of our youth experience, they especially need time. Trauma affects their relationships and their ability to manage daily tasks and cope with disappointment and loss; and it can cause long-term damage to mental health.

Even in ministry, it’s easy to seek instant gratification. And while many orphanage grads do benefit quickly from our help, part of Last Bell’s story—woven into our history and core values—is choosing not to turn away when the results are uncertain. God’s command to care for orphans still holds.

We met Alina* three years ago. She’s been in and out of psychiatric clinics with a mental illness. Her Last Bell case manager, Abram, has watched her damage relationships, neglect and abuse her body, leave safe places, and squander help.

Recently, Alina needed emergency surgery. As an NGO, we were able to step in quickly, where government services would have been too late. Director Andrey shared, “If not for us, she would be dead already. But help was given in time.” So time was one of our first gifts to Alina.

Part of her intestines were removed. After the hospital, we helped Alina reunite with her grandmother, who began to manage her new colostomy bag. But Alina ran away, turning up at a local homeless shelter. She didn’t have supplies or know how to manage colostomy care, so a former nurse at the shelter has been assisting her, using regular plastic bags.

Our prayer is that her body will heal, and when she no longer needs the colostomy bag, we’ll find a facility where she can receive the mental health care she needs.

Another orphanage graduate, Sasha*, who also has a mental illness, attacked someone with a knife. The victim recovered and was very forgiving. But Sasha is now in prison, and will be remanded to psychiatric care for years. He isn’t lucid and often talks about strange things when we visit.

Alina and Sasha’s current situations seem bleak. Yet we believe God desires a relationship with each one, in His time.

Abram has a healthy mindset: not to worry about results, but to keep taking the next step. “We just stay in relationship,” said Andrey. And we work closely with others in our community, like our friend who directs the homeless shelter, so the burden doesn’t fall too heavily on anyone.

This winter we’ll be sharing about how we measure the success of the Last Bell model. But we remember that measuring success is a (necessary) part of the chronos wisdom we use within the spacious kairos wisdom of God’s eternal Kingdom.

“Until the last tick of the last clock,” Roccos writes, “until the last breath on our last day, there is reason to hope. Creation was fashioned in such a way that we are never stranded within our worst selves forever, at least not against our will—as long as we are in time, we always have some step forward we can take, however insignificant or impossible that step may seem.”

*Not their real names

Please refrain from sharing this story on social media. Thank you!

“…With God, one day is as good as a thousand years, a thousand years as a day. God isn’t late with his promise as some measure lateness. He is restraining himself on account of you… He’s giving everyone space and time to change” (The Message, II Peter 3:8-9).

CAMPS 2019: Last Bell’s Relational Wellspring

We saw a record 70+ youth at English Language Camp this summer! At Stop the Cycle family camp, we welcomed 18 moms, four dads, 25 kids, and three volunteers (relatives of orphans). At our final camp, 28 students joined us. We’ve been making adjustments to improve the camp experience for everyone, especially our more logistically complex sea camps. All summer, we played together, enjoyed nature together, talked about Jesus, and learned about how to have healthy families and relationships.

Stop the Cycle Family Camp

At family camp, we saw relationships renewed and family bonds strengthened. At the beginning of the week, this young family had a major conflict. Sasha even began getting ready to leave. But our staff met with Sasha and Olya several times, helping them talk openly about how to change their interactions. The next day at the evening service, they were holding onto each other, and no more conflicts arose. At the end of camp, Sasha told director Andrey, “I’m so grateful that you invited us to this camp. It was an unforgettable time. Thank you for providing retreats like this to help us get away from our routines and strengthen the relationships in our family.”

a young man, young woman, and toddler sit together on chairs, mother and baby under a blanket

See more photos of Stop the Cycle family camp here

Youth Retreat Camp

Staff member Lena A. shared, “This youth camp was the best I can remember in all my years of service: perfect weather; a friendly, warm, loving, and accepting atmosphere; no serious misunderstandings or conflicts… we were like one big family.” Orphanage grad Vadim celebrated his 18th birthday, and Lena asked him about his goals and vision for the future. He shared things he’d never shared with anyone, and said his plans included “getting to know God more and becoming a Christian.” On the last day, Lena said, “some teens approached the staff personally and asked deep spiritual questions.” After the desert of institutional life, orphanage graduates are hungry for relationship and meaning. Camp provides a safe place seek spiritual things.

about thirty young people stand on a hill in front of the ocean near a wooden cross

See more photos of Youth Retreat Camp here

English Language Camp

Our staff said this was “the best ESL camp yet.” Everyone had so much fun, and we see more than ever the way these weeks together strengthen our community. Director Andrey Pankyeyev said, “We had a great time with the youth. We had more than seventy show up and spend time with American friends, with Ukrainian leaders. That was a life-changing experience, and it brought some new feelings and emotions to the life of youth and young moms and their children.” We’re deeply grateful to five American volunteers who gave a week of their summer to help orphanage graduates learn English.

a young women holds up a green craft while sitting at a messy table, surrounded by other young people

See more photos of English Camp here

PS – check out this video scrapbook of a day at English Camp!

Many thanks to our 2019 Summer Camp donors, who made all of this possible.

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Last Bell Ministries

Loving and restoring orphanage graduates toward life and community.

Address


PO Box 30671
Indianapolis, IN 46230
info@lastbell.org

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