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Because of you, Vadim sees the world through new eyes

Medical advocacy softens hearts towards God

Orphanage graduate Vadim had poor eyesight from childhood. When we met him, his vision was quickly degenerating—really scary for a young man. Without glasses he could see almost nothing.

The generosity of Last Bell friends paid for Vadim’s eye surgery. Afterwards, he looked with delight at all the storefronts, the shop names, even the advertisements. “It’s unreal!” he said. “I see people’s emotions. I never noticed them before!”

That was one month ago. The doctors predicted his vision could reach up to 80% of normal. But last week he tested at 90-100%!

Vadim in front of clinic doors. Orphanage graduate Vadim had poor eyesight from childhood. His eyesight was degenerating, and he needed medical advocacy.

Staff member Lena shared, “I’ve never seen Vadim so happy. We talked about how wonderful the Lord is, the miracles He works… We talked about how the Lord gives people a sacrificial heart—that there are people who’ve never met him, and donated money to make him healthy.

“This is a great opportunity to talk about God and His mercy and love. After such a miracle, all these words sound different!”

Vadim likes going to church and shared his gratitude to God for everything. “Hearts soften,” Lena said, “and they understand how God loves them.” An overflow of love from our staff will keep pointing Vadim toward the One who loves him most.

Jesus declared he had come to bind up the brokenhearted and give sight to the blind. When you make these miracles possible for our youth, you are truly followers of Jesus. Thank you!

Too good to be true for Tolik

God sends us orphaned youth in many different ways. Tolik hit us like a ton of bricks!

At the time, our Restoration Project crew was renovating the home of RP crew member Oleg. Oleg’s and his neighbor’s homes share one wall, and new brick work kept appearing mysteriously next door. Finally we met the young owner behind the bricks: Tolik, Oleg’s cousin, who grew up in the same orphanage.

Tolik had been sending money home from Poland to his wife and baby girl—but while he was away, his wife left him for someone else. The house was abandoned. So he began sending funds both for his family and for brick workers. We met him on his next trip to Zhytomyr, and hired him for the RP crew.

For two years Tolik helped the Restoration Project create safe housing for orphans. One project was Tolik’s own house; the crew fixed the walls and roof and did some vital indoor work. Later, Tolik improved his kitchen, poured a concrete porch, and installed a furnace. His new church friends surprised him with a small refrigerator.

But Tolik needed more than just a safe home. He was also welcomed into a safe, loving community. When he felt his house was presentable, he threw a big party. Staff members came with their kids. Tolik’s godparents came, and said that at first they couldn’t believe any of this good fortune was real, but then their worries all dissolved. Our staff gave God the glory. Everyone laughed and cried together, saying that Tolik has a chance to start a new life in this house.

Just a few weeks ago, at the invitation of another RP graduate, Tolik started a new construction job in Kyiv. We see him in Zhytomyr on weekends, and pray he will be successful in this new chapter of his life!

“They offered to send my child to an orphanage…”

In 2020, your support ensured that 48 children were not at risk of being taken to an orphanage. This is just one story.

Olya and her siblings always felt unwanted by their mother, and their needs went unmet. At fourteen, Olya left home, and her mother moved to another city.

Olya is a social orphan. Unlike many of our Stop the Cycle moms, she couldn’t request the kind of help given to those with official orphan status.

When she became pregnant, Olya lost her place at a hostel. She moved in with her abusive boyfriend, who later kicked her out into the cold with her baby. After one night with a neighbor, then a maximum stay of three months in a city crisis center, she had no place to go. Without childcare she couldn’t work. She received just enough from the state for diapers and formula.

Olya was desperate. She recently shared about that time:

“Social services offered to send my child to an orphanage for a while until I was on my feet. It was like a terrible sentence for me. It was so painful to imagine that my girl would be in the orphanage while I was improving my life. Then the director of the center told me there is one more little hope…”

Oksana Pankyeyeva took the phone call from the center, and quickly planned to welcome Olya and little Sasha at the Shelter.

“I was so happy that my girl would stay with me and I would have a chance to become the best mother for her. To be better than my biological mom. At the Shelter, they helped me arrange a single mother’s stipend from the state. They’ve supported me in difficult times and continue to always support and teach.”

Olya is hard-working and optimistic, interested in everything, and learning to be a great mom. We got to celebrate Sasha’s 2nd birthday together in December. It’s a gift to witness the blossoming of this little family!

2020 Impact Report

Our new Impact Report is here! Click to read our financial statements, the measurable successes of our youth and families, and personal notes from volunteers and staff. We hope you’ll be encouraged to see the life-changing community your gifts have created, to the glory of God.

Healing relationships to the rescue!

Emotional support is the first step in physical healing.

When orphaned youth are in a tight spot, they need more than money or connections. They need emotional support, too—even for their physical needs.

Masha P. was moved from one orphanage to another for eighteen years, so she received little of the loving care a child needs. Soon after we met her, Masha asked our staff to go with her to the doctor because she couldn’t breathe through her nose. The doctor prescribed minor surgery to remove five cysts.

Masha began to cry and panic. She was so afraid! But staff member Lena A. knew that Masha just needed the support she hadn’t received in the past. “I told her how good it would be when her suffering ended,” Lena said. “That you need to be a little patient and then it will be over, you’ll be able to breathe well and enjoy life. That I’ll be there and support her… As a mother to a child, I amused her and talked to her for a long time. Finally she agreed.”

The first surgery was in August 2019, and she had another small procedure recently. Again Lena reassured her. “She would hardly have agreed to it without support,” Lena said.

Masha had a follow-up appointment this Monday. She’s feeling better, and in a few weeks the wounds will heal. Emotional healing takes more time, but Masha is making progress by trusting one caring adult with her medical needs!

Holistic care for Valera

Teaching Valera how to buy his own groceries

Caring for the Whole Person

One of our Core Values is caring for our youth holistically. This isn’t just an ideal; it’s lived out in our work with orphan students every day.

At eleven years old, both Valera’s parents were deceased. He and his siblings were moved from one relative to another, then into orphanages, then into an adoptive home in a village. Valera began studying at a trade school in Zhytomyr, where we met him. He’d been having seizures since he was seventeen, so he needed very practical and urgent help. Staff member Sasha T. began meeting his needs:

Documents: Valera had lost his passport, the standard form of ID for Ukrainians. Sasha went with Valera to the required government offices, helping him make payments, collect documents, and write applications.

Basic needs: After trade school, Valera had trouble finding a job because of his seizures. During this time we helped him with groceries, hygiene kits, medications, clothes, and shoes.

Health care: Because of Valera’s epileptic seizures, we often accompanied him to different doctors and helped him order the medication he needs.

Housing: In 2020, Last Bell helped Valera receive disability status, then to apply for social benefits for which he’d become eligible. Right now, he lives in a social dorm, but we helped him register on a wait list for a better housing situation.

Education: We helped Valera apply to a technical school (which feeds an architecture university in Kyiv), studying forestry. He began classes on a scholarship. In November, when classes went online, Valera couldn’t attend or do his work because he didn’t have a mobile phone. He was almost expelled. But we helped him acquire a phone, and he’s been working hard to catch up.

Financial skills: Valera had fallen prey to a private loan office that charged extraordinary interest rates. We helped cover his debts, and at his request taught him how to manage his money.

In everything, Sasha T. and our other staff share the good news about Jesus.

Valera’s life is just getting started, and with the help of our staff, he has a strong foundation. Our holistic approach is vital for his well-being now and in the future!    

Valera (back) and fellow orphan student Sasha (front) buying shoes with the help of staff member Sasha T.

Teaching Hospitality

Sharing Hospitality with Vika

The holidays are a time for giving and receiving hospitality, whether it’s sharing food, giving gifts, or just spending time in one another’s homes to sing, play games, talk, and pray together.

Last Bell’s staff members are often the givers of hospitality, welcoming orphanage graduates into LB facilities or their own homes, and providing food and games or other activities. In the process, our youth and families are learning how to receive and to become givers. 

We met Vika K. when she was in college. She’d lived with a grandmother who didn’t take care of her. Vika had many health problems. Then, in school, she became pregnant and gave birth to a little girl.

Vika began attending our Stop the Cycle parenting classes. Our staff took her to the hospital when needed, and helped her purchase groceries and other practical supplies. Vika needed special help in one area: she didn’t know how to cook, so she was eating a lot of junk food. Our staff gave her cooking lessons and taught her how to budget for groceries.

Recently, Vika invited staff members Luba and Vasya Yaroshuk to her apartment. She served tea with muffins she’d made herself. Her sweet smile shows how pleased she was! We’re grateful for the grace of giving and receiving, a reflection of God’s great hospitality toward us.

This is the year to support Alina’s community

In 2020, we’ve seen the true value of a supportive community.

Parents of school children all over the world are making one adjustment after another. Alina, an orphan mom who lives in our Shelter home, struggled in school herself and didn’t have parental role models. When she tried to manage her second grader’s schooling, she was often reduced to nervous tears.

But she’s not alone. We gave her a tablet to use, and our Shelter staff began teaching Alina how to teach her daughter. Shelter staffer Yulia even takes over when Alina needs a break.

When you give to Last Bell, Alina’s support system flourishes—and you join our beautiful, ocean-spanning community of friends who love orphanage graduates.

A difficult year is exactly the right time to help each other. Will you make a donation to support our youth and families?

Alina’s daughter Oksana with donated composition notebooks

One minute with Director Andrey

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?

Education for Ukraine’s Social Orphans

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.

Staff member Sasha T. has been tutoring Sasha on the guitar. Even though one finger is deformed, he’s determined to learn.

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 all about? 2020

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!

Facing sexual trauma with orphanage graduates

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!