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This December, Give for Vika

Dear friend,

When you donate to Last Bell, you help orphanage graduates with education, housing, medical needs, and in other practical ways. But orphanhood is more than material need. Many orphans have experienced unimaginable trauma—and your generosity makes it possible for healing to begin.

Vika’s mother struggled with alcoholism, but her father didn’t drink and treated his children kindly. One day, Vika’s mother fell asleep with a cigarette, and the apartment caught fire. While her parents slept, six-year-old Vika pulled her brother out of the blaze. Then she went back for her father, but he was severely burned. He died in her arms.

Vika was taken into state custody. For two years she stopped speaking. She was passed around different institutions, and finally found Last Bell through our Educational Outreach program.

We’ve begun to meet Vika’s needs, especially her long list of physical and mental health issues. In her 22 years she’s had ten surgeries for different conditions. Once, a bad reaction to anesthesia caused a six-month coma, so she’s terrified of medical procedures. And mental illness makes coping difficult.

We address Vika’s physical well-being by advocating with doctors and going to appointments. But her emotional and mental suffering require long-term, caring relationships. She needs to know she’s safe. During quarantine, Vika’s been staying at a nearly-empty dorm. Again and again, staff members check on her and take walks with her around town.

Over time, Vika is learning that we love her, that God loves her, and that she doesn’t have to struggle alone. This is the healing work that flows from your generosity, to the glory of God.

Will you donate today to help young people like Vika?

With gratitude,

Megan Hershey
Executive Director

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!

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!

The Pandemic & Katya’s Education

Education is already a challenge for orphan students. The pandemic made it harder. 

The lives of orphan students were totally upended by quarantine: all but about 40 were sent away from Zhytomyr in the spring, often home to families where they’d been mistreated.

It’s distressing that they’re so far away from our care. But we’re mentoring the remaining students more deeply, and stretching to connect personally with each student who was sent away.

Katya said she went into state care because her mother suffered from schizophrenia, and didn’t let Katya out of the house during 8th grade – even for school. She struggled to make friends at the orphanage schools and trade school.

Then, quarantine nearly ended Katya’s education. She moved to a village with her much-older boyfriend and his parents, who all drink heavily. Soon Katya told us she was pregnant.

Staff member Lena talked with her often, and Katya said she was her only friend. When she finally visited Zhytomyr, we consulted with Mission to Ukraine and discovered she wasn’t pregnant after all. Perhaps she was just trying to avoid school, where she felt so alone.

She’d also lost weight, was dressed out of season, and her mask was grimy. So we replaced her worn-out wardrobe and shoes and brought her bedding, a hygiene kit, and groceries. We also coached her through job-hunting, working through her fear of strangers.

Recently we’ve partnered with a new lawyer who will present a case on Katya’s housing situation in court. If she has a place to live, she won’t be dependent on her boyfriend, and she’ll have stability during the next phase of her life.

Katya had tried to quit school many times before. But thanks to an intervention from the school, and the loving support of our staff, she stayed in the dorm for the summer and plans to live in Zhytomyr after graduation, where we can help her. Praise God!

Update on visits to orphans’ homes

What happens when social orphans are sent home?

We were deeply concerned when we heard about orphanages closing due to the pandemic, and children sent back to previously neglectful and abusive homes. These are our future youth! We couldn’t just stand by. Director Andrey organized local church members to visit the children, and they’ve now developed relationships with five families.

Each situation is different. One mom had been disabled by a stroke, and her son struggles with a learning disability. One uncle has active tuberculosis. Some parents drink heavily and neglect the children. One home was filthy with fleas, dust on the food, and a bad smell. But in another, the oldest boy kept house while his mom worked hard for a paltry income.

Volunteers began taking kids to church, and assisted with groceries, notebooks and text books, masks, backpacks, socks and shoes, and registering kids at the public schools. One volunteer traveled to another district for a child’s ID.

Volunteer Andrey, from Central Word of Love church, doesn’t have a car, so he began visiting a family by bicycle. Soon he was taking all the kids for rides – even to church! The home environment isn’t good, but both parents work and are open to help. Two kids were badly behind in mathematics, and Andrey is teaching them the times tables.

One older boy has poor health, with inflamed lymph nodes. When he came to church without socks, Andrey shared, “the attendees… not only noticed, but immediately pulled two pairs of socks over his feet. Somehow they stretched; the socks were for a three-year-old… The words from Scripture come to mind… ‘Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?’”

Our community is rich with service, from you who give and pray in the States, to those who work beside us serving children of all ages. Thank you! Watch for our next email with an update about the effects of the pandemic on our own orphaned young adults.

Many churches volunteer with the local chapter of Young Life, and volunteers helped two adolescent boys attend Young Life camp. One boy decided to follow Jesus. He’s now in trade school in another city, but church members and Young Life friends stay in touch and encourage him.

Ready at rock bottom

It’s never too late for compassion.

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.

Vova studying at Hebron IT Academy

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!

Homes for Dasha and Natasha

Natasha’s childhood home

One purpose of our recent virtual Discovery Trip was to raise funds for the renovation of Natasha Kalchuk’s childhood home and Dasha Zingel’s apartment. These repairs will cost about $20,000.

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.

Discovery Trip conversation with Dasha and tour of her home

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?

Many thanks from Dasha, Natasha, and the Restoration Project crew!

Orphans Becoming Camp Leaders

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

Oksana teaches kids at camp

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!”

See photos of Stop the Cycle camp in our Facebook album.

“Only God can change hearts so dramatically”

Lena V. with Seryozha and Valya at camp this year

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!”

See photos of Youth Camp in our Facebook album.

Virtual Discovery Trip ~ Sept. 17th, 19th, 21st

Come see us in Zhytomyr – virtually!

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.

Covid & orphan vulnerability

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.

Vova’s first birthday party

“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!

Learning to row

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.

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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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