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Valera draws close at camp; new matching funds!

Every year, some of our youth have life-changing experiences at camp. 

In 2017, Sasha declared he no longer wanted to live a “purposeless life,” as he described it. After camp our staff helped him enroll at Hebron IT Academy. In 2018 he became a Christian.  

In 2019, one of the dads almost left camp. But our staff convinced him to stay, and later he said camp strengthened his relationship with his family. After that, he regularly attended Stop the Cycle meetings.`

2020 was a special year. Many former orphans joined our camp team, beginning to teach and help alongside our staff.

Last year, ministry director Andrey drove one vanful of youth to camp, including a young man named Valera. At a gas station, Valera began having a seizure. Andrey shared about what followed:

“After the seizure I lifted him up, helped him walk to the van, put him in the front seat, buckled him, and left him to sleep. As we continued driving, I was looking at him and crying. I was so sorry this boy had been left by his parents….

“At camp he was always close to me, helping with the multimedia equipment. He was very excited because he had responsibilities.

“After camp he started to attend our church. After a time he lost interest; he forgets a lot of things because of his illness. But I believe camp boosted his relationship with the leaders at Last Bell.”

Camp always gives young people like Valera time away from the pressures of daily life, which are often overwhelming for orphans. This year, camp also gives them time away from war. Someone always chooses a “purposeful life” during these quiet days. Will your donation send that person to camp?

Another friend has added $5,000 to our matching fund for a total of $10,000. Just $125 doubles to cover one camper’s expenses! 

Thank you for continuing to bless our community of orphaned youth.

Every dollar doubled for camp!

Good news! A friend of Last Bell has generously offered a matching grant of $5,000 for camp costs this year. 

Starting today, every dollar up to $5,000 will be doubled to make an even bigger impact. 

The cost for one camper (or camper’s child) is about $250. That includes fuel for transportation, housing, meals, snacks, crafts, and other needs. It also covers costs for staff, who will be leading, encouraging, listening to, and praying with our orphaned youth and moms. 

Your gift today will give our youth and our families a week in a beautiful natural setting, away from the threat of missiles. In the middle of all the fear and anxiety about recent events, our staff will share the hope they have in Jesus. 

Many of you have already been giving to our war relief fund. Thank you for considering this new need as well! We’re so grateful. 

Camp 2022: A week away from war

One white woman and three white men sit on a sheltered swing in front of grasses and trees

In the summer, it’s been our tradition to load up vans with orphaned youth and drive to the beach or mountains. The war is ever-present, and a neighboring city was recently attacked. But since Zhytomyr and western Ukraine are currently peaceful, we can dream about and plan for these special retreats.

For some youth, camp is their first 24/7 time with caring adults. Everybody swims, hikes, swings in hammocks, plays, and rests together. In the evening, our youth often open up with personal stories for the first time. 

Camp is even more important this year. Our community needs time away from military barriers, the threat of missiles, and reminders of war. At camp they can talk through everything with our staff, and learn how to find meaning in all the events of their lives through the good news of Jesus.

Our staff needs this time away, too. It will be healthy for everyone to slow down, enjoy God’s creation, and hear God’s guidance for whatever the next months may bring. 

In 2022, we’re considering new forms of camp, expanding outward into the new needs created by war. Meanwhile, we’re starting with what we know: camps for orphaned students and orphan-parented families. 

Educational Outreach Camp

  • Location: Carpathian Mountains (western Ukraine, near Romania and Poland)
  • Dates: Late August
  • 40 youth, 10 staff members/leaders
  • Cost: $12,000

Stop the Cycle Family Camp

  • Location: A Christian campground in the Zhytomyr region
  • Dates: Mid-September
  • 15 moms and 25 kids plus staff members/leaders
  • Cost: $8000

TOTAL COST: $20,000

Our teens, young adults, parents, and kids all love camp. Will you help us provide a few days of normalcy for them this summer?

This one week makes a big impact year-round. Thank you for giving! 

PS – If the war prevents us from holding camps this year, all camp funds will be rolled over to camps in 2023. 

Letter from Megan: The radical hospitality of God’s people in the Netherlands

Over five million Ukrainians have fled the country since Russia invaded, most of them women and children. Nearly 100 of Last Bell’s community members are now navigating life as refugees. From the moment of evacuation, they lived desperate questions every day: Can we safely cross the Polish border? Where will we stay? How will we afford basic necessities in an advanced European economy? How will my child go to school? How do we become official refugees and receive subsidies? 

In my travels in May, I was able to witness firsthand the life of our diaspora. When our van drove up to the property in the city of Vriezenveen, The Netherlands, forty moms and kids greeted us with clapping and tears. They were so eager to see Oksana and Andrey face to face. The red Last Bell van obviously represented home and all that had been left behind when missiles began falling in Zhytomyr. 

In the Netherlands, we reconnected with our moms and built relationships with our new Dutch friends. They’ve given up resources, time, and even their own comfort to take in our people. During our visit, they kept giving. After church on Sunday, one of the “birdies” (mentors to our refugee moms) warmly invited us over for tea and strawberry pie. In another town, the mentors again greeted us with dessert! 

All our new friends were ready to sit around a table and share a meal, working hard to understand each other even with a language barrier. In Vriezenveen, we held a big evening of thanksgiving for the volunteers – giving gifts, eating together, and thanking God for these relationships. They are shining light in the darkness. 

Gathering with the group in Vriezenveen

It was an honor to share a table with L. He’s a businessman, born and raised in Vriezenveen. When the war in Ukraine began, L. was praying and asking God how he could personally respond to the suffering he saw on the news. When he knew what God wanted him to do, he acted immediately. On a refugee website, he posted his availability to host a large group. Staff member Yuliana found his post just as their Poland location was getting too crowded. Leon and his family and friends chartered a bus for our group and quickly put together housing on family land. Their welcome was a healing salve for our moms and kids: Christian community, help applying for refugee status, engaging opportunities, bikes for kids to ride to school, and the most wonderful gift – our refugees’ “birdies.”

That evening at dinner, L. shared his heart, and I witnessed the Body of Christ responding to this war. In that same holy space, I listened as our moms weighed the most difficult decision: should they return to Zhytomyr, where they would be at home, sleeping in their own beds—a risk to their lives and their children’s lives—or settle more permanently in this foreign place? 

A quiet conversation with a group of our moms in Staphorst, The Netherlands

In the midst of these questions, we’re so thankful that our refugee moms and kids are together, both our group in Vriezenveen and smaller groups elsewhere. Those community clusters are essential for their well-being. In Vriezenveen, the mentors are a vital part of their nourishment. And we’re thankful for the 700 euros/month from the Netherlands that helps each family meet their basic needs. 

During this time of suffering the last few months, God’s people showed up!

Video: Your gifts meet humanitarian needs in Zhytomyr, Ukraine

When Russia’s years of aggression became an open invasion, our city and country faced an unprecedented crisis. Families fled, leaving their homes behind. Many lost jobs. Dads and husbands enlisted. We were determined to cushion the impact on our orphaned youth and families, who were already so vulnerable. But we couldn’t do it alone. 

Then your donations began coming in. First a flood online, then stacks of envelopes in the mailbox. Familiar names and new names, anonymous donors and close friends. All the work in the video below was made possible by your gifts.

Prompted by our compassionate God, YOU showed up for our community. You’ve given generously and prayed continually. We’re so thankful.

The war continues to bring destruction and disruption all over the country. Our refugees face a longer and longer exile. New needs arise… and we’ll keep responding, through your gifts to our War Relief fund. When the time comes, the same fund will help our families return and rebuild. 

a from-behind shot of newlyweds holding hands, the woman in a dress with red embroidery

A wedding after a night of missile attacks

In the middle of the night Friday night/early Saturday morning, enemy forces launched a barrage of missiles into Ukraine. Many military targets on the outskirts of Zhytomyr were hit, and many missiles were shot down in the skies above the city. It was a terrifying night. 

We’re glad to report that all our people are safe, though the attacks killed at least one soldier in our region. We don’t know yet if this was a one-night event, or if Zhytomyr will now be targeted more frequently. We do know that the months-long quiet in our city has ended. 

Even so, our staff continue serving our youth and families.

One of our Educational Outreach students, M., had planned to get married today. M. had no family or friends to help her with wedding plans, so last week Katya T. and other staff members took her to choose a dress, find a photographer, and schedule a hairdresser.

Because of Friday night’s attacks, the wedding was moved to this past Saturday. Yes, just a few hours after the final explosions. On Saturday, Katya says, “God arranged every step and M. became a wife!” Her new husband, in Zhytomyr’s territorial guard, had to go back to his guard job that very night. 

Please keep this young couple in your prayers as they begin their marriage in the midst of war. 

We know you’ve been praying protection over our community. We’re so grateful, and we ask you to continue praying for the safety of our staff, our students, and our families, and for an end to this terrible war. 

Trip notes from Director Megan

Dear friends, 

As I began to write about my recent trip, Ukraine was marking 100 days of war with Russia. We were grieving 100 days of life in Ukraine without peace, 100 days of millions of children and women displaced from their homes, and 100 days of brave and enduring Ukrainians who hold hope in their hearts and fight to be free people. 

It’s important to us that you, our Last Bell friends, know how your gifts have impacted our community since the first missile hit Kyiv in late February. Even as many of our daily tasks and locations have changed, I can say with 100% confidence that this ministry is living by its guiding principles, even as the war rages on. We’re serving back home in Zhytomyr, where the majority of our staff have remained, AND we’re serving our diaspora, dozens of young Stop the Cycle Moms and children who have been displaced to other countries. The open arms of our mission have stretched out and we are prayerfully learning how to serve this wider distribution of our community.
Last month, our ministry saw an opening for Andrey and Oksana Pankyeyev to leave Ukraine for a short period of time and check on our refugee groups around Eastern Europe. We knew how vital their visit would be; they would encourage, pray, and bring boxes from home (special items left behind in last-minute evacuations). That gave me a surprising opportunity to meet them in Europe. I looked forward to bringing supplies from the States, having some key conversations, and spending time hearing our refugees’ stories and discerning next steps. 

During several days of driving to our refugee communities, and in conversations with Andrey and Oksana, I saw and heard firsthand how Last Bell’s staff members are living out our deepest values, whether in the Netherlands, Poland, or back home.
As they face their own decisions about safety and risk, our staff in Zhytomyr continue to live out healing relationships. At our Day Center they continue to love our youth boldly! It’s a safe haven for so many youth during this dark time, with caring relationships, food, and counsel.  

They’re living out dynamic community, joining hands with Christian acquaintances and even strangers in the Netherlands who are practicing extreme generosity. These new friends have opened up their lives and resources to house and care for our Shelter moms and children indefinitely, partnering with our team to bring justice to the lives of our youth. I had the pleasure of watching these new Dutch mentors cheerfully use Google Translate to communicate with our young moms and play board games outside their tiny homes, each finding their own way to connect.  

In both communities our staff is practicing the good news of Jesus by caring for holistic needs through counseling, Bible study, and in many other ways. Oksana is even teaching financial literacy skills via Zoom to those receiving refugee subsidies in the EU. We saw firsthand the need for those skills as we traveled and noted the high cost of living in a new country like the Netherlands. 
As we report on the “state of our mission” during this horrific war, I most want to share about the vulnerabilities and emotional cost I observed this past month as I sat with our Last Bell community in person. I look forward to sharing those stories in one of our upcoming newsletters. 

As so many of you are, we as a ministry are holding both atrocity AND hope at the same time. Please continue to intervene and pray for our people during these desperate times.

Together with each of you,

Megan Hershey
Executive Director

Photos: Day Center and Shelter filling up as the war continues

Dear friends, 

It’s now been over three months since the invasion. Zhytomyr hasn’t been hit recently, but Kyiv is two hours away. Last week’s bombing was a sober reminder that war is still a threat to our region, not just the East.

And strikes from earlier in the war caused overwhelming damage. The north of our oblast (region) was hit hard. Malyn, on the route from Belarus to Kyiv, was a hot zone for the first few weeks. In May at least 100 homes were destroyed there, and many citizens were trapped in cellars for days.

Almost 1/3 of Ukraine’s population evacuated. But many are now returning. Some of our evacuated families hope to return soon, to reunite with husbands and fathers and begin to rebuild.

Already we see signs of the renewal we long for. More and more students are returning to the Day Center to play games, make crafts, eat together, and spend time with our staff.

And our Shelter just welcomed another new resident. That makes two! These moms and their babies have brought our Shelter back to life. Everyone is glad to see the bedrooms occupied and hear the babies’ cries; Anya C. is cooking again.

Prior to the war, our friends at Genesis Church provided funds for new furniture at the Shelter. After a war-related delay, our Restoration Project crew installed the new beds and wardrobes, and the two new residents are making good use of them.

Our community welcomed a third new life as well! Dima and his wife Valya, both orphans, are now parents. We’re ready to offer whatever help they need to keep their little family healthy. 

Thank you, friends, for your generosity, and for your prayer and fellowship during these challenges.

The Last Bell Team

Hope for teen orphans after the Last Bell ceremony

If you’re new to Last Bell, welcome! Perhaps a friend recommended us, or you found us through Facebook or a fundraiser. We’re so glad you’re here. 

After reading our recent newsletters, perhaps you’re wondering: What is this “last bell”? And who, exactly, are orphaned youth? 

In Ukraine, many children still grow up in institution-style orphanages. And some remain in abusive, neglectful families, fending for themselves from childhood. These orphaned children grow into orphaned teens and adults.

In Ukrainian schools, the Last Bell Ceremony signals the end of the school year and the freedom of summer. But after the final “last bell” at graduation, teenage orphans enter a bewildering world alone, with minimal life skills and no one to love or support them.

That’s where Last Bell Ministries steps in. We offer mentorship, medical and dental advocacy, groceries, tutoring, help with education and job-hunting, apprenticeships, parenting classes, crisis housing, and more. We’ll continue sharing about our three programs – Educational OutreachStop the Cycle, and the Restoration Project – over the next few weeks. 

Now, orphaned young people are even more vulnerable. After intense weeks of evacuations, we’re supporting our youth and families wherever they are, whether they’re in Zhytomyr or refugees in other countries. We’re also providing war relief in our young people’s local community.

This is all made possible by your donations and your prayers. Thank you!

Reunion with orphaned moms in the Netherlands

Several Last Bell leaders recently had the opportunity to visit with and encourage many of our evacuees. Megan Hershey, our Executive Director, flew in from the United States. Andrey and Oksana Pankyeyev drove from Ukraine, picking up Megan on the way to their first stop in Vriezenveen, the Netherlands.

Many of you are new to Last Bell, so perhaps introductions are in order! Andrey Pankyeyev is our Ministry Director in Ukraine, overseeing all facets of ministry. As a hands-on leader, he’s close to many of our youth and families. The kids love “Uncle Andrey.”

Oksana is the director of our Stop the Cycle program. Prior to the war, Stop the Cycle assisted orphans who became parents, especially single moms,  by providing parenting classes, camps, mentoring, childcare, and help with basic needs like groceries and crisis housing. Now, many have evacuated. Oksana’s like a mother to these women, and they hadn’t seen her for two months. The visit began with a joyful reunion. 

Netherlands group with visitors

We’re so thankful for everyone helping our evacuees all over Europe. In Vriezeveen, our group is housed by Stichting Noodhulp Oekraïne Vriezenveen (Emergency Aid Foundation Ukraine – Vriezenveen). In addition to housing, they’re providing fun activities, new food experiences, babysitting, gym time, and so many other kinds of care.

Soon you’ll hear more about life for many of our refugee communities. Watch for that letter coming soon!

Working with churches in a humanitarian crisis

Churches here in Zhytomyr know many of the needs of their members, especially the elderly. So we learn a lot through church friends. God so often works through these everyday relationships.

The Zhytomyr oblast, or region, borders with Belarus for about 175 miles. In mid-April, Oksana and Andrey Pankyeyev drove to a village near the border. A girl from their church alerted them to elderly relatives there who needed medications, so they included the family in their deliveries. Our social media supporters prayed as they traveled so close to Belarus, and they made it back safely. 

In late April, our newest team member went on her first humanitarian aid run! Lillia’s 2-month-old baby accompanied Lillia and her husband to Lillia’s home village. They delivered supplies to twenty families, including elderly church members who are now home-bound.

Around the same time, husband-wife team Sergei and Anya heard from two different churches about those in need. So they delivered bulk humanitarian supplies to both, and made some personal deliveries along the way. 

Congregations also provide countless volunteers. About a week ago, staff member Sasha and church volunteer Masha Slad drove supplies to another area close to Belarus. Last Bell and Masha’s church bought the supplies together. The men—including a chaplain known to our staff—showed the team where they’ve made dugouts in case of attack. 

It’s sweet to know that church communities in America are praying together for our ministry and churches here in Ukraine. Thank you!

War taking its toll: death, deployments, families separated

Our Netherlands group, led by staff member Yuliana, is feeling more hopeful that they’ll be able to stay in their current location. They’re working with local officials and filling out documents.

head shot of young man with hat, blue scarf, and army fatigues, a black bar across one corner of the photo

Aside from that good news, it’s been a difficult week. The husband of one of our Stop the Cycle moms was killed in the fighting. He leaves behind a six-year-old boy and an unborn baby. At least two more husbands from our Stop the Cycle community are being deployed.

One young man is being sent to the front lines; his wife is with our Netherlands group. “They’re orphans,” Yuliana said, “and only you and I can stand in the gap to pray for them.”

Our team asks for prayer for his protection and that he would trust in Jesus; and for his wife as well. She shared, “I really feel God’s hand in everything… If I didn’t know God, I would probably go crazy.”

It’s so hard for families to be separated. One day last week, a boy from the Netherlands group fell off a bike and injured his mouth; the same day, Yuliana’s son David pulled a table onto himself, had a bike accident, and pinched his fingers in a door. The injuries will heal, but they’re a reminder that everyone is stressed, grieving, worrying about their dads and husbands, and unsure about the future.

Yuliana’s husband is also on our staff. Sasha’s days in Zhytomyr are drastically different from his family’s. He’s constantly in motion: shopping, transporting supplies and people, guarding the Shelter. He delivers meals to military checkpoints and prayer gatherings. “When the sirens go off, almost no one stops their business, because they have things to do. There’s confidence in the troops, there’s faith in God,” he said. 

After his birthday in April, Sasha shared, “If you used to think ‘I’ve lived another year,’ now you think, ‘I’ve lived another day.’ This life ‘is a mist that appears for a moment and then disappears!’”

a young man in a gray jacket crouches to pack boxes with various supplies

As we confront the moment-to-moment challenges of this war, we also trust God with the whole story of our ministry and our lives. We’re thankful for your prayers and your partnership through this part of the story.

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Last Bell Ministries

Loving and restoring orphanage graduates toward life and community.

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