2008 Mission Team of College Age Students Returns Back!


2008 Mission Team of College Age Students Returns Home

The 2008 Mission Team of College Age Students of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA is back in America, safe and sound, after spending two weeks in Ukraine, visiting two orphanages that are sponsored by the Church. The children and the administration of both institutions welcomed the missionaries from the moment they arrived to the minute they left. Whether they were playing with them or just bringing food to the table in dining room, they never stopped assuring our missionaries that "Come back! You are welcome again and again."

Praying with children, doing arts and crafts, assisting nannies with their daily responsibilities, and painting – these are a few activities that the 12 Team members were involved this past trip, which lasted from May 30-June 14. From a healthcare perspective, our team was able to learn and share information with both the healthcare workers and the satff regarding prevention, diet, hygiene, and medication. We all learned how much culture influences healthcare. The staff workers and the administration of both orphanages in Znamianka (Kirovohrad region) and Puhachiv (Zhytomyr region) are doing a remarkable job of being sensitive to the individual needs of children while integrating poorly available modern healthcare skills and medicine into their practices.

His Grace Bishop Daniel along with Pani Iryna Mahlay, a member of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Parma, OH led this year’s Mission Team to Ukrainian orphanages. Bishop Daniel, describing this year’s efforts of the youth of the Church commented that “taking the Great Commission of our Lord seriously, our youth proclaims the Gospel and demonstrates the love of Christ by extending a loving and caring hand to others, whether next door or across the ocean.”

The mission journey was organized by the Consistory of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA - Offices of Youth and Young Adult Ministry - Natalie Kapeluck-Nixon, Director - and Missions and Christian Charity - Protodeacon Dr. Ihor Mahlay, Director.  This year's mission team consisted of nine students: Andrea Komichak of St. Vladimir Cathedral, Parma, OH; Alexandra Hucul of Holy Ascension Parish, Maplewood, NJ; Adam Kennedy, Melania and Matthew Trypupenko of St. Volodymyr Cathedral, Philadelphia, PA; Lara Haluszczak of St. Vladimir Parish, Pittsburgh, PA; Anastasia Zawierucha of Holy Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God Parish, Northampton, PA; Madeline Melnychenko of St. Andrew Cathedral, Silver Spring, MD; Katherine Stecyk, Ukrainian Catholic Diocese of Parma, OH; Rev. Fr. Stephen Masliuk, pastor of St. Mary Church in Bridgeport, CT.
Almost ten years ago, the UOC of the USA in partnership with the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund (CCRDF) adopted two (and now three) orphanages in Ukraine. Orphanages in Znamianka, Kirovohrad Province, Zaluchya, Ivano-Frankivsk Province and in Puhachiv, Zhytomyr province were selected because the homes were in particularly deplorable condition, housing children with physical and mental birth defects.

Adam Kennedy, a returning member of the Team described his experience as such:  “The train pulls into the station…You have arrived in the orphanage of Znamianka. The hallways are blue and the building is crumbling, it is hard to believe children live in such a structure. During the days the hallways resonate with screams and laughter.  At night, a deafening silence cascades throughout the corridors, only to be shattered by the cries of a child in the early hours of the morning.
    Orphaned children reside in this foreign place, in this country of my ancestors. They are forgotten by the world, nestled in the outskirts of civilization, tucked away in a dark corner so not to be noticed…As a missionary, this bitter truth impacts you with such tremendous force the last time you see their faces, and chronically strikes throughout the years to follow. This is why we go there; this is why what is done there matters.  We go there to return that love which is given copiously.
   Though I firmly believe, no matter how much affection we return, it could never match the amount we receive participating in the ministry of our Lord, and the satisfying feeling that results is: that it will always be enough to these children. A stroke on the cheek, a tight embrace, the beauty and comfort in any human touch will go well beyond anything you ever thought yourself capable of giving.
   When you walk room to room, the children do not appear as what our society deems to be “Normal”. However, within moments of time spent with any child, it is apparent that these children are cognitive, spiritual, but most of all humbling.  So while they may not be “normal”, they most certainly are magnificent and nothing short of extraordinary.
   I can go on for pages praising the work we do there as Orthodox Christians, the children themselves, or how much progress has been made there over the years, but I am opting not to.  This trip is an experience, an experience I believe everyone should have, but in reality, not everyone can handle.  Thus, you need to be, at the very least, aware of the sufferings in our ancestral homeland.
   My experience is no greater than anyone before me and certainly not one of dire importance, but at the very least it is an experience, and it is one I wish to share. On my first trip I met two children, who, had they lived in the United States, would have lived very different lives. Vitaly, who suffers from hydrocephalus and Masha who is malnourished - they are “my” children.  After leaving them, my thoughts and prayers revolved around them over the duration of this past year and throughout its high points as well as low ones.
   I returned to Ukraine this year on the 2008 mission team in hopes of seeing both children again.  The cruel reality struck me in my stay at Znamianka. I lost a child. I lost a child in my absence, an eleven year-old, a child I had waited a year to see, to love.   And in retrospect, nothing I have ever done in life was harder than going to pray over her grave and say my final goodbye, only to not be certain that it was her grave I was praying over. 
   This is why we must go on, for Masha and for those before her and those who are certain to follow. We must stay, the trips must continue, and we must expand.  Every child deserves to be shown the paternal love we as human beings are entitled to.
   The Orphans of Ukraine are waiting and they will receive you with open arms.
   Will you answer the call?”

It was an experience burned deeply into the hearts of nine young Ukrainian Orthodox Christians of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA. As they left Boryspil International Airport in Kyiv, Ukraine to return to their summer responsibilities, they left a bit of themselves in each of those orphanages. More than just building relationships, they had tied together their hearts and lives with children of Puhachiv and Znamianka.

“Every year there is a chance for all of us to serve God and others through mission work,” continued Bishop Daniel. “It can be in another continent or much closer to home. It can be hard work or something that is very quick and easy...but it’s always rewarding. We would love to have more youth involved as the Church looks forward and begins to plan next year’s mission trips.”

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and the Children of Chornobyl Relief and Development Fund have had a tremendous impact on the lives of these handicapped and orphaned children. The visit and work of the mission team underscored the commitment the Church has made to these institutions. The work of the Church in such outreach must continue for our Lord has called us to love even the least of His children. We look forward to many more such missionary efforts to these orphanages and to other such institutions, both in Ukraine and in the USA.

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