A Visit of Love: 2016 Winter Mission Team to Znamianka Orphanage Returns from Ukraine
Every year around the celebration of the feast of Holy Wonderworker Nicholas, the faithful of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA offer a special seasonal gift to those for whom the Lord Himself directed to care and pray.
Fulfilling the mandate of Christ and with the blessing of the spiritual father of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA His Eminence Metropolitan Antony, Archbishop-elect Daniel led a Mission Team of 11 individuals: Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary, South Bound Brook, NJ; Olga Coffey of St. Andrew the First-Called Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral, Silver Spring, MD; Tracy Galla of the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church, McKees Rocks, PA; Mark and Samuel Hatala of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Johnson City, NY; Cathy Bucharew of Harrisburg, PA and All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Camp, Emlenton, PA; Matthew Scutchfield of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Boston, MA; Julia and Charles Ames of Sts Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Youngstown, PA; Ephrain Castro of St. Andrew the First-Called Apostle Ukrainian Orthodox Memorial Church, South Bound Brook, NJ – the faithful of the UOC of the USA on a life-changing and uplifting missionary journey to Ukraine’s orphanage that provides daily care for the severely mentally and physically handicapped children.
And so it was - a spiritually uplifting visit! Sure, the Team did its daily scheduled routine: assist with rehabilitation activities; participate in entertainment programs, etc. But most importantly, the eleven members of the 2016 Winter Mission Trip to Znamianka orphanage prayed with the children in wheelchairs, with children who suffer from major physical deformities, yet determined to hold in their sometimes twisted arms, a small prayer booklet (published by the Consistory of the UOC of the USA for Mission Trips) and quietly, with a tender voice exclaim every word of a prayer, full of meaning and emotion. As the prayers were chanted, the Team members whipped off tears on their eyes, while Vladyka Daniel was embraced by a handicapped child, who wrapped himself in Bishop’s omophorion, while carefully listening to the prayers of the Team. The Winter Mission Team traveled to do pretty much what our Lord instructed the seventy to do: to say to those whom we served, "…the kingdom of God has come near to you. God loves you and we love you too!"
As always, the Mission Team traveled to the orphanage with a special treat for the children – a Nativity play by Kropyvnytsky State Theater, who for the last five years make arrangements with the staff of the orphanage to bring winter entertainment to 135 children. Another treat was the “Chocolate Factory” afternoon, when the kids in their wheelchairs learned how to make chocolate and to share with each other. In addition to that gift, over 300 pounds of meat products, 15 containers of diapers and winter blankets were delivered to the Ukrainian orphanages sponsored by the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA.
Moreover, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA continues to provide funding for about a dozen of teachers - rehabilitation specialists to work in the orphanage, which has made a huge impact on the mobility of many children.
The six days visit to Ukraine came to conclusion quickly and the time arrived for the final goodbyes of 2016. Tears, hugs and promises to return were exchanged with he children and the staff.
As the final day came to conclusion, a director of Znamianka Orphanage – Mrs. Tatiana Ivanivna Valko offered words of gratitude to the UOC of the USA’s Team, stating that a number of children have felt the impact of the presence of the Missionaries of the Church for the last 19 years and especially, the sponsorship of additional teachers and adaptive equipment, sponsored by the Church, which allows handicapped children to move around freely.
Responding to Mrs. Valko’s remarks, Archbishop-elect Daniel informed the missionaries and the administration about the new investments that the Consistory of the UOC of the UA approved – the assistance with the repairs of the exterior of the orphanage building as well as the purchase of a new industrial dishwasher. The extraordinary gift of almost 300 pounds of meat was provided by the donations of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Johnson City, NY; while the purchase of additional diapers was sponsored by the donations from the Dormition of the Birth-Giver of God Ukrainian Orthodox Church of McKees Rocks, PA. Moreover, over 150 bed blankets were delivered by the Team to the orphanage – a gift of the Ukrainian Orthodox League of the UOC of the USA, and especially a gift of the Senior UOL Chapter of Holy Ghost Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Coatesville, PA, who coordinated and sponsored the delivery costs of the blankets.
Throughout the trip Vladyka Daniel reminded the Team about their ministry with children of Znamianka orphanage, stating: “Remember, God must become an activity in our consciousness… Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around – for a closer relationship with Christ… Very often we forget that “everyone smiles in the same language…”
While in Kyiv, a day before the return flight to the US was scheduled, the Winter Mission Team visited many religious sites of Ukraine’s capital; however, the small town of Znamyanka (founded in 1869), with the population of about 23,000 people remained on everyone’s mind. It became even more evident of how big of an impact Znamianka had made on the Team, once the missionaries visited Kyiv’s National Holodomor (Famine) Memorial. There were found references to Znamianka as well: Mr. Niklonsky (a II World War Veteran) writes in his reflections: “… in the immediate area of the town’s train station we witnessed how the dead corpses of people were falling off the train cars. The people of 1933 were looking for food… I saw how the tractor was digging a path along the train racks, and a massive burial place of people was located…” Another reflection of Mr. Prychodko, a train depot worker, states “…we found the burial place, and were still able to recognize the bones and corpses of women and children… we simply covered them with the soil…” Vladyka Daniel along with the Team members chanted a simple Memory Eternal – Вічна Пам’ять, as each looked in the flickering light of a memorial candle lit in memory of the lost.
The Mission team returned to their homes early Friday afternoon (December 30th). Each missionary, touched by the experience of ten days in Ukraine, was changed - many forever. While they were sad to leave the children of the orphanage, the Team members encouraged each other to get involved in helping others in their local parishes, communities, stating – “…we will never forget you and we will pray for you. We hope we were instruments of peace to the children. You certainly were to all of us. God Bless all of you…”
Please, note that the College Age Mission trip to Ukrainian Orphanages will travel to Ukraine on 2-17 June, 2017.
Application deadline – January 10, 2017! For more information, click here>
Winter Mission Trip to Ukrainian Orphanages - 01/01/17
Photos by the 2016 Winter Mission Team Members Subdeacon Mykola Zomchak and Julia Ames