The Heart of Christ Mennonite Church in Berdyansk, Ukraine recently hosted a youth camp, during which School Without Walls (SWW) students served children and youth from the front-line cities of Andreyevka and Avdeyevka. Yevgenia, a 16-year-old girl from Andreyevka, was just one of the many young people who participated in this camp. Yevgenia, her mother, and their friends are going through a hard time, as war continues to rage in their hometown, and they hear the sound of gunfire almost every day.
Sadly, even before the war broke out, Yevgenia had already experienced suffering. Her father abandoned her 16-year-old mother as soon as he found out that she was pregnant, so Yevgenia never met him. Her mother’s grandmother was also killed in a car accident when she was seven months pregnant, and the emotional and psychological stress caused Yevgenia’s mother to go into early labor, so Yevgenia was born two months early.
After she was born, Yevgenia had to undergo medical treatment due to the complications caused by her premature birth. For a while, the doctors weren’t even sure if she would live, and even though she is healthy now, her mother still sometimes feels guilty for the health problems she had when she was younger. They also often struggled financially as Yevgenia was growing up; and after the war broke out, things only got worse. However, they continued to pray, and with God’s help, they didn’t lose heart and refused to give up.
Now, Yevgenia tries to encourage her mother by praying and reading the Bible with her. She also participates in a reading and writing group that is led by SWW students from Berdyansk. Every week, these young leaders visit Andreyevka to share the gospel with those in need through different ministry initiatives, so Yevgenia and her mother started attending these events.
One day, the SWW students led a youth event, where Yevgenia received her very first New Testament. By reading God’s Word, she grew closer to Him, and learned how to pray and talk about Him with her peers. “We often went to bed cold and hungry, since we had no coal to heat the stove and no money to buy food,” Yevgenia shared with tears in her eyes. “But then we met the SWW students, who brought us humanitarian aid. This aid saved us, and after that, my mother and I started going to a Bible study group. We didn’t understand anything at first, but it was still interesting, and we could feel God’s love filling our hearts.
“The SWW students also visited my school and led various Christmas and Easter events, and in the summer, they led a camp. This camp helped me learn about Jesus, and this year, I attended my third summer Bible camp! Two of them took place in my village, and the other was in Berdyansk. Now, I believe in God, and He is in my heart. I know that He is the Lord Almighty. I trust that He is working in my life, and He will never leave me to suffer alone.”
Tatyana, who lived in Gorlovka, Ukraine with her husband, Vitaly, and their two daughters, never dreamed that war would ever come to her homeland. After the fighting broke out in Ukraine, Vitaly felt called to defend his country, so he joined the army and left to serve in the war zone. Two weeks later, Tatyana learned that her husband had been killed in the fighting. She was shocked and couldn’t bear to break the news to her children, Nadya and Alina.
After receiving the news about Vitaly’s death, Tatyana and her daughters fled to the village of Granitnoye in the Donetsk region, where Tatyana’s mother lived. For the first four months after the move, Tatyana couldn’t find work, so she helped her mother with the household chores. Her family only survived because of the help they received from School Without Walls (SWW) students, who brought them humanitarian aid and warm clothing for the winter.
“Realizing that my life was falling into an abyss of hopelessness, I decided to read the New Testament that the SWW students gave me,” shared Tatyana. “I got so caught up in what I was reading, that I couldn’t stop! I also started praying for peace for my country, and prosperity, not only for my family, but throughout the world. And then God started communicating with me through the positive changes He brought about in my life. I believe that He will take care of us.”
After a while, Tatyana’s family started adjusting to their new home, and Tatyana got a job at a local shop. As of right now, they aren’t planning to return to Gorlovka until the war is over. “I am not the kind of person who is content with the bare minimum,” Tatyana shared. “I value freedom, and I want to be able to talk with anyone that I want whenever I want. I feel good where I am free, where my family is safe, and where there is no war. Many people from Gorlovka weren’t able to leave, and it makes me sad to remember that they are trapped there. But, I still want to say thank you for not forgetting about the people who are suffering and struggling to survive because of the war. In times like this, it is so necessary to preach the gospel to those in need, and it is especially important that young people like you keep doing this.”
Olenka graduated from School Without Walls (SWW) in Rovno, Ukraine in 2009 and is now using what she learned as a SWW student to minister to orphans through an organization called Circle of Friends. She organizes a team of 100 volunteers from around Ukraine to reach 1,000 orphans on a monthly basis.
“SWW had a big impact on me as a young Christian,” shares Olenka. “It was SWW that made me want to get involved in ministry to orphans. Without SWW, my life path would look completely different.”
Olenka and her team visit orphanages in the Kiev area on a weekly basis and travel to orphanages all over Ukraine 3-4 times a month. “For me, it’s important to build long-term relationships with the children. Continuity and consistency are important to me in my ministry. You can’t expect to make a difference in the life of a child you only see once or twice a year. My goal is to become family to them. We fight to find a place in their lives and hearts.”
Circle of Friends also helps provide medical care for orphans, find adoptive families, and assist orphanage graduates in applying to college and in finding jobs. Orphanage directors and staff are also extremely grateful for the help they offer.
This ministry has started to show long-term results. Andrei grew up in an orphanage, and he came to Christ thanks to the influence of young Next Generation Christian leaders who regularly visited him and the other children. Now he is 26 years old, and he is active in ministry to the homeless.
“My personal mission is to help orphans discover their God-given potential,” shares Olenka. “With each visit, we tell the kids that God made them special and has a calling for each of them. The Great Commission is my greatest motivation to serve, and I see my work with orphans as a fulfillment of it.”
If you would like to help train and equip other enthusiastic young Next Generation Christian leaders like Olenka to transform their communities throughout Eurasia, you can give online to School Without Walls here:
- Praise God for the thousands of children in Eurasia who received Gifts of Hope during the Christmas season! Please pray that God would be at work in their hearts so that they may come to know Christ.
- Pray for an upcoming Next Generation Professional Leaders Initiative (NGPLI) conference that will take place in Belarus this month.
- Pray for young people in Tolyatti, Russia who are going to church, but don’t yet know God, and that our ministry efforts would bear fruit in their lives.
- Pray for our School Without Walls (SWW) leaders in Israel, as they are planning to start a new SWW group in the Czech Republic.
- Please pray for the regional coordinator of God’s Family Church in Minsk, Belarus as she leads ministry efforts, while also helping her daughters prepare for college.
- Praise God for providing resources and ministry opportunities in Russia, even in the midst of escalating religious persecution!
- Pray for our ministry team in Ukraine as they continue using our “I Care” Refugee Assistance Program to distribute humanitarian aid to internally displaced people and those who remain trapped in the war zone.
- Pray for our SWW students in Pinsk, Belarus as they partner with Christian student groups to prepare special evangelistic events at a local university in honor of the 500th anniversary of an edition of Psalms that was published by Francysk Skaryna in the Belarusian language.
- Please pray for our ministry workers and missionary partners who are dedicated to sharing the gospel with the unreached throughout Russia’s North Caucasus.
- Pray for our team in Ukraine as they meet with the leaders of professional networks in Kazakhstan, Moldova, and Russia.
- Pray for safety for some of our SWW students in Uzbekistan, as they are experiencing challenges with local authorities.
- Praise God for an English study group in Pinsk, Belarus, through which Church Without Walls (CWW) is teaching English lessons using Bible passages! Please pray that God would be at work in the students’ hearts so they may come to know Christ.
- Pray that God would grant wisdom to Vyacheslav, our SWW coordinator in Yekaterinburg, Russia, as he develops new ministry initiatives.
- Please pray that SWW students in Armenia would continue growing spiritually and sharing the gospel with their neighbors.
- Pray that young Christians in Saratov, Russia would actively participate in ministry efforts in their community.
- Pray for our plans to publish several ministry resources for young Christian professionals throughout Eurasia.
- Please pray for CWW in Pinsk, Belarus, as the church leaders are still trying to register with local authorities, construct their own building, and expand their small group ministry.
- Pray for our SWW students in Moldova as they organize and host a youth conference this month to encourage about 300 young people to share the gospel with their families, friends, and neighbors.
- Praise God for our ministry center in Vladikavkaz, Russia, through which we are expanding our ministry efforts, including church planting, in this volatile region!
- Pray that God would provide resources for CWW in Pinsk, Belarus, and that He would embolden working professionals who attend the church to share the gospel in their workplaces.
- Please pray for SWW students in Yekaterinburg, Russia as they begin their internships at local churches.
- Pray for Denis, our NGPLI director, as he develops and expands this strategic ministry throughout Eurasia.
- Pray for our SWW coordinators in Russia as they expand our ministry efforts in the North Caucasus and the Transcaucasia region.
- Praise God for our ministry leaders who are faithfully serving in Central Asia, despite the challenges they face!
- Please pray for our ministry team in Ukraine as they lead an NGPLI conference in Minsk, Belarus today.
- Pray for Georgiy, one of our SWW leaders in Vladikavkaz, Russia, as he is trying to obtain Russian citizenship.
- Pray that God would provide a new leader for the youth ministry at God’s Family Church in Minsk, Belarus.
- Please pray that God would grow the children’s ministry at Spiritual Renewal Church in Vladikavkaz, Russia.
The Inessa that School Without Walls students visit today is unrecognizable as the same child that they first met two years ago. Today she is full of smiles and loves to have fun, whereas two years ago at a refugee camp in Verovka, Ukraine, she looked completely different. She was scared of everything, her hair was messy, and she would mumble under her breath about bombings and the toys she had to leave behind.
Inessa and her family are originally from Yelenovka, a village located in the war zone in eastern Ukraine. Her parents were very involved in their local church, but sadly, after the conflict erupted and bombing attacks became more frequent, they were forced to flee the village, along with the rest of the congregation. They didn’t make it far, however, as the bombing attacks intensified, so Inessa’s family, and 26 other adults and children, were forced to hide in an underground bunker for three days. When they ran out of food and water, their pastor, Vadim, risked his life to retrieve his car so he could drive everyone to the village of Verovka. He had to make several trips, but he was able to get everybody there safely. After arriving in Verovka, Inessa’s parents, along with the rest of the congregation, turned an abandoned school into a refugee center.
Last year, our young Next Generation Christian leaders partnered with the Mennonite Center of Ukraine through our ‘I Care’ Refugee Assistance program to repair the center’s water supply and improve the rooms in which people were living. Along with providing these repairs, we also brought clothing, Scripture, and MannaPack meals provided by Feed My Starving Children to those living in the center, including Inessa and her family. Sadly, the center recently had to close, because the government demanded that those living there start paying for utilities, which they couldn’t afford.
After the center closed, Inessa and her family moved to the city of Belozersk, where her father found a job at a construction site, her mother works as a seamstress, and she and her older sister, Natasha, are going to a local school. Inessa’s parents make very little money, but thanks to the MannaPack meals that our School Without Walls students are bringing them, they are finding hope, even in the midst of the challenges they are facing.
In fact, because she doesn’t have to worry about having enough food, Inessa has already made many new friends at school, and she isn’t afraid of loud noises anymore. She still has bad dreams sometimes, but she says, “I don’t remember them, because I have even more good dreams, especially the one where I am swimming in the pond at my grandma’s house…One day, peace will come back to Ukraine and kids won’t have to hide in dark cellars anymore.”
If you would like to partcipate in bringing hope and practical assistance to families like Inessa’s, you can give online here:
There are over one million internally displaced people and refugees in eastern Ukraine today, each with their own story. There is so much pain and tragedy there, but stories like Lena’s show that God is still working out His redemptive eternal plan of hope and healing, even in the midst of circumstances that seem hopeless by human standards.
Lena lives with her husband and son in a village near the front lines of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. When the war broke out, the family found themselves right in the middle of the violence. They were unable to sleep for many horrible nights due to the shelling, and Lena’s husband, Valeriy, witnessed several people die and had many missiles explode right above his head. When Valeriy began having psychological problems because of trauma and loss of sleep, the family knew it was time to leave their village. Recently, Valeriy also lost one of his kidneys and now needs to have dialysis three times each week. He is unable to work, so Lena cares for him and fetches water from the neighbor’s well since the family does not have their own water supply.
Between caring for her husband and 9 year-old son, Nikita, Lena still has time to love and care for many people outside her family. She volunteers at a local center for refugees, and she makes beautiful cross-stitchings, embroidery, and beaded artwork to bless others. The love of Jesus and the community of her local church sustain her during this difficult and challenging time. “Without God, I wouldn’t be able to do anything,” Lena shared with us. “I love Him with all my heart.”
Lena’s son Nikita is still struggling to recover from the traumatic violence he has witnessed and adjust to life in a new town and new school. The Christmas season is especially hard for him, which is why he was surprised and thrilled to receive a Gift of Hope box—filled with toys, treats, and a children’s storybook Bible—from Mission Eurasia last week for Christmas. Nikita shared with us, “This Gift of Hope was a reminder from God that although I don’t have many friends, the Lord Himself is my friend. He knows me by name and He enjoys blessing me through my other friends, like you.”
Lena and her family also received soup and nourishing rice meal packs from Mission Eurasia to help get them through the winter. “Thank you for blessing my family,” she shared.
We are humbled and blessed by the powerful testimony of Lena, whose faith in God remains strong despite much sorrow in her life. The way she so selflessly cares for her family and others is an example to everyone who meets her.
To provide critical relief aid, Scripture, and food packs for a family like Lena’s, please support our “I Care” Refugee Assistance Program, which is caring for thousands of refugees and families displaced from the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine:
- Praise God for our first ever Next Generation Professional Leaders Initiative (NGPLI) forum in Central Asia, which took place in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan on November 12!
- Please pray for our Gift of Hope distribution efforts and other evangelistic events taking place throughout Eurasia during the Christmas season.
- Pray for a School Without Walls (SWW) youth conference that is taking place in Ukraine on December 2-3.
- Pray that God would bless our ministry leaders in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia’s North Caucasus as they expand our SWW efforts in these volatile regions.
- Pray for Church Without Walls (CWW) in Pinsk, Belarus, as the church leaders are applying for registration with the local authorities, while also expanding their various ministry initiatives.
- Please pray for SWW students in the city of Vanadzor, Armenia to be zealous for God and motivated to share the gospel with even more unreached people.
- Praise God for a group of 30 new SWW students in Russia’s North Caucasus who are committed to sharing the gospel!
- Pray for Vasiliy, one of the leaders of Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus, as he ministers to broken families in his community.
- Pray for CWW in Moldova, as our ministry partners are planning many different social outreach efforts and other evangelistic events during the Christmas season.
- Please pray that God would grant wisdom and courage to believers in Armenia as they share the gospel with the unreached.
- Praise God for our ministry center in Vladikavkaz, Russia and our partners at Spiritual Renewal Church, who are dedicated to sharing the gospel throughout the North Caucasus!
- Pray that God would continue to bless our NGPLI efforts in Belarus so that even more young Christian professionals can learn how to share the gospel in their workplaces.
- Pray for wisdom for a group of SWW students in Georgia who want to start a ministry to the homeless.
- Please pray that God would provide new opportunities for SWW students to share the gospel with young people in local schools and universities in Vladikavkaz, Russia.
- Pray for Yuriy, our SWW coordinator in Pinsk, Belarus, as his mother-in-law is undergoing surgery, and he is also developing his own business.
- Pray that our containers of humanitarian aid goods for Ukraine would clear customs as quickly as possible so that we can continue bringing these goods to those in need.
- Pray that God would use SWW to raise up new church leaders in Russia’s North Caucasus and expand our ministry efforts in the region.
- Please pray for the leaders of Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus as they encourage their congregation to continue growing in faith and sharing the gospel with their neighbors.
- Pray for Denis, our SWW coordinator in Svetliy, Moldova, as he seeks to faithfully serve the Lord and make enough time for his family.
- Praise God for a group of new SWW students in Russia who are participating in our Preparation for Success training seminars and inviting their friends to participate!
- Continue praying for Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus as the church leaders apply for registration with the local authorities.
- Pray that our 12 SWW centers in Ukraine would help to prepare the Next Generation of Christian leaders for effective ministry.
- Please pray that God would grant courage to our brothers and sisters in Russia who are continuing to share the gospel, even in the midst of escalating religious persecution.
- Pray for Aram, our SWW coordinator in Armenia, and a group of SWW students as they minister to Lianna, a single mother who suffers from epilepsy and is struggling to care for her family. Praise God that she recently started going to church!
- Pray for Roman, one of our ministry partners at Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus, as he recovers from a recent tumor removal surgery.
- Praise God that Ray and Cindy Le Clair, our missionaries in Ukraine, received permission to translate a teaching website into the Russian language! They are hoping to have it ready for a Christian Education Resource Network workshop for Christian teachers that will be taking place in January 2017.
- Please pray that our new SWW students in Gagauzia, Moldova would use their gifts and talents to reach their neighbors for Christ.
- Pray that God would be at work in the families that CWW in Pinsk, Belarus is serving so that they might come to accept Christ as their Savior.
- Continue praying for Georgiy, one of our SWW teachers in Vladikavkaz, Russia, as he is still trying to resolve a difficult financial situation related to a car accident he was in last year.
- Pray that God would lead nonbelievers to Reconciliation Church in Bobruisk, Belarus so that they may come to know Christ.
- Please pray for our SWW students in Haifa, Israel as they take their final exams and prepare for graduation.
The village of Maryinka, Ukraine is situated right on the front line of the fighting taking place in the eastern part of the country. Shelling and bombing are still a daily reality, and many are surviving in homes that have been damaged by bombs, with unstable electricity and water supply, forced to hide in their cold and dark basements many nights. The town has no jobs, no future, limited medical care, and children and adults are have been traumatized by the war. Day-to-day life is about survival, with a small but desperate hope that one day things will get better.
It was in this context that the Bread of Life Bakery opened in Maryinka this past spring. Since then it has produced well over 300,000 loaves of bread, over 50,000 of which have been distributed for free. The rest are sold at affordable prices, helping ensure that local residents have the bare minimum they need to survive. The bakery has also provided 25 people with jobs.
However not only has the bakery provided local residents with physical food, but over the last seven months over 2,000 people have heard the gospel and around 400 people received Jesus as a result of this ministry. The local church, which started with two people before the war, has grown to 70 regular church goers. This church celebrated this summer when 20 people got baptized.
Preparations are also underway to open bakeries in the towns of Selidovo, Dobropolye, Mirnograd, and Avdeevka, which have a combined population of over 125,000. The model in each town will be the same as that in Maryinka – baking 2,000 loaves of bread daily and selling them at affordable prices, and giving away 300 loaves daily to those in the greatest need. In addition to helping meet basic physical needs, these bakeries would meet spiritual needs by introducing people to God and His Word, as well as providing much-needed jobs in a region with high unemployment. A few of these towns already have small churches, and our hope is that through this project these churches will grow and have the opportunity to reach a much larger segment of the local population with the gospel.
Please pray for our young Next Generation Christian leaders in the region who are working tirelessly to make this vision a reality in more towns. And if you would like to give towards the cost of equipment and supplies for additional bakeries, you can give online here: