The 2011 Winter Mission Team to the Ukrainian Orphanages of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA returned to the United States of America on December 30, 2011, following a week of inspiring moments, ministering to the children of Znamianka orphanage in Kirovohrad region of Ukraine.
This year’s Winter Mission Team consisted of His Grace Bishop Daniel, spiritual father of the Winter Mission Team, Rev. Fr. John and Pani-matka Anne Haluszczak of St. Vladimir Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Pittsburgh, PA, Olga Coffey of St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Silver Spring, MD and Catherine Bucharev of Harrisburg, PA.
Over the ten-day period the Team worked in the orphanage with the children, sponsoring a St. Nicholas concert, presented by Kropyvnytskyj State Theater of Kirovohrad Region, as well assisting with the physical rehabilitation exercises, etc. In addition to the time spent with children of the orphanage, the Team delivered 13 suitcases of various play costumes for the orphanage, which arrived as a gift from about a dozen of parishes of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA in response to the orphanage's request. Pani Tatiana Ivanivna Vlko, director of Znamianka orphanage expressed her gratitude to the Team and the faithful of the Church for their continued prayers and support.
One of the Team members wrote in the post Mission Trip reflections: “The Lord placed a desire on our hearts to serve the orphans of the world. This desire started when God opened our eyes to the fact that we are orphans who have been adopted by our loving Father. He adopted us into His family out of His tremendous love for us.
I went on the mission trip to Ukrainian orphanages expecting to serve and bless the lives of the orphans that God placed on our hearts. But that wasn’t the entirety of God’s plan for us while we were there. We spent time loving on the children, but what we received in return from the Lord was immeasurable…
Like most Americans, we believed orphan care was simply adoption. But, through the ministry of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA, God showed us there is so much more to orphan care than adoption. I watched His Grace Bishop Daniel embracing the children and the love the children had for him. It was an inspiring moment to learn from and to see how the children of the orphanage and the staff embraced the bishop of our Church and in his person the entire Team for who we are. Our time with children showed us that through love and devotion to these beautiful children, this orphanage was far from sad and depressing. Instead, it was one of the most joyful gatherings of children we had ever experienced. These children love life. Despite their unimaginable hard pasts, which includes abandonment and traumatic events beyond our understanding, they are surrounded by a staff who love and care for them… Our lives are forever changed because our eyes have been opened to the serious need of total orphan care, and not just adoption. A majority of children at this orphanage will never be adopted, but God has provided a vision and plan that will raise them with food in their stomachs, and with care from a devoted staff…
When I left for this mission trip, I asked myself a few questions…how will this affect me? And, how will it affect the ones I’m helping? I didn’t get the answers that I thought I would…
I was so ready to be there and just get started! The first day was a little slow until they got to know me better, but as the week went on it got better and better and I got so close to the children! I colored with them, painted with them, read to them, helped with lunch and snack, played games with them, etc. I was a heat source when they forgot their sweatshirts, I was a chair (sometimes for all 9 or 10 of them) during story time, I was the shoulder to cry on, and I was the “teddy bear” to fall asleep with.
Usually when I left for the day in the evening there were some that were awake yet. I came in on the second day and they were at a table making necklaces. I had hardly walked in and one of the girls looked at me. She looked at me and said, “You left yesterday! You didn’t say goodbye!!” and she made sure to tell me that I needed to say goodbye... It was things like that that they said that made me want to never leave!
I got so close to the kids and it was so hard to say goodbye! We spent the last half hour I was there just saying our goodbyes. It was hard to walk out with all the sad faces and the tears. It broke my heart! Although I knew I couldn’t stay, I just wanted to go back! These are the kids that I will never forget! And the kids that changed my life!
How did this affect me? These kids changed my life in the most positive way possible! The smiles on their faces, the laughs, the stories! Everything! I couldn’t have asked for anything more! I had a great time being with the kids and wish I could still be there or go back! This is an experience I will never forget and I thank God for the chance to be able to do this!”
The team worked hard at projects that help keep the orphanage compound facility working well so the staff can perform all the many functions that are necessary to the functioning of the missionaries. Feeding children, participating in educational classes, organizing and sponsoring St. Nicholas and Nativity of our Lord plays, playing with children – these are just a few schedule events that took place during the team’s presence at the orphanage. In addition, the Team members traveled with the children of the orphanage to a local Orthodox monastic community, teaching the children of the orphanages about the sacredness of the Holy Place as well as the precepts of Orthodox Christian worship.