December 27, 2015
Nine individuals from across the globe traveled to Znamianka (Kirovohrad region), Ukraine during the Gregorian Calendar Christmas celebration season in order to share the joy of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker feast with over 100 handicapped children of Znamianka State Orphanage.
Prior to the departure for Ukraine, the nine-member Team packed several suitcases with various donations, as well as over twenty boxes of clothing that the seminarians of St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary (South Bound Brook, NJ) with Fr. Vasyl Pasakas sent to Znamianka orphanage.
The days of December 19-27, 2015 truly proved the spirit of love and kindness alive in the walls of the orphanage when nine missionaries of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the USA and Diaspora arrived to Ukraine. Subdeacon Ivan Tchopko left his home in Brazil two days prior to his arrival to Kyiv in order to make all of the proper air travel connections and joined the Mission Team of the UOC of the USA for a week of giving and sharing joy with the orphans of the state-run facility in Central Ukraine. Anastasia Smortynovych joined the missionaries of the UOC of the USA in Munich, Germany, as the Team connected there bound for Ukraine from a transatlantic flight that originated in Newark, NJ. Pani Olha Coffey, Subdeacon Ivan Chopko, Laura Haluszczak, Michael Murray, Efrain Castro and Bishop Daniel joined by Solomia Zavaliak of Lviv, Ukraine were commissioned as Missionaries of the UOC of the USA and UOC in Diaspora prior to their arrival in Kyiv, Ukraine.
Over the seven-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 suitcases of clothing, gifts, arts/crafts supplies, 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 Valko, director of Znamianka orphanage expressed her gratitude to the Team and the faithful of the Church for their continued prayers and support.
Throughout the trip Bishop Daniel led the team in daily prayers as well as reflections 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…”
One of the highlights of this year’s trip was a transfer of numerous gifts that the parishes of the UOC of the USA prepared for the children of Znaminaka orphanage. A special thanks you goes to the youth of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Portland, OR for the donations of home-made bracelets and hair pins; the visitors of the first annual “Christmas at the Seminary” event that prepared for the orphanage various gifts – hand-made Christmas tree ornaments; the youth of St. Demetrius Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral in Carteret, NJ for the Nativity Greeting Cards; Monica O-Donnell of St. John the Baptist Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Sharon, PA for her donation which enabled the Team to purchase about 300 kilograms of meat; and WEGMANS Food store for the donation of 50 bottles of multivitamins for children of the orphanage, thus supporting the missionary efforts of this year’s Team member Michael Murray.
The Mission team returned to their homes on Sunday afternoon, December 27th. Each missionary, touched by the experience of seven days in Ukraine, was changed - many forever. The Team members encouraged each other to get involved in helping others in their local parishes, communities. Each missionary when commenting on their just completed trip used the word ‘incredible.’ All nine Mission Team members were sad to leave the children of the orphanage – “…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…”