After a series of short term trips to a government-run orphanage in a village in northeastern Ukraine, a small and eager team of a few 20-something-year-old girls decided to move to Ukraine to help the orphans. We were young and crazy enough to quickly jump into where we felt God calling us – starting a non-profit, moving to a country where we didn’t know where we’d live, how to speak the language, or what in the world our plan was other than loving these kids. It was a mission of love to help specific kids we had come to know and love at the Pravdinska Orphanage. We didn’t want them to grow into the statistics of prostitution, prison, unemployment, and suicide. We wanted them to grow, to thrive, and to know God’s love for them. We firmly believed in relationships being a necessary part of helping change their lives. 1 John 3:18 says, ”Let us not love in words or tongue, but in actions and in truth.” We wanted that to be the way we loved them and how they would come to know His Love. And so OAU was born. We moved to Sumy with a lot of naive ideas, without much of a plan, but a huge heart to just love “our” kids.
After about 8 years of living in Sumy in full time ministry, our team has changed and grown. We now have a team of Ukrainian staff and volunteers, more than one of which grew up in the Pravdinska orphanage. Our American team has transitioned from living in Sumy, to living in California and making multiple visits to Ukraine throughout the year. We’ve done everything from running camps in the orphanage, to a transition home for teenage orphanage “graduates”, to post-orphanage Grad Camps, to health care, to prison ministry, and a million things in between. We still strongly believe that lasting, eternal impact in their lives requires building genuine relationships with them and simply being a part of their lives. Sometimes that looks like a coffee date; sometimes it’s taking them to get a painful tooth pulled; sometimes it’s putting 18 candles on a cake and giving a kid a birthday party; sometimes it’s just sitting down together to eat dinner and watching a movie.
We have grown and changed a lot over the years, but our mission has remained the same. Our hearts have grown to include the neglected and poor kids and families in villages, not just the kids from the orphanage. Ministry has grown from reaching just orphans, to also include “at-risk” children, youth and families, who are often worse off than kids in the orphanage. Many of our orphan kids have grown up and now have kids of their own, and are part of our family support ministry.
We have learned a lot, often through watching ministry or kids crash and burn. We know we have a lot of learning to do and a long way to go. But the heart of it all is still the same. We believe in loving in actions and in truth. We want our kids to know Jesus and to make it in life. We believe that God has plans for these kids and for OAU. Please be in prayer for our team and ministry as we seek God, serve, and wait for His further direction in this ministry. We are so thankful for your continued prayer and support and we can’t wait to keep sharing what God does.