When I found out that I was going to Ukraine for two months, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  See, they don’t teach you much about the place in school.  So I packed my computer, my camera, some clothes, and forgot to take a towel.  As our arrival got closer and closer I alternated between two images of what Ukraine would be like:

1 – A sort of glitzy space-age European world with discotheques on every corner and neon signs all over the place.

Or

2 – The scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail where you see the villagers beating mud with sticks.

So imagine my surprise when we got off the plane and I found that, while we certainly weren’t in Kansas anymore, it was mostly normal.  There were crying children, frustrated men and woman waiting in long lines, and advertisements put up anywhere there was a blank space.

You can’t see the chalk outline in the photo but this is where the Shelter kids killed me at Basketball.

Now of course those children may have been crying because I scared them when I said hello, and those men and women were probably frustrated at me because I filled out my immigration form incorrectly, and I couldn’t understand the ads so I started imagining them as pages from a very strange story book.  But it was an airport nonetheless, and they were simply people, and those are two things that are mostly the same the world over.

Eventually we made it out of the airport and into the van taking us to our summer home; Zhytomyr, Ukraine.  Zhytomyr is a larger Ukrainian city and people are everywhere; Babushkas (grandmothers) leading little pupsiks (cute little children) down the sidewalk, construction workers shoveling on endlessly, and strawberry sellers sitting on the street.

This is the local fire station, proudly flying the colors of Ukraine; yellow for the sunflowers and blue for the sky.

As we learned to take taxis, the tram, and even the occasional bus things started to settle in my mind.  And there was one moment when I realized, “This is it.  This place is my home for the next two months.”  I smiled.

I’m working with Last Bell Ministries, specifically with a part of their ministry called “the Shelter.”  The Shelter is a ministry to graduated Ukrainian orphans.  See, if you’re an orphan in Ukraine, you live in an orphanage and they put you through school up until ninth grade.

After that, the government gives you some money and you move out on your own.  So there are a bunch of confused and hurting fifteen-year-olds with nobody to teach them how to live, how to take care of themselves, how to be whole.  So they often turn to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, or even suicide as a result.

The Shelter is a place that hopes to change all that.  They work with these kids for four years after they graduate.  Eating meals with them, cleaning with them, playing games, teaching bible lessons, etc.  Their ministry and mission is to teach these kids what it means to live like a family, how to love, and how to be whole through Christ.

Check out this video to see more of what the Shelter is all about (you can find even more videos on Last Bell’s website).

The first time I went to the Shelter I played ‘Minus Five’ with some of the kids (which is the Ukrainian equivalent of the basketball game HORSE) and lost…badly.  After that, the kids showed me around though I couldn’t understand anything they said except for the occasional, “please” or “American”.

Later we had dinner together and it reminded me of the times I had worked with at-risk youth in Boystown, Chicago.  There’s something about sitting down for a meal together that is familiar even if you don’t know a single word spoken around you.

This is Miroslava, one of the lovely girls that The Shelter ministers to. In true Ukrainian fashion, she refuses to smile with her mouth open in photos.

Through the course of the night, seeing those smiling faces, it was easy to forget that most of these kids weren’t Christians, that statistically, some of them would go out later and get drunk, and that some of them might even prostitute themselves.  It was easy to forget this because, in The Shelter, they are safe and they know it.

This is their place of refuge from the troubles of the world and they have learned to let down their guards here.  And though changes in this kind of ministry are slow it is only because these kids have so far to come, so much to learn, are so slow to trust.  But just because results are slow and the work can be difficult does not mean it isn’t worth doing, quite the opposite is true!

Just thinking back to the smiles on their faces, those brief moments of happiness in a world of hurt, that’s all the proof that I need.  And I think again that this place is my home for the summer and these people will be my family and realize that I am blessed with more than I could have ever hoped or asked for.

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About the Author: Christopher N. Cambell was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. He is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute and an avid reader. He has an endless appetite for stories both true and otherwise and loves using those to better know and understand people.

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Comments

  1. Ken Ney said... 

    Reply

    June 13th, 2010 at 11:59 am  

    Thanks for giving of your time and talents to tell the stories of these kids who are forgotten by society in Ukraine. I know they and the workers at Last Bell will be blessed by what you share.

  2. Rachel said... 

    Reply

    June 13th, 2010 at 4:13 pm  

    Thank you – not just for the writing but for the courage to go and experience a new culture. Will you be able to follow the stories of any of the older orphans that have left/leave The Shelter?

  3. Jo Nading said... 

    Reply

    June 13th, 2010 at 10:16 pm  

    Chris – I think you will “rock their world” at Last Bell – in a great way. Sure seems you are so willing to also meet these kids where they are. I can’t even imagine trying to live on my own at 15….and especially after being in some of the orphanages that are not so nice. I look forward to hearing all about your experiences. Thank you for serving and taking the risk to be brave and not safe.

  4. Keith said... 

    Reply

    June 14th, 2010 at 1:24 am  

    Hey Chris, I enjoyed this. I look forward to hearing more of your stories throughout the summer.

  5. Jim.M said... 

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    June 14th, 2010 at 7:25 am  

    Chris,

    Very nice intro to your “home for this summer”. I put the emphasis “this summer” because it’s easy to see from your writing that God will send you elsewhere to tell of His work.

    The Link to LBM was very helpful. This quote from the bottom of their web site, reminded me that mission work around the world is so diverse. Your work with WND helps us see God’s hand in the place you will live this summer.

    “LBM is a ministry of Eastern European Children’s Outreach. EECO desires that every child in Eastern Europe hears and responds to the gospel of Jesus Christ, experiences family in a safe and loving environment, and acquires the life skills and education necessary for becoming an independent and responsible citizen.”

    Your team’s work with WND will help us see His work in the faces and lives of those you report about. We will pray for you.

    J.

  6. Ellen Jackson said... 

    Reply

    June 14th, 2010 at 11:11 am  

    Good stuff, Chris!
    I love your conversational ability to tell the Ukrainian orphan’s story so succinctly.
    Keep up the excellent work!

  7. Jessica Shewan said... 

    Reply

    June 14th, 2010 at 11:16 am  

    What a gift for you to already “feel at home” there. I can’t wait to hear more about your new family.

  8. Katrina Morris said... 

    Reply

    June 14th, 2010 at 11:41 am  

    Chris,
    I’m excited to read these stories for the next two months! Come visit when you get back.

  9. Jim M said... 

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    June 14th, 2010 at 11:39 pm  

    These last stories (and so many more) have provided the readers with a rich view of God’s work through each author’s eyes and heart.

    The response to the stories, and their authors in the comments after each installment are a testament to the the power of this type of reporting to move people closer to a point where they meet Christ.

    Pardon me, but let’s not keep this to ourselves….it is easy to sense that this team is on the leading edge of the Kingdom breaking into the culture. Share this site with everyone you know, people from all walks of life can see, and know that this is something special.

    Invite your small group, your fellow workers, relatives and friends to join as this team brings us a different type of news…Good News!!

    I can not wait to see what comes next. I am sorry for being so out there with this post, but I am on fire for this team’s reporting, and can’t keep a lid on it.

    Guys, keep it coming!

  10. Kris Schneider said... 

    Reply

    June 15th, 2010 at 12:36 am  

    Chris, I loved your article. I can’t wait to hear more about how you are helping and encouraging these kids who must feel like they have no hope. What an awesome opportunity you have this summer to show them the love of Jesus. I think you are going to be an awesome addition to Last Bell Ministries this summer. Keep up the good work!

  11. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    June 18th, 2010 at 4:54 pm  

    I’m intrigued by Last Bell and by your own story as they are woven together. Bring it!

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