BY IGNAT IVANOV, President
When my father Boris, a pastor in Bulgaria, established a church in Filipovtsy, a Gypsy slum near Sofia, he was the only non-Gypsy allowed to enter the village. Little by little the residents began to trust the people accompanying him. Mission Possible launched its first soup kitchen and literacy program in this church. Since those times, numerous friends from many countries have visited this place.
In May a youth group from a Dutch church visited a different Gypsy village to renovate a house of prayer where a soup kitchen is operated (there have been several groups with a similar mission). One week in this village was a unique experience for these young people.
The youth were surprised when their bus driver refused to enter the village. They were permitted to see a place where few outsiders are even willing to go, and they had personal contact with the children and families we help.
Because of our ministry, I myself have been to places I hadn’t even heard about and would never have visited. Along with us, you, dear friends, have received first-hand information about the people who live in these places and need our help. This current issue is about one such place – the village of Paliyovo.
A forgotten village
For the past several years Mission Possible has been ministering in the impoverished, isolated villages of the Ukraine. Paliyovo is located just twenty miles from Odessa, but the travel takes a long time. Part of the road is badly damaged and has huge potholes. The military uses nearby fields for fire training.
This village by a shallow bay is completely tucked away and forgotten. The residents used to live well as fishermen, but then European supervisors imposed a ban on fishing. The fish processing plant closed and the people were left without a livelihood. The fish factory’s dilapidated dormitory now houses many of the unemployed.
Most of the adults are alcoholics
The atmosphere is apathetic as idle drunken villagers just sit around outside. They have no hope of improvement. The few that don’t drink all the time work seasonally at local farms. The other residents steal from these farms.
“Everybody here smokes hemp, young and old.”
This is what the villagers told us. Indeed, hemp grows everywhere. Life has gone off the rails. Many residents have been imprisoned several times.
The children watch all this happen. They are left to themselves with no guidance or care and walk around hungry and ragged.
Bible club for children in a former fisherman’s house
A mother with her children left the village because of her husband’s drinking. In Odessa, she was invited to the church where Mission Possible’s local leader Oleg Kalyakin serves as a part-time pastor. She became a Christian and decided to go back to Paliyovo with the children. She understood that the families there needed what she had found: the gospel and help. She suggested that we start working in her village and she offered her home for children’s Bible club. Her husband didn’t object.
About twenty children now attend the Bible club run by our team. For these kids it is the highlight of their week; they are always waiting eagerly by the door. We also bring food and clothes (including school uniforms), help the children with their homework, and teach them basic life skills and etiquette.
The village’s leadership is cooperative with us, and at the moment, they are working on our request for a facility for Bible club.
Our team members, Lilya and Tanya, share about the outreach to families in Paliyovo
“I can see that you are different than us. Can I talk with you for a while?”
When we started the children’s Bible club a year ago, many parents were suspicious. Now they are grateful for our work, and we have become friends with many of them. One mother said, “I can see that you are different than us. Can I talk with you for a while?” We ended up speaking for an hour and a half. She asked many questions about God.
As much as we are able, we bring help to the families. Our Christmas campaign made a huge impression on the adults. They couldn’t believe we were giving pretty packages of new and useful items to their children – for free!
A tragic explosion
Right at the beginning of this work we felt that we were in the right place at the right time. Near the village there is a military training ground, and the children often sneak into it to collect old munitions. Unfortunately, some found an unexploded grenade and brought it to the dormitory hallway to have a closer look at it! Other children joined them.
A father who lived there heard the commotion and went to investigate. Terrified, he told the children to move away immediately, and he cautiously took the grenade away. The curious children, however, followed him! But just at that moment we arrived and the children ran to meet our van. That saved them, because seconds after that there was an explosion! The man was seriously injured. He lost one arm and his abdomen was riddled with splinters.
The father’s medical expenses and injuries were catastrophic for the impoverished family. We helped them with the hospital bills and continue to bring groceries and other items each week. We pray with them every visit and offer encouragement.
“You came at just the right time!”
We have held drug education and life skills instruction for the older students at the village school. Both students and teachers have given us feedback that lets us know the teaching was even more important than we thought. After a lesson on the topic “How to protect yourself before marriage,” one girl secretly gave us a note that read, “You came at just the right time. Now I know what I must do.” We can sow good seeds in the lives of these young people, and now they know where they can turn for sound advice.
Tanya (on the left) and Lilya giving a drug education lesson to the village’s young people, who suffer greatly from this problem
These plus 300 other children attend Mission Possible’s Bible clubs in the impoverished villages of Ukraine.
“The children’s openness has made a great impression on us. The message about the Savior has produced a genuine faith
in their hearts and a relationship with the Heavenly Father. They love to attend our club and they ask a lot of questions,”
our team members say.
The village schoolteacher (pictured with her younger son above) had to give up the job she enjoyed. For a single mother it was impossible to make ends meet with just one salary that wasn’t even guaranteed. The money, when it was paid, wasn’t enough for food, not to mention electricity, water, clothes, and firewood. In order to feed her two sons, one of whom was still an infant, she decided to raise a cow and some goats. The milk nourished her and her boys, and they sold the excess.
A few years later the little flock had grown and the older son Roma grew old enough to help his mother. His day begins at five in the goat shed. At eight o’clock he goes to school. In the afternoons he tends the goats again and in the evening does his homework. It is hard, but the young boy understands that Mom would not manage without his help, and their livelihood depends on the flock. During the winter months, the newborn goats are kept in the boys’ room. Their clothes are therefore saturated with the smell of goats. Roma suffers greatly from the ridicule of his classmates and has no friends.
When we started the Bible club, only Roma’s younger brother Dima participated. We went to see their mother, brought help items for the family, and told about our program. She was very friendly and openly shared about her troubles.
After this visit, Roma also began attending Bible club. Although he is older than all the others, he is eager to participate. Roma loves the Bible stories, answers the teacher’s questions, and wants to learn more.
In the club, unlike at school, he is not ridiculed but welcomed and encouraged. The brothers feel despised and rejected by the world. We encourage and support them and explain that they are unique in God’s eyes and they don’t need to feel inferior in the company of others. We teach them that the Heavenly Father has a place and a plan for them.
The children in Paliyovo, as in many villages like it, have seen only misery, hopelessness, alcoholism, and domestic violence all their lives. The parents are hopeless to provide a better life for their children, so they sink deeper and deeper into apathy and drinking. This is all the children have seen exemplified, so generation after generation continues the cycle.
Dima’s and Gennady’s mother is among those with a drinking problem. The living conditions in their home are very poor. The boys love to come to our club and always run to meet us. When they came the first time their mother was very angry. We spoke with her and invited her to observe the next club gathering. She now permits the boys to attend.
Dima listens to the Bible stories attentively and contributes to the discussion by telling how the lessons apply to his own life. The children are taught God’s standards, which helps them make choices with a clear understanding of right and wrong. Dima and Gennady enjoy games and crafts, too. We show the children how to make pretty things from materials found in nature.
At Bible club we tell the Paliyovo children about a different kind of life and show them by our own example. We teach them to love their parents, and we discuss the importance of the family.
The children’s shelter home in Yekaterinburg, Russia, is a place full of life and energy! The building is used to its maximum potential to house children and young mothers.
A large unexpected renovation is necessary, though. The heating pipes of this building that has been in use for seven years only have eroded and are now leaking. The repair work will be done this summer before the cold weather sets in again. At the same time we’ll renovate the restrooms and showers to improve their functionality for the many people they serve. The estimated cost is $12,000.
Any and all help for this unexpected cost is welcome and appreciated. If you can give for this project, please designate your gift to “Renovation.” Thank you!
Andrey Ivanov from Yekaterinburg tells about the renovation in a short video: