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To Odessa With Love (How Children in Ohio Reached Out to Displaced Children in Ukraine)

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In NCM Magazine’s summer 2017 issue, a story called “Searching for Home” shows a portrait of life in the midst of violent conflict in eastern Ukraine. With thousands killed and even more injured, roughly two million have fled their homes and towns. Officially labeled “internally displaced persons (IDPs),” they are living like refugees in their own country. In Odessa, Ukraine, a Nazarene church is ministering to hundreds of displaced people, many of whom have specific needs because of disabilities. The church is welcoming children and families and caring for them in practical ways. In this blog, Brandon Sipes shares how the children in a church in Ohio found out about the ministry in Odessa and decided to support them.

Last year, in July, my friend Dave Dooley asked me about a ministry that his church could support through their VBS offering. Over some emails and phone calls, we agreed on a ministry to children and families who have been displaced by violence in Odessa, Ukraine.

Dave is the pastor at Kenton Church of the Nazarene in Ohio, not too far from me, so I soon found myself driving past cornfields in the summer heat. I was headed to this simple, out-of-the-way church in the plains of Ohio to speak briefly to the kids during their VBS program. I hadn’t expected to walk in on so many people—60 to 70 kids and another 30 or so adults.

When my time came, I talked to the kids about what an Internally Displaced Person (IDP) is, and how scared many of them must feel to be so far from home. I asked them what kinds of things they might grab and take with them if they had only minutes to pack. I told them about the Odessa church and the children and families they would be serving by sending their money.

Afterward, in the late evening sun, Dave and I had coffee and talked some more about the work the church is doing around the world and how their commitment was such a big part of what it means to be the church. He told me how much money they typically raise during VBS week, and it struck me as a huge amount for a church this size. I told him no matter what they raise, the church in Odessa and those who were displaced would be thankful.

That following Sunday I stepped outside after a Sunday morning service. I sat in my car and watched a video Dave sent me. It showed his wife on stage reading out the totals for VBS.

I won’t ever forget being there, pulling my jacket off in the heat of the car as that video played. I was certain it wasn’t the heat of the sun that stung my eyes to tears, but the warmth of God’s goodness and His people’s faithfulness. When I had a chance to visit the ministry in Odessa this past fall, I felt that same warmth in Nabil’s home. I felt it in Sasha and Ira’s half-finished house. I felt it in the church sanctuary in Odessa, and in room after room where displaced children and families I met lived.

In Odessa, I felt my eyes sting again, sometimes from pain and sometimes from hope. Sometimes both, like when a woman named Tanya told me, “Thank you for not forgetting us.”

I knew we could keep that promise. I knew that the church in Odessa was already keeping that promise. I knew that the Kenton church was already keeping that promise.

To read more about the ministry in Odessa, also written by Brandon, check out the NCM Magazine Summer 2017 issue at here.

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