“We have special guests today from a country that starts with ‘A.’ Can you guess?” A woman posed the question in Ukrainian to 120 children.
“Africa!” suggested some.
“Nyet,” she smiled. “Try again.”
“A-MER-EE-KA!” the children chorused.
This was the warm welcome the group from Adventist University of Health Sciences received when they arrived at a children’s home in Vasyl’kiv, Ukraine, on December 28, 2012. Since 2000, it has been an ongoing tradition for Adventist University students and faculty to travel to Russia and Ukraine to help needy children.
The need in Ukraine is great as orphans and children with unfit parents that live in children’s homes usually have inadequate clothing, especially for cold weather, and very few toys. This year a group of six traveled with 12 suitcases, most stuffed with donated toys and clothing, to the Ukrainian Adventist Center of Higher Education (UAC) in Bucha.
After the introduction at the Vasyl’kiv home, the children were treated to a holiday party featuring a traditional tale, games, and songs. The children were also given much needed underwear, warm hats, and small toys, all donated from students and church members in the U.S.
The Vasyl’kiv party was only the beginning. Saturday night, 12 UAC students who gave up their vacation for this project, UAC faculty, and the Adventist University group, prepared two more parties for Sunday. Tables were filled with warm tracksuits, underwear, socks, winter hats, gloves, toys, and toothbrushes.
Between the two parties, nearly 200 children enjoyed a program combining Ukrainian tradition with the spiritual message of Christ’s birth—a message many of the children seldom hear. Afterwards, students and faculty painted faces, made balloon animals, helped the young guests choose clothing and toys, and presented them with gift bags containing fruit and chocolate.
These activities brought a little joy to the children by fulfilling some of their Christmas wishes. One boy’s letter for Santa said: “I have been lenient, kind, and good all year. Please bring me a skateboard.” The student overseeing the toy table helped him find a finger skateboard, and the boy left with a grin.
After the group from Adventist University left, UAC students traveled to a very poor children’s home in Chernechchyna to take their program and gifts to 150 children, and were planning to visit 30 more children who were unable to attend the parties.
Because of so many generous people, almost 500 children saw the light of Christian love. A local government official visiting one of Sunday’s parties said, “You have set an example. You are not only scholars, but you have a big heart.”
-by Jessica Lower