Thursday, November 3, 2011


Florence, Zena and Lucy
Recently we've been encouraged as we've had opportunities to hear from others in our region who are working to make a difference in the lives of  the poor and disadvantaged.  Delegates of various Mennonite charitable organizations in Ukraine have been meeting annually for mutual support and sharing. This year it was our privilege to host this gathering at the Mennonite Centre.  It was also an opportunity to increase our understanding and broaden our perspective on many different facets of involvement.  For example we heard Zena, a young social worker from Zaporozhye report about the Florence Centre, which was begun 15 years ago by Florence and Otto Driedger, social work professors from Regina.  Today this centre is operating twelve programs, concentrating mainly on providing support for children with disabilities and their parents. Lucy Romanenko is directing a social work program at the university which involves student practicums and supervision. They are also working on creating a volunteer base, a concept that is just beginning to take root in Ukraine.

Representatives from the First Mennonite Church shared about some of their struggles in recent years and how they have changed from being inward looking to focusing on reaching out to needy people in their community and looking ahead with optimism.

Boris Letkemann, director of the Family Centre in Zaporozhye spoke about their objective, introducing people to faith and life by focusing mainly on those who cannot take care of them-selves without some assistance. This centre operates a small respite program for elderly and incapacitated persons as well as providing home support to ninety people in the city.

John and Evelyn Wiens told us about the New Hope Centre - a recent church plant in Zaporozhye that is attracting many young people. They also shared their vision to begin a trade school in the village of Nikolaipole, offering opportunities to orphans who must leave the orphanage at age sixteen. Survival statistics for these young people are dismal to say the least, many going into a life a drug abuse, crime and prostitution. They plan to begin next September by offering programs in dairy farming/agriculture, operating a bakery and possibly a welding course, hoping to house these young people in three group homes.

A farmer in training
A dairy farm begun last year by a missionary couple from Steinbach Manitoba is expected to help fund this venture as well as providing educational training. Last Friday we were able to visit this place. It is already a thriving business, Garry Verhoog has no problem selling milk and plans to expand into varieties of cheese making.

Garry and Teresa live in a house that closely resembles the house my grandmother and her seven children moved into when they were driven from their estate in the early 1920's. Many former Mennonite buildings still exist in Nikolaipole, however we've searched in vain for this house, nothing to match my photograph. A short distance down the road is the school my aunts and uncles attended.  It is still the village school.  The
Olga Rubel below, school director on stairs
Mennonite Centre has been able to provide assistance with classroom equipment. The director recognizes us and welcomes us in. Much of the interior is still in original condition and we once more mount the staircase. A century after construction some ornate sections of the railing are still intact. It's always an emotional experience as our thoughts go back 90 years to those very difficult times.

We've spent this day with Olga Rubel, our capable staff member in the Zaporozhye area.  Together we've visited some of our projects, made deliveries, then met with our medical emergency aid representatives in two villages thanking them for the volunteer efforts they've provided through the years, faithfully distributing medications to those with few resources, keeping meticulous records and reporting back punctually. Through the generosity of our donors it's a privilege to carry on this work and to increase our presence in the former Chortitza and Yazykovo colonies.

The link to a new video on "Care for the Elderly in Molochansk" can be found at

For more information on the Mennonite Centre visit our website at

No comments: