Reported by Jennifer Cooper, Blacksburg UMC
In the fall of 2022, Blacksburg United Methodist Church (BUMC) received a request from its Ukrainian sister church, Spring of Life UMC, for winter gear because about 50% of the electric grid in Ukraine had been destroyed by recent Russian bombing.
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, BUMC has collected approximately $40,000, one-half of which was donated to UMCOR, while the other half was held in reserve for post-war rebuilding efforts. But the BUMC Ukraine ministry team realized that the war was not going to end anytime soon.
The team made the decision that immediate needs trumped holding back the funds reserved for rebuilding. “After all,” said team member Jackie Nutter, “If humanitarian needs are not addressed, there might not be a church to rebuild.” The team informed the BUMC congregation of this change and received no pushback.
At the same time, BUMC Lead Pastor Brad Dulaney decided that the Ukraine ministry would be the recipient of BUMC’s Christmas offering. Without knowing how much more money could be raised, the ministry team stepped out in faith and began sending urgently needed funds and supplies.
BUMC allocated almost $9,000 for lanterns, sleeping bags, camping stoves, power banks, and a generator for the church building in Kyiv, which is still being used as a shelter during raids.
BUMC shipped 40 high-quality sleeping bags directly to Ukraine when the electrical grids were bombed and people were without heat. The international shipping manager of the Alabama company, Exxel Outdoors, turned out to be Ukrainian.
The 40 sleeping bags needed to be shipped because of the scarcity and poor quality of the ones available in Ukraine. This presented a logistical problem due to the high cost of shipping. Team member Sarah Warburton found, via Google, a company called Exxel Outdoors which had previously engaged in direct shipping from their manufacturing plant in Alabama to Ukrainian distribution channels. When she made contact, she discovered that the international sales manager was Ukrainian, and he was most willing to work with us to accomplish our goal.
Spring of Life UMC’s Pastor Vladimir Khabriko also requested personal financial assistance for food and essential items for parishioners, as many are pensioners or unemployed. Spring of Life had already given $100 per person but that money had run out. The ministry team agreed to fund the request for money to be given to individuals. The Spring of Life Church Council created a spreadsheet detailing the level of need for each church member (high/medium/low), and approximately $10,000 in funds were then allocated to 34 parishioners and 15 children.
The BUMC team felt strongly that the Ukrainian children should receive Christmas gifts. Again respecting the wishes of the Spring of Life Church Council, BUMC sent money to provide gifts for 48 children with disabilities in a rehabilitation center that is a mission of Spring of Life UMC. Viktoriya Levdokymova, BUMC’s contact in Kyiv, said that they not only purchased standard gifts, but individualized them to provide what each child desired. Additional funds provided gifts to children in Uzhgorod, Ukraine, and refugee shelters run by Pavlo Osypenko (member of Spring of Life UMC).
The BUMC ministry team spent Advent sharing the plight of the Spring of Life congregants, who had mostly fled Ukraine, with the help of videos, pictures, and stories they sent us. A total of $37,000 was donated by members and friends of the church during this period. And just in time, since more needs developed as a result of the increased brutality of the war. The Spring of Life UMC designated priorities for further funding.
Their first priority was to assist the family of Natalya and Viktor Dudarskiy, who had lost everything on their farm in a bombing, including their goats; funds helped them with purchasing a new home and with their immediate needs. The church’s next priority was to fund the refugee shelter where Pavlo ministers with a heating system to help warm the two floors of the nine-floor building they occupy. The third request was more funds for individuals based on individual needs, as per the direction of the Spring of Life Church Council .
Through the generosity of donors and the faith of the BUMC ministry team, all of the needs to date have been covered.
The intricacies of transferring such large sums of money proved challenging for BUMC’s Director of Finance, Pam Winkeler, who persisted in filling out myriad bank forms until the missions were accomplished.
In return for its gifts, BUMC received from members of Spring of Life warm and heartfelt thank-you notes, such as the one below:
Peace to you, dear brothers and sisters! Prior to the war, I lived in Kyiv. Now, I am in Stuttgart, Germany. I had to leave my son in Kyiv. He lost his job because of the war. But the money you sent enabled him to buy wood for the furnace, and his house is now warm. Thank you so much, my dear friends! I am praying for you. Merry Christmas!
Pavlo Osypenko, a member of Spring of Life UMC, has been instrumental in setting up refugee shelters in western Ukraine for those needing to flee war zones. The Uzhhorod shelter is currently accommodating 40 persons, and several hundreds have passed through the shelter on their way to Europe. BUMC paid for a heating unit for the portion of the building they are using.
Tatiana, a member of Blacksburg UMC’s sister church in Ukraine, Spring of Life UMC, has fled to Germany but had to leave her fighting-age son behind in Kyiv. Because of BUMC’s donations, he is able to heat his home.
The church in Kyiv is also sending BUMC t-shirts as a token of their appreciation. We at BUMC are looking forward to showing our love for these people to others as we proudly wear the shirts around the New River Valley.
Blacksburg United Methodist Church’s 24-year relationship with Spring of Life United Methodist Church in Kyiv, Ukraine, has changed during the war, but the partnership bonds remain strong.
For more information, donate to the cause, or to learn how your congregation can join in supporting this ministry, visit: https://www.blacksburgumc.org/kiev