JOURNEYS

Serving God and All His Children

Laurie Kepcke Shares Her Humbling Summer 2010 Mission Trip Experience in the Ukraine at a Vorzel Orphanage

Laurie Kepcke speaks with Igor, a special needs child at the Vorzel orphanage in Ukraine. After serving as a missionary in Ukraine for a number of years, Laurie returns periodically to specifically uplift the children of the orphanage. She recently went there and made a good friend in Igor. ©  2010

Vita, a member of Almaz church poses with Katia of the Vorzel orphanage. Katia and her husband Dima come regularly and continue to uplift and be a part of the children's lives there. ©  

Masha, an Almaz Church member who has helped with the Vorzel project each year since the beginning is 2008, poses with two children of the orphanage alongside a member of a team from Virginia Teach. ©  

It is in Vorzel, Ukraine, where the simple pleasures of life - being able to speak, walk, laugh and hug - become the sweetest pleasures in life, at least for an observer watching the playfulness of local kids, many of whom have special needs. About 100 children, aged infant to six years, reside in an orphanage home in this small town, which is about an hour’s drive from Ukraine’s capital of Kiev. Despite the fact that most of the children live with a disability, whether it be cerebral palsy, down syndrome, or autism, all of them display these simple life pleasures in everyday tasks. Each child here is part of the orphanage either because their parents are not able to take care of them or have simply abandoned them. Being in an orphanage in Ukraine, there is little hope for a bright future—a sad reality.

But, a church in Ukraine, Almaz Church, has a very intentional ministry whose aim is to uplift these children. The Lord put an idea on the heart of Pastor Sasha Skripak, as well as a team of leaders from Almaz, to provide a much safer, warmer, and more secure place for the children, and an encouraging environment for the orphanage staff. The Lord started this work through His people three years ago when a team of skilled workers reconstructed the 50 to70-year-old buildings, which were in terrible condition. They tore down the old and built up the new, and the transformation is incredible! But the real transformation is the love and care that people of God give to the children and the staff to bring encouragement to their lives.

For the second time in two years, I was led to partner with the Almaz Church to go and help the children; so, I joined a week-long mission trip launching from Virginia to be a part of what God was doing at the orphanage to transform the lives of the kids and staff there. From my first experience in 2008, I knew in my heart that this is a wonderful place where God’s Presence seems to be impacting each heart by sharing His blessings of Love and Mercy through His followers.

I met Pastor Skripak and Pastor Kolya Skopich in 1999 when they planted Almaz Church to reach out to the lost and hurting youth of Kiev, Ukraine. At that time, I was living in Kiev after the Lord led me to be a full-time missionary in 1994. I fell in love with the people because of their deep spiritual desire to know Jesus Christ and their bountifully rich souls. Currently, I live in Virginia, but my heart calls Kiev home. It was an incredible journey to live and serve there for 12 years, sharing the Gospel, discipling women, leading Bible studies, organizing English Camps, and helping lead mission trips to Poland and Russia. Since then, we have seen God bring His Hope to countless youth through the ministry of the church. Now that many have found hope in Jesus, these same youth that we once ministered are following God and serving at the orphanage in Vorzel because of the hope and love instilled in their hearts. That is why it is an awesome joy for me to join Almaz’s project again this year - they are going to the orphans because God has revealed His unconditional Love!

When I boarded the plane to Ukraine this summer, I was focused on my problems and situations in my life that were concerns for me. When I used my time to think about the children and staff and helping them with their problems, my problems seemed very small in comparison. In playing with the children and hearing their laughter and seeing their smiles, my heart was softened and my faith was boosted in the Lord. He sent me miles away from my situation and personal concerns to show me that He is Lord over all and able to work it all out for His Glory.

In working with these children at the orphanage, I became aware that many of the them receive very little personalized attention to work on improving their physical and social skills, so that was the one of ways that I contributed during my visit. Through games, books, sidewalk chalk, coloring books, a parachute, and walkers, we tried each day to bring out new creative ways to communicate our love and to give each child some much needed individual attention for learning and working on their physical strengths. Another long-term goal of the Almaz Church Project is to help these children become stronger physically and improve their social skills, so they may have a better chance of getting adopted or going home to live with their parents. We spent our seven days working one-on-one with them to help this mission.

To start my morning, I spent precious time with a young boy named Igor, who has some special needs. When I first saw Igor, I was planning to only spend 5 to 10 minutes with this group of children and then go to another building and help the Americans with our team with translating. Within a couple minutes though, Igor took my hand and started talking with me like I was his long-time friend and asked his caretaker if we could go for a walk outside in the yard. How could I turn down such a warm invite?!? I felt that God’s assignment for me for the week was to spend time with Igor. Igor was so happy to walk around the yard and investigate each area. When he would see someone of the orphanage staff he would often say, “Hello, how are you?” and begin telling about his news that he had for the day. Then, Igor would invite him or her to come and see him in his building. It was a great joy for me to be along on his big adventure around the yard each day, and I cherished those walks and talks that we had along the way. As I look at his picture now after returning to Virginia, I do wish for a morning walk together and thank the Lord for getting to know Him through spending time with Igor. God taught me that each life is worth living!

Another aspect of my ministry there was to reach out to the orphanage staff, to help them know Jesus and find peace with God. The last morning while playing with the children in Igor’s group, one of the orphanage workers started asking me questions about the Almaz Church, why we come and help them, where I live, and when I will come back again. She then asked me questions about the Trinity and how Jesus can be both God and God’s Son. The Lord gave me an opportunity to share His Truth with her and other staff members that were standing around. Over the three years that the Almaz Church has been serving the Vorzel orphanage, God has been softening the orphanage staff hearts towards Him. This summer five of the staff from Vorzel came to an Almaz Church service. It is great to see the Lord work in their lives and teach His truths to them. Let's pray that the spiritual seed that was planted would grow and bring fruit, so that these children and the staff would accept Jesus Christ and be adopted into the spiritual family of God.

Being in Vorzel brought much happiness to my heart this summer, because of the little hands and big smiles. Praise God for His gift of life and His plans for each one who is touched with His Encouragement, Joy and Truth.

--- Laurie Kepcke is currently a counseling student at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation (CCEF) and serving in her local church, Oakland Baptist Church in King George, VA. She IS organizing a mission trip to return to Vorzel, Ukraine. If interested in this mission trip, then please email the church office at office@oaklandbc.org. To find out more about the continuing project at the Vorzel orphanage, please go to the Almaz Church Projects web site at www.almazgo.com.