About three years ago, we began telling you the story of Ananda, Hima, and their mother Valeria. Ananda and Hima live and go to school at the orphanage or “Internat” we support. Their mother lives nearby, in a village about a 20-minute bus ride away.
We first met the girls and their mother at Shpola Internat in early 2017. We were surprised to hear them address us in English, but we quickly learned that Valeria is university educated and is fluent in English. She does her best to give her daughters a well-rounded education and provide extra-curricular activities for them. We were immediately intrigued by this woman’s story, and we wanted to get to know her better. Why would a woman with her level of education and experience intentionally send her kids away to an orphanage?
As we began to know Valeria better, we learned that she is a widow. After her husband died, she moved back to Ukraine from Moldova to the village of Lebedyn, where she could buy a huge parcel of land, along with a decrepit house, for very little money. Without steady work in the village and with only her meager widow’s pension of $50 a month, she was not able to provide for her girls. So, she made the difficult decision to send Ananda and Hima to the Internat, but she brings them home most weekends.
Valeria’s story is in many ways similar to other families’ stories from the Internat. There are many children at the orphanage who have one remaining parent (often a widowed mother) who is unable to care full-time for their children. However, Valeria is different from many other mothers. In fact, she is different from many people in her village, too.
Valeria has a passion for art, which led her to use her limited resources to enroll her daughters in bandura lessons in the town of Shpola. A bandura is a Ukrainian, plucked string, folk instrument with up to 68 strings! (watch a video of Ananda playing the bandura below!) Additionally, and unusual for Ukraine, Valeria is also a vegetarian and an expert shooter.
When we began to get to know Valeria, we realized that one of the most eccentric parts of her life was her belief system. She essentially created her own religion by taking bits of world religions - Buddhism, Hinduism, Naturalism and Christianity - and combining “the best bits of each” them into one. In fact, she attempted to create a commune on her property. Valeria’s beliefs and her ambition to create a commune made her a polarizing presence in her small village. While she attracted some followers (including the principal of the local school), she also created scandalous relationships with many neighbors. Unfortunately, one of these tense relationships was with the local preacher, Pastor Sasha. Many tensions with many villagers eventually led to a legal dispute.
When we met Valeria, she was at risk of losing parental rights to her daughters. (Read more about her situation on our blog “Some Families of Orphans can be Renewed”). She asked us to help her by installing new windows in her home. Social services told her this was necessary if she wanted to maintain the right for her children to be able to stay with her on weekends, or ever again for that matter. She told us we were her last hope. We told her that our hope is in Jesus, and he sees and hears her plea. With the help of generous supporters, including Ananda and Hima’s US sponsors, we were able to provide and install new windows in Valeria’s home.
As a condition of this window project, we told Valeria that Pastor Sasha would be involved. This is the protocol for most aid we give to families, as our ultimate goal is to build a bridge from families to their local churches. We also asked Valeria if she would consider visiting the local church, especially when the girls were with her.
Honestly, when we made this arrangement with Valeria, we did not have much hope that she would visit the church, based on her previous life choices. We were thankful to help mend the relationship between her and Pastor Sasha, but we did not know if Valeria would accept his support and guidance after we finished the window project.
Almost three years later, God has worked a miracle in Lebedyn and in the heart of Valeria. Within the past six months, she has started attending Pastor Sasha’s church regularly. Ananda and Hima participate in church events when they go home. The legal dispute between Valeria and her neighbors has long been resolved, and Valeria is no longer attempting to build a commune based on her manufactured religion.
We are thankful for the restoration God has brought to Valeria’s life and her relationships with the local church. She is no longer isolated but accepts the warm welcome of her church family. While she continues to struggle with material poverty, she has a Christian community around her to bring hope, support and spiritual guidance.
Would you continue praying for Valeria, Ananda and Hima with us? As a 9th grader, Ananda will be graduating and leaving Shpola Internat in a few short months, and we are working with her and her mother to find opportunities for higher education. This family still needs much guidance and support, and your continued prayers are needed!
Additionally, we hope to continue bringing renewal to families like Valeria’s, but we need your support. Would you partner with us through prayer and financial donations? Listen to Ananda and Hima’s US sponsors, Kristin and Tim Chu, talk about what it means for them to partner with this family financially and in prayer. If you would like to get involved, please visit our donation page and select Orphan Sponsorships or Family Assistance. God bless you!