Grace Church youth group helps Ukrainian orphans
GLADSTONE — Youth at Grace Church, Gladstone, recently spearheaded a relief effort to support children and staff at an orphanage in Mariupol, Ukraine.
Mariupol, in far southeastern Ukraine, is about 20 minutes from the Russian border.
“They did a great job on this project and are prepared to continue to serve, if the need again arises,” said Jordan Pardee, pastor of student ministry at Grace.
Students in the church’s youth ministry group organized and packed boxes with clothing, blankets and other supplies donated by church-goers. The relief project was bolstered by donations of more than $6,300 by members of the church family, said Tim Haugen, lead pastor at Grace.
“It involved the entire youth group, both junior and senior high,” said Tia Schone, 15, of Gladstone. Schone is a member of the church’s student leadership team and an online student at Gladstone Public Schools.
Pardee set the project in motion, Schone said. During one of the weekly youth group meetings earlier this year, Pardee told the students about his friendship with Tima, a director at an orphanage in Mariupol.
Pardee said he met Tima in 2002, when Tima came to the United States to learn how to run a summer camp for young people. He spent three summers at Trail’s End Ranch, a Christian camp in Ekalaka, Mont., and he and Pardee have kept in contact ever since.
“We met because my parents are the directors at Trail’s End Ranch and I grew up there,” Pardee said.
When Pardee heard from Tima in February this year, he shared Tima’s news with students in the youth ministry group about the hardships the orphanage was facing, due to an impending Russian assault on Ukraine. Pardee said Tima had told him the 31 children at the orphanage, ranging in age from four to 15, were in need of clothing and other supplies.
The youth group responded to Pardee’s message by suggesting they take a collection for the orphanage. Pardee brought the group’s proposal to the church elders, who approved the project, said Aleyna Wetthuhn, 18, another member of the student leadership team and recent Gladstone High School graduate.
The group gave itself three weeks from when the relief effort was first proposed to collect donations, pack the boxes and get them shipped to Ukraine. Wetthuhn explained families could take empty boxes from church to fill with donated items or they could bring clothing and supplies to the church. Pardee had prayer cards printed with the pictures and first names of the orphanage’s residents that church-goers could take as reminders of the orphans’ needs, she added.
Junior high students sorted the donations during the youth group’s meeting time. Senior high students packed all the boxes, and Pastor Pardee stayed late at church to vacuum-seal their contents. Schone explained vacuum-sealing reduced bulk, condensing everything from about 67 boxes into 39.
“We were just completely proud and amazed by the support we received from the church,” Schone said. “It was truly a blessing.”
People from outside the church made donations, too, said Damyn Smith, 18, student leadership team member and recent graduate of Rapid River High School. He said some kids talked in their schools about the relief effort and others put up informational posters around town seeking help.
Donated items included some small toys, pens and pencils, paper, and craft and art supplies. Money was donated by some to cover shipping costs, too. A video of Grace’s student leadership team sharing encouraging words for the orphanage’s residents was included with the shipment, as were pictures drawn by children in the Grace Kids ministry, he added.
Grace Church already had its boxes of donated items ready to ship to Mariupol, when Pardee learned a decision had been made to evacuate the children in the orphanage to a safer location. He was told the children, along with a number of the adult directors and staff, fled to Poland. Once the group was safely in Poland, they continued on to settle at a sister orphanage in northwestern Germany, in the state of Lower Saxony.
The boxes of collected clothing and supplies that had been readied for shipment to Mariupol were, instead, shipped to the orphanage in Germany and arrived April 11. The youth ministry group subsequently received a video message from two of the little girls from the Mariupol orphanage. The girls thanked the group for the clothing and for their prayers.
“We heard that the children and staff were delighted when the boxes arrived,” Haugen said.
Mariupol fell to Russian troops on May 18.
Grace’s youth ministry group is offered for students in sixth through 12th grades and meets at the church Wednesday nights during the school year. Grace Church is located at 528 28th Street in Gladstone. For more information about Grace’s youth ministry program, visit www.grace906.com or call Pardee at 906-428-1331.
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Editor’s note: Only Tima’s first names is mentioned here because of Pardee’s concern for his safety and the safety other orphanage directors. He said he believes it would be unwise to publish last names, explaining that there have been some hostilities toward Ukrainian people in Germany.