Updated: Jul 17, 2020
Hearts of Hope,Ukraine's fiscal year 2019-20 came to an end on June 30th, 2020. It's hard for me (Bonnie) to believe we have been living in our home here in Ukraine for a little over a year and a half. In some ways it seems like we have lived here forever and in other ways it seems like we have been here only a few minutes As I look back over the year and remember all that God has done, I am in awe and want to shout for joy with the Psalmist in Psalm 34:2,3
"My soul makes its boast in the Lord; Let the humble hear and be glad.
Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!"
We have so much to be thankful for, here in Kiliya. God is working mightily in the hearts and minds of his children. He is taking the humblest, the poorest, the destitute, the hungry, the lonely, the persecuted, and the downtrodden. He is transforming them into children who are learning to SING His praises.
Let me remind you why we are here. We work regularly with about 15 aged-out orphans. Four of them live full time with us in our "Hearts of Hope" home. These orphans have experienced much trauma in their lives, including: being born into homes where their parents were addicted to narcotics and alcohol, experiencing extreme abuse and starvation in their birth parents hands, being removed from parents to live in orphanages where they experience more abuse (mental, physical, and sexual) from teachers and other children, being institutionalized their whole lives with very poor education, being released from these institutions with very little training to survive and few support systems. Many of them live with very serious physical health issues, mental health issues, and "special needs" including Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, Autism, Reactive Attachment Disorder, hydrocephalus, epilepsy, illiteracy, learning disorders, etc.
When they are released from the orphanage at age 16-17, they are ill prepared for normal life. They are immediately susceptible to people that want to exploit and take advantage of them. Traffickers can find them almost immediately through online social media. A huge percentage of these kids (70% to 90%) will end up in prison, prostitution, or deceased because of undiagnosed health issues and/or suicide. They need long-term advocates, otherwise known as FAMILY.
This is where we come in. We believe that EVERY person is made in the image of God and has value, regardless the quantitative contribution to society. In American, we are fortunate in that diagnostic testing, collaborative care, and treatment programs for our "special needs" kids are well developed. In contrast, Ukrainian children are less fortunate because these "safety nets", caring professionals, and treatment programs DO NOT exist.
Take for instance, Seroja, the boy who has lived with us for 17 months. We found him in the Trade School dorm, alone, a pale shade of green, skinny, without any social skills. We did not have any history, medical records, educational documents, or psych evaluations. All we knew about Seroja was what we could observe: just a malnourished sick-looking boy who was fading away. There wasn't any information or anybody to help us understand who he was or how we could best help him. It took us a good year just to figure out his special needs and a treatment plan for him. After many stressful situations, including a few punches from him and being threatened with a knife, we have been able, by God's grace, to break down many of the walls of mistrust, hurt, pain, and anger in his life. How, you might ask? He responds to consistency, schedules, patience, teaching in a calm manner, and lots of Unconditional LOVE. BUT, quite honestly, it has been an act of healing by Christ. Christ is present here, through His Holy Spirit, as we read His Word, sing His praises, and through prayer. God has seen fit to be merciful to Seroja. This does not happen with ALL of these kids, but we are confident that God leads us to those he has His hands on. Each day we walk by faith in His amazing redemptive grace.
The same is true for our 3 girls. Nastiya G. came to us last fall and we had no idea the severity of her epilepsy. She was living in the dorm, being humiliated and made fun of, every single day by other kids. She was being groomed to be sex trafficked by a man in Odessa, who was speaking with her every day via phone. He said he loved her and promised to "save" her by giving her a good life in Odessa. She had never met this man, but was so hopeless in regards to her future that she was ready to believe his lies. She was so anxious, she could barely walk because of crippling fear and neurological issues. We brought her into our home and within a very short time she had her first grand-mal epileptic seizure in the middle of the night. We were able to put her head in the right position and stay by her side until it stopped. This was scary for all of us. Thankfully, Sophia was there for her and was able to alert us. If Nastiya G. had been at the dorm by herself, she may have died without appropriate attention. Thankfully, we were able to advocate for her, take her to the doctor, and insist that they prescribe the right medicine. We make sure she takes it every day, and she has not had another seizure since. She is thriving, learning English, loves to work, loves being a part of our family, recognizes when people are untrustworthy, is going to church faithfully, attends youth group activities, and wants to be baptized soon. Her life has been transformed.
Natisya T. and Dasha will also be baptized. Praise God! This is the ultimate hope for these children. We want to see them put their faith in Christ and come into full communion in the local church. We want to hear them SING praises to their Father in heaven! This is true discipleship....a gospel that transforms hearts and lives!
Another thing we have focused on this year, is our building project. Greg has been in charge of this and has been working hard. We are using some of the already existing structures at the back of the house to create a large kitchen, dining, and living space for our very large family. We want to be able to have a total of approximately 12 people living here, at one time. Many of you generously gave to the building project this year and for this we are grateful. A total of $28,000 came in for this project. We have completed, a new sewer system, plumbing, foundations, and cement flooring for this project, as well as foundations for future space for more bedrooms, and a recreation room. Stone walls and arches are being constructed now. It's been a new way of building for Greg, using cement, brick, stone, and gleena (like clay). If any of you know Greg very well, he loves these kinds of projects, where he can use his design and building skills to create cozy spaces. Once this is finished we will have room to take in more orphans and be more hospitable to our church family, community, and orphans who live at the dorm. We still have approximately $21,000 left over in this fund, for this coming fiscal year (2020-21). We thank you to all those who made contributions to help make this happen!
We have also spent a lot of time tending our large peach tree orchard (175 trees) and vineyard. We are in the process of cultivation, in hopes we can produce fruit to sell. Unfortunately, this year, Kiliya had a late frost that killed all the peach blossoms. We will have to wait another year for any profit from this crop. So far, our grapes are doing beautifully and we expect a good harvest. We also use our gardens and orchards as training grounds for our orphans to learn agricultural practices. In good weather, they all work 3-4 hours a day caring for our orchard and gardens. This is also a good way to teach them about work in general, money management (we pay them a small hourly wage), and in the future, possible entrepreneurial skills (selling the fruit). The kids are learning how to glorify God in the small things by using their time wisely, caring for both the house (daily chores), and the orchard.
What does the future hold? We ask ourselves that question a lot? What will ultimately happen to these young people after they spend time with us in our family? Our hope is that we can help them become semi-independent by creating or helping them find situations where they can live close to the Hearts of Hope house. There are many older houses on our street that could be re-habilitated into living spaces. If we can train these young people to work in agriculture either for us or farmers in the area, or help them start small businesses and work along side them for advocacy purposes, we believe that all, or most, can live semi-independently. But they will continue to need Hearts of Hope (their family), the local church, and the community as a whole to come along side them. We have already seen glimpses of this from the locals. There are a few people from the community and the church who have stepped forward to help bear our burdens. When we first arrived in Ukraine, we noticed that people in the community were afraid to assist us with this vulnerable population. The example set by Hearts of Hope has empowered them to move forward in faith, without fear, and begin doing the work of the church......to help widows and orphans.
One such person is Vita. Some of you remember, Yura, the boy we hosted in our home in the USA. He also lived with us for 6 months after we arrived. Unfortunately he broke into our neighbor's house and stole something. We could no longer have him live with us and he went back to the dorm. Gregory had been getting to know a neighbor, down the street, named Vita. He would sometimes give Vita a ride in our vehicle. They began talking about Christianity. Come to find out, Vita was a Christian, but had not been attending church for a very long time. When he found out that Yura was back in the dorm, he and his wife decided to take him into their home and give him a place to live. This scenario is implausible for Ukrainians to want to do. It is not in their culture to be willing to take in orphans, especially teenagers. But Vita had watched us do it and had the courage to give it a try. We believe that the Holy Spirit opened their hearts and home to Yura. He and his wife have been very good for Yura, teaching him good work habits and how to do mechanical work on cars. We pick up Vita and Yura every Sunday and take them to our church. Now Yura has 2 families advocating for him.......and a whole church family that knows him by name and celebrates his birthday.
A lady from the local Baptist church, Luda, who lives on our street often brings by freshly baked muffins or cookies for us. She also makes beautiful cakes. Last week she spent 2 days, unbeknownst to us, baking a cake for Nastiya G's. birthday. She stopped by in the evening with it and we had a spontaneous driveway party. My heart was filled with thankfulness to see how God is teaching his people how to bring joy, comfort, and "family" to these kids who were once completely ALONE. Caring for orphans is a hard job and rarely will one take an interest in it, in this town, but God is working his grace and truth in hearts to have courage to step forward and speak up for the downtrodden. I understand it's scary, it's REALLY hard, but with God as our warrior King, He will PREVAIL.
Our goals for 2020-21 include:
Finish up the kitchen, dining/living space
Take in 1-2 more orphans
Start building more bedrooms, 2 new bathrooms, and a recreation room 2021-22
Re-furbish our green-house and start our first winter crop
Continue meeting with kids at the orphanage and trade school, help them to celebrate birthdays, visit them in the hospital, pick them up for church, meet with them for "tea", have them over for dinner and games periodically.
Possibly start an English Club in town
Continue daily family devotions, attend church services on Sunday, host Wednesday night Bible Study in our home with Pastor Slavic
Offer music lessons: guitar, piano, mandolin, and recorder (flute) to our kids
Offer Russian and Ukrainian reading classes to the orphans that live with us (2 of them are illiterate).
"Hearts of Hope" family to take 2-3 retreats to places like Odessa, the Black Sea, and the Carpathian Mountains. This provides many learning opportunities for these kids that have never seen the "outside" world, other than what they see on TV.
Continue to pursue semi-independent living opportunities for our orphans in our neighborhood
On a personal note, because of Covid-19, closing of the borders, and Visa issues, we (Bonnie and Gregory) were not able to take our anticipated USA work and respite trip this summer. Alex and Sophia graduate from high school this year. They are both in the USA right now, working and caring for our rental house in Gorham. Alex is planning to stay in the US for 3 months to work (landscaping job) and to prepare and take his flight ground school written test. He will then return to Hearts of Hope. He is a huge asset here with his translation skills, driving people around, and discipling gifts. He loves ministering to his fellow orphan friends and hopes to make the mission of Hearts of Hope a long term plan. Sophia will stay in the US for 5 months. She has interests in missions, training to be an equine therapist, studying theology, and studying psychology/ counseling. She may attend college in the future, but would like to take a year off to study more advanced English skills. She is also a wonderful asset to Hearts of Hope and will return in November. Katya will stay here with Greg and I to finish up her last year of homeschool. She is interested in possibly studying to be a Vet tech and starting an SPCA in Ukraine, one day. We pray God's rich blessings on their lives.
If you are interested in helping out financially with our 2020-2021 fiscal goals, here are some line-item expenses you could pray about contributing to:
------Music Program- $2000
------Language Learning Teacher for our orphans and Gregory and Bonnie: $3000
------Restoration of our Greenhouse: $2000
------New Appliances and Hardware for Kitchen and Bathrooms: including an Industrial professional Cook Stove, kitchen sink, bathroom sink, shower, toilet, dish washer, air conditioner: $15,000
------Furniture: 4 pull-out couches, new beds and mattresses, bureaus, desks, rugs, lamps, side tables, chairs: $8,000
------General Fund: We are always grateful to receive funds towards our daily operational expenses. If your gift is not labelled for one of the line items listed above, we will assume you would like your gift to go directly to the general fund.
You may send donations and/or correspondence to:
Linda Bolland, Treasurer
30 Mahlon Ave
Gorham, Maine 04038
You may also donate online at:
If you have any questions about giving, or anything else, please feel free to contact:
Bonnie Harrison, Director of Operations at:
or Linda Bolland, Treasurer, at:
May the God of peace richly bless you as you continue to lift us up in prayer. Please pray that we would reach many people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as we seek to break the bonds that have enslaved these orphans and families for generations.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has tanointed me
to bring good news to the poor;1
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and uthe opening of the prison to those who are bound;2
2 vto proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
wand the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
xto give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
ythe oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
zthat they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, athat he may be glorified.3
4 bThey shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.
We love you all and miss you very much!!!
Until We Meet Again,
Bonnie and Gregory Harrison