October 2019

Jeff, Zhenya, Ivanna, and the kids in front of their old home.

Zhenya’s Journey – From the Streets to a New Home

This is part two of the story about a young man named Zhenya and his journey from a homeless “street child” to raising his own family today for the Lord.

Note from Jeff – Zhenya’s story is remarkable because of the depth of healing that has taken place in his life. When Zhenya was 10-years-old, he and his older brother Sasha escaped their physical abuse at home and moved to the streets of Kyiv. “It was a better life then in our apartment,” he said. They lived in a basement under an apartment building with about 40 other street children. Most of them sniffed glue which made the hunger pains go away. He didn’t sniff glue however, and one day a Christian family discovered their plight.

Zhenya Continues in his Own Words

One day Mr. Bitulski invited my brother Sasha and I to move in with their family. We felt safe there. We learned about Jesus and found God in our lives. This was around the year 2000. Many of us knew God by that time and our lives had really changed. The amazing thing was that I wasn’t in an orphanage. I was in a family. I was born again, was baptized, and God really worked on my heart. I went back to school. What we dreamed about in the basement, what we would sing about, really did come true. God did it!

Christian Foster Families Start to Help

Zhenya was 17 and Ivanna was 18 when they got married.

Eventually we moved in with another Christian family who had more space. From there, another Christian foster family, the Startsevs, took us in. Both of those families were in your program. My brother and I were happy to just have someplace safe to live, to go to school, and to have a family. I loved reading letters from our sponsors, and I still have them!

One afternoon there was a phone call from the EEO (now Mercy Projects) Christian Center in Borydankya. They had an extra ticket to the summer camp and asked the family if one of the kids would like to go. They chose me! It was my only visit but it was very important in my life. It was another sign of God working and I met Godly counselors and young people there who loved me. I loved it at camp because there were so many kids like me.

Getting Married to Ivanna

“I saw Zhenya when he came over to pick up some chairs at our house,” Ivanna said. “I knew he was in the foster family and I thought he was cute! But he was 17 and I was 18.”

Picking up the two older kids at camp.

Zhenya says, “It was another way I could see God working in my life. I didn’t know how long I would stay in the foster family. What would I do at 18? I was without registration papers and wondered how could I live? I thought, I love Ivanna and we could get married and start a family.”

A refugee with no legal registration

Growing up as a street kid, I was like a refugee taken in by others. I had no paperwork, no registration. I didn’t really belong anywhere. My mother was sick and sold her apartment to the gypsies. She died when I was 17. I lived with my foster family, but I didn’t have a home or apartment that belonged to my family. By Ukraine law, you must have a permanent home to be registered. Today, though we are married and have kids, I still have no legal registration. This house we live in is not ours.

They Become A Sponsored Family

The hundred year old farmhouse is now their new home, but it needs lots of repair.

We have had many difficulties in this life, but God has never left us. Our house does not have a toilet. It does not belong to us, but God is taking care of us. A case worker from Mercy Projects visited us when our daughter was only two weeks old. The Startsev family told her about us. She brought us gifts, they found sponsors for us, and she also invited our older kids to go to a summer camp.

When I went to summer camp I was 11 years old and had no idea who the organization was. When I went to pick up our kids after their summer camp, I started talking with Yana, your camp director, and we realized that this was the same camp I had attended 16 years ago. And now, you guys are helping me again to raise my children to follow the Lord.

Zhenya Needs Help with Their New Home

When I heard Zhenya’s story I knew that God wanted us to help his family get their own home. I wiped the tears away and began to pray about it. Several months later The Lighthouse Christian Foundation gave $15,000 for Zhenya and Ivanna to buy a 100-year-old farmhouse in their village. The next challenge however, was for them to gain legal registration. This was no easy task for a refugee street child.

This is the kitchen and living room combined. We would like to help renovate the house.

Sponsors have played a pivotal role in his life, and continue to do so today. Let’s surprise Zhenya again, and other families like his, to fix up their home and raise their own children for the Lord. By the way, a few months ago Zhenya left his refugee status behind and is now a legal citizen. This past July, he helped lead worship at our summer camp. His kids loved it.

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