Two years ago, local attorney Michael Hunter took a trip to Kiev, Ukraine. He'd hope to discover ways to cut through some of the bureaucratic red tape for Americans wanting to adopt orphaned children.
That trip inspired Hunter to start an organization called "mission street ministries," that not only helps feed children in Ukraine, but local children as well.
I was invited to travel with a group of local folks to Kiev. This is only a fraction this is only a fraction of what we saw, on this mission for the children.
Valeriy and Lora Pavlenko have lived in Kiev all their lives. Two years ago they felt a calling to help some of the city's 4,000 homeless children, a problem created by the break up of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Both are college educated, middle class Ukrainians. They live in a 300-sqaure-foot apartment with their 20-year-old daughter, Renata, typical for Ukraine.
Valeria and Lora are youth pastors of a church in Kiev. When they started helping the street children, the church told them they would no longer pay them, because they didn't want the street children attending the church.
Despite the cold shoulder from the church, Valeria and Lora have continued their jobs, without pay and continue to feed, clothe and educate the street children.
"Mission street ministries" is their sole source of income. Our "team" consisted of Michael, retired Air Force Master Sergeant John McIntyre, Panama City youth pastor Wendy Mohler and myself. We paid Valeriy and Lora's church 1500 U.S. dollars to live in the basement for two weeks. Our money also paid for a driver.
Valeriy acted as our interpreter for free. Together we experienced what these children face every day. The Kiev winters are long and brutal, but the temperature only reached a mild 15 below zero during our trip.
Despite the "warm front" we had to go to a street market for a warmer coat and a cool looking hat. After only ten minutes outside Wendy and I decided new wool lined boots were a must.
It's 15 below zero. It's 4:30 p.c. time and I'm awake. Our days began at 8 a.m. with a trip to the super market. We weren't allowed to videotape inside. Each day Valeriy and Lora filled shopping carts with enough bread, cheese, fruit, cookies, sausage juice and other drinks and occasionally chocolate to feed 40 street children.
Back at the church, we made sandwiches, two to a bag. Warm instant mashed potatoes help stave off the cold. Fruit, cookies, candy sent from the U.S. and a drink round out the meal. We loaded the food into the van and went in search of hungry kids.
Valeriy and Lora have established a bond with the street children who don't trust too many people. Valeriy and Lora are among the few who show them any type of positive attention. Before the van had stopped we were surrounded by a sea of children. The youngest is an eight-year-old little boy. A child I fell for instantly is nine-year-old
Christina. I told her, through the interpreter, she has the same name as my niece. She has the most amazing smile.
The children showed a natural curiosity about the "new" visitors from America. They didn't warm up to us at first, communication was a barrier, but you can't help but reach. By the second day we were part of the family.
The children formed a circle and bowed their heads. We were told they were thanking God for us because we were willing to feed them. We looked on in amazement. How could anyone thank God when they live on the streets?
The children did not beg or ask but those who work with Valeriy and Lora pointed out their need for shoes and warm coats. The next day we hit the street market and bought 25 pairs of shoes and 15 coats.
Wednesday we'll show you where some of these precious children find refuge from the brutal cold.