In chapel one day, students in Kindergarten through grade 4 were introduced to their counterparts in Shpola, Ukraine, a small Eastern European city over 5,400 miles away from Atlanta. The introductions were made by a former Mount Vernon parent, Cyndee Knight, through second grade teacher Meg Terry. Initially, a connection was made between Cyndee and Meg at Dunwoody Community Church where they are both members.
Over ten years ago, when her children were enrolled at Mount Vernon, Cyndee became involved with DCC’s Mission Board – a partner of HopeNow Ministries supporting missionaries around the world. In particular, those who travel to Kompas Park – a summer camp facility in Ukraine. As she and her family began to join them on mission trips to the Christian camp, they quickly learned of nearby Shpola Orphanage and the 168 children who were unable to attend the camp. Just two years ago, Cyndee spearheaded an initiative to bring the camp to the orphanage.
Cyndee remembers, “When I first visited Shpola Orphanage two years ago, I felt that the kids and staff were very suspect of me. They were closed and didn’t smile. You see, they often get strangers coming to look at them and their facilities, and sometimes these people make promises that they do not keep.”
She continues, “These children are so precious and just want a little love and attention. I earned their trust over the next several months, by spending time with them and by keeping any promises I made. We planned the summer camps with the orphanage directors, while I organized and brought a team of US and Ukrainian volunteers to help. In between the camps, I go to Ukraine about four times a year. Now the children are very open with me, and tell me they love me and give me the tightest hugs ever! They are smiling and trusting, because they know I will come back.”
On one such trip, Meg Terry joined her. This past summer, Meg and her mother traveled to Ukraine to serve at the orphanage alongside Cyndee. Meg shares, “I have heard about the trips that Cyndee has taken for several years now and loved the heart behind what HopeNow ministries was doing for orphans in Ukraine. From a young age, the Lord has cultivated in me a heart for missions and sharing the Gospel not only locally but also internationally. Since returning home from my two-year stint in East Asia serving with Cru [Campus Crusade for Christ] after college, my heart has longed to go back out into the world and share His love in some way. Cyndee asked me last winter to consider going to Ukraine with her to Shpola Orphanage in May. My mom also came with us on the trip, and it was really special for us to serve together in that way.”
Meg continues, “It was such a wonderful, challenging and humbling week! The children were so sweet and clearly longed for love and attention. There was hardly a moment where one of them wasn’t climbing on my back, holding my hand, or sitting in my lap. Different from any other international mission trip I have been on, I was completely unable to speak to the children. I didn’t know Ukrainian. They didn’t know English. All I could do was show them that I loved them through my actions. But that was enough because they knew that I simply came to love them like Jesus — and I didn’t need to speak words to do that.
During my ten days in Ukraine, I essentially lived the life of an orphan. I slept in their dorm. I ate their food. I played their games. I participated in their school assemblies. It was a sobering and humbling experience that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. Jesus promised in John 14:18, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Until He physically comes back, Jesus is using His people to care for orphans in Ukraine and around the world. I was just humbled to be His hands and feet for a short moment.
Just a week and a half prior to nationally recognized Orphan Sunday (November 8, 2015) Meg and Cyndee joined together at Lower School chapel to tell the Shpola Orphanage story. Also, being so close to Halloween, they asked all Mount Vernon students to consider sharing any extra candy with the children of Shpola.
As evidenced by the overflowing boxes and baskets on Founders Campus, the message of hope and help must have resonated with our Mustangs.
Dia’ko u! (thank you!) and Slava Bogoo (Praise God)