Loud laughter approached outside. Nine-year-old Sasha and his two brothers tensed and looked at one another. Not again!
Drunken men followed the three boys’ drunken mother into the small house. The frightened boys slipped out the back door to take refuge with friends who lived on the streets — more of a family to them than their alcoholic mother. The brothers, along with their street family survived by begging, stealing, and scavenging in trash bins for food. Would things ever change?
Up to 130,000 children try to stay alive every night on the streets in Ukraine. They live in public transit stations, heated utility rooms under apartment buildings, or underground in the sewer system. They designate a bathroom area and another for trash. Many use drugs, including sniffing glue.
One day, Sasha’s older brother Yaroslav discovered a nearby church distributing food. Relieved they could eat that day, they got in line. While waiting, Pastor Ruslan invited them to Sunday school the following Sunday, Sasha went, but his older brother Yaroslav had no interest, and his younger brother Taras attended only a few times.
Sasha loved the teaching and peaceful atmosphere at church. He became more and more interested in the Bible. Pastor Ruslan befriended Sasha and spent time working through his fears and discussing choices for his future. Ruslan even gave Sasha a cell phone so they could always stay in touch if Sasha needed help.
To help the homeless children, Pastor Ruslan’s church operated a live-in center on the church grounds. One of Sasha’s choices was to move into the center when a bed became available. He made the decision to move in. He also accepted Jesus as his personal Savior. He prayed for his family and continued to visit them.
His roommates at the center talked about a Christian camp called Open Doors, run by Pastor Ruslan’s good friend, Alex. In 2003 Alex’s uncle Stanislav bought an old Communist indoctrination camp for children. He turned it into a camp for Ukrainian orphans. He encouraged children in the Lord and equipped them to serve Him with their God-given gifts. When Stanislav died in May 2014, Alex assumed leadership.
Thanks to generous donors, Sasha finally got the opportunity to attend Open Doors when he was 14. His love for Jesus increased. When he returned home after camp, his family felt left out because of the relationship he now had with the Lord. When Sasha visited from the live-in center, he endured insults and bullying. Pastor Ruslan observed the increasing stress in Sasha’s life and felt it was time to move him out of the area.
His friend Alex from the camp had a church in Kyiv and transition homes for orphans called Lighthouses. The Lighthouses are live-in discipleship homes where residents are required to work and attend school. Alex agreed to take Sasha. He enrolled in a music literacy course and took lessons in guitar and piano. During his second year, he entered the Christian seminary to study God’s Word.
Sasha never stopped reaching out to or praying for his family. Because of Sasha’s love and example, his older brother Yaroslav began attending Pastor Ruslan’s church. He visited Sasha at the Lighthouse during vacations. Then he and his younger brother Taras got scholarships to attend Open Doors Camp, where they accepted Jesus. Yes, things did change for this family.
Today, Yaroslav is married to a wonderful Christian woman, and they have adopted Taras. Sasha is now 23 and also married to a committed Christian he met at church. Together they conduct the youth ministry, do counseling, mentor both men and women in the Lighthouses, and host young people in their home for meals and Bible studies. Sasha is responsible for the music ministry at church and also occasionally preaches. His wife leads the children’s ministry and teaches crafts and cooking classes.
Their mother also became interested in church and attended even after she became terminally ill with AIDS. As she lay dying in the hospital in 2017, she prayed and accepted Jesus as Lord. The brothers look forward to meeting her again in heaven.
The gospel brings change. It changed the life of Sasha, who altered the lives of his family. He is now influencing another generation.