OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries
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Ukraine Trip Report—March 2023

by David Nakhla

The following is a report provided to the OPC Committee on Diaconal Ministries by the administrator of the OPC CDM after a significant and enlightening trip to Ukraine, during the war. To learn more, please consider listening to our podcast, “The Reformed Deacon—Fingerprints from the Pew: Crates for Ukraine”. You can also find this podcast on your favorite podcast player.

Photo gallery is below the report.

DATES:  March 13-20, 2023


  • MTW
    • Jon Eide – MTW Eastern Europe Director
  • OPC
    • David Nakhla – Administrator for CDM
    • John Voss, Jr. – Member of the CDM
    • Jamie Dean – OPC Communications Coordinator, OPC Reporter


  • MTW Team Members – L’viv
    • Doug Shepherd (Masha) – MTW Missionary, L’viv team leader
    • Heero Hacquebord (Anya) – OPC Missionary, L’viv MTW team member
    • Jon Powell (Olya) – MTW Missionary, L’viv team member
    • Andrew Sheppard – MTW Missionary, L’viv team member
    • Virginia Cruz – MTW Missionary, L’viv team member
  • MTW Team Members – Odessa
    • Mr. Bob Burnham (family in Brasov, Romania) – MTW Missionary, Odessa team leader
  • EPCU – L’viv
    • Olena Blida – Driver for Crates for Ukraine
    • Ruslan Kon – Manager of Crates for Ukraine Warehouse
    • Viktoria Agarkov
  • EPCU – Odessa
    • Rev. George Kadyan (Senzhana) – Pastor of EPCU in northern Odessa
    • Rev. Valeri Zadorozhniy – Pastor of EPCU in downtown Odessa
    • Misha & Lena Kozakov – Member of EPCU in downtown Odessa, volunteers in diaconal distributions
    • Masha Kalmakov – Member of EPCU in downtown Odessa, volunteers in diaconal distributions & interpreter
  • EPCU – Mykolaiv
    • Rev. Andre Vakulenko – Pastor of EPCU in Mykolaiv, wife is Anya
    • Andre’s brother, Artyom (not member of church)
  • Refugees – Odessa
    • Two women
    1. Monday, 3/13
      1. Travelled to Poland.
    1. Tuesday, 3/14
      1. Travelled to Ukraine.
      1. Interviewed Olena Blida
    1. Wednesday, 3/15 – L’VIV
      1. Interviewed Doug Shepherd.
      1. Toured of MTW College Ministry offices.
      1. Met Crates for Ukraine Distribution Team:
        1. Doug Shepherd
        1. Olena Blida
        1. Ruslan Kon
        1. Viktoria Agarkov
        1. Virginia Cruz.
      1. Toured Holy Trinity EPCU in L’viv.
      1. Toured Crates for Ukraine warehouse.
      1. Interviewed Ruslan Kon and Viktoria Agarkov.
    1. Thursday, 3/16 – L’VIV
      1. Interviewed Heero Hacquebord
      1. Toured city of L’viv.
      1. Met L’viv MTW Team:
        1. Doug & Masha Shepherd (& 3 children)
        1. Heero & Anya Hacquebord
        1. Jon and Olya Powell
        1. Andrew Sheppard
        1. Virginia Cruz
    1. Friday, 3/17 – ODESSA
      1. Interviewed two refugee women (performed by Jamie privately).
      1. Interviewed Rev. Andre Vakulenko & his brother Artyom.
      1. Delivered 10 boxes of supplies.
      1. Interviewed Rev. George & Senzhana Kadyan.
      1. Toured city of Odessa.
      1. Interviewed Bob Burnham.
    1. Saturday, 3/18 – ODESSA
      1. Toured historic reformed church building (EPCU) in downtown Odessa.
      1. Interviewed Misha & Lena Kozakov (instrumental in the diaconal outreach ministry).
      1. Interviewed Rev. Valeri Zadorozhniy.
      1. Toured the diaconal ministry work.
      1. Toured EPCU’s literature publishing house.
    1. Sunday, 3/19 – L’VIV
      1. Worshipped at Holy Trinity EPCU with Heero preaching.
    1. Monday, 3/20 
      1. Travelled home.
      • The Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ukraine is there as a fruit of the labors of MTW missionaries who began working in eastern Europe after the fall of communism in the early 90’s as part of the Commission Project, a number of whom are still laboring in Ukraine: Doug, Jon, Heero, Bob, etc.  Most members of the EPCU that we met were first generation Christians, young and old.  Very encouraging.
      • Several of the EPCU congregations are self-supporting.
      • Many young men are pursuing the ministry, studying in Kiev.
      • The L’viv congregation tends to be full of young people, which is encouraging.
      • There is a growing interest in the country to move away from Russian and towards the Ukrainian language.  The EPCU has translated many works into Ukrainian, such that there seems to be a sudden increase in interest in Christian books published in Ukrainian.
      • The historic reformed church building in downtown Odessa was reclaimed by the EPCU from the communists in the early 90’s when a law was passed that allowed private property seized during communism to be returned to its rightful owner.  MTW raised $1million (the largest such project by MTW at that time) to restore the building.  It’s beautiful and so well done!
      • L’viv church member Ruslan Kon was converted through the ministry of the L’viv team and now aspires to ministry himself.
      • There is a huge sense of gratitude to all, and particularly expressed to the OPC during our visit, for standing with them at this time.  Doug Shepherd, in expressing his gratitude, described the OPC as “punching above our weight class.”
      • There seems to be a lot of gratitude and fulfillment in supplying others with these gifts.
      • We noted that there is a witness given with the goods by virtue of the church’s website and access to the Ukrainian publishing house posted on each crate.  They see this as sowing many seeds in many directions.
      • They have had several individuals search out the church in L’viv specifically to express their thanks for the gifts given.  One person even brought them a box of chocolates!
      • They have learned of a few stories where the first aid equipment resulted in physically saving the life of an individual; either a soldier or a civilian.  (Apparently it can take as much as 4 hours to be transported from the front lines to a field hospital; if bleeding is not arrested quickly and properly the victim can die simply from bleeding out.)
      • They are processing a lot of goods; this is not your typical diaconal distribution.  They seem to be seeking to be faithful to bring a gospel witness with each distribution as they are able; but they do have limits on what they can do.
      • The word they receive from recipients is that the quality of the aid being sent through the CFU program is far superior to what is coming to Ukraine via other channels.   (No more receiving weird stuff, like “vegan cat food” per Doug Shepherd.)
      • EPCU church members are active in this ministry of mercy.  Ruslan and Olena work full time in this work.  (They do receive some sort of stipend for their labors.)
        • Olena has driven the 6+ hour route between Krakow and L’viv so many times.  She transported most of the 1350 crates (48/trip) during the summer “Crates for Ukraine” effort.
        • Ruslan serves to oversee the warehouse and where shipments are sent.  He was active in listing what was to supplied in crates from the States: that which was needed by those on/near the front lines, but would be better quality while less expensive when sent from the States.
      • People are living under considerable uncertainty – of the future, the outcome, the long-term effects of the stress, of a possible airstrike or even nuclear/chemical attack according to Putin’s mood that day.  Their economy, employment, safety and future seem to all be in the balance.
      • Everyone seems to be struggling with a bit of PTSD.  They are able to talk about generalities, but when pushed into personal reflections on “where were you the day the active war broke out”, most are overcome with emotion.
      • They are convinced this war is a genocide; that Putin’s intent is to stamp out the Ukrainian people.  They point to the evidence of the propaganda he’s feeding the Russian people and by the way that the residents of captured cities have been treated.
      • They are very concerned that the support for this war, financial and otherwise, particularly from the US, may not continue.  They find themselves strongly dependent on it.
      • It is difficult for those serving in Ukraine to understand how Christians in the States have bought into the propaganda that suggests that Ukraine is to blame for this war.  Their incredulity is based on the documented atrocities being committed by the Russians against Ukraine and its citizens.
      • In the western cities of L’viv and Odessa, it seems that they seek to carry out their lives in as normal a way as possible, despite the circumstances. That said, they are all “affected people”, so they each suffer some level of PTSD.  Many probably feel a level of “survivor guilt”, hearing of the circumstances of those who live near the front or even in occupied territory.  The homes of many have been destroyed and/or looted.  Further, while there is a degree of difficulty living as the “survivors”, this conflict is not over such that those who are survivors today don’t know that they will continue as survivors tomorrow.
      • Men between the age of 18-60 could be called up at any moment and given 24 hours notice to report.  (Heero himself has been approached on the streets of L’viv; he is a resident, but also a US citizen.  He’s not sure that he could be called to serve.)
      • Men called up to serve may be asked to supply their own equipment.  It’s not clear whether this is based on shortages or due to corruption.  Regardless, the church is convinced that paying for protective equipment, especially for their church members, is a legitimate ministry of mercy to those conscripted to fight.
      • One couple pointed out that unlike most other wars, the target of the most attacks have been in villages. Some villages have been completely ravaged, while those in the big cities have been much safer.  (Clearly, some large cities like Mariupol have been utterly demolished, so this has not been true across the spectrum.)
    • Many are clearly clinging to God’s sovereignty and care throughout this experience.
    • Some wrestle with understanding why God allows some of the horrific aspects of this war to persist.
    • I felt like it gave a sense of what World War II must have been like.  Very difficult things occurring just a short ways away, but in the next village life goes on, mouths must be fed, cows need to be milked, without knowing when their turn might come.
    • The CFU effort has been a lifeline of connection between the mission team, the EPCU, and the church back in the States.  It’s not been easy, but certainly worthwhile and has brought helpful connectionalism.


Seeing the Lifeline Connection Among Saints

by Trish Duggan, Communications Coordinator for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries

David Nakhla, Administrator for the Committee on Diaconal Ministries, recently returned from a seven-day trip to Ukraine, with two others from the OPCdeacon from Covenant OPC in Orland Park, IL and CDM member, John Voss and OPC Communications coordinator, Jamie Deanalong with MTW Ukraine Country Director, John Eide. Their excursion began in Poland, where they met up with a Ukrainian woman, Olena, who escorted them by van over the border to L’viv, Ukraine. In the past year, Olena has made this over six-hour trip regularly, transporting over 1300 crates of supplies for the summer edition of Crates for Ukraine (CFU) and, Lord willing, will continue as the winter crates begin arriving from the states.

While in L’viv, the group was able to meet with OPC missionary Heero Hacquebord, visit his church’s building, Holy Trinity EPCU, tour the CFU warehouse, and meet the CFU distribution team. There is a huge sense of gratitude to all, which was particularly expressed to the OPC during the visit, for standing with them at this time. MTW team member, Doug Shepherd, in expressing his gratitude, described the OPC as “punching above our weight class.” In total, the OPC family was able to contribute 307 of the over 1300 total crates to Dallas and Chattanooga in the Crates for Ukraine Winter Edition effort.

There is a great sense of fulfillment from the distribution teams in passing on these gifts. The church’s website and access to the Ukrainian publishing house is posted on each gift as a way of incorporating gospel outreach with the distribution of supplies. The church views this as sowing many seeds in many directions. Recipients report the quality of the CFU items are far superior to what is coming to Ukraine via other channels and are saving lives.

The group then moved east on to Odessa, where life, as in L’viv, is operating at some level of normalcy, despite the circumstances. That said, they are all “affected people”, and as such they each suffer some level of PTSD.  Many feel a level of “survivor guilt”, hearing of the circumstances of those who live near the front or even in occupied territory, and where homes have been looted and/or destroyed. Further, while there is a degree of difficulty living as the “survivors”, this conflict is not over, there are no guarantees for tomorrow and a shadow of darkness looms large. Many are clinging to God’s sovereignty and care while some wrestle with understanding why God allows the horrific aspects of this war to persist.

The CFU effort has been a lifeline of connection between the mission team, the EPCU, and the church back in the States. It’s not been easy, but certainly worthwhile and has brought helpful connectionalism.

Thank you for your church’s participation in Crates for Ukraine. Further reports from the team’s visit to Ukraine are being written and will be distributed in the months to come. 


Long-Term Refugee Ministry: Report from Calvary OPC, Glenside, PA

by Jessica Hulsey

Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pennsylvania has been sacrificially serving a refugee family from Afghanistan since last year. In a recent report about their ministry to their congregation, Jessica Hulsey, the coordinator of the effort, wrote, reflecting on the ministry. 

Jessica tells us that approximately six or seven members of the church are actively involved in this ministry on a regular basis and others jump in as needed. She admits it’s no small task, but extremely rewarding. The family is checked on by phone daily and visited by two individuals weekly. As you’ll read, they’ve gotten to know the family well, and although the family has not attended church regularly, there seems to be a strong bond between the family and Calvary OPC. 

We’ve asked permission to run this report to inspire and possibly help other churches in their efforts to minister to refugees in their area. The following is her report with the names changed to protect the family’s privacy and dignity. 

Calvary OPC in Glenside, Pa. has had the privilege of supporting a refugee family from Afghanistan for the past year. In the life of a refugee and those fleeing their home country, this probably feels like an eternity as they work to get on their feet. But for those of us watching and helping them, it has gone so quickly.

Just to remind you who we have in our family (names have been changed):

  • Hakimah: The amazing woman/wife/mother of the home just delivered another baby in December. Her intelligent wit and practical skills have helped the family in the past year. She continues to take care of the family with serious home cooking, daily fresh bread, and grocery shopping. She also walks three of the kids to school and has done a fabulous job picking up English in her spare time. She has learned the CHOP pediatric circuit for vaccines and well visits along with obstetric appointments for herself during pregnancy. She does well finding the proper groceries for her family as they adjust culturally to America. So far, we know one of the children likes pizza!

  • Hafiz: The father of the family started his groundskeeping job in June at a golf course. He enjoys being outdoors as he was a farmer before doing security for the U.S. government. His boss has been extremely supportive and has even offered to give him a car once he gets his license. We are thankful for his English skills as he is our primary contact for the family.

  • Lashkar has been working as a painter in Philadelphia along with his uncle. He has progressed well with his English.

  • Eachan, our quiet and shy teenager who is 15 and now at a school in Philadelphia that has a program for English language learners. He is much happier at this school yet struggling to communicate as he is shy; hard when learning another language.

  • Afsana, “Mayor of Philadelphia—2035”. Seriously, this kid could do it! He has the personality and determination. His motivation, new school and amazing teacher have been the perfect storm. He is thriving! Afsana continues to be so helpful within the family unit and enjoys chatting with visitors in the home.

  • Delruba still lives in Afghanistan, and this has been a tough situation for all. Although Delruba would like to be in the U.S. with the family and they would prefer that. (His grandparents were left behind and wanted one child to remain with them.)

  • Afsar’s teacher emailed this week letting us know that there has been great improvement just over the past month. He was really struggling, and we weren’t sure what was best. This note of encouragement was helpful. The goal is to get him into the same school as Afsana next fall.

  • Baser & Baset: Oh boy! We are so thankful for their gracious teacher as she works with these two:) We would appreciate your prayers for behavioral skills. They are professionals at beating one another up but we hope for a better outcome with school and maturity as they age. Please pray for wisdom as we navigate this situation and knowing what would be most helpful for them.

  • Zafar went through MAJOR brain surgery this year and recovered well. He goes back in May for an appointment and may need one more reconstructive surgery for his brain with neurology and the plastics departments at CHOP. He is still home with Hakimah during the day.

  • Lily, the newest member of the family as of Dec 7. She is our first family US citizen!

We have found a family pediatrician through Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia that has chosen to take on all the children as her patients and making sure we follow up with proper checkups. We have found some blood levels that have been a bit off due to parasites or genetic diseases, but we are working through each one. The lead levels have increased in the younger children over the year. Lead remediation services have taken place, but we are still battling this. The immigration process has been a bit trying. Please pray for a Calvary member and attorney, as she connects with lawyers for Asylum and Special Visas. Afghan families have been told they have two years to get a visa to stay in the USA. The two-year mark for our family is Sept 2023. That is very soon. Our assumption is that the U.S. government isn’t going to send them home, but we want to be diligent and need your prayers.

Please continue to pray for the housing situation for all three families in the area. Hafiz’s brother lives in North Philadelphia. Hafiz had another brother killed by the Taliban. His wife and children live in Northeast Philadelphia. Pray for wisdom as the churches work together to find the right area, pricing, and homes for the families to live in community together.

We are thankful for Calvary and the Deacons fund and how we as a church have been able to support this family over the last year with rent, bus passes, food, English, bed bugs, doctor visits and so much more. They have expressed their gratitude time and time again!

Please continue to pray that God would use Calvary and those who visit to reveal Himself to the family. We love them and are so thankful for the opportunity to have them in our lives. We want to encourage you that even if you haven’t been actively involved, they are very thankful for the church’s help. 

When asked, Jessie believes the two most important things a church should consider before beginning an outreach like this is to have the support from the church’s leadership—including the deacons, as they were able to work with the deacons on funding certain items over the past year for the family. The second, some real commitment from church members. She admits the process is wonderful, but also challenging. “You need to know that there will be people helping long term even when it gets hard,” she adds.
If you have any questions regarding Calvary’s ministry, or you are thinking of beginning a ministry like this at your church, Jessica would be glad to talk to you. You can reach her by email: jessica.hulsey@gmail.com.