2016 Reunion

August 23rd, 2016

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If you’ve ever traveled with us, if you’ve ever wanted to, but haven’t yet; if you’ve prayed, given, lent a hand; if you just have a heart for orphans and would like to spend a day getting to know other like-minded people, then please feel free to join us on Saturday, 9/24/16 @11am for a day of fellowship during our annual Hand in Hand Reunion.

Thank you!

August 23rd, 2016

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Hand in Hand 2016 Seminar

March 14th, 2016

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(Getting crafty at a previous seminar)

This year’s seminar will take place on Sunday, May 1, 2016 at 12pm.

We normally host our seminar for those who will be joining us in the summer (or anyone interested in finding out more about our summer camp mission trips) on the Friday before our church’s annual youth conference. However, this year we decided to move it to Sunday. Lunch will be served following the morning service and we’ll proceed with the seminar afterwards. We’ll be discussing camp etiquette and rules, learning new songs, games and crafts, as well as familiarizing ourselves with this year’s program.

It’s a great opportunity to see what Hand in Hand is all about, as well as to get to know other like-minded individuals. We hope to see you there!

If you have an further questions, feel free to contact Anatoly at akushnar@yahoo.com

Bottle Drive 3.19.2016

March 9th, 2016

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We’ll be having a bottle drive on Saturday, March 19, 2016. If you have bottles or cans you’d like to donate, we’d be more than happy to arrange for someone to pick them up. Bottles and cans can also be dropped off at our church (Russian Baptist Church, 211 Mosher Rd., Gorham Maine), near the back doors.

All proceeds raised from this fundraiser will go towards summer camps for orphans. Thank you for your support!

Yesterday, today and tomorrow

October 20th, 2015

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Yesterday, today and tomorrow. Yesterday is only accessible through our memories. For someone it is 10 years, for others it is 20, and still for others it is 30, 40 or perhaps even 80 years. We cannot return that time, or correct it, nor can we add to it. Tomorrow will always be tomorrow—technically, tomorrow will never become today. We will never be able to get there. Perhaps this all sounds rather odd, but only until we start to think these things over. Once we begin to think about it, we realize that we can’t simply say that time is merely “passing by”—because we realize that it is actually flying by.

I sometimes ask myself what I would like to do while I am still capable of actually doing something. When I receive a letter from someone asking me for help, I tell myself that I will get back to that letter tomorrow. And on the next day, that need becomes yesterday’s need.

I hope that someone will respond to today’s need today. How long can a child wait in an orphanage? Of course he will wait, he has no other choice. In fact, he’s gotten used to waiting; he’s been waiting for years.

Do you remember how we bought a van for Belarus? That was 11 years ago. And yet it feels as though it were only yesterday. Meanwhile, 11 years ago a little boy named Vanya was born. His mother had no use for him from the beginning, but she was talked into taking him home anyway. Perhaps her little son, her own flesh and blood, would be able to stop her downward spiral and help set her on a new path. Love, care, kindness, and tranquility surround Vanya’s peers, but Vanya had been dealt a different hand: hunger, coldness, alcoholism—this is what awaited Vanya at home.

How do we care for a new car? We watch over it and wash it and dry it. Every little scratch on its surface brings us a stab of pain. But is there anyone to care for Vanya like we care for one of our cars? …After years of torment Vanya finds himself in an orphanage. It’s not too bad there—it’s warm and he gets food everyday.

And all this time, Vanya is not daydreaming about a car. He has a different dream. He dreams about tomorrow…that tomorrow his mother will come, and maybe even his father. They’ll take him home with them and they’ll have a “new” Vanya. And they will love him and surround him with kindness. He’s only 11 years old—they’ll have enough time to shower him with much love.

But we see a different tomorrow: in our new car, with our new iPhone in hand, we pull up to our new house.

Not too long ago, I became frightened of a thought I had, wondering what I would remember tomorrow about yesterday. You can never compare the smell of a new car to a child’s gaze…

I know that tomorrow will come. This tomorrow will be dearer than all I had once held close before. In this tomorrow all of those things will no longer matter.

But I hope that I will see Vanya there. I hope that today someone will come to him; hug him, hold him close, tell him about God… tell him about tomorrow. And I hope that he will learn to believe in God, and in tomorrow. And that he will be able to forget all of the fear, resentment, and pain, and that God himself will wipe away his tears.

…And on that day, I will suddenly remember that car, and the pain will be so, so bitter. Because we won’t be able to turn back the clock. We won’t be able to change the past, nor will we be able to add anything to yesterday.

-A. Kushnar

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Souvenirs

October 15th, 2015

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With time, much is forgotten—like a dried flower lost between the pages of a book, or a yellowed letter that is only dear to the one for whom it was intended. Souvenirs. Sometimes you receive a card or a postcard and you try to mentally live those events so distant from your own reality.

Allow me to take you on a short stroll through a quiet May evening in Belarus, during which at a certain point, you will take a photograph for your memories. A souvenir.

And so…

The warm day ends with the approach of a cool evening and a blue sky, the smell of grass and gasoline; the air is filled with laughter, yells, and the sounds of running children. A lanky twelve year old with a shy smile approaches hesitantly and holds out a notebook made of graph paper: there is a desire to occasionally stand out from the crowd. Together, we pour over the artwork. He is no Repin [a Renowned 19th century Russian Artist], but he does not yet know it. He makes up for lack of talent with an attention to detail and with diligence.

The first sketch, you and I will observe, is the descent of a troops in very extreme conditions. The artist inadvertently breaks into a smile, pleased with the fact that his work is appreciated and understood. The second page reveals a bleeding square frog. But this time, a little disappointed with slowwitted foreigners, the artist explains with dignity that it is a tank that is shooting and is being shot at.

We turn to the next page, and the artist freezes for a moment.

Four figurines: one taller than the rest, wearing a dress and holding the hands of two other figurines. The last figure has been drawn apart from the others, up and away in a corner. All of this he drew for himself, and not for a stranger’s eyes… but he had momentarily forgotten, having wanted to impress the visitors.

“And who is this?” we ask.

At this moment he lifts up his eyes—don’t miss this moment; take the photograph now… What a photo, what drama, what a good shot! “And who is this?” echoes.

There is ineffable longing and emptiness in those eyes. He tries to conceal it, to erase the despair behind the answer with a smile.

“This is my mother, brother, and sister.”

“Do they live far away?”

“No, nearby. My mother comes to visit me.”

“Has it been long since her last visit?”

Some questions are best not to ask. A cloud seems to pass over his face, his lips tremble, and he chokes out a reply: “Tw…Two years since her last.”

This is the snapshot I’d like to leave in your heart; a souvenir from Begomel, Belarus. The moment in which you captured the eyes of a child who was looking at you, you suddenly realize that not only have you caught the look in his eyes, but you have captured your own reflection in his gaze. And the question: “who is this?” now finds a new addressee and new meaning, as you contemplate the importance of the question: “…and who is my neighbor?”

-A. Kiyanitsa

 

Bottle and Metal Drive Appreciation

October 15th, 2015

We would like to thank everyone who contributed in the bottle and metal drives.

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Many folks donated their bottles and metal to Hand in Hand, thank you for your help!

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Others helped in sorting and transporting the bottles and metal to the redemption centers, thank you for your help!

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As always, the proceeds will go on to bring joy to kids in need.

(Photo credit: Joe Kushnar)

Sasha’s wheelchair

October 12th, 2015

In May we wrote about our friend Alexander (Sasha), who for the majority of the last ten years has been confined to his bed. After graduating from school, Sasha and his friends decided to go swimming. Sasha dove into shallow waters and hurt his spine. Today he can use his hands very minimally—he is able to type a little bit on a keyboard, and turn the pages of a book. Sasha’s mother, a Believer who did not want to send him away to a ‘Home for the Disabled,’ took it upon herself to be Sasha’s main caregiver. At one point, Sasha had an electric wheelchair, but it has been many years since it has been operational. Sasha is already 30, and he has spent a large part of his life in his bed.

Our prayers were answered and many people reached out to us after having read Sasha’s story. Upon arrival in Belarus this summer, we had the necessary funds to purchase a new (or at least a working) electric wheelchair for Sasha. Unfortunately, we discovered that locating a good wheelchair in Belarus was not going to be an easy task. We located various scooters, but all were of very poor quality, and Sasha would not have been able to use one of them due to the nature of his paralysis. We found ourselves in a seemingly helpless situation: we had the desire to help and the funds, but not the ability to do so. We asked ourselves what were we to tell people what had become of their donations?

But God is a God of mercy, and he was merciful towards us, and towards Sasha. Help came from where we least expected it: from another invalid. This Brother’s name is Yuriy, and he too uses a wheelchair to get around, as he is missing both of his legs. He is a man full of energy and love for those who, like him, are disabled. Yuriy has been ministering to the disabled of Belarus for a long time already, and when he heard of our need, he decided to help us out.

“I know where we can find a wheelchair. In fact,” he told us, “consider it already yours.” The only catch was that it was in Germany. Germany? We told him we just did not have the means for such a trip, nor the Visas necessary to return to Belarus once we left, nor the time. Yuriy made several phone calls, trying to come up with a solution in order to get a wheelchair for Sasha. To make a long story short: he traveled to Germany himself to pick up the wheelchair. He returned tired, unshaven, but happy to have located the very type of wheelchair we had been searching for (and manufactured in Germany, to boot)!

We were able to bring the wheelchair to Sasha only a few days before leaving Belarus. We’d like to include part of one of the messages Sasha has sent us since:

“Hello! Everything is going well with the wheelchair—I have figured out how it works and am already using it! I like it very much. It’s been an adjustment, having to get used to it after spending so many years in bed… Thank you so much for this gift. I ride out almost every day, and have ridden through almost the entire village. The battery and the engine work really well. All in all, it works exceptionally well, and I am very pleased. Another thank you!…”

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A part of the donations meant for Sasha’s wheelchair remain. With your blessing, we’d like to use them to help other invalids.

Summer 2015

October 9th, 2015

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What two words can you use to describe a mission trip? Stress and blessings! Begomel, Orsha, Ryacno, Bogyshevsk, Rechetsa, Dyatlova, Druya… the distance between these locations is several hundred miles. Hundreds of children. Over 40 volunteers from America, Belarus, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan; all from different cultures, all different ages, but all united in one desire: to surround children and those less fortunate with love.

The most stressful work took place in the camps for the handicapped. The volunteers who found themselves in such camps found it necessary to check their emotions and tiredness at the door, along with any feelings of apprehension that come along with being in a new and unfamiliar place. In one “Home for the Disabled” we had 250 children and young people to minister to. This building has no handicap ramp. To take those unable to walk outdoors, we had to lay down wooden boards across the steps and push the wheelchairs down the makeshift ramps. Because of the incline of the steps, the boards are laid down at a very steep angle, and so it is extremely difficult to transport the invalids outside. There are not enough caregivers, and so at times months may pass before the children see the outdoors.

In one of our tent camps we made time for a special three day camp for other disabled children. This was very complicated to pull off… but a blessed time nonetheless. It’s hard to fully describe the joy and thankfulness expressed by these children and young people who have spent a large part of their lives in closed-off rooms and wretched courtyards. A river, forest, tents, evenings spent by a campfire… even those of us in good health are not opposed to spending time in such settings. For those children, it was almost all they had ever wished for.

We’re thankful to God for everyone who supports this ministry and its work with the children of Belarus. For many years young people (and some not so young) have traveled to Belarus and Russia to help abandoned children. This year was no exception—by God’s mercy we were able to host 11 camps in Belarus, and two in Russia. Almost 1,000 children attended these camps.

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For the past several years we visited ‘Home for the Disabled,’ but only during our Christmas trips, when we would hand out gifts and put on a small skit and program for the children. These stops were relatively short, because once the program was over and the gifts passed out, it was time to move on to the next orphanage. This summer, however, God began to reveal to us a new branch for our ministry: work among disabled children and young people.

And today we’d like to turn to you for help. To work with the disabled is to work with those who have limited means. In order to expand their means, horizons, and independence, it is necessary to provide them with the right tools: love and care, two aspects of life that they are so short on. But they also need wheelchairs, walkers, and physical therapy equipment, and these require funds. Our primary desire is to show them that they are needed—by us, and by God, who gave His life for them.

Our other need in the year ahead is to obtain a new large tent. This past summer we had three waves of campers and one camp for the disabled (the campers and counselors live in small tents, and eat and gather together in one large tent). Our largest tent has begun to rip (it is 15 years old), and though we are constantly trying to sew up those holes, time has still taken a toll on it.

We would be grateful for any help, and we ask you to continue to pray—not only for Hand in Hand, but for the children and adults that we have worked with, and for those we have yet to met. May God bless you, and your participation in this ministry.

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Hand in Hand Reunion 2015

October 9th, 2015

In this day and age of social media and smart phones, we find ourselves feeling “connected” even though we are miles apart. Technology allows us to stay in touch with each other as well as with the children and teenagers we have met in Belarus, but it has its drawbacks as well. As we connect online, we find ourselves connecting less and less in person. And that’s why we treasure these reunions and any events that bring us together.
“…Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:25