When war broke out across Ukraine in early 2022, many Ukrainians sought safety in neighboring countries. Nearly 1,000 orphans traveled south to a sea-side city in Turkey where they were met by believers wanting to help.
In June Encompass World Partners’ Crisis Response Network joined forces with an organization called Little Lambs, an evangelical ministry that has been serving Ukrainian orphans for thirty years. Since the beginning of the war, the organization also supplied humanitarian aid through food, transportation, and housing. In previous years Little Lambs had operated summer camps so they were well equipped to offer this to those seeking refuge in Turkey.
Barb Wooler, director of Encompass’ Crisis Response Network, put the call out to the Charis Fellowship for people willing to join the team and serve in Turkey. Carrie Clothier, wife of Waynesboro Grace Lead Pastor Tim Clothier, immediately felt the pull to respond. Carrie reached out to other pastors’ wives and close friends to pray about joining her on the trip.
Janice Shennum, from Winona Lake, and Tonya Wike, wife of Community of Hope Grace Brethren Church Senior Pastor Jeremy Wike, joined Carrie and soon they were set to travel from Indiana to Turkey. “For many of us, making this trip seemed impossible,” Carrie said. “There were so many unknowns. However, testimonies from so many revealed how God was preparing our hearts. Doors of ministry opportunities began flying open for ourselves and our teammates.”
Tonya said, “I was blown away again and again as God spoke to my heart that this trip was a door He had opened. It was truly the Body of Christ loving on these precious little ones through their gifts of stickers and footballs, financial donations to our team, and kind words of encouragement. I can’t express how many times my heart was calmed and pointed to Jesus by the words and prayers of my friends, neighbors, and church family.”
Carrie, Tonya, and Janice joined a team totaling 18 people from three different countries. “God wove together a team of four different languages and led us to a place with a completely different language and culture than any of us ever experienced,” Carrie said. “It was exciting to find creative ways to break through these barriers. By the end of our trip these brothers and sisters in Christ became family.”
Each morning the team interacted with the kids through Bible stories, crafts, soccer, and games. In the afternoons they spent time in large groups in an open space or at the beach. Each day ended with lots of singing and hugs.
Carrie said, “Many of these children come from really hard places. They relocated here during the school year, so they had to finish their schooling in a new place. They are waiting for what will come next.”
Although Tonya and Carrie mainly worked with a group of kids aged 7–9, Carrie was able to build relationships with the older kids through soccer. “Futbol was a catalyst for me to build relationships. One particular boy was very skilled but had a stutter and was often picked on. I made a point to tell him that he was a good player and very smart. This started a special friendship. He looked for me to play with him every morning. Through Google Translate and our Ukrainian friends, I was able to tell the kids that I loved them, but Jesus loved them more.”
The ladies learned later that this young man was mostly deaf. While they were at Access Conference, they were able to raise money within 24 hours for him to get hearing aids.
“In a world that inundates us with news of chaos and disaster, it’s easy to distance ourselves from human suffering,” Tonya said. “We are cognitively aware that war, starvation, and injustice are out there — but they are too far removed from our everyday reality to actually pierce our hearts and compel us to action. My time in Turkey put skin on the twin tragedies of the war and the orphan crisis in Ukraine.”
“This has been such a growing and stretching experience where we were forced to trust God,” Carrie reflected. “We have no power to help these children’s situations. No power to keep our Ukrainian friends’ homes and families safe. We can only trust that God will do miraculous work. In almost every way, prayer is our only weapon.”