Bringing Hope to the Roma in Ukraine

September 12, 2017 •
Two Roma children bring their Operation Christmas Child shoebox treasures home.

As the Gospel is shared in Roma communities through Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts and The Greatest Journey discipleship program, children are learning to follow Christ—and how to read!

In Ukraine, it is sad but true that many see the Roma people as palm-reading thieves. Because of prejudice and discrimination, they are pushed to the margins of society.

Girls from Serendne rejoice as they open their shoebox gifts.

Girls from Serendne rejoice as they open their shoebox gifts.

“We have no jobs. It is difficult to survive,” said Evgeniy Varode, an assistant to the deputy of the Roma community of Ruski-Komarivtsi.

Education in their communities is substandard—if parents even send their children to school at all. As a result, many children do not know how to read and write.

Impoverished and living on the outskirts of towns and villages, many Roma can identify with Jesus Christ, who was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3).

Shoebox Gifts Bring Joy

With their hope firmly rooted in the Gospel, Christians In Evgeniy’s village have gathered in homes to worship for 15 years.

Pavel Khyzhniak teaches one of the lessons in The Greatest Journey in Ruski-Komarivtsi.

Pavel Khyzhniak teaches one of the lessons in The Greatest Journey in Ruski-Komarivtsi.

Four years ago, they built a church building with their own hands for the congregation of 25 that gathers twice weekly in the summer and doubles in size in the winter.

Recently, Pavel Khyzhniak began visiting Ruski-Komarivtsi and nearby Seredne to serve as a coach for Roma Christian leaders like Evgeniy.

In addition, he is bringing children’s ministry to the villages with the help of volunteers from his church in Uzhhorod, a city near the Slovakian border.

“We are here to serve the Roma—the people no one cares about,” Pavel said.

Get Involved! Pack A ShoeboxAfter sharing about Jesus Christ, Pavel’s group distributed Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to 60 children in each of these villages—delighting them all.

“Some of these kids, they do not know what is a doll, what is a car, what is a toy, gift, or present,” Evgeniy said.

Evgeniy Varode helps children in the neighboring village of Seredne discover what is inside their shoeboxes.

Evgeniy Varode helps children in the neighboring village of Seredne discover what is inside their shoeboxes.

“My heart is full of joy that we can help such children, and to see such happiness on their faces. The Bible tells us, ‘My ways are not your ways’ (Isaiah 55:8). We couldn’t even imagine this, but this is God’s plan.”

Daniel, 13, enjoyed the tennis balls and the case filled with pencils he received in his shoebox. His favorite part of the Bible is John 3:16 because, in his words, “God gave his only Son so we could believe in Him.”

Jasmine, 9, celebrated receiving a doll, notebook, ball, and especially a jump rope in her shoebox gift.

“We learned today that God created the clouds and mushrooms,” Jasmine said, mentioning a source of livelihood for the Roma which they gather from the forest to sell.

Her sister Gaudi, 10, especially loved the stuffed reindeer in her box and said, “I learned that Jesus played with children just like me.”

Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts bring good news and great joy to children like this one in Ukrainian Roma villages.

Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts bring good news and great joy to children like this one in Ukrainian Roma villages.

Hundreds more children in these Roma communities await the precious opportunity to receive a tangible expression of God’s love, and to learn what it means to follow Christ as their Savior.

Pavel’s church is also helping to follow up with shoebox recipients through The Greatest Journey discipleship program. As boys and girls go through the 12-lesson workbook, the vivid pictures help them understand what the words next to them mean.

“They are taught how to read using The Greatest Journey program,” Evgeniy said.

Preaching from Memory

Evgeniy repented of his sins for the first time and became a believer 17 years ago. He had just been freed from his second jail sentence for the consequences of his alcoholism when he learned that his son, Zhenia, had trusted in Christ—the first in their family to do so.

Evgeniy Varode leads the church in his village even though he can’t read.

Evgeniy Varode leads the church in his village even though he can’t read.

Zhenia kept telling his father that he needed to follow Jesus, too, until one week Evgeniy went to the home where the Christians were meeting for worship. Surprising everyone but the preacher, he repented of his sins and began a journey of faith.

Eleven years later, Evgeniy became a leader in the church. While not officially the pastor, Evgeniy functions in that role, shepherding the church and giving sermons when their itinerant preacher frequently cannot be there.

What a visitor might not realize, however, is that Evgeniy cannot read. He stands with the Bible open, acts like he’s reading, and recites from the passage from memory. He relies on his grandson Ruslan, 15, to help him prepare for sermons.

Ruslan (second from right) and his brothers all support their grandfather in his preaching.

Ruslan (second from right) and his brothers all support their grandfather in his preaching.

“Ruslan reads me the verses and I then memorize them so I can share them with the people,” Evgeniy said.

“I read them to him several times a week,” Ruslan said. “My grandfather has a great memory!”

Evgeniy is pleased to serve despite the challenges: “I see that people from my community, they need the help of God in order not to live the way I lived.”

Pavel and Evgeniy are grateful to be able to serve the Roma community and their children by offering Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey. Together, they are bringing hope to a new generation.

“Thank you to Samaritan’s Purse and to people who give their money to send shoeboxes to children in Ukraine,” Pavel said. “It’s not just a toy—it’s a Roma and Ukrainian child that is changed.”


Learn how to pack your own Operation Christmas Child shoebox and bless a child in need! Every shoebox gift is an excellent resource for evangelism and discipleship, which leads to the multiplication of new believers and churches around the world.

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