By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
JOHNSON CITY — A physician and nurse team from Heritage Baptist Church in Johnson City have returned after providing medical care and showing the love of Jesus to orphans in war-torn Ukraine.
Johnson City physician Sabrina Miller was asked several weeks ago to consider traveling to Ukraine to treat orphans through New Horizons for Children (NHC), an agency that has partnered with orphanages in Ukraine since 1995 as an international hosting agency.
Miller was hesitant at first but after much prayer and encouragement from her husband, she agreed to go. She shared what she was going to do with Teana Weems, wife of her pastor, Reggie Weems. Teana, a retired nurse, also was hesitant at first. She, too, prayed and received encouragement from her husband, and agreed to go.
The two women flew into Poland, rented a car and drove to the Ukraine border, but were not allowed to take a rental car into the country.
Border patrol helped them find a man who was going into the country and he drove them across the border where they met people affiliated with NHC who then took them to L’viv. While in the country they were accompanied by a photographer and a translator.
They acknowledged that though they were in a country ravaged by war, they were not as fearful as one might expect. “We could hear air raid sirens every night,” Weems said, but “the Lord was really with us. We didn’t feel afraid.”
Miller agreed. “I think that was a true gift from the Lord. He reminded us that He had gone before us. … Anytime I opened the Bible or heard a song, it was the Lord constantly reminding me that He was there.
“The Scripture that immediately came to me was Proverbs 3:27 where it says, ‘Do not withhold good when you have the power to act.’ ”
Weems noted that she and Miller read the Scripture and prayed every day before they would go to one of the “safe havens,” temporary orphanages set up to care for orphans evacuated from the combat areas on the eastern side of the country to the western side.
Miller treated children for ailments ranging from worms to rashes. Both women found ways to interact with the children, even it if was just throwing a bouncy ball to them. More importantly, they wanted to show the love of Jesus Christ.
Miller noted that one teenage boy that she saw asked, through a translator app on her phone, “Why would you come here to care for us?” She responded that Weems and her loved and cared for him, but reminded him that “God loves him and cares for him even more. I pray and continue to pray that those children saw that we were there because Jesus loves them and cares for them so much more than we can demonstrate.”
The ladies shared that conditions in the temporary orphanages were far from ideal. Though the children were cared for, there was only one caregiver for every 25 children, Weems said. She recalled seeing one little boy who had been playing outside and he had a “terrible dog bite. It’s because there’s nobody to really watch them all the time,” she said.
Her heart also hurts for the caregivers. “You can imagine having 25 babies to care for and not having a break. … “It’s a desperate situation.” Miller said she considers “it a blessing to be able to use medical care as the avenue to demonstrate love and care” for the orphans in L’viv. “It’s not just the medical care. It’s using that avenue to let them know that we see you, that you are valued and that God loves you.”
Weems and Miller are appreciative of the support shown to them by their church before and during their eight-day stay in the country. “Our church body is phenomenal,” Miller said.
Weems said the church took up an offering for the women before they left. It was enough to pay for the expenses of the two women with spending money if needed. There also was enough left over to help with needs at the orphanage and for the orphans, she added.
More importantly, Weems said, the church “supported us with prayer the whole time we were gone.”
In addition, Miller said the church supplied her husband and six children with meals each night.
Reggie Weems expressed appreciation to the congregation for their willingness to go over and beyond the needs of the two volunteers from their church. He noted that they estimated the women would need $10,000 to cover expenses and provide for some needs in the country. When the offering was collected, members had donated $28,000. “We immediately set aside $18,000 for future ministry needs in Ukraine,” he said.
In addition, the church had saved $150,000 for facilities enhancement in 2022. The congregation instead decided to hold renovations should funds be needed for potential future ministry in Ukraine, the pastor said. “To date, our congregation has rescued one entire orphanage of 58 orphans and their chaperones to a safe country and helped move approximately 500 orphans and their chaperones from dangerous zones in Ukraine to safe parts of the country.”
Though grateful to be back home with family and friends, both women noted the children they met and ministered to are still on their minds.
When they crossed the border back into Poland, Miller admitted feelings of guilt “because here we were walking back into normalcy, recognizing these children continue to live in that uncertainty, knowing they don’t have a home to go back to.” B&R