Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
When 64-year-old Loren Kennedy reflects on his life and experiences, he believes many skills he has learned managing logistical companies and as a missionary in Africa prepared him for his latest venture. A Franklin resident for 31 years with his wife, Jeri, and their six, now grown children, Kennedy said, “God put on my heart that I needed to do something to help Ukrainians.”
On Feb. 24, of this year Russia invaded Ukraine, and the invasion of Russian soldiers in the country, as well as bombings of densely populated cities and villages, caused millions of Ukrainians to flee the country or be left in Ukraine homeless or in areas without basic necessities.
Kennedy and his wife prayed about what helping might look like.
“We felt, because of my background – especially having spent time working out details for people in war-torn Sierra Leone when I was there as a missionary – that I should actually go to Ukraine and see what could be and needed to be done for the people there. I had seen a lot of the horrors of war in Africa, and I wasn’t afraid to be in that environment. And I knew I could figure all the logistics out, once I was there, of getting food, supplies, medicines, to the people in need.”
Thus, with the help of a niece, Kennedy updated the website of his established ministry, Sanctuary Relief, which he originally founded several years ago when he was a missionary in Africa, to focus entirely on relief efforts for Ukraine. The site provides a short film of Kennedy’s recent travels to first Warsaw, Poland, and then into Ukraine, and the coordination of at least 1,000 food/supply boxes as well as opportunities to encourage and share the Gospel with Ukrainians who have been dramatically affected by the war. Anyone watching the Sanctuary Relief video can visually “walk” through bombed out areas of the country to see where Kennedy is going to find the people in need.
Kennedy explained that as soon as he arrived in Poland, he began to align his ministry with that of a nondenominational church in Ukraine. He especially began working closely with a 34-year-old pastor “who spoke fluent English and is involved in the planting of churches and rehabilitation centers.” Kennedy learned through the pastor that many Ukrainians who could not flee the country had left their homes during the worst fighting and shelling and had returned to what remained when the Russian soldiers moved on. Many were living in the remains of their homes, apartment buildings, and other structures – often with no running water or electricity.
He was able to arrange for someone to take him to a Poland/Ukraine border crossing, where he walked across and was met by someone from the church to pick him up in a vehicle and drive him to areas where he arranged to purchase supplies of food and other items. He pointed out that securing provisions of canned meat, rice, pasta, oil, soup, flour, and other staples inside the country was actually more affordable – and helped the fragile Ukrainian economy – more so than purchasing in other parts of Eastern Europe and then transporting the goods. Prices outside the country are often inflated, and the elevated gas prices are partly to blame, he said.
Once the provisions were secured, Kennedy worked with church staff and members to make up boxes to be handed out.
“We had to stay inside because the Russian satellites are looking for groups of people who congregate and then they use that information to shell areas,” he said. “I heard air raid sirens going off at least three times a day. The Ukrainian missile defense takes care of many of the shells, but obviously many find their way in.”
“Each box feeds a family for two weeks, for the cost of $20,” he said. “These people that I’ve met are proud, resilient, and steadfast. They will take the boxes of food and supplies because they need them for their families, but they are reluctant to take any financial help (to repair their homes, etc.) because they tell me they will do it. But they are also a people who appreciate the hope that is being offered to them through encouragement and through hearing the Gospel.”
Before he even left Franklin, Kennedy, who is a diabetic, purchased 50 vials of insulin from Wal-Mart (valued at around $1,500) to take to diabetics in need. A recent report, in fact, indicated that Ukrainians on medications for conditions such as diabetes are in dire need because they have limited access to medications. He plans to purchase more insulin in the future as well as band-aids, over-the-counter pain relief, antibiotics, and more.
Kennedy’s next trip to Ukraine is in August, and he has already planned trips for October and November as well. He plans to be on the ground in Ukraine for at least two weeks each visit, and his goal is to feed as many people as possible while in the country. He added that 100% of donations to Sanctuary Relief is used for food and supplies. He is personally paying for his own travel as well as any overhead costs.
Being in Ukraine, instead of handling the ministry’s logistics from Franklin, allows Kennedy to not only secure relationships with the people, pastors, and supply entities but also to make sure the right goods are getting to the right people at the right time – that no corruption can occur. “It’s about doing everything in real time and making the most use of the monies people are giving,” said Kennedy.
He is concerned about the war dragging on into the winter months.
“Then we will all see things really get bad,” he said. “The media is covering this war less and less, but it’s definitely still raging. And if things are not settled by winter, we will see a people greatly affected by food shortages, no power or water, and more.”
He added, “I wonder all the time, what difference can one person, one ministry, one donation make? Is this just a band-aid? But when I see the folks’ faces light up when they know someone cares and has taken the time to help them … the smiles, the hugs. I know that this effort is leaving them with a little light in their darkness. You look around and there is such devastation, but a box of food and a kind word does so much more than people might think. I think it’s really important to support Ukrainians in any way we can. Sanctuary Relief focuses specifically on the people, not on the politics.”
Besides the work that Kennedy is doing in Ukraine, he would like the community to know that recently, “The Lord opened the door for the Franklin community to host a family coming from Ukraine; all the paperwork was already worked and they will be here mid-August.”
Anyone interested in donating to Sanctuary Relief or assisting Ukrainian refugees can visit the website or contact Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org.