Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Loren Kennedy has been spreading the word, as a guest speaker at local
organizations and through preaching at local churches, about overwhelming needs in Ukraine due to an ongoing war with Russia that began in February when Russia invaded the neighboring country. Kennedy knows first-hand the needs which have escalated from food and shelter to warmth. The lifelong missionary, previously to Africa, felt a tug to help back in the spring. Since then, he has spent a total of four months on the ground in Ukraine, working through churches there as the representative of nonprofit Sanctuary Relief. He plans to return Dec. 5 and will remain until sometime in January.
“I will not be with my family for Christmas for the first time because it’s so important to be in Ukraine and give people there hope and help in whatever way possible … meet physical needs, all while sharing Christ with them to meet their spiritual needs,” said Kennedy. “My wife, Jeri, is 110% behind me on this. And my family is very supportive because their hearts are in this too; they know it’s an important time for doing what we can for [Ukrainians].”
A longtime Franklin resident, Kennedy’s goal for the upcoming over-holidays trip to Ukraine is to take enough funds to purchase firewood, oil, heating units, and blankets “for as many people as possible.” He reported that in the first part of November, “the Russians knocked out 20% of [Ukraine’s] infrastructure, which means more power and water is not available – as winter is setting in.”
He said, “Electricity is not off all the time, but it’s off 8 to 10 hours a day, at least, so that causes issues when it gets cold.”
And, while funds raised through Sanctuary Relief have so far provided around 7,000 boxes of staples and non-perishable food for families, the goal is to purchase enough food in December and January to pack 10,000 boxes, each of which feeds a family for two weeks or longer.
“We will try to purchase as many generators as possible as well,” said Kennedy. “Even though I will be there for Christmas, we will not focus on gift giving but just securing practical items to meet needs. But we will be celebrating Christmas through worship. In fact, the churches there are phenomenal … exploding with people. People are still worshipping, despite the dangers. And, people are banding together to help one another. It’s wonderful to see and experience.”
Kennedy uses 100% of funds raised through Sanctuary Relief to purchase items made and sold in Ukraine “in order to help their economy.” He pays for his own travel expenses and handles administrative tasks for Sanctuary Relief so that all donated monies benefit Ukrainian people. “Most of the donations have come from people and businesses locally; they are such a big part of helping the Ukrainian people. The Lord is blessing Ukrainians due to our community’s generosity.”
Despite the dangers of traveling to a war-torn country, Kennedy said he believes the Lord wants him there. He pointed out that he can leave the devastated country and return to the safety of his Franklin home, while the Ukrainians must stay and hope that the war is over soon.
“Right now, the war is back and forth,” he said. “Ukrainians are taking back land that has been occupied by the Russians … some positive news. But this war is not over; there are still millions of refugees inside of Ukraine – many without homes or with homes that are not adequate.”
Prior to entering Ukraine for the first time in May, Kennedy was not familiar with the country or its people. Since then, during his last two missionary trips there, he has observed their general upbeat attitudes and tenacious character. He expressed, “Ukrainian people are very patriotic, wonderful, kind. The biggest thing that strikes me about them is their resiliency. They don’t want to give up their freedom, which is understandable. But no matter their circumstances, no one is begging or looking for a handout. They have a sense of community and are so generous, despite how much destruction has happened. Every time they are given anything, they are so thankful and gracious.”
Kennedy’s travels and Sanctuary Relief’s efforts in Ukraine can be followed on Facebook. Ongoing funds are needed to meet Ukrainian needs; donations can be made by mailing checks to P.O. Box 841, Franklin, N.C. 28744, or, by giving online at www.sanctuaryrelief.com.