‘This is why God built this place’
KOLENTSI, Ukraine — An hour south of Chernobyl, site of a…
Christians who have dedicated their lives to serving orphans and at-risk children had the ear of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Monday.
Andrew and Jenny Kelly, who oversee Jeremiah’s Hope Inc., a ministry supported by Churches of Christ, were one of about 20 couples invited to meet with the Eastern European nation’s leader on Ukraine’s National Adoption Day.
Zelenskiy asked his guests for input on how the nation can better serve children in need of a home and loving parents. During the visit, he encouraged the couples to write down their ideas and instructed the country’s Minister of Social Policy to review the submissions and formulate a response within a month, Andrew Kelly said.
“He seemed to be a genuine man,” Andrew Kelly said, “who truly desires to see change and reform in the areas pertaining to the care and rights of orphans.”
In recent weeks, Zelenskiy has been the focus of unwanted media attention for his now-infamous phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Elected in April, Zelenskiy took an unusual, somewhat-surreal route into politics. Before running for office, the Ukrainian actor, comedian and screenwriter starred in “Servant of the People,” a TV show in which he portrayed a high school history teacher who unexpectedly was elected president.
On the same day he met with the Kellys, Zelenskiy also met with actor Tom Cruise about the possibility of filming in Ukraine.
Andrew Kelly said of Zelenskiy, “I was impressed by his knowledge, his English and his desire to help the children of his nation.”
Ukraine, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has endured tumultuous and destabilizing conflicts in the past five years. In 2014, Russia annexed the country’s Crimean Peninsula and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine began a long and bloody conflict with the Ukrainian military. Refugees, many of them children, fled to central and western Ukraine.
Andrew Kelly, a graduate of Abilene Christian University in Texas, and fellow missionary Steve Taliaferro launched Jeremiah’s Hope in 2003 to serve orphans in eastern Ukraine. The ministry later moved to a campsite in Kolentsi, a village about an hour south of Chernobyl, site of the catastrophic Soviet Union nuclear power plant disaster in 1986.
Related: ‘This is why God built this place’
Social ills, including alcoholism, have devastated Ukrainian families, Andrew Kelly said. The country’s social services are overworked and children’s homes are underfunded.
In addition to helping children from broken homes, Jeremiah’s Hope has housed hundreds of Ukrainians fleeing the conflict in the east.
“They’re looking for something to hope in,” Jenny Kelly said during a 2015 interview with The Christian Chronicle. “If the church doesn’t step in and meet the needs, they’re going to look somewhere else.”
The Kellys were invited to meet with Zelenskiy, in part, to share experiences from their two-year fight to adopt two of the children they’ve cared for — both refugees from the eastern Ukrainian city of Luhansk.
“We are Permanent Residents of Ukraine, but (also) U.S. citizens,” Andrew Kelly said, “and the laws on adoption are either for Ukrainians or Americans.”
There are no specific laws that address the Kellys’ status, he added, “so we have been blazing a trail to get greater clarification and, possibly, new legislation.”
He said he was encouraged by the Ukrainian president’s concern for children — and “humbled that God allowed us this platform to advocate for the orphans.”
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