Alona was 15 when Wendy Farrell first read about her. Within seconds Farrell knew this wouldn’t be a blog post she breezed by.
“I felt like God was telling me this was our daughter, and we were supposed to adopt her,” Farrell explained.
She and her husband, Ryan, already had four daughters ages 4 and under.
“Our hands were full,” she admitted.
And their life was full, too. They were involved at their church, Ridgecrest Baptist in Springfield, Missouri, and she volunteered once a week at a local women’s shelter where she led a Bible study.
But she and her husband had been feeling like God was calling them to dig deeper, that He might have something else for them to do.
“I started praying that the Lord would make me uncomfortable for Him in some way,” Farrell remembered.
Ready to adopt
Around the same time some friends adopted a teenage girl from Ukraine. Farrell followed their journey as she and her husband had always been interested in adoption. Then about a month after that family brought their daughter home, Farrell read the blog post that changed her family’s life.
Alona, a Ukrainian orphan who was a good friend of their friends’ newly adopted daughter, had about five months to find a family or she would age out of the orphan care system.
“I read this post one Friday about lunchtime,” Farrell said. “I called my husband at work and said, ‘Ryan, you know, I’ve been reading about this girl. She needs a family,’ and he said, ‘I know what you’re thinking. Absolutely not; our hands are full.’”
But he prayed about it and two days later came to the same conclusion she had.
That was February 2013. They traveled to Ukraine to meet their daughter in July. In September they brought her home.
“She was so brave to say yes to a family she didn’t know, but we just knew for sure God had called us to be her parents,” Farrell recalled.
Something else happened, too. While Farrell was in Ukraine getting to know her soon-to-be daughter, she got to know the country and its people.
“I just fell in love with Ukraine, with the Ukrainian people, especially the children,” she remembered. “And I felt the Lord was speaking to my heart again that our adoption was not the end of our work in Ukraine.”
Fast-forward a year and a half and Farrell found herself drawn to revisit the burden God had given her to minister there. As she explored options, she learned of a man who had been trying to get a Christian children’s home started, building it as he raised money.
That man, Nikolay, “had a heart of gold, and he was genuine and an amazing man of faith,” Farrell said.
She started a nonprofit called 1U Project to help support him. In October 2015 the first children moved into Children’s Path in western Ukraine. Farrell said the 1U Project has been more than just a funnel for funding. She, her family, friends and church have been hands-on, taking teams several times a year to hold camps and spend time with the children.
They’ve also hosted children in the U.S. as part of a summer exchange program designed to help them experience a new culture and see an example of a healthy Christian family.
“Our kids (at Children’s Path) have been removed from their homes due to abuse or severe neglect or the parents’ addictions, and the only picture they had prior to Children’s Path is not a good picture at all,” Farrell explained.
Now they’re facing another trauma. On March 2 the children had to flee their home because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“We have known for a while that war might break out,” Farrell said. “As it got more and more probable, we, along with my church, started making plans about what would happen if it did.”
They decided that if war did begin, Nikolay and his wife, Nadiya, would seek government approval to bus the children across the Polish border. They received approval, and Farrell met them in Poland where they’ve been since. They are staying in a summer camp’s dorm-like facility that opened for them and 60 other refugees.
For seven of the past eight weeks Farrell has been there, playing games, helping meet their needs and working on paperwork to bring them to the U.S. where members of her church and other friends are waiting to host them.
“It is our hope and desire that the kids will be approved visas so they can come to the United States temporarily until the war is over, so we can better take care of them and meet all of their needs where we have such a large support system and base for them,” Farrell said. “That is what we are working on right now. We have been going through many steps to get that approval and we are at the final step, and we’re just hoping and praying we get that last approval very soon.”
1U Project is providing for the children and other refugees at the camp and also renting an Airbnb to house refugees on their way out of Ukraine — so far more than 400.
The Children’s Path facility in western Ukraine also serves as a shelter for those fleeing the eastern part of the country.
“It’s a hard time for everyone,” Farrell acknowledged. “We love Ukraine. We are thankful for the safety of the children and Nikolay and Nadiya, but there are so many … we know and love who are in danger.
“We definitely grieve, and we pray for the war to end.”