Many consider orphans to be the most vulnerable, poorest and most oppressed of all peoples. The plight of the Ukrainian orphan is sobering at best. Sources suggest that Ukraine currently has nearly 100,000 institutionalized orphans. Only 10% are orphaned due to the death of a parent. The rest are actually social orphans, as the result of abandonment or imprisonment of their parents. While a few orphanages are well run, most are not. Orphans frequently do not receive adequate food or clothing. Those who can escape prefer to live on the streets. Moreover, once orphans are released into society at age 16, they are considered outcasts and typically cannot find a job or place to live. Within a short time, the vast majority of the young men end up in prison for stealing food and the young women begin working the streets, ending up in European prostitution rings against their wills. Shockingly, within four years of their release from the orphanage system, one in four orphans commits suicide.
Through the on-site presence and work of our medical team, IFI is blessed to be one of the very few ministries in the former Soviet Union with an American physician and pediatric nurse on staff. Living in Kiev, the IFI medical team has built upon the original IFI vision of reaching out to meet the needs of orphans...from physical needs such as clothing and shoes, to spiritual needs which are addressed through a variety of hands-on programs and outreaches. In addition, IFI is establishing critically important relationships with orphanage directors and their staff members. The ability to influence those workers, as well as to share Christ with them, positively influences the care and well being of the orphan children.
The ongoing war that Russia has been waging on Ukrainian soil since 2015 has taken an enormous toll on much of Eastern Ukraine and Crimea. Many thousands have lost homes and family members, and have been forced to flee to Central and Western Ukraine to escape the bloodshed. IFI is working with refugees, ministering to them by providing medical and humanitarian assistance, as well as hope through Christ.
There's a saying in the Russian world that sheds much light on how the concept of leadership is viewed: "It's the tallest blade of grass that gets cut first..." Asserting oneself as a leader came with considerable risk during the Soviet era. As a result, teaching a proper understanding of leadership is challenging, at best. This remains true across every aspect of society, including the Church.
IFI staff includes not just one, but two, doctorally-prepared experts in the discipline of leadership. The resultant synergy allows IFI to provide leadership training to many different sectors of society. To date, IFI has trained leaders in the Church, in the medical field, at the university and medical school level, as well as with international organizations based in Ukraine.
Two challenges that come with teaching leadership in the former Soviet Union. First of all, the concept of leadership is so unfamiliar that it can be difficult to engage with people who actually work at leaders. They don't know what they don't know! Secondly, leadership as it is understood in the West, cannot simply be translated and taught in post-Soviet cultures. Many leadership principles simply don't translate!
We are finding the most success among younger professionals who recognize that leadership is important. By teaching Virtuous Leadership, we introduce Biblical concepts that often later lead to opportunities to share Christ in our successful Character Forum ministry.
During the Soviet era, pastors were not allowed to pursue secondary education of any kind, let alone theological training. This led to significant challenges for churches all across the region, as pastors simply had little proper knowledge of Scripture or practical ministry skills. For example, when someone in the congregation approaches the pastor to seek help for a troubling issue in their life, they commonly are advised simply to "pray about it." If, after some time passes, the issue remains...it is not unusual for that member of the congregation to be excommunicated from the congregation. After all, the church can't permit sin in its midst...right?
This is one of many examples that highlight why IFI's pastoral training programs have been in such great demand. Since 2003, IFI has trained thousands of pastors and church leaders all across major cities of Russia and Ukraine...even in Siberia! With so little access to resources, church leaders have been desperate to acquire the needed skills that enable them to minister effectively to their congregations and communities.
The truth about medical care in the former Soviet Union is that people are afraid of it. You see, in a healthcare system where doctors and surgeons can graduate from medical school by paying bribes to their instructors...well, would YOU want to be operated on by someone who had paid for their grades?
IFI has been deeply involved for many years in helping to bring systemic change to the medical system in Ukraine. We do so, for example, through helping to facilitate medical conferences for both practicing healthcare workers as well as the parents of children with disabilities. Without adequate resources for medical equipment and supplies, and without access to current medical research and training as is enjoyed in the West, the quality of medical care is often sub-standard...if not dangerous.
IFI has played an important role in helping to launch the Christian Medical Student Association in Ukraine, where young practitioners are learning how a Christian worldview and a biblical approach to healthcare makes a world of difference in how they treat their patients...!
International Faith Initiatives, Inc., was launched in 2001 by Rev. Dr. Mike and Ruth Linville after serving as missionaries for four years in Kiev, Ukraine. There, they helped start and direct one of the early post-Soviet Bible colleges where some 100 young ministers were equipped for ministry. You can read their story in When God Comes Calling, available in ebook format at Amazon.com.
The IFI Team also consists of national staff, among them Dr. Artyom Kluchnikov, who leads most in-country operations. Our medical team is led by an American physician and his wife, a pediatric nurse. The vision to reach the former Soviet countries with the message of the Gospel is one that IFI is committed to, primarily through bringing long-term systemic change to the fields of medicine and organizational leadership. IFI is committed to helping national churches and their leadership to thrive, despite overwhelming political, economic, and societal challenges.
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For hearts and minds to turn to Christ across the region
For political stability that allows ministry to continue to flourish
For wisdom in best using limited resources
For God to be glorified in all we do...!