Leading this year’s Mercy Projects mission trip to the Hearts of Love special needs centre in Konotop, Ukraine was even more special for me for two reasons.
First of all the charity I’m UK Director for Mercy Projects (www.mercyprojects.co.uk) was celebrating our fifth year in a row helping run a summer camp at this special place.
Over the past five summers I’ve had the privilege of seeing the ongoing impact of how Mercy Projects teams help this wonderful centre that has become a lifeline to special needs children and their families in Konotop.
Mercy Projects now supports the ongoing work of this project throughout the year as they teach these special needs children vital skills and an education to help them both in the short-term and long-term.
Peter & Anna Wooding with Zhenya at the
However what was also very special was the fact that my 16-year-old daughter Anna Wooding was able to come with me as part of the team this year.
Anna has a passion to express her faith through dance and the idea for her to join us came about when she performed a dance at our church in Chester, England on Easter Sunday earlier this year.
People were so moved by her performance that they encouraged her to teach her dance skills to these special needs children at the Hearts of Love Centre.
“A few people from the team at my church encouraged me to go and I felt like the Lord wanted me to help the children and do something special for them and inspire them,” said Anna.
Before going Anna had mixed feelings about this new experience but was instantly taken aback by the hearts of love she experienced from the children on the first day we arrived:
“I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect, but I knew that there was something going to happen that would make me feel welcome and I felt the Lord was with me the whole time. Once I got there everyone was so nice and welcoming.
“It was quite emotional as the children were holding my hand, hugging me and it was nice. I felt the Lord was working through them to impact me.”
The theme of this year’s camp was living life on the ship the HMS Obedience. We taught them how they could learn to trust and obey their real captain Jesus. Then each afternoon we would run a series of master classes including art and photography, music, basketball and Anna would teach dance.
Anna explained: “The children were so sweet they were so eager to learn and so willing to do anything even though some of them physical challenges. One of them only had one arm and another had problems with her legs. But it was so special to see them so happy and wanting to to learn more and just having someone there to teach them something different really.
“After the sessions each day they wanted to stay on longer and do it on their own and show me what they could do. I was probably learning more from them than they learned more from me.”
Despite this Anna found it a challenge overcoming the language barrier and being away from home for the first time:
“It was difficult when I missed family and being a bit more independent and taking my own kind of decisions and doing stuff on my own really. It was very hard because you couldn’t communicate. You couldn’t actually speak to them properly which was hard because you kind of want to get to know them and get to know their family and their life.
“But then you kind of forget about all that when you you’re just smiling with them and hugging them because they don’t really care that you can’t speak to them they care that there’s someone there for them and being with them.”
On the final day of the camp it was very moving to see the children perform everything they’d learned in their master classes and it was a particularly proud moment for me when Anna led her group in performing the dance she’d taught them to a great song by Crystal Lewis called God’s Been Good To Me.
Looking back on her experience Anna said it’s certainly changed her perspective on life back home:
“It’s made me realize a lot more what I have and what they have and a completely different lifestyle we all have. And just seeing how happy they are from a little like headband or some sweets how excited they get and it’s just completely changed me how I am with things that I’m grateful for more things and I’m grateful for the people around me and that I have the Lord by my side.”
“I definitely want to go back and see the children and meet new children and I just want to be around them and I can’t wait to go again.”
So it’s wonderful to see the impact that the Hearts of Love Centre is not only having on the children of Konotop, but also on my family and I can’t wait myself to go back again soon to this special place.