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A Friend

I want to tell you about my friend. He could be my grandfather, but I feel that he is my best buddy. First of all, he is my friend, and secondly, he does not look like an antique grandfather at all.

01However, when he sits down at the computer and focuses, analyzing passing day, he becomes like a professor. But you would be very surprised if you see how he is playing soccer, swimming in the pool or throwing snowballs! You can ask me the questions, where did you take these examples from? My friend is not only my friend, but a friend of dozens of Ukrainian children who for various reasons live and study in Rivne region orphanages or are the graduates of these institutions.

John and Marilyn Whittemore

In order to help these children, John Whittemore is coming from the U.S. to Ukraine. Moreover, he is doing that for the last seven years - four times a year! It is difficult for him to speak Ukrainian, but he remembers dozens of names and life stories of Ukrainian guys about whom he cares a lot.

This is a special man. When he hears about a problem or a need, he immediately starts thinking how he can help. It is important to mention that it happens despite the fact that many boys cheated him and just brazenly used him. Most probably, I could not do the same as John.

When one of the boys behaves badly, John tries to understand the reasons for his behavior and often repeats: “I might have done the same”.

I do not know whether John was such a person before our acquaintance, but I know that he was born in the small American town of Lakeland, Florida in 1945,  His maternal grandfather was the pastor of the Methodist church, and his paternal grandmother had a restaurant and hotel, which later his parents inherited. John worked every summer in this restaurant from age 12 to 24. When he met Marilyn, and a new page began in his life.

It was love at first sight. After the first date, he told her that he wanted to marry her - and she just laughed. But after that moment, he sent her a bouquet of roses every Monday and every other weekend he flew from Florida to Pennsylvania, where she was attending college, and happily, after some time they got married.

02One can confidently say that they have a happy marriage life, and it has been going for 45 years.

However, John told me that in the first years of their married life, they often had conflicts since two strong personalities faced each other and wanted to claim leadership. However, love covered everything. Despite the apparent well-being, a good relationship, a wonderful son, money, nice house, cars, etc. that did not bring full happiness and they felt a void in their life.

In Orphanage in Alexandria 

Marilyn was the first to look for a solution. In fact, they considered themselves Christians, but rarely talked about God, and did not attend any church. Partly because they often were moving frequently because of John’s job, and during Sundays they always found to do something. But that time, Marilyn was attending women’s Bible group study and it was there where she concluded that their family was not centered on Christ. She learned some important biblical principles of family life, of husband’s and wife’s roles assigned by God. There was a need for spiritual growth, communication and a need to be involved in a church.

Thus, while being mature people, John and Marilyn have established/built their relationship with God, joined the church and began to take part in Sunday school, as well as in various church’s ministries.

During our conversations with John, I am convinced that only God can make a person or a family happy and satisfied. I am glad that we have a mutual friend - Jesus Christ.

John and Marilyn Whittemore became the members of the Second Presbyterian Church which has a focus on missions. In 2000, they were invited to participate in a mission trip to Kazakhstan to work with children and students. For them it was the first travel outside the United States. The following year, the opportunity to travel to 03Ukraine with a team of volunteer dentists appeared. John said that he had only one day to give an answer whether to join a team or stay at home. When he agreed, he did not know that his "yes" was a “yes” to a long-term ministry preaching the Gospel to children in Ukraine.

Christian Summer Camp in Carpathian Mountains, 2012

John was never special in his sentimentality, or some special attitude and love toward children, but God changed his heart so that it attached to orphans forever. Interestingly, this attachment is a mutual commitment. Children and adolescents, who have difficult time to establish relationships with others, just reach for John. Sometimes, he goes to a new orphanage and he wonders how he will be accepted. But just after 15 minutes after his arrival, he is in the circle of children, trying to meet someone, boy friendly pats on the head; someone else confidentially looks into his eyes. As a translator/interpreter, I have witnessed this many times. It is amazing to observe!

By the way, I did not tell how we met each other. It was in 2004, in a summer Christian camp, organized by International Public Organization “Hope to People” for orphans of Rivne. I was 15 and I was entrusted a serious task – to translate for the leader of the 04American team, who was helping in conducting the camp. It did not take us a long time to find some common interests and literally and figuratively, we found each other.

Each of his  subsequent visits deepens our mutual understanding and friendship.

John visits the children at four orphanages in Rivne region: Mizoch, Klevan, Verba and Olexandria. He spends some time with graduates of orphanages who continue their studies, always comes for winter and summer camps. He attempts to reach a broader range of kids in order to talk to them about life and about their relationship with Jesus Christ.

MIzoch Orphanage 

If I were asked what the main quality of John’s character is, I would say - loyalty: loyalty to the given Word, faithful dedication to and orphans, loyalty to God. Some people asked him, “Why do you always come back? Can’t you help people in the US?”

He answers like: “I come back because I love the children and believe that God has prepared me and gave me the opportunity with the purpose. I love the Ukrainian people and culture. I feel that I can influence the hearts of children in orphanages and dorms. I often saw people from the U.S. and other countries come to the orphanages, take pictures with the kids, give them gifts, and then leave and never return. I initially felt that these children need continuity, because most of them never felt love and never had long positive relationships with adults. When I arrive, the first question is, "When do you go back?”, and the next question is “When do you come back?”. There is nothing special in me. God gave me a strong love for these children, and they feel it and know that I care and pray about them. Some may try to use my friendship to get what they want. But I understand that such stories happen since they had a lifetime to achieve what they need or want in any way possible. They must finally understand what true friendship and love is.

Today in Memphis (USA), there are many low-income families and families where there is only one parent or one of a grandparent. We have serious problems with drugs and alcohol. The situation is similar to Ukrainian. However, in the United States there are many opportunities to assist people both materially and spiritually; there are many private organizations and churches that are trying to meet their needs. During t three years, I served teenagers in prison for juvenile offenders near Memphis. I visit them twice a week to talk about the Gospel and a changed life. But my heart belongs to Ukraine. It is God’s will”.

Believe me, it is not easy for John to travel every two months and to adapt to the 8 -hour time difference, or get used to other foods and be separated from family; moreover, there are times when John does not understand the language. In addition, it takes a lot of money to cover all the expenses. Prayer support, patience and understanding from Marilyn, who also at least once a year comes to Ukraine, as well as prayer support of the church is impressive and these factors serve for me as a real example of true Christian life and ministry.

Serving orphans is one of the greatest blessings that can be enjoyed. Scripture teaches that every Christian should feel responsible for the orphans and widows and help them in different situations in different ways. But there are people who are directly intended to serve orphans and specific gifts of the
05Holy Spirit are given to them, so that they may love, build relationships and serve these children. Among these people are my good friend John Whittemore. I am proud of our friendship and thank God for him.

Roman Dolya


Sermon at the Winter Christian Camp in Carpathian Mountains, 2013



Pray for orphans

• for the health of Mary Ivanchyk (she has lupus erythematosus);

• we thank God for the healing of Anton Garbar;

• for boys’ spiritual growth, who live in Bondarchuk family. Sergey, Igor and Andrei started to attend the lessons for Baptism preparation at the church “Source of Life” in Zdolbuniv;
• job search for orphanage graduates and housing for children-orphans. In summer, students Vanya and Sergey (from Bondarchuk family) are planning to go to Germany to work;
• liberation of children from smoking addiction;
• the central sewage system in Bondarchuk family house;
• gratefulness to God for people, who support children from orphanages and orphanage graduates.

Latest update:

Prayer Newsletter # 1 / 2019

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