Interview with senior pastor of "Church of Good Changes" in Mariupol, Gennady Mokhnenko.
Gennady Victorovich Mokhnenko, is a founder of 32 rehabilitation centers for children and adults, among them a major childrenís rehabilitation center "Republic Pilgrim" in CIS, an initiator of many community efforts that combat the spread of drugs, and a partner of "House of Bread" church.
Gennady Victorovich, tell us a little about yourself. Where you came from and the kind of family you grew up in?
I didnít have the privilege to be born into a family of believers. Instead, I grew up with alcoholic parents. Since early childhood I was afraid to cross the threshold of our home for the fear that I was going to find my parents in a violent drunken fight or worse, dead from continuous drinking. Perhaps, the reason I can easily connect with boys in "Republic Pilgrim" is because I am very familiar with their hardships. My sister was an alcoholic, but God extended mercy to the whole family. He saved my father, mother, and sister.
Gennady, why homeless children? Perhaps you had a life situation which inspired you to minister or simply love and desire to help this specific group of children?
One of the most important divisions of my ministry is "Church must be in the problem!" Ministry to homeless or street kids was a result of the early nineties; our city was overwhelmed with abandoned kids. Due to turbulent social upheaval they ended up outside reach of family care and support, in the sewer hatches, basements, heating facilities, and attics.
Many of them lived in these conditions for numerous years. Some have died. Almost every one of them ended up an alcoholic and a drug addict. Nothing extraordinary took place, plainly put, God let us see their dark world and enter it. In the beginning we only provided food for homeless boys. However, after they came to our church we saw no other option but to accept them. As a result, the purchased church building was converted into children's rehabilitation center, which was destined to become the largest Christian institution of its kind in Ukraine.
How many years the "Republic Pilgrim" has been in existence? Presently, how many kids live there and how many went through rehabilitation?
Starting with the former street children, our state will soon turn ten years old. Already eight years passed since we officially founded our "Republic" in the face of numerous struggles and resistance from various structures. Over the years more than 2000 teenagers and children have passed through our ministry. We have been able to return more than a half of them to families and orphanages. Unfortunately, more than a few have died. Of course, we have a considerable percentage of those who write to us from prisons, and praise God that many of them upon release return to normal life and re-appear in church, which was once their home. Presently, about seventy teenagers are going through rehabilitation at "Pilgrim".
By which methods do you guide the rehabilitation of drug addicted children and adolescents?
All of our experience has demonstrated that without a thorough "conversion", without a genuine "new birth" even the most wonderful pedagogical tactics will not work. Our main goal is to give these kids a foundation, a stronghold to lean upon in this life. As it is well known, itís necessary to turn the world upside down. World of despair, hate, atmosphere of alienation and anger cannot be changed without this solid foundation. Certainly, we see this lever transform people's fate through Christian faith.
What is the future fate of "Pilgrim" graduates? Do you keep in contact with them after they complete rehabilitation?
Some teenagers who spent only a short time with us before returning to their families or orphanages are, of course, outside our field of vision. However, we believe that even a short experience in the Christian children's rehabilitation center, leaves a positive footprint in their life and we have enormous collection of stories supporting this claim. Of course, we have very close ties with those who grew up in "Republic Pilgrim," have finished school, and are actively working at the center. Presently, we are babysitting a considerable number of grandchildren born of girls who once have been dragged out of basements by us. Increasingly, we rejoice over yet another wedding of our once barefooted boys. Quite a few guys attend church and many are involved in the "Church of Good Changes" ministries. For example, the leader of our music ministry is a twenty one year old youth who we brought from Mariupolís basements when he was only twelve year old. He lived in the basements since age six. And presently, heís my adopted sonny and has already become a professional musician, amazing guitarist, author and singer of remarkable Christian songs. I hope this year we will be able to release his first album.
Unfortunately, there are those who live differently than what we have desired for them. Yet, the pleasing fact is that with every year more of these youths once again appear at church services, and of course, we especially try to help them steer out of their problems.
Gennady Victorovich Ė Not only are you a pastor, but also a husband and a father, if I am correct, you have 22 kids. Possibly among them there are children who didnít have a family before?
To be more accurate, twenty four kids. But not all of the kids live with me. Some have already grown up and begun their own independent life. A portion of the teenagers live with me in our neighboring family house. In the house where we live, we are in a tight space with our numerous kids, which can usually fit no more than 11 to 13 people. Already, this can be called a stretch. The vast majority of these kids have parents, but very unstable according to various indicators. Some of these parents are going through recovery in our adult rehabilitation centers. But of course, some of our kids are true orphans.
How does your wife respond to your calling Ė ministry to abandoned children?
My wife, of course, is a special woman. I am simply proud of her courage. During all seventeen years of this ministry she has been alongside me, and without her amazing resilience I would not have the capacity to carry on with the ministry which was entrusted to us by our Father. She is incredible. Our wedding had a budget of fifty cents. During the first ten months of our married life she carried on through an unstable regime under the slogan "Forgive. Today, I donít know where weíre going to spend the night". Sixteen apartments were rented during the first six years of our pastoral ministry. Threats from drug traffickers who were caught in our grip as a result of "Obrydlo!" effortÖÖ Iíll tell you straight, there are only a few pastors who can boast about such a life partner.
How did you feel when you adopted your first child? Is it hard: to raise other people's children?
Frankly, I didnít even grasp it mentally at the time I was given custody of my first adopted child, for who our officials had no solution. But overtime they simply become family and you cannot imagine your life without them.
Is your ministry directed at children and adolescents only, or do you also have rehabilitation centers for adults?
Yes, over the years we were able to establish a few adult rehabilitation centers in our community, initiated after working with two adult drug addicts who spend a night at my home. In the last ten years, collectively with other churches, from diverse denominations, we opened and founded 32 rehabilitation centers in Ukraine and Russia. This is an enormous work effort and itís extremely pleasing to watch it expand with every passing year.
Do public authorities participate in any of your social projects?
We have established good relations with the leadership of the city who in past few years and presently support us by paying the utility costs of our central building "Republic Pilgrim". Christians from other churches provide support in the form of clothes or other assistance. Of course, my special thanks to the pastors in the USA who accept us in their churches. We continually receive packages from Christians with return addresses from the United States. Presently, one of the Baptist churches collected a whole container with humanitarian supplies and we are very thankful for that. Itís an enormous help for our projects.
Undoubtedly, we express special gratitude to the "House of Bread" church. During the first visit a few years ago, Pastor Alexander, after a hand shake promised a partnership and since then we acknowledge and are grateful for the consistent and stable support.
The magnitude of statistics on mortality of drug addicts in Ukraine is alarming: more than 100 funerals a day. Are those statistics true?
I believe that these statistics are underestimating the reality. In my town alone, a few people die each day from this "plague". Nationally the numbers are horrifying.
One of your latest projects "You will be found," what is its essence? And what is the current stage of this project?
We started a continuous program which is an invitation to Christians to adopt children. We believe that the revelation of adoption has to overwhelm the Slavic believers who are currently spread across the face of the earth. We are convinced that the dramatic situation with 102 thousand orphans in Ukraine, and a minimum of 1.5 million orphans in Russia can be changed if Christians open their hearts and homes to abandoned children. With a few friends including famous author-singer Sergey Damidovich, we began this effort. Many churches are joining "You will be found" effort in one form or another, first by talking about adoption and taking action. Already, we are beginning to see increasing number of Christians who upon visiting the orphanages take children home. Our mega-dream is to see with our own eyes the closing of the last orphanage in our countries.
Television channel TBN promised and started to work on this goal with us. In September, we signed memorandum of intent to work together, spreading this vision in all communities and regions. We speak about this in churches. We rally with stops for performances in various cities. Studio TV-TOGETHER produced numerous films on the topic of adoption. In general, we have significant goals and we are seriously determined to change the situation in Ukraine and Russia.
Gennady, looking back on the path you have taken, would you have liked to change anything about your life? Why?
Traditional pastorís response. Perhaps, I would have spent a little more time with my wife and my children.
What is your dream or goal?
Celebrating the closure of last orphanage on the territories of the former USSR. In addition, a whole village populated with comfortable houses whose inhabitants are former street kids and their new adoptive parents.
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