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(From left) Mykola Kaiuk, a Ukrainian orphan, is spending the holidays with Thomasville’s Sheri Stewart, Dan Stewart and Jonathan Stewart. Kaiuk is part of the Love First Ministry that pairs older orphaned children from Ukraine with loving families in Thomasville for four weeks.

THOMASVILLE — Imagine going from having very little to having an abundance, especially love. Such is the case of seven young orphans from Ukraine who arrived here on Dec. 14.

According to Mary Beth Goodwin, founder of Love First Ministries, the children are receiving what the desperately need.

“It is so important for these kids to feel love. They need a tangible expression of love,” she said. “How can they understand that Jesus loves them, if they don’t know what love is?”

The visitors, ranging from 10 to 17 years in age, are in Thomasville with six host families until Jan. 14, 2015, as part of Goodwin’s ministry. It is partnered with Project 143’s national Hope Program. The program is designed to bring host families and orphans together to share values, beliefs and culture.

Project 143’s website states that “Without hosting, most of these children will eventually ‘age out’ of the orphanage system and never experience the life giving, life changing love that family provides.”

In unstable Ukraine, where civil unrest is rampant and the threat of a Russian invasion hangs over their heads, these orphans “are faced with so much sadness and difficulty,” explained Goodwin, “They are victims of emotional poverty — treated like they don’t have feelings. The old Soviet mentality is a child that is an orphan is lower class. They are treated differently.

“These children are pushed away.”

They are “aged out” of orphanages at 16, then pushed into trade school when they are totally unprepared to take care of themselves. They are shoved into the world unprepared for life. They often don’t know how to do basic things like tell time, cook, shop, budget, bank or even use a fork and knife.

Goodwin explained, “The dorms are dangerous, dirty, horrendous living conditions. If they don’t go to class, they can get kicked out on the street where life is even worse.”

“Could you imagine your 16 year old facing that?” she asked.

According to the World Orphan Project (Massachusetts) Ukrainian Orphan Statistics, there are more than 100,000 orphans in the Ukraine. Twelve thousand will “age-out” every year. Ten percent will commit suicide by their 18th birthday. Sixty percent of the girls will end up in prostitution. Seventy percent of the boys will enter a life of crime. Only 20 percent of orphans will find work.

Orphans are the kids that human traffickers target and exploit.

Goodwin said she hopes to remind these orphans of their value, to give them hope, to show them what a loving family is like and to teach them that they all have a Father — God — who loves them.

She said, “You never know who’s life you are touching. This child could be the next great Christian leader who changes the country for the better,” she said. “They need leaders in the Ukraine, productive citizens in their country who can go out to the nations. Whatever happens is up to God.”

She said it is like a “mission trip in reverse.

“We bring them here and they are adopted into a relationship with Christ,” she said. “They connect with families and stay connected. You wouldn’t believe it but they have phones and Skype and we can help them through the rough times they are facing and will face.”

Goodwin said that one of the visiting orphan boys was depressed after entering trade school. From Thomasville, she and her family were able to provide emotional support and encouragement to see him through it in the Ukraine.

“We can walk through life with these kids through technology,” she said.

Love First is also working with a sister organization in Ukraine to provide a bridge to help these children as they transition into trade school and society. It provides camps, mentoring and help with accountability, job applications, money management, etc.

Celebration Church is helping Love First Ministries by hosting most of the group activities in Thomasville. There will be game night, featuring ping pong, video games; a concert for the kids, providing praise, worship and speakers; and other events.

The Goodwins have spent the last six years working with orphaned children from the Ukraine through other agencies and ministries. They adopted a 14-year-old daughter. But Goodwin said, “The Lord was calling us to a more unique calling. We stepped out on our own the summer of 2014. We prayed about it and the Lord led us to this specific ministry.”

“Love First was a step of faith,” Goodwin recalled, “We were completely independent of others and literally started out at zero for donations. God is meeting our needs. Currently, the families pay the hosting fees, but we are hoping to raise enough to offer scholarships to offset costs.”

In the future, Goodwin said she would like to expand the ministry to provide a camp for the orphans and for American youth church groups to minister.

“Kids in Thomasville can have a huge impact on kids that have less,” she said, “It’s a very eye-opening experience for them to see it with their own eyes. It makes a change in their hearts.”

“I’m not sure what direction this will take, but it’s so important. I am very passionate about this.”