Peaceful visit to U.S. – Locals open hearts to children

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 3, 2004

One little boy had never seen a baseball game before and never fished with a cane pole.

One little girl had never ridden a bicycle, discovered she like what she called &uot;sweet beans&uot; and was impressed by the size and low prices of a Wal-Mart.

One child was introduced to cereal for the first time and ate it for breakfast, lunch and supper.

The children in question are among 13 orphan boys and girls, ages 10 to 16, who look like youngsters most anywhere. But these children are different.

They are orphans from the Ukraine who speak no English other than what little they’ve picked up the past few days while visiting Shelby County, such as &uot;thank you,&uot;

&uot;fish&uot; and &uot;are you alright?&uot;

It is the hope of Don and Melanie Langner of

Shelby Shores and The Children’s Voice Foundation, however, that after their exposure to life in Alabama and a brief stay with them in their home, all of the children will be adopted by American families.

Melanie said the youngsters include eight boys, five girls and four sibling groups.

She said they were selected for a vacation in America as a reward for good grades or good behavior.

This odyssey by 13 Ukrainian youngsters to Alabama began with the Langners, who had been trying for years to have children of their own.

When they did finally have a boy of their own, Melanie said, &uot;We felt like God was leaning on us to help other people to create a family.&uot;

She explained that She and Don, along with Larry Gibson and Anita Gibson were co-founders of

The Children’s Voice Foundation whose mission it is to &uot;provide support to orphans all over the world.&uot;

And according to the organization’s web site, the foundation is &uot;a non-profit Christian organization.&uot;

Other members of the foundation include Jennifer Crisman, Alesha Smith and Derek Deavers. Larry Gibson is president.

The idea for the organization took root at Wilsonville Baptist Church where the founders listened to a missionary about a recent trip to China and work with orphans.

According to the website, &uot;Statistics tell a frightening tale, in Eastern Europe children are released from the orphanage when they are 16-years-old to fend for themselves. Within two years of ‘graduation,’ 70 percent will become involved in crime or prostitution and 15 percent will commit suicide.&uot;

Contributions to The Children’s Voice provide life-changing benefits such as education, nutrition, clothing, nurturing and medial care when it is most needed.

The immediate goal of the foundation is to expose the children residing with the Langners to as many people as possible with the hope that at least one will be adopted.

Another goal is to partner with churches, missionaries and foundation currently working with orphans. The foundation will provide necessary supplies for missionaries to meet the needs of the orphanages they serve.

And the long range goal is to sponsor new missionaries in areas where they are most needed to establish and oversee safehouses for children being released from orphanages due to the age limits.

The Children’s Voice also wants to offset the cost of adoptions in the future, sends missions to orphanages and helps set up transitional homes for youngsters from orphanages to the real world.

Melanie said the age a child graduates from an orphanage in the Ukraine is largely dependant upon the director of the orphanage.

She said of the 13 Ukrainian children: &uot;This was the first mission we felt we were called to do.&uot;

According to Melanie, she and her husband are presently going through a Ukrainian adoption and using an organization called Sense Resource Center in Virginia to make it happen.

They have completed a home study for the Citizens Nationalization Service, formerly the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS).

While in the adoption process, Melanie said she and her husband were asked if they were be interested in hosting 15 Ukrainian orphans after another family had backed out.

&uot;We said, yes,&uot; she exclaimed.

Melanie said The Children’s Voice raised $22,500 to get the children to Alabama. And 13 came.

&uot;Our goal is to evangelize them to hopefully give them exposure to people who might

be won over by their great personalities and want to take them home,&uot; she said.

While Melanie said potential adoptive parents might use another adoption agency, she and her husband are representing The Sense Resource Center.

While she said the youngsters must return to their home in the Ukraine on Aug. 7, they are available to be adopted.

Don said of the youngsters, &uot;They think they are here for vacation.&uot;

But he said it is the mission of he and his wife to give them &uot;vacation, evangelism and adoption.&uot;

Yuri, the interpreter who came with the youngsters, said the Ukraine has cold winters with temperatures of minus 20 and summers that range from 80 to 85 degrees but with much lower humidity than here in Alabama.

He said it is warm there when the sun is out. But he said here (in Alabama) it is hot when the sun is not out.

While in Alabama, according to Don and Melanie, the youngsters toured a newspaper; the Shelby Baptist Association provided them with new shoes and clothes; they visited Vision Land, a Birmingham Barons’ baseball game, went to the Amazing Grace Worship Center

in Saginaw and even visited Wal-Mart.

Don said the youngsters arrived with only the clothes they were wearing and one change of clothing.

While the Ukraine is a community state, Yuri said the youngsters can keep the clothes that were a personal gift to them or give them away as gifts to other children upon their return.

Natalia Yezhova, 13, is one of the adoptive children.

Through Yuri, Natalia said she enjoyed the different tours, VisionLand’s roller coaster and meeting Americans. She said she likes American food.

And she never had sweet beans (baked beans) before, which she likes.

About hamburger and hot dogs: &uot;We have them, but they are not as popular,&uot; according to Yuri. Natalia also said she would like to return to America some day.

Natalia celebrated her birthday in Alabama and learned to ride a bicycle for the first time.

Konstantin Voloshyn, another 13-year-old orphan, had never seen a baseball game before. He said he enjoyed his outing to see the Birmingham Barons and that he plays soccer in his native land. He also enjoyed VisionLand and the pool at the Langners’ home.

He had never fished with a cane pole and tried to catch fish with his bare hands.

Through Yuri, he said in America, &uot;The fish are more wild and the worms are wild, too.&uot;

Konstatin said he would also like to return to America and that he enjoyed trying to communicate and learn words like &uot;hello, fish and are you alright.&uot;

Other orphans making the trip include: Yulia Ivanchenko, Igor Ivanchenko, Vyacheslav Proyava, Olga Popova, Mikhail Matyushko, Natalia Lich, Victoria Lich, Andrey Selezniov, Yevgeniy Tolochin, Vitaliy Tolochin and Vasiliy Yurchenko