As the country of Ukraine experiences its coldest winter in six years, with a reported 100 deaths in the past week, a semester-long mission project by Liberty University students is helping children stay warm.
Two sisters, with the help of fellow classmates and friends, made and collected 280 blankets that they distributed to children in Ukraine in January.
Growing up on the mission field and as pastor’s kids, Liberty students and sisters Natalie and Tiffany Waters have a passion for sharing the gospel. Natalie, 23, is a missionary aviation major, and Tiffany, 21, is studying psychology and counseling. During a mission trip to Russia five years ago, they lived in an orphanage for three days. They recalled how frigid the weather was during the winter months.
“We were just freezing cold, and we knew we needed to do something about it,” Natalie said. “Our family sits around and talks about different ideas about how we could get involved in missions and we thought of making fleece blankets for the children and delivering them to help keep them warm.”
The sisters took their idea to Liberty campus pastor Christopher Deitsch, who oversees the student prayer groups that meet in residential halls once a week.
“It was a two-fold project,” Deitsch said. “First, it was a way where we could make a difference quickly in orphans’ lives around the world. Secondly, it was a project where prayer groups could connect and interact together by making the blankets and writing notes.”
Throughout the fall semester, students made 250 blankets for children. The Waters sisters received 30 blankets from other people who heard about their efforts, collecting 280 total.
Each prayer group inserted a hand-written note and picture in the blanket, between the two layers of fleece that the students tied together.
On New Year’s Day, Natalie and Tiffany flew from their hometown of Washington, D.C., to Kiev, Ukraine, to begin their 10-day mission trip.
Working with a local missionary, the sisters went to many places to deliver the blankets, including a state-run orphanage, an orphanage for disabled children, a hospital and a transition home that helps teenage girls learn a trade so they will not fall victim to human trafficking.
“The children feel so loved when they receive the blanket,” Tiffany said. “Most of them don’t have anyone who sends them a note or a gift. But when someone who doesn’t know them shares so much with them, it means more than we can understand.”
On Jan. 7, the day Ukrainians traditionally celebrate Christmas, the sisters went to a hospital and visited children receiving kidney dialysis.
The Waterses said the notes in the blankets provided a way to share the gospel and build relationships with the local missionaries.
“One of the little boys pulled out his note with the verse Ephesians 6:13 and he asked the missionary to translate it,” Natalie said. “The missionary pulled out his Russian Bible and then gave it to the boy’s mom. While this happened, the director of the hospital was there and asked for more children’s Bibles to be distributed to other patients.”
The Waterses said they hope to lead similar projects in the future.
“The blanket represents people praying for that child,” Tiffany said. “I hope people continue to pray and just remember that they are still in need. They have warmth, but they still need God’s love.”