The plight of the Ukrainian people is of particular concern to Christopher Green.
An Evangelical-Christian missionary in orphan ministries, Green and his wife Monique — parents of four — adopted two Ukrainian children two and half years ago, and were moved by the plight of the orphans they met in Eastern Europe. Yet, he admits, “We realized that we could not adopt them all, and had to find a way to further our involvement in this world issue.”
Inspired by the ecumenical cooperation he has witnessed in recent months in Ukraine, Green has been reaching out to the Catholic Church for help with his mission. The Long Beach native returned to the Los Angeles area two weeks ago to share the vision of his organization, Vision for the Children International (VFTCI), with hope for gaining Catholic supporters in favor of helping Christian mission across denominational lines.
“Sadly, the majority of children living as orphans today have living parents or relatives,” says Green. “These children, often called ‘social orphans,’ live in deplorable conditions and lack the emotional and physical needs that are so important to healthy development and a successful life.”
During his visit, Green met with Father Alexei Smith, head of the Los Angeles Archdiocese’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. As pastor of St. Andrew Russian-Greek Catholic Church in El Segundo, Father Smith is well acquainted with eastern churches, in addition to participating in ten local inter-denominational and interreligious dialogues.
Invited by the Arcángel Film Festival, a new program of San Gabriel Mission that will promote Christian unity in mission, Green filmed a promotional video to assist Vision for the Children International in its orphan prevention outreach in Eastern Europe; the video will be shown at the festival July 19 at the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse as an example of how Christians can be a powerful voice when unified.
“Today all around us disasters are happening or imminent — some in our own backyards and some in other countries,” said Green, raised as a Baptist. “Who named us Protestants, Baptists, Lutherans, Nazarene, Catholics, Orthodox and non-denominational? We are His body, and in this time in society and in our world today it is imperative that we unite and put down our differences and realize we are all one in Christ. We have a hurting and dying world that desperately needs our unified love and care.”
A complicated plight
Eastern Europe has some of the highest orphan rates in the world, Green told The Tidings. “Often,” he notes, “the only reasons a child is surrendered to the government are lack of education and adequate income to support the family.”
After adopting his two Ukrainian children, Daniel (12) and Lydia (10), Green worked with a U.S.-based, Christian non-profit to establish and support group homes for aged-out orphans in Ukraine, where the orphans’ plight has been further complicated by violent unrest that has only recently subsided.
A little over a year ago, Green began working with humanitarian missions in the country of Georgia. It was a simple prayer request for some homeless families that inspired him to establish a transitional home for abandoned mothers with children. His group obtained housing for them and worked with local professionals to start VFTCI to provide assistance in the city of Tbilisi, Georgia.
In Georgia, women who find themselves in an unplanned or out-of-wedlock pregnancy are often rejected by their families, kicked out of their homes by their own husbands, ostracized by society and sometimes abused.
“Women are treated like second-class citizens there,” says Green, adding that the courts regularly side with the man. “With few options, many have no choice but to turn to prostitution as means of income.”
Consequently, Georgia’s abortion rate (3.1 per woman) is reported as being the highest in the world, and could in fact be higher. “Many are not being reported due to social stigmas associated to having an abortion,” said Green.
Most of the churches in Georgia, he continued, are Russian Orthodox with a few Roman Catholic parishes. “I realized my need to understand the faith-culture, so that we could begin to build partnerships,” he said. “In the first year for VFTCI’s transitional home in Tbilisi, Georgia, six woman and seven children were saved from life on the streets and a possible future as an orphan in a government institution.”
Through international and local support, these families are being provided job training, life skills and counsel, housing, food and clothing. “It’s because of this that these families are getting a second chance at creating a loving home for their children,” Green said.
Recently the Georgian Health Ministry recognized their progress and asked VFTCI to help an at-risk family with four children and a mother who had been severely abused by the father.
“We immediately found a place for them to stay and provided for their care,” Green reported. “Unfortunately, this family was in a town four hours away from our transitional home and we were unable to provide the personal care we were accustomed to. So we began to reach out to the local churches in the area but none of them wanted to help.”
This led to the realization that his organization needed to learn how to build bridges with the other denominations. Without these working relationships they cannot reach the many that need help and care. Hence, the visit to California in search of support, including that of the Arcángel Film Festival.
“We hope the films will inspire a call to action — to motivate people to get involved in humanitarian efforts and front-line ministry working for various causes,” stated Tony Sands, festival production director.
For his part, Green is inspired by, and feels strongly connected to, the people of Ukraine.
“The country of Ukraine has gotten into the very fibers of my heart and soul,” he said, smiling that his family “is now partly Ukrainian and my lineage has Ukraine grafted into it, as we have adopted their children. I have an unbelievable respect and love for a people who have suffered such unspeakable tragedies over the centuries and yet continue to pick themselves up and press forward to a vision of hope and freedom.”
For information on Vision for the Children International, visit www.VFTCI.org. For information about the Arcángel Film Festival, visit www.sangabrielmissionchurch.org; e-mail [email protected], or call the San Gabriel Mission Playhouse: (626) 308-2865 ext. 240.