MANITOUWADGE -- Bethany Pentecostal Chapel in Manitouwadge was blessed by a visit from missionary, Ed Dickson, who shared some stories of both war and hope in the Ukraine.
In 1991, Mr. Dickson, who hails from Leamington, Ont., was following a career in international agriculture when a ‘Tapestry of events’, as he describes it, brought him to Ukraine as the director of a Bible college. One day a fellow from Canada showed up with a suitcase full of toys to bring to orphans. Together, with help from the pastor, they were able to find one and drove the hour and a half to reach it.
They were not prepared for what they saw; the orphanage was filled with special needs children who had been institutionalized for various reasons, such as severe physical or mental disabilities. In one room there were 20 children living in cribs, some as old as 19. These children were being fed with a ladle, and were never taken outside of the building.
Feeling devastated at the deficit of love he’d witnessed, Ed realized he needed to do something for these children, and his life was set on a new path. Over the months that followed, Ed and some of his students would return daily to help the children experience human love through simple actions, such as stroking their heads, walking them in strollers, and helping them to express themselves through language and art.
One of the orphans, Natasha Nikolenko, who was born without functioning arms or legs, saw the other children painting and wanted to join in on the fun. She asked for a paintbrush to be put into her mouth, and the result was amazing! Her talent eventually caught the attention of the media, and she was honoured as a hero of Ukraine on national television. She was able to make a living by selling her work in the Ukraine.
Another of the children, Anton Kohl, had limited use of his limbs, but enjoyed swimming. Through medical procedures, diligence and prayer, he eventually became a champion swimmer. He just recently won two silver medals at the Tokyo Paralympic games, and a gold medal in the World ParaSwimming Championships in Madeira, Portugal.
To help Ed and his team out, a group in Chatham, Ont. started a charitable organization, called ‘Loads of Love’. They sent out shipping containers filled with humanitarian aid, clothing and other items to the orphanage. The organization has since expanded to a bigger warehouse and a huge thrift store, the profits from which go to pay the administrative expenses and costs of shipping the supplies.
In 2021, Ed and his team began delivering food and supplies to people affected by COVID. Over the course of that year, with the help of various churches, the team delivered groceries to over 10,000 struggling families. Since the war started in February 2022, the group has continued to deliver groceries, but have also taken on the task of evacuating people from affected neighbourhoods.
Ed is amazed at the resilience and determination of the Ukrainian people. “They’re strong,” he says, almost in awe. “It’s nothing for them. They’ll just get a shovel, turn the grass over in their yard, and plant potatoes. They know how to get through a crisis. They’re showing it to us now. They’re showing the world.”
The team now has 14 vehicles that, since the war started, they’ve used to evacuate more than 5,000 people, and have delivered supplies to more than 30,000 families. They’ve experienced much in their quest to help these people. They had a close encounter with missiles in Kharkiv; the target had been a factory, but hit a residential area instead, resulting in two deaths and multiple injuries. A pastor had a missile fall very near him, but didn’t explode, sparing his and his neighbourhood’s lives. The local grocery store was obliterated, and within one kilometre of Ed’s own home in Kiev, there are at least 15 destroyed Russian tanks.
Despite the destruction and tragedy, Ed is thankful. “I feel that one of the reasons I’m here today (in Manitouwadge) is to say thank you on behalf of Loads of Love and ERDO (Emergency Relief and Development Overseas) and everyone who has helped and is being helped, not only financially, but for your prayers as well. This is what people in other countries talk about when they think of Canada. Canada’s a country that helps other countries when they’re in trouble. It’s who we are.”
Natasha, the artist who was evacuated from the orphanage with the help of Ed’s team, now lives in an apartment in Sarnia, Ontario, donated by Vision Nursing and Rest Home, and is being assisted by Bethel Pentecostal Church. When asked if she had anything to say, she replied, “I think we should all just love each other a little bit more.”
Ed Dickson and his team are shining examples of how to love each other a little bit more. They are true blessings from God.
You can learn more about Ed’s mission and Loads of Love on their website at https://www.loadsoflove.org/