Local group working to get more orphans out of Ukraine

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 10:10 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2022 at 10:20 AM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - An Alabama organization called Bridges of Faith is racing against war to help children in Ukraine. Volunteers are on the ground, working through chaos and mounting tension to give a group of orphans a better life.

Dr. Tom Benz, president of the Bridges of Faith exchange program based in Chilton County, has been involved in Ukraine for the past 25 years. He knows all too well that orphans are often left behind in dire times and said his team is committed to rescuing as many kids as possible.

Bridges of Faith has its roots in the late 1990s when Benz first began going to eastern Europe. He was a regional director for the International Bible Society and placed in a Ukrainian orphanage.

“The children have never let go of my heart,” Benz said. “In two years I had spun off from the bible society and formed the roots of what is now Bridges of Faith. I’ve spent chunks of my life in Ukraine with kids, working to bring them here. For me, I feel like it’s an outworking of my faith.”

In 2007, Bridges of Faith acquired a 140-acre retreat center in Chilton County for Ukrainian orphans. About 500 orphans have come to Alabama through the program and nearly 200 have been adopted.

“If I could bring those children and put them in front of the people of Alabama, I believed that the people of Alabama would respond and they did,” Benz said.

Despite immense hurdles, Benz and his team are not slowing down to bring another group of orphans home from Ukraine. They are currently connected to about eight Ukrainian children in the adoption pipeline. Bridges of Faith is now building a war chest to cover initial expenses to get these children out of the country and into their forever homes. Benz said the funds will cover document expenses, transportation and temporary housing in Poland.

“The larger the number, the more difficult the logistics are to make this happen in every way,” Benz said. “But we are committed to rescuing as many kids as we can from this situation.”

Benz understands the immense work this involves. But he is trying to stay positive and focus on how far Bridges of Faith has come.

“I can only say that I am enormously and eternally grateful for the people of Alabama in the ways that they have helped us,” he said. “They have volunteered, they have donated their time and their money to help hundreds of kids who really do need our help.”

Benz recalled one moment in particular that’ll he never forget. It was his 60th birthday, and a group of kids who had gone through the Bridges of Faith program joined him to celebrate at the retreat center in Chilton County. Benz said a little girl named Olive, who likely had too much cake and ice cream, was running around the cafeteria.

“When she came past me, I grabbed her, I tickled her and she began to cry out, ‘Save me papa, save me papa!’”

Benz put her down and little Olive took another lap around the dining room. Benz grabbed her again, tickled her and so on.

“It was only as I was driving home, that I understood this,” Benz said. “I realized that 45 days earlier this little girl didn’t have a papa to save her. That’s why she was crying that out...because she could. Now she had a papa to save her. Every little girl needs a papa to save her, and every little boy needs a mom to put him in bed at night. That’s why we do what we do.”

Volunteers with Bridges of Faith are continuously working to get orphans out of Ukraine and to their adoptive families.

Bridges of Faith volunteers were able to get a large group of orphans to safety. However, the adoption process is frozen and it’s going to be for a while.

Now, volunteers are shifting their focus to keeping kids fed and cared for in Poland and other safe areas as the war continues.

A team going back overseas at the end of April will try to find these orphans a place to stay until they are able to get to their adoptive families in the U.S.

“When you see people reunite, as we had the opportunity to see, and you see the joy and you realize, all the stuff that’s so important to us in life, just really isn’t that important. We want kids to have a childhood,” said Tom Benz. “We want kids to have a home that is safe. We want orphans to have a mom and a dad.”

If you’d like to donate or get involved, you can visit the Bridges of Faith Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/BridgesofFaith/

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