This December marked the first Christmas for Natalia Saveleva since the death of her husband, Sergei, in March. Sergei was one of five Ukrainian Christians who had been caring for 200 people living in a church basement in war-torn Mariupol since the start of the war in February. He and the other four were killed when a grenade hit their minivan as they were driving in search of medicine and supplies for those under their care.
“When I was left alone without my beloved husband Seryozha (Sergei), it was the most terrible and difficult day in my life,” Natalia told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “I simply did not know what to do and how to live further. I also had to leave my native town [due to the war]. It was impossible to stay there, it was very scary and unsafe. I just prayed that God would take care of me and send consolation.”
Her greatest concerns were for her two young sons.
Voice of the Martyrs Korea is delivering more than 4,500 packages to children of Christians who are suffering in China, Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Laos, Myanmar, Uzbekistan, and wherever North Korean Christians are found.
“I was very worried about my children, they remember and ask for Dad,” she told Voice of the Martyrs Korea. “I explained to them as best as I could that he was with God and he was fine there and that we all needed to try to live such a life in order to meet him in heaven, where he was waiting for us.”
She was surprised to be contacted by Voice of the Martyrs Korea, an organization which provides support for families of Christians who have been martyred or imprisoned because of their faithful witness to Christ. Voice of the Martyrs Korea Representative Dr. Hyun Sook Foley said they first learned about Natalia through their local contacts.
“When Christians, whom I didn’t even know before, started supporting me, I began to understand that God cared about me so much through His children, it was a great support and encouragement for me,” said Natalia. “When my children received gifts for Christmas, it was a great joy for them, I watched them all day how happy and interested they were in new toys, children need so little for joy, just to be loved and taken care of. I am very grateful to God for the people who took part in our life.”
The Christmas Care Package Mrs. Saveleva received was one of more than 4,500 which are being distributed this holiday season to children of persecuted Christians in nine countries by Voice of the Martyrs Korea, in partnership with Voice of the Martyrs Canada.
Sergei and Natalia Savelevs’ two children show their Christmas care packages received from Voice of the Martyrs Korea. Mr. Savelev was killed March 9, 2022 by a grenade launcher in Mariupol, Ukraine while caring for 200 people in a church basement. Mrs. Saveleva received support from Voice of the Martyrs Korea, including a Christmas Care package for her sons.
According to Representative Foley, the effort is not a mass distribution effort but instead a completely personalized one, in which local Christians determine the contents of the packages according to local or family-specific needs. Each package is built around a Children’s Bible or other Christian children’s book.
Representative Foley says that not all of the Christmas Care Package recipients suffered personal loss like Mrs. Saveleva, but all are children whose families either currently live in or have recently escaped from countries where practice of the Christian faith is illegal or restricted. This year, that included children in Christian families from China, Russia, Ukraine, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Laos, Uzbekistan, Myanmar and North Korea.
650 Christmas care packs were distributed to children in Laos. This Laotian boy is pictured with contents of the pack he received.
“In the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia, Protestant Christians have been facing constant suspicion and discrimination from their Orthodox neighbors because the Ethiopian president, who has been making war on Tigray, happens to be a Protestant Christian,” said Representative Foley. “There are virtual famine conditions in Tigray, with Protestant Christians facing particular challenges. So we worked with Christians in the region to provide Christmas Care Packages of food staples and Children’s Bibles to 500 children. But this was not just a humanitarian aid distribution. We worked together with the local Christians and received a list of each child by name so that we could pray for each one.”
Voice of the Martyrs Korea does the Christmas Care Package project annually. Representative Foley says the project has continued to grow each year.
“In 2021, with the help of our donors we raised funds and distributed over 1,700 Christmas Care packages,” says Representative Foley. “This year we exceeded 4,500, with the help of Voice of the Martyrs Canada. In fact, we received additional gifts from our donors in December that are enabling us to deliver more Christmas Care packages on through February.” Representative Foley notes that the ministry’s emphasis is not on increasing the quantity of packages distributed but instead on maintaining the individual personal connection with each recipient family.
500 children in the Tigray region of Ethiopia received a Christmas care package from Voice of the Martyrs Korea. This young boy is pictured with the children’s Bible he received in the care pack.
Representative Foley points to the story of a young Christian boy in Laos who previously received a Christmas Care package. “Laos is one of five remaining Communist countries in the world, and it is also strongly Buddhist. Christians, who are a very small minority in the country, are accustomed to a life of discrimination and difficulty, being cut off from others socially and often economically. One mother whose son received a package told us, ‘My son is very happy for the gifts. He never got such a gift in his life. My son prayed to God to give thanks. He was running around to my neighbors and said to them, “This is a gift from nowhere!”’”
Representative Foley asks for prayers for the distribution of the remaining Christmas Care packages. “In some of the nine countries where we are distributing this year, COVID, war, and close surveillance of local Christians by authorities makes distribution challenging, especially because it is not a mass distribution but rather an ‘underground’ delivery to specific children from persecuted Christian families which must be handled discretely. Please pray for those who are distributing the packs as well as the children who are receiving them.”
This Ukrainian girl show us the pack and Bible she received from Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
These Ukrainian children hold the Christmas care packs they received from Voice of the Martyrs Korea.
Representative Foley says that she is thankful to the Lord that none of the more than 4,500 packages were intercepted or confiscated by authorities. “I think this project is more miraculous than Santa Claus,” she said. “These are real children in real situations of war, famine, and persecution. When we do our work successfully, then Christian children will say what the boy from Laos said: ‘These are gifts from nowhere’—except heaven.”
Representative Foley says that Voice of the Martyrs Korea anticipates all packages to be delivered by the end of February.
Christmas care packs that were made for Christian children living in the mountains of Thailand, Myanmar and Laos.