A group of cyclists came riding to a Southaven church this week bringing a message to all willing to hear about a global need for “the least of these.”
The numbers are likely higher now, but as of 2016 there were 153 million children in the world considered as orphans, according to United Nations Children's Emergency Fund statistics.
Members of Cornerstone Church in Southaven were introduced to the reality of the crisis in a unique way Wednesday evening when Ukrainian Pastor Gennadiy Mokhnenko and his team of youngsters rescued off the streets in his home community gave that message as part of their World Without Orphans Bike Tour.
Since 2011, the team has been in the process of riding around the globe to urge families to consider adoption, and if not adoption, supporting orphanages.
The trip has been a “family affair” for Mokhnenko.
“We started this tour seven years ago and each summer we would get nearly 3,000 miles with my adopted sons,” Mokhnenko said.
This year marks the final leg of the global trip, which is taking the team from Laguna Beach, Calif. to Miami, Fla.
The entire trip is being funded through a Christian organization called Serving Orphans Worldwide (SOW), of which Ken Anderson is the Vice President of Operations.
“The orphan crisis is costly and it is complicated,” Anderson said. “There’s no more complicated ministry anywhere in the world than a children’s residential program, such as an orphanage or a children’s home. There are legal complications, relational complications, all kinds of complications.”
Mike and Sandy Forbis, who attend Cornerstone Church, are members of the SOW Board of Directors.
Mokhnenko, more simply referred to as Pastor Gennadiy (jen-NAH-dee) said he himself has adopted 32 children over 19 years and is part of the Pilgrim Orphanage program in the Ukraine.
“This is our dream about a world when all orphans wake up in the morning and can hug their parents,” Mokhnenko said. “We are just sharing our message for adoption. My story is crazy but if people can adopt just one or maybe two. If we would do this, it would be an unbelievable result with no orphans.”
Beyond the sacrifice of spending days on a bicycle, talking to people and urging them to consider adoption, Mokhnenko also knows family members he has left back in the Ukraine are living in the middle of violent strife. But he presses on to spread the message because it is a calling for him.
“I am from the Ukraine and we have war nine miles from where I live and it’s not so easy for us to be here,” Mokhnenko said. “Praise the Lord, this amazing Christian organization (Serving Orphans Worldwide) stays with us and organized all of our trip.”
At the same time, a group of Cornerstone Church members are putting their own “wheels in motion” to spread their message overseas themselves, said group leader Bobby Cavette, who helps lead mission efforts to Asia for the church.
They have planned a cycling trip overseas and will spend time at an orphanage in Thailand.
“We train here in the States and then with local events we offer support and we also raise money for a children’s home in Chiang Rai, Thailand,” Cavette said. “On Oct. 11 we will depart Memphis and land in Bangkok. We will put our bikes back together and do four days of 100 miles a day from Bangkok to Chiang Mai to meet the 140 kids who are going to come. We’ll go on a safari, go to an aquarium and just hang out as a family.”
Cavette said listening to Pastor Gennadiy Wednesday night was inspiring.
“It gives us ideas because we do the same thing on a different scale here,” Cavette said.
Corporate sponsorships involving promotion on their shirts and jerseys are helping fund the Cornerstone Church trip to Thailand.
“It makes me feel like we’re doing something for someone who has no ability to repay us,” Cavette said. “We don’t do it for a pat on the back. We know that it’s tough and we know it’s difficult but we do it for the right reason and we don’t expect anything from it.”
Mohknenko said interested people may receive updates on their global trip by texting “orphan” to the number 797979.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.