SOVA: A parent association bringing together parents of HIV+ children, especially those who have been treated at Okmatdet in Kyiv. (SOVA is an acronym in Ukrainian and translates literally as ‘owl.”)

Traci Heim, a sweet friend and representative of Project Hopeful, was visiting the children at Okmatdet with Tanya and me when a new patient arrived, a baby in the arms of her parents. The staff quickly took the baby and began to ask all of the appropriate questions of the parents while concentrating on the newest little arrival. At the time, we were involved in a rousing game of BINGO with other patients. And Jim was teaching medical English to several of the doctors.

Gathering information, Traci innocently asked, “Who ministers to the parents?”

We had no answer.

A couple of days later while Traci and Tanya were both in our flat, Tanya confessed that the earlier question was haunting her. She said, “I can be that person.” And at that moment, SOVA was born.

Traci returned to Ukraine to kick off the ministry. One cold December afternoon while the patients were resting in their rooms, the parents hesitantly joined us for a special tea party celebrating the new ministry and an early recognition that Christmas was just around the corner. Most of the parents didn’t even know each other though they might have even been sharing a room — the stigma associated with HIV is so high that no one wants to divulge where they’re from nor how the children became infected.

By the time the home-baked owl cookies were all gone and everyone had received amazing gifts provided by Traci and generous friends (bags with all kinds of personal items — lotions, lipstick, jewelry, shampoo, etc. for the moms as well as super-soft blankets), we heard laughter, saw tears, and knew that hearts had been touched as Tanya shared her heart’s desire to serve each one of these parents.

Tanya visits the children and parents nearly every day and the bond of trust between these families is growing. Even after being discharged, many moms continue to call Tanya asking for her help in navigating the system.

We pray that one day these moms from all over Ukraine will be instruments of encouragement and God’s grace in their own communities.