South Isanti Baptist Church holds fundraiser for Ukraine trip

The majority of the kids who attended last year’s day camps.
The majority of the kids who attended last year’s day camps.

South Isanti Baptist Church is hosting a fundraiser to raise money for an annual trip a small group of its parishioners take to Ukraine.

A traditional Ukrainian greeting with bread and salt.  Photos provided by Sandy Buckingham
A traditional Ukrainian greeting with bread and salt. Photos provided by Sandy Buckingham

The church has had a sister congregation in Smila, Ukraine, since 1993, and members of the congregation made the trip overseas for the first time in 1994. While there, they host day camps for kids, providing them Bible study time, English lessons, games and plenty of snacks from the U.S.

The fundraising event for this year’s trip will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday, April 30, at South Isanti Baptist Church. The event is free to attend, although donations are welcome. It’s set to feature desserts, a silent auction and music from comedy-gospel-bluegrass group the Mystery Mountain Boys. Proceeds from the silent auction will go toward the trip. Items for the auction have been donated.

The annual trip is a remnant from a period in the early 1990s when the Baptist General Conference was establishing sister church relationships in Ukraine for many congregations in the U.S. following the country’s separation from the Soviet Union. Many of the relationships established between churches at that time have faded away in the ensuing decades, but South Isanti Baptist Church’s relationship remains strong.

Ann Venneman (left), Sandy Buckingham (right) and their Ukrainian translator Anya Fartushna (center) amid Ukraine’s famous sunflower fields.
Ann Venneman (left), Sandy Buckingham (right) and their Ukrainian translator Anya Fartushna (center) amid Ukraine’s famous sunflower fields.

Ann Venneman went on the trip for her first time last year.

“Our church is probably one of the most active in Minnesota that still maintains that relationship,” she said.
Sandy Buckingham has been traveling to Ukraine to help lead the day camp each year since 1998.

“After 20-some years they become family,” Buckingham said. “I don’t see it dying.”

South Isanti Baptist Church is a small congregation. Typically a small number of its members go to Ukraine, and Buckingham has sometimes even made the trip by herself.

Buckingham has had some wild experiences in Ukraine over her repeated trips, both good and bad, but nothing to scare her away yet. Her son married the daughter of a former pastor of their sister church in Smila, meaning some of the overseas congregates have become her literal family over time. One year, she broke her leg and had to have surgery in a Ukrainian hospital.

A church service at South Isanti Baptist’s sister church in Smila.
A church service at South Isanti Baptist’s sister church in Smila.

“No CAT scan other than the cat sitting next to the X-ray machine,” she said.
Buckingham and Venneman both see the physical presence of representatives from South Isanti Baptist in the country each year as important and making a difference. Some people will ask why they don’t just send money over, but Venneman said that’s no substitute for the commitment shown by going there themselves.

On their arrival at their sister church last year, she recalls the gathered kids who attend the day camps yelling for “Sandichka” (Sandy), remembering Buckingham from her years of previous travel. Sometimes as many as 175 kids attend the day camps.

“It’s a Biblical thing too,” Venneman said. “We’re called to fellowship and to reach out to other believers.”