Ukraine and Kenya: Grant-Funded Discipleship in 2021 | UMC YoungPeople
Connecting young people and their adult leaders to God, the church, and the world
May 2021

Ukraine and Kenya: Grant-Funded Discipleship in 2021

By Chris Wilterdink

Young People’s Ministries offers two grant programs, the “Global Youth Service Fund” and the “Grants for Ministries with Young People” programs. Projects that seek these funds go through an application process and have those applications reviewed and approved by youth and young adult members of the Division on Ministries with Young People. Once projects are approved and payments are made, then we get to share together in the blessings of new expressions of discipleship and support for young people across the globe.

Part of the reporting process for approved projects includes a mid-year update. We thought it could be enlightening to share about two projects currently taking place in 2021. We’re also sharing the successes and challenges each project has faced within their first six months.

Eastern Kenya District: Discipleship & Leadership Training

Participants with their leadership certificates in Kenya.

The project organizer noticed a lack of connection between leadership and discipleship in their local churches and school settings. Without easy access to education through public schools, most educational opportunities happen because of churches and people of faith organizing and offering classes. Leaders that understand their ability to educate and care for the upcoming generation as a part of their call to discipleship become much more effective teachers, mentors, and community members. Our funds supported organization and training by local leaders, providing them the starting place to develop contextual resources.


  • Able to host an in-person training that included multiple levels of leadership from the local conference and district. Made great connections between educators and church leaders by utilizing the UMC church building in Gitimbine, Kenya. This allowed educators from the area to become familiar with the church, its desire to support students and educators, and plant seeds for future relationships.
  • Modified plans to account for social distancing and mask requirements. Preparing to measure the impact of trainings by increases of participation and presence in prayer ministries, fellowship groups, and evangelism opportunities.


  • Financial difficulties between international banks and treasurers. International banking is highly regulated to provide security in fund transfers. These layers of security, put into place by banks and financial institutions, can cause delays even for approved funds. The project leaders learned more about financial regulations than they ever expected.
  • Inflation affected the budget. Over the course of months, the value of a dollar compared to a Kenyan Shilling changed several times. Budgeting while trying to account for exchange rate changes are significant challenges!

Ukraine: Youth Ministry Support at St. John’s UMC in Lviv

Fellowship, discipleship, and a warm meal in Ukraine.

The Ukraine has been a hot spot of conflict, turmoil, and negative economic impacts from interruptions to fuel and food sources. This has negatively impacted communities and opportunities for young people. St. John’s UMC desired to start a ministry to connect and serve young people, providing them opportunities to improve their own health, the health of their family systems, and develop relationships to positively impact their future. Our funds supported improved access to food, heat, and safe gathering spaces for young people in Lviv and the surrounding areas. Originally, the plan was to create a semi-traditional gathering space and programming for young people, but COVID related lockdowns increased the need for meals, warmth, and internet access – so the project leaders pivoted their original plan and created a student center that cared for hearts and minds, as well as nourished bodies.


  • Creation of a student center that provided regular access to heat, food, and internet access for young people. This allowed the opportunity to evangelize and build relationships between young people in the community at the church.
  • Before COVID lockdowns, a combination of fellowship activities created an environment where young people, new to the church, were able to be present with each other for up to five hours per week. These hours included worship, bible study, meals, prayer groups, and fellowship. The relationships formed through these experiences, and in-person retreats allowed the group to better navigate social distancing restrictions that came with COVID.


  • COVID lockdowns, combined with international events, forced project leaders to innovate and meet new needs. Instead of building the first vision of ministry for young people, creating the plan for a student center came in to focus and took extra work by the leaders.
  • The ability for leaders to care for themselves amid meeting new needs for others became stretched thin during lockdown.


As the organization that helps provide funding to projects like these, and many others around the globe that positively impact discipleship, I also want to highlight a few positive lessons from these mid-year reports and offer encouragement to anyone out there considering projects that could impact the lives of young people in your context.

  • Good leaders can meet their original vision in a variety of ways. Both projects experienced challenges that were out of their control. Instead of stopping, they looked at what mattered in terms of impact and found new ways to create that impact.
  • Good leaders stay in communication with their ministry partners. During changes and challenges, these projects continued emailing and talking with us and the people directly involved in their ministry. This created buy-in and trust.
  • Good leaders learn from the unexpected. Both projects ran into unexpected barriers to effectiveness. They are in the midst of overcoming them and will reflect upon how they can better prepare and plan for next time.

Finally, if you are thinking about starting a project – connect with young people in your community and learn what they perceive as their needs and challenges. In the United Methodist Church, you are part of a connectional system that offers many opportunities to partner and resource ministry ideas that will come from your conversations with young people. Projects like these help us to engage our community and see all the people God has called us to be in relationship with. As ideas and projects take shape, involve youth in leadership, and reach out to your district, conference, and general agencies to discover ways to disciple others to transform your community and the world.

Chris serves as Director of Young People’s Ministries for Discipleship Ministries of the United Methodist Church. Chris has a BA in English Education, and an MS in Project Management, and over 15 years of local-church youth ministry experience. He is passionate about leadership and faith development in young people and helping ministry leaders understand their value in the lives of young people. A Stephen Minister, Chris is a native of Colorado living in Franklin, TN with his wife Emily, 2 children, and sausage-shaped beagle.