by Mary Liz Flavin | news editor
April 7, 2022
At the age of 15, Andre was adopted by his new family and was set to leave Ukraine on March 10 of this year. Before he could begin his new life, the Russian invasion began on Feb 24, pulling young Andre away from his new parents. Over the next few days, Andre’s parents actively searched for their son, but being split between two parts of the world made it a challenge – all they had left was hope.
Through social media, the family reached out to the Music in World Cultures (MIWC), a non-profit organization that brings music and aid through missionary programs. Though divine intervention and the work of many, including the United States Embassy in Poland, Andre arrived a few days later and was reunited with his parents in the U.S.
Andre’s story is just one example amongst many families that Stephen Benham, professor of music education and chair of the performance department, along with MIWC has helped through their effort in supporting Ukraine.
It all began around 1992 when Benahm and his wife, Kris Benham, became more involved with their church. At the time the parish began hosting Ukrainian refugees after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Over time, through their efforts, the Benham family got connected with a family who were victims of Chernobyl.
The father worked at Chernobyl during the time of the explosion and had lost everything; they were from southern Ukraine. Through correspondence, the two families stayed in touch until in the spring of 1996, when the family invited the Benhams to visit them. What seemed like fate, Benham received a call from his father asking if he was interested in going to Ukraine because they were in need of a music educator.
“That was just a clear message to me from God that I need to do this, and had I known at that time what that would mean 30 years later and what that would mean in terms of taking 60 trips during that time…” Benham said. “Now expanding that ministry into all countries throughout Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Africa and Nepal, I don’t know if I would have got on the plane the first time. I would have been overwhelmed at the magnitude of everything.”
Benham joined his father’s non-profit organization, Music in World Cultures, where through cross-cultural ministry, musical education programs bring the world of music to those in need. Currently MIWC is working directly and with partner organizations in more than 25 countries across five continents. They have formed a coalition of internationally recognized musicians, teachers and other professionals committed to providing education, experience and more, according to the MIWC website.
According to Benham, the Ukrainian people were hungry for life and spiritual revival, and music spoke to them and brought life to them in ways other things couldn’t. After that trip, Benham and his family moved from Oregon to New York to help more and begin to establish musical programs in local churches and communities in Kyiv, Ukraine.
“We worked to grow an orchestra ministry over there. Over time, I began to understand Ukrainian tradition, and I began to understand their history,” Benham said. “Russia tried to destroy Ukrainian culture, language and created myths. I was entrenched in culture but my heart moved from music education to wanting to advocate for these people.”
The first music camps were held in the Tranoble zone in 2015 and have continued for several years. Not only have camps been held but multiple children’s programs, conferences and workshops for teachers. A major international conference called Ministry, Creativity and Mission was established to empower people to use creativity throughout their church and community.
With the recent attacks and upheaval that Russia has caused in Ukraine, the mission behind what Benham and his team established quickly shifted from a need to bring music to communities to an organization that provides humanitarian aid. Due to their large network of people both here in the U.S. as well as teams in Ukraine they were able to make their services mobile.
A new mission began with helping women and children get out of the country and into Romania and Germany. Supplies such as medical, food and clothing have been transported to the most affected areas. Medicine for chronic conditions such as thyroid, diabetas, hypertension and blood pressure have been given to areas in which they no-longer have access. On Wednesday, they sent $5000 worth of medical supplies and food in addition to two large pallets that were donated by Acuity International – an organization that gives aid to those who need humanitarian assistance.
In addition, Benham and his team are helping women and girls who have been assaulted and raped. Currently they are in the process of determining how to provide rape kits as well as medication that can aid those who are HIV positive or have any other sexual transmitted diseases. Many organizations that MIWC has worked with over the past 25 years are currently helping to provide assistance to those in Ukraine.
“My job has been to help coordinate from the U.S. over there to support the financial people on the ground. It’s cheaper for me to work here than to travel and send money over to support more people,” Benham said. “For some, $300 to $400 a month is a full time salary. So an airplane ticket is going to cost $2000, when I would rather support someone for six months with that money.”
At the end of May, Benham plans to travel to Albania, and from there, plan to go to either Poland or Ukraine to meet with his team. His next step in future plans of providing aid to international communities in need is connecting with Duquesne’s medical community. Here at Duquesne, Benham said, we are called to love and minister our community on campus and he has learned that that what he does here on campus as a professor is just as important as his humanitarian work.
“My students at this campus are as important as my colleagues and the people over in Ukraine. My commitment is to that level of service,” Benham said. “It is exotic and has a fantastical nature about it. But the miracle everyday we see on campus when someone provides comfort to someone in need, helps someone who is hurting, spends extra time tutoring a student – those are miracles.”
Through his efforts in bringing music to those who may not have those opportunities, aid to those in crisis and faith to various communities, Benham said he has found that these experiences have shown how God brings miracles and blessings into people’s everyday lives.