The story of New Song International is one of God's redemptive love and faithfulness to His children. This is not only evident in the lives of the children that this ministry will affect, but also in the lives of the founders and their families.
Kelly VanDevender and Leah McGowan have been working towards New Song International since their first trip to Ukraine together in 2016, but their journey in caring for orphans started long before that.
As a child, Kelly would post sticky notes to her parents around their home, leaving hints and resources to support her dream of one day becoming an adoptive big sister. In the summer of 2013, God spoke to each member of the VanDevender family in a mighty way and together they said yes to their calling to host Misha, a 10 year old boy from an orphanage in Ukraine. Little did they know that just one year later, they would travel to Ukraine to adopt Misha, as well as his two older siblings- Vanya and Marta. In July of 2014, Kelly's dream of being a big sister became a reality. The VanDevenders left the U.S. as a family of four, and returned as a family of seven.
By this time, Kelly and Leah's desire to work with orphans and vulnerable children had only grown stronger. After applying for mission trip opportunities, they were both accepted to go on the June 2015 Student Global Training trip to China with Show Hope. After months of fundraising and waiting in anticipation, they and twenty other students finally arrived in China. During their time in Luoyang they stayed at Maria's Big House of Hope, a care center that provides care for children with acute medical and special needs. Throughout the 10 days they were there, God so gently yet powerfully began to reveal and confirm His plan for these childhood best friends: to care for His children, for those the world might see as "fatherless." There were moments they shared in the bright blue 6-story building where they felt a sense of familiarity and comfort in the midst of such a foreign place. Kelly and Leah soon concluded that this trip was just the "launching point" for something that God was stirring much bigger than themselves. This was the start of a new chapter that would be a part of their lives forever.
"I remember it all so clearly. Looking back, we had no idea what we were talking about, but God did. Kelly and I were making our way back to the care center after having our last supper in Luoyang. With our faces pressed against the tiny bus window, we drove through the ancient city one last time. As we reflected on our stay at Maria's and how it had affected us, Kelly turned to face me and suddenly threw out the idea of going to Ukraine together. Her family had connections with people caring for orphans through their adoption process there. It was a crazy idea at the time, especially hearing it in China. This trip was the first time I'd been out of the country, let alone the first time I had stepped foot on a plane! But the idea of going to Ukraine, even then, was one that resonated in my spirit. We both kind of looked at each other in a way that said 'why not?'."
While being reunited with friends and family back home was wonderful, Kelly and Leah had a difficult time transitioning back into everyday life. So much had changed in their hearts, minds, and about their vision for the future. It was impossible to pick back up where they left off as if nothing had happened. As they sat in a Chinese restaurant to celebrate Leah's 20th birthday just after their trip, the best friends decided that they needed to go to Ukraine together in the spring .
Preparing for this trip was really different than their last. But with the help of their in-country friends who welcomed Kelly and Leah with open arms, they were able to come up with a budget, find housing with a host family, and pack for two months in a place that actually had four seasons. Many of Kelly and Leah's friends and family took leaps of faith as they partnered in fundraising for this trip. For that they are eternally grateful. Not knowing what this trip would hold, but knowing that they had to be there, Kelly and Leah left for Ukraine in February of 2016.
"Leah and I didn't leave with much of an agenda in the beginning and we were open to whatever opportunities arose. Naturally we were curious about how Ukraine cared for orphans as a whole, and during our time there we were able to visit 12 area orphanages. We often talked with the directors about the many changes happening in Ukraine, and how that would affect all of the orphanages. As we walked the halls of each building, we felt that familiar heart tug we first felt back in China. This was our calling, without a doubt.
I lost count of how many times we asked anyone who might know: 'what about the children with special needs? Where are they?' God clearly began to show us the need for New Song International in Ukraine, and how our time in China was pivotal for that vision."
Kelly and Leah left Ukraine with a clear understanding of what needed to take place in order for them to pursue caring for the fatherless in Ukraine. At the same time, they had big questions- and lots of them! Thankfully, one week after returning to Houston, they had the privilege of attending the 2016 CAFO Summit in Orlando, Florida. The Christian Alliance For Orphans is a network of 190+ organizations that are dedicated to caring for the fatherless in many aspects. This was a great resource and way for them to get connected with people in other ministries who had years of experience and wisdom to share.
The rest of the year was filled with confirmation and growth. By this point, everything in their lives were starting to revolve around this calling. Ukrainian language school, connecting with other ministries, and even a job that would allow them to gain experience in caring for children with special needs. 2016 went by in the blink of an eye.
In April of 2017 Kelly and Leah founded New Song International, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving orphans and vulnerable children in Ukraine. Right around that time they drove to Nashville, TN to attend their second year of the CAFO summit and concluded they would make it a point to attend every year. This alliance has and will continue to serve as a valuable recourse to share, encourage and inspire us and many others dedicated to serving orphans and vulnerable children around the world.
"In sharing this story, our prayer is that you would be encouraged to say yes to what God has in store for each of you. It takes baby steps, seasons of waiting, wondering, listening, doubting yourself, giving up, and giving into Him and His plans. There have been challenges, but we can also say that we've seen God's hand at work in all of this and it isn't anything we could have ever imagined. Sometimes it feels like we are just sitting back and watching things happen, and we know that's because He is the one doing the real work. We are so humbled. We also pray that you would be deeply moved and touched to say yes to walking out James 1:27 with us; caring for orphans and vulnerable children, whether that is through our ministry or the many other ways He might be leading you to do so. Thank you for taking the time to let us share a part of our story with you!"
Kelly VanDevender & Leah McGowan
Board of Directors
J. Rick Adams, Medical Doctor
Graham Gamble, CPA and Nonprofit Director
Clinton White, Orphan Advocate and Missionary in Ukraine
Anya Ruzhevych, Orphan Advocate
We would like to recognize and give special thanks to those who have gone above and beyond in mentoring, supporting, and encouraging us on this journey. We are eternally grateful for the guidance, constructive criticism, advice, love, and expertise that has been graciously extended to us and New Song International as a whole. We thank you dearly.
Clinton White, Missionary in Ukraine- for stepping up as a director/board member and always believing in and encouraging us.
Katie McGunnigal, Show Hope- for mentoring us in China and being a constant source of inspiration and a lifelong friend.
Mark Amerman, Show Hope- for taking the time to share your wisdom in nonprofit management and finance.
Oleg Shelashsky, Ukraine Without Orphans- for guiding and equipping us to meet the specific needs of vulnerable children in Ukraine.
Jeff Thompson, Mercy Projects- for being an experienced ministry leader that has generously given us time and insight.
Dmytro Bevzenko, Ridna Shkola Houston- for being our dedicated, patient, caring, and excellent Ukrainian language teacher.