A Madison woman who’s participating in a nearly yearlong missionary trip is now in Romania where her group is offering aid and support to Ukrainians who have fled their country amid Russia’s military assault.

Savanna Kandiko holds a cake last July as part of a send-off party held at her Madison church, Christ Community Fellowship. She’s participating in a nearly year-long missionary trip that now has her in Romania where she’s helping Ukrainian refugees. Photo courtesy of Savanna Kandiko

Romania was added as one of the destinations for Savanna Kandiko’s missionary work before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but as the crisis unfolded the work of Kandiko and her colleagues took on more urgency.

The efforts of her team include providing temporary housing, food, water, clothing and, as Kandiko explains, “a smiling face.”

“I desire to be a helping hand to those I am serving and those I am leading, whatever that needs to look like,” Kandiko said in an email.

She arrived in Romania in late April and her time there will conclude in the coming days. The aim of her team in the meantime is to support as many refugees as it can.

More than 150 refugees are being housed in Romania by the missionary organization Kandiko is associated with, Oregon-based Hope Church.

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“Their town, their community, their homes have been impacted by Russian attacks. Although their family members are still living there, the homes they remember have changed,” Kandiko said. “Their lives have been flipped upside down and destroyed. It’s the most heartbreaking form of devastation you could imagine — your home destroyed at the hands of the enemy, your loved ones’ lives in danger daily.”

Kandiko graduated in 2014 from Madison Area Memorial High School. She went on to work as a sixth- and seventh-grade social studies teacher at Madison’s junior high. She’s coached softball at the junior high and both softball and soccer at the high school.

The school district allowed Kandiko to take a leave of absence to pursue her work abroad.

Kandiko’s overseas journey — part of a program called the World Race, which is run by a Georgia-based organization called Adventures in Missions — previously brought her to Costa Rica, Colombia, Rwanda, South Africa and other locations. She has served as a team leader on projects her group has tackled in various countries.

“I am looking forward to empowering others to carry the burden of supporting those in desperate need and providing a place of rest and reflection so we can healthily walk out supporting others,” Kandiko said.

Following Romania, Kandiko and her team will head to Greece, the final stop of her mission before returning to the U.S.

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But more work must first be done in Romania. Hope Church is attempting to raise money to purchase a hotel near the city of Craiova. Organizers hope to house several hundred additional refugees fleeing Ukraine.

Savanna Kandiko, shown at center in back row, was photographed recently with other members of her mission group as they stood with Romanian children. Photo courtesy of Savanna Kandiko

Those looking to learn more or provide support to Hope Church’s mission can visit its website, www.hope.church/missions.

Kandiko went on to share the story of a 7-year-old Ukrainian girl named Dasha.

Dasha, her three siblings and their mother now are living in Craiova, where they share a home with another family that fled Ukraine.

“The other day, Dasha ran up to me and grabbed my hand. We held hands as we walked down the street. We swung our arms and communicated through small smiles and laughs …,” Kandiko said. “I couldn’t help but think about the desperation her and her family are experiencing. I attempted to imagine the pain and fear of leaving their father behind. I couldn’t grasp it.”

She continued, “I can’t take their pain away; I can’t stop the war; I can’t even buy them all shoes or get them all into school. All I can do is be with them. All I can do is listen to their stories and hold their hands if they want me to.”

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