Ukraine - Building Sustainable Businesses for Transformation

In post-Soviet Ukraine, there have been many struggles.

When a small team of church planters turned up in the regional town of Kaharlyk, it took a number of years to break through the remnants of government oppression.

Then in 2003, a new chapter began when they started to engage the local community with innovative ways to meet felt needs that would create income, instill pride in the local town and clean up the environment.

Innovative ideas to benefit the whole community

First, money was short for heating the church in the long, cold, winter months. Second, there was extremely high unemployment, including among believers. Third, the town was unkempt with piles of leaves, weeds and trash burned in the streets to get rid of it,

The first innovative idea was to use grass, leaves and food waste for biogas to heat the church. Next, used cooking oil and cultivated mushrooms would be made into biodiesel, with mushrooms initially grown in the church basement. Wayne Zschech, now OM Ukraine field leader, recalled it seemed that “we had mushrooms coming out of our ears!”

On the side, they bought a couple small push mowers and a weed-trimmer to manage the town’s unkempt grassy, weedy areas. This idea was met with mixed bewilderment and approval and inspired the mayor to publicly award the church and personally invest in the proposed beautification plan.

Challenges abound

However, it certainly has not been smooth sailing. The mushroom enterprise was booming after moving operations to an old vegetable warehouse, where ten tons of mushrooms were harvested every month. Plus, 25 people–half of whom were believers in Jesus–were employed there.  After starting to receive regular income, they began to have hope for the future.  Sadly, the company making the mushroom substrate started cutting corners and supplying a poorly prepared product. Button mushrooms don’t compete well with other organisms, making the enterprise unprofitable. With the supplier refusing to take responsibility for the bad batches, the writing was on the wall and the business failed. For the workers, this was devastating.

The next victim was the biodiesel enterprise. It had grown to 35 tons per month and was making a good profit. Everyone in town knew about the diesel trucks and tractors that smelled like fried chicken! However, in the fallout from Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the ensuing war in the east of the country starting in 2014, Ukraine once again fell into deep economic financial crisis and this innovative endeavor also closed.

More than three years later, Wayne can still feel the pain of that time, but he has not given up his belief in community transformation through Christian enterprise and workplace discipleship. The revolution became a catalyst to dig deep and find an innovative way to harness the abundance of local resources (in this case waste) and create something useful and marketable from it. The project is called, “Clean Soul – Clean City.” The initial stages use a zero-waste approach to turn the green waste into a rich organic fertilizer for fields and gardens using grinders, composting and worms. A long-term goal is to get the citizens on board to stop burning waste, reducing air pollution.

Finally – sustainable success

What’s really exciting is that other organic processes, like oyster mushroom cultivation, green houses and aquaponics can be seamlessly dovetailed into this project, creating additional new jobs and income streams. That is the vision for the future, and OM Ukraine is looking for someone to champion this green initiative.  

By far, the biggest undertaking is the “pyrolysis project”. Garbage is a huge problem in Ukraine where there are almost no processing facilities for the entire country. It’s common to see piles of uncollected household rubbish as well as mixed piles of leaves and litter. These piles in the streets often aren’t collected but simply burned instead. When plastic is part of it, the toxic smoke is unbearable. Residents complain, but there are no available alternatives.

Pyrolysis is an effective and safe way to deal with environmentally troublesome, often odorous, waste. This process involves heating waste in the absence of oxygen to produce combustible gases, liquid and solid fuel. Converting plastics to liquid fuel is a viable way to deal with end-of-life mixed-waste plastics streams.

“This project has been more than three years in the making. We constructed our first prototype, and over the course of a year, we modified it 46 times! Then we set to work on creating the commercial unit,” said Wayne. “It continues to be a real journey of faith, but, every month, God has somehow been supplying the finances to somehow keep things moving forward… and we are nearly there!”

The team wants to inspire residents by example to generate income that will holistically impact communities and enable them to disciple others toward missions. One example is their project to install solar panels on part of the church property where a 21-kilowatt PV solar array has been installed. This saves considerable money for the local church during the winter months, and from early spring till mid fall it generates much needed income.

“We still need 36 more panels to complete the project,” reported Wayne. “Solar is a mature technology that does not need much maintenance. This is a great opportunity for creating sustainable passive income, which the church can convert into finance for ministry and missions in Ukraine.”

By becoming practical catalysts for transformation in the community, using a holistic, faith-based approach, sustainable missions could be one step closer for believers in Ukraine, as well as providing a strong witness for Christ to the least reached in the community.

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