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Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Behind a Kickstarter Request: Helping "Social Orphans", Evangelizing, and Corporal Punishment

N.B. I thank Yulia Massino for passing on this information and for her remarks at

Nobody gives to all kickstarter requests, but when people do give they generally accept that the proposed project is what it appears to be. I would doubt that many people do a serious investigation before giving, and in most cases it would be hard to know what to investigate. But here’s a project that can be looked into:, a project that plans to tell the story of Gennadiy Mokhnenko, a Ukrainian who dresses as a priest and “abducts” street children, taking them to an orphanage (so the project description calls it) and detoxing them. The project description does not make it clear how this apparently informal and unofficial rescue effort is funded or why it is tolerated by the authorities, or indeed on what happens to the children as a result of this intervention—whether it is either safe or effective. Instead, it focuses on Mokhnenko’s “heroism” and on the philosophical issues associated with treating people against their will. (The project description does not make clear whether the children pictured in the documentary will have given permission for their names or images to be used.)

So far, we might identify Mokhnenko as a sort of rogue social worker who has tired of the slow grinding of bureaucratic wheels. But Yulia Massino has suggested that he may better be compared to Ostap Bender, the con artist in The Twelve Chairs. For an American comparison, we might go to Elmer Gantry, or to any of many televangelists who have done well without necessarily doing good.

Mokhnenko is the pastor of an evangelical church in Ukraine, the “Church of Good Changes”,associated in the United States with the Pilgrim Orphanage Foundation ( According to Internet sources, this foundation was incorporated in 2011 in Houston and has three employees. It is incorporated as a 501c3 entity, so it does not pay taxes, and if it is dissolved must transfer all holdings to another educational or charitable organization. Although Pilgrim does not clearly state its connection with religious organizations, there is a link on its website to Hope International, in an on line statement of faith, refers to the complete authority of the Bible and to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, thus identifying not only with evangelical but with charismatic groups. Kathryn Joyce has discussed the attitude toward adoption of such groups in her book The Child Catchers, quoting a foster mother of more than fifty children as writing: “Your main goal is not to raise well-adjusted children, but to bring the life-changing message of the Gospel to lost souls. If you work with a troubled, damaged child and he never becomes a successful or productive citizen, but he believes the Gospel and has a saving faith in Jesus Christ, you have succeeded. Adoption is a ministry to unsaved souls.”

Mokhnenko is said to be fostering over 30 children, whom he believes he has saved from orphanages, although he does not explain why living in a large group called a foster family is superior to living in a large group in a section of an orphanage. Interestingly, he has also stated his belief in the value of corporal punishment and can be seen at demonstrating the belt he uses for this purpose. In this video, he also calls attention to a documentary made to criticize the use of corporal punishment in some schools in the U.S., but instead claims that the punishments shown are beneficial. Such punishment has, incidentally, been illegal in schools in both Russia and Ukraine for almost a hundred years.

If I were considering contributing to kickstarter to finance this documentary project, I would certainly like to have some questions answered first:

How does Ukrainian law regard a private individual who  takes children off the streets and keeps them confined?

What happens if parents ask for their children to be released to them?

What methods does he use to treat children who are addicted to alcohol or drugs? Are these methods known to be safe or effective? Are they related to charismatic methods aimed at healing by casting out demons?

Does Mokhnenko employ the corporal punishment that he has advocated?

Presumably Mokhnenko has no medical training. What medical services are available for children being treated for drug or alcohol addiction or for related illnesses or injuries?

What happens to children who have been in Mokhnenko’s care?  Are there any records documenting their physical or mental health or educational progress?

What amount has been donated to Pilgrim Orphan Foundation on behalf of Mokhnenko’s work, and how much has been spent on care for the children?

Perhaps Mokhnenko or his supporters will provide acceptable answers to these questions. Until then, I would keep my wallet in my pocket as far as the kickstarter request is concerned.


1 comment:

  1. Thirty children? One foster parent? No additional adults on staff? No oversight? Horrendous on those grounds alone. And then all the rest. Sickening.