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Chernobyl-plant blast in 1986 led to LifeNets in 1999; ministry ships aid for pennies on dollar
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Chernobyl-plant blast in 1986 led to LifeNets in 1999;
ministry ships aid for pennies on dollar

By Dixon Cartwright

CINCINNATI, Ohio--The nuclear-power plant at Chernobyl, Ukraine, blew up in 1986. As a direct result, 30 people immediately died, most from radiation, and 135,000 were evacuated.

Further, several thousand firefighters either died or had their life expectancies drastically shortened from the massive effort to subdue the conflagration by enveloping the nuclear reactor in a concrete cover.

Because of the contamination, to this day no one is allowed within 25 miles of the reactor. Thyroid cancer is up tenfold; breast cancer has more than doubled.

It is said that only 7 percent of children since the blast are born healthy.

Yet Chernobyl's fallout hasn't been all toxic. The incident in what was then part of the Soviet Union set off a chain reaction involving Church of God members in several countries that has led to an impressively successful philanthropic and relief organization that will soon observe its third anniversary.

The organization is LifeNets International, based in Indianapolis, Ind., founded Sept. 1, 1999, by Victor Kubik.

LifeNets is a humanitarian-aid ministry and U.S.-government-recognized charity that ships tons of food and clothing and items as diverse as sunglasses and dentists' chairs to Central and South America, Africa and the former Soviet Union.

How it all began

Mr. Kubik, 54, talked with The Journal about LifeNets May 3 during the United Church of God's general conference of elders in Cincinnati. Mr. Kubik is pastor of United Church of God congregations in Lafayette and Terre Haute, Ind., and a member of the 12-man council of elders of the United Church of God , based in Milford, Ohio.

Mr. Kubik was attending the Feast of Tabernacles in Berwick-Upon-Tweed, England, in 1995, the year of the United Church of God 's birth.

At a ministerial banquet he met an English elder, Morris Frohn, of Woodchurch, in the county of Kent, who was about to retire from a career as a thyroid surgeon.

"I found that Morris was one of England's top thyroid surgeons," remembers Mr. Kubik.
As the two men grew better acquainted during that Feast observance, they found they had a mutual interest in Chernobyl. Mr. Frohn (even though he is a surgeon, he goes by mister rather than doctor) had learned that incidence of thyroid cancer was uncommonly common in the Chernobyl area, and he was wondering how he could be of help.

Mr. Kubik had had a lifelong interest in Ukraine because ethnically he is a Ukrainian. He was born in 1947 in a refugee camp in Hanover, Germany, to Igor and Nina Kubik, who at age 17 and 16 respectively had been displaced by Hitler's Operation Barbarossa just before the end of World War II.

The Nazis had shipped Mr. Kubik's parents from separate locations in Russia to work in German factories.

"My parents met towards the end of the war," said Mr. Kubik. "Then they escaped to the British zone [in Germany]."

The fledgling family moved to the United States in 1949, eventually settling in Minnesota, first in Faribault, then St. Paul.

Mr. Kubik, in conversations with Mr. Frohn at the Feast in 1995, concluded that, since he could speak Ukrainian and Mr. Frohn knew thyroids, they made quite a team. They should visit Chernobyl together and size up the situation.

Disillusioned Chernobylians

The two men immediately ran into problems. Medical personnel in Chernobyl were so disillusioned with offers of help from Americans and other well-meaning foreigners that they didn't want to speak with Mr. Frohn and Mr. Kubik.

"The Americans would come over and say, oh, how terrible things were and we're going to do something about this, but nothing would happen," said Mr. Kubik.

But then, unexpectedly, through a patient of Mr. Frohn's in England an invitation was arranged for them from the physician who was the chief pediatrician in Chernobyl at the time of the blast, April 25, 1986.

So 10 years after the nuclear-reactor accident Mr. Kubik and Mr. Frohn made the trip to Chernobyl to visit Dr. Vasil Pasichnyk in April 1996.

Got to do something

"This doctor, along with other doctors, was just starting a new rehabilitation center for children," said Mr. Kubik, "The center was one of eight in Ukraine. The doctors were trying to help, but they had little means. Morris went around shaking his head and saying, 'We've got to do something.'"

The biggest problem among the treated children, some of whom are the offspring of the children injured in the blast, is cerebral palsy. Because of the blast, the incidence of cerebral palsy is "greatly elevated" in the area, said Mr. Kubik.

Another problem the children have is malignant thyroid glands.

"Sixteen children in the city of Chernigev alone have had total thyroidectomies performed," said Mr. Kubik. "There are many more children with thyroid cancer outside Chernigev."

Container idea

Back home again in Indiana, Mr. Kubik began to think more about how he could help the Ukrainians--the medical people and their patients--in and around Chernobyl.

Then he learned that his sister, Lydia Bauer, was already doing something.

"She was sending containers, 40-foot sea containers, over to Russia," he said.

The containers are made of metal. The 20-footers are approximately 8 by 8 by 20 feet; the 40-foot units are about 8 by 8 by 40 feet. The larger ones contain nearly 2,600 cubic feet of clothing, hardware, furniture and fixtures and medical supplies, shipped out of ports such as the ones in Elizabeth, N.J., and Norfolk, Va., and make their way on freighters to ports in Amsterdam and Odessa and elsewhere, finally arriving at their destination in Ukraine.

So Mr. Kubik experimented by asking people for donations of items to fill a 20-foot container and sent it to the clinic operated by Dr. Pasichnyk.

Filling and sending the first container was difficult, but subsequent ones, after Mr. Kubik had worked the bugs out of his procedure, were easier. It contained medicines, baby formula and clothing.

Then he remembered the needy Sabbatarian Christians in Ukraine with whom he had worked when he was assistant director of church administration for the Worldwide Church of God in Pasadena, Calif.

"Because of the Ambassador College projects I had worked with--we had ESL [English as a second language] programs over there--I knew they were in bad straits and needed help," he said.

So, assisted by some United Church of God friends, he sent three 40-foot containers to the Ukrainian Sabbatarians in 1996.

"Half of them were clothing; usually about half of each container was clothing and the rest of them were medicine, food and medical and dental equipment," he said.

It's one thing to learn how to quickly and efficiently send containers of valuable items to needy people overseas. It's another to come up with the items to fill them.

But "it's surprising how generous certain agencies and organizations are when they find out you're set up to facilitate this kind of humanitarian effort," Mr. Kubik said.

"We've been very impressed with how giving some of the organizations are."

Explain yourself, Mr. Kubik

For three years Mr. Kubik solicited donations of items and sent them to Ukraine and other areas, but he ran into a problem. Sometimes he had trouble explaining to some of the potential donors just who he was.

"I was on some radio talk shows in Indianapolis and Lafayette [Ind.] and found it very difficult to explain exactly my identity," he said. "I was a minister, but I was working through various agencies that worked for the various private and government entities, and so on. It just became very difficult to explain.

"For example, for a while I was under an established nonprofit agency called the Family Umbrella Network. But I also worked with an organization called Compassion Humanitarian Relief. And I was, and am, a minister of the United Church of God.

"My explanations become very convoluted."

So, he thought, why not start his own nonprofit charitable organization?

"That way I'd be able to qualify for government programs, because you have to be a 501(c)(3) to do that."

A 501(c)(3) corporation is one to which the U.S. Internal Revenue Service grants the right to accept tax-deductible donations from Americans.

So by 1999, after enlisting the help of another United Church of God elder, Bill Jahns of Salt Lake City, Utah, Mr. Kubik's scattered efforts coalesced into LifeNets International.

"Bill Jahns never officially worked with LifeNets," said Mr. Kubik, "but he has just been a great supporter and friend who really helped send things to Malawi, Africa, with the help of his Salt Lake City congregation."

Now Mr. Kubik has no trouble explaining who he is, and he's even built a Web site ( that tells all about LifeNets and its supporters that he updates regularly.

"The Web site explains all the projects," he said.

"For example, besides the ones in Ukraine, we work with a United Church of God couple in Malawi--Gladstone and Alice Chonde--and 40 other United Church of God members in that country."

The Chondes founded a medical clinic after running into Sabbath-keeping problems working for another clinic, said Mr. Kubik.

"Gladstone and Alice rented an old movie theater and set it up as a clinic. Gladstone is a medical practitioner, and Alice is a registered nurse."

With the help of LifeNets' 275 volunteers and 300 donors, Mr. Kubik periodically ships 40-foot containers of medicine to the clinic.

On June 20 LifeNets shipped its third 40-footer to Malawi.

The Cincinnati North United Church of God congregation, helped by students of the United Church of God 's Ambassador Bible Center, helped crate up a "live load," said Mr. Kubik.

"That means the trucker sits there while we load, ready to take it away," he said.
Concrete floors

Mr. Kubik was talking with fellow United Church of God elder Leon Walker of Big Sandy, Texas, one day in 2000, discussing the plight of church members in Central America, specifically Guatemala and El Salvador.

Mr. Walker, also a member of the United Church of God 's council of elders, oversees the church's Spanish-speaking congregations around the world.

A big problem was dirt floors in church members' houses in Central America, Mr. Kubik learned.

"They caused disease," he said. "They bred worms. So we were able to fund 15 concrete floors for the brethren there."

Free enterprise

LifeNets also found a way to set Central American members up in small businesses.

"We built large ovens for baking bread so two or three families can work together and make bread and sell it, thus making a living. The ovens cost us about $400 each."

LifeNets helped a widow in Guatemala get started running a grocery store out of her residence.

"We stocked it for her with $200 worth of goods. In a year she was able to quadruple her tithes."

LifeNets shipped an entire dental office to El Salvador.

"That equipment was donated to us thanks to the hard work of Suzan Johns," a United Church of God member from Lititz, Pa.

Now Mr. Walker has asked for Mr. Kubik's assistance in Peru and Colombia.

"We're going to finance a college-scholarship program," said Mr. Kubik, "and we're going to help subsidize a project to help make a living for a number of families in Colombia."
Restoring cattle

In Zambia, in south-central Africa, a LifeNets project involves restoring cattle herds to two communities of church members who lost all their bovines five years ago to disease.

"They have been without milk protein and a means to pull plows," said Mr. Kubik.

"The women and children have had to pull the plows. We tried to work through Heifer Project International, but that process was very lengthy.

"So we found we had a college professor in the church who could help us with training people in how to care for and feed calves. Gibbson Simalyata, from Monze, Zambia, conducted a week-long seminar for the brethren there."

A United Church of God elder in Zambia, Kambani Banda, helped LifeNets locate 24 heifers and two bulls, which the charity purchased in Zambia and delivered to the brethren last Dec. 3.

Relief with a big difference

Mr. Kubik said LifeNets is different from many relief organizations for at least two reasons.

• First, LifeNets is almost entirely powered by volunteers, so nearly every cent of every contribution reaches its beneficiaries.

At least 98 percent of every monetary donation reaches its intended recipients.

The Journal, even though impressed by LifeNet's 98 percent efficiency, wondered what the other 2 percent of donations goes for.

Mr. Kubik's reply: office supplies, including some software; postage; and bank charges.

"There are no salaries or travel expenses," he said.

• LifeNets is an "end-to-end organization," said Mr. Kubik. "We work on this end, and we also work on the other end to make sure the people the items are intended for do receive them."

It also helps that, thanks to Mr. Kubik's contacts, he can buy medicines extraordinarily inexpensively.

"We ship medicine on a quarterly basis to both Zambia and Malawi that we buy at 3 percent of wholesale cost."

Hospital bed

Mr. Kubik's local Rotary Club has become involved with LifeNets, as are many groups and individuals who happen to be friends and acquaintances of Mr. Kubik.

"My Rotary Club [Indianapolis Northeast Rotary] has offered to buy ambulances for two clinics we constructed in Malawi," he said. "Actually, they're going through the Rotary International Foundation, so the local club, although spearheading the project, is not actually paying for them."

The donations keep coming.

"We had an EKG [electrocardiogram] machine donated to us just today. We've had two baby incubators, one for each clinic, that we bought incredibly cheaply. We have almost-new exam tables and complete doctor's offices. We have beds, including Sherwin McMichael's bed. When Mr. McMichael, a friend of Mr. Kubik's family who lived in Fairfax, Va., died last September, Mr. McMichael's widow, Beverly, called Mr. Kubik to offer her husband's hospital bed to LifeNets.

Cash and noncash

Cash donations come to LifeNets as well. Last year's incoming legal tender totaled about $213,000. Noncash income--the donated items--were worth about $289,000.

"Often we receive the supplies, including medical supplies, for virtually nothing," said Mr. Kubik. "My wife just makes lots of phone calls, and Suzan Johns has been exceptionally successful in locating equipment. And Belinda McCloud [of Milford, Ohio] has been a big help with our Central and South American operations."

Another LifeNets booster

LifeNets is becoming known especially in Indiana because the state's first lady, Judy O'Bannon, wife of Gov. Frank O'Bannon, noticed it and has become a LifeNets booster. She frequently meets with the Kubiks to help plan and schedule projects.

"We feel we perform an exceptional service for the user beneficiaries," said Mr. Kubik. "We also feel we perform a service in networking with other organizations, including other churches, in a way in which we can really show our faith, although we're not involved with them religiously."

275 volunteers

Mr. Kubik said LifeNets volunteers, who are mostly Church of God members, are the heart of the operation.

"In all, we have about 275 volunteers," Mr. Kubik said. "We have over 20 churches that have volunteered, mostly United congregations. But we also have people way outside of our fellowship. I know that people in other Church of God fellowships give very generously to LifeNets."

Some volunteers help out as a group. For example, a congregation in Atlanta, Ga., has pledged $1,500 for a scholarship program in El Salvador, and churches in Phoenix, Ariz., have donated $2,000 toward a program to help pay tuition for 21 college students.

"But we have been able to leverage all our donations many times over. In other words, a dollar donated doesn't do just a dollar's worth of good. A dollar donated may turn into $10 or $100 worth of medicine or supplies on the receiving end."

An example of leveraging is the shipping of containers to Africa or Ukraine. Shipping costs for containers can range from $3,000 to $10,000 each, but the cost, thanks to LifeNets' contacts and knowledge of funding sources, is "covered by the State Department or the Department of Defense."

To date LifeNets has sent 14 containers to beneficiaries in five countries.

But 14 containers do not tell the whole story.

"We work differently in the other areas by acquiring things locally," said Mr. Kubik. "Also, we ship things in smaller parcels or have people take them in suitcases as they go to the Feasts."

Matthew 25

Mr. Kubik says one reason for LifeNets as far as he's concerned is Matthew 25:35-36, where Jesus commends His followers for feeding the hungry, providing drink to the thirsty and clothing the naked.

"The first question that will be asked of us in the Kingdom is what have you done to help the needy," said Mr. Kubik. "When we're resurrected, one of the first things that Jesus will ask of us is how did we care for the less fortunate."

LifeNets for Mr. Kubik has been a way to carry out the commission of Matthew 25, and "we have been able to do it for pennies per dollar."

LifeNets' mission statement, he said, "is to help needy people in a practical way and to help them become self-sufficient."

Many people, especially Americans, like to donate to charities, he said. Some give to the Red Cross, some to the Salvation Army, some to United Way.

"Our goal," said Mr. Kubik, "is to become people's charity of choice."

Contacting LifeNets

If you have items or time to donate, or if you wish to check on container-shipping schedules, you can write Mr. Kubik at or P.O. Box 88165, Indianapolis, Ind. 46208, U.S.A. Or call him toll-free at (888) 821-0095.

Mr. Kubik, as his schedule permits, makes audiovisual presentations to groups interested in the work of LifeNets. For information, write him at one of the above addresses.

Victor and Beverly Kubik live in Indianapolis. They have three grown children: Kim of Minneapolis, Minn., and Kevin and Michael, both of Indianapolis.

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