Belhaven Connections: Adoption and Beyond

by Erin Ulerich

Matthew ’95 and Sheila Nasekos weren’t looking to adopt an orphan from the Ukraine in 2008. They were raising support to go to Peru to do children’s ministry and orphan ministry. They were busy with four children. But God had a plan.

“We have always thought about adopting, but our thought was maybe one day,” says Matthew. “And then, one day, God brought Karina into our home and we heard her story. She had been in an orphanage since she was 5 years old. All she wanted was someone to bring her into their family. I remember looking at Karina, realizing how God had blessed us as a family, and wanting to answer this need. I thought, ‘That’s our daughter. Let’s bring her home.’”

The Nasekos family had seen the adoption process up close when two other Belhaven alum, Tucker ’94 and Suzy ’93 Gallagher, adopted two children. Matthew says, “It was encouraging to have close friends walk through adoption before we did. They let us know that it can be done.”

So they began the adoption process.

But how did Karina get from an orphanage on the other side of the world to a living room in Florence, MS?  A few years prior, a Belhaven dance student named Michelle went to Odessa, Ukraine with the Joshua Squad, Belhaven’s theatre ministries group. While in the Ukraine, Michelle felt God’s call to work with these orphans. After three years at Belhaven, she moved to the Ukraine. She met Karina through her work in the different orphanages and told Karina’s story to others. People began praying for a family for Karina.

Around the time Karina was meeting the Nasekos family, Dr. Joe Martin, Professor of Christian Ministries, went to French Camp Academy (FCA) and visited Stephen ’92 and Erin ’93 Ulerich. A comment he made prompted Erin to look for a way to teach her three children about God’s work in the world. Erin read the Nasekos’ blog and found out about Karina.

After a few days of praying for Karina’s adoption, Anderson, the Ulerich’s four year old, was ready to help. At breakfast he said, “We need to give them a lot of money!” Erin told him they didn’t have a lot of money, but they could pray that God would show them a way to help.

“Karina Cookies” were the answer to that call. They went to the FCA dorms to sell cookies and tell students about Karina. Anderson would hold her picture and say, “Karina is a 13 year old girl. Karina lives in Ukraine. She does not have a mommy or daddy. Mr. Matt and Mrs. Sheila want to be her mommy and daddy. We are selling Karina cookies to help earn money so they can adopt her.”  Anderson was motivated by the simple truth that every child should have a family.

Many of the students in the dorms could identify with Karina’s situation and wanted to help her, too. Many students paid above the cost of a cookie to help Karina come home. Word spread around the French Camp community and soon an adoption fund was set up through French Camp Presbyterian Church. More and more people were praying for Karina. Karina’s adoption became final on Christmas Eve, 2008. Karina’s longing for a family who loved her was answered.

But this isn’t the end of the story.

From a four year old’s excitement to help an orphan and a family’s willingness to welcome a new child into their family, God has used unusual means to accomplish His will.

During the adoption process, Matthew and Sheila were in Odessa for over a month. During that time, they visited with Karina and her classmates every day. Matthew describes that time. “The kids would grab our shirts and look in our eyes and say, ‘Do not forget me. Please remember me.’ Sergei put his arm around Edic and said ‘This is a good boy. Will you find a mom and dad for him?’ We saw these kids who have never had parents, or the only family they knew beat them up and we realized they just want to be loved. They just want a mom and dad.

Adopting Karina and seeing the children’s situation first hand made us realize the great need for orphan ministry. Here are a group of children, with souls created in God’s image, living in a room in Ukraine. And their whole life they are asking Does anyone care about me? Does anyone want me? Does anybody know that I exist? Meeting them spurred us on to encourage orphan ministry. There’s a great need in the orphanages in Peru and in Ukraine, and there are people in the States that are interested in meeting those needs. We want to be used by God to help people here meet the needs that are over there.”

During their stay in Ukraine, Matt and Sheila also met with Clay Quarterman (1974 )and the session of the Evangelical Reformed Presbyterian Church of Odessa about beginning an orphan ministry that would reach out to several orphanages, including the one Karina lived in.

God’s timing was perfect. Denis, a deacon at the church says, “We were very excited to hear from Matthew, because our church had a desire to do this for a long time. A group of young people from the church were especially enthusiastic about joining this ministry.” In addition to church members, there are two full-time missionaries who go into different orphanages to build relationships with the children and to bring their stories and their needs to the outside world. They’ve also combined efforts with a Baptist Church in Odessa. More and more people are spending time with the children in the orphanages. More of these children are seeing the love of Christ through these volunteers and are hearing about the hope of the Gospel.

The church’s vision for this orphan ministry reaches beyond the children. “We hope more kids will come to Christ and also their relatives and friends,” says Denis. “We also hope to form a team of people who want to serve the orphans. We also plan to plant churches.”

Matthew says in amazement, “The ripple’s not ending. It’s just humongous just how far it goes. And none of that would be happening if this adoption had not happened.”

A Connection in Common

This is an amazing story of God’s provision and guidance. In this story there are Belhaven connections on both sides of the ocean. People using the gifts God has given them in the places He has called them. There is no way to predict the flow of this story, humanly speaking. But God laid the ground work over the years in preparation for this story.

“I’ve always had an interest in what God was doing around the world,” says Matthew. “My parents taught us that missions is what God is passionate about because missions leads to the worship of God. We prayed for missionaries and different countries as a family. Then at Belhaven I was involved in missions. I went to Student Mission Fellowship at Dr. Chestnut’s house and whenever Belhaven had a missions trip, I went on it. While at Belhaven I went to Ukraine for a month with Sports Outreach International. We played American football in Ukraine against Ukrainian and Russian teams and we shared the Gospel with the teams and the people in the stands. We also did drama in several different cities in Ukraine.”

Dr. Chestnut, Professor of Biology, recalls God working to provide in an amazing way for Matthew on that missions trip. “Matthew had the opportunity to go to Ukraine, yet did not have the money. Matthew told another student in passing about what he hoped to do during the summer. He was shocked when he received a check from that student’s grandmother for a large sum of money. We were both amazed and we saw God in action as He provided for Matthew to go to Ukraine.”

God also used Erin’s time at Belhaven to prepare for this story. “Through the Christian Ministries and Missions classes at Belhaven I learned for the first time in my life that God has a plan for the world and that I could have a part in that plan. I wanted my children to know that early on. I had no idea that God would combine that desire with cookie dough and work in a mighty way. Though my children are little, they grasp the concept that children need a mommy and a daddy to take care of them. Through Karina’s adoption they have seen how God hears and answers the sentence prayers of preschoolers. That is a powerful truth to know at such a young age.”

God also laid the foundation of this story by impacting the lives of those involved through professors at Belhaven. Not only through sitting under their teaching in the classroom, but also by having their influence in their lives.

One professor that God used in Matthew’s life was Dr. Chestnut. “I worked for him in the lab and every day Dr. C handed me a card with a Scripture on it. We would talk about what that particular verse meant and I would memorize it. Dr. Chestnut taught me the importance of being constantly in God’s Word. He still sends cards before camp each year.”

“Our lives have been intertwined in many ways throughout the years,” says Dr. Chestnut. “All my daughters worked under him during summers at Twin Lakes Camp. We also attend church together, which is where I met Karina for the first time.”

When asked about the impact he hopes to have on students at Belhaven, he says, “God brought me to Belhaven with an intentional desire to be involved with students and also to be myself. I want to be a faithful man walking before students and obedient to God’s call to make disciples as I go.” God has used this obedience to challenge others.

This story doesn’t have an end yet. But it is a beautiful tapestry woven by God using His people. People faithful to use the gifts God has given them in the places He has called them. Students, professors, parents, a pastor, even a four year old. God is using the fruit of their faithfulness to fulfill His plans. He is using unusual means for a remarkable result. This is God making connections across the years, around the world, from generation to generation, changing lives. – EU

One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts.” Psalm 145:4

What Can You Do?

  1. Pray for the children in the orphanage.
    Their two greatest needs are salvation and a family to love them.
  2. Support missionaries working with orphans.
    Participate in a short term mission team.
  3. Financially support a family who is adopting.
    You can do this through the Christian Missionary Society Adoption Fund.
  4. Host an orphan in your home.
  5. Consider giving an orphan a home.
  6. Get your children involved by getting to know the orphans.

There is a need for:

  • Pen pals
  • Craft Supplies and Games
  • Birthday Presents
  • Christmas Presents
  • Finances for physical needs such as glasses, shoes, clothing, etc.

In case you were thinking. . .

  1. I’m too busy. I’ve got four kids already. We’re trying to get to the mission field.
    God says I’m bigger than that.
  2. We don’t have enough money.
    God has all the money.
  3. I have enough on my plate.
    God says I made your plate. I can make it bigger.
  4. How is this going to work with someone that doesn’t speak our language and doesn’t know our culture and is already a teenager?
    God said I made the languages. I created the differences in the cultures. I made her a teenager. I invented the family.
  5. I don’t want to reach out to someone in mercy because they may have a lot of baggage.
    God can take care of that.
  6. I don’t want to bring someone into our family because I didn’t get to raise them the way I think they should be raised.
    God is a better daddy than I am. God can take care of them. God has cared for Karina her whole life. Surely He knows what kind of family she needs and what kind of family needs her.

In every step of this adoption, we’ve learned how big and great God is. He can do everything. He can use a four year old boy to bring in thousands of dollars to pay for the adoption. God is bigger than we give Him credit for. We need to let Him take care of things. It’s so exciting. It’s so much better than if we tried to do it.

~Matthew and Sheila Nasekos

For more information on getting involved in orphan ministry go to

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