People Profile – Lifelines from Ewhurst to Ukraine

Ewhurst was a great place to grow up. I have many incredible memories of the freedom living in a small village brings; venturing up to the rec’ with my siblings, James, Ben and Ruth, riding our bikes around the field, collecting the tennis court key from the lady in Downhurst Road, seeing everybody we knew at the annual village carnival. The swimming pool at Ewhurst School was always a favourite, joining friends there and splashing into it on a hot day!

Me aged 5 at Ewhurst Infants
Grown up at Glebelands

Despite living in Ewhurst, much of my life was in Cranleigh. I went to Park Mead Junior School from year 4. Having attended Ewhurst Infant school with only 60 pupils in the entire school, the move to Park Mead felt like moving to the big city for me! I soon settled and made some amazing friends, most of whom stayed with me as we progressed up to Glebelands and on to Godalming College. I loved school life and thrived academically and emotionally. I valued the independence given to me by my parents in my teenage years, which were foundational for my future life which has taken me all around the world.

Probably the strongest influence as I grew up was the community of Cranleigh Baptist Church. We attended as a family and here I learnt the foundations of the Christian faith and came to my own decision to follow Christ when I was in my early teens. We had a fantastic youth group, led by committed volunteers who were constant in my life, and still are. My grandparents, Sid and Eunice Bewsey, aunt, uncle and cousins attended the church and we built up great friendships in our extended family unit. It was with my cousin Emma that I made my first trip to Ukraine. Emma had just completed her A-levels, I my GCSEs. We wanted to do some sort of overseas mission project that summer, and my grandparents put us in touch with John and Janet Hendy who ran a small organisation called Ukraine Christian Ministries (UCM). The proposed trip was two weeks in the Cherkasy Region of Ukraine, helping out at summer youth camps. At the bargain price of £450 it was by far the cheapest option, so we signed up! I had no idea the impact this trip would have on me, nor the trajectory it would put me on for the rest of my life.

Me, Anya our Ukrainian friend and my cousin Emma, arriving in Ukraine, 2001

On that first trip to Ukraine I didn’t know what to expect. What we discovered was a poverty that I had never encountered before. It was 2001, 18 years since the fall of the Soviet Union, and many more since the second world war, and yet it felt as if Ukraine was stuck in a time warp. The town was made up of a series of high-rise buildings, grey, concrete, faceless apartment blocks that housed thousands of people. The boarding school where we stayed was a school for disabled children, and yet to enter it there were huge steps to climb and an enormous wooden threshold to cross. There was one shower to share between 25 of us, only accessible between certain hours of the day and when the hot water ran out, that was it. The toilets, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t use the word ‘toilet’ and I was glad I had a strong bladder.

Emma and I, circled, on a trip out to the Dnipro River
Emma returning home to the UK

On the way into town we passed a huge military tank monument. I was told it was to mark the liberation of Ukraine by Stalin in November, 1943. Until Stalin marched through, Ukraine was occupied by the Nazis. I was struck by the tragedy of the hope which would have been felt at the time, knowing now what lay ahead under the Soviet Union. In the centre of town was a strange circular monument which I couldn’t make sense of. My new friends explained it was “the eternal flame for the unknown soldier” which was to burn constantly in memory of the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians who lost their lives in World War
II. But there was no flame. The town couldn’t afford the gas to burn.

Giving out food and clothing in Ukraine, 2022

Despite all this, the people we met were the most joyous and fun! As a young teenager I was in my element. We stayed up til all hours and woke up late, slept on the 45 minute bus ride into the village (despite the bumps and potholes) and roamed freely around this new world we’d arrived in. The Ukrainians thought us Brits were insane for playing volleyball in the 400C afternoon sun. The best fun at camp was had around the water, swimming in the Dnipro River, downstream from Chernobyl. We’d been reassured it was safe, but weren’t filled with confidence when, over the course of the week, our pale coloured swim-wear slowly turned a brownish-grey.

At the time I’m sure I was blind to the many struggles of daily Ukrainian life. I was young and naïve. The Christians we met welcomed us with warmth and joy. It was the most incredible summer and I soon signed up to return the following summer. And so the story went for the following seven years.

My graduation day
Teaching new songs to the children at Pleshkani, Ukraine
Teaching sessions at a holiday bible camp

Having completed my A-levels at Godalming College I went on to read Genetics at Cardiff University. I returned to Ukraine as often as I could though each time I left I felt increasingly bereft. I longed to communicate so I started to learn the language. Ukrainians speak both Ukrainian and Russian, and I chose to study Russian. I felt an inexplicable love for Ukraine. I know that God grew this love in my heart but it would be years before I would understand why.

As I came towards the end of my degree in 2008, having secured a First Class Honours, I had the opportunity to take part in an exchange program. I went to live in Kyiv for the summer, working in a microbiology laboratory. This was the first time I had spent a significant amount of time in Ukraine without the comfort of people and places I knew. I realised how far short my language skills were. I learnt about grumpy public transport workers who are NOT there to help you! I got lost in the metro system more times that I could count. I ate plain pasta because I was too confused in the supermarkets to buy anything else. In many ways it was a summer of heartbreak for me. The place I had come to call home, that I felt God had placed in my heart for a purpose, continuously blocked me out, turned me away, or left me scared at the side of the road having been thrown off a bus for no apparent reason. Until that point I’d spent several years searching for a way I could live, work or serve God in Ukraine. After that summer I closed the door and wanted nothing more to do with Ukraine.

I came back to England and returned to work for Cranleigh Baptist Church on the youth team. At the end of that year, I went back to Cardiff to study for a Masters in Biophotonics. Following this I went into teaching Secondary Science. Five years after that difficult summer in Ukraine, I was living in my own flat in Bournemouth, teaching at a wonderful school which I absolutely loved. By now I was connected with Ukrainian friends on Facebook, but didn’t feel the same desire to be there. That is until several “coincidences” started to bring Ukraine back into my awareness. After too many of these to ignore, I knew God was asking me to try again. I returned to Ukraine for a language course in Kyiv, from where I could visit the Cherkasy region to see whether it was merely nostalgia, or whether God was preparing me for more.

Relaxing together at youth camp
Flying high, on a zip wire

On that visit I met local church pastors and friends I hadn’t seen for years. Through various conversations, I felt God invite me to be a part of what He and His church was doing in Ukraine. So in September 2014, I packed up my flat and went to live in Cherkasy, Central Ukraine.

Over the following two years God restored old friendships, established new ones and taught me so much about depending on Him. I served in a city church with the youth and worship teams and taught Science and English in local high schools. Those two years were extremely challenging; living independently as a single woman in Ukraine without the established care of an organisation is not a comfortable position to be in. I worked hard to learn the language and gradually windows of communication opened up to allow true relationships to develop. I experienced what it is to live in Ukrainian society, among the uncertainty of a changing political scene and extremely unstable economy. I began to understand some of the challenges that are part of Ukrainian life, which on many occasions left me feeling helpless. Although I initially planned to stay in Ukraine for longer, after two years in October 2016, I came back to UK.

Getting involved in camp games
Camp Maximum, where relationships are built

Returning to England was every bit as challenging as moving to Ukraine. I felt a sense of brokenness, loss and failure; I was confused about why God would have led me to move to Ukraine, only to apparently achieve nothing. I returned to teaching and slowly God healed my heart. I felt a renewed spirit return to my heart and life, holding on to the knowledge that ‘God alone is my rock and my shelter’.

In summer 2017, I returned to Ukraine, to visit friends and volunteer at a summer camp. On arrival it felt as if my soul breathed a sigh of relief, as though I was returning home. It was very confusing as I’d had a painful time living there before and I didn’t want to look back with ‘rose-tinted glasses’. I kept asking God to help me understand this journey. One afternoon, while sitting in my favourite café, He guided me to some Bible verses in Jeremiah 29: 10 – 11.

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Wow! I realised it wasn’t up to me to fix things and that when the time was right, God would bring me back to Ukraine. Reading these words were an enormous comfort to me, to know that it wasn’t over and God had His plan for me.

Easter in Ukraine

After that trip I spent another year teaching Science in Bournemouth, but increasingly felt God prompting me to leave teaching. That was a step of faith as I didn’t know what lay ahead! Little did I know He was guiding John and Janet Hendy, the founders of UCM to ask me to lead UCM! When they invited me to their home, to consider this opportunity, it was like a flood-light shone over the two years of confusion and darkness that had been my time living in Ukraine. This enlightenment revealed what God had been growing in that time: I’d learnt the language so I could develop relationships with our pastors and partners in Ukraine, to understand the changing culture so I recognised new ways to serve the people and
establish links into areas such as education and Camp Maximum* for UCM to develop in the future. *CM is an outdoor activity centre operating to the highest standard, delivering extreme sports and adventure camps for 7-18 year olds.

Making friends for life
A local church gathering

With my new role at UCM my life was full, involving a lot of travel. I wasn’t expecting to meet a husband, but God had other plans. In spring 2019 I met Rajiv and knew quickly that he was the man I wanted to share my life with. We married in March 2020, literally weeks before lockdown. If our wedding had been just a week later, the Covid pandemic would have prevented our 300 guests attending. Some flew in from Australia, Mauritius and of course, Ukraine. We’re so thankful for God’s timing. Since then, we’ve been blessed with our gorgeous son, Elisha and are expecting a second baby in January 2023.

I took over UCM leadership in January 2019, building upon 26 years’ service from John and Janet Hendy. I continue to be enormously humbled by the invitation to lead UCM, and as I reflect on the journey God has taken me on, I rejoice to see how He was preparing me over many years, for this role.

Myself and now leaders of Maximum, who attended camps in 2001

Since then we have struggled through Covid, and now the war. There are simply too many ways that I have been amazed by God’s protection, provision and care for the people in Ukraine. The churches we partner with are working very hard at this time to care for those impacted by the war. Many people in UK have given generously so we can help buy food, clothing, cooking essentials, medications, heating equipment and other supplies for those who have lost their homes. If you would like to know more about the work of UCM and how we continue to support the people of central Ukraine, please visit our website listed below.

To contact UCM email: or visit

A donation of £40 can help support a displaced family for one week or £80 can send a young person to Camp Maximum for one week.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Cranleigh Magazine