STATE CENTER — A somber and thoughtful atmosphere filled St. Paul’s Lutheran Church at State Center on Tuesday evening as church leaders and community members gathered to pray for Ukraine and to support Olya Hinchak , a Ukrainian foreign student attending West Marshall High School.
Saint Paul pastor Melissa Waterman hosted the event, and church leaders and residents from throughout the State Center and surrounding communities attended the rally. Waterman kicked off the service with a message of support for Hinchak.
“Olya, I just want you to know that the State Center community is here to support you and offer our prayers for you, the people of Ukraine and your family,” Waterman said. “We have your back and are around you, not just tonight, but in the days, weeks and months to come.”
They began with several prayers asking for peace and healing across the world. In addition to Waterman, pastors from State Center Methodist Church, State Center Presbyterian Church and Elim Lutheran Church of Marshalltown and a deacon from State Center St. prayers during the service.
Waterman then asked members of the community to join her in a song that included the names of nations around the world, and the church was filled with the participants’ musical response – “Peace be yours”.
Waterman and the other religious leaders invited everyone to come to the front of the shrine and light a candle to place on the map, which was spread out on a table in the room as several songs were played. The person lighting a candle was supposed to place the candle over a country they wished to pray for – unsurprisingly, most of them were placed over Ukraine and surrounding countries.
After everyone who wanted to light a candle had a chance to do so and the songs ended, Hinchak took to the pulpit to say a few words of thanks to those who took the time to support her. She shared the feeling of gratitude she felt during an interview after the service ended.
“I was so happy that so many people came out to support me, even people I didn’t know at all,” Hinchak said. “The (service) that was going on made me feel very relaxed and calmed down and I really liked the songs that were playing, and I’m so happy, like, I’m not alone and a lot of people are coming to support me. And support not only me, but my country and my community.
Hinchak is only 15 and lives with his host family, the Rohmillers. His foster mother, Rebecca Rohmiller, was also happy to see the support from the community, but was sad that Hinchak had to go through the stress.
“She’s 15 and will be 16 in March, so that’s what she should be focusing on, not that,” Rohmiller said.
Hinchak’s family is still in the western region of Ukraine.
“It’s safer than anywhere else, but they still have bomb shelters in case something happens,” she said. “I still worry a lot about them.”
Hinchak said she tried to communicate with them as much as possible, but the eight-hour time difference between Iowa and Ukraine and her own busy schedule can make conversation difficult. She often calls her family on weekends and tries to talk to them after school if they aren’t sleeping.
“I text them every day. I ask them how they are and how things are going every two hours, so at least I can be sure they are safe and okay,” Hinchak said.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or [email protected]