This story appears in FCA Magazine’s March/April 2018.
In the summer of 2013, Vova Demediuk was living the good life. He had a great job in Rivne, Ukraine, as an engineer at a nuclear power plant. He was also newly married to his wife, Sveta.
Something, however, was missing. He had recently become a Christian. Yet he knew God had something deeper in store for his life. While most would have been content with the status quo, Vova was not. He felt a burning desire to do more, to be more.
What brought that change, ironically, was a burgeoning relationship with FCA and an unexpected love affair with a sport he barely knew existed. That sent him down a winding road filled with trials, ultimate devastation, and a reveal of God's redeeming nature. For better or worse, Vova's status quo is far behind him.
• • •
The first steps in Vova's journey took place in 2010, when he met FCA Ukraine director Andriy Kravtsov at an FCA Camp hosted at Kravtsov's church. Vova, a new Christian, was growing in his faith.
"I didn't feel like the power plant was what God wanted for me," Vova said. "I wanted to do something more. I wanted to work with FCA. It was so great to speak about God to coaches and athletes."
By 2012, Vova's relationship with the Lord had grown even stronger, and so had his desire to make a significant career change. His heart was "exploding inside." That led to a pivotal moment with Kravtsov over coffee, where Vova could no longer contain his excitement. He reached across the table. He grabbed Kravtsov by the shirt.
Vova Demediuk has been an international leader for FCA since 2015.
"I want to be part of FCA!" he exclaimed. "I want to start a lacrosse ministry!"
Kravtsov was startled and confused: "Why lacrosse?"
"I don't know," Vova replied. "I saw it on YouTube."
"How many lacrosse players are there in Ukraine?" Kravtsov asked.
Vova was determined to make that last word — "yet" — mean something. His first move was to learn everything he could about the sport. He looked for places to play in Ukraine, but found nothing. Finally, he met a man who learned about lacrosse in the United States. Vova drove six hours to spend time learning the rules from this man, who gave him his first lacrosse stick and balls.
"I wanted to be a coach," Vova said. "But to do that, I knew I needed to be a good player first."
So, Vova found some teams in Poland. The problem: The teams were nine hours away, and getting across the border could sometimes take up to six more hours. Still, Vova reached out to one of the teams and asked if he could join. Even though he had no experience, they offered him a tryout. Vova earned a chance to play and spent the next three seasons commuting back and forth.
During this process, Vova met and married Sveta. She immediately supported her husband's dream and helped lay the foundation for FCA Lacrosse in Ukraine.
Vova started coaching the sport locally. His first team was a group of 10-year-old boys, some of whom Vova was able to help lead to Christ.
In March 2014, Vova held the first lacrosse tournament in Ukraine. Three teams from Kiev participated, although none were able to field a full squad. Vova played for one of the teams and served as a referee for the other games. Most importantly, the event served as an evangelism opportunity.
"Our team could openly share the love of Christ," Vova said. "This tournament was a real breakthrough in Ukrainian lacrosse as a whole. Some teams were lacking in equipment, but thanks to Dan Britton [FCA executive director of international ministry] and the whole FCA Lacrosse team, we could share our gloves, helmets and sticks with them. It was a historic moment for lacrosse in Ukraine."
Everything was coming together. Vova was catching a glimpse of his future in sports ministry and his marriage with Sveta. Things, Vova thought, were never better.
Since 2012, Vova Demediuk (center) has taught lacrosse to Ukrainian athletes.
• • •
One month after the lacrosse tournament, Vova and Sveta learned they were expecting their first child. Three months before the baby was due, Sveta received a horrifying diagnosis: She had leukemia.
Vova placed his life on hold.
The doctors gave Sveta just two weeks to live. Even if she did live long enough to give birth, the baby, according to doctors, would almost certainly have problems. The doctors recommended the couple have an abortion. Sveta refused. She instead spoke these powerful words to Vova: "Our God is strong. Our God is big. He's going to take care of us."
Kravtsov and other believers throughout Ukraine began praying for the couple. Meanwhile, a Polish hospital invited Sveta to come for treatment. The doctors there were going to try to save her and the baby. But the outlook was still grim. Most believed Sveta or the baby — or both — would die during surgery.
After doctors removed the tumor, Sveta's blood would not clot. Then, she went into labor nearly three months early. The baby was born, weighing just one pound. She was tiny, small enough to fit in the palm of a hand. Vova and Sveta named their girl Nicole, which means "victory." At the time, no one knew how prophetic or tragic Nicole's name might become.
For the next year, Vova went back and forth between two hospitals, watching the two loves of his life fight for theirs. In one hospital, Sveta was undergoing chemotherapy. In the other, Nicole was under the watchful eye of ICU doctors and nurses.
"The pain," Vova said, "was bottomless."
The process not only weighed Vova down physically, emotionally and spiritually, but it also became a huge financial burden. He needed $300,000 for his family's medical bills.
Kravtsov went to work. He mobilized churches in Ukraine and Poland to cover the bulk of the expenses. People randomly showed up to help, including one man who single-handedly covered the $100,000 needed for Sveta's bone marrow transplant. An additional $30,000 came from FCA supporters in the United States.
It was a miracle of provision that led to a miracle of life. Nicole weathered the storm, and Sveta went into remission.
Sveta's triumph, however, was short-lived. Three months after receiving a clean bill of health, her cancer returned. Less than two months later, she passed away.
Ravaged, Vova faced the daunting task of bringing his wife's body back to Ukraine. Once arrangements were made, they were able to have what Kravtsov described as a "celebration of life," where more than 3,000 people attended to support the family. Some came who didn't even know Sveta or Vova, but their influence had made a significant impact.
Vova was devastated. Less than two years earlier, everything seemed almost perfect, and now it had fallen apart. The funeral provided a brief respite from the grief.
"In that moment, God hugged us really strong," Vova said. "He held us in His hands. It was a special time for us."
• • •
Vova spent the next year taking care of Nicole. He tried, somehow, to move forward. Nicole needed special attention for her physical development, which was challenging because of her eyesight loss at birth. Vova didn't know what to do next other than to talk to God.
"I don't want to cry all the time," he prayed. "I don't want to ask You why. I just want to live and be happy with You. Heal me, and take my pain, and give me happiness."
Vova had been faithful. God showed His faithfulness to him. At the end of his long grieving process, Vova met a woman named Marichka. "They were made for each other," Kravtsov said. The couple fell in love and got married a few months later in October 2016. God blessed Vova with a new best friend, a ministry partner, and He'd given Nicole a new mother.
"They make perfect sense together," Kravtsov said. "They make a gorgeous couple, and Vova's daughter has a mom who cares about her and is helping her walk through this rehab."
Nicole, in fact, turned out to be perfectly named. She can walk, and a groundbreaking surgery restored her eyesight. Vova said Nicole isn't the only one who has experienced a miracle throughout such an experience.
"God has been healing me," he said. "He took my tears and gave me happiness."
Vova Demediuk with his daughter Marichka and wife Nicole.
• • •
Vova and Marichka are working diligently to grow FCA Lacrosse in Ukraine. They moved to Kiev during the fall of 2017 and set a goal of starting 22 clubs in the next 10 years with Christian coaches who are committed to sharing the gospel with their players.
Vova's vision for developing lacrosse across the country also includes deepening a relationship with the International Lacrosse Federation. Another key step is getting grants for equipment.
Britton has seen the work Vova is doing in Ukraine. As a former college and professional lacrosse player, he participated in one of Vova's camps and saw the potential in how lacrosse can change a nation. More importantly, he believes Vova's personal story will be the most powerful aspect of his ministry.
"Vova is one of my heroes of the faith. Even though he has been through so many trials, he has grown in his faith as a result and continues to shine for Jesus." — Dan Britton on Vova Demediuk."Vova is one of my heroes of the faith," Britton said. "Even though he has been through so many trials, he has grown in his faith as a result and continues to shine for Jesus. Vova always has the joy of the Lord in his heart, and his big smile always gives you the assurance that God is in control of his life. His vision to spread lacrosse throughout Ukraine and impact coaches and athletes has given him a foundation of purpose and hope to overcome the trials."
Perhaps more than anyone else, Kravtsov has enjoyed his close view of Vova's incredible journey. He believes that everything Vova has overcome will guarantee his success.
"Vova is a faithful leader who is completely ready to take on this challenge," Kravtsov said. "He's passionate about his place in the ministry. The Lord is allowing that ministry to flourish.
"We've gone from not having the sport here at all to now having annual lacrosse training. Today, I don't know who doesn't know what lacrosse is. It's been awesome to see how it's growing. It's not growing because we're so good. It's growing because God is so great."
That's what Vova is counting on. He knows better than most what it takes to trust in God and rely on Him for everything.
"Faith can do anything," Vova said. "There is faith when it seems like you've lost everything you're standing on — the faith that can take you through the hardships of life, the faith of that person is stronger than the faith that can move the mountains."
Dan Britton (far right) prays with Ukrainian players during a trip to support Vova Demediuk.
Photos courtesy of FCA Ukraine and Vova Demediuk.