By: Christa Meland
Dave Nonnemacher had long been involved with a nonprofit in Romania, and has visited Romania and Moldova many times. So in February 2022, when Russia started attacking neighboring Ukraine, he felt compelled to do something.
Recognizing that the electric grid in many cities has been compromised or destroyed and thousands of citizens are living in complete darkness, he contacted a couple of friends and, together, they came up with a plan to assemble and deliver solar light kits to Ukraine.
The Ray of Life solar light unit is a five-pound self-contained device about the size of a cereal box. It was developed by John Prusa, a refugee from Czechoslovakia in the mid-1970s, and Ruston Seaman, the executive director of New Vision Renewable Energy, a Christian community development organization in West Virginia.
Seaman sent 10 partially assembled units to Nonnemacher for members of his church, United Church of Two Harbors, to finish assembling. (United is affiliated with both The United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church.) Nonnemacher then took them to Ukraine and, through connections made by For God’s Children International, he distributed them to individuals and families who needed them. While there, he witnessed the challenging conditions people were living in, and he met people who had lost family members to the war.
The Ray of Life units were a godsend, and Nonnemacher went home determined to assemble and deliver more.
“The Second Commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself,” said Nonnemacher, whose grandparents lived in western Ukraine long ago. “We have the opportunity to provide light for families, schoolchildren, rural and urban pastors and churches, the elderly who are unable to leave Ukraine, and many other people who have no electricity available…Light brings hope, hope keeps people alive.”
Each light kit contains a bright LED light and a solar panel. The battery, when fully charged, provides eight to 10 hours of light and can charge a cell phone.
Each unit costs $125 for components and shipping. United Church of Two Harbors has committed to sponsoring and assembling 10 more kits with church funds, and leaders are challenging the congregation to donate funds for another 10.
Once the additional kits arrive, members will have their second assembly party. During their first such party, they wrote short notes to the eventual recipients on the inside of each kit. Some people simply signed their name, others wrote “with love from Two Harbors,” and some left a Bible verse or a note of encouragement—like “Slava Ukraini” (Glory to Ukraine)!
Nonnemacher and Seaman recently ordered components for 200 more Ray of Life units. Roughly 100 of them have already been sponsored, most by United and by a church in Iowa, but Nonnemacher is looking for sponsors for the other 100.
While he plans to invite participation from the broader Two Harbors community, he also invites Minnesota United Methodist Churches to sponsor and possibly assemble the units as a tangible way to heal our broken world (if you’re interested in doing that email him at email@example.com or call him at 218-626-7222).
The New Horizons Foundation, a Romania-based organization that happens to be Nonnemacher’s employer, and For God’s Children International will make arrangements for the units’ transport and delivery in Ukraine.
Nonnemacher said that a when he visited Ukraine a year ago, he observed “disbelief and a little bit of panic” among its citizens. “Now it’s uncertainty, fear, and without a doubt, tenacity.”
Something that several Ukranians told him on his last visit stuck with him and strengthened his resolve to help them however he can: “Please don’t forget about us. Tell the Americans not to forget about us.”
He intends to make sure that Ukranians aren’t forgotten as they continue to live in a country ravaged by war.
“I look at this as an opportunity to provide a little bit of hope, and what God chooses to do with hope that is imbued in somebody because they can cook their meal in the light or read to their kids before they go to bed—that’s really powerful.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
122 West Franklin Avenue, Suite 400 Minneapolis, MN 55404