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When Thousand Oaks resident Nita Hanson visited a Ukrainian orphanage for the first time in 1996, she entered a dark room where bumper to bumper cribs lined the walls.
She looked into one and saw an infant whose head was as large as the rest of his body. She reached into his crib. The baby grabbed her finger tight.
“That’s when my heart broke open. I knew then that I couldn’t leave,” she said.
The infant was suffering from hydrocephalus, which is caused by an accumulation of fluid inside the brain. It was one several treatable conditions that plagued the children at the orphanage, all of whom suffered from some type of disability and had been abandoned by their families because of it.
Soon after, Hanson, who was in Ukraine on a year-long Christian mission trip, had a vision. She held the sick child in one arm and an ailing woman in her other as she stood before the Lord.
“Something was birthed in my heart then,” she said. “I knew God was calling me to do something.”
When Hanson returned to Thousand Oaks, she began organizing mission trips to Ukraine through her church, Emmanuel Presbyterian, until she officially launched her ministry, God’s Hidden Treasures, in 2000.
Since then, the septuagenarian has expanded her ministry from orphanages to more than half a dozen causes in Ukraine, including a medical ministry for stroke victims, a family ministry to support their caretakers, a spiritual ministry to lead Bible studies, an outreach ministry to support other like-minded charities and a wheelchair ministry.
Diabetic amputations are common in Ukraine and to date, God’s Hidden Treasures has donated more than 5,000 wheelchairs and mobility aids, many of which it has received from the Agoura Hills-based international disability charity, Joni and Friends.
Newbury Park resident Katie Wright is an intern at Joni and Friends and has traveled to Ukraine to volunteer with God’s Hidden Treasures four times, most recently for three weeks last summer.
The 22-year-old said that there is very little disabilities awareness in the former Soviet republic. And with a lack of elevators in Sovietstyle block apartment buildings 10 stories tall, individuals with mobility issues suffer extreme isolation. God’s Hidden Treasures visits them in their homes to remind them they’re not alone.
“Nita is a vessel of God’s hope for the orphaned and disabled,” she said.
Hanson said when she arrives at someone’s home to give them a wheelchair, the recipients often asks her why she is there.
“Because God heard your prayers,” she tells them.
Hanson divides her time between Thousand Oaks, where she spends two months out of the year on speaking tours and fundraising, and Florida, where she also raises monies. She spends at least six months out the year living in Ukraine.
Thousand Oaks resident Tony Miller travelled to Ukraine with Hanson for two weeks 14 years ago. He said he’ll never forget the time they gave a wheelchair to a woman who had not been able to leave her home in six years. The next day, they saw her in line as they handed out free meals in the park.
“As recently as yesterday, I was telling stories about the people Nita has helped,” he said. “Words can hardly measure what she’s done for people.”
Though Hanson’s ministry is Christian, she insists that her ministry should not be used as a recruitment vehicle for the churches in Ukraine. She said she only wants to share the love of God with others.
“The God of the Bible and all the miracles, it hasn’t changed. It’s still the same today,” she said.
For more information, visit godshiddentreasures.org.