Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Desires of My Heart

So how do you explain going to Ukraine to follow up with the children we hosted this past summer and coming home with a desire to coordinate a medical conference for caretakers of children with special needs?  How does a desire to plan for next year’s hosting program turn itself into a long term of goal of bringing the gospel to an entire community?  I can explain it no other way than by saying that God is giving me the desires of my heart. 

I am going to step out on a theological limb right here.  As I made phone calls this week, skyped, wrote letters, and met with board members, seemingly driven by a motor, I had this sudden revelation:  God is giving me the desires of my heart.  Here is the theological limb.  I did not first have a desire that God granted.  Rather, God has given me a desire.  My heart has new desires; not any that I sought after; but those that he has sovereignly chosen to give.

I remembered this today during worship service at the Church at Brook Hills.  We sang:
Praise to the Lord
Who o'er all things so wonderfully reigneth
Shelters thee under His wings
Yea, so gladly sustaineth
Hast thou not seen how thy desires e'er have been
Granted in what He ordaineth?

My spirit soared; seeing how my desires have been granted in what God Himself ordained to occur while we were in Ukraine.  I have known Dr. Jim and Marianna Peipon for 5 years.  Unbeknownst to me, Dr. Jim  has been bringing teams to Kyiv, Ukraine for 5 years, speaking to caregivers, teachers, and parents about a multi-disciplinary approach to treating children with disabilities.   He has been looking for connections in eastern Ukraine.  God took me to eastern Ukraine and gave me connections.  All I really wanted to do was provide disposable diapers to children who needed them.  God wanted more.

Last spring, Anton interviewed several orphanage directors before recommending one to host from.  One of the orphanages, I had never heard of or visited.  I visited for the first time this month.  I can tell you that there is a noticeable and distinct difference in the atmosphere of orphanages where there is a regular gospel presence.   When Christians are visiting, hugging, leaving small tokens of grace, there is a light not found where Christians are absent.  Anton unknowingly chose an orphanage for us which lacked those invaluable tokens of grace.  I have seen first hand how hosting can affect an orphanage.  Christian families come to adopt.  Missionaries make connections.  English lessons are offered.  Repairs are made.  The Bible gets opened.   God knew where grace was needed and He sent us there.  I remember little Yura this summer, hanging on my every word, waiting to hear how Eve would respond to the serpent.  I remember the questions about heaven, the quiet contemplation of the Jesus Film.  And I remember the coldness of the orphanage to which they returned.

I rest today in the assurance of Philippians 2 that it is God who not only gives the desire, but also the ability to do what pleases Him.  My cause, to bring grace to the lives of orphans and the lost in Ukraine, finds success because it is God’s cause:

Psalm 37:4-6:
 Delight yourself in the Lord
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him and he will do this:
 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
    the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

May it be so.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

What If?

It seems that some people seem to have a natural gift of compassion for those with special needs.  One of the first friends of mine to ever adopt was Linda Crawford.  This was back in 1990 and she intentionally sought out children with significant needs.  I could not understand it.  Since then I have met others like Linda, as well as those who minister to these unique individuals in other ways:  special education, Special Olympics, etc.  For whatever reason, those with such unique needs and abilities were never on my radar. 

That began to change a few months ago.  Marianna Peipon told me about the lack of facilities for children in Ukraine with HIV.  Most of the regular orphanages do not want them since such stigma is still attached to those in Ukraine who are HIV positive.  I heard of someone who was fostering a lot of these children, taking them to a village near the border of Ukraine, teaching them another language, and preparing them to work in a factory that was being built in a nearby country.  Marianna told me of the children she ministers to weekly in Kyiv who have been abandoned in the hospital simply because they are HIV positive.

Taryn Kilpatrick told me about her visit this past summer to the only Level 4 special needs orphanage in the Lugansk Region of Ukraine.  She told me about Lucia, an 11 year old girl who has no use of her legs but is otherwise healthy.  And about Vitalik, who was born with no legs and has spent the 19 years of his life institutionalized but is now learning to read. 

And then I visited Lucia and Vitalik and the other hundred or so children that live in K4.  I delivered  disposable diapers because their budget does not provide for them.  I gave Vitalik a Jesus Storybook Bible.  I laughed with Lucia as she looked at each picture I took of her.  I looked into the smiling eyes of Andrey, bedridden, alone and delighted by visitors.  I held hands with Sergey whose sensory issues seem to overwhelm him.  Were conditions at K4 deplorable as some describe such orphanages in Ukraine?  No, they were not.  Instead what I observed at K4 was a system that once worked well for the purpose it was designed to serve.  What I saw were professionals who were doing the best they could with the knowledge that they have.  And I saw children made in the image of God who know nothing of His grace.
I left Ukraine with a God-given compassion for these children.  I also left Ukraine with dreams.  Big dreams.  What if we could continue to provide diapers on a monthly basis, long past our 6 month goal?  What if we could return to K4 in the summer and conduct a “mini-camp”, 2 hours each morning for 3 days where we make crafts, sing songs, and teach these children of the God who made them, and loves them.  What if we could coordinate, with our Ukrainian partners, a conference for caregivers of special needs children in the Lugansk region of Ukraine, made up of medical professionals from both the US and Ukraine?  What if we could somehow coordinate medical care for some of the children with medically correctable issues like cleft palates, or crossed eyes?  What if we could help establish a Christian orphanage for children with HIV who are otherwise shunned by their society?  What if we could have a part in transforming the mindset of Ukrainians that says those with disabilities are worthless, ignorant, and destined for little more than existing.  What if we can truly bring grace to Ukraine?  What if?

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus

I decided that the best way to try and convey the full measure of our trip is to share some of the individual  moments that seem to scream out "This is why you are here."  This story does not directly concern orphans but its demonstrates the grace needed to be shared in Ukraine.

Before we left, I order copies of The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus in Russian to give out in Ukraine as the Lord lead.  One person I gave the book to was a woman named Luba.  Luba lives in a small village that used to be a vibrant coal mining town.  It is now mostly empty.  Even Luba's apartment building has few remaining residents.

The day after we gave the book to Luba, she called Ira to let her know she had been reading "that book you gave me."  She said further that the book kept referring to another book and she wanted to know if she could get one of those, too.  The Book that The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus continually references is the Bible.  And so we took a Russian translation of the Bible to Luba.

When we arrived at Luba's apartment, she wanted to tell us more about her reading of the Stranger on the Road to Emmaus.  She explained that she usually has a difficult time reading. One, because her eyesight is bad; and two, because she has a hard time understanding what she is reading.  But as she read the book we gave her, not only were her physical eyes able to see clearly but her mind was opened to what she was reading.  She told us that as she read, she got chill bumps up and down her arms.  She had told  some other residents of her apartment about the book and now they wanted to read it, too.  She told us that she would share it and the Bible we gave her with them.

Do I want to get more copies of this book and the One it keeps referring to into the hands of Luba's friends?  You bet I do!  We American Christians so take for granted the bookstore down the street and the church on every corner.  Luba and her friends struggle to find transportation to the doctor that they know they need.  Unless we tell them, they might not even know of their need for the Great Physician Himself.

Along with the books, we also gave Luba some medicine she needed and a blood pressure monitor.  She tried to pay us back with food, candy, wine, anything we would take.

All over Ukraine are people who have never seen grace.  They cannot comprehend why we do things with no expectation of repayment.  And they cannot imagine a God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills who neither expects nor requires a single thing of us except humble child-like faith.  And even that is His gift to us, that we might not boast in anything.

If you would like to share The Stranger on the Road to Emmaus with your unsaved friends or family, you can now order it from Amazon and Grace to Ukraine will receive a percentage to help with hosting costs in 2013.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Trip

We returned 3 days ago from our Fall Trip to Ukraine.  I hardly know where to begin in sharing the details of this trip.  I have to say first that God sovereignly ordained our team.  This was my first time traveling with Taryn Kilpatrick and Heidi Collett and they were awesome companions!  Taryn has been to Ukraine numerous times and coordinates the state side details of Camp Friendship with our Ukrainian partners, Anton and Ira Marchenko.  This was Heidi's first trip to Ukraine and she was such a blessing.  She left the US knowing she and her husband would be adopting one of the children we hosted this summer; along the way, she realized they would be bringing home 2 children.  Please pray for them on their adoption journey.