Wednesday, March 20, 2013

19 CHILDREN!!! YAY!! and YIKES!!!!

In a previous post, I wrote about 4 children from Bela who thought they were coming in June but could not due to paperwork issues.  I left Ukraine, giving Anton instructions to find out what was going on.  For various reasons, it was just not clear to me what the status of their paperwork was.  If nothing else, I was determined to get their paperwork in order so that the children could come next year.  Well, Anton just informed me that if we were willing, three of these children can come in June!  Say what?!  "Do you want to add them?"  he asked?  There is a new rule in Ukraine that hosted children have to have "orphan status".  These particular children were in various stages of paperwork but for 3 of them, Anton was able to accomplish 2 months of paperwork in about 2 days.  Unfortunately, one of the children has not yet been to court for termination of parental rights so it was impossible for her to come.  As for the other 3, do you think I could say no?!

 Is this too many kids?  Yes!  Have we bitten off more than we can chew yet again?  Yes!  Do we now need to raise more money?  Yes!  Are these 3 children going to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and know that they are loved and cared for?  Know that we went to bat for them when we didn't have to? Know that to someone they are important?  Yes, yes yes!!!!!  So praise the Lord once again that we are insufficient for the task before us but our God is quite up to the job.   And please, please, pray for the 4th child as well as another 16 year old girl in this same orphanage, both of whom live there without "orphan status",  cannot be hosted or adopted, and who need our love and compassion as well.  May God show us how we can reach them also with the news that are, indeed, loved.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Insufficient for the Task

It is easy to get discouraged after a mission trip.  You see the extent of the need before you and feel hopeless to meet it.  I feel this way especially right now in regard to the special needs orphanage that we support.  The dates for hosting and Camp Friendship are getting close.  The SN orphanage needs more diapers as well as wipes and Qtips.  I think "Have we bitten off more than we can chew?"  "Why didn't we just stick with a simple hosting program as originally planned?"  "How will we ever fund all three projects?"

I am thankful for friends who remind me to put my focus back on Christ, not on the circumstances.  My God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and will provide if He wills.    There is a song we often sing at the Church at Brook Hills.  If any song were to ever become the theme song for Grace to Ukraine, this would have to be it.  The song is "By Faith" by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

"By faith the church was called to go in the power of the Spirit to the lost, to deliver captives and to preach good news in every corner of the earth."  I feel like I visited empty corners last week.  Corners of the earth in which there was no gospel presence.  No grace.  Corners of hopelessness and despair.  We may not be successful in penetrating these corners but we must not give up.  It is not my job to be successful; only to be faithful.

"We will stand as children of the promise.  We will fix our eyes on Him, our soul's reward.  Till the race is finished and the work is done, we'll walk by faith and not by sight."  And so I turn my eyes away from the despair I saw last week; the poverty; the cutting; the alcoholism; the foolishness; the darkness; the forgotten and I look to Christ, for He alone is my reward.

I saw a quote by John Piper earlier this week: "If you are sufficient for your task, it is too small."   Perhaps we have bitten off more than we can chew.  Perhaps we need God for the task before us.  Perhaps that is what I need to learn most of all.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Somebody Tell Them

Here is a video of some of the children we met on our recent tript to Ukraine.  It is our prayer and our our goal to tell each of them of their worth and their hope in Christ.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Importance of Hosting

I am home but feel like I left so many stories untold or at least incomplete.  First, about 15 year old Kostya.  When we went back to Schotova the next day, he greeted us and I gave him a hug but I wasn't sure if he had been told that we wanted to host him.  A little later, Lena, who is the self-appointed spokesperson for the group, came up and asked if he was going.  She clapped her hands gleefully when I said yes.  Then I went to talk to Kostya.  I put my arms around his shoulders and asked "Did they tell you that you get to come to my house in June?"  He was overcome with emotion.  He said he hardly knew what to say and that it was so unexpected.  I later found out that he rooms with Yura and Sasha who are coming, and the night before had been talking about how he wished he could come.  I knew that we had made the right decision in adding him.  So here is our group from Schotova:

After leaving Schotova, I went to dinner with the guardian who will be accompanying the kids and the girls went to Belaroschenka.  My meeting went well.  Taryn's, however, got off to a bad start.  We had made a huge mistake in October.  We talked to 4 children at Bela about being hosted, understanding that there paperwork was in order.  After we got home, we were told that they could not be hosted.  I then mistakenly assumed that the children would have been told why although I still planned to talk to them about it.  Well, Taryn was greeted by one of those children with an immediate question about hosting. She wisely chose to leave that discussion to me.  The next day when we all went back to Bela, we sat down with these children and tried to explain why they could not come.  The more we talked, the more questions we had, and we still can't figure out exactly what their status is.  But the most heart wrenching thing was that one of the girls was just absolutely devastated that she could not come.  In English, she said "I am shocked." And then the tears began to flow.  What made it even worse, if that were possible, was that she realized it was ultimately the fault of a mother who had abandoned her.  At first the issue was not being hosted, but soon she was sobbing that "When I am a mother I will not treat my children this way."  

We learned a lesson about how we approach the teachers and children about hosting.  But we also learned a lesson, through both Natasha and Kostya, about the importance of what we do.  A trip to America for these children is a dream come true.  It is a chance to just play, be children, expand their knowledge of a world beyond the orphanage.  They also know it is a chance to build relationships; to be loved; to be honored instead of looked down upon.  We are going to try and figure out if these kids' paperwork can be fixed so that they can come next year.  In the meantime, please pray for them, especially Natasha, whose heart we unintentionally broke.  Hosting has the same negatives as adoption.  Whenever you host, there are always children who must get left behind.  And when you adopt, in the midst of the joy, there is always a lingering sadness over the fact that you simply cannot take them all. 

No, we are not all called to adopt.  But could you be in that 7 % of Christians, who, if we all did adopt, would bring an end to the orphan crisis?  These 2 children were hosted last summer and a family has chosen to bring them into their family.  They arrived in Ukraine today and in 6 weeks, these 2 children will be living in America with a family who deeply loves them.  Please help me make this a reality for all the children we are able to touch in Ukraine.  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Tossing and Turning

Krasnadon Part II

It is 5:00 Wednesday morning and I cannot sleep.  Lucea’s sweet smile stares back at me in the dark; an 11 year old in the special needs orphanage who cannot walk but even more regrettably cannot write because she is not counted worthy of education.  Faces of 11 year old girls at Krasnadon morph into faces of young unmarried women with babies in their laps. The bashful half-grin of quiet 15 year old Kostya screams at me “I turn 16 in 5 months and I have no one!”  And so I toss and turn until I finally decide I must share these stories with you.  And ask you to share them with others.  And pray they spread like wildfire until one day I have no child for which to weep.  I think of my Lord staring out over Jerusalem lamenting his longing to gather his children the way a hen protects her chicks under her wings.  But in this case it is not because they refuse.  Instead the orphans are plentiful; the parents are few.  Here in Ukraine and around the world.  Won’t you do your part to comfort, to aid, to parent these children?

Yesterday, we intended to visit the special needs orphanage.  It was time to take them diapers plus we hoped to have sabrinya with some of the older children.  However, someone had gotten sick during the night and they were under quarantine.  We got to visit with Lucea for just a little while and we talked to the medical director about how things were going and if they needed other help.  They would like to add wipes to their monthly delivery and the diapers are low because they have been using them for all the children instead of just the bedridden ones.  The special needs fund is low and we need your help for this. 

I was saddened to watch Taryn interacting with 11 year old Lucea.  She is about the size of Jay who is 6.  We think she has CP and possibly FAS.  But she could learn to write, to count, to say her colors.  We took out the sketch pad and a pen and she scribbled for a few minutes.  Then we gave her heart stickers and she covered the page with them.  She clapped her hands in delight over the pajama pants and the Tshirt that Taryn gave her.  And then she was placed back into the arms of her caregiver and was put back into a bed. There, she is not allowed pens and paper, stickers, possibly even pajama pants.  She is available for adoption.  She needs a family or she will waste away.  We are discussing the possibility of hosting some of these children in the future.  That will cost more money.  We need your help.

Next we drove to a home where unwed mothers are cared for.  The home was founded by a woman in a church here and is now supported by both the church and the government.  It is in a former kindergarten building.  It is well furnished and nicely decorated.  The mothers had asked Lori last week when she would be bringing another team of Americans.  I asked her what we could bring as gifts.  She said nothing.  They just want to talk to you and hear about your life.  In other words, they want love.  Attention.  Affection.  Many of the mothers that stay there are orphaned.  Some are older moms who have had their other children taken away from them.  They can stay at the home until the baby turns 18 months though few stay that long.  They help them to find resources but some go back to boyfriends or other situations from whence they came.  One of the babies, way too small for her age, had a lazy eye.  I know it can be corrected.  Instead, I held her and silently prayed that she would not repeat the mistakes of her mother.  I praised them for giving their children the gift of life.  It would have been easier to abort them.  I cannot blame them, outside of Christ, from seeking love, attention, affection from a man.  We gave those who had not already received one a Jesus Storybook Bible.  Pray they will read it and see Christ.  Ask God to open their eyes to their need for Him.  Support Lori Jackson with prayer and financial support.  She is an American from Tallahassee, living in Lugansk.  She visits these moms.  She visits the orphanages.  She ministers to the graduates in many ways.  She is the hands and feet of Christ in Lugansk.  She epitomizes love.

On a lighter note, we decided to have a real lunch Tuesday for the first time.  It put us an hour behind which is why we have been skipping it, opting instead for the supermarket on the run. (meals and showering, in my opinion, are 2 optional activities in Ukraine).  But Ukraine restaurants are just funny.  It was 12:15 when we sat down.  We tried to order the “business lunch” and were told we could not because it was not lunch time.  What?!  This was the same restaurant which, in October, told us they did not offer plain cheese pizzas.  They had to put toppings on them.  After that wasted hour, we headed back to the orphanage in Krasnadon.

Sergey and curly Nastia greeted us along with some other children.  They know Lori well and led her upstairs to the teacher’s lounge to hang out.  Anton met with the Director to go over hosting technicalities.  I pondered whether to go with him.  I met with her for a few minutes the day before and I just did not feel inclined to go.  In light of my previous posts about directors, you might find this odd.  But when Anton returned and told me about the conversations they had, I knew why the Lord had kept me away.  The director and others were able to ask Anton questions about us that I don’t think they would have asked us directly.  Why do they do this?  What benefit do they get?  We cannot understand why they would do it if they are not getting something from it.  I know that Christ was glorified in Anton’s answers even without my being there.  

We never got all of our hosted kids together at one time but they came and went during the next 5 hours that we spent there at Krasnadon.  We saw more of their personalities.  Yana does not like her picture taken.  Sergey is ultra competitive and will cheat at Trouble to win.  One of the Kristinas is quiet and shy; the other danced with Taryn to cell phone music.  Curly Nastia is affectionate and loving.  The other Nastia is more hesitant.  Most of these children are still so young.  3 eleven year olds.  One 12 year old and 2 fourteen year olds.  Besides being young, they are small.  I look at them in their small cuteness and I think that they are “adoptable”.  But one day they will be 15 year old adolescent graduates and their adoptableness declines.  Kristina and Sergey graduate in 2014.  They are too young, too little, too immature.  And few families are looking for teenagers to adopt.  GtU is not about adoption; I keep saying that.  And it’s not, really.  It’s about grace; about the gospel; about relationships.  But when I see 11 year old Nastia as young mother Vicka, needing love and affection, I have to ask you to consider adoption as an option for your family. 

Yeah so, older kids.  Kostya’s shy grin shouting at me in the wee hours of the morning.  He turns 16 in June.  It’s the older kids that keep me awake.  He graduates this year.  As does Tanya and her brother Yura.  I will talk to them about what is next.  Perhaps they don’t even know.  It’s a dark part of the world.  I don’t know what I would do.  Tanya and Yura have extended family that love them.  Kostya has no one.  I just sent a text to Anton asking him to add Kostya to our hosting program if it is not too late.  Unless a family steps up before his 16th birthday, it IS too late for him to find a family.  It is not too late for him to sit during sabrinya and hear of the God who loves him and died for him.  It is not too late to befriend him; to offer guidance, support, mentoring.  Antratsit is void of Christianity.  Not that Christianity is equal with Americanism, but there is no western influence there.  We were stopped by people in the streets because they heard us speak English. But I appeal to my American friends because you are my audience.  Maybe there is a family, a young man, a couple praying about where God might lead them to share the gospel and plant a church.  Maybe you can ask him if Antratsit is the place.  Schotova orphanage might not be around for long.  Already, they send the younger children to the village school due to economics.  They will probably send the older kids there next year.  They do not like that idea.  Lena said they would be made fun of because “they live in an internat”.  Sasha said “and I will fight with them and get into trouble”.  There is no place for them.  If the orphanage cannot afford to stay open, they will be sent elsewhere.  I don’t want to lose them. 

This is why I couldn’t sleep.  Will you please pray with me for all of these situations?  Will you advocate?  Go?  Give? Adopt?  Ministry is hard.  Once you see a face, a smile, get a hug from a child, you cannot forget.  You cannot go on with life as usual.  Your heart hurts and you always feel like you can do more.  Our God is big.  He CAN do more.  May we all, through Him, do abundantly above and beyond what any of us could ever have imagined.  


Krasnadon, Part I

We had sort of been on our own in Antratsit.  A few days before we left America, I decided we needed to be more adventurous so instead of staying in Lugansk and driving everywhere, we are staying where the orphanages are located.  The first 3 nights we stayed in Anratsit.  Anton came to get us on Monday morning.  We had to drive back to Schotova to pick up some hosting paperwork so we were thrilled to be able to hang with the kids a little while more.  We got on the road to Krasnadon about 11:45 am.  Anton had his trusty ole GPS to lead the way.  And lead it did; straight to an abandoned building at the end of a dirt road!  Taryn reminded me that I wanted adventure.  She, Alexandra and Jay got out for a photo shoot while Anton and I tried to decide how to get out of the fix we were in; that “fix” being “lost”.  Solution:  ask a villager walking down the dirt road.  So we finally got back on track, getting to see the Russian border from a distance, and arriving in Krasnadon around 2:00.

We are staying at an awesome old Soviet style hotel at which Colton should come and film a movie.  Wood and concrete floors.  Bare walls.  No hot water.  Sometimes no water at all.  The Krasnadon village orphanage is about half an hour from the town.  When we got there the Director gathered up all the kids and we sat in the teacher’s lounge and got acquainted.  Uno and Trouble once again did the trick.  We have 2 Nastias, 2 Kristinas, 1 Yana and 1 Sergey that we will be hosting from there.  Let me introduce them to you:

Curly haired Nastia is 11 years old and in the 5th grade.   Her 2 brothers are adults.  Blond Nastia is 11 years old and in the 4th grade.  She has no siblings.  Yana is 11 years old and in the 5th grade.  She has an adult brother.  Kistina K.  is 14 and in the 8th grade; she has no siblings.  Sergey is 14 and in the 8th grade and has a 16 year old brother no longer in the orphanage.  Kristina S.  is 12 and in the 6th grade.  I am not sure about her sibling situation. 

We hung out with the kids until around 7:00.  We walked to the bus stop through a park.  It was SO DARK that had Lori not had a flashlight we could not have found our way.  As Jay told Lori, she needed a flashlight to find her flashlight.  Upon arriving at the bus stop, we realized we had not idea when the next bus might come and it was COLD!  So we got a cab.  You had to be there to find the humor in this, but I am sure the cab driver thought we were drunk.  Maybe we were delirious from lack of sleep and food; maybe you just have to laugh to keep from crying; but when he accidentally turned his headlights off as we sped down a dark lonely road, and I exclaimed “Oh my gosh!!”, even the stoic Ukrainian cab driver had to laugh.  We made it safely back to our hotel room, walked next door to some sort of cafĂ© that had wifi and ate what we did not order.  Ukraine.  I love it.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Being Served

We arrived in Antratsit a little before 1:00 am.  Sergey, whom we have known for almost 5 years, picked us up from Donetsk.  He was our driver back during our adoptions.  He could not believe we had so much luggage and was afraid we could not pack it all into his car.  We somehow did and enjoyed listening to his American music the next hour and a half.

We got 2 suites at the Hotel Wellness, $32 a night.  We slept in on Friday, knowing the kids had school.  We tried to find a coffee shop but perhaps we just didn’t look in the right place.  We did go to the supermarket and stock up on food for the kids at the orphanage.  Anton arrived at about 11:00 and we were on our way to Schotova.

The first to come out and greet us was Sasha S. and he presented to me as a gift a beautiful picture of him and his hopeful soon to be parents, Glen and Courtney.  Next were some boys I did not know well but had letters for them, Spartak, Artem, Vasya, and Vitya.  We are hosting Vitya this summer and he soon warmed up to us.  Lena and Tanya made their way outside and we headed inside where it was warmer. 

We went up to the TV where the kid gather, to well, watch TV.  And stare at their phones.  It struck me after a couple of days that there is such a lack of things to do.  I remember when we first adopted that our boys were totally clueless about how to entertain themselves.  They had never learned to just play.  How could they?

Anyway, you could tell that the kids we are hosting had been informed of that fact and there was sort of a stand-offish attitude at first from the other children.  It took time for them all to feel comfortable with us.  When I say “all” I am referring to those who were there in the TV room.  A lot of the boys came in and hung out with us; not so much the girls.  Nastia and Vicka, 2 girls who have been to America with another hosting program were there.  No smiles from them at first.  But an hour or so into the visit, they joined our games.  We never even saw the older girls other than Lena and Tanya.  Yura, who we hosted last summer, was nowhere to be found but after awhile he, too, turned up and we got a chance to chat and deliver some gifts sent by a family hoping to adopt him. 

There is one boy we had chosen for hosting who I had never met.  His name is Yura and he just turned 15.  I asked about him and Tanya, who is obviously a leader in the orphanage, went to get him.  He walked in without a word.  I introduced myself and got nothing.  I asked him if he knew he was coming to America in the summer.  He said “they told me.”  I said “Well, can I at least get a smile?”  Obviously not.  I was thinking “oh no” but hoping after some time in America he would come out of his shell, sort of like Andrey did last summer.  After that less than meaningful conversation, he disappeared.   I sent Tanya to get him twice after that; once to eat and again to give him a gift we had brought our hosted kids.  He did show up to walk with the other boys to escort us to the bus stop at about 7:00 and offered a reluctant hug when the other kids did.  I thought, well maybe the darkness gives him a little safety in reaching out.  Hope springs eternal.

Alona had joined us from Lugansk as a translator and when we got back to Antratsit we found Green Park, a restaurant Lisa Tucker had told us about.  It was good but oh were they glad to see us go.  My sweet Jay has impulsivity issues.  Enough said.

Sunday morning, we got on the bus again and headed back to Schotova to pick up our hosted kids. Sasha S. and Vitya came running out to meet us with smiles on their faces.  Oh, dear Lord, set the lonely in families I pray.  We went in to get the rest of the kids.  We learned that Yura, from last year, had gone to visit his grandmother because it was her birthday; Pasha had gone for a visit with his mother for first time in a long while, and Yura, Tanya’s brother, was also with extended family.  The dorm parent went and got Yura, (Mr. I-will-not-smile-at –you-no-matter-what) and Sasha, Lena’s brother.  He is another shy one.  He and Lena could be twins, they look so much alike.  But Lena is outgoing to the max and Sasha is quiet and reserved with the cutest smile and dimples.  The dorm parent forced a hug and I told her it was OK, they were boys. 

Finally, we headed out into the cold and walked back to the bus stop.  We got on a very small bus with a gazillion other people and marveled at the honesty of passengers who pass their bus fare to the front through unknown hands and wait on the change to return the same way.  Jay was somewhere in the crowd with Lena.  He never left her side; declaring at one point that he loved her more than me!  Upon arriving back in Antratsit, we went to the hotel room and had breakfast.  I showed the kids pictures of mine and Taryn’s families and talked about what hosting would be like.  I asked them why they thought we hosted.  Answers  given were to give them rest; because it is interesting to them; because some of them will find families; I asked then why do I come visit?  A little more hesitancy in answering that.   But finally, sweet Sasha spoke up and said “to get to know us better”. Smart child.  Yes, I told them but also I host and come visit because I love you.  Their expressions were priceless.  A combination of happiness and curiosity.  Then I shared with them God’s special love for the fatherless and how when I learn more about God, he gives me more love for them.  I used Sasha’s answer to show them how it was important to “get to know God better” so that our love for him could grow just like our love for each other.  And Tanya added that we learn about God in the summer at “sabrinya” which is what we called our Bible study time during hosting last year.  And as the day went on with such discussions, and with laughter, and posing for photo booth, and games at the arcade, trust grew, love blossomed, and relationships began or cemented. 

When we got back to the orphanage later in the afternoon, withdrawn Yura, who yesterday had hid in his room, played games, laughed, talked, but still cut his serious eyes at me to see if I was noticing.  Sasha, Lena’s brother, no longer had to be “forced” to hug us.  16 year old Sergey, arms scarred from cutting, joined us later in the day.  He had the most beautiful smile that must have been hiding deep pain.  I just cannot imagine being unloved and unvalued.  Some of these kids have aunts and grandmothers that they can visit.  Some have no one.  I am so thankful the Lord continues to give us eyes to see their pain and a desire to share His love with them.

One of the girls hanging out with us that we had met previously has been hosted a few times through another organization.  It was such a testimony to hosting to see a new light in her eyes this weekend.  She played cards with us, laughed, and talked, where previously she had been sullen and withdrawn.  Love can do wonders for a child. 

The kids once again walked us to the us to the bus stop at the end of the day.  Yura held my hand as we walked, love already transforming him.  They all hugged and waived and said good-bye over and over.  We stopped by again for just a little while Monday morning.  The kids presented us with gifts, angels for me and Taryn and necklaces for Alexandra and Jay.  I had the thought that I had come here to serve and ended up being served.  Served by abandoned, neglected, lonely children.  They had carried my bags; played with my son;  joyfully taken away garbage; shared their gifts with their friends; and now were giving gifts to us.  I know Jesus would say to them as he said to the widow in Luke 12:  You have put put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God,but you out of your poverty put in all the livelihood that you had.