|The morning we left for Ukraine with 7 Duffel bags full of goodies & a wheelchair|
|Buying Supplies for the first orphanage in Odessa, sponsored by Marina's Kids|
|Eugenia's mother's Apartment in Odessa|
|Locks added to the Odessa Bridge|
|Downtown Odessa all lit up for Christmas|
|Me, Laura (Nasdelie Foundation) & Eugenia at the Beautiful Black Sea|
|Delivering Supplies to the first orphanage, Odessa|
|16 hr Train Ride to Kovel,,,,,, it was HOT!|
|Brainstorming about what Supplies we need for the second orphanage in Kovel. Anya was the mastermind!|
|Packing 130 bags full of supplies for the Orphanage|
|Laurel helping add socks|
|130 pairs of shoes donated by local Churches!!|
|Kovel Church Planting School Team that went with us to the orphanage|
Precious kids singing
|Sasha handing out shoes|
|Eugenia with some cuties!|
|This is "S". She ages out this year. She LOVED her bag of goodies.|
|Mike, Noah & Valik with some friends|
|Showing the kids how the toys work|
|Loving on some Precious Babies|
|She just LOVED her shoes|
|They were saying Thank You!|
|At "V"s Bio Mothers house|
|"V" and his Bio Mom, the family that now cares for him & his American "mom"|
|The house where "v" lived|
|Papa Victor, Anya & Mama Luba|
|Such wonderful Hospitality!|
|Members of the Church Planting School. Absolutely wonderful youth!|
|Taking us for a ride on his wagon|
|The. Most. Fun.:)|
|Ukrainian Pizza.....with Maynonaise!! It was delicious!|
|Sweet Sweet Katya. Noah is in love with her.|
|Saying Goodbye to this sweet family was one of the hardest things we have ever done.|
|Mike & V. Goodbyes are hard.|
|Layover in London!|
|Our Huge Surprise Welcome Home!!|
|This is why we do what we do. V learned this song while here at Bible Clubs. He wanted to sing it for us. He knows he is loved by Jesus!|
Our first leg of the trip involved flying into Odessa. This was no small feat with all our carryons, 7 gigantic duffel bags full of donated supplies, a wheelchair and 2 kids. Our first prayer was for all of our bags to make it. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. did! Even the wheelchair that was a donation to a local children's hospital! We also were not hassled by security and managed to miraculously (really) avoid being detained for a minor parking violation that could have gotten ugly & expensive. We were so blessed to be able to stay with Eugenia's mother who put on the whole Ukrainian spread for us and we never left the table hungry.
The next morning, with NO jetlag, (answered prayer), Eugenia & I took the donations of 200 pr of socks, 100 toothbrushes, 200 sensory blankets and went to a store and bought detergent, soap, feminine hygiene items (which are very much in need), and toilet paper to take to a local orphanage that is regularly visited by Marina's Kids. The kids greeted us warmly and came out to help bring in the supplies. It was apparent that this orphanage, due to being in the city, was well cared for and had more supplies than others. The director allowed us to visit the school rooms and a few bed rooms. Several organizations had recently been in to paint, replace windows and fix up the meeting room.
The next night, we boarded the 16 hr overnight train from Odessa to Kovel. It was an older train and the heat was stuck in the "on" position. Eugenia's mother had packed us a feast because meals are not provided on the train. We ate fish, sausages, hot tea, boiled eggs, smoked cheese and a whole array of other yummy foods. We were hot, but not hungry! The train was relatively uneventful minus the very drunk older man who tried to kick us out of our bunk at 3am because he said we were in his car. I was so thankful for Eugenia who could argue with him in Russian and send him on his way!
We were met at the train station in Kovel the next morning by 6 smiling faces! Anya, the young Christian girl who has cared for V these past few years, and her family met us and treated us like long lost brothers and sisters! They helped us haul all our stuff to their vans and headed to their house. Another prayer answered! Walking in to their house, felt like coming home. The love of the Lord was so obvious. If you have ever visited Ukraine, you will know that it is a definate "light and dark" situation. This place was filled with Light! They fed us well and sent us to rest for a while.
That evening, we started planning for the supplies we needed to buy to bring to the orphanage. Let me tell you, Anya dots her "i's" and crosses her "t's". Shopping in Kovel is very different from here. There is no Walmart or Sam's Club. In order to find 130 of anything we had to go to about 6 different stores. Anya also knew where the Christian shop owners stores were and they could get discounts for buying things for the orphanage! It took all day but we were able to get all of our supplies.
After a huge, long, sweet dinner filled with laughs and singing (these people looove to sing), we started packing each of the 130 bags. Upon Anya's request, we divided them up by age & sex so the older kids could gets some very needed hygiene items such as razors and feminine hygiene supplies. We had an assembly line going counted and recounted. We packed each bag with; socks, toothbrush,paste, shampoo, soap, hat, gloves, toy, stickers, candy, washcloth. We also, donated a bunch of Physical Educational Supplies and bulk items like toilet paper, pencils an notebooks. This took until about 1am and then they told us then that they wanted Mike to give a message to the kids and me to lead singing. Oh My! We did some praying!
The day was here. We got up early and had a wonderful breakfast. My stomach was in knots not knowing what to expect at the orphanage AND knowing we were going to see V again! Who knew how he would react?! He had at one point out of frustration told us not to come (did I mention he doesn't do transitions well) ;)
The drive to the orphanage is about an hour from the town we stayed. The roads are not good and gas is not cheap. I have a whole new respect for these people who go and pick V up consistently and bring him things and minister to this orphanage. It all comes out of their pocket and takes up an immense amount of time.Once again, the Light is so evident.
We arrived at the orphanage and were met by the young people of the church planting team. These youth come from all over Ukraine to go to the churches 5 month school where they teach them how to minster to the elderly, widows, children and orphans and addicts. They then send them off in teams of 3 to remote villages that have no evangelical church. These young people were the biggest blessings we have ever met. They were serious about things of the Lord yet still youthful and cheerful. Their love for the kids was unlike anything I have ever seen. They truly live the Gospel every day and have none of the bells and whistles that we think we have to have to make a difference.
The orphanage looks like what you would expect. Very large and drab but very clean. It even had a verse hung up on the wall. We walked into the performance hall and the kids started to pour in. The director had allowed them all to have an hour out of their school day to come hear us! (another prayer answered). In walked V. He was skinny, taller and wouldn't look at us. The older kids were yelling at and a few slapped some of the younger kids to move. It's a harsh place. It is a special needs orphanage for kids who have a physical or mental handicaps or who run away from school. Many are very typical though. Out of the 130, only about 60 don't go somewhere for the summer. They are "social orphans" meaning their families cannot afford to keep them at home or are not allowed to for some reason. Most are not free for adoption so the orphanage is their only option.
The youth group started a song and got the kids involved (see the video). Then, Mike got up to give a short message. We had prayed for a "object lesson" because Hey, all kids love that right? Through Eugenia, the Lord brought to mind the Francis Chan lesson when he uses a rope to show our brief life here on earth vs our eternity. He did a fantastic job and Eugenia said the Lord just allowed her a clear mind to translate easily (Another prayer answered). We then taught them "Awesome God" and "Jesus Loves Me" with the motions. These were V's favorite the summer he was here.
The leader of the youth group spoke and told the kids that they were loved so much by God, that he had told these people in America to come bring them things! It was so moving. Then, we started the process of passing out the bags. We had no idea how many of each age, sex etc.. we needed but when all was passed out, we had 1 of each category left over!!!! (another answered prayer). Loaves and fishes anyone?
It was a free-for-all. These kids grabbed and begged and laughed and some even held their bags and cried. It was surreal to be able to minster to these precious children. We were told afterwards that no one had ever brought them individual things before. That when humanitarian aide brought items, it would just be a big pile and they would rifle through what they could get. Survival of the fittest. What a privalege it was to be the hands and feet of Jesus!
Next, we were taken to meet the director. We brought her gifts (because that is what you do) and sat and talked for a while. She noticed Laurel's Cochlear Implants on her head and Eugenia was able to explain that we had adopted her as a 2 yr old from Ukraine. She was fascinated at why we would come and pay money for a child who in her eyes was "defective". She asked us why we would do that..... Ahem.... insert Gospel message here! We were able to tell her that God had told us to adopt her, that she was a loved child of God and that he loves us that much. She actually thanked us for adopting her. Laurel's story opened so many doors to tell WHY we were told to adopt and why these children have value in God's eyes.
Now, all this time, V had been sitting outside the door waiting and listening. We had asked if he could leave the orphanage and come stay with us at Anya's house while we were there. We broached the subject and the director said a firm "No". Anya's sweetly persisted and it became a...."well, maybe for a day or two" and she sweetly persisted and it became a "sure, keep him the whole time"! I looked over at Noah, who had become very pale at this point listening to it all. When she said yes, he burst into tears and said "Mommy, I have been sitting here praying she would change her mind since she said No" (Another huge prayer answered!)
We went joyfully out of her office and saw V sitting there who was also crying. He still wouldn't look at us or speak to us :O
When we left the orphanage, the kids begged us to come back and actually chased our van down the road as we left. Hopefully, we will be back! They are precious, hungry for touch and unconditional love. Are they easy? No way..... we met a boy with no front teeth...he was 15 and had been cussing out a girl and wouldn't stop so she whacked him in the mouth with a metal soup ladle. He will never get top teeth replaced. We met a sweet girl, S, who is mentally handicap and will age out of the orphanage this year. She will never be able to make it on her own. She cares for her brother who is 8 in the orphanage and he is nonverbal. The stories are heartbreaking. We met a sibling set who are new arrivals and Gypsy which are not liked in the community. They have no mother but do have a father who visits but they won't call him father but "caregiver". This little boy never smiled, he cried when he received his gifts. I don't know all their names but God does and he wants a relationship with them.
The next day: V had asked if he could visit his biological mother who lived about 1 hr away. He was taken from her at age 2 and had only visited her one other time. Their relationship is not a healthy one and we were hesitant but Anya's family supported the idea. So, Mama Luba, Papa Victor, Anya , Eugenia & I loaded up the van to go with him to meet her. We bought 2 bags of food items that she could use to cook as a gift. We knew her situation was bad, but had no idea how bad. Nothing could have prepared me for what we experienced. After going through her house which was in shambles and not finding her, we feared the worst. It was FREEZING and the house's windows were out and the stove was burned up. There was no furniture in the house but a bed. We finally found her down the street in someone else's 2 room house. She has to stay there in the winter because her house has no windows or heat. The house was shocking. It was so cold you could see your breath. It had nothing in it but 1 pot on the small stove, the only source of heat. No running water or bathroom was to be found. The meeting was awkard at best, I have never been more uncomfortable. Here we were with a little boy who had a biological mother he couldn't live with, his Ukrainian family who cares for him in the orphanage and his American family who cares for him from afar. God sure has a sense of humor.We found out she is only 46 but looks 30 years older. This hard life and poor choices have not been good to her. She found out I was an American and wanted money, which they quickly squashed. Begging has become a way of life.
I was worried how all this would affect V. This was a lot to take in and it was apparent his mother had no intention of changing even if she could. On the ride home however, he seemed at peace. Apparently it had been good for him to see this, put some things at rest and maybe show her that he had a support system. She had told him that he would grow up to be just like her. :( This family never ceases to amaze me though.... they graciously told her to read the Bible they had given her and if she every wanted to change, they would help her start over showing her true Mercy,Grace & Forgiveness.
The next few days were filled with lots of friends, fellowship, fun and food. V did warm up and did fantastic! (another answered prayer) The family has poured into him, prayed over him and loved him unconditionally and it is showing!! Ukrainian families have a hard time making ends meet as it is so to adding another mouth to feed can be a burden. We are so thankful that this family has been obedient to the calling of the Lord and is helping V!
It was all too soon time to say Goodbye. We all stood outside the train station and just sobbed. My children sobbed, We sobbed, V sobbed. We were truly leaving family but knowing how much unity we shared in Christ made it easier to know that this was just "see you later". As I hugged V, I said, "you are a blessed boy. You have 2 families. A Ukrainian Family and an American Family!." He said , "No, I have 3 families. I am also in God's family". Praise God!! Hosting changes lives!!
We boarded the long train ride back, this time to Kiev and headed to London for our overnight layover. We were tired, smelly and our heads and hearts were so full but we felt like we couldn't miss this opportunity to see London! Thankfully, Mike had visited here while in the Army so he navigated the streets and we hit most of the highlights. We ate fish n chips at Picadilly Circus, saw Big Ben and The Eye, rode a double decker bus and road the Underground all in 6 hours. To say we were exhausted when we had to leave for the airport at 6am was an understatement but we made memories for a lifetime!
On the plane ride home, we had been discussing what exactly were the "holes" in the orphanage system. We all felt that the kids that were aging out at 16 with an 8th grade education, never having any support or done anything for themselves, was a huge gap. These kids needed a transition place. Somewhere they could safely go, and watch and learn how to be a family, here about Christ, learn a trade or get help in trade school. Halfway through our flight the man behind Mike leans over and says to him" do I know you from somewhere?" It turns out, he is an American missionary working in Ukraine, who (drumroll please) has created a model and runs a transition home for aging out orphans (another answered prayer!!). So, needless to say, some follow up will be happening. God does the most amazing things!
We finally made it back home and were greeted by the sweetest sound of yelling and whooping from some friends and family who welcomed us back at the airport. While we were gone, sweet people had cleaned my house, built and painted my kids treehouse, fixed our driveway, and brought tons of food for my refrigerator! We are so humbled by your outpouring of love, before, after and during the trip. This was our community and Body of Christ showing love to the least of these! May it not stop. To God be the Glory, Great things he hath done!