Thursday, April 29, 2010

They should have known...

While I was home at Christmas, my mom was going through old pictures of mine, and pulled out this one. I'm 10 years old in the picture...and clearly at the cusp of my awkward stage (which lasted till I was 18 I think).

Just looking at the picture, my parents should have known what was in my future. I mean look at me...surrounded with children of all colors, shapes and sizes...even better- taking a posed family picture! If you look closely you'll see that the sign I'm holding reads "Love is are family" (yes I know- spelling was never my gift).

I have very specific memories of my childhood, playing house and playing orphanage. To this day I can still remember the name of every doll in the picture...including little Gretchen in my lap! :) That couch brings back good memories too!

Hmmm... 8 children? We'll see!

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Strengthening Families" Adoption Conference 2010

This past weekend marked a very special event--the first ever-national conference for Ukrainian adoptive parents!!My team and I (pictured above) have been hard at work since September,planning and dreaming and puttingtogether all the details for our 2010 Adoption Conference- “Strengthening Families.”
The only thing we hadn’t planned on was a volcano to stir things up at the last minute. (Note to self: keep in mind that natural disasters can really mess up human plans! Second note to self: God is still in control!)

With only one keynote speaker kept away by the volcano, the conference went on! We had 85 Adoptive/Foster couples in attendance, from 16 regions of Ukraine, representing nearly 300 adopted or foster children!!!

Early this fall I approached the Radisson Hotel in Kiev to partner with our event and provide accommodations, conference halls and some meals for our participants. They went above our expectations and provided us with almost a 75% discount on accommodations. We were able to find various sponsors to provide the needed

funding, so conference participants only had to pay a small fee. It truly was a team effort to put this event on and it was amazing to see so many Christian organizations coming together to support something that was so needed.

Currently very few resources exist in the Russian language to help families parent children who have come out of trauma or abusive or institutional settings, and since the church as a whole has become more active in adoption and foster care, it has become clear that more training is needed.

This was one of the motivating factors to provide this conference.The couples in attendance were able to choose from a wide variety of workshops and then also attended 5 general sessions. We recently translated and published 3 books on
parenting adopted kids, and we had these resources available as well. People were so eager to get their hands on this material!

Many of these families came in from villages and remote regions of Ukraine, and had never been to Kiev before, let alone a 4 star business hotel!! We were amazed by Radisson’s hospitality and I even had several women come up to me throughout the weekend and tell me that they were living out their fairy tale.

Some of these families are parenting up to 10-12 children, so as you can imagine the weekend getaway for these couples was a much-needed time of rest and time to reconnect for them. I’ve never seen so many smiling Ukrainians all at once!! :)

couple's forum on Saturday
night sparked some interesting questions for the panel! (r)

Kristi and I
checking in on Friday
Yuliya selling newly published books!

planning team and some of the speakers

It was truly a weekend to remember and I pray that all the parents who attended will be returning to their children today full of encouragement and with new skills to meet their needs. Thank you Lord for the opportunity to put on such an amazing event- may this be the beginning of a new movement to come.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Time for a little change!

So as you can see my blog has had a little make-over! I decided it was time for a little re-vamping of the blog to keep it interesting and so I got some help from Summer- who did a fabulous job don't you think?! (Thanks Summer!)

The top left picture is an old one...actually 4 years old to be exact! As I was thinking of- and searching for a picture for the header-to sum up what my life is about in Ukraine, this is the picture that I kept coming back to-- a picture that has been dear to me ever since it was taken. It's a picture that often reminds me of the initial calling that God gave me for the orphans in this country-and not only a reminder of that calling- but of God's faithfulness to provide and answer prayers.

The little girl in the picture was named Ira. I met her in the fall of 2004 at the Berdyansk orphanage in southern Ukraine. It was my first time in a large state run institution and I had only been in Ukraine 1 month- still wondering what in the world I was doing here and how on earth I could ever be of use?! But it was on that unexpected little trip that God changed the course of my future.

Through a group of 12-year-old girls, he gave me a new vision- a heart for the fatherless, for adoption and a desire to encourage and support families on their adoption journey. Ira was the first little girl I met that weekend-- at the time she was only 11 years old. She took my hand, and as a result she won my heart. When I returned to Kiev after the few days spent with Ira and her friends I odly discovered a picture of the same little girl- in the trash can in the place where I was living. I still to this day have no idea how that picture got there. It is beyond explanation. But I knew in that moment that I would commit to pray for Ira and pray that a family would come for her. So I taped that little picture into the front of my Bible. I didn't even know if she was available for adoption- I just desperately wanted her to have a family.

Two years later God answered that prayer and an amazing Christian family came to adopt Erin. I still stand in awe of God's all the details!! So the picture I chose for the blog is a reminder of that faithfulness. A reminder that this work is not in vain...that the Lord does hear, he does answer....and he truly does restore beauty from where ashes remained.

2 weeks ago I had the joy of being reunited with Erin here in Kiev! On a mission trip with her family and ministry partners, she returned to Ukraine for the first time since her adoption. As you can see, she's grown a bit since the last time we were together in Ukraine! Now a beautiful young woman. It still amazes me the way that our God weaves stories together. The way he uses his children to be apart of his work and the way he blesses us with the ability to see the realization of answered prayers.

So the picture is a reminder that I need to keep praying. Because honestly I can often forget. Or maybe it isn't that I forget- maybe I am just tempted to give up. When I feel like nothing is changing or I'm not seeing breakthroughs- it's easier to give up.

But then I remember little Ira. And I'm reminded that she is now Erin. And that gives me hope and challenges me to keep praying for the other kids I meet along the way.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Russia calls for halt on US adoptions after boy is sent back

Many of you I'm sure have seen the recent news about the American woman who put her 7-year-old (recently adopted) Russian son, back on an airplane to Moscow, with a note attached for him to be delivered to the ministry of education. If you want the NY times version of the story you can click here

Being that I work in the sphere of orphan ministry and have helped with numerous adoptions over the years, people have been asking for my opinion on this whole situation.
After hearing the adoption community buzz and all of the expressed outrage against this 'unfit' mother, I have to say that there has been one huge oversight on the real issue at issue that is not receiving media attention.

First off, do I think that it was wrong to just send this little boy back to Russia in the way that this woman did? Yes. This has been the thrust of the media attention. Crazy, cruel woman. Poor little orphan boy.

What is clear to me is that this woman was in a crisis situation and she reacted in fear to a child that she was ill-equipped to parent. In the best case scenario she should have turned to local social agencies for help instead of sending the boy back to Russia-- as her decision has now had repercussions on the entire Russian adoption world-- immediate moratorium.

However, this is where the story has stopped in it's media coverage. I think the bigger question is why did the child act out in the way he did to begin with? Where did his bizarre and violent behavior come from? Russia and the world are currently reacting in anger and outrage at the irresponsibility of Americans (generalized of course) over ONE child that was sent back to an orphanage. It’s horrible I agree. But why are they not reacting with the same outrage and anger toward the Russian system that currently holds nearly 800,000 children captive in its orphanages? Why villanize just one woman, when a whole nation is not willing to take responsibility for a huge moral and social short-coming? Blame shifting is much easier.

And why are we not even more concerned about what is happening inside the walls of those orphanages? What is happening that is causing a child to act out in the way he did when he was placed in a family? What has childhood trauma and institutionalization done to rob these youth of their innocence? To me these are the biggest evils that this story exposes. It’s about sooo much more than one woman and one boy.

The NY Times article quotes that there have been 14 reported deaths of Russian children in America since 1996. However they neglect to report how many deaths have happened in Russia by adoptive Russian families as well as how many disrupted adoptions have occurred. That number is drastically higher.

This isn't a 'Russian children being murdered in American homes problem.' It's a lot bigger then that. What is clearer to me more then ever is that families who adopt need more education and training about what it means to parent traumatized and abused children (the vast majority of children adopted in Ukraine and Russia!). This is the bigger issue brought to light through the story of 7-year-old Artyom who was sent back to Russia. I'm not excusing what this woman did. I just think that by putting all the focus on the 'mean mom' that returns the 'poor little orphan' boy-- we take away from a deeper issue. What is being done to educate adoptive parents and what is being done to prevent children from being placed in the orphanage system to begin with?

I’m just asking the questions….and praying about how I can best be used as part of the solution.

Jesus, be with Artyom. Heal his wounded and broken spirit; destroy the wok of the enemy in his life. May you take the wounds of his past and turn them around for your glory. May his story be one of healing and redemption that will bring your name honor. And for the woman who couldn’t be his mother…Jesus comfort her as well, heal her anger and deliver her from fear bring those into her life that will love her and bring Godly counsel. In your mighty name…amen.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Tale of the drinking Barbie doll

Last weekend I was asked to travel with our musical group from our mission and perform again as you guessed it...the Barbie doll. She's beginning to grow on me I think. Well...maybe just a little. I mean who doesn't like dressing up like a popular American iconic doll and then attempting to speak Russian in front of adoring Ukrainian children? Quite delightful really.


So after living in Ukraine for 5 years now I never make any cultural faux pas. Who me??? Never. So therefore when I was on stage last weekend playing the life size Barbie doll and the narrator was singing the song about a telephone, I surely did NOT make a gesture with my hand that was culturally misinterpreted. I mean come on, I would have already known after living here for so many years, that putting up your hand in the shape of a telephone really means you want to go have a drink or go get drunk and doesn't mean you want to give the person a call! So no, there is no possible way I would have made this gesture to the lead singer while she was singing this song, and kept smiling along merrily as I was lifting up my so called 'telephone'.
And certainly I would never have done this in a production in front of 300 children.

Not me.

See? Totally innocent! Totally.