Friday, July 30, 2010

In his own words

We met 18-year-old Pasha on the first night of our recent camp in a rural southern Ukrainian village. He caught the attention of our staff immediately when the first question out of his mouth was, “are you going to be teaching us about the Bible this week?" Upon hearing, 'yes' his response was-- 'well then this week is for me!'

This wasn't the typical response for an 18-year-old boy who has grown up in an orphanage. So I knew I wanted to learn more about this boy... I wanted to find out why he seemed different.

Every day he would come to my English lesson (one of the elective choices) and try soooo hard to commit something to memory! He wanted to learn English desperately- but it just wouldn't click. And when I say wouldn't I really mean it! I spent about 5 days in a row working on 3 phrases that he could not remember for the life of him. But yet he kept on coming back...he kept on trying.

I don't know if you've seen the movie 'Kung Fu Panda' (if not I recommend it!) But we watched it at this camp so it was fresh on my mind at the time- and I couldn't help but relate the story to Pasha. I kept calling Pasha my little Kung Fu Panda. He wanted to do something so desperately that he just didn't seem apt to learn-- I even doubted he could learn! He seemed just like the Panda who wanted to be a Kung Fu fighter- but to all visible appearances it just didn't seem quite possible. I think God reminded me of the Panda so that I wouldn't give up on Pasha- so that I would believe that he could learn! And when I learned his story I found out what he was up against.

While at camp Pasha took the time to write down his testimony of how he came to know Jesus and I wanted to share it with you here (after translation of course). Reading his testimony showed me that he has an amazing ability to organize his thoughts - even with the little education he has received. He can learn- he just needs to be instructed in the right way! I could tell you all about him, and what I learned- but I figured it would be better to hear it straight from him...from his heart. So take a few moments to see how Pasha came to know Jesus...and you will see how God is at work speaking today!

My name is Pasha Kaplinkov. I am 18 years old. I want to share my life story with you.

When I was 11 years old I was smoking, drinking and every evening going out with my friends. We would wonder around and make fun of people by keeping them awake at night.

I have two other brothers and a sister in my family. Our mother was drinking a lot while we would get into fights with other boys. After one of such fights I was kicked out of my school. While staying at home I would get into arguments with my Mom because of her drinking and often ran away to stay with my friends- being gone from home for long periods of time. I wondered around and thought: why do I have such parents who don’t care for me and don’t teach me?

I liked causing problems to people so they'd become angry and would complain to my Mom that her son breaks windows and scares people. At that time my brother Andrey and I were going to the Bible lessons. Andrey was given a Bible and was reading it and God blessed him. I couldn’t read. I knew that He existed, but I didn’t know where He was. I was looking for Him and asked people. They said that He’s in the sky. I looked up to the sky and asked: “God, I’m looking for you, find me please!” I cried and went home. I was looking for Him all day long yet didn’t find Him.

One day a lady came and said, that we must to get ready for school (the orphanage). I stayed there until 4th grade but often would run from there back to home home. I didn’t want to study and constantly was fighting with other boys. They said that I needed to be transferred to another orphanage. That is when they brought me to Kalinenska.

When I arrived to this orphanage I liked it. I learned that Christians come visit the school once in a while. When I started to understand things about God I learned that there is Jesus and that He died for my sins. I started to pray. One time I heard a song and started to cry and said to Jesus: “Jesus, if You hear me forgive me my sins”. By the time I was 16 I knew it all: that Jesus died and saved me, and I was feeling great. But I was still sinning and couldn’t step away from it. I suffered as I didn’t want to sin. When I turned 17 I understood that I have to accept Jesus as my Savior sincerely. I prayed to Jesus and said: ”My dear Jesus, change my heart. I want to be God’s man and be wise”. And God changed me: I started to become wise and strong. I confessed my sins before God and accepted Him as my Savior.

Yet when we went to a camp at the sea I forgot about God. But He loved me and was jealous for me. He gave me His love and blessed me, and I acted like that towards Him: I started to swear and I would get into fights again.

Once I went to my room and fell asleep. I saw a dream: a big hand opened the doors, and a voice said: “Look at them, I don’t want you to become like them.” And I saw people fighting and being engaged in sexual activities, and I heard people crying and suffering in hell. Then He said: “Pasha, if you will not repent then after school you will die on the road somewhere and nobody will know why you died.” He said: “If you do my will I will bless you.” Then he said 3 times: “Repent”. I woke up and He said: “Think about the things I told you”. I confessed my sins and decided to follow God because it was Him speaking to me. He loves me. I made mistakes yet I started to correct them and overcome evil.

Right now I am 18 years old and I am finishing my 9th year in school. I will go to Kherson to continue my study after graduation. God loves me and this love is very strong. Before I was evil, I was smoking, drinking, fighting, lying, disobeyed my Mom. But when I accepted Jesus into my heart He changed my life. If you’re a sinner – come to Jesus and he will change your life too.

His words...I'm just posting them here-- praying they bring you encouragement. God is at work in Ukraine and he is changing lives...I know because I see it evidenced in the life of my Kung Fu Panda- Pasha.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A birthday for Natasha to remember

Natasha and Olya are sisters and have been in the orphanage since they were 6 and 7 years old. It used to be that they could go home to their parents on summer holidays, but that was before their father died and before their mother drank herself into a life on the streets. Now the girls are stuck behind the walls of the orphanage along with 63 other children.

During the time we held the camp Natasha was to turn 16 years old. When I asked her about any past celebrations on her birthday tears filled her eyes.

At the orphanage their birthdays aren’t celebrated individually and even when she lived at home she can only remember one time when her birthday was even recognized. Her sister Olya, who stood by listening chimed in as well, ‘I have never celebrated my birthday.’

Images of birthday parties throughout my life flooded my mind as Natasha spoke. All the cakes my mom has made, the various themed birthdays I had in elementary school, the phone calls, the cards- my birthday has always been a very special day and has never gone unnoticed. I couldn't even imagine what Natasha and Olya were describing.

When I asked Natasha what she’d like for her birthday, she couldn’t even answer me, she just put her head on my shoulder and cried.

I don’t have any idea what she was thinking, all I know is that this topic alone brought up a flood of emotions and memories…or perhaps lack of memories. I made up my mind right there that our team would give Natasha and her sister Olya a birthday party she would never forget.

2 days later on Natasha’s birthday I presented her with a card and told her I had asked for permission from her caregiver and that she had said it was okay for both Natasha and Olya to spend the afternoon at the house where are team was staying and have lunch. Natasha beamed- she threw her arms around me and just kept saying, ‘thank you!’

We brought the sisters to our little house for a home-cooked lunch and by the looks on their faces it was clear that this was the first time in a long time that they had eaten such a variety of food. After lunch we surprised the girls with a beautiful dessert, covered with candles- especially for Natasha to blow out. She turned red in embarrassment as we sang to her and presented her with a cuddly teddy bear as a gift, but I could tell she was enjoying it at the same time!

What struck me as I watched Natasha sitting there with our whole team singing to her, was that these kids are so rarely singled out, so rarely given the opportunity to feel special, to feel noticed. Instead they are just one of many.

Natasha's birthday isn’t June 26th- it is just a ‘summer birthday’ that gets a ‘congratulations’ at the end of summer with all the rest.

That night as I bade Natasha goodbye and asked her about her birthday, she said it was a day she’d never forget.

I know that the day wasn’t life changing for Natasha. We didn’t pluck her out of the orphanage and give her a fresh start at life. No, at the end of the celebration she still had to walk the all too familiar path back to the orphanage. That is the hard part.

But from the simple act of celebrating her birthday, of corporately praying with her and for her, my prayer is that Natasha will remember that God is a God who sees. The God that sees HER. The people around her may not know it is her birthday—but God knows and he is celebrating her life!

At the end of the week Natasha asked me for a Bible and it was my honor to be able to present her with one—she is a sweet girl with a deeply painful past and it brings my heart joy to see that she is turning to Jesus for healing and she has a desire to learn more about Him.

Jesus bless you sweet Natasha, and may your 16th birthday be one that will bring sweet memories in the years to come. YOU are not forgotten.