Friday, July 29, 2011

Beach Day!

Yesterday we took all 13 kids to Richmond Beach on the Puget Sound.  After two straight days of rain, the sun finally decided to make an appearance which allowed for a lovely afternoon of picnicking and playing on the beach (gotta love the weather in the Pacific Northwest!).  The water proved too tempting, and despite cool temperatures the kids were diving in!  It was an awesome day of hanging out with our host families and checking in with all the kiddos.

So far everything is going great with the kids. There have been some 'moments' for some of the hosting families- but all in all the kids are doing great and are LOVING their time here in the states!!  Google translator has proved oh so helpful for many of our families! :)

This weekend we have a Ukrainian Buffet dinner hosted by one of the families and next week we head to the zoo and will be going for a day hike!

Kara was our fearless coordinator state-side-- and a dear dear friend

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adventures in airport travel and miracles along the way...

Our tired lil group finally at Sea-Tac airport!
First off- we made it!! Thank you for any prayers sent our way as we were navigating 14 little ones and 2 adults from Kiev to Seattle--- boy were those prayers felt as we saw God's hand of protection and favor on our 25 hour ordeal--- and let me tell you, it was a story for the books!!  (The story below is a little long, but it's a good story, I promise! )

All seemed to start of with smooth sailing when we showed up at the airport in Kiev and checked all 16 of us in for the first 2 legs of our journey.  However, things quickly changed when we got to passport control. Tanya (the chaperone) and I went up to the window and handed all the needed government papers to the man behind the counter, so he could check our documents and send us and the kids on our way.

Not so fast.  I handed over the power of attorney to take the one extra boy out of the country, and Tanya handed over her power of attorney with the other 13 names of kids on it....or so we thought.  When the official counted the names on the paper he only came up with 12 names.  Counted again.... 12....again....12.  WHAT?? How many times had we checked these documents?  How could we have missed this? How could there only be 12 names and not 13?

The man said we didn't have the right to take the 13th child (a girl named Mariana) out of the country, if her name wasn't on the list.  Her name was on all other documents, but not on this one- not on this important document.  I felt like I was going to throw up.  My heart was in my throat as I walked away and just started to pray.  The man said he'd call his supervisor to get a higher opinion.  I prayed harder.

 Lord, you've not brought us this far to have it end like this. Lord, forgive our mistake, don't let it affect this little girl because of our error and our oversight-- Lord, please we NEED a miracle here.

Within 5 minutes the supervisor was back and determined we were fine-- we had enough documents to prove she could go.  Wow!! Thank you Jesus-- you are too good to us!! What an amazing answer to prayer-- I was humbled instantly.

Boarded plane and headed to Paris and all seems great.....for the time being.

Arrived in Paris and then all hell breaks loose for the kids.  Everyone is complaining, fighting, hitting, swearing, eye-rolling, wandering away without permission, and I'm starting to lose what shred of calmness that remains in my being.  I gather the group for a little pow-wow about expectations and attitude adjustments.  Next thing I know,  2 American women are yelling at one of the older girls in my group.  My girl looks petrified as I realize she has no idea what is going on or what the woman is saying.  I ask the woman what is wrong and she proceeds to tell me that this girl was continually hitting the younger boy in our group sitting next to her (he is seven and looks far more innocent than he is in reality!).  The one woman is distraught at the 'child abuse' she has witnessed.  Trying to use the next five minutes to explain to these women 'orphan behavior' proves futile and I just end up trying to calm down the distraught 15 year-old who was berated by the American woman.  Sigh.  What have I gotten myself into?

Mid-way through the melt-down of yet another girl, I suddenly realize our flight is now delayed by an hour and a half.  Panic sets in as I know we had only a 2 hour lay-over scheduled in Atlanta and the chances of making our Seattle connection will now be slim.  More Prayer.  I knew my worry wasn't going to help pass the 9 hour flight to Atlanta, so I just prayed and attempted to surrender this worry to the Lord.

Lord, you've given us your favor today with the documents, so I just ask for your favor again. You know we want to be in Seattle tonight and not taking all these kids to a hotel.  Please Lord, let us make that connection.  I trust you Lord-- I know you will take care of us.

9 hours (and a few stories & throwing-up/crying moments not to be discussed here)  later...

We ended up making up some time in the air, so by the time we landed in Atlanta we had about 65 minutes to make our connecting flight.  By the time we exit the BACK of the plane and get to the passport line we have lost another 25 minutes and the customs officer seems more interested in making small talk with me about how long it's been since I've been in the US, then getting my 14 kids through the line!! We're on a time crunch buddy, can we speed things up a bit??

I'm the first through the line and start gathering the children on the other side as we wait for the others.  I keep looking at my watch.  Down to 30 minutes.  I notice two large men standing next to me with Ukrainian passports.  They are told to 'move along' by airport security.  They respond, 'No, we security President.'  Hmmm, I think-- president of what?  This thought hardly has a moment to pass through my mind when I look to my left and see none other than former president of Ukraine, VICTOR YUSHENKO walking in our direction.  What??  Hey look kids, its your former President....welcoming America.  Yes-- surreal is an understatement.

Yushenko and his wife then notice our Ukrainian entourage and come over for a little chit chat.  Had I been in my right mind, not sweating and consumed with making our connecting flight, I may have been brilliant enough to pull out my camera and capture this oddly fascinating moment. But no, none of that.  Instead, the last of our group makes it through immigration and we go bolting past the Yushenkos and down the escalators to reclaim baggage.  Catch you later Mr. Yushenko.....dasvidanya!

In the midst of all this chaos we are befriended by an angel (aka an Interpretor in the airport) who decides she will help us locate our connecting departure gate.  Had it not been for this woman, we never would have made it!  We grab our bags (then run back for another bag that I forget)--throw them at the guys that send them back to be re-checked and go sprinting towards the train to take us to our terminal.  When the doors of the train open all 16 of us go sprinting UP the escalator towards our gate- by this point we have stopped counting children.  We were a SIGHT let me tell you!!

We run up to our gate literally as the last five people are boarding.  I see the man we were to meet who is collecting our 14th child from us and give him a quick hello and hand off child and passport  (really hope it was the right guy!) and quickly count all our remaining kids to make sure they are all still with us (which Praise God, they are!)

Let me tell you, I have never been sooo happy to sit on an airplane in all my life.  I didn't even care that our kids were spread out throughout the entire plane-- we were sitting on the plane and bound for Seattle and that was ALL that mattered. Tears filled my eyes as I sat in my seat and just thanked the Lord--overwhelmed by his grace towards us. I just sat there, in awe of how he watches out for his kids, and he sure does have a special place in his heart for THESE kids.

In-spite of the low-grade nausea and the airsickness of a couple kids, the 5 hour flight home seemed like a breeze!!  Upon arrival in Seattle at midnight, we were greeted by a delightful set of host families from and our Window to Hope team.  The families, lovingly scooped up the weary kiddos and headed to their homes, there was a lot of nervousness and excitement in the air.

I, on the other hand crashed into the arms of my mom and dad too-- never had it felt so good to be home!

Kids and host families with our project 'Window to Hope'

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Leaving on a jet plane....with 14 kids

So, ready or not, tomorrow's the big day!!  I will be Seattle bound with 14 children in tow.  14??  Yes, at the last minute a friend asked if we could add on another child that needed a chaperone to get to a hosting family in another part of the US.  And so I thought, "Hey what the heck, with already 13 kids, what is one more?"  So, we added another boy to the mix and that will make 14 kids and 2 adults traveling across the Atlantic tomorrow. I figured 16 people is a better number anyway. I do better with counting even numbers quickly.  Did I mention none of them  speak English except me?  Yep-- fun times sure to be had!  I've always said I wanted a big family-- I guess this will test my limits.

Please keep us in your prayers as we venture through Paris, Atlanta and then Seattle.  I hear horror stories about the Paris airport-- and I've never had to brave it on my own, let alone with a whole entourage!  So we will be praying for travel mercies.

Oh and incase you didn't hear we raised MORE than enough money to make this trip possible!! I so love how God provides!!  For awhile there I wondered how it was all going to happen and then wouldn't you know, God takes care of every penny and then some!! Don't worry, we will be able to put the extra to good use while the kids are in the US-- or put it towards a hosting program for next year.  Wow. So thankful.  Thank you to all who gave to make this all possible-- every dollar that came in made a huge difference.

So do you want to see our little darlings? (we'll see if I'm still calling them that after tomorrow!)  Here they are! More on them later....

If you're in the Seattle area and want to meet up with our group- send me an email and I'll tell you where you can find us!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Hopelessness & HOPE

I love encouraging stories. 
Stories that leave you with hope. 
Stories that show your work really does make a difference.
Who doesn't enjoy these kind of stories?

Working with orphans, namely older orphans in Ukraine, doesn't always lend to having uplifting stories to tell. I could probably write a book on the sad stories I've heard-- anyone who has spent more than a day in an orphanage probably could as well.

I have two stories to that leaves me with an empty feeling inside and tempted to give into hopelessness, and the second that reminds me of how God is at work, a story that allows me to not let hopelessness prevail but to cling tightly to the opposite.

I think this is the balance that I need to remind myself of, hopelessness in this world that propels us into the arms of God. A God who gives us Hope.

"That is why we labor and strive, because we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, and especially of those who believe."  1 Timothy 4:10

One evening I was sitting in the meeting hall where we gathered for our nightly meetings during our recent 10-day camp.  I had my computer open and a small group of kids were surrounding me, kids who had attended a camp we had put on about 4 years ago in Kherson. I opened up the picture file from that camp and started to scroll through the pictures, bringing back all the fun memories. I was amazed at how the 3 kids sitting by my side had changed in the last 4 years. Sweet Tanya had gone from a 12-year-old tomboy without too many cares, to a 16-year-old young woman, scared to face the world beyond the orphanage walls.

As I scrolled through the pictures with the few kids by my side, the happy memories seemed to quickly fade.  With each face that would pop up on my computer screen, Tanya had a comment to go with each one....

She just had a baby

She just had an abortion

Oh that girl....she was murdered

Had a baby


He's gone



Had a baby

Had an abortion


With each picture that passed, pictures containing happy smiling faces, my heart began to break as I learned the reality of their stories only 4 years later.  Either taken into a family (praise the Lord) or a tragic story.  This encounter left me asking a lot of questions. 

Is what we are doing making a difference?
How do we protect these kids?
How can we help them in a way that will last?
God, how will you save these kids???
Is there any sense to continue???

I know I can ask questions till I turn blue in the face. The reality is that these questions won't get me too far.  I know that Jesus was willing to go for the one--To leave the 99 to find the 1.   I have to be willing to do the same.

"Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans."  Romans 8:24-26
3 faces gave me hope while we were in Odessa.

The faces of Yasha, Nadia and Sergei.

These 3 young people were at our camp last year and/or the year before.  These were 3 very tough individuals.  All 3 grew up in the orphanage, all 3 have difficult stories to tell, and yet thanks to the grace of God, all 3 are currently walking out their own process of redemption.

After our camp last year, these three were connected with a local partner ministry of ours, who started to pour into the lives of these young people and show them what it looks like to walk out a relationship with Jesus.  They are currently living in a transition home for aged out orphans and are being discipled by mature believers.  I was overwhelmed to see the transformation that is taking place. The difference that a year can make.

I say is taking place, because it has become so apparent to me that it's a process.  There is a reason that Paul says to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Philipians 2:12).  He understood that sanctification is a process.  That is what these youth are learning as well. 

They came to our camp this year as 'helpers'-- perhaps not quite ready to be launched into full leadership, yet were given responsibility far above what they'd been given before. It was amazing to watch them shine in these new roles- to see them getting excited about being in charge of things, helping create games and knowing that we were depending on them-- that we were letting them spread out their wings a bit. 

During one of the sessions, with tears in his eyes, Yasha shared a piece of his testimony to a room full of captive listeners.  He shared about how Jesus was changing him.  Choking back tears he shared about who he would have become- about who he was on the road to becoming if he had not met Christians who had come along side him and introduced him to his Heavenly Father.  His own father had left him, but he had learned of a Father that would never leave him, and never forsake him. Through his relationship with Jesus he was given hope that he could change.  That he wouldn't have to end up like his parents or his brother.

There weren't many dry eyes in the room when Yasha had finished speaking.

"The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him." Lamentations 3:25

Like I said...there are plenty of reasons to give into hopelessness around here.  I could dwell on the stories that Tanya shared as we looked at the photographs and I could throw my hands up in the air and be done-- because really, what's the point?

OR..... I can choose to remember the stories like that of Yasha, Nadia and Sergei. I can choose to focus on what God IS doing in this nation, how he is speaking to the hearts of his children and how he is using those who are willing to follow him.

I think I'm going to go with the second option.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  
Hebrews 10:23

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gourmet with the Greens

I've been spoiled this last week-- I've been eating well-- really well!  My newest and dearest friends are the Greens from Colorado! They were staying with me this past week as they were finishing their adoption & waiting on the passports of their newest additions- Daniel (10) and Lydia (7).  I always enjoy the families that stay with me- but the Greens are EXTRA special! (maybe that's because Chris took it upon himself to be Mr. fix-it in my apartment!) Since they were with me for a whole 8 days we got a lot of bonding time in--  which included cooking together!  

Daniel and Lydia are great helpers and Monique and I had fun in the kitchen creating the evening meals for the hungry crew-- and boy are these kids good eaters! You'd never know that they were used to eating bland orphanage food-- these kids will try just about anything.

if only I could look that calm and collected and beautiful when I am cooking!
When I'm home alone I don't make anything too exciting, so as you can see, this past week made up for the past month of eating on the go!

Thankfully I found a work-out partner in Monique as well-- so we were able to counter act our gourmet meals with a couple morning jogs together-- so fun to show her my favorite city running 'paths'- and to have this fitness instructor give me a pointer or two-- let's just say I was little sore after I was introduced to some new exercises!

It was a full house this week with 6 of us sharing one bathroom- but it was a sweet sweet time!  These sweet kiddos blessed my heart so much as I watched them navigate uncharted territory with their new mama and papa and did so with teachable spirits (most of the time!) and true bravery.  

One night as we were chatting in the kitchen, Lydia walked into the room and threw her arms around mama, telling her it was bed time and time for a bath and story. Only a week together and yet Lydia had settled into this new routine, and seemed to anticipate it.  Tears flooded my eyes as I watched this interaction. Only weeks before Lydia had been one of many, in a large group of children-- I doubt she had someone reading her bedtime stories or washing her hair.  I felt so honored in that moment to have this glimpse of this new forming mother and daughter bond-- seeing Lydia's eyes light up when mama walked into the room or when she would help mama make the evening meal. These kids come from a very difficult past and they could have remained numbers in an orphanage-- but God plucked them out and called forth a family who was willing to leave the comfortable and say 'YES.' Daniel and Lydia's lives will forever be changed because the Greens stepped out in faith.

Praying for you Green family as the prologue is completed and chapter one begins.... :)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Lil' helpers

So I've had a little enlisted help this week! The newest additions of the Green family took on the project of painting my balcony (with the supervision and help of their papa Chris)! 

I always knew my balcony had potential, so I went out and bought a cute little patio set this weekend, and then the Greens  (who are staying with me as they complete their adoption) offered to take over my little project of 'fixin up' the patio!

Aren't they the cutest little helpers in the world?  Where else can you enlist free child labor to take on your house-hold DIY project?  I'm beginning to think this hospitality stuff is starting to pay off!! :)

Lydia and Daniel are just the sweetest kids ever and are it has been so fun having home in my home this week.   I've never met two kids so eager to clean, help with dishes and put themselves to work!  I guess I need to come up with some more projects! :)  

Thursday, July 7, 2011

A picture is worth a thousand words....

I plan on sharing some more specific stories soon...but since a photo is worth a thousand the mean time, here are a few thousand words I have to share about our time in Odessa last week with our 54 kiddos at camp....I'll let the emotions fill in the blanks...

Orphan's Promise Conference

God's timing amazes me!  As many of you know, I spent the fall in England studying with Ellel Ministries.  While at Ellel, I was given the opportunity to look at God's heart to set the captives free, through discipleship, healing and deliverance.  Through prayer and counseling I saw God set many people free from deep wounds they had long carried and from sin patterns that they had been entrapped in. 

Upon arriving back Ukraine and delving into my work with Orphan's Promise in Kiev, I was tasked with planning a conference for all our OP workers in the field, a conference on the topic of healing and deliverance!  Go figure! 
So the past several months have been quite full as my team has been planning and preparing for this 3 day event for our 130+ staff and volunteers serving in the former Soviet Union.

The conference took place in June (literally right before we left for camp).  After reading so many field reports over the years, it was a privilege to meet all our staff and volunteers who are loving on orphans all across Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Russia and Kazakhstan. 
One of our OP teams in Armenia
Terry Meeuwsen, our director of OP, was here in Ukraine filming several several stories about the work we are doing, and so was able to begin our conference with her own personal testimony of seeing the need for healing in the lives of orphaned children. Terry recognized that when she adopted, bringing the kids home was just the beginning, and that the healing work that God would need to do in the lives of her daughters would be extensive.   Terry is an amazing woman, who herself has adopted 5 children (3 from Ukraine) and has a deep burden for those kids left behind in this country. I am so blessed to work with this awesome woman of God and am grateful for the time she was able to spend with our team while she was on this trip.  She is a woman of much wisdom.

Chester & Betsy Kylstra
Our main teachers/speakers for the weekend were Betsy and Chester Kylstra from the ministry "Restoring the Foundations" based in North Carolina.  They are a lovely, Godly couple who have a calling to see God's children set free from strongholds we face in life.   In preparation for the teaching we had one of their books translated into Russian for all of our conference participants.  It was not only a time of education for our staff but also of personal ministry, as people were given the opportunity for personal prayer, which was very significant.  It seemed that people left refreshed and encouraged and with new energy to return to their various projects in the field, now having a new understanding of the deeper issues that face their youth day in and day out.

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
And all that is within me, 
bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul,
forget none of His benefits; Who pardons all your iniquities,
heals all your diseases; Who redeems your life from the pit,
crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; 
 Who satisfies your years with good things, So that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
Psalm 103:1-5
Nataliya and I doing introductions of the teams

Monday, July 4, 2011

Happy Independence Day

Well, after 10 challenging, heart aching, tiring, yet very blessed days of camp-- I am now back at home.  It has only taken me about 3 days to recover my energy!

I will plan on posting some pictures and stories this week about our adventures in Odessa with all of our youth-- the highs and the lows and how God was at work in our midst.

But for now I'm in the kitchen today trying to make several 'traditional' American dishes to take to a 4th of July party this is a privilege to celebrate our freedom even if it means I'm doing so in another country!! Living in Ukraine I am reminded even more about the freedom I have as an American-- and I thank God for my country and all the blessings He has provided.

Though the freedom I am even more thankful for and more passionate about is the freedom that I have found in Jesus-and the renewed freedom he gives me each day.

"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  Galations 5:1