Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fall Фoto Fun!

I've been trying to work on my photography skills as of late, and providing free family session is a great way to get experience!  My friend Tara asked if I'd do some photos of her 3 sweet kiddos this fall so we had a fun afternoon making them smile.  I shot manually-- something my friend Karen  (a real professional!) is inspiring me towards.  I still haven't perfected any real technique but I think we got a few keepers and one even made the Christmas card for this family this year (can you guess which one??)- so I'd say that is a pretty good start!

It wasn't too bad either that my friend payed me in the form of peanut butter and cake mixes! Those are hard to come by over here!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time in the Far East

Well I was corrected! Apparently we were further into Russia than Siberia- in what is deemed the 'Russian Far-East.' And after flying for 10 hours east- I agree-- it is pretty far!!  Apparently saying 'Siberia' is the same faux-pa as putting a 'the' in front of Ukraine.  I stand corrected.

Our time in the far east city of Khabarovsk went great. I traveled with two of my colleagues and ministry partners, Mina and Galina and we trained a group of about 20-25 people who desire to teach life skills to older orphans in this region.  There are little to no resources for working with orphans here, so they were glad to have our curriculum brought over and some basic training to go with it!  We did a 4 day training with about 6 hours of teaching each day.

I was amazed to learn of the great need in this region.  To say they have a lot of orphans would be an understatement.  This region of Russia makes Ukraine look like they have their act together.  While  Ukraine is transitioning to foster care and more orphanages continue to be merged or shut down, Khabarovsk suffers from over crowded institutions with over 150 kids in each of the  66 orphanages in this region!  I was shocked.  The statistics surrounding the trade schools where the kids go when they graduate are not any better.  Over 30% of the kids are dead within 3 years of graduating.  Sobering statistics.

The people we trained were so grateful that we came, and made us feel like saints for traveling so far.  But to tell you the truth- they were really my heroes. They are a small group of believers who have been challenged to reach the orphans in their community and are seeking out all the resources they can to be effective-- and they are the minority.

One man who attended the training was a former orphan himself. He stood up after one of our teachings and with tears in his eyes began to speak-- 'this information is so needed' he said, 'It's true what you are saying.  I look today for the kids I grew up with and I can't find any of them.  They are either in prison, dead, or alcoholics. The future is empty without God.  I would be lost like them without Him.'  

I am always amazed at the testimonies of former orphans like this man Yuriy, and hearing how God saved them.  Yuriy now has a 19-year-old boy under his wing that he is trying to help rehabilitate- a boy he picked up off the street-- destined for a life like that of his friends. But Yuriy is determined to help give this boy a different future.  This boy recently gave his life to the Lord and is trying to turn it around--but it isn't easy.

most of the people we trained- on the last day!

It was a privilege to have this opportunity to travel east and equip more of the saints to reach these kids...the many many kids.  It was very humbling.  I now see through even different eyes the work that God has done in Ukraine and how far we have come and how now Ukraine is paving the way for Russia.  My friend Galina keeps telling me I can't leave Ukraine until all the kids have homes-- but now I am reminded that the work is far greater than just Ukraine. Don't know if I'm ready to be sent to the far-east permanently-- but if you are praying about a mission field-- then I'd add that to your list!  The need is overwhelming.

Our time in Khabarovsk was pretty much spent at the church teaching. But what little we did see of the city is below...

I felt right at home in Khabarovsk when I saw a sign with my name!
The caption says 'clothing from Great Britain'--(yes please!) :)
My fearless travel companions and friends- Mina and Galina
Cathedral in center of Khabarovsk- a winter wonder-land

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Coming full circle

I've known Illya for a couple years through various ministry we have done in Kherson (Illya grew up in the main Kherson orphanage). However I didn't get to know him better until this past summer at camp, when he was in my English group. I always make kids sing silly songs in English and it seems to make us connect!  He went along with it anyway-- good sport that he is.  We had a lot of good laughs in the process.

Illya is just the sweetest most polite kid! He was one of my 'best' students and I quickly learned it was because he had spent the Christmas holidays in the US, with an American family. I also soon learned that this family was amidst the paperwork process and would soon be traveling to adopt him! I was so excited when I found this out!  A 16-year-old boy-- on the verge of aging out, would be given a family-- just in time.

I knew that Illya would do well in America.  I also knew that a boy who is biracial would be accepted better in the US- then he ever would amidst the racism that is so prevalent in Ukraine.  I asked Illya all about his soon to be family and made a point to remember their names so I could track them down and connect with them.

After camp I searched all over the internet and could not find this couple who Illya said was going to adopt him. It seemed I must have had the name wrong or something!

Well about 2 weeks after returning from camp I get an email guessed it-- Illya's adoptive mom!  Apparently she has been a blog follower of mine for awhile and when she saw Illya's picture posted along with the story I had written about camp she figured I must know her son and decided to write me and connect!  I just love when God allows connections like this to happen-- just too cool.  The woman I was looking for had found me!

So all this back story to say....Illya's family finally got their adoption appointment to travel over and get him this fall.  His parents stayed with me on their way to the region so I got to hear more of their story and how adoption was the last thing on their mind....until they met Illya!  I love when God moves like that!

This past week Illya and his mom stayed with me again as they were finishing up at the embassy and getting ready to head home today. The other night as we were all hanging out in the living room I looked at Illya and I looked at his mom and I couldn't help but smile. I love when life comes full circle like this. A boy I meet and get to work with at summer camp winds up being an adopted child that I get to see placed in a family-- a family that I then am able to open up my home to.

It really doesn't get much sweeter than that! 

Friday, November 11, 2011

All grown up...almost

I was in Kherson last week preparing documents for a small group of kids who will be traveling to the US over Christmas. One of the places I always try to visit while in Kherson is the main internat (orphanage) in the center of the city.  I've known some of these kids for nearly 5 years now.  Really I don't get their often enough because I'm always amazed at how much the kids have grown and changed!  I am also reminded that they are still there.

One sibling set has weighed on my heart all these years. Edic, Sasha and Nika.  We've taken 2 of these 3 sweet kids to the US, so I've gotten to know them decently through that time. Paperwork was never done for them, as there mother was in prison all these years--making them never available for adoption.  Edic will age out of the orphanage this year as he is 18.  It amazed me as he still recalled memories we shared together on bus rides in the US 4 years ago--when he seemed like such a kid!  Those trips were so meaningful for the kids...I'm reminded of that when I hear their stories.

If you look closely, you'll see that Nika (on the right) is the same little girl that is with me on the right hand column of this blog. I've never had the heart to change that picture, as her little face has always been so endearing to me.  It was taken on the last day of a camp we did-- when she was sad to say goodbye--nearly 5 years ago!   When I saw her this time I was stuck by how grown up she looked-- that little girl look had left--she is now a young woman.  And yet when she saw me she came running up with a big smile on her face-- something in her little girl eyes seemed to remain-- distant-- but it was there.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Orphan Sunday

Yesterday we honored Orphan Sunday across the nation of Ukraine...well across the world for that matter-- but I was in Ukraine-- so that is where I took part in an event!  The Alliance for Ukraine without Orphans launched a campaign to challenge churches across Ukraine to take part- whether it be corporate prayer or an entire service dedicated to speaking about the concerns of orphans and our role as Christians in solving the problem.  In Ukraine the event was deemed 'Day of Prayer for Orphans' since the word 'Sunday' in Russian literally means 'resurrection.' We figured a day called 'Orphan Resurrection' may not work as well, and decided to use the word 'prayer' instead :)

I had the privilege of getting to speak at my church- International Christian Assembly here in Kiev.  I go to an amazing international congregation here with people representing all corners of the world.  The awesome part of our congregation is that we have so many people with a heart for orphans and involved in orphan care, adoption and other forms of out reach to orphans in Ukraine.  In order to show our church a picture of God's heart for the orphans I decided to talk on camera to those in our church who are out on the front-lines in orphan ministry and what resulted was this little film, which I will share with you here....

grab a tissue and be prepared to ask the question....what will you do?