Saturday, April 23, 2011

Children of Mukachevo

Jesus said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." Luke 10:2

 I spent a couple days this past week in the harvest fields of Mukachevo, Ukraine. A city nestled into the valley of the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine.  For a little over a year now, Orphan's Promise has had several projects going on in this area, working with a local orphanage and 3 gypsy communities.

I've read the monthly reports that our team in the region has sent in over the past year, but this was the first chance I was given to visit and see first hand the work going on.

The gypsies, or the 'Roma' people in Ukraine, are a people group that can be found largely in western parts of the country-- their population somewhere around 14,000 surrounding Mukachevo. Their history is complex, and their poverty some of the worst I have seen.

Because of their skin color, their social background, lack of education and the negative stigmas that surround their lifestyle, the gypsy people in Ukraine are largely discriminated against. It is difficult for them to obtain work, education and even medical care in this country.  They are deemed outcasts.

While in Mukachevo I visited 3 different Roma communities, or as they are more often termed, 'gypsy camps.'  One of these communities had 5,000 residents- and no plumbing or water system.   The shanty style homes were the first thing my eyes caught attention to as we drove in-- that and the children of all ages everywhere- running to greet our car.   The children came quickly to see the new visitors that arrived with Natasha, the woman who works with coordinating our program in this camp. Most of the children don't speak Russian or Ukrainian, but instead a mix of Hungarian and a gypsy dialect-- so communication was more of a challenge.  They could answer 'what is your name' without a problem-- but had a hard time understanding my Russian beyond that.

For 3 months now, Natasha has been leading a group of volunteers to come out to this specific community 2 times a week to teach lessons in Life Skills, Bible, and the Russian language.  About 40 or so children attend these lessons, and at the end of their lessons they are given a hot meal that our team provides.  For many of them- these are two of the only concrete meals they can count on for the week. From the way they came bounding towards Natasha and the teachers it was obvious that the kids were more than eager to learn and engage...and eat!

The teachers I talked to while I was there said they have noticed a change in several of the children in just the 3 months that they have been coming. Several kids, they said, are just so hungry to learn, and are grateful that people from the church care enough to come and teach them.  One mother I met was in tears with gratitude as she thanked our team for coming to teach her children.  She said she now had hope that her children could have a different future.

I was without words as I observed the poverty that these children live in each day.  It is a vicious cycle of poverty that they have been born into and one that has existed for generations.  It has become their normal.  It disturbed me how 'normal' it seemed to them-- covered in weeks of filth and dirt, and yet still grinning from ear to ear and running wild.  I wanted to just scoop up a couple of them and give them a good bath!  I also wanted to tell teenage boys that it is not safe to ride a motor bike with a toddler attached to the front!  But in that moment I also realized that these children need so much more than just a good bath or a lecture from some American girl.   A bath and a lecture would seem to be a quick fix-- but it would be temporal.  It wouldn't last for more than a few moments and wouldn't change anything.

I recognized that what our teachers are doing each week will take TIME.  That results won't be seen in an instant.  We can't pluck up this entire community of 5,000 people and change their situation over night.  But we can begin a work for this new generation- teach them work skills, and living skills, and above all about Jesus. 

I was inspired by my friend Natasha and her commitment to these children.  She recognizes that she may never see the full fruit of her labor-- but she recognizes the call to love and serve this people group...and to start somewhere.

On my way home, as my train rattled away from the Carpathian Mountains back to the comforts of Kiev, I was reading in Matthew where Jesus tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  I couldn't help but think of the little faces I had met the days before-- and of how many more workers who are needed to be sent into that harvest field.   

What is the harvest field that God is calling you into today?  Will we follow him there?


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Seeing the Hand of God

This is a post I've been meaning to write for quite some time and yet I didn't really know quite where to start the story.  So here goes...

 If you've been floating around adoption 'blogville' for the last few months you most likely have come across the Peck family on their adoption journey. For those of you that haven't, I wanted to use this post to tell you the story of quite frankly the biggest miracle I've seen take place in all my years of working in the adoption realm.

My relationship with Clay and Selene Peck began in September of this past year when we returned from a summer camp and had met a 15-year-old girl who wanted a family.  Upon returning I was connected with the Pecks through some friends in Colorado. They had felt led by God to pursue the adoption of an older teen and it seemed like a match made in heaven with the girl we'd met at camp.

Paperwork started and all was looking great.....that is until the girl changed her mind 2 months later.  It was difficult for us all to understand the 'why's' behind this whole situation, but the Pecks moved forward in faith, trusting that God must have another girl for them....a girl that would want to be in a family.

Fast forward to February.  Selene and Clay arrive in Kiev and take a referral for a 15-year-old girl named Julia-- a girl they had learned about through a friend of mine who had known her for a few years. A girl who had prayed and prayed continually for a family, and who was only 3 months away from being 'too old' to be adopted internationally.  Or so we thought.

Family meets.  Girl says yes. Paperwork starts moving.  This adoption story seemed like one that would be smooth sailing...until an error in the paperwork is found.  One simple error.  An error that changes everything.

The birthday had been wrong in the official documents and when crossed with the registrar’s office it was determined that young Julia was already 16 year's old-- too old to be adopted by US law.

Moments like these are the ones that make your heart sink.  Moments like this have you asking the "Why, God?" questions.  Moments like these send you to your knees in prayer.

We knew our only hope was to make a plea with the US embassy in Kiev, so that is where we went.  But after hours of waiting and finally getting to talk to someone who seemed like they were in charge, we were told what we feared: "No Way." The law was the law, and although there had been an error in paperwork, nothing could be done.

We left the embassy in tears-- Clay and Selene both heart broken that they would need to return to the orphanage and tell a waiting girl that they could no longer adopt her.  Again, the 'why' questions were racing through my mind.

The Pecks returned to my office to make a game plan of what would be next, when in walks my uncle Steve, who has an ability to inspire just about anyone!  He heard the news and then challenged the Pecks to examine what God was asking of them and to see if they were to fight for Julia-- to fight for the orphan.  He then went on to pray a very powerful and prophetic prayer. At the end of his prayer, all were in tears and Selene spoke up, “Maybe we are supposed to fight this…and whether we win or not, maybe this will help raise awareness in a way that God can use on behalf of orphans around the world.”  Clay agreed and said, “Let’s fight!” 

Immediately Clay set to work sending out emails to everyone he knew, putting messages out on Facebook --trying to rally the troops to pray. It helps being a pastor of a large church with people who know people!  Amazingly enough, within hours he had been connected with high-level officials at the office of Homeland Security and was sharing Julia's story with people who have the ability to make decisions.  He stayed up most of the night, writing emails, sending documents and trying to get Julia's story into the ears of people who could make things happen.

And while we slept through the night.... things were happening in the US!

Literally, within 24 hours of us having been at the US embassy in Kiev, Clay received a phone call from the local Embassy, saying that they would be able to adopt Julia!  US law had been changed (or at least re-interpreted) on behalf of a Ukrainian girl.  Miraculous.  Let me say it again- MIRACULOUS!

When the Pecks showed up at the Embassy the next day they were met with smiles.  The people there, who had been all gloom and doom the day before were in shock of the decision that had been made. Never before had they seen such action taken.  And because of the "Julia Peck Decision" 16-year-olds around the world would be given the chance for adoption, as this new interpretation of the law would be effective in all consular posts world-wide.  The consular representative said to the Pecks, "you must be pretty politically active people. I've never seen anything like this happen."  "No" Clay responded. "We just have a church with a lot of praying people."

I have to say that I understood the power of prayer in a whole new way that day.

What an amazing God we serve!!      

Within 24 hours the fate of a young girl had changed-- and the faith of thousands of praying people was immensely strengthened. 

Its been 3 weeks now that the Pecks have been home with Julia, and I realize that this miracle is only one part of their journey. I believe God uses moments like these to remind us that He is in it with us. The road ahead of transitioning Julia into home life in America will be challenging, and will have its ups and downs, but the Pecks will always be able to reflect on their journey and know that God is in it.  After all, He changed the hearts of kings to give Julia a family.  

I pray too, that I never forget.
God's heart is with the fatherless.  Julia's story will forever be the reminder of that truth.

Clay, Selene and Julia Peck- arriving in the US
You can see more of the Peck's story here
Or hear his inspiring sermon after returning from Ukaine here: