Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Warming Soles for Christmas!

For five years now our volunteers have been providing camps every summer for orphans in one tiny village in a remote part of southern Ukraine. 

This hidden village is made up of about 2,000 people, all hovering along the poverty line. The village is also home to about 150 orphans, spread between two orphanages.  The roads to reach this village are almost non-drivable in winter conditions and the children grow up without exposure to the outside world.  The only new people they ever meet are the ones who visit them!

On a trip to this village last month to visit the children, I learned that one of their most basic needs was not being met—that of winter shoes! With a harsh winter fast approaching and only a small government subsidy to clothe the children each year, the director of the orphanage has been looking to other places to see that the children under her care have the proper things to keep them warm.  So she turned to the people in her office sitting in front of her...and that happened to be us! She was hoping we could offer some assistance.  

And as I sat there listening to her describe the need for shoes, I couldn't help but think that I had tons of friends back in the states who could easily meet this need. 

After-all, she was only looking for a little less than 2,000 dollars to put shoes on all the kids.  Divide that between a few hundred facebook friends, and we've got shoes in no time! 

So before I knew it...I was committing to finding money for shoes.  And not only for one orphanage...but I figured if we were looking for shoes for one orphanage in the village, we'd better raise money for the second one as well.  So here we go....shoe fundraiser has officially begun! 

The cafeteria of one of the two orphanages in about a 15-minute walk from the main building, so 3 times everyday the children have to go out into the cold to walk to the place where they eat their meals.  Proper winter shoes for so much walking in the snow is a must!   

With the Christmas season coming upon us, and with snow to soon be falling in Ukraine, I want to give you my blog friends, a chance to partner with us in getting winter shoes for these orphans!  Ones we have been building relationships with for 5 years.  So it isn't just a one time donation and walking away- it is continual investment.  

A donation of $30 will purchase a pair of brand new boots for a child in one of these village orphanages we are working with.  Our goal is to have 150 pairs of shoes by Christmas!  How many boots can you give?

To give you can donate directly through the OP general giving website: https://www.cbn.com/giving/orphanspromise/option.aspx

** UPDATE:  All the funds have been raised!! Thanks for giving :)

Just shoot me an email that you have donated, and we'll be sure to designate your donation for this project!  Or send me an email if you'd rather mail a check, and I can send you the information.

Merry Christmas,

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A blessing for every year

When God first placed orphans and adoption on my heart in 2004 I remember having a simple prayer-- I prayed that people at home would also catch the same vision. I was so fired up and passionate about adoption that I wanted other people to see what I was seeing- to share in the heart God was giving me.  So my prayer was that I would come to see families I personally knew embrace God's heart for adoption. 

Bringing a group of Ukrainian orphans to WA state in the winter 2007 seemed to be the beginning of that prayer being answered.  Through a performance of a Christmas musical featuring Ukrainian orphans, one family at Northshore (my home church) was stirred to begin the adoption process.  One year later they would bring home one of the girls who had appeared in the musical in 2007, a little girl who had won a soft spot in my heart.

Then in 2011, together with a small group of volunteers we stepped out in faith and began the Window to Hope hosting project and ventured to bring 13 Ukrainian orphans to our community to live in families for 3 weeks. In 2012 we would bring 6 more.

Though adoption was not the goal of the hosting trip, we did know that some of the kids were available for international adoption, and that the trip could expose these kids to families who perhaps earlier would have never considered adopting an older child.

As a result of the two successive hosting trips, 2 families have already adopted 5 of these children  and one more family is brining home 2 more boys in the next couple weeks! I am overwhelmed at seeing how God has been at work through this.

When I prayed that prayer 8 years ago I had no idea what the answer would look like, but I remember hoping that a spirit of adoption would fall on my church and inspire others to consider their role in caring for the orphan.

Now, 8 years later, I stop and can count 8 Ukrainian children among my home congregation. One child for each year that I've been away!   What a very special gift.

When I was home this last summer and saw this small Ukrainian embassy overtaking the lobby of our church I was humbled.  It was a moment to freeze in my mind's eye.

My two worlds had collided and it was simply beautiful. 
Not perfect. 
Not without difficulty, blemish or pain;
Not without cost.
Yet beautiful nonetheless.

A picture similar to my own adoption-
The beautiful redemption that God has poured out on my non-perfect life through Jesus.
It wasn't pain free,
It wasn't without cost,

But beautiful?
Oh yes.

The two newest boys to be added to the clan!

"For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us."
Ephesians 1:5-8

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bringing change

A couple weeks ago I went with some of our Orphan's Promise staff to several of our project sites we have spread throughout this country.

One of the locations we visited was Mukachevo...a town nestled at the edge of the carpathian mountains and home to a significantly sized Roma (or Gypsie) population.

We have a local staff that has been working among these people for several years now, bringing education to their children on a regular basis and aid as well.

It is difficult to describe what it is like to walk amidst these gypsie communities.  Sometimes only a stone's throw away from their Ukrainian village neighbors, and yet the lives they lead are so different.

poverty...and yet a satellite.  priorities are sometimes interesting

Upon entering one of the gypsy settlements you instantly put aside all of your own problems. They suddenly seem insignificant in comparison to the needs of the people living in these communities. The poverty of the living conditions are even more shocking when winter sets in.  Houses have dirt floors, lack doors, and are not built with heating or a water supply.

So much poverty. So much need. So much corruption and injustice.

One home I walked into was all put 2 rooms with 2 beds...and yet 10 people slept between the two beds.

Many in Ukraine blame the gypsies themselves for the state of their life and the choices they've made. Others blame the State for not trying harder. When I look at the problem it becomes clear that it can't be a blame game.  There is just tremendous need...mainly among the children- and most families have 6-8 of them.

Last winter, our staff from Kiev traveled to several homes in the region and installed several economical heating devices, fixed roofs, installed doors, and distributed blankets and warm clothes.  People were so grateful for the help, and to know that people cared.

The SEED project (something to eat every day) is another project that OP has begun in this region. The project’s goal is to help the poorest of the world’s populations through farming. People in the hardest of conditions are taught to change their lives with their own hands.  

You know the saying...give a man a fish and I he can eat for a day. Teach a man how to fish and.....

The results of the project have been wonderful so far. As the gypsy people started to gather the first fruits of their labor nobody could believe the reality--it was working. The success has inspired and encouraged the entire community. 

Another project is the building of a bathhouse.  Since there is no running water in the community this is a chance to use the bath facility for families to bathe in clean water and also learn principles of hygiene.    Its a long road ahead to change a mentality that has existed for generations...but this is the beginning.  

I look forward to sharing more as these projects progress.  But in the mean time, please keep these beautiful people in your prayers...

 "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

Monday, October 29, 2012

Scarves & Fall

I have a wonderful blog friend, also by the brilliant name of Karen, who adopted a darling little girl from Ukraine over a year ago.  We quickly bonded in the short time we spent together and have enjoyed staying in touch....probably was a name thing.

Anyway she writes a wonderful blog which highlights her awesome photography skills and life as a mama.  She is featuring a very fun FALL give-away and because I love fall and love scarves I couldn't help but want to join!

Usually I don't do things like this...so...all the more reason I guess to try something new!

So if you are interested in a fun new scarf for fall, check out the link below...and also check out some of the other Karen's lovely photography...

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Adoption & Foster Care Rx

Do you ever just wish you could take a perscription pill to make your post-adoption challenges fade away?? I know many do!

There is a very exciting resource I want to share with foster and adoptive families- one that Orphan's Promise launched just in the last few months--a new DVD series called 'Adoption & Foster Care Rx, Solutions for Wounded Families.'  Its a series with seven sessions, including real stories from real adoptive families and also advise and interviews from the experts, including the brilliant Karyn Purvis!

Several of my dear friends who have walked the adoption journey are featured in this series and it is so exciting to see how God is using their stories to minister to others who are walking the same path of ups and downs.

I'm just thrilled we took this project on. I'm a huge fan of promoting adoption, but I also know that as strongly as we advocate adoption we must also provide the resources needed to be successful and the places to turn with things are down right HARD.

I was handing these DVD's out as gifts to those adoptive families who stay with me, but I ran out! Hoping to get a new shipment soon so I can distribute more...

When you make a $35 donation to Orphan's Promise, the video can be yours. Visit here for more information about ordering and to see a trailer:  http://www.orphanspromise.org/adoptiondvd/


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus Storybook Bibles for Orphans!

I'm excited to share with you a great opportunity to give in a very practical way! 

Last Christmas, through Orphan's Promise we had the joy of distributing the The Jesus Storybook Bible among orphans in the Kherson region.  This is a delightful children's Bible, that I highly recommend checking out in English if you have small children at home.  I have a copy in Russian and I just love the way that the author weaves the promise of Jesus throughout the Old Testament and into the New.  Many are saying it is one of the best children's Bibles out there....and I think I agree!Well thanks to In Lumine Media the book is now in the Russian language, and several partner organizations here in Ukraine are teaming up to do a wide-spread distribution to Ukrainian orphans, so that every orphan in every orphanage will have their very own copy of the Bible!

For just $3 you can provide an orphan in Ukraine with a Children's Bible! (Sounds a bit like an informercial I realize :) ...but seriously-- the book retails at $16 in the USA- however the costs are being off-set here to make this affordable.  So that even a child can give!

The plan for now is to raise enough funds so that at Easter we can have a wide-scale distribution through local churches and ministries.  So would you consider in donating to a very worthy cause?  You can visit this site to find out more information and to download printable material, like the poster above, so that your whole church can get involved!

Orphan Sunday is coming up on November 4th-- so this would be a great cause to support in your churches or small groups!

Feel free to share with others...

Monday, September 24, 2012

Window to Hope

Last year you may remember me talking about our Window to Hope hosting project and the kiddos we brought to my home church in Washington state.  Well this year we did it again, though with a smaller crew of kids from Ukraine.  Long story, but we ran into several issues with documents in Ukraine and as a result were only able to bring 6 kids on the 3 week hosting trip.

Nevertheless it was a fun-filled 3 weeks and the kids of course loved all things America!  I'll have a special story to share in a couple weeks...as two of these boys are currently in process for adoption and will be having their family come for them VERY soon!

Here is a little window into some of our summer activities....

Thank you to all who supported this endeavor! We couldn't have done it without the donations that came in from across the US.  I love seeing people come out of the woodwork to help with this project. I was so blessed when I learned that a very old friend from jr high/sr. high days heard we were coming (and gave last year) and offered to organize an entire event for our kids and families.  We had a whole evening at a ranch thanks to the connections of this friend-- who I hadn't even seen in years! It was so awesome to see the body of Christ stepping forward and pouring out love left and right.  Such a cool experience.

Till next time...

Friday, September 21, 2012

The lighter moments

Yep, still here trying to play catch up from the summer!  After our camp season ended I spent 2 weeks in Kiev playing hostess to a super-wondeful-family that was here to adopt some super-cute-boys!  There are some families that stay with me that I hit it off with...and then there are some families I really hit it off with.  Kim and Adam fall into the 'really hit it off with' category!

Adam is a photographer (a really really talented photographer might I add), so naturally he and I found some common things to talk about.  AND Adam is so wonderful that he even agreed to give me a few lessons and let me try out his array of so many lenses.  It was oh so much fun getting to click away and have him give me pointers as I went.  I even had my own photo-session thrown in at the end of my lesson. We got gutsy and Adam had me sit on the tram tracks...quickly before any tram hit me!

One thing I love about meeting so many adoptive couples is getting to see many different reactions to stress and difficult circumstances.  Now, some people might think of this as a bad thing.  However, I find it truly educational and eye-opening.

Here you take a married couple out of their normal routine, out of their culture and comfort zone, to a land where they don't understand the language, don't know the customs, and then add to that the stress of adoption and you have the recipe for the perfect nightmare....or some really humorous situations.  And believe me...I've seen both! (Like I said...very educational!)

What I loved about Adam and Kim was their ability to see the lighter side of just about everything.  I know their stay in Ukraine was anything but easy, and they had more waiting around to do then is typical-- but they chose to wake up every day with a smile, keep going, and find the lighter moments of this city and the adoption process.

Case in point--their adoption of the street cat that lives outside of my building.  Kim and Adam are animal lovers (this is an understatement)...and so naturally as they were awaiting the adoption of their 3 boys, they adopted a street cat, who they affectionately named 'Steven-Jeffery' (In actuality, I take full credit for the combination of the two names, as there was a disagreement over which name to call the cat.)
photo taken by Adam Pendleton

'Steven-Jeffery' thus became the amusing topic of each evening conversation. They'd fill me in on what the cat was up to, what they'd fed him, how he responded, and how there was now a babushka trying to move in on our territory...giving him better food and a collar to boot!

One night we had fun throwing food from my 5th floor balcony to the ground below--seeing if he would go bounding towards it.  Quite a show for the neighbors I'll say.  No doubt that a foreigner lives here now.  2 smiling blonde girls laughing loudly as they throw bits of chicken to the pavement below.

Funny how a cat I had never noticed before, suddenly had so much personality.  I laughed till I had tears when I came home this summer to find that a picture of Steven Jeffery and a note had ended up in my guest book...a love letter to ME about our special summer!

Adam and Kim are now back in the US, settling into their new normal with their three energetic boys, yet they have left a lasting imprint in my home here in Kiev. It's a reminder to look for the lighter things in life.  The things that allow us to forget the chaos and difficulties for a moment....and laugh!    Finding joy amidst the pain and laughter amidst the heart-ache....that truly is a gift.

I can't help but slow down now as I see a little white cat dart in front of me as I leave my building in the morning.
A smile crosses my face and I have my own little laugh...one that onlookers wouldn't quite understand. Just a little moment...and then I move along my way....back to the day that awaits.

Ahhh Steven Jeffery...and the summer of love.

Praying YOU are finding something to laugh about...no matter what challenge is before you.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Teen Camp in Odessa

There is probably a reason why I should blog about events as they happen...because that way I'd actually remember them!! So much happened in the last few months, so I guess what follows over the next week will be a blog blitz of the summer....now that it is Fall and I'm settling back into my routine in Kiev.

So my last real post was about our camp at an orphanage in the Kherson region in early June.  After that wrapped up we caught our breath for all of about 5 days before we headed down to Odessa to put on a 2 week camp for teens from orphanages from the Kherson region.

We had about 100 youth and it was an intense two weeks.  Trying to recall specific stories now three months later is hard...like post camp blur or something! But I can say it was challenging and I can say that God was at work as He always is at these camps.

Because we've worked in partnership with "Agape" for many years we have had a long standing relationship with the orphanages in Kherson region and so the camp served as a reunion of sorts.  I counted at least 10 kids that had been on some of our hosting trips to the US and others from previous camps.  It's hard to watch these kids grow up and see them still in the orphanage.  But many of them know God and seem to be headed in the right direction.  Others it is sad to see the choices they are making, and we can only pray that the seeds that have been planted year after year will eventually take root.

I was so blessed to spend time in Odessa with Vika.  I've known Vika since she was fourteen, and now she is nineteen and has graduated from the orphanage.  I still think of her as a little girl and in many ways it is clear that she still needs someone to hold her hand in life... as I often found her holding mine throughout the 2 weeks together.

Vika said 'no' to adoption several years ago, as it would have meant being separated from her younger sister. It was a hard decision for her and yet I admire her for making that decision to remain for the sake of her sister.  Because of her multiple trips to the US she has a good grasp of the English language, a skill I know that will help her as she now steps into college.  God is not done writing Vika's story, and I'm happy that I still get to be a part of her life.

The theme of the camp was all around the Euro Cup...which was taking place in Kiev while we were down in the sweltering heat of Odessa. We used our lessons and evening messages to make connections between the game of soccer (futbol) and the game of life.

I'll let the following pictures tell the rest of the story for the fun we had!
one whole day of rope's courses!

Yes, it was a very fun 2 weeks! You should join us next time!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Still here...

Yes, I'm still here! Has it really been 2 months since I posted? I guess it has! It has been one very full summer thus far, and I have just avoided this blog- not knowing where to start. My goal is to have some posts up in the next couple weeks catching you up on our second summer camp, hospitality news, and summer hosting through Window to Hope! I'm currently on a little extended trip in the US now that the kids are back in Ukraine...so I hope to carve away some time and get back to blogging soon.

In the mean time...enjoy these final days of summer...they are slipping away fast!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Of Lasting Impact

We returned this past week from our weeklong camp in the village of Kalinenska...a remote part of the Kherson region. This was our 4th summer heading back to work with these kids. 

The hardest part about going back every year is seeing that they are still there.  I look at my pictures from the previous years and I see how the kids are growing and changing... and yet there they remain, isolated in a tiny village, waiting for the next group of guests to arrive...hoping for a change from the normal.

What amazes me each year about these kids is their memory.  These are kids who struggle in school and have a hard time putting letters together and remembering one English word I teach them, and yet they remember specific details of previous years together as if the events happened only yesterday.  They will recite which games we played in 2009, they recite song lyrics from two years ago, they will go into detail about films we showed them and they can even remember which day of the week we showed up  last year!

 Honestly it was mind blowing to hear the kind of details they remembered.  After doing dozens of these camps I have a hard time separating them in my mind, and truthfully they all start to blur together. I have to look at the pictures to remind myself who was who and what we did.  Not for these kids. They remember the specifics.  The moments are engrained in their minds.... because for them these moments are significant.  The monotonous routine is broken and they are given a break.  The scenery stays the same perhaps, but the people who fill it are now different.

I started thinking more about this because I realized that to us the camp might just seem like a lot of work at times-- Details to coordinate, games to organize, lessons to create.  And then we wonder whether it makes a difference, if there is any lasting impact??  Well this year as I was hearing child after child rattle off details about previous camps I felt as if God was whispering to my heart....Yes, Karen, it does matter.  Don't let yourself think otherwise.

So this year as we played silly games, taught the lessons, sang the songs and pointed them to the truth of Jesus I found comfort in knowing that even though they don't always seem to pay attention...something here is sticking...something is getting through.    When we leave and they go back to their normal, they will draw upon these precious memories and they will find comfort. 

Maybe it will start as just a simple memory about one of the games, but prayerfully they will draw up words of scripture, words of hope and truth that have the power to change them forever.  

"As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,

and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, 
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty, 
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it."

Isaiah 55:10-11

Leaving for another camp tomorrow...this time for 2 weeks. Please keep our team in your prayers.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Finding a place to call home

Last summer we brought 13 kids on a hosting trip to Seattle through a project called Window to Hope that we began through my home church (Northshore) last year.  Two of those girls were adopted in March  by a Northshore family and another 3 are nearing the day when they too will finally leave the orphanage for good and have a place to call HOME.

Some of you who have been following along for several years may remember the story of Oksana Faith who was adopted by a family in my church 3 years ago.  Well, when the Jones family hosted through our program last summer, they did not expect that they would soon be walking down the adoption path again...except not to bring home just one child....but THREE! When the kids first left the Jones did think they were in a place to adopt again, but after a couples months of waiting an praying they got the green light to move ahead.  When I got the news it was shock mixed with joy! So the Jones family will go from having 3 to 6 children in just a few short weeks!  Amazing what God can do.

My heart is over-flowing knowing that these three children will now have a family to love them forever.  To walk with each of them on their individuals roads to healing. I'm even more excited that these smiling faces are being added to my home church...now a total of 6 adopted children from Ukraine will be in their midst! I am continually humbled at the goodness of our God.

Do keep the Jones in your prayers, as they are currently awaiting a court date and this region is known for taking awhile!

This summer we are brining 10 more children to the Seattle area through Window to Hope. You can visit the link to learn more.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Spring....into Summer!

Well my lack of posting is a testament to the kind of spring I have had-- very full!!

I spent the bulk of May putting together the final touches of our spring play at Kiev Christian Academy- "Pride & Prejudice"- it was a lot of work and a lot of fun and in the end turned out to be an amazing production.  This is my little creative outlet here in Kiev, teaching drama in my 'spare' time. This was my 8th production with KCA and by far one of the most complicated.  We had an awesome Ukrainian seamstress make all the costumes, and as you can see- she was fabulous.

with my darling cast!
The Bennett Family!
Elizabeth finally gives in...

Now it is 1:30 am on the eve before heading to camp and I find myself posting this blog instead of in bed where I should be! Last minute...as the story seems to go. But just wanted to send out a quick update to say you can be praying for our team as we head to the Kalinenska orphanage in Kherson region. This will be our 4th year doing a day camp with the kids in the orphanage there and we are excited to get back and build on the years of relationships developed.

last year at camp

Please pray for:

*open hearts and ears
*leading by the Holy Spirit
*healing of hearts
*safety of team and kids

Will look forward to sharing more when I return!