Sunday, April 29, 2012

Orphan Summit in California!

While Ukrainians are busy (not working) and celebrating the May holidays this week....I'm off to California!!  Not typical for me to make a trip to the USA this time of year, but I am finally getting to attend the Christian Alliance for Orphans Summit, which happens to be in Los Angeles!  This is an annual event that gathers Christian ministries and organizations that are passionate about orphan care and adoption. While there it is a chance to meet, talk, strategize and attend a whole variety of workshops and seminars.

I'm so excited for this opportunity to be surrounded by other like-minded people who are passionate about this topic-- and it's a double bonus that I'll be reunited with several adoptive families I know and other partners in ministry- it will be like a family reunion I am sure!  I also will get to hear amazing speakers like Francis Chan and Karyn Purvis-- and I am a huge fan of both!

Excited much? Just a little!!

Can't wait to report back and share what I learn.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A map of orphanhood in Ukraine

This map of orphanhood in Ukraine was put together by friends with the Alliance: Ukraine without Orphans.  I was asked to help edit the English version for foreign audiences, so here is what we have.  I realize this map may be difficult to read, so below are the numbers spelled out in bigger font.

This map really helps clarify the situation and shows the reality of the situation-- many older kids, kids with disabilities and lots of sibling groups!

Best areas in Ukraine
(0.5% of children are orphans)

Average areas in Ukraine
(1.2% of children are orphans)

Worst areas in Ukraine
(1.9% of children are orphans)

Total number of children in Ukraine – 9 million
(17.8% of the country's population)

1.5 million children are being raised by a single parent

250,000 children experience abuse, brutal treatment and exploitation

In addition to orphans, there are over 40,000 children living in institutions who do not have official orphan status.

35,000 children have been adopted since Ukraine’s independence

The total number of orphans and children without parental care is 96,000.

Out of those children:
10,000 are in foster care and family type orphanages,
63,000 live with guardians,
up to 23,000 live in institutions/orphanages for children.
27,000 are available for adoption, of those available for adoption, 90% of them are either over 5 years old, have illnesses or disabilities or are part of a sibling group.

Every year 17,000 children become orphans or are deprived of parental care.
Every year 12,000 children turn 18-year's old, the age of legal independence.

Hope that helps!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The day in-between...

Today, on this Saturday I find myself reflecting on the significance of today-- the day between good Friday and Easter.  Well at least in the western world it is.  (Ukraine doesn't recognize Easter till next weekend, according to the Orthodox calendar).

It's a rather depressing day when you stop and think about it.  The disciples had seen Jesus die and suffer on Friday and then awoke on Saturday with the realization that the very one they had put their hope and faith in was gone.  Jesus was no longer suffering on the cross-- he was in the grave.  It seemed over.  I've been thinking about that a lot today.  Trying to imagine what Jesus' followers would have been thinking, experiencing, and trying to understand. I can't imagine anyone was up for any theological banter or dialogue, yet instead I picture it as a very solemn and quiet day, most people likely without words.  Were they calling to mind the things Jesus had eluded to about raising from the dead?  Were some of them clinging to a hope that the story wasn't finished?  I can't imagine the depth of the thoughts and questions swirling in their heads...or the sense of abandonment they must have experienced.

Scripture tells us very little about this day in between. I read through all 4 gospel accounts today to seek out any information that would shed light on that silent day- the day between Good Friday and the day of Resurrection, and what struck me was the absence of information.  We know it was the Sabbath and therefore the day of rest and they did rest 'in obedience to the commandment' (Luke 23:56) , but there is nothing to tell us what the disciples were thinking- no writings to tell us that they all gathered to pray or discuss their thoughts, no words expressing even doubt.

I can't help but thinking what that day would have been like had I been there. How very alone and confused I would have felt, wanting to believe that the story wasn't over, but struggling with the reality that my eyes would have seen.

I don't know if you are living in a day 'in between' experience right now. Maybe you've seen the goodness of God and been living a life pursuing Jesus, but the problems and challenges in life right now have placed you in a valley, and you can't seem to see beyond the reality of today. You want to have faith to believe, but all your eyes see are obstacles. I've felt like that at moments lately.  Longing to hold tightly to God's promises of redemption, but face to face with the reality of sin and despair that I see around me.

I am glad I have today to realize this. To live for just one day in the tension between Good Friday and Easter. To realize there are dark days, days that feel hopeless. How grateful I am though, that I don't have to remain there-- and that I know the rest of the story.  I get to read ahead.

My life would certainly be a mess if it wasn't for the rest of the story.  The part of the story when the tomb is found empty and when Jesus conquers death!  The part when the enemy is defeated, because the grave could not hold the creator of the universe! The part when Jesus comes and speaks his peace and promises to send his Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. That is a story worth telling. That is a story that brings hope and freedom.

Sometimes I think it takes living through the Saturday experiences to understand the rest of the story.  Because it is in my moments of hopelessness that I most fully recognize my need of a savior.

" Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow wear and lose heart." Hebrews 12:2-3

"For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed. from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the word but was revealed in these last times for your sake. Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God." 1 Peter 1:18-21

Looking forward to tomorrow,

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Strength renewed!

 I'm overwhelmed with gratitude!  This past weekend our conference "Strengtheing Families" took place in Kiev at the Radisson hotel (who gave an amazing discount) and it was an unforgettable weekend for nearly 100 foster and adoptive couples from across Ukraine.  The couples that attended are parenting a total of 377 foster and adoptive children!

There is a growing movement of foster care and adoption among Christians in Ukraine, but to date, trainings and resources have been very limited.  This was our second conference we have hosted with the goal of providing resources and encouragement for these families, many of which are in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

To say that these families left feeling renewed and refreshed would be an understatement. If you can imagine, many of the couples in attendance were from  remote villages and had never been to Kiev, let alone had they eaten in a restaurant or stayed in a four star hotel! People were walking around wide-eyed and in gratitude all weekend-long and I've never heard thank you so many times! Part of the goal of the weekend was to pamper these couples, who work tirelessly day in and day out with little rest...and I think we succeeded in this goal.  The smiles on the faces throughout the weekend were simply amazing!

We were blessed to have a team of specialists and psychologists travel from the US and Canada to be a part of our event.  Seminars included, "Healing a Mother's Heart" ,"Strengthening Attachment through play", "The Biochemistry of Fear", "Strengthening Your Marriage" and "Learning the Essentials for Caring for Children with a History of Trauma" as well as others.

At one of the seminars

Team of speakers and organizers
Paul Pennington of Hope for Orphans, a ministry of Family Life, also partnered with us in the event and was the Saturday evening key-note speaker.  His ministry has a heart to see the church play the key role in solving the orphan crisis, and he brought great encouragement to our Ukrainian audience and challenged us all towards to bring the message back to our churches.

Here was some of the written feedback we got at the end of the conference.  Reading the response of the people who were there has really confirmed that we were doing just what God wanted us to do!

"We had never had time with other Christian foster parents and didn't understand the issues in our family that were happening and why. This time all together was so important. We know we are not alone.  For us being here was truly a miracle.  It was like a dream coming true. There simply are not words to describe the feelings of thankfulness that we have experienced."

"Such a conference lifted our wings and gave us the strength to go further.  We don't feel alone anymore.  Thank you for this gift, for the attention, for the smiles, for the kindness and for care that I have not seen anywhere else."

"These kind of conferences are really needed for instruction, strengthening, learning and support of our families.  We are grateful to God for the organization of this wonderful and helpful conference. God healed our hearts and gave us new strength. Thank you!"

"In going home we will forever remember and analzye everthing we learned and wrote down here. We have many people with whom we can share what we learned.  God bless you. We believe that through us God will continue to spread the revelation about adoption."

And none of this would have been possible with my AMAZING team that I get the privilege of working with everyday. Galina and Oksana are the angels in my office who are simply amazing at executing tasks and I would not be able to do what I do without them!  Both of them put in countless extra hours the week of the conference to make sure that it was an overwhelming success.

Thank you to all of you who gave towards this conference and who prayed for the families who'd be coming. God provided beyond our needs and I was amazed to see all the sources from which prayer and finances flowed. We had a moment of silence and prayer on the last morning and it was truly an indescribable moment. It was so evident that the Spirit of God was at work ministering the hearts of his children and there was hardly a dry eye in the room when I opened my eyes.  It's exciting to see God at work in the lives of these Ukrainian families and to know that hundreds of children will be reaping the benefits!