Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Camp Matters

Throughout my time in Ukraine our ministry (Orphan's Promise) has been privileged to be involved in dozens of summer camps. When I stop and count them the number actually adds up to 16 camps that I've participated in. I'm starting to feel old. Probably because the kids stay in the same age range....its just us volunteers that get older!

Each summer brings with it new challenges and new faces (and some familiar ones too). Faces that then become names we learn and names that become stories of individual lives.  Individuals who have lived through an immense amount of pain and loss in their 14-18 years of living.

On the first day of the camp, kids from 3 different orphanages unloaded the bus and were instructed to divide into groups of 3 people so that we could then form teams (we figured if they were at least with 2 of their favorite friends they couldn't get mad at us for then mixing them with kids from the other orphanages).  As they began to divide into groups I began to have flash backs to my worst days of High School. The days when you saw the 'cool' kids picking one another and the not as cool kids shoved to the other side. (Repressed memories-- I know).

Some things are universal I guess.

As this popularity contest was happening and some kids were quickly grasping their bosom buddies, my eyes settled on one girl - the girl who looked lost among the mass of teens, the girl who clearly didn’t have friends to partner with. 

There she stood, all alone, wondering who would pick her and where she would end up.  My heart broke for her and I knew right then and there that we would become friends that week.

Later that day I would learn her name was Oksana and she was 16-years-old.  Throughout the week I learned pieces of her story. Orphaned at 12, abandoned by relatives, placed in a foster family and eventually in the orphanage.  It was clear that Oksana was a survivor. 

As the days of the camp went by Oksana came out of her shell and truly began to take in all she was learning.  Such a delightful girl! After a few days she was already on stage, helping lead the worship sessions.  Then in a prayer time with her leader, Oksana prayed to receive Jesus as her savior. (YEAH!) 

On the last day I asked Oksana if she’d mind sharing some of the things that were the most meaningful to her while at the camp ---things that I'd be able to share with others.  I was so touched by the eloquence of her own words, so I'll let her speak for herself:

“I can’t even express in words everything I want to say,” she said. “It felt like I was home here. Thanks to this camp I’ve gotten closer to God and I’ve gained information I know I’ll need for the future.  I think everyone has taken something away from this camp.  I’ve learned about gratitude and forgiveness here. In some ways I feel like God restored me to who I was before.”   

Sometimes I wonder if there is a point in continuing these summer out reaches, as many of the kids can seem so closed off to what we have to share.  But Oksana's words encourage me that God has us exactly where he needs us, and for that I'm grateful.

*This camp was made possible thanks to the ministries of CBN/Orphan's Promise, Emmanuel and Agape in Kherson.  Thanks to all who partner with these GREAT organizations! :)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Saying Goodbyes..

Well all of our Ukrainian kiddos made it safe and sound back to their home-land (And I lived to write about it!).  It was a bitter sweet day watching all the kids say goodbye in Seattle as they parted with their host families--there were not many dry eyes to be seen.  But I have no doubt that it was worth it.  These kids gained amazing experiences, heard about Jesus in their own language, were shown how a healthy family can operate and were shown unconditional love.  Some people question hosting programs and say it isn't right to let kids gain attachment- but I think the opposite is true--why not give them the chance to have these experiences and give them connections with loving adults? I know that each and everyone of these kids was grateful to have been given this opportunity. And for those who will not be adopted, we now get to be their strongest advocates. 

The night before we left we had a beautiful farewell dinner at our church, where the kids served up some yummy Ukrainian food for all our guests.  From donors, to host families to friends, we had a full house and a sweet evening sharing about the past month and what the hosting had meant for both the kids and the families. It truly took a community to make this hosting project happen and it was a wonderful night to celebrate what God has done.

 Here are a few more shots from the final week- where we spent the day at a park...

So I've just barely landed in Ukraine and now I'm packing my bags again!  Off to help put on a camp for 45 orphans in the Kherson region.  Should be a busy couple weeks ahead.  Please be praying for our team as we will be working with the youth in the coming days ahead-- namely for open doors and for open hearts!

Monday, August 5, 2013

3 weeks down- one to go!

I'm always amazed at how fast the summer goes by when these kiddos from Ukraine are here in the US.  The past 2 years the Window to Hope project only hosted the kids for 3 weeks, which felt a bit short- so we opted for a week longer program this year.- So now we are at the beginning of August- 3 weeks are down and one week remains!  Where did all the time go?  We've been busy doubt. And the kids have been doing great.

Here is some of what we've been up to during our stay in the beautiful Pacific Northwest...

One week to go!