Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Faith of One Young Man

From the moment I first saw Vitalik, I knew he was different. It was the third night of our 1st camp in the Kherson region, and Vitalik was celebrating his 15th birthday. To honor him at our evening program, we brought him up in front of all the other kids, presented him with a gift and then sang the traditional "Happy Birthday" song (yes, they all sing it in English, even in Ukraine!) After we were done singing to him, we asked Vitalik if there was anything special he would like to do or say, and to that he responded, "I would like it if I could pray right now, for everyone." Sure, okay, I'm thinking! Not your typical answer from a 15-year-old boy, but this should be interesting! Vitalik went on to say a prayer, boldly and clearly before all of his peers, asking the Lord to bless him in this next year of life, as well as those around him, and praying that the other kids would know the Lord as he did. Through out the next week, I made it a point to seek Vitalik out, and learn a bit more of his story, as it is not everyday that you meet an orphan who is a professing Christian and who seems to be walking out his faith. Through talking to him, I came to find he had spent the last 7 or so years in the orphanage, and that while in the hospital several years ago, he met a believer who shared with him about Jesus. From that day on, he had been given a new perspective, a new hope, and a new way of living life.

Without going into too much detail, the 12 day camp we did in Kherson was difficult in ways I had never experienced. Working with 65 kids, mostly boys between the ages of 14-18 was a challenge I had never before faced, and reaching these kids in a way that could break down their walls of hurt and self-defense proved at times impossible to our human efforts. Vitalik was my encouragement. Vitalik was a reminder of why we spend the time and the money and the energy to put on camps like these. Because even when it seems like we aren't getting through--God is. In reality, we just don't know how God is going to speak, or who God is going to use, and with our limited human eyes, we can never see the full picture.
Even on the last night of the camp I saw Jesus chipping away at hearts that all week had seemed so hard...and yet in the same moment of seeing hearts melt amidst the flame, in the campfire light I could see other kids who still couldn't let the fire in. Perhaps afraid of getting burned. Unaware of the fact that the consuming fire was what their lives so desperately needed- what they were created for... and that through those flames could come healing.
On that last night as we sat around the fire, and took digital pictures by the thousands with the new friends that had become so dear to us, I found Vitalik. I started asking him about the weeks events, and what had been the most special or meaningful to him. "The fellowship of believers," he said without pausing. "Living in the orphanage I never get to meet other Christians and learn and grow in my faith like I have this week. I'm really going to miss you guys and being surrounded by other believers. This has been one of the best weeks ever." Wow! I don't think I anticipated his response. I don't think I anticipated meeting a young man like Vitalik who already knew Jesus, and just needed encouragement. Encouragement to keep going. Encouragement to keep running the race even when it seems so hard. In that moment, looking into the eyes and the heart of this 15-year-old young man, who lives in an orphanage in southern Ukraine, it was I who was encouraged. It was a gift I wasn't expecting.
Thank you Vitalik for your faith. May it bring others encouragement as well.


Heidi and Felix said...

Karen - you are a blessing to so many children. You are amazing!


Steph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steph Bradac said...

Wow! God is so good. Thanks so much for sharing this story, Karen!