Good evening to everyone!
At the moment we are on board the Dnieper Star, preparing to leave port in Odessa, Ukraine. We will sail through the night and all day tomorrow and arrive in Sevastopol, Ukraine at 6pm. We are pushing away from the dock as I type. This is the moment of truth when we find out if anyone in our group gets seasick…
We had two long but fortunately uneventful days of travel and arrived at the ship in Odessa last night around 11pm. Our group was greeted warmly by a clarinet player and a young lady dressed in traditional Ukrainian clothing and offering bread and salt, a traditional Ukrainian welcome.
After a short night of sleep we left this morning for our first orphanage. The weather was looking ugly during our drive and we were notified upon our arrival that our program, which is usually held outdoors in a nice, open area, would be moved inside. This always presents a challenge because we never know how big the rooms will be that we’ll have to use and what the layout of the buildings will look like. The first orphanage visit on any trip is usually a challenge anyway– figuring out best practices and getting our group accustomed to how the program will run. This is my third trip with HopeHouse, and I must say that in spite of the weather conditions (rain and cold), our group pulled together marvelously and the visit went off without a major hitch.
The children were led by our “in house” clowns from station to station. Our clowns did a fantastic job of keeping the four groups of children together and entertained– handing out balloon animals and teaching the children to make them. The girls got their nails painted in all sorts of bright and pretty colors, all of the children had their faces painted (everything from a kitty cat to Spiderman), and every orphan had his or her photo taken. (I’ll touch on the importance of these photos in a later post). After the group moved through the stations, all of children were gathered into one assembly room where we taught them fun songs like the Hokey-Pokey and “Lean on Me.” After the singing, Svetlana Gantt spoke to the children in Russian. At first, it seemed as if the children would have trouble settling down to listen to her– the squeaking and occasional popping of the balloon animals was nearly deafening. However, after about a minute of Sveta’s story, a pin drop could be heard in the room.
Svetlana was an orphan in Ukraine and was adopted by the very first HopeHouse family. She is a fantastic communicator in general, but had an almost magical spell cast over the children this morning. She asked them questions and got a multitude of enthusiastic answers. She engaged them on their level and had them riveted– they were glued to her. Sveta told them her story and offered them true hope like none of us ever could have. She explained the cavernous gap that existed between each of us and God, and told them that Jesus came to bridge that divide, and that each of us may be adopted as children of God, in whom true hope lies.
After Sveta’s story, we passed gifts out to each child. They beamed with excitement and true gratefulness– filled with joy by a simple Beanie Baby or a tennis ball. They looked up in our eyes and with great enthusiasm (and much practice) said, “Zank You Berry Much!”
We also delivered a hot water heater on behalf of a local church who will have more access to work with the children because of our visit. The orphanage director gratefully said, “Finally the children can take a warm shower.”
Give that a moment to sink in.
I gripe and complain if I run out of hot water for one shower at home. I wouldn’t put my little girl in a cold bath at home once, let alone every day.
When we left the assembly room the sun had come out and, while it was still brisk, we were able to spend some quality time with them– playing with their new tennis balls, making more balloon animals, and listening to them, hugging them, and making friends. I know, myself, that I will never forget Ruslan, and I’m sure that most of our team members met a child today whom they will never forget.
We said goodbye and they followed us to the bus with waves and “thank you’s.”
Then we got on the bus and cried.
While we could only spend a few hours with the children today, I pray that every time that warm water runs over their skin they will think of the friends they made today, and remember the warm love of Jesus that Sveta taught them. We covet your prayers for safety and health, but hope most of all that you might pray for these children. May God bless the seeds we planted today and the affection we showed, that out of them may spring a garden of real, true hope in a hopeless place.
Blessings from the Black Sea,