Great day today…
I have to thank you all, first and foremost, for your prayers since our entry yesterday. We rearranged our program, as mentioned in our last blog entry, and had a lot of success.
We worked locally in Sevastopol today. In our first orphanage, we saw about 80 children, ages 7 to 17.
We have the honor of having a young man traveling with us on the trip, Artyum, who was an orphan in Ukraine, went on to graduate from engineering school, and now owns his own business. He was absolutely dynamic and had the older ones engaged! He told them that he has a wife and a small child, and that he made the choice long ago that he would make good decisions (even tough ones) to ensure that his little girl didn’t have the life that he experience. He was right on message for the older kids, and we can only pray that what he said will land on good soil and bring forth good fruit.
The children were simply amazing. They craved love, they craved attention, they craved our smiles. The orphanage director even told us that it was so nice to see our “Hollywood smiles,” and that he looks forward to the HopeHouse visits almost as much as the children because our groups are always so much more joyful, energetic, and compassionate than a lot of the groups that come in to work with the kids. I don’t mean to denigrate the work of others who I’m sure are excellent in their work, but I think that this comment really says something about our groups. I think it means that this orphanage director sees Jesus in us, and that is a great compliment to our Lord who works through us in spite of ourselves. This also has to do with your prayers, so thank you again.
In our second visit we drove just a couple minutes to an orphanage in the center of Sevastopol. Many of the kids were away at summer camps, so we got to spend a good deal of time with individual children, who were ages 5-12. We had to rush to get back to the ship before it left port, but we were able to spend almost two hours with the children, and had several team members deeply connect with individual children. There was a small girl with brown hair, wearing a tattered red sweater who looked like she was three years old (if that). We found out that she was five. She clung to one of our team members from the moment we walked in. I will hopefully upload LOTS of my own photos after the trip (the internet situation is sketchy at best here), but I wish you could have seen this little girl’s smile as she got her gift bag. She hugged her Beanie Baby as if it was her most treasured possession, she couldn’t believe that she had a new toothbrush of her very own, and when she received her children’s Bible, she held it tightly to her chest, asking over and over, “This is MY book? This is MY book?”
Then we got on the bus and cried.
I can’t tell you what happens when we leave each orphanage. We pray and ask that you pray that these children remember our smiles, remember how it felt to be embraced, how it felt to receive a gift, and remember not our names or voices, but that they would hear the voice of their heavenly Father, calling to them softly and gently telling them that they are indeed valuable and above all loved more than they can even imagine.
I can, however, tell you a little bit about what this trip is doing to us. We are breaking inside– in a good way. We are saying things like, “I will never forget these children,” and, “I’m coming back next year.” The injustice of it is in all seriousness, almost too much to bear. These children have been ostracized and forgotten by their country, but not by their Creator, and he, in his infinite knowledge and perfect will, has tasked us with the honor of reminding them of that.
We dock in Kherson tomorrow at 2pm, and are immediately heading to an orphanage for severely handicapped children. Please pray for emotional strength, physical strength, and God’s spirit to be present with us as we engage these children. Pray that he will break down cultural and linguistic barriers, that we might connect and serve as selflessly as he did.
By His grace, in the darkest places, we will be His light.
Blessings from the mouth of the Dnieper River,