Brandon here, again, with a quick update for you.
We drove to Eagle Village on the outskirts of Sevastopol to participate in a church service where several HopeHouse Families are members. As an added bonus, we got to climb a “hill” (looked more like a mountain to me!), as the service was being held outdoors. We met several of the families and then settled down on blankets.
Volodya, a HopeHouse father and the church’s pastor, opened the service with a prayer in which he thanked God for the privilege of meeting outside. We sang several songs and then Brian Rogers from our group gave a short message that Ira, the HopeHouse interpreter/Ukrainian mission trip coordinator, translated for the church. At the end of the service, they stretched out their arms and prayed a blessing on our ministry in Ukraine, and then asked that we do the same for them. It was a very special time and a tangible reminder that God’s love is not bound by languages or nations or oceans.
We then spent time with the church’s children, including about 20 who have been adopted into HopeHouse Families. The difference between children in the orphanage and children who are now part of a loving Christian family is like night and day. The HopeHouse Children were clean, nicely dressed, and obviously healthy and well taken care of. On top of it all, they were happy, and not just because we came to visit. They were truly glowing. They didn’t have the scars of abandonment, abuse, neglect, disappointment, or grief etched on their faces like the orphanage children do. In fact, they didn’t look like they had a care in the world– secure, loved, and accepted.
After our time with the church, we had lunch and then toured Balaklava, which was a super-secret Soviet base for nuclear submarines built underneath a mountain during the Cold War. As we walked through the dark, underground halls of this former Communist military installation, the thought struck me that when Pastor Volodya thanked God that we were meeting outside, it wasn’t just a prayer about the weather. Evangelical churches like his were forbidden for many years. Christians couldn’t meet outside, or anywhere, that wasn’t in secret, and constantly lived in fear of being discovered and exiled to a gulag in SIberia or martyred outright. It was a stark reminder of the darkness of the not-so-distant past in this country, and a time to stop and thank God not only for the religious liberties I enjoy in the U.S., but also that God’s people in Ukraine no longer live constantly under this fear.
We returned to the ship and had a team meeting where we discussed our upcoming visit to the orphanage for handicapped children in Kherson, where the ship will dock at 2:30pm tomorrow. This is always a very tough visit, and your prayers would be greatly appreciated. Please pray that God would give us the strength that we would be emotionally present, without being emotionally drained, at least until we get back on the bus. Ira told us in the meeting tonight that most of these children do not live past the age of 35, simply because of systemic neglect. We want more than anything else to communicate to these children the love and hope that is found in Christ. One member of our team, Andy Whisenant, said during the meeting, “If I believe that the gospel is true, I can’t stand by and do nothing while there are children who don’t know that they are loved.” That’s the reason we are here.
Thank you for your continued support and prayer. We miss you all!