“Family Portrait in Black & White”–Review

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I recently watched a documentary called “Family Portrait in Black and White” and it was too great for me to not share about it here on my blog.  Not only does it hit at the heart of my blog – orphan care in Eastern Europe, but also brings to light issues of race, nationality, family, and even orphan hosting!

“In a small Ukrainian town, Olga Nenya, raises 16 black orphans amidst a population of Slavic blue-eyed blondes. Their stories expose the harsh realities of growing up as a bi-racial child in Eastern Europe.” (IMDb.com)

This documentary, filmed in 2010, shows so many aspects of modern life in eastern Ukraine (Sumy), not only the life of the orphan, but even more at risk, the life of multi-racial orphans in a very Caucasian society.  Interviews show both Ukrainians and international visitors explaining the reality of life for these ostracized children.  Many people come from the middle-east and Africa to get a cheap education, and while studying in Ukraine, the end up getting white Ukrainian women pregnant.  It is a very shameful thing for these girls to bring home a mixed-race child, so it is commonly accepted fact of life that all these children end up in orphanages. 

They are Diamonds

I love the way Olga Nenya, the foster mom whose family is the focus of the film, talks about her foster children.  She says: “Many European families that host the kids in the summer call me saying they want to adopt this child.  But I don’t think Ukraine is such a wealthy country to give such ‘diamonds’ as presents to other countries.  Ukraine should value each and every one. They are Ukrainian citizens. Ukraine needs them.” Although she is preventing these children from being adopted – which is a totally different issue – it is because she values them so much.  She sees worth in children that so many others see as worthless. 

Orphan Hosting

Another thing I loved about this film was the way it gave a different perspective of orphan hosting – which is not at all mentioned in the trailers or descriptions, but actually seemed to make up a big part of their story! 

According to the movie, “Since the Chernobyl disaster, European charities have been helping disadvantaged Ukrainian children.  Seven of Olga’s foster children spend their summers with host families in Europe.”  I have never heard that orphan hosting is connected with Chernobyl… and I actually doubt that statement’s validity.  But to the makers of the film, there was some connection between that and the time orphan hosting began. 

All of her children who were hosted went to families in Europe – France and Italy were the ones mentioned.  To her as foster mom, she did not see them as a second family.  She saw them as strangers who cared for the kids and helped her alleviate some financial needs while the children were not at home for the summer. 

The film shows Maxim, one of her foster sons, and his hosting experience in Italy.  He had a single host dad and grandpa he stayed with every summer and Christmas.  You got to see them playing together, working on math homework, cooking dinner together, chatting about memories from previous hosting sessions, and speaking an impressive amount of Italian.  Sadly, his host dad could not adopt him because the countries do not allow single men to adopt, and Mama Nenya would never have allowed it anyways.  It was also heart wrenching to watch their goodbye, as both the boy and host family cried, and Max loaded a bus full of other hosted orphans headed back to Ukraine.  You could just see how bittersweet it was for him to leave a host family he loved and also return to a foster family he loves. 

This helped me to get a little more of a glimpse of what it’s like for our NHFC kids to be hosted.  Although they do not return to a home and a foster family, it is bittersweet for them to leave the US and return to a place they call home, although it may seem inferior to what they had during the summer or Christmas.  It is still home to them. 

Philosophical Parallel

At the end of the film, one of the older boys who has gone off to study in the University is featured with some very poignant statements.  Towards the end of his time in the foster home, things went bad between him and Mama Nenya.  Their mindsets were very different. 

This wasn’t the typical teen vs. parent conflict, and the film presents the ideological conflict that makes this documentary transcend the simple family/orphan storyline.  There is a montage of interview clips back and forth between Kiril, the older boy now on his own, and Olga Nenya, who is still at home with the other children but still very disapproving of Kiril. 

Mama: “We are living through times of change, Perestroika in Ukraine.  Moral norms are changing drastically.  Now it’s all about individual freedom.”   
Kiril: “None of mom’s older children are university educated.  Their values in life are discipline and constant physical labor.  What ‘art’? What ‘music’?  These things are not even considered.” 
M: “ ‘You have no right to impose your will on me.’  I disagree with that.”   
K: “If you think about it, our family resembles a totalitarian, Soviet regime.” 
M: “Soviet pioneers used to have duties.  Having a duty is very different from choosing whether you want to do something or not.”
K: “It’s like a herd! Perhaps, this comparison is rude but it’s accurate.”
M: “A child knows only food, potty, and parental care.  What opinions can he possibly have?”
K: “Mom is "’The Leader’, like Stalin was ‘The Greatest Leader’.  The rest are ‘Masses’.  Masses work together, perform collective work, and obey the decisions of just one person.  If not, your spirit will be crushed.”
M: “I saw something in Kiril which is not there.  I made a mistake.  It hurts.”
K: “I felt I was a dissident in our family.”
M: “He grew into a student but not a son and not a good person.”
K: “The children turned their back on me. Simply because they do what mom says.”
M: “I don’t want to talk about that person.”
K: “Now I only have three people in my life: Anna, Silva, Roma. They stayed with me through everything, never betrayed me.  I hope every one of us will have a happy life.  I wish that one day we might get together as friends, as a big, happy family.  We would talk about what we do, and where we live, and who became what in life.”

This part of the film really brought up some questions for me…
Did she really raise her foster children with a Soviet-like ideology?
Can you do both that and be totally loving?
How could a loving mother deny him as a son, a good person, and not want to talk to him?
Is this how family life should be?
I living in a loving and yet totalitarian home better than being in a cold institution?

The film did not provide answers, but really causes the viewer to ponder these deep concepts.  And I’m still thinking about it myself…

As for you, I really encourage you to check out the film!  It’s not your typical heart-warming orphan story.   It really brings issues of race, philosophy, family, and love into a different light. 

For more info & to watch the film online: http://www.familyportraitthefilm.com/story/

To keep up with the kids stories and news on the documentary: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Family-Portrait-in-Black-and-White/115413608526324
(I love this, it really makes the family real because there are updates… like photos of one of the boys being hosted this summer!)

Trailer on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OvzGzdXVprk 
(and shared below)

And like the video says at the end of the credits…
“Please consider becoming Summer Hosts to Eastern European Orphans in your community”!!!

Disclaimer – I have not received any compensation for writing this review.

Sundance Trailer


Hosting Reflection #30–The Love of a Dog

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“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them… And filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we had.” 

Committing to bring an older orphan into your home for 1 month can be a scary thing… for many reasons.  How will they act? How will we communicate?  How are they going to treat our family?  How will they connect with us?  How can we make them feel comfortable and safe?  It can be overwhelming and nearly impossible to really plan. 

It had been 24 hours since Sasha’s plan landed in the US and we were finally getting home.  His plane had arrived in Chicago on a Tuesday night and we had planned to make the 5 hour drive the whole way home, but the snow had gotten really bad and we had to stop and spend the night in the hotel.  The next morning Sasha got up very early, he was still stuck in old time zone ways, and we continued the drive back home.  He was good but very quiet.  We talked on and off in Russian, but I think he was still trying to make sense of everything… and I don’t blame him!

Once we got home, he really started to settle in.  He got to meet the rest of the family, move into his own room, and adjust to the time change.  But I think the thing that helped him most of all was our family dog, Pepper.  On that very first day at home, I heard him say his first English phrase “Come here Pepper” and my face and heart smiled.

Sasha took to Pepper so quickly.  He love to play with him… and try to trick him sometimes too.  He loved to give him treats, take him for walks, and just love on him.  He told me about the dogs at his orphanage, which he seemed to love as well.  But I know with him, and many other children like him, dogs are more than a fun pet.

Animals are not as socially complex as humans, tending instead to live in the moment.  Dogs, in particular, are forgiving and loving creatures that do not play the same mind games and dance the same confusing social dance as humans are so want to do. 

~ Dr. Gregory Keck, Parenting Adopted Adolescents

Sasha is a thoughtful, kind, empathetic kid… but he didn’t entirely come to us that way.  He came to us guarded, unsure of what to expect, naturally trying to protect himself.  He probably had just as many questions as we did.  How will these people treat me?  What will they do if I make a mistake?  How will they react if I make a poor choice on purpose?   How much do they really care about me?  What if they don’t like me?  What if they don’t love me?  Imagine the pressure…

But Sasha did not have to worry about any of that with our dog.  He knew he would be loved no matter what by Pepper.  Our playful and highly tolerant dog was always there to give Sasha attention, physical touch, and companionship.  I truly believe the bond that Sasha made with Pepper in those first moments at home helped to put Sasha at ease in our family.  The love he felt from Pepper and the love he showed back to Pepper opened the door for Sasha to share in our family’s love. 

Sasha was not a huge fan of taking pictures while we hosted him.  But towards the end of his time with us for hosting, he wanted to be sure to get photos of the special things from our home to take back with him.  Who was first? Pepper.  He wanted the picture to be perfect and he was no longer camera shy when he requested several shots with the dog until he he was happy with just the right one.

Trying & trying until it was just right!

Since we hosted Sasha and he returned back to his home country, we would often call him on the phone.  Nearly every time we talked with him on the phone, he asked how each member of the family was by name, including Pepper. 

Pepper turned 16 this year.  Over the past year or so, his brother and sister (from the same litter) passed away, so we knew his time was coming soon.  This summer, I told Sasha that Pepper was getting old and probably would die soon.  Sasha was so sad to hear this and insisted it couldn’t happen. 

Just this past week, Pepper had to be put down.  We have not gotten to tell Sasha yet.  In Pepper’s 16.5 years with our family, some of the best times were when Sasha was with us.  That little dog made all the difference in our hosting experience with Sasha and, I believe, in his life as well. 

Thank you little Pepper for leading the way and showing an orphan unconditional love in the purest form.  Thank you God for using a little animal to change in the life of a hurt boy and our family!

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 
For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)


A little clip of S & Pepper on our first full day at home and 1 week later on Christmas

4 Years of September 5th

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September 5th is a momentous day in our journey with Sasha. This year marks our 4th September with Sasha in our lives.  I can’t help but reflect back on them today, especially in light of the phone call I had with him on this September 5th!

September 2010

It was the middle of September when Sasha’s boarding school was first visited by New Horizons for Children.  

His original biography read- Original photos from Sept 2010 interview

Sasha, 14 year old boy who has lived 8 years in an orphanage for ‘delayed children’ (yet shows absolutely no signs of delays.) VERY engaged with our team, interested & made great effort to learn English.  Caring, considerate of others, especially children who were severely delayed.  Likes swimming, making wood furniture.  Does best in Language Arts and wants to be a builder.  Friendly, nice to everyone in Original photos from Sept 2010 interviewour “English class” we held while kids waited [to be interviewed]. His one wish would be for others to be healthy.  He helps ‘calm the crazy kids’ per his social worker, has patience.  Gave each team member a great hug, said he’d love to travel to America & find a special family. Not common to find a teen boy so trusting and interactive with our team! He helped one of our team members learn Ukrainian, sat right beside her almost the entire time.

So, during that month, Sasha’s world virtually changed.  A team came to him, reached out to the children where he was, and gave him a second chance at life… before we even knew him! 

October 25, 2010 we officially chose Sasha to be our host child, and the rest is history!

Click here to read the first blog about our hosting experience

September 5th 2011

This date in 2011 is one of the biggest days in our journey with Sasha so far. 

August 31 – September 15 I got to travel with the NHFC team to do interviews at 12 different orphanages all over Ukraine.  My how things had changed in 1 year, from just learning about hosting to being a part of the international interview team! 

I went to Ukraine not knowing if I would be able to see Sasha, but hoping that I really really would!  My parents had just decided that they wanted to adopt Sasha, as long as he would agree to it.  If I was part of the team that visited his boarding school, our facilitator said I could be the one to ask him if he would like to be adopted. Wow.

Just a few days into the trip, I found out that our team was actually going to his boarding school.  It was such an awesome opportunity to make a surprise visit and get to see him at his ‘home’.  He had no idea I was coming and no idea what we were there to discuss!  He was so happy to see me and said a huge “Yes!” when we talked about adoption.  It was hard to leave after seeing him for just a few hours, but it was great knowing that this was the first day for him to be part of our forever family!

Click here to read the full blog post about this day

September 5th 2012

A lot happened over the next 12 months.  I had weekly phone calls with Sasha and loved hearing how much he loved our family and wanted to be home.  God provided all the money for the adoption and my parents traveled in June to bring him home.  By that time, Sasha’s mind had been changed and he no longer wanted to be adopted.

September came and we had not directly contacted Sasha.  September was the first time I tried to reach out to him again to remind him of our love, regardless of his decision to choose other things over our family. 

This time, I sent a package and card to Sasha with the interview team that was to visit his boarding school again… and they happened to visit on September 5th again!

5 Sept 2012One of my dearest friends was on the interview trip this time and was able to personally deliver our gifts to Sasha.  She said Sasha was right there when the team arrived at their school. She gave him his bag and while the other kids were ripping through their candy, Sasha sat and looked at the photos we sent to him. One of him with both my parents, one with him and my mom, and one of him with my dad… all when they were there to adopt him. She said he just sat and looked through those photos kind of somber with his head down.

We still do not know exactly how Sasha felt at that time, but this was still a momentous day.  It was the first day since he had coldly rejected the family, that he actually heard from us that we still love him. 

Click here to read my blog post about this time

September 5th 2013

Wish I had a photo from this day to add to the timeline!

I got to talk with Sasha for the first time today since he’s been in trade school!  He answered right away and almost immediately asked me when I would be in Ukraine.  It breaks my heart that I just saw him in July and he’s ready for me to come back.   He was in his dorm room that he shares with 2 other guys …a big change from sharing a room with 10 for most of his life. He has 8 classes a day with the weekends off. He says he’s eating well and gotten his stipend for the month. In the course of our conversation I was both blessed and confused to learn 2 new things about him – he has been working this summer and he is learning how to drive.  I really wish my Russian was better so I could fully understand what he was trying to tell me!

There was so much more I wish we could have discussed. At the very least, on this significant day, I was able to check in on him as he is starting this new chapter of his life.  He knows that despite the ups and downs of the past, we are all on his side, lifting him up, and doing our best to keep him included in our family, no matter the distance. 

Age-Out Day for S

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August 31st.  Last day of summer for orphans and all in Eastern Europe.  It is not only the last hurrah of the season of fun, but also the last day of care for many orphans who are aging out of the orphanage and will soon be on their own. 

I’ve known about this day for a couple years, and blogged about it two years ago ( Last Day of Summer, First Day on My Own ) but it takes on completely new meaning for me this year knowing that our Sasha is one of those kids this week.

Since my dad and I left Ukraine, I have called Sasha a couple times to see how he is doing.  I knew he was leaving earlier in the week, so I got to call him a few days ago to hear about his plans for when he moves out…

He said his group had just returned from summer camp to their boarding school. He would only be there 2 days before packing up and moving out for the last time. When I asked if it was a good or bad thing that’s moving out he just said "I don’t know" and sounded pretty nervous. He didn’t know where he is living or when his classes will start. All he is taking with him is a duffel bag and a backpack… can you imagine moving into your college dorm and that’s all you have to bring with you??? I told him I know he will be OK and I am praying for him, to which he replied he is praying for us too. Oh how I wished I was with him…

By now, he has already left the boarding school and is moved into his new “home”.  I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that he and all these other kids really have no place to call home now.  No one is going to keep their bed for them to return to.  It’s now occupied by the next class of orphans.   They’re not going to go back to the boarding school on their long weekends, during school breaks, to celebrate their birthdays, or to participate in family holidays.  They may have distant relatives who have been in and out of their lives throughout their childhood, but those distant connections do not make a place to call home.  And our Sasha is one of these boys…

I haven’t gotten to talk with him yet to find out how things are going.  I will wait until after he has a few days of classes at the trade school so I can get the full scoop.

And today I sit with many questions and many prayers….
Does he feel like he’s been well prepared for this transition?  Is he confident?  Is he afraid he might fail? Will he reach out for help when he needs it?  Will he stick by his friends so they can support each other?  Does he fear they may eventually leave him?  Will he be able to afford everything he needs?  How will he cope when times get hard?  Does he hope to connect with any distant relatives?  Will he do his best in classes?  What is he hoping and dreaming for in this next year?

I do not pray that Sasha is happy.  I pray that he grows.  He experiences victory.  Learns.  Improves the lives of others.  Lives with passion.  Dreams. Cares. Is faithful.  Works diligently.  Makes a difference. Is real.  Moves forward.  Is humble.  Is responsible.  Loves his enemies.  Gives. Does not fear.  Remembers. Forgives.  Prays.  Knows and loves God.

I know he is in the palm of God’s hand.  He loves Sasha the most and knows him the most.  God has been with him all of his life and is not about to abandon him now.  I pray that Sasha will not be overcome with darkness, but God will lead him to shine a light in the darkness.  I pray he knows God’s peace, joy, and victory every day.

This song reminds me that this is not the end for S, it’s just the beginning

Aging Out Day–2 Years Later

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Two years ago, at the end of August 2011, I read a blog that stuck with me.  It was a blog written by a missionary in Ukraine about his experience with orphans on August 31st.  On this day, he helped to move 13 orphan boys he had gotten to know through his ministry, out of the orphanage and into a local trade school.  This was their age-out day.

I saw the pictures and read his description of what he saw in the dormitory.  And I let the statistics sink in.  [Read the original blog post here]

Statistically speaking, only 4 of these boys will still be enrolled in school in 2 years. 9 will fall victim to drugs, alcohol, and crime. 2 will commit suicide in the next 3 years.

Rather than a day of freedom, excitement, and independence, it was more like these boys – at barely 16/17 years old – were being placed in a battlefield where their odds of victory were surely not on their side.

I prayed. For them and all the children in Eastern Europe who were facing this dismal rite of passage all on the same day.  But little did I know what would become of those prayers…

That missionary who had written the blog was Kyle who led our recent trip to Ukraine.  And the boys he wrote about were the ones I got to meet and get to know.  When I think about how God wrote this whole story I am touched, amazed, and just blown away at how blessed I am.

While on the trip, Kyle reminded me of the blog he had written… I had honestly forgotten about it.  As soon as I got home, I had to look it up.  When I pulled up the page, I remembered the text and the photos.  And when I looked back at the photos this time, I did not have the same feeling of sadness as I did 2 years ago.

I now look back at those photos from 2011 and know several of the boys by name.  I know their voices, interests, personalities, and hopes.  I spent time with them, shared meals with them, talked to them on the phone, and go to know their stories.  I see the dorm rooms and know that those things did not hinder them from what they have become. 

More than anything, these boys give me hope.  They have been out of the orphanage for 2 years and they are making it.  Do they still have struggles? Yes.  But they have not become statistics.  They have stuck to their education for 2 years and have plans to continue.  They are hard workers and are enjoying their lives.  If they had mamas I know they would be so proud of them…  and my heart breaks when I realize each of their families are missing out on having such awesome guys in their lives. 

Please join me in continuing to pray for them.  There are still many challenges ahead of them.  Many of them have made it on their own, but could do so much more if they had faith to keep them going when their own strength wears out.  They are never to grown for Jesus, please pray they meet Him right where they are!

Go back to Kyle’s original blogs and see if you can point out 3 of these 4 guys! 
(They have grown up quite a bit in the past 2 years!)

Destination Ukraine 2013–Thank You!

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Thank you so much to everyone who made our trip possible.  Whether you prayed, gave financially, or shared our story with your friends, you have made a difference!

Our missions team spent 2 weeks partnering with the ministry of New Hope Center .  We worked on renovating a home for aged-out orphan boys to call home while they are attending trade school at the New Hope dairy farm.  The New Hope team said our work was a great encouragement and put new wind in their sails to keep them going in their ministry.  

Your support has blessed…

…my dad and I: by helping us to get there and knowing you are behind us all the way

…New Hope staff: by encouraging them and sending them the help they needed

…orphans and house parents: who will live in a home that should be updated and livable by the start of school in September

…aged out orphans: who we met and encouraged in their lives as they study at a government trade school

…the village of NP: who got to see what can be accomplished when believers work together for the orphan

God is doing great things in this ministry and with the Trade School in the village!  They are in the process of purchasing a 3rd group home for more students and have dreams and plans of expanding the trade school to offer more programs and reach more orphans.

Thank you from us, from them, and from all those who will be touched by this ministry in the future!

If you have missed any of my posts along the way or are just joining our story now and want to hear how this trip came about, here is the full list of blogs about our trip.  I am amazed at how God put everything together for us in just 3 months!

04/13/2013 Destination: Ukraine!

05/11/2013 Fear of Fundraising

05/18/2013 Praying Them Home

06/08/2013 Double Your Donation!

06/15/2013 Sale – Everything Must Go!

06/29/2013 Why Give?

07/13/2013 Destination Ukraine – What will you be doing? – video

07/20/2013 Destination Ukraine – Week 1 Update

07/23/2013 Reunited with Sasha!

07/27/2013 Destination Ukraine – Week 2 Update

08/10/2013 For the love of potatoes – Part II (coming soon)

08/17/2013 Join the MovieMent (coming soon)

08/24/2013 Aging Out Day – 2 Years Later


Destination Ukraine–Week 2 Update

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Sunday July 21
Sunday was another great day, our day of rest, worship, and exploring the city.  In the morning, Pastor John came out to the village to pick up our team and drive us into the city for Sunday morning service at New Hope Church.  My parents got to visit the church when they were here for their adoption trip last year.  And over the past year the church has grown so much that they have moved  into a new building!  The service was filled with our team, another missions team from Canada, and some other North American visitors, but there were still a lot of the usual attenders which included those who work at New Hope and graduated orphans who now attend New Hope trade school or live in the group homes.  I was so blessed by the worship and the great message that was spoken.

Pastor John & Max interpreting from the 2012 adoption trip Sunday morning worship during our visit

After lunch we headed straight to lunch.  From there we went on a much longer walking tour of the city.  We visited an outdoor market, neighboring an old orthodox church.  I love these iconic places of worship all across Eastern Europe.

The new... ...and the old

From there we went to visit New Hope Center.  I had already been the week before with Kyle, but this time we got to go with our whole team.  It was a good time to relax and also hear about the ministry of the center from Max, the trade school director.  He explained the main components of the ministry-the drop in center for the aged-out orphans, group homes in the city for orphans attending government trade school, the trade school in the village with their group homes, and a new mentoring program for orphans still in the orphanage.   Max shared all of this with us as we were sitting in the meeting/counseling room of the center.  He said this is the main room they use when planning and dreaming for the ministry and when orphans visit the center and a need a place to talk or some counseling, they bring them into this room.  Who knows how many lives have already been changed because of the conversations that were shared in this room.  I prayed that in the near future, Sasha would soon be visiting New Hope and be able to have some meaningful conversations in this very room, in his own language, with the wonderful servants who have given their lives for these kids.

Dad & I in front of New Hope New Hope (in Ukrainian)

After visiting New Hope, we were recharged and ready for some more exploring. 
While we were exploring, Kyle asked if we had made plans yet to see Sasha.  We still did not.  Our days were numbered and I hoped Pastor John and his team were still working on getting us permission to see  him.  I called him to check in and see if they had any news yet, but they were still waiting for confirmation from his boarding school.  They could say ‘no’ or have a dozen different excuses why we could not see him.  I prayed and prayed that we could see him before we left, we only had 5 days remaining!
We visited some other landmarks and special places in the city… including the ‘red river’.  Manufacturing is probably the biggest industry in the city, there are factories of many kinds. And with the standards not being similar to those in the States, there is this one waterway that literally is reddish-orange because of the pollution.  From there, we visited some more sites, had dinner at a French/Italian restaurant called “Fiesta”…things in Ukraine confuse me sometimes. c; We spent our long day of rest in the city walking, but it was a nice break from our work, we were re-charged and ready to go for another week!

The team!

Monday July 22
Time to get back to work!  Monday was another day of work at the group home.  We were joined by 2 new guys this time who have been graduated from the orphanage for just 1 year and are attending government trade school and living in a New Hope apartment in the city.  It was so great to have them with us. 
I was still hanging in suspense waiting to hear if Sasha would be able to come stay with us in the village. We still had not heard anything from Pastor John and started to worry if that meant it was a “no”.  Then, while I was working, we got the news that he could come!!! Pastor John got permission for us to pick up Sasha from his camp, he could stay with us for the rest of our time in Ukraine, then after we left, Pastor John would take him back to his summer camp.  I was so excited! They said all they were waiting on was the official letter giving us permission from his boarding school director, and then we would be good!  The only thing left was we did not know where his camp was exactly, so they wanted me to call Sasha and have him give us directions.  Me? Get directions?  In Russian? From a kid who probably pays no attention to directions at all and has no idea where we’re coming from or how to communicate that to me in my 3-year-old level Russian vocabulary? Sure!  At least that meant I could call him and tell him the good news! 
I called him and he answered right away.  When I told him we would see him tomorrow, in amazement he said, “Vow! Klasna!” (Wow! Cool!)  He sounded just as surprised as I was that we were actually going to see each other tomorrow. He was so excited.  I tried to get some idea of where the
Me "nesting" - cleaning up for Sasha's arrival!camp was, but was rather unsuccessful.  I beckoned Anya to help us understand.  She tried her best too but still had a hard time understanding.  We got the most info we could from Sasha and knew we would figure out how to get there somehow.  Tomorrow! I can’t believe it!
I spent the rest of the day very excited and sort of stunned that it was actually happening. Before we knew it, we got word that Pastor John had the signed and stamped letter in hand.  We made some other phone calls and Google searches and figured out where the camp was.  Then I started “nesting” – cleaning up random things to get ready for Sasha to come.  …like sweeping the outdoor eating area, which was actually a perpetual mess, like sweeping a dirt floor. But I didn’t care, I was going to see my Sasha in 24 hours!
Once everything was in order, I jumped back into the rest of the team’s activities.  That afternoon we planned to actually visit the farm where the trade school students learn the ins and outs of dairy farming.  In just a short 15 minute walk to the other side of the village, we were  at the farm.  It was really cool to finally see the place I had heard about for the last year.  Growing up in the suburbs, I don’t know a thing about farming, and I have been pleasantly surprised by all the things that go into training these students – it’s a serious and involved career!

Welcome to the New Hope Dairy Farm1 & 2 day old calvesThe 'teenage' cows

The boys who spent the day with us were really looking forward to seeing their friend who is a student at the trade school.  Although classes are not in session for the summer, he was able to stay and live and work on the farm.  Garry, the owner of the farm and trade school instructor, explained that when M started, academics was not really his strength, but he has proven to be one of the hardest workers in the program.  We saw this to be true when we visited.  Even when his friends came over to chat with him, he did not skip a beat and kept working as they talked… he even showed them how to do what he was doing and put them to work! C;

M did not skip a beat while chatting with his friends

One of the boys who came to spend the day with us, wanted to buy some milk from M to take back to the city.  For them, it probably seemed like nothing, but to me it was a big deal to witness this exchange.  Statistically, these boys should be living on the streets or stealing, they should be wasting any money they get on things that are only going to destroy their lives.   But what I saw that day was 2 lives that have been changed by a ministry – doing honorable work and learning how to actually live.  I cannot say I know exactly what their futures hold, but I do know if their adulthood is beginning like this, their futures should be all the more brighter than the enemy intended for them. 
On our way back from the farm, we did a prayer walk.  We individually prayed for New Hope, the students, the village, and all the plans God has for this ministry as we walked from the farm to a new home they are in the process of purchasing.  When we got to the soon-to-be House 3 for new students to live in, we circled up to pray together.  It was one of the most serious times of the trip.  I could sense God’s presence and felt that the works we are doing and seeing now are just small seeds and this is only the beginning.  As we were in prayer, a local lady approached our circle.   Rosa introduced herself in English and asked if we are Canadian.  (New Hope is a Canadian ministry and get Canadian visitors often in the village.)  In her broken English she said she is a Christian and prays too and thanked us for coming.  Wow. That was huge.  It is especially rare that older locals are open to visitors, missionaries, and the Gospel.  Rosa approaching  us and sharing that with us was incredible.  It was one of the clearest affirmations of the trip that God is really doing a work in this small village, not only for orphans, but for everyone.
Soon-to-be House 3We prayed for House 3, that everything would go smoothly as the old owner moves out and New Hope takes ownership.  We also pray for the funds that will be needed to renovate the home, and for the house parents and orphans we do not yet know who God is drawing to live here. 
After that, we walked to the other side of the village to visit House 1, the home where 4 girls who attend the trade school live.  We met the house mom and her older children who live there in the summer too.  It was a beautiful home and you could just tell by the warmth, photos hanging on the walls, that the girls are being nurtured and loved in this home. 
While we have been working hard and hearing a lot about the ministry of New Hope, today was really the day so many facets of God’s blessing on this ministry came to life for our team.

Tuesday July 23 
On Tuesday, we were finally reunited with Sasha!  It was a day that took my dad and I on a rollercoaster of emotions… and deserved a blog post all on its own.  Click here to read about our day with Sasha.

Wednesday July 24
Dad, Kyle, and I got back very late from visiting Sasha. By the time we got to the village, everyone else on the team was already asleep.  That plus the exhaustion of running the full gamut of emotions made me sleep in a little later than usual on Wednesday.  This was the last full day we would be together as a team and we still had a lot of work to do!
I spent a lot of time with these little plants!While we were gone the day before, the guys had gotten a lot of work done.  The guys said the finished working the potato field yesterday, but I had to go out and see it for myself.  I spent most of my morning continuing to weed and make it look as clean as possible… plus it was therapeutic to be alone with my thoughts in the huge garden on my own.  I felt really accomplished when I was finally able to walk away knowing I did the best I could with the sad plants that had been neglected most of the spring.  Plus I had a lot of metaphorical ideas of this whole thing that are going to be a follow up post to my Potato Post I wrote about my missions trip to Estonia in 2010.  C;
While I was working on that, my dad and the guys worked hard on a new fence between the driveway and the small garden in the front yard.  Before, there was barely a fence to be seen.  It was not even half the length of the driveway and it was hardly standing.  Within a matter of 2 days, my dad led a project that made a brand new one… entirely out of leftover wood found around the property.

Dad & the fence before Teamwork rebuilding the fence

Before & After

It is small things like cleaning the garden and fixing broken fences that make a big difference for New Hope’s reputation in the village.  If the home were to stay in disrepair and the garden to remain overgrown, the locals develop a very negative impression of the ministry and the work ethic of those who live there.  It is so significant to the ministry and the village to visibly represent honorable living modeled after Christ’s example.  It is our prayer that the work we did in these 2 weeks will mend some negative impressions that were created over the last year and get the new house-parents and boys off to a good start for this upcoming academic year!
After our time of work, we finished our last full day together as a team with a little reunion with the boys we met the week before.  We had hoped that they would be able to come and work with us again, but they had more final exams at the trade school that they could not miss.  I am honestly impressed at how committed they are to their schooling.  So instead, Kyle planned for us to get a ride into the city to meet up with them for a goodbye dinner.
Masha, who works at New Hope as the interpreter for trade school classes, was able to join us.  It was a huge blessing to meet her and to have her help in communicating with the boys.  Only 2 of them were able to make it, but it was still a really good time.  The boys were able to give us insight into their lives and what it is like in the trade school.  It was so cool to hear the dreams they have and the professions they are passionate about.  One of the boys just finished his second year.  Some students can choose to stop studying after 2 years and begin to work.  But he is choosing to continue studying.  The other boy has been studying for 3 years and this year he beings what sounds like an internship program, where he is still considered a student but will be working most of the semester rather than attending classes. 
This boy is so determined and I was so incredibly blessed to meet him and hear the stories Kyle shared about him.  He works very hard and cares for his older family
members.  I met him the first time we came into town, but he was unable to come work in the village when the other guys came.  He spent the weekend at the sea with some friends (it just so happened to be the same city where Sasha’s camp was.) While he was there, he bought Kyle a magnet and a cell phone charm for me and he gave them to us when we sat down to eat.  I was so incredibly honored.  Kyle said he thinks the boy was almost crying when he gave the gift to him.  I don’t know him nearly as well as Kyle does, but Kyle said it meant so much to get this from him.  He has very little and yet thought of us and wanted to bless us.  I immediately put the shell and beaded charm on my phone… and I don’t know if I will ever be able to remove it.  I love the constant reminder of these boys and pray for them every time I see it on my phone… and am honored to share their stories whenever someone asks about my beloved Eastern European cell phone accessory.    
After dinner, Kyle talked with the boys, with the help of Masha.  He gave them some more words of encouragement and blessed them with a gift as well.  We hung out with them a little more and ventured across the city for our favorite McDonald’s ice cream cones.  Before we knew it, it was time for our drive back to the village and we had to say our goodbyes.  I’m so glad we got this extra time with these two.  Although our time together was short, I have been able to stay in contact with both of them online and can’t wait to continue to hear how things are going in their lives and support them however I can from back home.

Thursday July 25
Thursday was our real last day together as a team.  We got some work done in the morning, and then half of the team had to leave after dinner.  I can’t believe it came so fast!
The men were still working hard in the house hanging drywall, mudding, and sanding it and I only went in the construction area to take pictures.  c; My dad thought that we could spend the day cleaning out the garage.  While it was not glamorous or vitally necessary, it would be just another way we could help the new house parents and future construction teams on their way to improving the home.  While the other young guys on the team and I looked at the garage, we wondered if there was even any hope for it.  But we just took it one step at a time and were able to finish the entire project before dinner.  Emptied out the entire space, swept seemingly decades of dust and scraps out, reorganized and move everything back in, and dad made a shelf out of the final leftover pieces of wood.   It was actually pretty cool to see the place transformed in a matter of hours!

BeforeEverything moved into the yardEmptiedAfter!

Over the course of the two weeks we stayed at the house, we got to know the neighbor lady who lived next-door.  We started to call her Mrs. Wilson because she was like Wilson on Home Improvement who would stick his head over the fence to talk, just like she did. She loved to bring us food… potatoes, apricots, and even rolled an entire wheelbarrow of corn right into the kitchen.  She blessed us with food and many laughs!  Since it was our last day there, we wanted to give her a gift to remember us by and as a thank you for all she shared with us.  Anya went over to the fence, got her attention and told her we wanted to give her something.  I don’t know why, but it was just so funny to us, we laughed a lot.  We gave her some special things we brought from the US and she was so grateful.  Later on in the day, she came over with a piece of fabric full of a pins her son had collected over the years.  There were so many cool ones from the Soviet days, various "Pavilon Rossi - Leningrad"Olympics, childhood cartoon characters, and souvenirs he collected from various cities.  She let us take as many as we wanted.  It was such a cool way to show her thankfulness back to us.  I chose a pin from Leningrad, as the modern-day city of St. Petersburg was called under the USSR days, which is the first city that made me fall in love with Eastern Europe.   What a cool memento to remind me of where God has brought me since that first trip 9 years ago.
After our work, and fun with Mrs. Wilson, we had a final dinner with everyone. 
Pastor John & Ev – the missionaries from Canada – joined us, as well as Max & Anya and their daughter Katya – directors of the New Hope Trade School – and Vitaliy & Vika – the contractor who worked with us the whole trip and his wife is the psychologist for the orphans at New Hope.  We spent time with each of them throughout the trip, but it was great to have everyone together.  We shared some goodbye speeches, thank yous, tears, and a big beautiful cake! 
We had such great hosts on our trip and I am amazed at how God is using all of them together in the ministry of New Hope.  Each of their own talents and passions is being put to work for the sake of reaching orphans with God’s love. It was not long before Pastor John & Ev had to take Kyle, Steven, Ben, & Michael to the train station and the rest of us stayed behind.  We created some great bonds as we worked together over the past 2 weeks on this mission.

The whole team & our hosts/partners! 

Here’s a before & after video of the construction project!

Friday July 26
Friday was kind of a weird day after half of our team had already left.  The way our plane tickets worked out, they left one day before us.  With them gone, it didn’t feel the same, but I sure enjoyed the time I had left in Ukraine!
We did some final work cleaning up the garden in the front and other touches to the rooms the guys were working on in the house.  We took one more walk around the village to our favorite convenient store and the hardware/housewares store.  The ladies at the stores took a little while, but eventually warmed up to our team and our weird American behaviors… oh you know little things like smiling, laughing, buying 10 ice cream bars daily, and asking to purchase their abacuses.  C;
A few things to note about the photo below – over the course of the trip my dad bought out their whole stock of sweet iced tea “ice tea” in Ukraine, so he had to give in and start drinking iced green tea; I purchased a little waffle cookie which I took out of the package by hand, and then it needed to be weighed to determine the price… who knows how many hands touched it or when was the last time the scale was cleaned… but it was delicious!; and the wooden abacus which the ladies still use to calculate the total for every transaction! Tim & Kyle both bought 2 old ones from them because they were so cool.

I spy... an abacus, 2 bottles of green tea, & a cookie on a scale

We had one more great lunch thanks to Anya and Vika.  The ladies were so wonderful and made us the best meals all week!  I had so many of my favorite Ukrainian foods which are always so much better when they are homemade with love.  Right as we were finishing up, John arrived to drive us to the train station.  We had a short time of some more goodbyes, loaded up the van, and were headed to a neighboring city to catch the train back to Kiev.
It was so sad to be leaving, but I knew the time had come.  Pastor John was so great to take care of us and help us around and get us to the train station, to the right platform, and all of our stuff loaded on the train.  Another quick goodbye, then it was just the 4 of us Americans left on the train to make our way back to the airport. 

The final 4 - headed back to the US 

The fast train was just about 1 year old and so nice!The ‘fast train’ was so nice! It was less than 2 years old and was better than some planes I have been on!  Even on the fast track, we were on the train from about 6pm until right after midnight.  It really didn’t feel like 6 hours, especially when I spent most of the daylight time enjoying the sights of Ukraine countryside, not wanting to waste any minute I had left in this country.
Before it got too late, I wanted to call Sasha to let him know we were on our way home.  He asked when we would be back and it was so hard to say “Ya ni znayu” (I don’t know).  I jokingly asked him when he would be coming to America and he said he really wants to come back.  We chatted a little about the rest of his summer and I got a better idea of what his future will be like this fall.  He moves into the trade school to study car mechanics at the end of August, he doesn’t know where he will be living yet, he said he’s glad to be going but will miss some of the younger kids at his boarding school.  He really wants us to start calling him again, so I’m looking forward to hearing from him regularly like before he said nyet to adoption.  We hung up after a few more I love yous…
It’s still so difficult to process everything that has happened on this trip.  But I can say that words can’t describe how thankful I am that my dad and I were able to reconnect with Sasha.  We did not come here for that purpose, we did come to help New Hope and invest in the ministry to help them reach orphans like Sasha.  Before Sasha knew we were coming, I had no idea if he even wanted to see us.  Over the past year, we have only heard from him directly a few times.  By last September, we already knew he regretted his decision to turn-down adoption, but that did not guarantee that he was still interested in seeing us or maintaining a relationship.  And some people in our situation may not have been interested in maintaining a relationship out of bitterness or fear of further pain.  But I love him too much to not keep trying, and I know my parents feel the same way too. 
With all that in mind, there are so many things that I am grateful for about our time with him: he wanted to see us, he was genuinely excited to see us, he was not embarrassed to have us around, he gave us hugs-which were not common when we hosted him, he wanted to spend several days with us-which he didn’t want on the adoption trip, he cares about our family at home, he wants to go to the US again,  he says he always smiles when he’s with us-and he has the biggest smile in the world, he still calls my parents mama & papa, he didn’t run off-like hosting-and stayed around for a long goodbye and let me hug him and cry, he always answers my phone calls and puts up with my terribly butchered Russian conversations, he’s 17 years old and ready to be on his own and not too proud to want to have us in his life, he always replies he is praying for us too when I tell him I am praying for him…
I think I could go on and on…

Saturday July 27
We got into Kiev a little after midnight.  I had a horrible time dragging my 49 pound Late night dinner at McD'ssuitcase through the train station, up and down stairs, and through cobblestone streets with a broken wheel.  I don’t think I could have done it on my own!
Our plane did not leave until 5am, so we had some time to kill and went to McDonald’s for midnight dinner and last chance Wi-Fi.  You’d be surprised how packed McDonald’s is at all hours of the day here! 
After a while, they closed on us and we were just in time to take the shuttle to the airport.  But this time, it was about 2-3am.  The lack of sleep, plus the emotional exhaustion of the trip, and various changes of time zones really put me in a semi-conscious state for the rest of the day. 
We took our flight from Kiev to Frankfurt.  Still very exhausted with lots of time to kill we found another McDonald’s and I pretty much slept there.  My dad and I thought we had lots of spare time but should at least check to see if our flight was on time.  We left Tim & Evan with plans to come back and hang out with them, but when we got to check on our flight we realized it was already boarding!  Got on the plane just in time!We were almost the last ones on the plane. Thank God we got up to check on the flight when we did!  The only bad thing was we didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to our other half.  :C
The trans-Atlantic flight from Frankfurt to Newark seemed to go pretty quickly, considering I was still not fully awake or asleep.  It was bittersweet to land back in the USA.  I was glad we traveled safe, but I would much rather have been in Ukraine than in the US… and felt that way for a long time after returning.  
After 1 more flight from NY to OH, we were finally home.  It was a total of 36 hours between the time we left the village until we landed at our final destination.  I was exhausted but my heart was full.  I am never ready to leave Eastern Europe and always ready to plan another trip.  I don’t know when my next will be, but you can be sure you will know about it when it comes!  

Thank you so much to everyone for your support and prayers!
We could not have done any of this on our own!

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