Reunited with Sasha!


So, this was the plan… Pastor John got a letter from Sasha’s boarding school director The letter giving us permission to get Ssaying we had permission to check him out of the camp on Tuesday and bring him back to the village to stay with us.  Pastor John was going to pick us up in the city around 1:00pm, we would drive to the camp, get there around 4:00pm to check Sasha out and bring us back to the village to stay with us until we had to leave on Friday.  Then, Pastor John would take Sasha back to wherever the director wanted him.  That was the plan.

This plan sounded so great, I was so excited.  I had been nesting, preparing a place for him with us at House #2 in the village… but at the same time, I tried to keep my expectations low because anything can change at any moment.  And this is what actually happened the day we finally got to see Sasha again –

– – –

Pizza with TMy dad, Kyle, and I took the public bus/van “marshutka” into the city from the village in the morning.  Once we got there, we  met up with one of the orphanage graduates who came to work with us the day before and he hung out with us all morning while we ran some errands.  I was pretty nervous most of the day and tried my best to not be as we went around the city and enjoy my time there.  We got some pizza for lunch… the butterflies in my stomach made little room for food that day… and then soon after that, we said our goodbyes to T, and piled in the van for a long ride to the Sea.

On the drive to camp, I got to sit shotgun with Pastor John and share with him about how God has given me a passion for orphan care in Eastern Europe.  It was so cool to hear his heart too and how God called him to Ukraine and all the dreams God has given him for his ministry.  I still can’t get over the fact that when we hosted Sasha, I prayed for a missionary to come to his school and be close by to build relationships and invest in the lives of the kids in this region.  I was expecting someone from the same Christian denomination my family belongs to, but it ended up God used Pastor John, a Canadian MB missionary who had already been there for 2 years AND Kyle was on his way as a missionary from our same denomination! And now we’re here in Ukraine 2.5 years later serving with both of them! God is so faithful!

Gate #1The closer we got to the camp, the more my stomach turned… part nerves, part excitement, part not knowing what to expect.  We got a little turned around and it took us several electronic devices to figure out where we were headed.  Sasha called me right at 4:00pm to ask where we were… he must have been counting down the minutes or something to call right at the time we were supposed to be there!   I tried to explain we were a little lost but would be there soon.  Amazingly Google Maps got us right to the camp, but it took us a few tries to figure out which gate was the correct one.  I called Sasha again and said we were there, but apparently we weren’t at the right one.  We tried Gate #2, still not correct.  Finally we went around to Gate #3 and there were adults there to open the gate who seemed to be expecting us.  We made it!

I called Sasha again on his phone to let him know we made it inside.  I had no idea where he was or how to explain where we were, and hoped he’d know where to find us.  Pastor John, Kyle, my dad, and I got out of the van, talked to a lady in a red dress and showed her the letter to explain why we were there, and she started to lead us into the camp.  We followed her and soon saw Sasha running towards us.  Be still my heart, it was a wonderful sight!  I couldn’t help myself and had to pick up the pace and meet him halfway!  He met me with a huge smile and an embrace.  Then my dad called out his name and he was met with another huge smile and a hug.  He was so glad to see us and ready to go!  (If you want to see how different this was from one of the last times my parents saw him, you have to see the video in this post… they are like night & day!)

I waited 687 days for this hug!And it had been 405 days since dad had one of these hugs!So glad to see Pastor John tooReady to go get his stuff

Sasha quickly led us through the camp to his room so he could get his things.  There were 2 counselors outside the building with a bunch of younger kids.  I recognized a couple of them from hosting, visiting the orphanage, and other families’ photos, but didn’t know any of them by name.  Sasha grabbed a few things that were hanging on the clothesline to dry, ran into his room, and came out with a backpack full of his things.  He was so ready to go!  Then we went around to the other side of the building where there were some other rooms to say bye to his friends, but no one was there.  I loved just standing back and watching him… his mannerisms, his attitude, the way he carried himself… all those things I have missed not being able to see him for so long.    Just in the way he lightly knocked on his friends’ door that was already propped wide open… I noted so much about him in that one little action… his care, respect, maturity, thoughtfulness… maybe I’m reading into it, but on this day, I wanted to pay attention to every little detail. This was not the 14 year old we hosted, the 15 year old who I spent time with and got to hear him say he’d love to be in our family forever, or the 16 year old who coldly rejected my parents on the adoption trip… this was a 17 year hold who had grown up a lot in the past year.

After Sasha got all his stuff, we had to meet Pastor John at the camp director’s office to make sure all was good and we could check him out.  On the way, Kyle needed to go do something and I asked Sasha if he could show Kyle the way while we met with John.  Once again, Sasha helped with such happiness and a smile.  It was like he was so glad we were there and he was excited to help us get around.  While they were gone, my dad and I met Pastor John who did not have a very good expression on his face.  He said he had some bad news for us – they were not going to allow us to take Sasha to the village with us.  Was I surprised? No.  Was I still crushed anyways? Yes.  He explained that the letter we were given had some kind of line in it about the boarding school lawyer being with us and the camp would not release Sasha to us without the lawyer being there.  They got on the phone and tried to fix it, but the camp would not budge.  When Sasha returned, John explained to him in Russian what had happened.   I could tell that Sasha was crushed.  After that, he really didn’t say anything, his smile faded and he was very quiet. 

We sat on a bench outside the director’s office while John negotiated with them to at least allow us to take Sasha out of the camp for a few hours.  It was really sunny and I had my sunglasses on and a few tears silently slid down my cheeks.  I was really not that sad for myself, I was more sad for Sasha.  I could tell he was so excited to come with us, it was probably the happiest I’d ever seen him, or a close second to the day I surprised him at his school and got to ask if he’d like to be adopted into our family.  I scooted beside him and asked “Chto ti dumayesh?” (What are you thinking?) and he replied “Direktora plohaya” (The director is bad.) I couldn’t help but agree with him. It crushed me to see him so sad.  He has packed his bag with whatever clothes he had, included 2 bottles of water, and now his hopes were stolen.  My heart hurt for him. 

While we were waiting for Pastor John, I realized we hadn’t gotten any pictures together yet.  This was terrible timing for a happy photo after such bad news, but we tried.  And it’s part of our story now so we might as well document it. 

John came back and said he got us 3 hours with Sasha outside of the camp, but we had to take a camp counselor with us.  It sounded so meager compared to 4 days in the village, but we had to take whatever we could get.  On our way back to the van, one of the counselors stopped Sasha and told him something and then tried to tell us something too.  He rambled on and on in Russian and all I caught was “…potomu chto Sasha sirotoy…” (…because Sasha is an orphan…). I know he was trying to explain why they couldn’t let Sasha leave with us, but at that point I didn’t really care what the guy was trying to say.  Sasha just had to hear himself be referred to as an orphan and I couldn’t help but wonder how many conversations has our boy been subjected to that constantly reemphasize the fact that he’s a child who’s been abandoned…

So, Pastor John, Kyle, Sasha, my dad, and I piled into the van with Y, Sasha’s camp counselor who had the duty of supervising our visit.  At first, the ride was silently painful as we were all getting over the wound of our plans being crushed plus trying to figure out how this forcefully rushed time of supervised quality time was supposed to work.  Sasha did come to life again once we started driving through the city and he got to see all the cars.  I forgot how much he loves them.  S & his green Camaro - Christmas 2010He told me he has only seen like 6 or 7 Camaros in Ukraine but he remembers seeing so many of them in America.  When we hosted him, I took him to a dealership and he loved getting to sit in one and take his pictures with all the cars.  I reminded him that he even has a Camaro in his bedroom in America and showed him the picture of his bedroom on my phone.  He loved it, although with a smile he said “zelyonii luchshi" (green would be better), he still thought it was so cool.  I told him how this used to be my room, but I don’t have a room at the house anymore, and now when I’m home I stay in his room.  His face glowed, but I could tell he was also a little sad that he’s never actually seen it before.  I also showed him pictures of our family vacation and my brother Brad’s high school graduation.  Sasha always asks about Brad and was curious to know what he will be doing in the fall.  It’s so crazy to realize that both Sasha and Brad graduated this year!

Pastor John took us to this really cool isthmus area of the Sea of Azov, a long thin strip of land just long enough for one road and some buildings that faced the sea on both sides of the road.  Kyle, Y, Sasha, my dad, and I got out to explore while Pastor John stayed back at the van.  We found an open area to walk along the beach and I went right for the water, but no one else was really interested, or dressed to be in the water.  As we walked along, we found another area where some big boulders jutted out over the water and stopped to take a few more pictures.  I would have loved to just sit for a while but the group was getting hungry.

We haphazardly chose a restaurant on the beach.  We weren’t sure how it would be at first, but it ended up being a great choice!  At first we struggled with the menu.  We thought they only had 2 sad looking sandwiches.  Then we ended up just having Sasha order for all of us.  It was kind of a gamble, but he has good taste, so knew it would be ok. Once again, he was so helpful and patient with us, making sure the waitress got everything right. While we were waiting for our food, Sasha asked to see more pictures from America so I let him look through my phone.  He loved talking about our memories and the people remembers from hosting.  Being with him makes Christmas 2010 not feel so long ago!


We all had sashlik (shishkabobs) that they cooked right behind us on a little grill in the sand and they were the best ones I ever had!  He also ordered salads for dad and I that were pretty good.  Sasha had the sashlik, salad, AND borscht, mashed potatoes, and Pepsi!  He ate so much, but I was glad.  If we couldn’t spoil him with good food in the village for the next 4 days, at least we could give him one great big meal. 

Before we knew it, it was time to walk back to the car so we could get back to camp in time.  I walked next to Sasha and we talked almost the whole way back to the car and it Walking & talking - Sept 2011reminded me of when we had walked and talked our way back to the van when I visited him in 2011.  Ever since we got that change of plans from the camp director, his happiness was not the same, and as we were walking I could tell he was thinking.  Completely out of the blue he asked me why he went to Colorado for his second hosting in 2011.  I told him we couldn’t host him because both my parents, my sister, and I were all working and could not be home all summer.  I asked him if he came to America expecting to be with our family, and he said yes.  I rubbed his back and told him I was so sorry.  (During that hosting I told him on the phone why we couldn’t host him and we got to Skype several times too.) I shared with him how his Sasha & Brad - Christmas 2010host mom would call me (in tears) just to tell me how wonderful he was.  It was a deep moment to realize how much that summer 2 years ago meant to him and was still on his mind… As we continued to walk, we talked about what everyone was up to.  I told him how Brad had a summer job and he was so interested.  Between these conversations and the others I had on the phone with him, he always seems to ask about Brad the most. It’s so cool to see how they have kept that bond, even though their only time together was hosting 2.5 years ago and their brief phone conversations since then.  We talked about how my sister will be teaching Kindergarten again in the fall and I will be working with the middle schoolers… and he remembered all that from before too. C:

Having conversation going really helped to make the car ride back to camp not so sad.  We had another laugh when we got in the car and Sasha told Y to buckle her seatbelt.  I told him in Russian “Sasha! When you were in America, you never wanted to wear your seatbelt!”  He said “It’s different in Ukraine because of the police!”  We just had to smile.  My dad really wanted to know if Sasha was still with his girlfriend, who was a big reason why he ended up not wanting to be adopted.  Sasha said they are still together and she will also be moving to the city where he is attending trade school in the fall.  Hmmmm! Kind of jokingly I asked if they are going to get married and he said he didn’t know, with a smile, kind of taken off guard.  And having a baby?  That got an immediate nyet from Sasha.  Good answer boy, good answer. 

My stomach started to flip again as we got closer to the camp.  It was like the fairy Listening to Zhenya on the phonegodmother had granted our wish but the clock was about to strike midnight.  We made it back to camp with less than 15 minutes remaining for goodbyes.  We got out of the car and didn’t quite know what to do next.  I’m pretty sure I started crying before I even said anything.  I called Zhenya, the godsend who had translated for my parents  during their whole adoption trip and had built a very good relationship with Sasha, and asked him to interpret a few things for us, especially for my dad.  It was such a blessing to be able to have him on the phone with us just at that right moment.  My dad told Zhenya to tell Sasha that we are always here to help him especially when he is in trade school, and a few other things.  S & his class visiting New Hope - Jan 2012And I had Zhenya tell him that I really want him to go to the New Hope Center after he moves into the city for trade school, it’s a safe, fun place for him to go and the people there are very loving and are always able to help him too.  Sasha said he remembers where the center is, he will try to go when he is there, and please tell Jenelle to stop crying.  Nope, sorry buddy, can’t stop crying. c; When we hung up with Zhenya, my dad gave Sasha some money to add to his phone,  the Pepsi he had bought for him on our drive into camp, and one last big hug… and then jumped into the van.  My dad was as much of a crying mess as I was.  TJenelle, Kayla, Brad, & Sashahen I gave Sasha hug after hug and told him “Ya tebya lyublyu vsegda vsegda vsegda” ( I love you, always always always) which is what I often say to him on the phone.  In more broken words through my tears I said “Ti vsegda budet v nashey semye.” (You will always be in our family.)  And I got out my phone to show him some more photos that I had left out from earlier.  Pictures of him from his childhood that hang right alongside our family photos when we were growing up, his framed artwork that sits with ours, and his silhouette that my mom had specially made that hangs with all the others.  I had to show him that he really is part of our family.  I could tell he got it.  He said many thank yous and I love yous.  I told him I hope we can see him again and he replied he hopes many more times.  I hugged him one last time, he said his goodbyes to John and Kyle, and went with Y back through the gate, turning around a few more times to wave goodbye. 

Pastor John, Kyle, my dad, and I were back in the van again for a 3 hour drive back to the village. I cried a little more, but not much longer after we were in the van.  Seeing Sasha not very sad helped me to be less sad.  I realize now that in that moment he was definitely the optimistic one while I was the pessimist.  I came to see him on this trip fully thinking that this could be the last time I ever see him.  Who knows if we will be able to stay in contact of even know where he is after he leaves the boarding school at the end of August?  To me, this parting was very much a goodbye, or I expected it to be.  But it was not to Sasha.  He seemed full of faith that we will see each other many more times.  And hearing him say that made me want to start believing for that too.  Even if the odds are against us and the challenges seem to be growing, I need to believe that we will see him again.

Before hitting the road, we made a quick pit stop. My dad said we needed chocolate after all that, and we did!  On the drive back we shared a big bar of chocolate and cookies he has bought on the way to the camp, that I just didn’t have the stomach for earlier that day.  My nerves were gone… and some sadness had taken their place but so had a huge sense of peace and gratefulness. 

Afterwards my dad and I talked about how we knew coming into this that we could not expect anything to go according to a plan.  And we were thankful to have been able to see Sasha and spend the evening with him.  He said it was almost as if we just took those 4 days we were supposed to have with Sasha and condensed it all into 3 hours.  Did every single question get answered and every single topic get addressed? No.  But we did cover the things that matter. Sasha knows that we still love him, care about him, and are always here for him.  And we know that Sasha accepts and returns that love, hopes to see us many more times, and is confidently moving forward in pursuing his dreams.

I can’t thank God enough for this day.  My heart has been stretched, crushed, and filled to overflowing.  I am thankful that my dad and I got to go on this adventure together.  I love the harsh realities that we’ve had to face because they remind me that this is what it means to live.  These moments are making me who God wants me to be.  These moments are making Sasha who God wants him to be.  This boy has turned my world upside-down and I need to believe with him that this is not the end.  I can’t wait to experience the next chapter that God is writing for us, whatever it may be.  From the first day I saw this boy’s photo, I’ve been fighting for him and I can’t stop now.  It’s not common, typical, or expected for someone in my situation, but that’s what makes it all the more of an honor.   

So blessed to have started this journey with dad in 2010 & look where we are today! 

My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever.
But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love! 
This is how we know we’re living steadily and deeply in him, & he in us:
He’s given us life from his life, from his very own Spirit.

1 John 4:11-13 (The Message)


Everyday Things–Brothers

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“When Sasha is here, maybe he and Brad can fly to visit you in Missouri!”  I remember having this conversation many times with my parents.  Since I have lived away from Ohio for a few years now, we were always thinking of a way for my younger brother to come visit me.  We were always a little hesitant about putting him on a plane by himself… but then we realized when Sasha was home, maybe it would be ok to send the two of them together!  It would be so great to have the 2 of them to visit me together, a fun little Jenelle & the brothers trip.

But now that Sasha is not coming home, those plans have changed.  Instead of the Jenelle & the brothers trip, it would now be Jenelle & the brother… singular.  Thinking of what could have been made me sad, but it was still just as special to have time with just my brother and I. It finally came together and he is here for his birthday this weekend!

It was so great to see him again and spend some time with him.  He is the funniest and smartest guy ever!  We planned lots of fun things for the weekend.  But I also didn’t want to be going all the time, so I asked him to bring a few movies with him so we could have some chill tv time. 

After I got him and my aunt at the airport, we settled in my apartment and I asked him to show me what movies he brought.  He was kind of unenthusiastic when he showed me the 3 DVDs he packed.  Instead, he asked me if I had the “Shasha DVD” because he wanted to see it.  This was a DVD I made of videos from the Christmas that we hosted Sasha. 

I was kind of surprised that he even remembered the disc, let alone wanted to watch it!  It had been a while since we talked about Sasha, but he must have been on Brad’s mind!

When we watched this video at the very end, Brad said it left him with tears in his eyes.

We spent all night watching the home videos we had taken and reminisced about our memories of that Christmas. We talked about how much we missed him.  We talked about how we wished he was here with us like he should have been…

SiblingsAs we were talking, we looked over and saw a newly framed photo of Sasha that I have yet to find a place for.  It was just sitting on my couch waiting to be hung on a wall (and Brad occasionally talked to it as if he was talking to Sasha!) We decided to take pictures with it, showing that we were thinking of Sasha and how we wished he was with us.  Brad insisted we kept going until we got it just right.  That took many, many, many tries!

It was a good time, kind of like a stage in the grieving process to accept that Sasha is not with us, but we can still talk about him and wish he was with us.  My time with Brad was precious… it also made me think of the time that we will not have with Sasha and the time Sasha will not have with us. 

He will not have a sister who will invite him over for a trip or a brother to make memories with.    He won’t have family to count on in the case of an emergency, like the Bible talks about in Proverbs 17:17 … or even just a place to call “home.” And that breaks my heart.

Although we are 7,000 miles apart, Sasha will always be a part of our family.  We will always call him “ours” and we hope he does the same for us.  He is always in our hearts and the focus of our prayers.  Through those prayers, I believe God will be his Father, Jesus will be his brother, and the Holy Spirit will be his comforter. 

…but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 (NIV)

An Update from S!

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We got a special little Thanksgiving surprise this week. – messages and a photo of Sasha!

He contacted me and my parents on Facebook earlier this week and it was such a great surprise!  At first it was just a little hello, but then he asked how we are doing, said he and his classes are going well, he misses us, and he loves us all.  It was such a blessing for him to contact us online… for the very first time since my parents left Ukraine!

Then we have other friends who returned to his orphanage this week to adopt a brother and a sister.  I wrote Sasha a long letter and asked them to deliver it along with some little treats. 

The family just got to the orphanage for the first time yesterday and was able to send us a photo of Sasha and a short video of him.  He looks so great, still love his smile so much!  The video is super sweet, you can see it on my Facebook page.

They have not gotten to give him the letter yet, I can’t wait until they do. We hope to make a video for Sasha from our whole family while I’m home for Thanksgiving.

I’m so thankful for this unexpected gift!  We never knew if or when Sasha would show interest in talking with us again.  When he saw the family, he could have avoided them or refused to take photos or talk to them… which I know many kids have done… but he didn’t.  None of us know what is going on in his head or his heart, but I am soooo thankful that God has allowed us to remain in contact with him… and get to see that smile that melts my heart!

I thank my God every time I remember you.
Philipians 1:3 (NIV)

The family saw him again today.  They said he hung out with them a lot of the time they were there! 

I saw Sasha again today! I stopped him and asked him to wait and he did. I had to take off my backpack to get his gift and he waited for me. Then I gave it to him and took a few photos. He said "thank you!" He said that he had talked to you on Facebook. Then, after we went inside, he spent a lot of time just hanging out with us. There was nothing to do but he just sat with us. Danny broke out the iPad and he watched as several kids played it and when Danny asked him, he said that he didn’t want to play. But after about an hour and a half – he finally played a little. He didn’t stay with us the entire time but I’d say at least 80% of the time and we were there for about 2.5 hours. He was very sweet and had a quiet demeanor about him….but you could see he felt pulled. He’d get up and leave a few times when the older boys would come in but he’d end up coming back!

They said he started reading his long letter when he opened the gift, but then took it with him and finished reading it somewhere else. So good to hear that he is hanging out with them!


The Cost of Unconditional Love


This has been quite a year for me.  A roller coaster of ups and downs.  Miraculous provisions in my family’s adoption, weekly phone calls from a Ukrainian brother who missed us so much, reports from visiting adoptive families telling us he is so ready to come home, perfect timing in an adoption trip… all put to a screeching halt when Sasha said “nyet” in court and my parents returned to the US.  They now have an empty bedroom that is called “Sasha’s” and I doubt that will ever change…

We have not had any contact with Sasha since that day in court on June 13, 2012.  We have gotten secondhand information about things Sasha has said and done, but have yet to hear from him directly. 

Some people in our situation might try to move on from the situation, cut off all contact, and avoid worsening the heartache or resentment. But that’s not where we are headed.  I have hoped to give him some time after the try at adoption to let things settle, pray that the negative influences in his life will subside, and then attempt contact again. 

Reuniting with Sasha while in Ukraine

I am trying to be as cautious as possible.  The last times we connected, it was not good.  He showed little interest in talking, he did not seem like the same kid I had gotten to know over the past 18 months.  When my parents were in Ukraine, he was rather cool towards them.  (See the video of one of their reunions after not seeing one another after a few days… speaks volumes and helps you get a taste of how hard this really is.) 

Remembering those times and emotions makes me tread carefully. Any attempt at contacting him or reminding him of our love seems to be a moment I am making myself vulnerable, offering him another chance to reject us.  It is a risk.  It could hurt.   And if I was to just focus on protecting myself, that might be enough to keep me from ever contacting him.  But this can’t be about me. 

Sasha needs to know that even if he pushes away, he is still loved.

My mom says even if the adoption failed, they were still successful.  To her, their mission was to show Sasha that he is loved.  They went all the way there to adopt him, visited him, and did all they could for him… which is more than anyone has done for him since he has been in the orphanage.  They showed him love.  She says she heard that many men do not accept Christ because they have not experienced unconditional love in their lives and it makes it much harder for them to understand coming from God.  Her prayer is that now that Sasha has seen unconditional love from our family, in God’s perfect timing, he will be presented with God’s unconditional love, and will be able to accept it since he was able to experience it from us.

S - First day of school last year in 2011So, here goes my first attempt to remind Sasha of our love.  His first day of school is Monday September 3rd.  The first day of school is a big day in Ukraine, a national celebration.  Last year on this day, we joined in with many families who were in the process of adopting and had personal deliveries sent to our children who were all at the same boarding school.   Today, all of those children who received gifts on the first day of school are now home with their forever families in the US… except our one. 

So, I have decided to send a delivery again to Sasha this year.  The service guarantees delivery on the day we arranged and even provides a photo of the child receiving the package.  What will Sasha’s expression be? What will he think? That will be a photo definitely worth 1,000 words. 

Perfect text in the card we are sending to SAfter that, the NHFC interview team will also have a care package for him from our family.  Sasha will probably receive that one a few weeks after the first day of school.  Will his reaction be any different from when he receives the first package?  Will his thoughts toward us have changed?  Will he want to contact us again?

Right now, all of that is unknown.  But I will keep loving him regardless.  It’s such a risk to be vulnerable… to open yourself up to be getting hurt and your love being rejected.  And that is the cost of loving. 

Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
It does not demand its own way.
It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.
It does not rejoice about injustice
but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 
Love never gives up,
never loses faith,
is always hopeful,
and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT)



A little bit of a surprise?
First Day of School Sept 1, 2012

NHFC Gift Bag Delivery Sept 5, 2012


Sept 2010 – Sasha’s first interview with NHFC
5 Sept 2011 – I visited Sasha with NHFC team and asked if he would like to be adopted by our family.
5 Sept 2012 – Sasha receives our carepackage from NHFC team to remind him we love him!

You can read the sweet story behind this photo
taken Sept 5th on my Facebook page


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