Graduation Day

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As a school counselor, I had the joy of promoting/graduating my first class of 8th graders to high schoolers this week.  It was a huge celebration for family, friends, faculty, and of course the students.  It’s about that time of year when everywhere you turn, there are students graduating from kindergarten, junior high, high school, and college.  And the same is true on the other side of the globe as well.

Graduation Day

Yesterday was the graduation ceremony at S’s school. This is the photo of some of the 10th grade students in the graduating class.  These 16-17 year olds will have one more summer at the orphanage/summer camp, then on the last day of summer, they will be on their own.  (Last Day of Summer, First Day on My Own

I asked Sasha how the day was, he said it is always a good happy day for them.  But when I think about what graduation day usually is for us, a celebration with family.  Photos from their ceremony shows a room full of younger students, some volunteers from the community, and some American families who are there adopting.  No hugs, photos, flower, congratulations, or parties with parents and grandparents. They have their family of teachers, caregivers, and other orphans. And this breaks my heart…

After this summer, their futures are very grim.  Statistics tell us that 80-90% of these children will end up addicted to alcohol or drugs, homeless, involved in crime or prostitution, incarcerated, or commit suicide. Only 10-20% will go on to lead ‘successful’ lifes… with a job and stable residence. 

I’ve heard this song a lot on the radio lately & it just fits my sentiment so well.

Two of the boys in this photo are S’s best friends.  I do not want them to end up as a part of this statistic.  Their only way out is a commitment to learn a trade in a vocational school and the grace of God.  We know of a ministry that is trying to recruit the graduates to their transition home.  Please pray that their hearts are led to this opportunity of a positive future.


Reflections from Everyday Things–“Puss in Boots”–Story of a mother’s love


My career as a school counselor always provides me with a wide variety of responsibilities.  This week’s quarterly responsibility was to chaperone a reward trip to take students to a viewing of the recent movie “Puss in Boots.”  This new spin intertwining the Shrek character and the old tale was quite surprising to me… and right up my alley. Winking smile

This version tells the story about how Puss and Humpty Dumpty became friends after living together in a Spanish orphanage.  They stood by each other in an orphanage where they were singled out, a large egg and a cat sure stand out in a home full of children!

Mama Imelda takes care of the orphans and is particularly loving to Puss.  And all Puss wants to do is make his mama proud.

Puss & Mama Imelda outside orphanage door 

Even when Puss had shamed Imelda,she was still his motivation.  He wanted her to be pleased with him.  He thought about her constantly. And her love for him never wavered.

How many orphans in the world just want a mom to call their own?  Someone who can unconditionally be there for them and keep them going?  Even if they are not a mother by birth, orphans need someone who can be this person in their lives. Someone who will always take them back after they make mistakes and will be their biggest supporter. 


Yet Jerusalem says,
“The LORD has deserted us;the Lord has forgotten us.”
“Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?
Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?
But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!
See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands…
Isaiah 49:14-16a (NLT)

Reflections from Everyday Things–For the love of potatoes!–An orphan’s potential

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“Please no more potatoes!” we all pleaded in jest.  It was summer 2010, I was on a missions trip to work with orphans in Estonia.   Our team of 3 Americans and 2 Russian interpreters had our fill of potatoes after being Bread & potatoes!with the orphans for only one week at their summer camp.  I wish I could say we ate them in a wide variety of recipes (think shrimp from Forrest Gump: ‘There’s shrimp kebabs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo, pan fried, deep fried, stir fried…’) but we were not that lucky.  When the orphanage workers served potatoes, they were usually peeled and boiled… I got excited if we could have them with ‘sous’ or ‘smetana’ (syrupy ketchup or sour cream).  Yes, I know Rule #1 of any missions trip is to not complain about anything,  we would just joke about the potatoes… but we kinda meant it too. Winking smile

After spending the first part of our trip at the kids’ summer camp, we returned with them to spend some time with them at their orphanage in town.  I was so excited to be welcomed into their home.  We got a tour of the building, I was very impressed by how blessed the kids are.  Some had their own So many potatoes!bedroom and others shared with one other child their same age.  It was really special to see they had a place to call their own, which is a rarity for most orphans.  The kitchen was kept locked up any time that meals were not being served, so we didn’t get to see it until a little later.  The kitchen was… a kitchen, and I was curious to see what was in the cellar.  I went down a few steps and just started to laugh.  Even more potatoes!!!

Our first full day in the orphanage, our team was asked to cook breakfast, lunch, andLearning how to peel a potato dinner because the cook was taking the day off.  Of course, we said yes, we were there to serve and it was a small orphanage.  How hard could it be to cook for 30 kids? Let me tell you, we were in the kitchen all day!  I guess that explains why being a cook is a full time job. C: For dinner, we were told each person should have 3 of the small potatoes.  It became my job to count, wash, and peel 100 potatoes!  That day I learned how to peel potatoes and felt like I mastered it within a couple hours.  Our potato creationOur translators encouraged us to get creative with the potatoes this time around.  So instead of letting them boil, they came up with the idea of baking them, sliced, with meat, mayo, and cheese on top.   Yes, weird combination, you’ve got to improvise in these kinds of situations.  We were so proud of our creation and many of the kids loved it!

Our time in Estonia quickly came to a close, and we made our way to St. Petersburg, Russia, for the last few days of the trip.  One day while we were there, we spent the entire day, literally since before it opened until after it closed, at The State Hermitage Museum.  One of the largest and oldest museums in the world, housed in 6 historic buildings along the Neva River, the main one being the Winter Palace. Potatoes on Yellow Paper. By Renato GuttusoThere are millions of fascinating things there, but there is one that particularly caught my attention.  As soon as I saw it, I told the others “Oh my goodness, guess what this is!” as I covered up the title of the painting.  They looked at it for a while, made some guesses, and then realized “Oh! It’s potatoes!!!” We had a good laugh.  The painting is “Potatoes on Yellow Paper” by Italian artist Renato Guttuso.  We thought we had left the potatoes in Estonia, but they followed us to Russia.   It was fun to joke, but something the painting stuck with me.  So much so that I purchased a canvas print of it at the Hermitage gift shop and now have it framed and hanging in my apartment. 

Potatoes, potatoes. Who really cares about potatoes?  They are so plain and tasteless.  They are very cheap and seem to be in never-ending supply.  No one really seems to seek them out, crave them, or favor them.  And to top it all off, they seem to be the filthiest things in the grocery store, the skin nearly hidden by the caked-on dirt. 

And in all of that, I see a metaphor.  This painting not only reminded me of my time in Estonia, but came to represent it.  They are the orphans in Eastern Europe that my heart breaks for.  There seems to be no way to really know how many orphans there are because the problem is so prolific.  The children are housed in institutions, nameless and faceless statistics.  They are neglected by their families and communities.  They have dirty, messy lives that people would much rather not know about any of the gritty details of their reality.

But now, when I look at this painting, I see much more.  Potatoes may be plain, but they are nutritious and sustaining.  There are societies around the world that thrive with the potato as their main staple.  They are actually very versatile. I can’t think of another vegetable that is used in so many different ways.  Potatoes are very hardy and can withstand a variety of harsh climates and conditions.

I see hope.  What a beautiful representation of these children.  They may be plain, drowning in anonymity, and seem to have nothing to offer… but there is so much more there.  They have so much potential and talent.  They have dreams and could be used by God in so many different ways.   They have had to weather very difficult circumstances, but their spirits are not broken.  They are resilient, they can still have a future.

Who will meet these children where they are and embrace them in all their dirt and pain?  Who will validate them and help them to see that they are unique individuals?  Who will help them discover their talents and help them find their place in the world?  Who will tell them that they are so dearly loved? Who will share with them about their Heavenly Father who has a purpose and a plan for their lives?

Pray for these children and ask God to send believers to lead them to Him.

To all who mourn in Israel,
      he will give a crown of beauty for ashes,
   a joyous blessing instead of mourning,
      festive praise instead of despair.
   In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks
      that the Lord has planted for his own glory.
Isaiah 61:3 (NLT)

This is the way we live–Orphanage Life–video

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It has been a difficult week for me.  Our family’s adoption process seems to be dragging on at a snail’s pace.  It’s been 173 days since I last saw Sasha and 408 since he’s last been with our whole family.  I want him home as soon as possible.

For the past couple of weeks, some friends of our family have beenHe always manages to have a smile on his face! visiting Sasha’s orphanage.  We are so blessed that they have gotten to spend a lot of time with him.  They’ve gotten to remind him how much we love him and give him many hugs from us.

They’ve also given us special insight into his life at the boarding school.  We will never know what it’s really like, but the observations and experiences they have shared with us have been very eye-opening.  This is not a cheery, fun summer camp that lasts all year round that we wish it could be.

Our boy has begun to remove himself from his life at the orphanage.  He’s ready to move on and be with us.  This is not an easy thing to do, since this is the only family he has ever known.  There is opposition, challenges, people who flat out don’t like it and don’t want the adoptions to happen.  Sasha misses us and wants to be home with us so badly. He is so strong to have made it this far.  Please say a prayer for him that he can keep holding on.

Below is a video clip from the movie “Italianetz”. It shows a very realistic snapshot of life in an orphanage, specifically the chain of command.  Kolyan, the teen in the black cutoff shirt, rules the orphanage.  The clip opens with another teen turning in the goods he has acquired on a stealing spree.  Next, in comes Ira, another orphan girl who turns in her money from a recent prostituting job.  Finally, in comes Vanya, a young boy who is getting adopted, who turns in the candy that was given to him by the Italian family who was adopting him.  All the teens could do as they please, sitting around smoking, drinking, without any adult supervision.  Everyone in the home – boy, girl, young, and old – had to  obey Kolyan’s demands.  They had to pledge their authority to him, or there was a high price to pay.

This is the sad reality for countless orphanages across Eastern Europe, and very likely around the world.

Clip from the Russian film “The Italian”

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows
—this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families…
Psalm 68:5-6a (NLT)

Guest Post–“Vacation?” The story behind orphanage visits

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It’s been a couple weeks since the NHFC missions team has returned from their trip to Latvia and Ukraine to interview orphans for the Summer 2012 host program.  I want to thank you for praying for them, their trip was very cold but safe and successful!

One of my regional volunteer partners was a part of the missions trip for the first time.  She wrote very eloquently and candidly about the trip and I am sharing her words in a guest post for this week:

Since returning home from my trip, I’ve had a lot of people ask me how it went.
I’ve found some of their phrasing a little strange.

It may not really be indicative of anything, but I’ve found it interesting nonetheless.
“Did you have fun?” and “Did you have a good time?” are the ones I find the most thought provoking.

Maybe that’s just what people ask when they know you’ve been away…. maybe that’s just what they think they’re supposed to say…. or what they ask when they think they’re expected to comment, but don’t really care about the answer.
Maybe I’m being completely unreasonable and  reading WAY too much into the words people use and need to instead, be glad they asked and thankful for the opportunity to share about New Horizons. (Yeah, that’s probably it.)

For the record, I DID have fun, and I DID have a good time…. but this wasn’t a vacation.
This wasn’t a trip to the Bahamas.

On this trip I visited orphanages that smelled like 3 week old boiled cabbage and unwashed bodies.
I slept in a hotel that smelled like dead, decaying rats complete with faded leopard print sheets and bed bugs.
I met children who, upon turning 16, will “graduate” from their orphanage with little chance of living past their next birthday.
I spent a week in a van that didn’t have any heat in the 2nd and 3rd rows, in a country that was experiencing record breaking cold.
I met children under the age of 12, who had already started smoking.
I wore the same jeans for 6 days in a row and washed my socks and underwear in the sink.
I met girls, who upon “graduating”, will turn to prostitution as a way to stay alive.
I tried squid flavored potato chips. And yes, they are as NASTY as they sound.
I played UNO with kids who have NEVER known the love of a mother.
I met an orphanage director who didn’t want anything to do with our program because there was a chance “her” kids might be adopted.
I showered in bathrooms that smelled like a sewer.
I met children who had been abandoned by a parent because they were seen as an inconvenience.

But I also met a boy in Latvia who had such a great sense of humor, I nearly wet my pants from laughing.
I met orphanage directors who loved their kids and were eager to hear about New Horizons.
I met kids who practically begged to come to America.
I got to surprise Mareks with my visit to Riga. (It took nearly 10 minutes on the phone to convince him that I was actually there.)
I met an orphanage director who is actively pursuing educational/job training opportunities for his “graduates.”
I visited orphanages that had medical and nutritional personnel on staff…. a speech therapist… an area for physical therapy… laptops… exercise equipment.
I met a brother/sister duo who were so personable and quite frankly, blew me away…. I wanted to hide them in my suitcase and smuggle them home.
I saw AMAZING artwork, needlework, paper crafting, beadwork, woodwork, sewing projects– all done by the kids we were interviewing.
I got to see parts of the world that I never would have seen otherwise.
I met a boy with spina bifida and other medical issues, who’s very life may depend on him being adopted.
I tried Borsch… and I liked it!
I spoke with kids who wanted to know about me, and my life, and life in America.
I met a girl who intervened for another who was being picked on, standing up to a “popular girl” at her orphanage.
I met a boy who wanted to “friend me” on Facebook.
I met children who wanted to be teachers…. an engineer…. an architect…. a doctor…. a dancer….
I met kids who were proud of their accomplishments.
I drank enough tea in which I could sink the Titanic.
I played games with kids who wanted to hold my hand– even though they didn’t know me.
I spoke with 16 year olds who are too old to be adopted- and they know it— and it breaks my heart.
I met kids who when hypothetically given 3 wishes… time and time again, their 1st wish was to have a family.

No, this wasn’t a vacation.

But it beats Disney any day.


You may visit the original post on her blog here!

The Americans are here!–Orphanage Visits–video


Life in an orphanage can be very lonely.  You are surrounded by dozens, possibly hundreds of other kids, but that doesn’t always take the loneliness away.   Orphans need interaction, attention, love from positive role models… and those can be hard to come by.  There may be a caretaker who is responsible for many children, possibly part-time; or older orphans who may be a positive presence but have their own struggles to worry about; or there may be mentors in the community who visit on occasion.  Regardless, most of them are starving for attention.

When visitors come, it’s an exciting day.  Who are they?  Where are they from? What did they bring? Why are they here? There’s so many thoughts that could be going around in their heads.  Some will swarm the visitors, not afraid to go in for a hug or ask for some candy.  Others will cautiously stand by, wondering and watching.

Visitors who come with a smile and a hug, and maybe even a snack, game, gift or a special word to share are a ray of sunshine in an orphan’s dark days.   The memories that can be made and the love that can be shared in that short time can last long beyond the time of departure.

Fall '11 interview team getting ready to go into Sasha's orphanageThroughout this week and for the next couple of weeks, the New Horizons for Children interview team will be visiting orphans in Latvia and Ukraine.  These 5 lovely ladies will be visiting orphanages and foster homes to give gifts (many from host families) and to interview children for the upcoming summer 2012 host program.

Please pray for these needs as the team travels:

  1. Please pray that God goes before them and opens doors.  That he may grant favor and bless all of our efforts for the hosting program, and most importantly, for the children.
  2. Please pray that everyone makes it to their destinations safely.
  3. Please pray for each of the foster parents and orphanage directors that the team meets.  They are given the great duty to care for many precious orphans.  Pray that NHFC will be able to be encouragers and partners with them, to work together for the good of the most children in their care possible.
  4. Please pray that the team has positive interactions with and are Jesus to each of the orphans they meet.  May they bring a special time of joy and fun to their homes.  May they share love with them, even if just for a short time.
  5. Please pray for each of the previous host children, to whom the team will deliver gifts from their host families.  May they remember that they are not forgotten and are very loved.  And for those who are going to be offered adoption, may each of those children have clarity of thought and wisdom to be able to answer to that offer.
  6. Please pray for all of the children, previous and new, who will be interviewed and selected to possibly be hosted for the summer program.  May God give the team wisdom and discernment to decide which of the children are prepared for the program.  It can mean unmatchable life-change for each of the ones who are chosen.


Looking at the visitors from his window
Below is a video clip that reminds me so much of when the interview team visits an orphanage.  So blessed, are the ones who are chosen!




Clip from the Russian movie “The Italian”



Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
James 1:27 (ESV)


About Orphan Hosting–Video

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