Destination: Ukraine!

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Missions FlierYep! You read that right! I am headed to Ukraine!!! 

Ever since my parents left Ukraine last June, they have been in touch with a missionary who is in the same region as our Sasha.  My dad has gotten very involved with helping them with their mission of reaching the orphans in that part of Ukraine. Missions Flier3 The team of ministers there now not only visit the orphans in the orphanages, they also help adopting families traveling to the region, have a Christian church that is growing quickly, and a trade school for the older orphans. They are doing awesome things and God is blessing their ministry and giving them incredible favor with the children, orphanage directors, and even government officials!

My dad has been very involved in helping the ministry.  For  months now he has been planning to go over there this summer to help remodel a home for orphans who have aged-out of the orphanage.  I have been unsure about my summer plans up to this point, but God made it clear to me this week that he has given me this opportunity just at the right time

Only 10 months ago, my parents left Ukraine without the 16 year old son they had traveled there to adopt and bring home.  My dad & I meeting S for the first time - Dec 2010When they returned, we all wondered what would happen with Sasha alone in Ukraine.  Within a couple months, the missionaries opened their home for the first group of aged-out orphans… an answer to our prayers.  A transition/trade school can literally make the life or death difference for kids when they graduate from the orphanage.  And not just any kids… our Sasha and the friends who have become his family as he has grown up in the orphanage. 

This year has been Sasha’s last year living in the orphanage.  In June, he will graduate, and on August 31st he will be out on his own.  It is our prayer that God will bring him to this trade school.  A place where he can be safe, fed, educated, prepared well for adulthood, mentored by godly men, and learn more about Christ.  

To me, this trip is not just about visiting Ukraine and helping build a building.  It is about investing in lives… prayerfully the life of my long-distance brother. 

There are still spots open on the team! Wherever you are, you can join us!  See the info below. 

Info Sheet

Please be praying for my dad and I
as we prepare for an exciting journey! 
More updates coming soon on how you can help!

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
John 14:18 (NIV)

 

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You’re the Key… Unlock a Lost Heart

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147 million orphans in the world. Each one with a story, a soul, a heart.

After even just a short period of rejection and abandonment, one begins to fade.  Emotions are dulled, personality fades, heart becomes lost.  Alone, without a parent or mentor, orphaned children are destined for a life of struggle in anonymity.

And yet, there is hope!

You have the power to unlock a lost heart.  The key-love, extended with your  willingness to reach out for a lost heart.

love is the key

When you love an orphan, it unlocks their lost heart.  Emotions, personalities, and dreams come to life.

The transformation of orphans who have been hosted by a loving family for just 5 weeks is unmistakable. There is a noticeable difference in their countenance that was not there the day they arrived in the US. Children’s dull eyes begin to sparkle.  There is confidence, there is hope, there is the capacity to love and be loved.

There are 140 lost orphans waiting to be chosen for NHFC’s Summer 2013 host program.  Will you use the key you have to unlock their heart that’s been lost for far too long?

See waiting children here

Hosting Reflection #28–Holding on to God’s Promises-video

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NHFC’s Christmas orphan hosting program is almost over.  Today I had the opportunity to meet with 4 families as they said goodbye to their host children at the airport.  It is a heart wrenching thing to experience.  I wasn’t even parting with a host child, and I was still brought to tears at all the emotions and seeing the families part with the children they have come to love over these past 4 weeks. 

The days after departure can be the hardest.  I’ve heard from many host families that missing these kids and knowing what they have returned to is one of the hardest things they’ve ever had to do in their lives.  And at just the right time, it seems, this little gem has been created.  Something the families can hold on to, a memory of the children who have touched so many lives, and a way to help them pray for their children. 

This video, the hosted orphans holding on to cardboard promises from God’s Word, has become an NHFC hosting tradition.  We have families either choose a Bible verse for their host child, or select a verse together with their host child.  They are usually very meaningful, something that fits the child well, as a life verse the host family wants to pray over the child and explain the meaning and trust in that verse to their host child. 

It is so touching to see the video. Each of the 77 photos is a real orphan who was really ministered to by everyday families this Christmas.  The power of God’s Word in their lives can truly change their situation.  Knowing about God’s promises and taking the truth of these words with them to their home countries can make all the difference to these children.

Hosted orphans holding on to God’s promises!

It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the photos, thinking about these orphans, and the blessed life they have experienced during hosting.  I even get so caught up that I easily forget… that each of these promises is not only true for these kids, it is true for each one of us.  God did not just put these things in the Bible for them, they are there for every person. 

He has a plan for you.  He will never leave you. You can trust him.  He will wipe away all your tears.  Your life is a gift.  God treasures you.  He is your help.  You are his son.  You are created in his image. He loves you with an everlasting love. He is the closest friend. He will never abandon you.  You are His.  You are a blessing.  He came to give you abundant life.  He is your strength.  He is on your side.  He loves you.  You can always have hope.  Nothing can separate you from his love.  He is with you and watches over you.  God gave his only son for you.  You have been chosen.  He is your defense.  You are his masterpiece.  He chose you when he planned creation.  With Him all things are possible.  He calls you by name.  You are loved.

12ChristmasPromises

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
Isaiah 55:11 (NIV)

“It’s A Meaningful Life”

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It’s that time of year again.  Every time you turn on the TV, there’s another Christmas special, move, or classic playing.  “It’s a Wonderful Life” is one of those heartwarming classics that’s been around for over 50 years, inspiring generations. The less popular, but equally as heartwarming Veggie Tales re-creation “It’s a Meaningful Life” puts this story into perspective for both children and believers.

In the Veggie Tales version, the main character Stewart (think Jimmy Stewart Winking smile ) lost his dreams of fame and riches after missing a winning catch in a football game.  That dream was realized by another one of his vegetable teammates, while Stewart stays and lives a seemingly mundane life in their little town with a simple job, wife, and 3 kids.  When his now rich and famous teammate returns to town 15 years later, Stewart begins to reflect back on all he thinks he had lost from that one game. 

Right before Christmas, a mysterious train called the What-If Express takes Stewart on a journey to see what his life would have been like had he caught that game-winning ball. He gets a glimpse into what his rich and yet unfulfilling life would have been like.  He sees that he never married his love or had their 2 sons.  He asks about his daughter, who he knew would be alive since she was adopted.  The train conductor takes Stewart to her orphanage window where she sits alone and still without a family.  Stewart cries and finally insists that his dream life is not better than the life he had with his family.  Compassionately, the train conductor reminds Stewart that God loves Stewart and has directed every step he has ever taken.  Although it seemed mundane, God has great meaning in all his life and has a plan for it all, even when he can’t see it. 

This movie reminds me to 2 great purposes God has – For me, us as believers, host & adoptive  families especially; and for the orphan. 

My life, our lives, may seem simple and insignificant in the grand scheme of the world. But God’s plan is so much greater!  He has ordained every step of our lives, no matter where we find ourselves or how mundane it may seem.  

And in this portrayal, I see so many orphans.  Who, without the love, commitment, and obedience of families, could still be living in that land of “what if”.  They could be alone this Christmas, in an orphanage or foster home.  Instead, God has ordained a special family to host them for this Christmas season or even to adopt them at home forever.  A beautiful portrayal of God’s grace and mercy. Despite their difficult pasts, God can deliver them into the hands of a loving family, resounding their significance in His Kingdom. 

I must conclude with one of my absolute favorite songs, made just for this Veggie Tales movie.  No matter who you are or where you find yourself… you were meant to be!

 

And Steven Curtis Chapman’s story behind the song… about his connection to Stewart as an adoptive dad.

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)

Reflections from Ukraine–Awesome Kids, Divine Appointments, & A New Brother!

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12,000 miles flying roundtrip
14 days
3,000 kilometers driving
12 orphanages
TONS of unforgettable kids
154 orphans in need of host families!

CIMG2098

That’s the trip by the numbers… now let me tell you about it in words!  The trip was incredible and I am so blessed to have been a part of the team.  One week prior to our arrival, half of the team spent a week in Latvia; there they did the same crazy amount of travel and found 116 kids for hosting – that makes 270 total! 

Awesome Kids
For us, pretty much everyday was a new city, a new orphanage, a new apartment or hotel room, and another long day of driving.  At each orphanage we would first meet with the directors or other administrators and tell them about the program, often get a tour of the orphanage campus, be treated to some tea and snacks or a meal, and then spend time interviewing the kids that the orphanage thought we should consider for Christmas hosting.  The children or siblings talked with 3 team members – an interviewer, a writer, and an interpreter, and before or after their interview, they would spend time with the other team members in some kind of group activity. 

I got to be there for 9 of the orphanage visits, and I must say that every visit was different.  They ranged from a small, poor orphanage in the country where the kids seemed to be lacking the care they needed all the way to an orphanage that doubled as a college-prep institution that all of the team wanted to send their own kids to!  It was so fun to meet the kids and learn about their stories. 

There were many children that I fell in love with after spending some time with them or learning about their stories – you can see their faces down the right side of this page.  Something special about each of them struck a chord with me and I am going to do all that I can to advocate for them to find host homes for this Christmas.  From today until the deadline to sign-up (November 1st) I will feature a post about each of them, with extra pictures and stories and updates on when they do find host families! Please begin praying for these kids now!

Divine Appointments
On the very last day of interviews, we met with a pastor and his wife who work in orphanages in a new region that NHFC has not hosted from before.  It seemed great to make a connection to some new places, but little did we know, that God was about to grow it into something much bigger.

One of our team members, Nicole, and her husband have recently been led to wanting to start long-term ministry in Ukraine to orphans, specifically in summer camps and transition homes for those who age-out of the orphanage.  Over lunch, we learned that Pastor Viktor and his wife recently had to make cutbacks in their ministry due to the financial hardship they have endured since his wife Tanya is being treated for an inoperable brain tumor.  God has given them big dreams to reach orphans in their region, but they seemed to be facing even bigger obstacles.  He shared that if they were unable to give their bank the money they owed in 2 days, their church and home were going to be taken from them. 

He took us to see the property and it was beautiful!  It gave me goosebumps to see how seamlessly it fit with Nicole’s vision for her own ministry.  The land was a little less than 2 acres with a small church building and a separate building for living quarters.  There was still lots of space to keep building – along with the blueprints and permits already in place for a new building!  To top it all of, the land borders a beautiful little lake.  Honestly, we could not have dreamed up a more perfect fit. 

By the time we left for the airport the following day, lots of faith and obedience to follow through some open doors, Pastor’s Viktor and Tanya’s burdens have been lifted.  Contributions from some great saints has allowed them to keep their land and church from being taken by the bank.  And we are now praying that Nicole and her husband along with some other couples will be able to partner with this Ukrainian couple in continuing to grow their ministry to orphans. 

Please pray for this precious couple!  …for Tanya’s healing, financial provision, direction in working with local orphanages, and God’s incredible providence to continue in their lives!

 Pastor Viktor & Tanya (2nd & 3rd from left) with 4 of us from the team

I’m Gonna Have A New Brother!!!
Ok, I know the title totally gives this one away, but I gotta share the details!

The still small voice of the Holy Spirit started to speak to my family after Sasha, the then 14 year old boy our family hosted for Christmas, was hosted by a different family this summer.  After some long talks, written letters, and prayers… my parents started to consider adopting him.  The final step of confirmation they needed to go ahead with it was to make sure that Sasha wanted it… and that just so happens to be something that the New Horizons team covers on the interview trip!  Who would have guessed a year ago that I would be headed to Ukraine on this awesome mission and get to be there in person ask Sasha if he would like to be a part of my family???

I tried to call Sasha once before the trip to let him know that I would be coming, but I couldn’t get ahold of him.  I was kind of happy to leave it that way… so then I would really get to experience his honest reaction when he first sees me!

We visited his boarding school on Monday Sept 5th … I was filled with a mix of emotions. I was excited, nervous, and almost felt like I was in the middle of a dream.  We pulled up to 2 huge, plain, old brick buildings that were surrounded by gardens and enclosed with a small gate.  As we pulled in, I saw someone in one of the gardens who was wearing the hoodie that our grandma gave Sasha for Christmas.  I knew right away that it wasn’t him, but it was a big hint that I was getting closer to him!!!

They ended up taking us to ‘set up shop’ in one of the classrooms and when the door was opened, I saw a very familiar face!  Sasha saw me in the doorway and had a look of shock and confusion on his face – we were both surprised!  They were in the middle of a lesson and none of us budged for a while.  LeAnn said, “You’re the big sister! Go over there and embarrass your brother!” so I went over to him with a big smile and we hugged.

  His inital reaction! ...after the confusion and surprise! 

It was so great to be reunited with him!  He was all smiles and asked where my family was and if they were working.  (Funny that he remembered that one of the reasons we couldn’t rehost him this summer was because everyone had to work.)   We hung out in the yard of the orphanage for a while with some of his friends.  He asked me if he could come back with our family for this winter. Oh my I could hardly contain myself!!!! Smile I told him that we would get to talk about it with the interpreter a little later.  He said this is to teach their dogs tricks... I thought it would be fun to climb on anyways.

Interviews with new kids finally wrapped up and the team met with some of the kids who had just been hosted this summer.  Now it was my turn to talk to Sasha.  I expected our facilitator to do most of the talking, but when we sat down with her, she had me do the talking. I had no idea what to say!!  It was short and sweet and when he was asked if he would like to be a part of our family, he said “Yes!” (more like a speechless nod) with a huge smile across his face.  It was such a great moment and I am so blessed to have been a part of it!He said Yes!

Our goodbye came very quickly, I was not ready to leave.  I would have much rather stayed with Sasha or snuck him in the van with me… but that wasn’t really an option.  He walked me to the van, and as we walked, I told him in Russian “The next time I see you will be in America… and it will be forever!” 

Our goodbye walking to the van

… and now I can’t wait for that day.

Consider Hosting!
You, yes you.  I can totally see you having your own story of hosting very soon.  There are over 200 kids waiting to be matched with loving host families for this Christmas.  Could it be you that they are waiting for?

You do not need to be considering adoption in order to host an orphan.  Actually, you’re in luck, because New Horizons isn’t an adoption agency it’s a HOST only organization… adoption is just an added outside benefit. Winking smile 

It takes all kinds of families to make a host program successful. Here’s the wide variety of host families we are looking for:

  • Interest to adopt – many host kids are available for adoption
  • Last chance – these kids need families who are ‘paper ready’ if the adoption process does not get started before hosting, the kids will lose their chance at getting adopted because of their age
  • Sibling groups – for those brave parents who are willing to invite 2, 3, 4, or even 5 siblings into their home!
  • Host only – kids who are not available for adoption because of their age or other circumstance but could still greatly benefit from the experience
  • Special needs – this time around we have several kids who need special families to individually care for them in a way that orphanage workers cannot
  • Medical mission – there are several kids who are in great need of medical attention for their teeth or eyes, hosting could make a lifelong difference for them
  • Scholarship sponsors – you may not be able to host, but you could help sponsor a child, this is a great help to encourage families who would love to host but may need some help raising the funds

Please check out the NHFC photolisting to see these available children and begin praying that their host family finds them.  There are many “Sashas” out there waiting!

Sign up to see photolisting!

Thank you so much for your prayers!
I don’t know where we would have been without them!

Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”
Luke 9:48

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