Orphan Sunday… in Ukraine!

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Tomorrow, November 3rd, is Orphan Sunday.  One day a year when Christians across the globe, bring awareness, advocacy, and care to the orphans of the world. 

I’m so excited about all that’s going on here in the states with Orphan Sunday.  New Horizons for Children will be shared with over 20 different congregations in 17 different states as a unique way to care for the orphan.  International orphan hosting is a combination of the ideas behind orphan sponsorship, missions trips, foreign exchange, and foster care.   It has all the benefits of those programs, plus the strong possibility of adoption after hosting… which is very rare for the children of this age. 

I love the USA and all, but I’m almost more excited about what’s happening in Ukraine.  Earlier this year I wrote a post about how much Ukraine has been doing for their own orphans.  The Orphan Sunday initiative isn’t all about the Americans saving the orphans, it’s about the global Church defending the cause of the orphan as God commands us to.    The movement has gotten so big in Ukraine that the group behind Orphan Sunday, Christian Alliance for Orphans, created a video that shares a glimpse of all that’s happening in Ukraine for the cause of the orphan. 

Last year, thousands of churches across Ukraine celebrated Orphan Sunday, including many of the majority Orthodox and Catholic churches joining with Protestants to spotlight God’s special love for orphans. This video gives Christians worldwide a glimpse into Orphan Sunday in the Ukrainian church, and how hearts are moving in that nation. We also enjoy greetings from other nations that have embraced Orphan Sunday. Join us now, as we travel to the capital city of Kiev, and the fertile, rolling hills of Slavyansk, Ukraine…

Watching this 30-minute video was so powerful and inspiring.  It’s amazing to see how God is working across denominations.  Take a look and enjoy interviews of orphans, adoptive families, a minister sharing the starfish story (an NHFC favorite), and a beautiful representations of a church that inspired 100 families to adopt.

Link to video here – You Will Be Found: Glimpses of Orphan Sunday in Ukraine


“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

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–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!

Check out my Facebook page for more photos and videos!
Ukraine 2013 Photo Album –

Videos –

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)

Destination Ukraine–Week 1 Update


Saturday July 13
We had a fairly smooth travel. Took one flight to Chicago, then to Dusseldorf, Germany.  I packed all my clothes in my roll-aboard carry-on, with the express purpose of knowing my checked luggage could get lost, so at least I would have my clothes in my carry on. But no. They had to take my carry on from me in Chicago, which then got lost, and I didn’t see my clothes again till Tuesday! We also sat on the runway in Chicago for almost 2 hours which put us way behind for the next flight.

Sunday July 14
We got to Germany much later than expected and just missed our connecting flight to Kiev.  It was the only flight going to Ukraine that day, so they rebooked us to fly to Munich, and then to Kiev from there. It ended up being a good detour because once we got to Munich we ended up meeting and being on the same flight with Tim and Evan, another father and son who are on our team.  Thank goodness we were told to wear our team shirts, or we might not have even known it was them! (My dad and I have never met any of the 6 other people who are on our missions team.)
From there we met the rest of our team in Kiev… after 30 minutes of trying to find my lost luggage. It was great to finally meet everyone. From there we took a bus ride for about 30 minutes to the train station. It was so good to be in Ukraine! I love this country! We got to the train station and grabbed some McDonald’s before we had to get our overnight train to the region.  We totally looked like Americans…dragging our 15 suitcases around the brick streets and into McDonald’s.  When we got there, Kyle, our leader, ordered cheeseburgers for everyone… but there was some miscommunication and we ended up with wayyyy more than we wanted.  It was hilarious and a great way to break the ice with our team that had just met.
Tim & 23 cheeseburgers
After our last “American” meal, we headed to the train station and jumped on the awesomely but not intentionally historic Soviet slow train.  I’ve heard horror stories about these stifling, uncomfortable train cars… thankfully our experience was great.  For a little while, all 8 of us piled into one room for our first team meeting, then we split up into our 2 separate rooms to be rocked to sleep by the clicking of railroad tracks. I was loving this experience already!

Monday July 15
The sun set and then rose again and we were still on the train.  After about 10 hours total, we made it to the city where we would be staying.  Pastor John, missionary at New Hope, was there to pick us up. It was so great to finally meet him after communicating via Facebook and email for over a year.  He’s an incredible man with a passion for God and the people and orphans of Ukraine.  We loaded up his van with all our stuff, went out for breakfast, and grocery shopping for the team.  I loved being in the city that I was only able to visit for half-a-day in 2011 and where my parents stayed during the adoption trip. My dad definitely remembered his way around and pointed out where they stayed and ate and hung out with Sasha. 
After about a 45 minute drive, we made it to village where we would be staying.  The small village has the New Hope farm and trade school as well as 2 group homes for orphans studying there.  Our job for 2 weeks was to work on construction in the new bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen that are being added to the boy’s house.  Within a few hours of arriving and getting settled, materials were delivered, moved, and the team got to work… and dad sliced open his finger!

Tuesday July 16
Such a fun day.  I had to go back into the city with Kyle because I needed to be there to receive my lost luggage. We took the public bus into the city, which is over an hour ride with frequent stops. It is so cool to really live the way people do in this part of the country.  Then we traveled the city on foot, making a couple stops, and visiting the New Hope Center in the city.  This is the original center of the ministry, a drop-in center for older orphans who attend the local public trade schools and other ministry.  This was where my luggage would be delivered and where Kyle arranged to meet up with some of the boys he taught and ministered to when he lived in Ukraine 2 years ago.  It was so cool to be along for the ride and see him reunite with so many boys he had gotten to know.  He had helped them move into their trade school when they first left the orphanage 2 years ago and it was truly one of the highlights of my trip to see how well they are doing…working, taking care of family, and taking final exams to continue on in their education.  While we hung around the center waiting for my luggage, I got to play ping-pong and foosball with some of the guys and met Max who is the director of New Hope trade school.  After my luggage came (praise the Lord!) Kyle and I took 6 of the boys out around the city to do some errands and treat them to ice cream.  It was hilarious to be walking with them through the sidewalks and streets as they kicked and tossed a soccer ball together.  They tried to teach me how to spin it on my finger, so in the process, I was guilty of having to chase after it a few times too. 
One really cool moment was when we were at McDonald’s sitting outside eating ice cream, and an elderly lady came by with a cup asking for money.  In all honesty, I tried to ignore her, but it was difficult with her right on my shoulder.  The guys tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t leave.  Then one of the boys reached for his wallet and gave her some money.  He didn’t seem to think much of it, but to Kyle and I it was a powerful moment.  The orphan giving to the widow… it could be a post all on its own.
As we were walking through the city, I couldn’t help but think of how these guys are 17, 18, 19 years old… they’ve already been out on their own for 2 years… and they are still kids!   They are managing fairly well, but it hurt to think they are doing it without any parents to check in on them, help them buy books, make sure they studied for their tests, take them out to eat at the end of the school year, help them move into a new dorm in the fall…none of that.  We only spent part of the day together, but I was so blessed by our time together and couldn’t wait until they would come to work with us in the village on Thursday!

Kyle reuniting with one of the guysNew Hope Center  Yeah I love them already

Wednesday July 17
Not a whole lot happening on Wednesday.  The guys worked on drywall and I had no womanly tasks to do yet besides taking pictures… the perks of being the only girl on the team. Winking smile 

But I did take a trip to the sunflower field at the edge of the town, they go on and on as far as your eye can see.  Just another thing I love about Ukraine!
A little droopy but still beautiful!

Thursday July 18
On Thursday, John brought 6 of the boys we met on Tuesday from the city out to the village to work with us!  They all went to the orphanage where Kyle served 2 years ago and are now in the government trade school, not New Hope, so this was a cool opportunity to keep them connected with the ministry even when they aren’t a part of the academic program.  We had so much fun with them and they worked very hard.  We spent a lot of time together in the big garden behind the house. We would weed, rake, take a break.  One of the boys ran out to the sunflower field behind the garden, plucked a huge flower off the stalk, cut it up into quarters, and we ate the seeds right off the flower! I couldn’t resist anything they offered to me… tiny unripe apples and apricots off the tree, or tomatoes from off the ground…. and they weren’t that bad!

At lunch time, we were all eating together, and I looked around the huge table and realized something big time.  There were 7 other guys from our team, 3 Ukrainian men who led the construction project, 6 boys from the trade school, and me. The only girl. I must say, I was completely in my element and loved every moment.

One of these things is not like the other
After lunch we worked some more, took the boys to the village store for the daily afternoon ice cream break, watched them play soccer with the local kids.  Two of the boys weren’t able to spend the night, but the other 4 did.  After dinner, we hung out and played Uno. It was such a great day of having them with us and including them as part of our team!
Dad made stilts, we had fun trying them out

Video from Thursday–get a tour around the home, garden, and meet some of the guys.

Friday July 19
Friday, I volunteered to help Kyle with breakfast, so we woke up early before everyone else.  I must say, I felt somewhat motherly that morning, especially after seeing the guys still soundly sleeping in their beds around the house.  It was fun to help make breakfast for everyone.  Since I was feeling especially motherly, I made sure fruit was included in our meal, which had not been very common when traveling with 7 men.  It was a cool pre-motherhood moment when the boys got up, enjoyed their breakfast, and even ate all the apples I had cut up. Winking smile
We spent more time working in the garden in the morning.  We were kind of done weeding potatoes, so before I got out there, the trade school guys started on the corn.  When I got out to the garden, our favorite neighbor lady was there telling the boys that the corn was not worth weeding because it was pretty much already ruined.  (The garden hadn’t been kept well at all this spring.) Before it could even be discussed, one of the guys left and came back with the tiller and started chopping down all the corn.  We had intended to try and save it, but by the time Kyle saw, it was too late and most of the corn was gone.  It became another joke of the trip…not so funny at first, now I look back and laugh.
Before we knew it, it was time for the boys to go back to the city.  It was hard to say goodbye.  They made working so much more fun.  I really hoped we’d see them again.

It was sad and quiet after the guys left.  But our work continued and I spent even more time in the potato field… which will be a new blog post in itself! 
That evening, I called one of Sasha’s best friends, Y, who was hosted with him and graduated one year ago.    Y and I chat pretty regularly online and once he knew we were coming to Ukraine, he really wanted to meet up with us.  He’s currently working pretty far from where we were, but he said he wanted to meet with us anyways and he would come to us.  I really hoped he would! 
Meanwhile, I had been trying to call Sasha too… however the number I had wasn’t working for him.  However, on Thursday night, I got another number for him and it worked!  We sent a couple texts, then I couldn’t help myself and had to just call him.  It was so great to hear his voice.  It was the first time I talked to him on the phone in over a year! (In the past year we have only been in contact on Facebook, and sending letters and messages through friends.) He sounded so great, was very glad to hear from dad and I. He really wanted to see us. Made my heart happy to hear him say he misses us, "I love you" in English, and said he always smiles when he’s with us – which is a new one!  We didn’t have exact plans yet to see him, but we had already come so far, we had to figure out a way to see him one way or another!

Saturday July 20
Saturday was a break from working day.  We got to explore the city all on our own.  Some of us went to a market where they sell absolutely everything….hardware, clothes, kitchen gadgets, food… you name it, you could find it there.  It was huge, we could have spent hours there…and we kinda did.  We stopped at a stand on the street to get a shawarma roll for lunch.  They looked awesome, and mine was pretty good.  We later found out that they are not know for being the best food out there, there are jokes about them being made of cats, dogs, and pigeons… think the US equivalent of a street vendor’s hot dogs.  But hey, we did it, we enjoyed it, and we survived to tell about it! 

That night, Vitaly, the contractor who was leading our contruction project, and his wife Vika, invited us over for banya and shashlik – aka sauna and shishkabobs.  It’s a big part of the Slavic culture and I was so excited for this special evening.  I didn’t last long in the banya, one quick trip was enough for me… but my dad loved it! And the dinner was wonderful.  It’s been so cool to be so welcomed by everyone we meet.  Thank you God for the relationships and partnerships that are being built in our midst!
Vitaliy cooking up some sashlikDad's ready for another go at the banya

Thank you so much to everyone for your support and prayers! We have another week of work ahead of us. Stay tuned for more updates!

Check out my Facebook page for more photos and videos!

Ukraine 2013 Photo Album –

Videos –

Destination Ukraine–What will you be doing?–video

1 Comment

“What will you be doing there?” is the question I answer almost every time I tell someone I’m going on a mission trip to Ukraine.  The short answer – we will be working with New Hope Center, a Christian ministry to graduated orphans in the region where Sasha is from.  We will be doing construction on one of the group homes where their Trade School students live.  The realistic answer – none of us will know until we get there. Winking smile

I’m so excited to be partnering with this ministry that I started praying for… before I even knew it existed.  It’s so awesome to have learned about this ministry that God has been developing for years before I even knew about this region. 

New Hope Center’s trade school just finished it’s very first year of educating and training orphans for a practical career in dairy farming.  One thing that I don’t think we have emphasized enough when sharing about our trip is that this is the very first trade school of its kind in Ukraine.  It is the only accredited non-government trade school in the whole country.  This is huge.  It’s a huge miracle that they have received all the approvals and favor from government officials which makes everything possible… because there are innumerable barriers – foreseen and unforeseen – that could have prevented this from happening.

I think this video is the best way to get a glimpse at what we will be doing.  It’s awesome to see the land we will be exploring, the buildings we will be visiting, the people we will be working with, and the orphans who will be touched by our work! 

Thank you so much for your prayers and support! My dad and I leave TODAY and will arrive in Ukraine tomorrow afternoon! Stay tuned for more updates! 

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