Thursday, June 23, 2011

His mercies are new every morning

I am back from Ukraine and have nearly recovered from my 22 hour layover spent in the London air port. I am full of hope and potential and opportunity and I pray that it is contagious. There are many beautiful children who need families and I believe some of those families are yours.
While I will be writing more about those children in the up coming weeks, I wanted to share a bit with you about Nastia.
As you know, Nastia is the girl we were unable to bring home last year. She is seen in a group picture a couple of posts ago. You know that we love her.
while in Slavyansk, I was invited to visit the social worker responsible for the children in her town. She was still very disgusted with what transpired last year and shared with me that Nastia was still in the national adoption registry and was available for international adoption. She equipped me with some pertinent paperwork and with her blessing, I filed a request at the SDA to verify Nastia's status and ask for permission to immediately file paperwork. Lest you think I took this one in myself, Scott was aware of and approved of me taking these actions. I was told that I would receive word in about a week.
I can't tell you how excited I was to be doing this. This was not the purpose of my trip and just the ability to see her was a blessing. To find out that she was still available for adoption and that we would have the chance to try again was an awesome and unexpected gift, indeed!
I spent the last few days in Kiev meeting with other adoptive families, giving them encouragement and support. I got to spend time with the Houser family, adopting a little girl named Sveta, and I got to have a lunch with a woman named Natalie, who had just received paperwork for a blind referral to meet a little girl who was HIV+. She and her husband had not initially intended to adopt a child with HIV, so our meeting was especially opportune. I also spent Tuesday evening with a large crowd of families just arriving in Kiev as well as preparing to depart with their new children. It was so exciting.
We finally made it home Thursday night, I told my husband more about the paperwork filed for Nastia, and went to sleep dreaming about the good news I would hear the next week.
On Friday, when I finally got around to checking my email, I was excited to open an email from my new friend, Natalie. She had included a photo of her with the little girl who would be her daughter.


I was not expecting that. I had already begun to construct the God story that was happening. How glorious to share with you that we would bring home Nastia a year later. I had faced and understood that God had plans for her, reconciled that I may never know what her future was, but look, God was planning this all along!

God has other, grander, more perfect plans than mine.

He was not planning for me to be her mother, but He did let me have lunch with her mom.

I learned last year that with God, I am all in. I trust Him completely and know he loves me unconditionally. These again were not the plans I would have chosen, but I know that His ways are perfect. She will not grow up in an institution. She will not be transferred to internat when she is eight years old. She will have a mom and a dad who, to quote her new father, "will love her to pieces!" She will grow up learning how much Jesus loves her, because her parents will teach her this. She will have an older brother who is also from Ukraine.

She will know that SHE IS LOVED.

Jeremiah 29:11
'For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the Lord, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.

I knew this promise to be true, even when I thought I would never know specifically His plan for her. God, in His mercy, pulled back the veil and let me see a glimpse of this promise to her.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

More travel, more children, more opportunity

After our trip to Slavyansk, we boarded a train for Odessa. This was a 16 hour trip by train. We didn't forget our food in the fridge, so we snacked on juice, cheese, and bread. We have practically existed on mostly cheese and bread but the girls are good sports about it.
Once we arrived in Odessa, Masha's friend, Yana, met us at our train car. She contracted a driver to take us to a special needs orphanage. I knew that we would need a driver, but It was never mentioned that the trip would be 3 hours each way. I thought I would be paying the driver $50 or maybe $75, but the bill was really $200. This actually explains the cheese and bread.
Don't for a minute think that it was money wasted. The orphanage director was not there that day, he was actually in Odessa proper, but he directed the staff to meet with us and introduce us to children and discuss the children and their needs. He met us when we got back to Odessa just to touch base with us and make sure to meet me. I thought this was so very nice. He went out of his way just to meet me!
The orphanage has 12 children who are so young that their HIV status is still undetermined and they are not yet available for adoption. There are 3 other HIV+ children who are in Kiev right now receiving special treatments. We will be visiting them this Monday and bring them diapers, bananas, and crackers.
I was able to meet a number of other children. They have a number of different special needs. They gave me the exray of one child in order to share with his potential family when they step forward. His is an exceptionally bright little boy according to the staff. His little legs are bent under him and are not usable. They told of another little boy who had the same condition only much worse, who had been adopted and given a surgery. They said the family sent them a picture of him riding a bike! They expressed great hope that we at Project HOPEFUL might find a family for him. They held another little girl out to me who could not interact with those around her. They handled her with gentle care and attention, but were at a loss as to what could be done for her.
I have pictures of all of these precious little ones. I pray that God has a family appointed for each one and I pray that their ears and hearts are open to accept the blessings he has for them.
After such an exhausting road trip, we still needed to meet the director, pay the driver, have dinner and get back on the train to Kiev.
Yana suggested we eat at an Armenian restaurant she had eaten at once before. We were up for it. When we arrived, the owners of the restaurant came out to meet us. Yana had met them on her first visit. They took our bags into their car and had dinner with us. They proudly gave us a tour of the kitchen and showed us the stone pits that the kabobs were cooked in. When we got back to our table, they kept ordering all kinds of food. Cheese platters with brie, blue cheese and feta, 3 different kinds of chicken, mushrooms with cheese, compote (a fruit beverage) and another appitizer that was made of some type of tortilla with cheese, tomato, and herbs. The table was full. We kept eating, trying to make a dent so as not to offend, but when we were done, there was still quite a bit left. They also would not consider letting us pay for this incredible spread. It was their treat.
They mentioned during dinner that we were only 5k from the Black Sea. I said that would have been nice to see. They insisted on driving us there before we went to the train. They even escorted us to the water's edge so the girls could stand in it and say that they had been in the Black Sea. Their kindness and enthusiasm was such a wonderful and unexpected treat.
We are now back in Kiev. We got to spend the day visiting with some other adoptive families who have recently arrived. Tomorrow we go to the hospital, Tuesday I meet with another coordinator who wishes to connect with Project HOPEFUL to advocate for children in Crimea and I have one other small appointment, then we are done. We intend to meet a bunch of other adoptive families on Tuesday evening but have no other obligations after that. Our flight leaves Wednesday after 3pm. It has only just come to my attention that we have a 10 hour layover in London. I didn't realize that. I am also not really looking forward to it either. Oh well. God will provide for us, the endurance and patience to live through it.
Thank you all for your prayers and I am so blessed to be here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The third day of orphanage visits

I am a day behind in reporting on our orphanage visits. Today we took a day off and spent the afternoon on a river bank with Masha and her children. Yesterday we went to Slavyansk.
If that name sounds familiar it is because I have written about Slavyansk before. Last summer. It is where Nastia is, and yes, we went to her orphanage.
The director of this orphanage has a reputation for being difficult (she is not the reason Nastia did not come home last year), but during our visit, she was open, honest, and inquisitive.
She asked many questions about HIV, how it is spread, how it is not spread, how long does the virus live outside of the body (it can't), what happens to HIV+ blood in water (it is too diluted to make an impact and again, dies outside the body) and we discussed how in spite of the fact that HIV is rather difficult to contract, it is spreading at an epedimic rate in Ukraine. After I answered all of her questions, she agreed that what I said concurred with what she knew to be true. She admitted that while she knew it to be true, the workers who cared for the HIV+ children were not as informed and were reluctant to take her word for it. They wanted the children's dishes specially sanatized, they were afraid to wash the children well for fear of catching the disease and wanted many other special precautions that were time consuming and ultimately would make no difference.
I explained that part of Project HOPEFUL's mission was HIV education and told her about our seminars through the University. She and I agree that a dvd of this would be very good for her workers to get over their irrational fear and fight stigma. I told her that this was something we could try to work on.
The children in her orphanage stay there from ages 4 or 5 until 8 years old. After they turn 8, the children are moved to Internat. She became very grave when discussing Internat. She said that while a facillity like hers housed 35-40 children, Internat held 200 ranging in age up to 16. She expressed concern for the children leaving her in August. She has 4 children who will be leaving her in August. She said she was sad to send them there and commented that she would never want to work there.
We then got to visit the different groupas. She knew that I had been there last year for Nastia and took me to her groupa first. Friends, Nastia still looks so happy and healthy. We did not go out of our way to talk to her seperately, but when ever I caught her eye I would wink at her. This was often. I could tell that she recognized me but didn't know why. She was full of smiles. The children showed us their favorite toys and Daniel recited a special poem. We weren't allowed to take individual photos, but we have a group shot of each groupa. Hanna and Sveta are in Nastia's groupa shot and Nastia is right next to Sveta.
Before we left, we brought in the 4 giant duffel bags of clothing. She was so thankful. She spoke candidly about the finances of the orphanage, that they had enough money for food and necessities for the children but they didn't have enough clothes when the children went to camp. If a child was sent to the hospital, they never got the clothes back. She workes hard to carefully budget care for the building. The roof replacement was to be the next big project.
I found her to be economical and practical. One of the groupas was at camp, so the workers who normally took care of that group were busy deep cleaning and painting their area. She chose pleasant, happy colors for the children's area. Next she showed us an indoor playroom. The orphanage had received a gift of $1000. She used it to buy toys and sports equipment much like the large vinyl covered foam shapes found in gymnastic gyms. She explained how each groupa had it's own play area like this one, but only this one could be improved in this way.
Before we left, she gave me a booklet about her orphanage and thanked me for advocating for the children and for bringing her the clothing. She said she hoped I could find famiies for her 7 year olds before they were sent away. I said that was my prayer.

Tomorrow, we visit 2 more orphanages before getting on the overnight train to Odessa where we will visit 2 more orphanages and then get back on the overnight train to Kiev.
Once back in Kiev we don't have any more scheduled visits and will spend the days prior to our flight with newly arriving families showing them the good inexpensive places to eat and where to buy gifts. Generally answering their questions and calming their nerves before the SDA and travel on to their various regions.
All in all, it has been a great trip. We are blessed to do this and I pray that we shine God's light.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

More Children, More Need, More HOPE

Yesterday we visited another orphanage. This orphanage does not house HIV+ children but instead houses children with different labels.

Cerebral Palsy
Amniotic Bands resulting in loss of a foot and finger binding
Severe Brain Damage
Severe Hydrocephalus
Apert Syndrome
Downs Syndrome

And worst of all...

NO MOMA AND PAPA to call their own.

To hold them
and rock them
and comfort them
and take care of them
and teach them
and cherish them
and the list goes on.

Could their be any worse diagnosis?

Sometimes I wonder how I can go on with the eyes of the orphanage directors and doctors full of hope that this woman, me, might find the ear, the HEART, of a mama and papa for these malinkies (little ones).

I tell them I do, I can, I will. (as my heart cries out, "Oh Lord, open their ears, their hearts, send them!)

I have HOPE.

The Lord will not leave them as orphans. He sets the lonely in families.

Dear friends, dear church...



Monday, June 6, 2011


I wrote this on the train to Donetsk. It is a 14 hour ride. Forgive any misspellings, I am tired and using wordpad.

On June 1, Sveta, Hanna and I boarded a plane and flew to Eastern Europe.
We have spent the last few days in the city and are now on the train to an outer region.
Just what exactly is our purpose here?
That's a great question. As the director of the FIG program for Project HOPEFUL, it is my honor and duty to find out how best to "stand in the gap" for precious orphaned children around the world. While responsible to and for all the children on our Waiting Kids list,  so it falls to me to explore the needs here in Eastern Europe.
Our first stop was the offices of Mercy Projects/Eastern European Outreach. These offices became our home for the first few days of the trip. Eastern European Outreach is the organization through whom we support foster families. They have many program,s but we feel that we can best compliment their program by advocating for their foster families and seeking partner families in the U.S. to aid them financially. They seek to fund 15 christian familes as they take up the Lord's commission to parent orphaned children by raising them within a loving family as opposed to within an institution. If you are interested in learning more about these families and what can be done, please don't hesitate to contact me. .
Eastern European Outreach also supports a church run orphanage an hour outside of the city. We had the pleasure of spending the afternoon there and were welcomed to get to know the chlidren. While the majority of children advocated for by Project HOPEFUL are infected or affected by HIV, we also advocate for children with other severe special needs. All of the children I was blessed to meet were over the age of 10 or part of a large sibling group.
I want to tell you about one sibling group of 4.

Maria (Masha)
Olexandr (Sasha)
Viktoriya (Vika)

The following is the brief description of these 4 children shared by the orphanage:
Masha and her 3 siblings are in the orphanage since 2009. They were taken from a regional shelter. Their mother was deprived of her parental rights. They don't know where their father is. She is like a mother to her younger siblings. She finished 9th grade. She works very hard in school but it is difficult because she missed many classes. In spite of this, she passed the exams that will allow her to enter a trade school.
Here's what the description doesn't tell you that I was able to gleen from spending lunch with them and speaking with the camp councilors who were wrapping up a 3 week stint at the orphanage:
Of all the children I spoke to, she was the only one who boldly and openly admitted that she hoped for a family. I found this very encouraging as well as heartbreaking. That at 16, when she could easily be turned out of institutional care, she was still able to hope for a future with parents of her own. That even though she had carried the burden of parenting her 3 younger siblings for a very long time, she still recognized and yearned for someone to care for her.
She also shared with me what she would like to do in the future. Masha would like to work in the travel industry. I can understand the appeal of a job that held the promise of adventure, pampering, and no responsibility. Is there any industry that embodies this more?
When I took a picture of her with her siblings, she blushed and said her picture wasn't good. (She is a very typical teen girl.) She is the oldest girl at the facility and she was clearly weary of all the younger activities that were available during "camp". She was comfortable enough to show irritation at the silly thing her brother had done.
Sasha is a charming boy with a great smile and freckles on his nose. the camp councelors say he is rough around the edges, that he has a tough outer shell but is obviously protecting a soft inside. One evening he had a fever, so one of the councelors went and spent the evening with him. He read to him, held his hand and later prayed with him. He soaked up the attention and thanked the councelor for the evening.
He is very competitive on the field and will play aggressively but this behavior seems to be isolated to the playing field. He definately plays to win.
She told me she has no interest in school but would rather play and watch tv (sound familiar?)
The camp councelors described her as very confidant and athletic in spite of the fact that she told me she had no interest in sports. She has a warm smile and they compaired her personality to Lucy from Chronicles of Narnia.
 Vika has been the youngest at the orphanage until very recently. She was a little miffed at being booted from this position. She said she likes sweets and dolls. The camp councelors said she has a very fun and silly personality. She is a tiny little doll who is doted upon at the orphanage and she revels in the attention.
This sib group has a tight and strong dynamic. I think they would benefit to be adopted by experienced parents who probably have chlidren who are wrapping up high school and are headed for college. Masha has carried the burden of parenting her younger siblings for a long time, and while she may struggle to let that roll go, she needs to be released from that responsibility and experience strong loving parenting. Although Masha is already 15, because she is part of a sibling group, she is able to stay at the orphanage as well as be adopted with her siblings up until the age of 18. We at Project HOPEFUL believe that this situation constitutes a severe special need and we pray that we find the family who will be blessed to meet it.
As I said earlier, we are now on a train. It left the station at 3pm and will arrive at 5am Monday morning in Donetsk. While there, we will visit a number of orphanages. I hope to start building relationships with the directors, at the very least helping them understand that the HIV+ children have a hope to be adopted and encouraging them to file the proper paperwork allowing them to be made available for adoption, and at most, I hope to be allowed to identify children who are available for adoption. I hope to take their pictures along with any information alowab le in order to start finding families for them.
From there, we will travel to Slavyansk. This is probably going to be the most difficult part of the trip for me. Slavyansk is where God asked us to leave Anastasia in His hands, and she is the reason that the FIG program has grown so rapidly. We are going to her orphanage and we are bringing 4- 50lb bags of donations.
A year ago June 22nd, Scott, Sveta and I traveled to Slavyansk and met our daughter, Anastasia. We spent the next 9 days visiting her twice a day, waiting for our court hearing. We had an initial court hearing and between this first hearing and the second hearing, we were strongly advised and agreed to withdraw our petition to adopt Anastasia. We found this out, prayed, and ultimately withdrew our paperwork after our first visit of the day on July 1. We weren't able to see Anastasia again after that. She turned 5 the next day.
She embodies the reason the FIG program is so important. We need to advocate for these children in order to find families for them before they are moved to an institution that they cannot be adopted from. She also represents the MILLIONS of children who WILL NEVER BE PLACED WITHIN A LOVING FAMILY. We need to develope ways to bring the hope of Jesus to the children who most likely will not realize the hope of parents of their own. What can we do for them? How can we prevent them from being sucked into the viscious cycle that has created the orphan in the first place? Keep them from catching, spreading, creating more HIV+ orphans, and dying from the very thing that brought them to an institution in the first place?

Currently the Eastern European government provides programs for a very few exceptional children to compete for scholarships into programs that will provide a way out for those fortunate enough to qualify. But what about everyone else? Already I see the need for facilities that will help the children who are released at 16 with no guidance or direction. A safe place that will teach love and skills that will keep them from the only choices readily available to them: prostitution and crime.
Do these places exist? Can we find sponsors for them? Must we create them ourselves? Show us the way, O Lord.
Our mission is to learn how to FIGHT DISPAIR AND BRING HOPE.
Pray for us.