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. firstname.lastname@example.org .
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.
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.