Our first camp of the summer is over, and tomorrow we go on to our second. But I don't want to move on to another set of kids without sharing with you just a few stories about some of the beautiful kids in this picture.
This camp particularly blessed me because my dad also came to camp for the first time. He jumped right in and did his best to connect with not only the kids in our group but with the younger kids and the Ukrainian team as well. Everyone fell in love with him. We were with the oldest kids, 15-16 year olds, and one night we had a bonfire with them and all took turns answering fill-in-the-blank questions. One of our boys shared about his grandmother and how she always tried to take care of him, and one of our girls, Dasha, commented, "Grandparents are the best people. That's why Jason wants to be a grandfather." The boys loved playing american football with my dad and admired his stories and insights in our lesson times.
Another special aspect of this camp was that our team already knew most of the kids in our group. Some kids we knew from previous camps, like Luba, who is getting adopted along with her younger sister by a Ukrainian family in Texas! And others we knew from teaching english and life skills classes once a week at their orphanage during the school year. So our group was more like a reunion than a new meeting and we went deep early on because we didn't have to break the ice and build new relationships.
Because we already new these kids, they each quickly let us deeper into their stories, feelings, and dreams. The things these kids have gone through and are going through broke our hearts to a point beyond words. One afternoon Liliia and I walked with Dasha as she told us about what's going on in her heart and the pain and hopelessness she carries. After holding her and letting her cry, Liliia asked her if there was something in life that brings her joy. She said laying on the grass and looking up into the trees, so we did just that.
The morning after a really interesting conversation about principles and convictions, we found out one of our kids was beaten very badly by another boy in our group. And still another boy from our group stood watch and guarded the door while the beating took place. It was so bad a doctor and the police were called in. There are similar gang and prison structures in orphanages, power and fear are tools of control that establish a hierarchy. We knew things like this happened all the time, but to see it play out with our boys, boys we loved and thought had chosen to live differently, deeply discouraged us.
But, the boy who stood guard eventually came to Liliia and then to Jenya and wept over what he had done, and admitted he felt horrible about it and wanted forgiveness. He went and apologized to the boy who was beat up (who forgave him) and that evening apologized in front of our whole small group, even though there were some boys who laughed at him. He said he never would have felt bad about doing something like this before, but God was awakening his heart and convicted him. And then, on our last night of camp the boy who did the beating came to our small group and as we shared our reflections from camp, he said that his take away from camp was that he needs to be kinder.
We pray that these things take root in these kids hearts and truly changes their lives. I was once again reminded to never give up on someone. No one is ever too far lost that God's love cannot restore him or her. Our Good Father is the God who brings dry bones to life.
Ezekiel 37:1-14 Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB)
The Valley of Dry Bones
37 The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by His Spirit and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me all around them. There were a great many of them on the surface of the valley, and they were very dry. 3 Then He said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I replied, “Lord God, only You know.”
4 He said to me, “Prophesy concerning these bones and say to them: Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! 5 This is what the Lord God says to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live. 6 I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you, and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you so that you come to life. Then you will know that I am Yahweh.”
7 So I prophesied as I had been commanded. While I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 As I looked, tendons appeared on them, flesh grew, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. 9 He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath,[a] prophesy, son of man. Say to it: This is what the Lord God says: Breath, come from the four winds and breathe into these slain so that they may live!” 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me; the breath[b] entered them, and they came to life and stood on their feet, a vast army.
11 Then He said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Look how they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope has perished; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore, prophesy and say to them: This is what the Lord God says: I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them, My people, and lead you into the land of Israel. 13 You will know that I am Yahweh, My people, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I am Yahweh. I have spoken, and I will do it.” This is the declaration of the Lord.