Saturday, June 25, 2011

Fighting Faith: Orphan Camp 2

In comparison, camp 1 was cake.  Vovkovinci amped up Kivorog in harder living conditions, kids, situations, and spiritual battles.  But, where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!  Reflecting on what did and did not happen, I’m in awe of the ways God saw us through every moment.
          I entered Camp 2 with a load of concerns: working with a new team, eating worse food, only getting to shower once the whole week, the swelling in my finger, connecting with a new group of kids, sharing the gospel boldly… so the first night I dumped my load on God and waited for what He would do with it. 
          Since our team consisted of 17 Americans and 9 Ukrainians, and there were only 75 kids, Jenya (director of HFO) suggested we each pick a child or two and pray for them specifically.  Last camp I spent most of my time with the kids I easily befriended, and so this camp I was convicted and challenged to love the unlovely.  This time I had 10-13 year olds in my Bible study group, one of them being Yulya.  
She’s 12, came to the orphanage as an infant, has no memory of her parents, hates math, loves music, and has some kind of mental disorder.  I’m pretty sure she has been sexually abused.  On the second day, I walked by her sitting near the main entrance.  I said “good morning” and smiled, but she glared at me and didn’t respond.  I was pretty discouraged.  About an hour later, I saw her still sitting, but I didn’t want to be rejected again so I walked by without even looking at her.  As soon as I passed by her, she said hello!  I stopped talked with her for a few moments, crazy excited she wanted to talk.  So I chose her to focus on.  

          Sasha, a 13 year old boy in my group, gravitated to me instantly for whatever reason, so I decided to focus on him too.  I couldn’t wait to talk to these kids about Jesus!  Something I failed at in the first camp.  When I talked to each one of them for the first time, I botched epically.  I had no idea what questions to ask or what to say, even my translator asked me if I had ever shared the gospel before.  I was that bad.  Neither Yulya or Sasha opened up to me at all.  Yulya told me she didn’t believe God could be her best friend, and Sasha answered all the questions “right,” but I could tell his heart wasn’t in it.  He told me he never smoked or stole, but I often smelt smoke on him and once caught him stealing.  My failure in talking with these kids so discouraged me; I felt like God abandoned me. 
          The spiritual darkness at this camp oppressed all of us.  We felt resistance in everything we did and said; there were so many distractions getting in the way during each of our events.  I started thinking the situation was hopeless.  There was no way I could reach these kids, no way I could really cultivate a love for them, no way our team could have a lasting impact after one week of camp.  Then I was inspired by Damaris and the times she meets with God and refuses to leave until her heart’s changed.  So I decided to stay awake until God dealt with me.  Sometimes you need to tell the gospel to yourself again before you can tell it to others.  “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God!” –John 6:68-69.  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:22.  “But God showed His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” –Romans 5:8.  I passed out around 3am and had to wake up at 6am.  The whole day though, I felt God’s grace in such a tangible way.  I wasn’t nearly as tired as I should’ve been, I gave my testimony during the evening program and knew God was speaking not me, and later that night, Jenya told me Yulia gave her heart to Jesus!  Wow, look what happens when I stop moving in my own strength and let God move in His!  Truly amazing.
          The next day, we went down to the lake and baptized Yaroslav.  Yaroslav was an orphan who came to know Christ after one of HFO’s camps!  He’s now a part of Jenya’s team.  What an encouragement to serve with someone with that story.  We all wore white and celebrated Yaroslav’s new life and resurrection in Christ with prayer, praise, and communion.  A precious time.
          Sasha didn’t accept Jesus during camp, but please pray God will show him how much he needs a savior, and that he will come to know Jesus personally and passionately!
          Please also pray for Yulia, that she would draw close to God and know Him as her best friend, that she would be kept safe, and set free from the pain of her past.
          These boys are Christians and in the oldest group- Nazaar, Yanik, Pasha, and Yura.  Please pray they will band together, study the Word, and bring Isaiah 61 into action!
          Most prominent thing I learned in this camp?  “Knock, and it will be given to you.”  In the past, when a situation became difficult, I gave up and assumed God just wasn’t going to answer my prayer.  But we are called to take up the shield of faith and fight!  Like any relationship, I need to pursue God even when it’s hard and He doesn’t seem near.
          Thank you for your faithful prayers!  God answers!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Orphan Camp 1 (Revised!)

Camp 1:  Wow. Where to start?  We literally hopped off the plane after over 12hrs of fly time and jumped on a bus for a bumpy 6 hour ride to the small city of Kivarog for orphan camp.  After a quick dinner, we held our first evening program for the kids.  Let me just say, it was insane.  Chaos on the fly as we basically improved an entire concert that involved Matt Snyder (aka Sniper) running around like a chicken, in a Superman concert.  Phrase of the week? “We’ll figure it out.” And we did from day one.  But it’s been a great lesson in living in faith. 
          The first full day continued in insanity.  The nurses wouldn’t let us play with the kids, some older kids had to leave for work, it was really hard to communicate and unify with the other team members: everything seemed chaotic.  I learned being flexible on a whole new level!  God convicted me; how do we become more flexible?  By stretching.  I thought I was stretched enough, but God wanted to take me to an even deeper level.
I worked with the lovely Maryna from the Ukrainian team, teaching 9 preschool kids the Bible lessons.  I couldn’t speak much with them, but we played a ton of tag, made crafts, and colored.  Coloring might have been my favorite because I actually know my colors and animals in Russian!  I also drew tons of mashinas for the kids.  Wesley, your notes refreshed, challenged, and encouraged me each day!  Seriously, when I didn’t want to wake up in the morning, I would remember a note from you awaited me, and just the thought was enough to get me out of bed so I could read it!  The verse you gave me from Philemon became my mantra- “put the generosity of your faith into action.”  I wrote it on my arm as a reminder.  The day you challenged me to live in a way that requires faith so convicted me!  I prayed all day that I would step out in faith in a way that required God to come through, nothing happened, that day.  The next morning, Maryna was sick so Mandy and I had to teach the lesson ourselves, without any preparation, without a translator!  I freaked at first; there was no way I could do it on my own.  Oh wait, that’s exactly what I prayed for, haha.  Mandy suggested we should simply read the Bible story, God’s Word does not return void!  Some team members prayed for us and then we got our kids.  For the first time that week, the kids actually sat quietly on their mat while we spoke to them, and right when we began reading, Svetlana came by and translated for us.  God came through.

In the middle of the week, most of the kids left for a concert with their sponsors, so we hiked to this former coal mine (now a lake) and went for a swim.  Check this out!

Insanely refreshing.  Davin and I swam across it and had a special moment on the rocks, talking about life and our futures, before swimming all the way back.  Dad, I found you some really cool rocks!

          Now for the best part, the kids!!!! Goodness, they have blown my expectations out of the water!  So loving, gentle, and open!  The whole team was shocked and blessed. 
My gypsy children, two brothers, David (6) and Daniel (5), were brought to the orphanage only 3 weeks ago.  They are brilliant.  David used body language so well in order to communicate since he knows I couldn’t understand Russian.  He even grabbed my palm and started “reading” it.  I hope he’s in my future.  He gave me kisses and told me he loves me, lit up my heart!

This is Nikita.  The most beautiful boy God ever created.  He loved candy and playing tag the most.
Vlad is my gorgeous hazel-eyed, 10 year old.  “Give me gum?”  He asked all the time.  He liked to show off too, jumping off the monkey bars, performing tricks, to impress me and make me nervous about him being too dangerous.  He also knew more English words than most of the kids and he loved to practice them.  “You chocolate, you giraffe, you football,” he liked to tell me.  He has an older brother who studies at a local university but never visits.  I asked about his parents; he has no idea who his father is and hasn’t seen his mother for 6 years.  I asked, “where is your mother?” And he shrugged, “you are my mother.”  Broke my heart.  He’s not sure if he wants to be adopted though, because he doesn’t want to leave his brother.  On the last day, he gave me a dream catcher he made during craft time.

Oh Ruslan.  I don’t really even want to put this into words because it won’t be right.  The angel child.  Seriously, this charmer stole everyone’s heart.  He’s so helpful and kind, to us and to the other kids.  He would sing Justin Bebier’s “Baby” song, but change the lyrics to “Abi, Abi, Abi!”  SO many hugs and kisses!  Best bear hugs ever.  The boy doesn’t walk, he struts, ‘cause he knows he’s just too much!  I was sitting next to him in the sun watching other kids play soccer.  He mimed to me that it was really hot and I agreed.  Then he pulled off his shirt, I thought it was just to cool off, but then he put it on my head as a covering.  That’s just the kind of kid he is.  Hannah talked to him about Jesus and he’s a Christian.  Hannah asked him why he’s a Christian and he said because he feels Jesus warm his heart, and when he tells Jesus he’s sorry for wring things he does, he feels weight lift off his chest.  The day we left, he kept a brave smile on his face and hugged us many times, telling us he loves us and it was going to be ok.  He gave me a rose and then pulled off his tie dye shirt and gave it to me.  I can’t even say how amazing that child is, and how much I love him.  He hated our leaving; please pray he won’t feel abandoned and that God will comfort him.

But the kids closest to my heart were the Vovka family.  Four siblings who are extremely tight-knit.  12 yr old Vova, my ninja fighting, tree climbing buddy, is the oldest.  He speaks a little English so between my few Russian words, his English, and charades, we got to know each other pretty well.  He helped me carry stuff and with anything else he could.  Vova is also my hairstylist and camera man, most of my pictures were taken by him.  We connected instantly, maybe because we’re both the oldest of four, two boys and two girls?  His siblings are Dan, Nastia, and Dasha.  I’ve fallen I love with them all.  I love to watch them take care of each other, reminds me of my amazing siblings.  I miss y’all so much!  They don’t know where their parents are, Dan assumes they’re dead.  Their grandparents are dead.  They didn’t know why they were at the orphanage, or they just didn’t want to tell me.  Dasha and Dan are extremely warm, there’s a brightness to their eyes.  Nastia and Vova are a little more cold.  They’ve obviously got some major hurts they wouldn’t talk to me about.  Vova copes with his emotions by playing the clown.  Only once during one of the evening concerts, he laid his head on my shoulder and just held on to me the whole time.  The day we left he made faces and goofed off the whole time, but I could see in his eyes that he was sad; he chased the bus for as long as he could.  When the girls performed, I was so moved by the pride I saw on Vova’s face as he mouthed the words to the song they danced to.  Nastia would hug me and smile, but not with the warmth of the younger two, it’s hard to explain.  She’s a very talented dancer/gymnast, her stage presence is fantastic and she has her straddle down!  Dasha is adorable on stage, so joyful!  Talking with them on the last full day, they told me their greatest dream is to visit America.  Why? I asked.  To just relax, they said.  Vova was very interested when he found out I live near the Atlantic ocean.  They want to be adopted by a good Christian family who can protect them and take good care of them.  I don’t think they’re saved though because when I asked them what a Christian was, Dan said someone who does not steal or hurt people, a good person.  Please pray for them to experience relationship with Jesus!  Dan is good at math but Dasha loves to read, girl after my own heart!  Their family is the most important thing to them.  Vova wants to become rich so he can care for his family and give to the poor.  He started smoking when he was nine but quit when he was 11 because it’s bad for you and expensive.  I asked if he wanted to smoke now and he said never again.  While we were talking, a wedding procession passed by and Vova ran off to collect coins they were throwing.  He came back with crackers and sunflower seeds for his siblings.  Playing badminton with the four of them is one of my favorite memories.  Reminded me of playing with my family back home.  I want to send them a badminton set for Christmas when Jenya goes back.  Dan has the most vivacious, bright, pure face!  They all have gorgeous eyes!  And different!  Vova’s are green, no wonder we hit it off right away, Nastia’s are a blue-ish green, Dan’s are bright blue, and Dasha’s are chocolate brown.  I gave them necklaces with sea shells from Ponce Inlet.  Nastia is the only one who wouldn’t come up and hug me on her own, but the morning we left, Vova called to me from their window and brought me to her room because she wanted to thank me; she ran to me and gave me a long hug. 

Leaving was gut-wrenching.  Not only because I was going to miss them, but because I was leaving them alone in such rough conditions.  I marveled how strange it was that I loved these kids so much and yet only a week ago didn’t know they existed.  Then I felt God reply that as much as I love them, He loves them more and though I just met them, He’s loved them from the moment of their creation; He made them; Though I left them, they are in the care of God, whose love and power are infinitely beyond mine.  Please pray Isaiah 61 for these kids, and that I will be bold and give all I can to continue serving this summer, that I would put the generosity of my faith into action.  And that my cold goes away and the swelling in my finger goes down more so I can fit it into the smaller finger cast. 
Now I am at the Mission apartments in the Embassy district of Kyiv, my favorite city in the world!  We spent the morning at New Life church and then roamed the city.  The first team leaves tomorrow morning and the second team comes in two days, then it will be time for camp 2!  Please pray for camp two.  The conditions are much rougher, as are the kids.  We will have fewer translators and a huge age gap between the new incoming American team.  Pray for strength and unity!  And thank you for the prayers you’ve already given.  I truly felt the grace of God get me through during tough times!
More to come.