Sunday, September 16, 2012


    Transitioning from one camp to the next is rough.  You have to rip your heart from the kids you just built relationships with and learned to love, and struggle to start all over with a new group of kids.  So when I left my beloved 16-18yr olds in Kharkov, it was hard to focus on the 25 desperate 9-14yr olds sitting before me on the first day of camp in the Carpathians.

     It was cold outside and the wind was blowing, but the sun was shining, so Dasha (our Ukrainian group leader) lead Damaris, me, and our 25 energetic kids into a gazebo behind the sanatorium.  Just when all the kids finally settled down, Dasha realized she needed something for the lesson and sprinted off to get it, leaving Damaris and me with 25 Ukrainian/Russian speaking littles.  Now what?
     "Uhh, Как тебя зовут?" I asked, pointing to the first kid in the circle.  The little boy giggled at my horrible Russian, then told me his name.

     In very broken Russian, I started asking each kid his or her name, age, and favorite color.  About midway through the circle, a young girl with blonde hair and blue eyes answered, "Sveta, 13, blue," in perfect English.  
     "Wow, very impressive!" I exclaimed in shock.  Sveta blushed, but started speaking English every chance she got and rarely left my side from that moment on.

     Later, Sveta told me she visited the U.S. for 5 weeks through a sponsorship program.  She stayed with one family in Boston for two weeks, but didn't like it because the mother hit her.  She loved the family she stayed with in Pittsburgh, however, calling the family members "Mama," "Dad," and "sister" as she pointed to their faces in her photo book.  She showed me pictures of her first cheeseburger, her first parade, her first time in a swimming pool.  At the end of the photo album was a blurry picture of a little fair-skinned girl with light brown hair.  
     "She was Masha, my best friend," Sveta explained.  "Three years ago an old man came to our orphanage and told Masha she was beautiful.  She said he was crazy.  He took her and four girls and one boy."  Sveta hasn't seen Masha since.
     I prayed with Sveta many times during the 4 days we were at camp.  She loved being prayed for and told me she loved Jesus.  I honestly don't know if she meant it or if she just wanted to please me, but I'm praying for the best.
     The last day of camp, Sveta came up to me before breakfast, "You leave tomorrow?"
     I wished I could say no.
     She didn't say anything or cry, she just held on to my arm for the rest of the day.  
     She held it together until the evening program.  Sitting next to me on a bench close to the "stage," Sveta cried and held me through the whole program.  
     Then we had to say goodbye.  She was sobbing, so I took her away from the crowd and sat with her on the staircase.  What could I possibly say to this little broken-hearted girl?  What good did loving her do if I was just going to abandon her like everyone else in her life?
     "I'll never speak English again.  I'll never speak English again!" she choked out between sobs.

     I can't write the rest in scene.  I really just can't.  But we held each other and both cried a while.  Then I held her face in my hands and told her all the truth I knew.  Yes, I was leaving, but God wasn't.  He loves her more than I and brought the two of us together so I could love her too.  He would never abandon her.  He is enough.  He promises to rescue the oppressed, bring justice to the poor, protect the needy.  I am in Him, and if she is in Him, we will meet again and never separate, not for eternity.  His is the Comforter.  He will defend her.  I asked her to keep practicing English, to remember me.  I would never, never forget her.
     And then we left.

     Please pray for Sveta.  That she would take comfort in the God of comfort, that she would be safe, that her future would not be Masha's, that she would find joy and freedom in Christ.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Of course I'm flexible.... it's Ukraine!

     So if you read my first post before going to Ukraine this summer (, you may be asking, "what happened to Yulia?" 
     Well, I never saw her.  We didn't go to Vovkavinci, again.  Please keep praying for her.
     So where DID we go for camp 2?  It's quite the story...

     I walked downstairs from our team's common room at Kharkov.  It was midway through the camp and I could tell- two flights of stairs and I was out of breath.
     It's going to be a long day if I'm already this exhausted.
     At the bottom of the stairs, I nearly ran into Jenya, who just returned from a grocery run with his hands full of of bags and a grin on his face.  
     "Hey girl!"
     I tried not to sound as relieved as I felt.  Camp needed Jenya's relentless energy and everyone's spirits dropped when Jenya left.
     "I got sausage."  He lifted one of the bags to show me as he passed by, but before he was three steps up, he stopped and turned to face me.
     "And we can't go to Vovkavinci.  There aren't enough kids.  The director cancelled camp today."
     He reached down and ruffled my head.
     "Iz okay.  Just pray.  God will show us another camp."  And with a wink He continued up the stairs.
     We had four days to find another camp.

     Sure enough, we did.  It was a new location for HFO and Jenya had never been there before.  When anyone asked why Jenya chose an unknown orphanage on the other side of the country (seriously. here's a rough map of our trip from camp 1, to Kyiv, to camp 2), 
he simply responded, "when we get there, we will know."  
     God had laid this place on Jenya's heart, and though none of us knew why, we knew God had a plan.
     And did He ever.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


When we returned to Kyiv from Kharkov, 6 of us had a few days to rejuvenate before the second team arrived for camp 2.  Matt suggested we read through a book of the Bible and discuss it together, so we met in the guys’ apartment and had a Ukrainian feast- bread, sausage, cheese, cherry juice, and a loaf of ice cream (yes, ice cream comes in loaves in Ukraine). 
Ephesians seemed appropriate (ironically, I’d been in Ephesians since coming to Ukraine), and we took turns reading passages aloud.  I read Ephesians 4.  Nothing new, right?  I’ve read Ephesians so many times! 
...I was slammed.  As in mid-sentence slammed with conviction to the point I couldn’t read anymore and just sat there mouth gaping. 

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.  They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ!—  assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

I am angry and bitter.  I believed God is not good.  I am darkened in my understanding and alienated from God because of my ignorance and hardness of heart.  I’m hurt, angry, and bitter, because I believed God failed me and others who have suffered.  He didn’t rescue me in certain moments or answer certain prayers, and He let certain horrible things happen in my life and in others’ lives.  All this was pent up inside me and instead of responding to those circumstances in faith and trust in the character and promises of the God I knew, I viewed those circumstances as God abandoning me.  I let my darkened understanding harden into bitterness and make me calloused. 
But I was wrong.  God is not unjust.  I am.  Ignorance and hardness defined me, not lack of understanding and abandonment.  My response was wrong, not God’s action.  I was the perpetrator of my own suffering, not the victim.
            I haven’t changed instantly.  I’m still praying God completely renews me in true righteousness and holiness, but the process has begun.  Hallelujah. 

Thursday, August 30, 2012


It began almost 10 years ago.
What started as a fun family and friends vacation in the Keys led to this:
An innocent picture of two young friends with cheesy flowers in their hair?
What you see before you are two girls recently returned from an 8 hour off shore fishing trip, who wanted to take a girly flower pic, utterly unaware of the frigid ice and water about to deluge upon their heads.  This cruel act was inflicted by none other than Jason Michael Mills and Taylor Marc McMurrin.

It gets worse.

2009.  Sri Lanka.  Orphan camp.
It was tie dye day.  I was at the pre soak station, Taylor at the dying station.  We had just finished successfully helping almost 100 orphan children make their own tie dye shirts.  I hear Taylor shout from behind me,
"Hey, Abi!"
*note: I was wearing a WHITE shirt.
I looked behind me.
"Taylor McMurrin, don't you dare!" I shouted as I began to run.
Too late.
I was brutally massacred.
Think I'm exaggerating?

Yes, that is red dye.
No it did not wash off.
For three days, I had orphans coming up to me horrified and asking if I was okay.  I looked diseased.  


This summer at orphan camp in Kharkov, Ukraine, Taylor and I both had dying duty on tie dye day.
and when all the shirts were finished?


to be continued.....

Light amid Darkness

“Suffering is not the answer. Light is the answer.” -The Tale of Despereaux

During another small group time, Ira told us her story. 
“I was a Christian when I stayed with a Christian family in America for 3 weeks.  It was easy to be a Christian there; here it is impossible.”  


She’s totally right, I thought.  It’s easy for me to see God’s goodness, I have a loving family, friends, food, clothes, education, independence… Ira has abuse, fear, darkness, no hope or future, no one who cares for her and no place to go.  She’s trapped, vulnerable, and unprotected.  How do you see a good God amid all that?
Thank God for Liliya, one of our Ukrainian team members.  Picture bright, beautiful love of Jesus bundled up in one tiny, fierce Ukrainian girl. that's Liliya.  
She looked Ira in the eye and spoke earnestly that Jesus is light.  When He comes into your heart, He gives you light.  Now you are in darkness, but you have God’s light in you.  You are here to spread the light.


During the evening concert, I stood in the back of the auditorium and looked over the 50-60 kids in the audience.  Wearing dirty and mismatched clothes, looking 2-4 yrs younger than they really were due to underdevelopment and malnutrition, thrilled at the games and lights and music, the little things we could bring to them.  Despair filled me.  These kids have so little… but God responded.  
“Don’t forget what these kids are getting when I give them myself.  I am truly all they need.”  
It sounds hypocritical and even cruel for me, a well provided for, materially content American to tell these starving and depraved children that God is all they need.  But who is this God?  In light of who He is and what he gives us, what else actually matters?  God promises His plan is good.  I must believe Him.  His thoughts are higher.  His ways are better.  Period.  
I have to look at His promises in light of eternity; if I see God according to this life only, He does look like a liar, but’s that’s being unfair!  How can I view an infinite God finitely?  Nothing will take His love from those who know Him.  That doesn't mean His love will prevent terrible things from happening- we live in a world of sin- but even during terrible things, God’s love cannot leave us, and that means everything.  He is enough.  
Look at Phil 3:8.  Paul, who suffered far more during his life than I can fathom, said with fervor, 
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.”

One of our team members cried out to God, 
“I want to take these kids home!” and she felt God respond, 
“I need them here.  I need the best and the brightest to spread light.”

God is about bringing light INTO the darkness, not just separating light from darkness and allowing the darkness to stay dark.  I’ve seen many dark things this summer.  But, in a way, it was encouraging, because as miserable as a place was or as hopeless a situation, God knew about it far before I ever did.  Just because I am now more aware of the suffering of the world, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist before I knew.  And through it all God’s promises are true.  His goodness is overwhelming next to the suffering of the world, and if the suffering is so great, imagine how much greater His goodness is.

Eph. 5:8 “…at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

Darkness & Light: 3

“The world is dark, and light is precious.
Come closer, dear reader.
You must trust me.
I am telling you a story.”  
-The Tale of Despereaux

Aug. 2nd
The orphans kept asking the same questions I wrestle with!  The Psalms seemed trite and feeble next to my doubts of God’s goodness. 
We talked about fears in our small group time.  Almost all of the kids said they were afraid of death and darkness.  I couldn’t blame them.  God’s promises were only making me angry.  How can I believe His promises are true, how can I share them as encouragement to these kids when their circumstances laugh in the face of God’s promises? 

      That night, sitting in the cold stairwell with Comrade, no sound but our pens scratching at our journals,

Comrade:  “Do you ever feel your salvation is trite compared to the world’s suffering?” 

Me: “Yes.” 

So what if God saved me if He doesn’t save all of them?

Darkness & Light: 2

Aug. 2, 2012
Remember the goodness of Christ.  Remember what He has done.  Remember His character. 

Psalm 107.
Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

107 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good,
     for his steadfast love endures forever!
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so,
     whom He has redeemed from trouble
3 and gathered in from the lands,
     from the east and from the west,
     from the north and from the south.
4 Some wandered in desert wastes,
     finding no way to a city to dwell in;
5 hungry and thirsty,
    their soul fainted within them.
6 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and He delivered them from their distress.
7 He led them by a straight way
    till they reached a city to dwell in.
8 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
9 For He [satisfies] the longing soul,
    and the hungry soul he (fills) with good things.
10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
     prisoners in affliction and in irons,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God,
    and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
12 So He bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
     they fell down, with none to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and He delivered them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
    and burst their bonds apart.
15 Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love,
    for His wondrous works to the children of man!
16 For He shatters the doors of bronze
    and cuts in two the bars of iron.
17 Some were fools through their sinful ways,
    and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
    and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
     and He delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
     and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love,
     for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
     and tell of His deeds in songs of joy!
23 Some went down to the sea in ships,
     doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
     His wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
     which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
     their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
     and were at their wits' end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
     and He delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
     and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
     and He brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for His steadfast love,
     for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol Him in the congregation of the people,
     and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
33 He turns rivers into a desert,
     springs of water into thirsty ground,
34 a fruitful land into a salty waste,
     because of the evil of its inhabitants.
35 He turns a desert into pools of water,
     a parched land into springs of water.
36 And there he lets the hungry [dwell],
    and they establish a city to live in;
37 they sow fields and plant vineyards
    and get a fruitful yield.
38 By His blessing they multiply greatly,
    and He does not let their livestock diminish.
39 When they are diminished and brought low
    through oppression, evil, and sorrow,
40 He pours contempt on princes
    and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
41 but He raises up the needy out of affliction
    and makes their families like flocks.
42 The upright see it and are glad,
    and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things;
    let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

Darkness & Light: 1

“Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning… Make some light.” - The Tale of Despereaux

      At camp, we had small group discussion and craft time every morning with the kids.  This year, I was in a small group with about 17 15-18 yr. olds, mostly boys, 5 girls.  I’ve never been in a small group with older kids before.  I was nervous because I have a harder time relating to older kids than younger kids.  6yr olds just want to be held and played with, how was I going to talk with 16 yr olds?  Well, I didn't have to, they grilled us with questions through our Ukrainian team leaders.
      “Why are you here?”
      “Are you happy here?”
      “What is your dream?”
      “Do you like us?”
      They were thrilled just being around us.  Since we were the foreigners, we came with super star status.  The kids were very sweet.  It’s heart breaking watching 18 yr old boys making journals and showing them off to me for approval.  They tried to impress us with their English and made sure the Ukrainians were translating everything so we could understand.  They were so deprived of attention.  Denis would take my hand and just hold it against his face.  He was 16.  

      And the girls with their shirts rolled up to their bra line- they’re being groomed to believe they’re good for only one thing. 

      All 6yr olds demand attention, so when I worked with the little kids on past trips their lack was harder to recognize.  When I saw these teens reaching out for any kind of approval or attention, I realized how devoid of love their lives really are. 

My small group

      And then there was Vanya.

      I met Vanya the second day of camp. Each day one of the Ukrainian team members taught a master class on various subjects for the orphans. This day, Liliya taught a watercolor class, and Lizzy and I decided to join. Only two orphans came to class, and my painting of a wave looked more like a giant blue smear.
      "God, this isnt working. on so many levels.  Now what?"
      Then Vanya walked in and started talking with Liliya. Lizzy and I say hi, but our limited Russian soon snuffed conversation.  We found out Vanya was 19, and we could tell he was talking with Liliya about his family, but that was all we could understand.  Frustrated I couldn’t communicate better, I got up to leave.
      "Why are you leaving?" Vanya asked in English.
      I thought it was quite obvious, but he wanted me to stay so I sat back on the bench next to Liliya and just prayed God would speak to Vanya in between our few words back and forth in Ruskglish.
      That night I heard his story.  Vanya has a tattoo of Jesus on the right side of his chest, opposite his heart, because he believes Jesus is far away from him.  When HFO had a camp at Kharkov 5 years ago, Vanya was there and decided to follow Jesus.  But his life didn’t change, God didn’t answer his prayers and Vanya didn’t feel Him near. So he became angry with God, and wants answers. If God loves, why does Vanya still suffer?
      Of course God would use an orphan to confront my own greatest questions.

Vanya (photo cred: Dima Tkachuk)

          The darkness in these kids’ lives wore me down.  I felt like Maria in the Sound of Music, imploring the stern Captain to see the needs of his children.  “Oh please, Captain, love them!  Love them all!” 

      I wrote in my journal that night,

      Aug. 1, 2012      I know this is not a true perspective of You.  Show me Your heart.  I cannot move forward with this warped understanding of You.  You are good.  You are sovereign.  I need to know.


I love to travel, it's just the traveling part I detest.  Considering it takes over 24hrs to get to Ukraine from Florida, and considering we had 12 team members, we made it to Kyiv with little difficulty.  On the first flight, Damaris and I got to sit with a Dr. who was joining the medical crew for the US Olympic wrestling and judo teams in London!

But once we landed in Kyiv, grabbed our luggage, found our Ukrainian team members who came to pick us up and drive us to Kharkov, packed ourselves into Jenya's van, and drove off... I started to panic.  

Am I really about to help lead this team through two orphan camps?
Whose crazy idea was this?!
I don't know how to lead people!  I don't even know how to serve them!  How can I possibly keep track of and supply all their needs?!

Paper Bag, anyone?  Oh wait.  Freaking out in from of the team was probably not the best idea.

Mid-flip out, God stopped me.
Focus on Jesus, and you will serve naturally.
God is so beautifully simple with us, isn't He?  The more I focused on serving the team, the less I focused on Jesus.  Serving the team would be a natural and authentic outpouring of a heart centered on Christ.  If God isn't working in me, I have no resources with which to work out from Him.  This had to be my posture as a leader throughout these camps.

Phil. 1:12-13 “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
Eph. 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

God had already prepared the work for us.  He had equipped us to complete it!  We had no reason to fear or cower, only to joyfully and boldly work out what He had already worked in us.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

If a picture's worth a thousand words...

...does that mean by posting a slideshow, I don't have to blog about this past trip?... shootka! (joke). Words WILL come soon- promise! This trip was far different than anything I've previously experienced and writing it down is difficult. But I will tell you all about it as honestly and effectively as I can, soon. For now, check out this slideshow my co-leader, Matt Snyder, made from this trip!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Here we go...

In about 13 hours, I will embark on another Ukraine mission!  Prepared?  ha.  I just finished packing my suitcase 3 min. ago.  and my brain is quite similar to !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Pathetic as it may be, missing out on most of the Olympics is a huge sacrifice for me, I'm already wrapped up in them, making it hard to focus on the trip.
Also making it hard to come up with an authentic prayer list.  But boy does this trip need prayer! and I know you all want to cover our needs in prayer, so here we go-

This trip is about God's mission of restoration.  Pray that our team and the Ukrainian team would unite as servants humbly, joyfully, and powerfully bringing God's message to the lost.  These orphans have no hope, but we have hope as a sure and steadfast anchor for our souls- pray that these kids cling to Jesus as their Hope and Savior, that "they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified."

Pray Isaiah 61 and 62 over Ukraine!  that the poor will receive the Good News, that the brokenhearted will be bound up, the captives freed, the suffering comforted, the faint-spirited filled with praise, the ancient ruins built up, the cast off orphans acknowledged as offspring the Lord has blessed, the Forsaken renamed Sought Out!

Pray our American and Ukrainian team work as one body, stay spiritually, emotionally, and physically healthy, let go of anything we grasp, serve with supernatural energy and endurance, and ultimately, "pray that the sharing of (our) faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ."

Pray for Yulya.
This will be my third time visiting her.  She committed her life to Christ last summer, but I don't know how to encourage her faith, even with a translator.  I want to see her set free, filled with the joy of the Lord, redeemed, pure, whole.  My heart is so burdened when I think of her, and I honestly feel helpless.  I don't want to show up a third time and just be her American buddy that randomly shows up and listens to music with her.  Pray that God will fill her with all joy and peace, that she would abound in hope, and for her future.  Though I'm pretty certain she has already been abused, more abuse and exploitation are in her future without a miracle.

And pray for me.  I've never lead a team before and I already feel totally inadequate.  Pray that my motives would be pure, my actions genuine.  Pray that God makes me sensitive to the needs of my team and that He would supply me to serve them in every way.  Pray that I am focused and intentional.  Oh, and please pray I make it through the plane rides with no health problems, I tend to have intense stomach pain when I fly, not motion sickness, it's hard to describe, but my doctor couldn't find anything wrong so it's not too serious, don't worry!

I don't know how to properly thank you all for your prayers.  Last summer and in January, I tangibly felt and witnessed God answering your prayers; I felt covered.  You are all dear to me and I'm so thankful for your investment in my life.  Bless you!!

Friday, June 29, 2012

I'm going back!

    Okay, I admit.  I’m addicted to Ukraine!  But in all seriousness, God really has knit my heart to this country.  I’m constantly praying for the orphans I’ve met and come to love, and I’m staying in touch with the university students I’ve built friendships with over the 3 times I’ve been in Ukraine.  I have the opportunity to return to Ukraine next month, this time as a team leader of a group from Northland Church, and my little sister, Lizzy, is coming too!  I’m ecstatic. 

          Orphans in Ukraine have little hope for their futures.  There are approximately 105,000 children residing in orphanages, and statistics show that only 1 out of 10 of these orphans becomes a functional member of society. The rest are lost to drugs, crime, prostitution, and suicide.  This makes my heart ache!  God has birthed a passion in me to defend the helpless.  He brings me again and again to Isaiah 61; “the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.”

          Through two camps, we will bring Isaiah 61 into action, sharing Bible stories, playing various games and sports, acting out skits, doing crafts, and being a source of love and provision for these kids and students who desperately need to know the love of Jesus.  But so much more is taking place beyond camp.  The organization we partner with, Hope for Orphans, is preparing to build a facility where they can nurture orphans all year round, and a trade school where older orphans can learn skills that will enable them to provide for themselves and have a tangible hope for their futures.  I had the opportunity to see and pray over the property this past January.  God will bring incredible restoration through that place!

          Our team will leave for Ukraine on July 29th, and will return on August 19th.  Please pray for the children we will meet (or reconnect with- we're going back to Vovkovinsiy!), for the Ukrainian team, for our team, and for me- this will be my first time leading a team, ack.  
Pray for justice!  Pray for restoration!  Pray for deliverance!  Pray that God would be glorified!  

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pictures from Winter Camp!

Here are a few pictures from the orphan camp I was a part of in January.

                                                                Me, Colya, and Mandy

                                                                         Me and Masha

                                                                       Our small group

                                                              Handing out the scarves

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Winter Camp, 2012

I went to Ukraine with Philemon 1:6 in mind- “And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.”  Our God is generous.  I wanted the kids in Ukraine to see that, to understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.  This was my daily prayer and motivation.
On the plane, I read this excerpt from My Utmost for His Highest,

He went out, not knowing where he was going —Hebrews 11:8
     Have you ever “gone out” in this way? If so, there is no logical answer possible when anyone asks you what you are doing. One of the most difficult questions to answer in Christian work is, “What do you expect to do?” You don’t know what you are going to do. The only thing you know is that God knows what He is doing. Continually examine your attitude toward God to see if you are willing to “go out” in every area of your life, trusting in God entirely…Have you been asking God what He is going to do? He will never tell you. God does not tell you what He is going to do— He reveals to you who He is. Do you believe in a miracle-working God, and will you “go out” in complete surrender to Him until you are not surprised one iota by anything He does?

            I knew this message was timely and I needed to pay attention, but I still didn’t realize just how much I would need to remember these words later on the trip!
The orphanage at Gordinya had the nicest facilities I’ve ever seen for an orphanage.  The buildings were large and clean, the teachers were friendly to the children and to us, and the kids were decently clothed.  However, these kids were emotionally and spiritually starving.  Punching, biting, and slapping were routine in their interactions with each other, so from the first day we focused on being gentle and kind, showing the kids a better way to communicate and interact.  We had small group Bible lessons in the mornings, and my group consisted of 11 10-12yr old boys and girls.  It’s amazing how quickly we fell in love with them!  One of our girls named Nastia had a birthday during camp.  We bought her a cake and sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English.  We were warned about her on the first day because she was especially violent.  Even when she wasn’t angry, she was rough and didn’t know her own strength.  On the day after her birthday however, she sat next to me during lesson, so I put my arm around her.  Instead of wrestling with me like I expected, she simply hung on to me softly and sat still.  While talking to my Ukrainian team member that afternoon, I found out Nastia asked her about Jesus and if He could love her, and after talking a while, Nastia gave her heart to Jesus!
I gave my testimony during the evening concert.  Since I grew up in a Christian home, I worried the orphans wouldn’t relate to my story.  I ended up being as honest as I could, sharing Hebrews 6:13-20 with them.  I described my life as a boat at sea.  Without an anchor, my boat was at the mercy of every storm, but with Christ as the anchor of my soul, it doesn’t matter whether the sea is calm or rough.  Jesus, not my circumstances, is the center of my hope and the source of my joy.  My prayer is that the orphans will realize only God satisfies, and though their circumstances may never improve, they can have imperishable hope, joy, and purpose in our glorious Lord.  Please pray with me!
Christmas Eve, the American and Ukrainian teams went caroling through the village.  We sang in Russian and English, going from house to house.  Some families came out to hear us sing and give us candy.  It was a precious time.  Christmas day, we gave all the orphans hats and scarves (we had more than enough!) as well as candy and presents.  They were so excited that people they didn’t even know who lived so far away in a different country cared so much about them!  It was hard to leave that afternoon.
Once we were back in Kyiv, we went to see the property Hope For Orphans recently purchased.  HFO has incredible plans for this land- a transition program to help older orphans understand what it means to be a healthy family, teach them useful skills to make a living, provide a constant Christian presence, and an example to the younger orphans that they can live healthy, productive lives; a farm and barn where orphans can grow their own food and experience animal therapy; centralized, fully equipped camps where orphans can spend their entire summer and winter breaks; and so much more!  We prayed together for God’s blessing over the land.  I can’t wait to see how God will use it and I hope to be a part!
A highlight of the trip for me was going back to Vovkavinci for a day.  We had a camp at Vovkavinci orphanage this summer and I really connected with a 12 year old girl named Yulia who gave her heart to Jesus at camp.  I saw her again!  Since I didn’t have a translator with me, our communication was limited, but I saw light in her eyes and got to hug her and tell her over and over that I love her.  We listened to music together on my ipod and she showed me how her English was improving by trying to read the song titles to me.
I did receive some difficult news on this trip.  Remember the Vovka family?  They are the 4 orphan children closest to my heart.  Their orphanage is closing down next year so all the children are being placed in foster homes.  I found out 3 of the Vovkas, Vova, Dan, and Dasha have been placed in a foster home, but Nastia, the oldest girl, refused to go because she desperately wants to be adopted by a member of Hope For Orphans.  I brought Christmas presents for them and had so hoped to see them, so this news devastated me.  I wanted to be angry at God, but didn’t I just tell the orphans God was my anchor?  What do I have left if I don’t cling to Him?  I have to trust His higher thoughts and better plans.  He is good and loves the Vovkas far more than I do.  I don’t know His plans, but I know Him and I can trust in His goodness.  Please pray for their future, that they would be reunited and adopted by a Christian family who loves them.
Thank you for partnering with me on this trip!  I love Ukraine and am passionate about the work God is doing there.  Thank you for your support, prayers, encouragement, and for making hats and scarves.  I am humbled by the overwhelming care you have for this ministry.  God bless you!