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.