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!