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!