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.