Some of the orphans were boys I met back in December, so it was encouraging getting to reestablish those relationships and prove I had not forgotten them. But this time around, I was the only native English speaker, and Denise was not there to translate for me. Talking with the boys was therefore difficult, and I spent many hours silently sitting with them at the HFO house or walking around Kyiv with them. I wrestled with discouragement in that silence, afraid that I wasn't being useful, that I had nothing to contribute, that I was only going to burden the HFO team, and that this trip was a waste of time and resources. At the end of the first day with the boys, I let discouragement get the upper hand. We had spent most of the day touring Kyiv in the hot sunshine. I was tired and thirsty, my feet were sore and blistered, and all of my Russian vocabulary and arsenal of funny faces were exhausted. Sitting at the dining table with a glass of water in my hand, I started flipping through the photos on my phone of Maidan and scenes around Kyiv. Vova, a 14 yr old with freckles, pulled up a chair next to mine and asked if he could see my phone. I let him, and in moments he had pulled up Youtube and started showing me Ukrainian rap music videos. This is so pointless, I thought to myself. At the moment I was about to get up and leave, a sudden thought cautioned me, he is trying to share his life with you, and this is the only way he knows how. Don't miss this. We couldn't communicate verbally, but we could connect, in such a small way, by watching these videos because Vova liked them. It's humbling, but it matters. Time with a kid is never wasted.
Later I found a different boy, also named Vova (but 16 and blonde) hiding behind a bedroom door. He was crying. He didn't speak any English, so all I could do was hug him and repeatedly ask, "What? What?" Finally, he managed to explain to me that he had such a "big time" at the HFO house and he didn't want to leave. We hadn't done anything special during those two days -- we ate meals together, went on walks, cleaned together, -- but we acted like a family, something orphans are so starved for that just a taste of it was enough to make a 16 year old Ukrainian boy hardened by orphanage life break down and cry. This is what I love about serving with HFO. It is the most wonderful and beautiful thing to see dead-eyed, hardened, apathetic kids melt and come to life through love and kindness.
The boys returned to Krivvoy Rog the next day, and the HFO team and I went to visit a gypsy village. After driving through the night, we arrived to a clump of cement and wood huts, surrounded by dozens of dirty children. One of the girls, who looked about 13, was pregnant. I later found out this was normal in the gypsy community, and met an 11 year old girl who told us about her upcoming wedding, which would be that weekend. We painted the girls' nails and played soccer with the boys. It felt wrong painting filthy, crusty fingernails.
Since the gypsies spoke Hungarian or Ukrainian, my handful of Russian phrases were of no use. Not having a language, however, gave me the opportunity to intently observe these people as we made cotton candy for the kids, handed out donated clothes, sat and had tea with head families, and made dinner for the community. These gypsies live handout by handout. They don't make plans for the future (partially because that is not a luxury they can often afford). They live outside the authority and protection of the law, so they make their own rules and defenses. The largest, most powerful family is in control, so procreation starts young. They are treated by outsiders as a inferior community, and they act like one.
One our last night, the HFO team let me share my testimony as we sat around a fire, eating rice with some of the adults. I tried to tell them how valuable they are as images of God, how we are all equally valuable, and how I have come to know that meaning and value are found in Christ alone.
It was a joy and privilege to spend even such a short short week in my heart country.