Monday, January 31, 2011

One More Day

Well, this is it… This time tomorrow I’ll be on my way to the train station, the beginning of a rather long trip home. I’ll be taking the overnight train to Kiev, arriving at 5:30 in the morning, hanging out at McDonald’s ‘till 8:00, at which point Ed will pick me up and drive me to the airport where I will wait for my 2:15 flight to Heathrow, spend the night in a hotel in London, then head back to the airport to catch my 3:35 flight to Montreal, finally making it home 53 hours later… Ugh.

The past week has been hard. Because, for the most part, I only see each of my kids individually once a week and because the workers only work once every five days, the goodbyes began last Monday and have been taking place daily ever since. This never-ending saga of goodbyes has left me exhausted and emotionally drained and I am ready to get it over with. Still, I have saved the hardest goodbye for last and tomorrow, when it’s time for me to say goodbye to the little boy who captured my heart from the first day I met him, I’m afraid someone may have to pry him from my arms…

Please pray that God would give me the strength to make it through tomorrow and the days that will follow. Pray that I will have good “cabin mates” on the train (I will be travelling on my own, sharing a compartment with four other people) and that the whole trip home would pass by quickly and without incident. Most of all, please keep praying for my kids… they deserve better than this.

Monday, January 24, 2011

My boys


Me & Igor... my heart

Dima
About a month ago I posted about two of my precious boys who had been transferred from the baby orphanage. For the past month I have wondered and worried, prayed and cried for these boys. I had been told where they were but with the holidays and everything else it was difficult to find a good time to visit. Well, today I finally got to do just that and what I found was better than I could have ever imagined. The orphanage Dima and Igor were transferred to is a small orphanage with only 58 children, all higher functioning special needs children of "preschool" age (ages 4-8). I didn't get to meet the director as she was sick but I was told that she is very good and that was clear by the atmosphere at the orphanage. We went inside and were allowed to go directly to Dima and Igor’s group to spend time with all the children there. Their group had just six kids (3 girls who are blind and a little boy with arthrogryposis, Dima and Igor) and two workers – an incredible staff to child ratio! The workers were great, very loving and affectionate towards the kids and it was clear that they cared about them very much. Both boys were obviously very comfortable there and I could not believe the difference in Igor. As you may remember, at the baby orphanage Igor engaged in a lot of self-harming behaviours, most specifically head banging. He would bang his head on the floor hard and often to the point that he had very large, permanent bumps on his head. When he wasn’t banging his head on the floor he would hit himself with his fist and generally would not go more than a couple of minutes without hitting himself. Well, when I saw him today the bumps on his head were visibly smaller and he didn’t hit himself once for the entire hour we were there!


As for Dima, you may remember that I mentioned that there were several families considering adopting him only no one was sure if he would still be available now that he had been transferred… Well, not only is the director at this orphanage open to adoption, she is actively seeking to find families for all of these kids so that they don’t have to be transferred when they turn 8-years-old. As a result, Dima is without a doubt still available and I was able to get the information necessary to have Igor listed for adoption as well!

As you can see, it was a good day. It was so hard to say goodbye to my boys when the hour was up and yes, tears were shed, but I am just so thankful that I was given the chance to say goodbye. Thank you so much to all of you who have prayed for these boys of mine… Once again, God has heard us and He is at work on behalf of His children. Please pray for the family that is right now very seriously considering committing to adopt Dima and stay tuned for how you can play a part in paying his ransom. Also, please pray that we would indeed be able to get Igor listed and that his family would step forward soon.

God is good!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saying goodbye

As I enter into my last full week here, I know that it is going to be a week of difficult goodbyes. Saying goodbye to kids whom I have spent months holding and caring for, kids whom I have come to love as my own – it is something I have done many times before only this time, it’s different…  In the past I have left “my” kids with people who loved and cared for them and the sadness I felt was more about me and how much I would miss them than it was about them. This time, although I will miss these kids just as much as all the others, my sorrow and my heartache is more about them than it is about me. This time I am leaving my kids in circumstances that break my heart. After I leave, there will be no one to hold them, sing to them or pray over them. There will be no one to smother their faces with kisses or tickle them until they laugh so hard that their faces turn red. No one will take the time to stop and kiss their boo-boos or give them their undivided attention. Some of my kids may never again be held in loving arms or receive a gentle kiss on their forehead.  They will spend their days laying immobile in a crib or banging their heads against the bars and then, if they survive long enough, they will live out the rest of their days in a mental institution. Many times over the past several weeks I have been brought to tears as I held or played with my kids, thinking about how little time I have left with them and I know that many tears will be shed this week as I start saying goodbye to them one by one. Please pray for my kids. Pray that God’s presence, His comfort and His peace would envelope them. Pray that the little bit of love I have been able to show them would stay with them and that they would know that they are treasured. Finally, pray for families for these kids as it is the only chance they have at a future. It is a nearly impossible request as most of them are not even listed for adoption but nothing is impossible for God. Pray that He would move every obstacle to getting them listed and that He would have families waiting, ready to bring them home.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

One year ago today...

One year ago today I boarded a plane to Africa and embarked on what may forever be remembered as the most adventurous year of my life. It’s crazy to think about all that this year has entailed; one month in Uganda, three months in Congo, two months at home, six months in Ukraine… I experienced the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring me back to Uganda and spent four heavenly weeks loving and laughing and simply being among the people who make up my favourite place on earth. I saw God strip away so many comforts that I had never gone without – running water, electricity, a full stomach, sharing a common language with those around me… and in the midst of it all I learned to depend solely on God and drew closer to Him than ever before. I developed a new, profound appreciation for my family and became more intentional about cherishing the time I have with them. I fell in love with “the least of these” and marvelled at how God could use a handful of children to change my heart in such a big way. This year has changed me in ways I cannot even begin to describe. I am not the same person who boarded that plane one year ago. I have experienced pure joy and heart wrenching pain. My faith has been challenged like never before and my trust in God has grown stronger while my understanding of His ways has diminished. Most of all, I have experienced a bit more of what it means to have my heart broken by the things that break God’s heart. While this year has held many joyous moments, it has also been a year of pain, of loneliness, of heartache and of brokenness and I wouldn’t change one thing. God has done a transforming work in my life this year. I can’t go back to who I was before and I wouldn’t want to even if I could.

I recently had someone ask me if this upcoming year would be as exciting as 2010? Well, I don’t know what this next year has in store but I do know this: when you decide to follow God wherever He leads you, it is always an adventure… So, here’s to an exciting 2011!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Christmas Parties!

What a crazy, hectic, wonderful week it has been! I found out on Tuesday that quarantine had been lifted at the special needs orphanage and that they would like me to do all three of my Christmas parties this week. So, the next few days were a whirl of packing gifts and buying juice and fruit for the parties (buying 42 bananas and 84 oranges on foot from small, independent fruit stands requires a bit of running around!). I ended up having two parties yesterday morning and one more this morning and all three were phenomenal…

I started off yesterday morning with group nine – here’s a look at what went in their stockings (yes, they are santa hats, not stockings… they don’t have stockings here so I had to get creative!)...


For the boys...

For the girls...
 

Group nine is without a doubt my favourite as I am convinced that some of the sweetest kids on the entire planet live in that room. I think of group 9 as my miracle group… You may remember that I actually originally ended up there by “accident” as my translator mistakenly told the receptionist that we were there to see group 9 when we were really supposed to go to group 8. The truth is, I know that it was no accident and I thank God for the blessing and the privilege it has been to spend time with these kids. They are my joy and my light. No matter how hard my day/week may have been, even on days when I didn’t feel like going out to the orphanage at night in the dark or in the rain, etc., the second I saw them my spirit was lifted. In the 45-60 minutes that I would spend with them I would receive no less a dozen kisses and countless hugs. This group does not normally receive visitors which made them extra excited to see me but I promise you that I loved seeing them just as much as they loved seeing me. Anyway, the party yesterday was great. Because of the quarantine I hadn’t seen them in over a month, nevertheless several of them shouted out my name as I walked through the door. They listened attentively as “Sasha the Pig” told about how her great, great, great grandfather was there to witness the birth of Jesus (I know, I’ve never seen any pigs in the manger scene but I don’t have that many puppets and I figured a pig was more likely than an elephant…) and then came the presents! The kids were so excited and for most of them, it appeared that their favourite item was the noisemaker (my apologies to the workers!). After the gifts I spent the next 30 minutes with kids clambering all over my lap and covering me with slobbery kisses as I soaked in every second of it. The only downside was saying goodbye, when I couldn’t help the couple of tears that escaped…













Then it was on to group five – here’s what was in their stockings…

 

Group five is the group I spent several weeks visiting while my other two groups were sick. Because I did not spend that much time with them, I didn’t connect with them as much as I did with my other two groups. Still, they are sweet kids and I was glad to see them again. This group is generally fairly low-functioning but you could still see the joy and excitement on many of their faces as they received their gifts. There was one boy in particular who you’ll see in the pictures below… His name is Andriy and he is the highest functioning in the group. He was soooo happy with his present and must have said thank you at least a dozen times! He kept saying, “I love this!”, “I love this!” referring to just about every item he pulled out of his stocking. My favourite however was when shortly after I had finished telling the Christmas story, he came over to Lienna and I and proudly announced, “I believe in Jesus!”. Oh, how my heart swelled…









Finally, this morning was the party for group eight – here’s what went in their stockings…




Group eight, also known as everyone’s favourite princesses… it was great to see them again. This is my highest functioning group and as such, they were definitely the ones who had the most fun opening their stockings. It was like Christmas morning with 13 kids and I loved it! The girls were thrilled with their headbands and bracelets and immediately put them on, modelling them proudly. They also loved the socks (as I knew they would), and kept telling me how nice they were. Truth be told, they loved everything in their stockings and they had so much fun spending an entire hour going through them, smelling the soap and toothpaste, blowing their noisemakers, sticking stickers on their hands, having me “read” their books to them and of course sampling the chocolate…



















It has been a great couple of days. I am exhausted but oh-so-happy. Because it looks like there may be another quarantine starting and because I wanted to make sure I had a chance to say goodbye to my kids, I decided that these Christmas parties would be the end of my time at the special needs orphanage, finishing on a high note. It was hard to say goodbye to all my kids but I thank God for the opportunity I’ve had to spend time with them and I especially thank Him for allowing the quarantine to be lifted long enough for us to have this one last hurrah.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

A brighter Christmas all around...

Over the past year, God has been so faithful in providing above and beyond what I needed in the area of finances for the trips I have taken to minister to forgotten and unwanted children around the world. Thanks to God and to the generosity of so many of you, I have been blessed with a surplus of money that I have been able to use to bless those I have been working with. You may remember my friends Sam and Bonny in Uganda. They have started a ministry called Kids Club Kampala which is reaching out to over 3000 impoverished children in their community. Around this time last year, because of your generous donations of funds and supplies, together we were able to distribute backpacks filled with school supplies to 60 children in one of the poorest slums of Kampala. Well, I had still had some money remaining which had been donated towards my trip to Africa last spring and when I heard about what Sam and Bonny had planned for Christmas this year, I was confident that this was something that you, my donors, would want to be a part of. On December 18th Kids Club threw a Christmas party for hundreds of impoverished children in Kampala, Uganda who might otherwise have had Christmas pass them by without any celebration at all. The party was complete with fun games, a bouncing castle, a swimming pool and of course… food! Matoke, rice, potatoes, meat, greens and fruit – a true feast! There was even a Christmas cake and a visit from Santa! Approximately 700 children attended, 250 of which were sponsored as a result of your donations.

Of course, you are also familiar with McJoyful Christmas where orphans all over Eastern Europe are taken to McDonald’s at Christmas time for a fun filled birthday party for Jesus. This year approximately 3000 children across Ukraine were able to celebrate Christmas at McDonald’s and thanks to your generosity, 70 of those children were sponsored out of the surplus in my account.

So, to all of you who have donated to my missions adventures this past year, thank you for making a difference in the lives of children all around the world. Here are just a few of the 325 children whose Christmas was made a little brighter thanks to you…