From Tom, right after a group of orphans went back to Ukraine:
We have wrapped up three weeks with ten incredible Ukrainian orphans here in BridgeStone, Alabama. Ages 6 – 15, most people have forgotten these kids. But, every time I am in Ukraine, I see kids who just need a chance. They may have rough edges, but they are not bad kids. They just have the wrong information about life.
As Larissa unpacked her carry-on bag from escorting the kids from Ukraine, I saw these small, simple toys. ‘Honey, why are you bringing toys back from Ukraine?’ After all, we take as many toys as we can to Ukraine for use in orphanages.
Strong emotion filled her eyes and voice. ‘The children gave these gifts to me while we traveled.’
Tears began leaking from my eyes. I saw the kids coming through baggage claim. They didn’t have two checked bags each. They didn’t have one checked bag each. Not one of the children had a checked bag at all. Each child held only a small, tattered back pack or a plastic grocery bag with everything they had for a month-long trip. The humble toys they gave to Larissa were prized possessions, things to play with and to make them feel comfortable away from home. From this ‘abundance’ they gave all they had to Larissa because she cared for them, fed them, stroked them, and helped them have this trip to BridgeStone.
As I sat in the new Centerpoint building at BridgeStone that morning, a BOF staffer, showed me a handmade bracelet, then another gift, and then another. These orphans, the ones we planned to teach about God’s love, had completed trumped us. They gave from their ‘abundance’ – an abundance that most of us would despise. But they gave all that they had, and overwhelmed us with their love and appreciation.
These children viscerally shook us. They needed so much, but gave even more. We needed so little, but learned how much we need. None of us will ever be the same. Truly we saw the face of God.
I just came back from Ukraine after spending a week at an orphanage. I felt so broken-hearted and fulfilled all at the same time! The kids, so beautiful, loving, and cuddly, despite having been abandoned by the very ones who should have protected them. They loved us as if we were their parents. Little girls and boys cuddled and held our hands, leaned on our shoulders or nestled in our necks during movie times. They always wanted to play UNO or Twister, as long as we played with them. They lovingly gave very single bracelet and card they hand-crafted and carefully decorated as a gift to us. Every time, I was both blessed and humbled with their gift. Precious and heart wrenching, their love and affection, stored up for so long, spilled over us.
V. has no living parents. His mother died in a car crash when he was just a year old and his father became an alcoholic and died. He prayed for 6 years to be adopted. Still alone in the orphanage, he gave up on God. At 16 he lost hope.
Initially, V. didn’t want to talk about God at all. It took a few conversations for him to not joke around and to become comfortable with opening his heart. Finally he told me that he really wanted to share his story. After asking how he felt about God, I asked V if he would mind my praying for him even after I left the orphanage. Though his head was facing the table, he nodded and gently said “spaceeba”, or thank you.
I bonded with V. that week and really learned about him. He considered himself a sort of father figure to the younger ones. He was always full of energy and desiring attention. Trying to be a man, he was still very much a boy at heart; hyper, but with a good heart. God opened doors to share the gospel with him through sharing stories. At the beginning of the week, he had no desire to talk about God except to say he had no feelings about it. He refused to hold hands during prayer. By midweek, his heart began to open when he realized someone really cared about him. He started by willingly holding hands during prayer. It was baby steps, but it was such a big deal for him!
He eventually came to small group and received a Bible with the other young boys. They all shared their stories of how they came to the orphanage. Social orphans, they speak stoically, but the impact is deep.
On our last night at the orphanage, V. thanked me from his heart for helping him become open to God. WOW. How humbling…needless to say I haven’t stopped praying or thinking of V. since leaving the orphanage.
All the orphans gripped my heart. I don’t have enough arms to hold all the children that my heart longs to love and hug. Working with orphans has broken my heart in such a profound way. It produces a love that demands a response to their tragedy. I didn’t know this love or passion before, but never have I felt so blessed to have experienced such brokenness.