Thursday, July 31, 2014

The picnic!

Now that it's been well over a month since the picnic, I'm finally getting around to sharing it with you all. I can't post too many pictures, so as not to show faces of children who aren't ours, but I went through and picked out everything that isn't too revealing.

These picnics are something that my friend here does every year for the children from the orphanage we get to visit. The children talk about it and look forward to it all year long. Last year's picnic was my first introduction to them. Now I know the kids much better, and I actually got to help with some of the planning and preparation. The day before we did some baking and salad-making; the day of the picnic I translated for the Bible lesson time, and our whole family helped with crafts, games, and food.

I had asked you to pray about the weather. The rain held off until right at the end, and we had a beautiful day. I had also prayed that somehow Sergei would be able to be there, even though when I called the day before, they told me that there was no way he would be allowed out. But then he came! He enjoyed everything very much. And that was the last time we saw him before he was transferred away.

First we gathered for a short lesson time, followed by a craft. Then there was free time, with options of bowling (staffed by Jaan and Raia), fingernail painting for the girls, and face painting for all. We had to stop for a delicious lunch of shashlik, prepared by my friend's project manager (Bogdan "helped"!). All of the kids loved the food. One of the boys announced that he was pretending to eat in a restaurant, something he had only seen on TV. After lunch, everyone played hard again, until the storm broke, and we had to load everyone back into the vans as fast as possible.

The picnic is a highlight of the year for our family, too!

Monday, July 28, 2014


Random photos from July:

July 4th celebration
Raia made little flags.
And we had a special guest.
Just another summer day: watering the grass
Happy birthday to Papa!
I don't know.
Um, yes.
The biggest green bean!
A science lesson
After draining this:

Jaan was explaining about mosquito larvae.
We also made cookies and cards for soldiers.
There were plenty of other fun and interesting events this month, but these are our best photos.

Friday, July 25, 2014


Last Friday, my friend and I went on one of our regular visits to the orphanage across the river. I was playing ball with the kids outside. It was kind of a small group, but that's normal for the summer; some have been at camps, or visiting relatives. However, when I asked, "Oh, and by the way, where are Slava and Sergei?" The other boys told me that they had gone away to somewhere yesterday. I didn't recognize the place name, but I quickly found out that it meant that had been transferred. They were never coming back. The sad news hit hard (Seryozha is my special buddy!), but I was able to keep playing. When we were done, I told my friend what I had heard, and she and I went off to find out details. The director is on vacation, and no one really knew anything, but after a good bit of running around, someone kindly tracked down an address and phone number for us.

Slava and Sergei at the picnic in June
On Wednesday we made the trip out to visit them. Their new home is huge, five-story, "neuropsychiatric" institution. We arrived, and were told to wait outside for them to be brought down to us. It took a while. The grounds are quite nice, and there were some older men with varying levels of abilities sitting around, enjoying the sunshine or working. We chatted some with them.

Finally the nurse called us over to get Sergei. Slava was still on his way; we found out that they're on the top floor, with no working elevator. (Slava can't walk.) Sergei looked awful. In six days, he had lost a lot of weight, and he was visibly upset. That gorgeous smile you see above was gone. Although, we were able to coax some shadows of it back toward the end of our short visit. Finally they brought Slava out, and asked us how long we wanted them for. An hour? Okay.

We sat and talked, hugged the boys, showed them pictures that we had taken at the picnic, walked around with them when it was too much for them, gave them coloring books and some little cars that Jaan had sent for them. The coloring book finally settled Sergei down. In the photos we took after that, just the top of his head is visible, as he focused on coloring. They're still such little boys, right on the level of toy cars and coloring books with stickers. Slava can talk (Sergei can't), and once he starts on something, he repeats it over and over. One of his themes on Wednesday was, "I want to go back to the orphanage and go down the slide." (There's a lovely wheelchair accessible playground at the orphanage.) There is nothing childish about their new surroundings. Slava hadn't even been outside all week, but there's no playground for him, even if he had been able to get out.

After an hour, I noticed the medical personnel checking on us through the window, but we kept the boys for a little longer. Once a full hour and a half had gone by, they came back and took them away. It was kind of awkward, they all hurried off with no goodbyes or anything. As we--just my friend and I and her project manager, who had driven us out there--stood there wondering what to do next, I said out loud that I would have liked to see where they live. The project manager, a wonderful local pastor said, "Let's go! We'll find them!" I would never have done that by myself, but we rushed off after him, and went right in to the huge building. He found the stairs where some other residents were still dragging Slava up, took Slava from them, and told us to follow, "I'll just tell them that I wanted to carry him up."

So, we got to see the crowd of men who live there and the conditions that they live in. It was very clean and bright. That's about all. Completely bare, too. For now, Slava and Sergei are together, just the two of them in a tiny isolation room. That looked like a good situation for them, but I don't know how long it will last. Maybe they can stay together even afterwards? Pray for that.

We hugged them again and said goodbye. It was so hard to leave them there. Please pray for them! Also, pray that we can visit them somewhat regularly, and that we would know how to help. It is a long trip out there, expensive if we go in a car again. I am pretty sure that I've found a way to do it by bus, but that still wouldn't be something I could do often.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Good news from a land far away

I haven't written anything about Ukraine news lately. It is still very up and down, and still very sad on many days. In fact, lately it seems more bad news than good is coming out of the east. But, I wanted to write about something from a little while back that still makes me smile.

Back on June 7, when we were sitting in the hotel lobby resting with our friends, I quickly checked in online, and I saw news that had me in tears right away. Just a little over a year ago, I got to visit a friend for a few days, while she was adopting from a special needs baby orphanage in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region. I fell in love with the children there. What I read said that their orphanage had been taken over by the fighters who are in that area now. We still don't know exactly what happened in that time. Were the separatists actually staying in the orphanage with the babies? Or coming and going and making threats? Whatever it was, it was bad. There was also a lot of fighting going on right around the orphanage. I cried a lot then as I read, and--with many other concerned people--I prayed a lot over the next few weeks.

Then, on June 30 I started hearing that those babies had been safely evacuated to Kharkov! And the biggest gift of all, was that I actually saw faces that I know and love in the videos circulating around the internet. In this time, when it's so hard to know what is rumor and what is truth, that was such a reassurance. Many of the articles seem to grab some stock orphanage photo from somewhere, and just slap it on with words that aren't related. These articles and videos were real. As I read more about where the babies ended up, I've been even more pleased. Their new (temporary?) home is a model orphanage for all the rest of Ukraine, and the doctor who has been interviewed online really seems to know and care about little ones with special needs. Maybe this is the answer to my prayers about a better future for Little L.? Maybe she'll survive here? (Keep praying for families for these sweethearts!)

I just had to share what I've been praising God for lately. Praise Him with me now, too! Also, don't stop praying for the people of Ukraine, especially the orphans, who are some of the very most vulnerable.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Last bit of vacation

Remember the borsch that made Asya so happy? As she said, "in one day two of her dreams came true!" She had borsch and Papa bought her a pretty bag.

Raia and Asya with their bags
Two minutes after leaving the castle
Back down at the train station
While Bogdan slept, the others had fun with the luggage lady.
Dinner before leaving Mukachevo
Special treat for the train
Once again: BOBO!
And that's it. We slept on the train and woke up back down in the flat lands. Arrived in Odessa. Took a bus to Kherson, and we were home. Thanks for reading along!

The whole story:

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The castle (Mukachevo)

This is the last little bit of vacation, even though it was a full month ago.  Then we can get on with regular (blog) life, birthdays, summer, etc.

One last swim
Shashlik for dinner
And then the next morning we left for Mukachevo. We came down out of the mountains on to flat land, but then there's one last bump...

...and it has a castle on it!
This picture really doesn't show how high it is.

We took our suitcase to the train station, and then started walking around. We had lunch in a nice little cafe, and Asya finally got some borsch. She had wanted it at McDonald's in Odessa on the way out, and was disappointed to find out that they don't serve it. And strangely, she didn't get any at the other places where we were, until this cafe.

Happy Asya
Bogdan is going to work here when he grows up.

After a little more walking around, we went up to the castle.

The deep well that they were looking at


Okay, that wasn't completely the last bit, because I still have a few photo highlights to share.

By the way, when we were up at the castle, we bumped into "old friends" and started chatting. Will had no idea how these strangers (to him) knew us. It was people we had met in the train on the way out! I had been on the train, alone with my little ones, and another mom had been traveling with her little girl, so we had helped each other out. Her little girl had to hold my hand for comfort in all tunnels. It was fun to see each other again, so randomly, at week later.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

True, funny, sad

A while ago I shared this photo on Facebook:

But I didn't have time to explain it. I just said that it's "true, funny, sad."

True: Every marshrutka (bus/van/"route taxi") has a sign in it that shows how many seats it has.

Funny: Then the sign tells how many standing places the marshrutka officially has. An honest sign would look like the one above. We really pack ourselves into them. Recently Raia and I were out during rush hour, so packed in that I felt like we were barely breathing. A girl next to us did pass out, and it seemed like it was because she couldn't get enough air. As soon as some of the other passengers dragged her out into fresh air, she came around. Sometimes it really does seem like an infinite number of people tries to get on one marshrutka.

Sad: The last part doesn't show up on real marshrutka signs, but it is the way things work here. There is just no place for the disabled in daily life. The kids I love so much at the orphanage I visit are there, pretty much because there's no other place for them. If they have families, it would be very hard for those families to care for them. I got to help someone who grew up in that orphanage come back for a visit, and we waited while many marshrutkas passed by, until a bigger bus with wider doors came. Then we were able to lift her in with her wheelchair. Definitely not easy. No real handicap access. Now that she's a young adult, she has to live in a nursing home away from regular life, too, just because her legs don't work.

(But...! My friend is starting work on two homes that will house at least some of these young adults and let them take part in normal life. Let me know if you're interested in hearing more about that and supporting this amazing project.)

Friday, July 04, 2014

Papa and Asya

Since I couldn't get one photo to post yesterday, I'm putting up two today.

"Look Mom, no hands!"