Our Boys: Gathering Time

Welcome to Part 2 of our series on the time we spend at a rural institution each week.  You can read Part 1 here.

Addy showing a picture we keep on our refrigerator.  Is he watching a ray of sunlight, or a speck of dust floating in the air?  We spend a lot of time thinking about our boys, wondering how they are doing; praying for them.

We must learn to regard people, less in light of what they do or omit to do and more in light of what they suffer.
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer

When we share about these boys and this situation you must know we hold Bonhoeffer's words in highest esteem.  There is no place you can point a finger in blame without realizing that the injustice, the inhumanity, people suffer is at every level of this problem.

Caregivers, who need a job to provide for their families, are required to do a job that cannot be done with the lack of staff, resources and education afforded them.  We watch them do their very best and you can see in their eyes that they wish to do more.

When it comes to food, shelter and clothing, they are doing good work, but there is no one-size-fits-all protocol to address the physical, mental, emotional and institutional disabilities these boys face every day.

This is why MTU and volunteers have faithfully served this institution for the last 5 years. And, it is why God has sent us to help; working to make wrong things as right as we can, this side of heaven.

We enter the building, a long hall with rooms off to each side. Each of us volunteers goes up and down the hall, greeting boys, hugging, and holding their hands. 

Working to make wrong things

as right as we can, this side of heaven.

We help each of the boys in the hall who is able, to walk or crawl to the room where we meet.  After that we go from bedroom to bedroom, fetching the boys who are able to participate.  Some can walk, some we bring in wheelchairs or strollers. 

A couple of the boys shy away from our touch, too overwhelmed by the stimuli to leave their beds.  Zhenya had a seizure earlier that morning, so he sleeps in his bed, unable to be roused.  A couple others sleep hard in their beds, maybe a medicated sleep, or maybe those particular boys don’t sleep well at night?  I’m not sure, but we let them sleep, wishing they were awake to receive love this morning.  

Three boys are tied to their beds with strips of cloth.  We ask the caregivers if we can untie them and bring them to the main room, promising to watch over them closely.  My heart breaks at their situation- the boys’ and the caregivers’.  How would I feel if I were a caregiver and I had to tie a little boy to his bed, just to keep others safe from him, and to keep him safe from himself? 

I try not to judge, knowing I have absolutely no idea what their days of work truly consist of, knowing I have absolutely no concept of how difficult their job is. They don't have the resources they need or the number of staff they need to give high quality care.  I can't even comprehend how difficult their work is.  Every time we are there I see caregivers working hard just to keep the boys fed and diapered.  The sheer amount of work they have to do for the physical care of the boys- moving, lifting, wiping, drying, dressing, feeding...- leaves almost zero time for meeting emotional and cognitive needs. 

And for the boys, to live a life where they are tied to a bed, unable to make themselves understood, unable to regulate themselves in their environment, again, my blessed life has no concept of their reality.  It is truly heartbreaking from every side.  There is no simple solution, and that is why God has put us in this place.  He wants to change things, and He is the only one who can do it.

This little man can't wait for group time.  So much light in his eyes.

I look from room to room, on the search for my Seryozha.  There is just something special about Seryozha.  He has wise eyes.   He doesn’t speak, but I know he understands.  Finally, in the last room I find him, behind a closed door all alone in the room in his wheelchair.  “Oh my dear Seryozha!  Why are you in here all alone?  Priviet (hi)!  I’m so happy to see my sweet boy! Kak de la? (How are you?)”  He is restrained into his chair.  I wipe tears out of my eyes, wondering what goes on in his little mind when he’s all alone.  I try not to dwell on it and thank God He has brought us here today to show Sergei His love.  I pray that while we are away angels minister to my sweet boy.  I wheel him in to the meeting room, the last one to arrive, and we begin.

 
 
Kim Johnson, Co-Founder and chief mom at Wide Awake Int.

Kim Johnson,

Co-Founder and chief mom at Wide Awake Int.

Our Boys: All of Our Boys

This is our first post in a series on the Boys Orphanage we visit every Friday.    We are so blessed to help Mission to Ukraine, knowing that the work they have done over the years has made it possible for us to lend a hand.  These first four months are the beginning to what we hope is a long partnership with Mission to Ukraine (MTU).  Check out all their great work here.

"Come on in!  We are ready to play."

"Come on in!  We are ready to play."

It’s Friday morning at 9:17.  Christina, our translator and team member, and I rush out the door, toast in hand, to join the MTU staff who are headed to Romaniv. 

We all congregate at the van, deciding who will sit where.  The ride to Romaniv can be a bit “bumpy”, so the sickies get to sit in front. 

The van is loaded with craft and teaching supplies for the group from MTU who will teach the higher functioning boys.  The trunk holds a big box of bananas, a special weekly treat for all the boys.  In my bag I have one simple tool: a newly purchased speaker loaded with music. 

Some of the boys in the Isolation Room LOVE music.  When we come they expect music, and for one boy, Misha, I’m confident that 2 hours of music each week is the highlight of his life. 

Sergie, an awesome volunteer from another town brings his accordion to Romaniv, but sometimes he’s not there, so we want to make sure we have music, just in case. 

The van pulls out from MTU, loaded with a chattering, cheerful bunch.  Spirits are high.  The boys have been quarantined for a couple weeks and finally everyone is healthy.  We’re happy to be back in a routine with our loves. I don’t understand much of the conversation, but I’m happy to listen, straining my ears and wracking my brain for familiar words among the chats. 

As we get closer to Romaniv, Christina and I talk over our “plan of attack” with Nina, one of the outstanding volunteer who has volunteered with these boys for the last 5 years.

Nina pours every drop of love she can into each of these boys.

Nina has several children of her own, and one of them has significant disabilities.  Our boys are personal to her, and she is determined to give them all the love she can every time she is with them. 

I wish you could see Nina in action. 

She is pure joy and love. 

We discuss what we have planned for the boys this morning and fine tune our ideas.  We are trying to implement a routine for our weekly visits. 

Our boys are at all different levels of abilities- physical and cognitive, yet we know they will thrive in routine.  We want them to rise to the occasion.  We want to see what they are capable of.  Baby steps, maybe, but extremely significant steps for these boys. 

They need someone to champion for them. 

They need someone to be intentional for them. 

We pull up to the gates of the institution and meet another van with several volunteers from an other town.  Everyone helps unload, and we’re off! 

Sergei laments that he forgot his accordion and we sigh with relief over our precious speaker.  Ha!  As we take our first steps down the long sidewalk toward the buildings where the boys live we hear yells, hoots and hollers. 

We’ve been spotted! 

The highlight of their week has arrived.  It’s Friday!  Faces peer out of every window, some of the older boys come outside to shake hands and show us their latest finds, a baby toy phone, a coin, a baby food jar full of buttons.  They display their most treasured possessions with ultimate pride as we ooh and aah to the extreme, our hearts bursting with love. 

Nina, Christina, two Sergei’s and I head over to the small Isolation building that houses our boys.  Our boys can’t get to the windows so they don’t yet know that we’ve arrived. 

We walk in and the wave of noises and smells wash over us.  There are the normal smells of Romaniv with a hint of bleach this week, a reminder that the boys have been sick.  I can hear the various boys and their squeaks, shrieks and cries. 

There is overwhelming stink, and overwhelming noise, yet my heart is at home. 

In that moment there is no other place I’d rather be. 

Only God. 

When He puts a vision and a dream in your heart He gives you everything you need to fulfill it- plus a hefty dose of joy in the journey. 


 
                                                      Kim Johnson, Co-Founder and chief mom at Wide Awake Int.

                                                      Kim Johnson,

Co-Founder and chief mom at Wide Awake Int.

Stay tuned this week, as we share more about our Fridays in Ukraine.

:Foundations

 
The wise man built his house upon the rock...
— Children's song

Frank Lloyd Wright

This morning I rushed home through the mud after walking Addy and Ezra to school, in a hurry to study up on my Russian prepositions before our language teacher arrived for our lesson.  Jed and I sat at the kitchen table, sipping coffee and quizzing each other on the genitive case, while attempting to keep Seth out of the snack cupboard.  It was all very romantic and life-saving.  Not.  Hehe.

 
ff.JPG

Oh we have those glorious moments that we expected- like the moment when Jed walked in to the Romaniv orphanage and saw one of our bedridden darlings sitting up in a wheelchair for the first time in at least a year.  We have those times when things are really clicking at Mission to Ukraine (MTU) and we know we are meeting a need that really helps their organization.  But, honestly, those are not the majority of our moments these days.  The majority of our moments these days are plodding along with language so we can at least speak coherently with two-year olds. J We have many moments of attempting to talk with the other moms while waiting to pick up their kids from school, moments of chatting with Babushkas (and pretending to understand all they say after realizing they don’t understand that I don’t understand) at church, moments of having Ukrainian friends over to our house to eat and live life together, moments of cutting out shapes for the MTU preschool class, moments of trudging through our muddy streets and moments of cramming for our Russian lesson…many moments of normal life.  Yet we remember that each of our lives is made up of many normal moments- all accumulating to form this one life we’ve been given. 

 

 

These moments, this time of digging deep into Ukrainian culture, loading our brains with Russian verbs and prepositions, and relationship building is all forming the foundation of Wide Awake in Ukraine.  Who looks at the foundation of the house when it’s all built and looking pretty?  Not many people care to look at the foundation, yet it is the most important element of that house.  Who cares if the house boasts a sweet exterior paint job and a perfectly manicured lawn if the foundation is crumbling?  Yikes.  Things might be fine for a while, but when the wind starts to blow or hard times come, the foundation, the things unseen will be what bears the weight. 

The dream God has put in our hearts for Ukraine’s most vulnerable is not a quick dream.  It’s not a dream that can be accomplished lickety-split and we’re out.  We are well aware that this dream seems rather impossible, and actually IS rather impossible without our God.  Ukraine is not ripe for this dream, yet God called us here for this time in space, so here we are.  We know that even now He is softening hearts and opening minds.  We actually see Him paving the way and clearing obstacles from our path.  It’s crazy.  This is a dream that may take the rest of our lives.  If so, so be it.  Here we are Lord. 

With the long-term in mind, we focus on the foundation: language, relationship, trust, cultural awareness.  We’re digging in deep here and trusting God with the results.  As much as we’d love to just walk up to the laying room of the nearest orphanage and ask them to hand over their sickest, we also see what a disaster that would be.  So we do the next thing.  We work on being FULLY present in our town and with the people in front of our faces.  We learn Russian and Ukrainian though our brains threaten to combust.  We learn to love the Ukrainian people and work to find out how they see the Gospel. 

Picking out paint colors will be fun someday.  Our hearts yearn for that day.  But for now, we dig the foundation.  Thank you for joining us and helping us tackle the “unseen”.  It’s all the more beautiful a journey because of your love and support.

photo 1.JPG

Kim Johnson is a Co-founder and currently winning at the language acquisition race at the Johnson house.

 
 

SUBTLE: two-months on the ground

sub·tle

[suht-l]

adjective, sub·tler, sub·tlest.

1. thin, tenuous, or rarefied, as a fluid or an odor.

2. fine or delicate in meaning or intent; difficult to perceive or understand: subtle irony.

3. delicate or faint and mysterious: a subtle smile.

4. requiring mental acuteness, penetration, or discernment: a subtle philosophy.

5. characterized by mental acuteness or penetration: a subtle understanding.

Before starting Wide Awake International (WAI) I spent the last 10 years working for some highly successful, highly visible non-profit organizations. 

These organizations had passionate founding directors, well-integrated into their communities.  The interventions are time tested and effective.  The staff are highly trained, committed and able to do their best work.

I've been unsure what to share on this blog, because all my past work was drenched in fantastic statistics, impact, change, work, work, work.  It felt so good to be a part of something big... something dramatic... important.

While chatting with a couple who have been fantastic moral support to us on this journey:

Sandra: "Why don't you update us on the Wide-Awake blog?"

Me: "I'm struggling with what to say,  Most of the "news" is me figuring out a bus system or how to say the right word to the woman at the corner market.  It's not an outcome."

If you would like to read about our daily adventures in culture, as a family, visit Kim's blog www.wideawakefamily.com

If you would like to read about our daily adventures in culture, as a family, visit Kim's blog www.wideawakefamily.com

Sandra:  "You need to share your stories.  People who are engaged now are partnering because they are excited about building something new.  They are passionate.  Let them follow closely so they can celebrate with you."

Me: "Ok, I'll write some posts."

Thank you Sandra for pushing me, for supporting us along the way, and for letting us crash at your house.

WAI is a baby.  Our first job is to learn how to be O.K. with being hand-fed as we discover this big wide world around us.

Romaniv.jpg

Our outcomes are subtle, but that doesn't make them less important. 

Upcoming Blog Topics:

 -  Romaniv: The Weight of Love

 -  Mission to Ukraine:  A rose that grew from concrete... thanks Tupac.

 -  A Day in the Life of average Ukrainians

 

 

21 Days of Prayer--Day 21: Joy Complete

image.jpg
John 16:21-24

A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.  So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

 

Today, we board our plane to start our lives in the Ukraine.

We pray for comfort for the hearts we are leaving behind and hopeful assurance for the hearts who will receive us at the end of our travels.

We pray for peace to cover our own hearts and protection for our travels, expectant for the complete joy found in sharing His love with the precious children who await us.  

 Thank you for joining us in praying as we counted down to our departure to the Ukraine. You can read more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We were so blessed to have your prayers as we prepared to go and will continue to treasure your prayers as we travel, arrive and settle abroad.  

21 Days of Prayer - Day 20: Refuge

wide awake day 20

Our God is present.  He is Ever Present.  There is never a moment that HE is not fully in... with us, with you, with those we go to love.  

He is already with us boarding our flight.

He is with us three months from now in the winter visiting our precious boys.

He is with us today, when doubt and fear would try to speak.

So in worship - His presence is louder.  Whatever we face, be it greatest joy or sorrow,  God's presence is our victory.

Thank you for joining us in  praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read  more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 19: Grace

Wide Awake Day 19

Thank you Lord that grace is us, living life in the guarantee and awareness of Your presence.  Thank you that your presence is sufficient and abounding in response to every place of need.  We rely on You and step out in bold faith knowing Your grace is Your empowering presence in our lives, in our children's lives and in the lives of those you call us to serve.  In You, Lord, we trust.  With Your supply - we will never run out.

Thank you for joining us in  praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read  more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!

 

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 18: Willing to Respond

WideAwake Day 18

The least of these… We pray to have eyes to see, hearts to feel and lives willing to respond; knowing that God's grace is and always will be sufficient for what He asks of us.  As we go to serve the least, the unseen across the world, we pray you too will see those right here among us.  Awaken each of our hearts, Lord, to consider those we often overlook.  And like you, let us stop for the ones you desire to show your love.

Thank you for joining us in  praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read  more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!

 

 

 

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 16: Father

image.jpg

We see your Kingdom come when hearts are moved to lift up the fatherless and the widow.  Give us eyes of faith to see what you are doing and join you.  Thank you for letting us partner with your passion for loving the broken.   

Thank you for joining us in  praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read  more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us! 

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 15: a willing heart

wideawakeday15

Today, Father,  we reflect on the many times you've given us more than what we needed.  You are extravagant in your love.  Give us the courage to love others the way you have loved us first.

Thank you for joining us in praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!     

21 Days of Prayer - Day 14: Temptation

image.jpg

Father, help each of us to learn the lessons of life without going through the fires temptation.  Give us the courage to trust you and the process you lead us through.

Thank you for joining us in  praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read  more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us! 

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 13: Trespass

image.jpg

As we step into a new culture, we will unintentionally and daily trespass on norms.  Would you go before us and help us to walk in forgiveness and help us to extend forgiveness to others.

Thank you for joining us in  praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read  more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!  

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 11: in Heaven

wideawake Lords Prayer

God, you have put eternity into our hearts and so in our very bones we long for wrong things to be made right.  We cry out for a time when there is no more war and  systems of oppression that keeps your children hidden away. We pray for a time where sickness no longer ravages our families.  We cry out for your will to be done here, now.

Thank you for joining us in praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!    

21 Days of Prayer - Day 10: Your Will

WillBeDoneWideAwake

We appeal to your wisdom because our best plans are not sufficient.   We are dreaming your dreams,Father God; we need your eyes to see what we cannot even imagine.  With all this in mind we say, "Your Will Be Done."

Thank you for joining us in praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!     

 

21 Days of Prayer - Day 8: Father

 

day8.jpg

As we move forward, into the unknown, we can trust that you are a good dad who sees the end from the beginning.  You are OUR Father and you are in Heaven.

In each of our lives, make yourself known and make your name great today.  Be bigger than my circumstances. Be bigger than my dreams.  Be bigger than my hopes and fears. Hallowed be your name.

Thank you for joining us in praying as we countdown to our departure to the Ukraine.  You can read more about the 21 Days of Prayer here.  We are blessed to have you join us!