Today was a day like no other. I’m not even quite sure what to say or how to say it. Today was wonderful, horrible, beautiful, ugly…and everything in between.
Today we visited Romaniv Orphanage with Mission to Ukraine staff. The staff of MTU along with some volunteers from local churches have been visiting Romaniv weekly for 4 years now. Romaniv is an orphanage for 78 boys ages 7-30. It was much like we expected it to be. What you can’t account for when you read about or hear stories about places like this is the real people that make up that story. I have been dreaming about, praying about, talking about, crying about places like Romaniv since we first discovered Reeces Rainbow back in the Fall of 2010. Today we got to see the faces, look into the eyes, hold the hands, hug the necks of the children we have dreamed about. It was unreal. It was also a very sad reality.
When we arrived we were met by the Director of Romaniv and one of his staff members. The staff member gave Jed and I a tour of the facilities. There is a building for laundry and bathing, a building where a nurse is available, a cafeteria/kitchen building, a recreational building that is under construction (no roof yet), and then there are 2 buildings where the boys sleep and spend their days. These are one-level buildings with one long hall and rooms off to the sides. In building #1 live the boys who are more high functioning, meaning they can go the the bathroom themselves, dress themselves, and feed themselves. We entered the building and there was first a bathroom, then some bedrooms lined with rows of beds. Then there was the room where the boys spend all their time. This room is a square room lined with benches. That’s it. No toys, no books, no nothing at all. Just boys on benches. When we walked in to the first room with boys in it (they are divided into 2 rooms, one for younger boys and one for older) one of the MTU volunteers was playing worship songs with his accordion. Some of the boys absolutely loved it! They grabbed our hands and tried to dance with us. They rubbed my long hair, they hugged us, they touched us, starving for attention. That was to be expected and it was precious. What I couldn’t look past and I hope I never forget is the boys on the fringes. Many little boys, too busy self-stimulating looked like they were on another planet, appearing to be completely unaware of the happenings in the room. They shrank away from our touch. They rocked, they fluttered their hands in front of their faces, they drooled, they rocked some more. These sweet, sweet little boys so isolated and without attention that they don’t even know how to receive touch when it’s offered. This is what killed me. Here they sit in this room day after day, year after year. While I go about my life, they remain.
This is their childhood.
This is their life.
We left that room and moved to the next group of boys. The accordion had moved along with us so the party continued. It was so beautiful to see the MTU staff interact with the boys. They called them by name, touching each one that would accept their touch. Teasing them, rubbing their heads, looking them in the eye. God was so present there. The boys’ eyes lit up. Beautiful.
The next building was for boys that are lower functioning, not as capable. Here we met Misha, who loved to sing his guts out. I’m not sure anyone could understand what he was singing, but boy oh boy he could belt it out! Slavik, a little boy smaller than my Ezra, wandered the hall alone with a vacant look in his eye. We met Vladik, a sweet boy with Apert Syndrome. I felt partial to him of course, since our first Ukrainian love has the same condition. Vladik desperately needs his fingers separated, but that didn’t stop him from building a pretty sweet block tower. Jed and Eugene, a boy who looked about 10, crawled around on the carpet pretending to be animals and a vacuum. One little one sat in a wheelchair, his face red and scarred from his self-harming behaviors. So loved by God, so precious in His sight.
Some of the higher functioning boys got to go the cafeteria where some of the MTU staff taught them a Bible story and did a craft with them. How proud they were of their craft! The Romaniv staff says the boys start asking on Monday “Is it Friday yet?” MTU’s visits give them something to look forward to. That feeling of having something to look forward to is such a human emotion. It has changed these boys’ lives. Jesus is changing this place by His power alone. Praise God. One of the caregivers told us that years ago the death rate at Romaniv was 5-10 children every year. Since MTU started coming 4 years ago there has not been one single death. God is having His way. He WILL win the day.
As Jed and I have started to try to process today we were struck by how many things would have to be done at governmental levels for the big changes to take place that are needed in places like Romaniv. How many different “Romanivs” are there? How many children are hidden away without people like MTU bringing the hope of Christ to them? How many tucked away institutions? How many overwhelmed, underfunded directors? How many exhausted, underpaid, unappreciated caregivers?
As we pray and consider how we are to help it can be overwhelming. We can so easily move to that place of guilt. Why them and not us? How can our lives be so completely opposite? How can I move on with my life knowing little ones sit rocking and drooling, merely existing, not truly living. What can we do that can possibly make a difference? The need is absolutely enormous.
In those moments I just hear God saying “Do the next thing. Listen, obey, and do the next thing.” We were so humbled by the obedience and faithfulness of MTU. They have not let evil overcome them. They have listened, obeyed, and God is overcoming evil with good. It is making all the difference in the world to the boys in Romaniv. It is literally saving their lives.
God, speak to your people. Show us how we should respond. Help us live lives that say, “Yes Father. When you call, we will answer and say yes.”
Give us courage, Father, to say yes.
We didn’t take any pictures inside Romaniv, so if you want to see the faces of the boys we are talking about please visit MTU’s website HERE. Or check them out on facebook! They have tons of pictures of the boys. MTU is no joke. They rock.