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PRESTON: An Update + Video

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

THANK YOU to every one of you who has shared Preston’s story with the world. As of today more than 40,000 people have viewed the blog post about his urgent need for a family.

Please keep sharing! So far no one has stepped up for Preston. There have been many, many inquiries by email, Facebook and Instagram, but no one has taken the leap.

I can not emphasize enough that this is a race against time. A family must step up NOW. If you are one of those interested families, I’m sorry to rush you…but hurry up! ūüôā

Certain questions about Preston have been asked several times, so I will answer them here.

Why can’t Preston’s current family adopt him? There is no doubt that Preston’s current caregivers love him immensely. They adore him and he is a genuine member of the family. They also went into this committing to care for him for one year, and now have passed the two year mark. They never took Preston in with the plans to keep him forever. His current family saved his life. They nursed him back to life and have sacrificed SO MUCH because of their great love for him. Their hearts will break to see him go. But they are not, and have never been, his permanent plan.

  1. Much like in the US, after a certain length of time in transition, a child’s case must move to a permanency plan. Preston’s time in transition has run out. His permanency plan is adoption- either domestic or international. He can not legally stay in his current situation.
  2. Ukraine does not allow single parent adoptions. He currently lives with a single woman and her adult daughter. Neither of them are legally allowed to adopt him.
  3. Both members of his current family have expressed more than once that they believe Preston would do best with a father in the family. He lights up around men and you can see he longs for that relationship that a father can provide. His current home can not provide that for him.

How can it be best for Preston to leave his country, culture and language and be adopted internationally? This is a question that is not easily answered in one paragraph of a blog post. So, so much in that question.

For sure, bringing Preston out of Ukraine into a family culture and language that is completely foreign to him will be very difficult for him. FOR SURE. There is no denying it. I am a huge advocate of keeping kids in their home culture whenever possible. The USA and other Western countries are wonderful and have many amazing resources that we do not have access to further east, but I definitely do not believe that the USA and other Western countries are the best place for every child.

So why do I advocate for Preston to be adopted out of Ukraine?

  1. I advocate for that because no one in Ukraine has stepped forward for him.
  2. Preston would greatly benefit from medical resources (therapy, medications) that are simply not available yet in Ukraine. He has so much potential, but lack of consistent therapy and doctors up-to-date on the latest in helping children with CP hold him back significantly. His CP is basically untreated at this point.
  3. He is a very smart boy, but Ukraine does not have special education, so he is unable to attend school. This breaks my heart because I KNOW he is so capable. There are no resources here for home education- least of all education of a child with any special needs.

We love Ukraine. Heck, we moved our entire family here, permanently. I am not some random person who is not personally invested into this country and her people. We have given our lives to being sparks of change here. So let’s get that straight: I love Ukrainian people. I am committed to Ukraine. I also am raising children and adults with significant special needs here in Ukraine and I face every day what it means to live with people in a culture that does not accept them. Change is coming slowly, but it is extremely difficult to ¬†live in Ukraine with people with special needs. I’m not just talking about lack of accessibility, which is a big problem, I’m talking about the attitude of the society as a whole. Life here is an uphill battle for our guys every day and I’m not going to pretend that life would necessarily be better for Preston here.

If a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that love him and is ready to fight for him then OF COURSE it is better for that child to stay in Ukraine with his family. That’s not even a question. On the other hand, if a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that does not want him (like Preston) or feels they can not care for him and they give that child to the State, then it is in the child’s best interest for us to look as far and wide as we can until we find someone who will love and care for him.

Those are hard words to write, but it’s my love for Preston and thousands of others just like him that compels me to point at the elephant in the room and not ignore it. If Preston is not adopted he will return to the institution where he nearly died, so no, when it comes down to him losing his language or losing his life, I will not say it is best for him to stay in ¬†Ukraine.

If you have more questions about Preston or adoption please don’t hesitate to ask! I am happy to talk with interested families.

I wrote extensively about his needs here.¬† You can give a tax-deductible donation to Preston’s adoption grant here.

Thank you for your continued advocacy! Please keep it up! Let’s find our boy a family.

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I know I wrote some strong words about Ukraine. Of course there are many exceptions to this and a few of them come and work at our house every day. They fight alongside us for our guys and they, and others like them, will be the ones to change their country. 

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URGENT- Family Needed

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

Hello Dear Friends.

I’m coming to you today with an urgent need. My heart is heavy and I’m pleading with you to share, pray, and consider how you could play a part in this story.

Remember “Preston” (formally known as ‘Baby A’)? I wrote a detailed blog about him here. To jog your memory, he was dying at the institution in October 2016. We went there in the night and after calls to people in high places of the Ukrainian government, he was rescued and he lived. He now lives with a wonderful family in our church and is available for international adoption.

We just learned that Preston has 6 months to be adopted or he will be returned to the Institution.

Friends, this simply CAN NOT happen.

Life in the institution almost killed Preston. He was hours from death when we came to him that October night. I am certain returning to that place would be a death sentence for him.

He is so smart, so beautiful, so social. He is a part of a family now and he is adored. Preston has blossomed in family life and we just can’t let him be orphaned again.

Due to personal circumstances and Ukrainian law, Preston cannot remain in his current living situation. He is loved very much, but all involved know international adoption is the best plan for him.

So I am asking you to please DO something to help our boy. Do not just read this and move on. Imagine your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, safe in their bed at home one day and the next day left alone in a mental institution. What would you do to prevent that reality? I know what I would do. I would shout. I would share the story. I wouldn’t give up and I wouldn’t shut up until they were free. Preston is no less worthy of that effort.

Here are ways you can help:

1. Share this post far and wide.

2. Donate to Preston’s adoption grant. The donations are tax-deductible and help remove the financial burden of the adoption process for the family that chooses him. Donate here.

3. PRAY! God knows and sees our boy. May His will be done.

4. Consider if you could be Preston’s family. Why not you? Do not assume this is someone else’s YES. Maybe this is your YES. Please consider.

Help me shout for Preston! He can’t speak up for himself. We are his voice.

Read more about Preston here.

BeLOVE[d]

Please email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org for more information about Preston or the adoption process.

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The Lonely

Yesterday we got Anton and Ruslan’s medical histories from the institution. Oh my heart. Twenty plus years of their life, summed up in doctor’s chicken scratches on paper yellowed from time. We know the basics of how they spent the last 20 years. They sat on benches inside in the winter, and sat on benches outside in the summer. End of story. The medical files are the only hints we have of any significant life events outside bench- sitting.  They are our glimpse of our boys’ past- those, and a photo of each boy from time gone by.

My heart leapt and sank when I saw the photos. My babies! Oh my dear ones, I’m so sorry you had to wait so long. I’m so sorry you had no mama to comfort you, no papa to guide you. I’m so sorry you endured such abuse and neglect when you could not defend yourselves. You were so young, so small. My heart is broken for the little boy left at Romaniv alone and afraid.

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Ruslan, age 10

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Anton, age 16

Our life here is a full one; full of responsibilities and full of people. But our life here is also a lonely one. Our lives are completely absorbed with the care of people whom the society has thrown away. Our time, energy and love is wrapped up in people who are not accepted in this country. Our work is isolating. Couple that with language barriers and cultural difference, and then add the distance from loved ones…sometimes the loneliness of this life threatens to overwhelm.

The other night I was rocking Evie to sleep in a quiet, dark room. My thoughts were wandering and all of a sudden I was completely overwhelmed by loneliness. It washed over me like a giant ocean wave. I’d never felt anything like it. Evie wasn’t asleep, but I had to leave the room, lest my mind wander to a verrrrrrry dark place. I wept as I longed for family and friends far away. I lamented my lonely and often isolated existence in my Ukrainian village. I wished for the peer relationships with other moms that are non-existent at this time of my life when I need them so badly. If there ever was a “woe is me” moment- that was it. Not.pretty. Yikes.

I share that story not to bring pity on myself or to fill my inbox with messages from concerned friends, but to share what I am learning from it.

The feelings of loneliness I have are only the tip-tip-top of the iceberg of the loneliness our guys lived with their whole lives. In Anton, Ruslan and Boris we are seeing the effects of how 30 years of utter aloneness and helplessness shape a person. The effects are devastating. In my own loneliness, which greatly pales in comparison to the life they have known, God is granting me greater empathy and compassion for the boys I love so dearly.

I may feel alone, but-

I am surrounded by my family who love and care for me. They were abandoned by their family.

I chose this life that I’m living, and the sacrifices that come with it. They had absolutely no choice or agency in their situation. They were completely helpless. 

I have always been taught, and have always known that I was loved by God first, and also by many people. They had no one to teach them or comfort them. 

I have hope. I know that this work, this life is exactly what God has asked me to do and I trust that He will give me the grace to do it. They had no reason to hope. They lived in hell and were prisoners, innocent of any crime.

I do believe and trust that God comforted them while they were in the institution. I believe that He fathered them in ways we could not see. His word says that He is a Father to the fatherless, so I know it has to be true. At the same time, there is the reality that they were abused and neglected in every way- for decades. I can’t explain that paradox. I know both sides to be true and I guess I just won’t be able to make sense of it this side of eternity.

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Boris, age unknown

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Baby Vladik

Jean Vanier, a great man who has spent his life living with and loving people with intellectual disabilities, said “To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefore unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.‚ÄĚ

Ruslan, Anton, Boris, Vladik. I weep over the many years they had to taste that loneliness. I look at the pictures of them as little ones and wonder at what could have been, had they not waited so long.

In Ukraine alone, there are thousands of children and adults who are helpless and alone in institutions. But it doesn’t have to be that way!

Do you have room at your table for one more? Do you have love in your heart to give? Could you reach out and give of yourself so that one more soul could know the love of a family? No child, no adult should be alone and if you have the ability to help, then by all means- do it. It really doesn’t need to be more complicated than that. If all that is standing in your way is your desire for your own comfort, then it’s time for something to change.

Adoption is messy and uncomfortable and hard. Let’s be honest, it’s so much easier to not adopt. Like 500% easier. But this life isn’t about doing what’s easier. It’s about chasing hard after Jesus and running the race full-on till the race is complete. If you are alive, then your race is not complete. If running hard after Jesus means laying down your life so that another may truly live, then just go ahead and do it. If adoption is meant to be your YES and you are still saying NO, please reconsider. Someone is waiting for your yes, and the sooner you can get to that someone the better. If adoption isn’t supposed to be a part of your race, that’s perfectly okay! Just figure out what your YES is and get busy doing it.

In this month of November, this National Adoption Month, please consider again if adoption should be your YES. Consider again how you can make space in your heart and home for the lonely. Consider laying down your life so that others may live. Say YES!

BeLOVE[d]

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BeLOVE[d]

I remember that night as clear as day. I remember the night we drove to the institution, knowing only that one little boy was dying and we had to do something about it.

He was new to the institution, having arrived the week before from the baby house. He was sick upon arrival and was quickly sent to the hospital. The hospital said there was nothing they could do for him: “His brain is dying”. So they promptly sent him back to the institution to die. We had seen him just the day before, and although we had never met before and had no baseline, we didn’t think he looked too concerning. I’m an RN with many years of experience and I never would have imagined that the next night he would be on his deathbed. He looked pale, stiff, eyes with circles under them from exhaustion, but many of our boys look like that and they are not actively dying. I thought he looked fragile, but I did not fear for his life.

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The first day we met

I was wrong. Because now that I know this precious, precious boy I can look back and see how very ill he was that night. He was a shell of a boy. His body was there, but his soul was just barely hanging on. The boy we saw that day should have frightened the heck out of me. He was oh so sick. We just didn’t know.

Late at night, the day after we first met him I was contacted by some ministry friends who told me that he was dying and the nannies didn’t expect him to live through the night. I was shocked. What??? ¬†I just saw him! How can this be? A few of us from the team rushed to the institution late in the night to see if there was anything at all that could be done to save his life.

It was a fight. It was a battle I’ll never forget. I remember standing on the sidewalk outside the Isolation Hall. All around us was dark, save the moon above us, the four of us were discussing/arguing about what to do next. We were panicked and knew time was not on our side. In the end, we had to pull connections at the very top of the Ukrainian government to get our boy to the hospital. But, God made the way and to the hospital, he went. From the local hospital, he went to a regional hospital, then to a hospital in Kyiv- creating waves at every stop.

His story reached many people all over Ukraine. Top Dogs in the Ukrainian government took a big interest in his story and a fight for life became no longer just about him- but he began to represent the thousands just like him: forgotten, neglected, deemed unworthy, deemed a waste of time and resources. News stories were broadcast and people rose up in outrage. This little boy whose life was miraculously saved that night in a rural institution became a type of poster child for orphan reform. His life became a voice for the voiceless.

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In the hospital in Kyiv

Eventually our little one, we’ll call him “Preston” was released from the hospital and went to live with a sweet family from our church- an older mom and her two adult daughters. The plan was that he would live with them for a short time while his birth mom decided what she wanted to do: take him home, or sign away her rights and release him for adoption (returning him to institutional care was never an option any of us considered). The weeks turned into months and the months turned into a year, and the family fell in love. Preston has become a member of the family and he loves them just as much as they treasure him. And oh, how he has thrived in the light of their love.

The time has now come- the time we anticipated and dreaded all at once. The time has come to find our Preston a forever family outside of Ukraine. Mom decided that she is just not able to give him the care that he needs and deserves and she has signed away her rights. Our sweet in-between family, as much as they adore Preston, recognize that he will never be able to live up to his full potential here in Ukraine. He needs therapy and medical attention that is simply unavailable here. They cry just talking about me writing this blog post, but they love him enough to let him go.

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So, I’m turning to all of you, asking for help. The time has come to find the family that is perfectly suited for our boy. I am absolutely confident that they are out there.

Let me tell you more about Preston. He is 7 years old and has lived most of his life in a family. He lived with his mother and father until they felt they couldn’t care for him anymore, and then he spent a year and a half in institutional care before moving to live with the foster family. Because of that, he does not have the institutional behaviors you see in our boys at Romaniv. He has endured trauma, there is no doubt about that, but he has also known the love of a family and has been very well-loved at that!

Preston has Cerebral Palsy and this is his great challenge. He is not able to sit up, stand, or walk independently- but he sure wants to! He tries to mimic people and say words but does not speak fluently. He is not toilet trained at this time. His muscles just do not listen well to his brain, so his ability to feed himself or do much independently is limited. He is so smart. He understands everything and knows what he does and doesn’t want. Don’t let his disability trick you- he is fully alive in there and I can’t wait to see what he has to say once he is given more ways to communicate. Other than his CP diagnosis, he is a fairly healthy boy. He gets the occasional respiratory infection, but he is growing and developing in a healthy manner.

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He wants to stand and walk so badly!

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Preston enjoys cars, trucks and toys of all kinds. He needs some help to play with them, but he does like to play. He loves to watch cartoons and color…he enjoys age-appropriate activities, he just needs help in order to engage. His arms move unpredictably and the spastic nature of his CP makes intentional movement extremely difficult. He absolutely needs consistent therapy. ¬†Preston is social and likes to be with people. He is firmly attached to his current family and it’s easy to see how he loves them. He prefers them over anyone else and cries when he is separated from them. He even sleeps in their arms! I told you he is well-loved. ūüôā

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Preston is now available for international adoption and we are actively seeking a family. This adoption will be different than any other Ukrainian adoption I know of because Preston will be adopted while living in his current family- not from an institution. The high-ups in the government who personally care about him have worked to make that exception possible. The adoptive family will be well-supported in Ukraine as many, many people have a very personal interest in Preston and his well-being. He is loved by many. The Ukrainian portion of the adoption will be well-supported by the government. The current family is an absolute wealth of knowledge and would love to be a support to the adoptive family in whatever ways the family wants.  In other words, if you step off the ledge for this one you will not be alone. We are here for you and our love for Preston compels us to do anything and everything we can to make his adoption a success.

Saying yes to adopting Preston is no small decision. He will require a lot of care- especially in the beginning as he will be separated from everyone he loves. His care is physically demanding too. He’s getting to be a big boy and he can not care for himself at this point.

But, oh the joy. Oh.the.joy!

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Out of the many thousands of children in institutions all over Ukraine, God chose this one. He plucked Preston from his deathbed in the dead of night from an institution in the middle of nowhere and saved his life. He was mere hours away from dying- this beautiful, amazing, smart, happy boy was almost lost to us. But no. God saw him and acted. God has used Preston’s life to be a voice for others and I believe He will continue to do that.

He is one special boy and I have no doubt that his adoptive family will be blessed beyond measure by his life.

Will you help share him with the world?  Please share this post and please pray about your own response. Are you the family that is missing their son?

You can view Preston’s profile on an adoption advocacy site here.

If you have any questions about Ukrainian adoption in general, or more specific questions about Preston you can email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I will be happy to talk with you. Videos can be made available to interested families. 

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Seventeen.

Today our Vladik is 17 years old. SEVENTEEN! What in the world?

He has grown so much in every way over this past year. Soon we’ll celebrate 2 years home for our boy and I’m amazed at what a different person he has become.

He is daring and funny and creative and talkative.

If anyone in our family loses anything or is looking for any item they know they just need to go ask Vlad. He knows where everything is.

Vladik speaks more Ukrainian than English these days. He is fluent in both, can understand and speak both, but his go-to language for speaking is Ukrainian. I’m sure our home sounds funny to outsiders. The rest of us speak English at home, but then Vladik is always inserting his funny version of “Ukrainienglish”. I don’t even notice it anymore and we can understand everything he says, so it’s no problem for us. It’s only really a problem when he is speaking to anyone outside of our family that hasn’t spent much time with him. Then our family becomes translators. I can say “Speak English” or “Speak Ukrainian” (depending on the audience) a million times over, but Vladik is going to say what he wants to say, how he wants to say it. He’s stubborn like that. ūüėČ

His favorite foods have stayed the same since Day 1. His birthday food requests were “kasha” for breakfast (Cream of Wheat) and borscht with mashed potatoes for dinner. Some things never change. Hehe.

Speaking of food, in true teenage boy form, he is going to eat us out of house and home. Vladik eats more than any other person in our family- by far. He is a bottomless pit. BOTTOMLESS.

He was sure that when he turned 17 he would be able to drive a car. Sorry bud. Not happening.

Moving to the village has been the best thing ever for Vladik. He’ll spend hours outside building things with spare wood he finds around the property. He loves to ride his bike up and down our road, giving rides to the little neighbors.

Emotionally he is growing and changing as well. ¬†We have a ways to go there, and will probably always be working toward healing, but he is coming along bit by bit. Vladik is starting to exert more of his will, arguing a bit and back-talking a little, but those are good things! Annoying in the moment, yes (grrrr), but actually good. He isn’t so super eager to please out of fear or insecurity. He knows his place in our family and isn’t afraid to speak up. Those are big changes.

Vladik is so loved by our community here. It blesses our hearts. Our church family adores him. The neighbor kids in the village accepted him from the moment we moved in. We’ll have a party for him on Saturday and his guest list is super long. He knows he’s a popular dude.

Overall Vladik is happy and thriving. He fits perfectly into our family and we love him dearly. His journey, our journey has not been easy. We have many hard times and parenting Vladik takes a ton of effort. But, in general, he has transitioned into life in our family better than we ever could have imagined. He is just so smart and wonderful. I can’t even imagine him still living at Romaniv. It’s absurd! His life is so full!

I can’t wait to give the same opportunity to many of his friends who were left behind. I can’t wait to share blogs about their birthdays and Gotcha Day anniversaries. Soon, soon, soon. ūüôā

But today we celebrate our boy and the wonderful gift that he is to us.

We love you Vladislav Christopher. Happy Birthday!!

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While the Light Remains

About three weeks ago two new little loves arrived at our institution.  We had been anticipating their arrival, wondering what they would be like.  Our Ben had recently vacated his crib (YAY!), and while our hearts were broken, knowing his crib would soon be filled again, our hearts were also expectant, knowing two new lives would enter ours, and knowing we would love them instantly.

We were right.  Love at first sight.

Sweet Baby A has been hospitalized almost continually since the transfer. ¬†We haven’t been able to get to know him yet, but we love him nonetheless, and right now we are just thankful that he is alive and on the mend.

Our other little love has us all smitten. ¬†We are goners, and I can guarantee you’ll be one too by the end of this post.

Meet baby “Kayden“.


COME.ON. How can cuteness like this exist?  Especially in a mental institution out in the boonies????  He is out of control perfection.  COME.TO.MAMA.

I introduced him to you on FB yesterday and so many people were instantly in love. ¬†We had let our kids name him “Sam”, after our friend Sam who just visited us last week. ¬†Boy was I surprised when I found out that he had already been listed on an orphan advocacy site, and there were already people who had been trying to find a family for him! ¬†They had named him “Kayden“, so we’ll just run with that. ¬†Sam=Kayden=bundle of love.


If you click on his profile on the advocacy site you will find a loooooong list of diagnoses.  Many of them sound very scary and many of them sound just plain confusing.  I get that.  But for just one minute, forget that list and look at the child.

He is perfectly amazing. ¬†He is beautiful. ¬†He is pure sunshine. ¬†He is giggles and smiles and hilarious expressions. ¬†He is light in a dark place and HE DOES NOT BELONG THERE. ¬†No child belongs there, it’s true. ¬†But seriously, we have got to get this baby out, and we’ve got to do it quick.

The thing is, our institution ruins children. ¬†It is all sensory deprivation and neglect and ugliness. Little Kayden has a spark. ¬†He has life and light in his eyes and he doesn’t yet know that he has been sent to die. ¬†Did you know that when baby houses transfer boys to our institution that they expect them to be dead within 6 months? ¬†It’s true. ¬†I’ve heard it from directors’ mouths. ¬†Everyone knows that a mental institution is no place for a fragile piece of sunshine like this. ¬†How can a child thrive in a place like this? ¬†He can’t. ¬†A mental institution is a death sentence. ¬†It’s the end of the road.

Unless.

Unless one brave family looks at the child, and considers the diagnoses and decides to take a leap for the sake of a life.

Kayden is available for adoption, and adoption is what will save his life.

We have him in a room with our Isaiah where he will get good nanny attention, and that is good. ¬†That is necessary. ¬†He would most surely die if it weren’t for those special nannies. ¬†But even the best nanny can not provide what a mommy and daddy can give. ¬†Consider our little Ben! ¬†He is home with his family and is gaining weight like crazy! ¬†Our nannies could never get him to gain no matter how hard they tried. His mommy reports that he is starting to find his voice. ¬†With us he was practically silent. ¬†I’ve seen video of him smiling and laughing- that is not the boy we knew. ¬†Now he is known. ¬†Now he is loved. ¬†Now he has light in his eyes. ¬†Children were not made for institutions. ¬†Children were made for families. ¬†Our Vladik and little Ben are living proof of that.

Kayden still has light and hope.  My heart longs for a family to scoop him up before we have to watch that light fade.



Kayden is five years old and weighs 19lbs. Right now he only drinks from a bottle, but our team is trying to teach him to eat from a spoon. He can sit up, but he does not crawl or walk. Would you please consider our boy? ¬†Would you please pause and ask God how He would like you to respond to this face? ¬†Would you please share Kayden’s face far and wide so that his mommy and daddy might see him as quickly as possible and come to him? ¬†Sharing works. ¬†That is how our boys are being found. ¬†We simply have to get their faces out there and then God does the rest. ¬†Let’s get this baby out while the light still remains. ¬†Ready, set, go!¬†

If you would like more info about Kayden, please do not hesitate to contact me.  You can comment here, or you can email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org. You can find more photos of him and info about the adoption process in his country here.

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The Front Lines

Last night, in the middle of the night, we stood outside the orphanage, unsure of what to do.  A young child lay dying inside and never had we felt so helpless.  All the details of what transpired are for a later post, as a lot is still unresolved, but last night there was a fight for his life on all levels, and I will never ever forget it.  For now, he lives.

Lately we have felt pressed on all sides. ¬†Lately it’s felt like the difficulties will never stop and the obstacles will just keep on coming without relief. ¬†Several times over the past couple of months we’ve said “Something’s gotta give.” ¬†Some days we felt like we just couldn’t take one more challenge. ¬†It all just feels like too much.

BUT

Then we remember the big picture.  We are not simply fighting an injust system.  We are not just battling passport officers and city administrators and higher-ups only looking to fill their pockets.  This battle is not against flesh and blood.

We are fighting for lives. ¬†We are fighting for precious souls who have been discarded by the world. ¬†We are fighting for God’s Kingdom to come in a very dark place. ¬†We are fighting for glimpses of Heaven to break through. ¬†And we do not fight alone. ¬†God goes before us and this is HIS battle.

Right now our team is on the front lines and we are advancing.  Look what God is doing!

Our sweet Stephan will have a family! ¬†Yes, a family has committed to adopting our little love. ¬†It’s a miracle. He will have a future. ¬†He will be saved. ¬†They are in the beginning stages of paperwork, but they love him and are fighting to get to him.


Two other families are still working hard to adopt Isaiah and Jonathan.  They have hit many roadblocks along the way, but progress is being made and we are confident that God goes before them.


The new roof is going up on our Wide Awake property house.  Every day brings us closer to bringing our boys out for good.

Next week our family will submit our documents for permanent residency.  Once we get permission to stay here forever it will be much easier for us to register Wide Awake as a Ukrainian non-profit.  That will be a big and necessary step toward getting our boys out.

Jed and Den, our pastor and board member, met with the Ukrainian Ombudsman for the Rights and Protection of Children to discuss Wide Awake’s vision and plans. ¬†The President’s office is aware of our team and the work. Relationship is building there and who knows how God plans to use that?

All of this is thanks to God.  He gets the glory for every single bit of it because there is NO WAY we could have strategized enough or worked hard enough for this kind of advancement.  We certainly would have screwed it all up.  God loves our Boys so very much and He is clearing the way for freedom. HE is doing all of this, not us.

So, it is no wonder that we meet resistance. ¬†It’s no wonder that with all of this amazing stuff happening we meet obstacles of every kind. ¬†It’s no wonder that our hearts get overwhelmed and we are hit with trial after trial. ¬†It’s no wonder that we get afraid and intimidated and distracted. ¬†The enemy will not give up his ground so easily.

Last night, standing in the cold, knowing death was near, we were on the very edge of the front line.  We were in the line of fire.  Never in your life can you be prepared for a moment like that.  Never in your life could you imagine that you would need to convince medical professionals of the value and worth of a life.

Friends, we need prayer like never before.  The battle is heating up and much is at stake.  We need supernatural wisdom like never before.  We need favor with government officials and orphanage administration.  We need to know when to push and when to hold back.  Most of all we just need Jesus.  We need to have his heart and his eyes. We need to remain humble and small in our own eyes, that He might be lifted up.  We need to simply say yes and give Him the control.  He loves our boys more than we ever could.

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Please pray for our new little one who is so sick.  I will give details as I am able. Thank you! 

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From Darkness Into Light

One month ago the most miraculous thing happened. ¬†I didn’t realize that basically I’d been holding my breath since January. ¬†I didn’t realize it until one month ago when our team finally breathed a collective sigh of relief.

He made it.  He survived.  He made it out. His family took him out forever, never to return.

Our baby Ben was saved.


I think we all hoped with all of our hearts that it would happen, but until I watched Ben’s mommy and grandma walk him out of the Isolation Hall, down the sidewalk, and actually get into the van with him, I’m not sure I believed it would really happen. ¬†It was just too good to be true. ¬†FREEDOM!!!!

Ben is at home with his loving daddy and mommy and two brothers. ¬†He is doing amazing. ¬†He is a survivor and he beat the odds. ¬†And now he has a future! ¬†It’s what we want for every single one of our boys. ¬†It’s the perfect end to a beautiful love story…actually I guess it’s the perfect beginning, because only now does Ben’s life truly begin.


Freedom. It’s what we want for every single boy and man within the walls of the institution. ¬†That’s why we moved here. ¬†That’s why we purchased the land. ¬†That’s why Jed spoke in Switzerland yesterday and in Germany today. ¬†Many, many people need to know about our boys because it will take many, many people to help set them all free.

Almost all of our boys are trapped in the cycle of institutions forever unless we get them out into group homes.  They are too old to be adopted or their parents still maintain their rights.  They are stuck.

BUT Stephan. ¬†Stephan is not stuck. ¬†He is one of the very few who is available for adoption. ¬†His fate doesn’t have to be the same as the others. ¬†He could have the freedom and love that Ben now knows- and he could have it soon! ¬†All that is needed is one loving family to step forward and claim their son.


Stephan is such a tiny little love. ¬†He’s thirteen years old but about the size of our 6 year old, Seth. ¬†If you didn’t know his age you’d swear he’s 6 or 7. ¬†Years of neglect, physical and emotional, have stunted his growth. ¬†He loves to eat, and eats well, but he’s still so tiny.

I’ll tell you what, Stephan is all boy! ¬†There is nothing he likes more than to be spun around and around and to sit on a walker or in a wheelchair and be pushed FAST. ¬†The faster the better for our boy. ¬†He loves to play rough and he loves tickles. ¬†See, the thing is, our sweet Stephan is blind. ¬†To be in darkness in that place, oh my heart can’t even comprehend. ¬†The institution is a rush to all of your senses. ¬†The smells, the sounds, the sights, all of it rushes you like a freight train upon entering, but when I think about hearing and smelling all of that and not being able to see? ¬†Yeah, I get a little panicky just thinking of it, and I’m a grown woman! ¬†No person should have to sleep one night there, let alone spend years there in darkness. ¬†It’s just too much. ¬†Too much. ¬†Someone please get him out of there.


I’ve been wanting to hardcore advocate for Stephen for a long time. ¬†There was just one major detail that kept me from it. ¬†We knew that he was blind, but then several nannies told us that he was also deaf! ¬†This was news to us because deafness was not in his medical file. ¬†Yet several insisted that yes, he was deaf. ¬†I did not believe it, but I needed to be 100% sure before I could ask a family to come for him and be confident on that very big detail.

You might be thinking “How could you NOT know if a child is deaf or not? ¬†Wouldn’t it be obvious?” ¬†In a typically developing child in a safe environment, yes I guess it would be fairly easy to detect if there was a problem, but at our institution it is not. ¬†I told you before that the your senses are assaulted upon entering, right? ¬†I don’t even know how to fully explain to you what it is like there. ¬†It is loud: screeches, screams, some laughter, crying, yelling. ¬†During the day the noise is just about constant. And then there is the lack of stimulus. ¬†There is just nothing there. ¬†Unless the interns or a team is there, the Isolation Hall is just pure nothingness. ¬†No books, no toys, no music, nothing. ¬†Years of pure nothingness, lack of stimuli, has left our boys with many inappropriate behaviors and responses. ¬†Pure nothingness leads them to self-harming behaviors and autistic-type behaviors. ¬†Now imagine that nothingness coupled with darkness? ¬†Yeah, horrible. ¬†Stephan, like many of the other boys, does not respond appropriately much of the time. ¬†He has learned to tune out the world around him. ¬†It’s survival.


A few weeks ago I was sitting on a bed with our Vitya, cuddling him to sleep because he had a horrible toothache. Stephan came and was sitting at the other end of the bed. ¬†I sat quietly and just observed him, hoping to get my questions answered about his hearing. ¬†I called his name, no response. ¬†He sat quietly twirling his sock in front of his face, twirling and twirling. ¬†Then a nanny came in and saw that his socks were off. ¬†“Stephan, why are your socks off? ¬†Give me your foot” He stuck his foot out. ¬†“Now give me your other foot.” ¬†He stuck out his other foot. ¬†She wasn’t touching his feet, she was only speaking, and he listened and obeyed. ¬†Question answered. ¬†He hears. ¬†I told that nanny what others had said about him being deaf. ¬†Her reply “Maybe he doesn’t want to listen all the time, but of course he hears!” ¬†Haha. Sounds like a typical kiddo to me!

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Stephan is potty-trained and goes to the toilet independently. ¬†He does not self-harm, nor have I ever seen him harm others. He doesn’t really interact with the other boys at all. ¬†He could learn to feed himself, but at this time he’s not interested in learning. He can walk and run, but he does not speak. he spends all of his days standing under the window or sitting in the kitchen waiting for the next meal. ¬†He spins and twirls to get his sensory needs met and he adores going outside. But, his quality of life is very poor and will remain that way until he is free.

I believe with all of my heart that there is a family out there for our sweet boy. ¬†He has SO MUCH potential!!! ¬†Please don’t be scared off by his age. ¬†He’s like a toddler in behavior, and like a first grader in size, yet in a little over two years he will age out and his chance to be adopted will be gone forever. ¬†He has waited too long in unsafe darkness.

Would you please pass on Stephan’s face to others? ¬†Would you please consider him for your own family? ¬†Maybe you have said that you hope to adopt someday but have never considered a special needs adoption. ¬†Would you consider it now? ¬†Would you at least promise to pray and ask God how He would like you to respond? ¬†We always said we would not consider special-needs adoption…uh yeah…never say never. ¬†Ha!

This boy lives in a very bad place and he needs out yesterday.  I know that I know that the family who chooses him will be so blessed to see him blossom before their very eyes.  He is an absolute treasure.


I am happy to answer any questions you may have about Stephan.  Just comment here or email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org 

Also, our Stephan has a $10,000 adoption grant through Reece’s Rainbow!!! ¬†That removes a HUGE barrier to his adoption. ¬†Please share him far and wide and let’s find this boy a family!¬†

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All About Vladik: One Year Free

Two days ago we celebrated one year of freedom for our sweet Vladik. ¬†Our miracle boy spent the day at a Hungarian water park (long story…for another post) discovering his great love for enormous water slides. ¬†He ran and played and splashed, yelling “Mom, look! ¬†Dad, watch me!” He watched his brothers and sisters do things he was nervous to do, then conquered his fears and tried for himself. ¬†He ate ice cream and pizza and laughed and asked “Blue slide again?”

He truly lived.


On one hand I can hardly believe a whole year has passed since Vladik came out of Romaniv forever, but mostly it feels like a lifetime ago.  When I go to Romaniv these days I can hardly picture him there.  He is truly a different child.

It’s interesting because if you ask anyone who visited Romaniv and met Vladik there they would all tell you how happy he was. ¬†He was always laughing and smiling. ¬†ALWAYS. ¬†But now that we truly know him we can see his behavior then for what it really was. ¬†Yes, he was smiling, and yes he laughed a lot, but he was also afraid- ALL THE TIME. ¬†His body showed his fear in the way he held himself; his shoulders scrunched up, his head down, full-on protection mode at every moment. His laugh seemed happy, but now we know that laugh as the nervous, afraid laugh that shows up when he is unsure. If you asked him for a hug he would sort of back up toward you and lean a shoulder in. You could see he was compliant but he didn’t feel comfortable and he didn’t enjoy it. ¬†He was afraid of physical contact and always on guard. ¬†He had a bright countenance that I believe came from the Lord, but it was just a dim flicker compared to how he shines now.

The boy we knew at Romaniv was a shadow of the boy we know now.  And the boy we know now is amazing.

Passport photo 2015

Passport photo 2016

He is funny and loves to make his siblings laugh. He comes up to me several times a day with his arms open as wide as possible, asking for a hug. He adores Bluebell, our puppy, and could play with her for hours. He likes ice cream and potatoes and pizza and soup. He’s a daredevil and wants everything faster and higher and louder. His bike is his most prized possession. He and Seth are still thick as thieves and when they get too quiet I know something is up…typical brothers. ūüėČ He speaks English and Ukrainian and a mish-mash of the two that can only be described as “Vladik speak”. Oh, and he pretty much never stops talking. ¬†Motor.Mouth.

We think Vladik is doing miraculously well. ¬†His transition to our family has been amazingly smooth. ¬†BUT 15 years of institutionalization, 11 of those in a bad place, can not be erased in one year. ¬†We have so many wonderful moments, and we also have so many difficult moments. ¬†Parenting a child who has lived a lifetime of trauma is no joke. ¬†It requires constant reassurance and truckloads of patience (of which I am guilty of running short). ¬†Just when you think you’ve conquered a certain behavior or fear something triggers and you go ’round the mountain again…and again.

Put your arms down. No beeping. We’re going home soon. Put your arms down. ¬†No beeping. If you want to talk to someone just say “hi”, you don’t need to make strange noises to get attention. No beeping. Put your arms down. And on and on…

It’s no secret that extra struggles come with the fact that we are back in Ukraine. ¬†Most every other internationally adopted child I know leaves their institutional life and it is over and gone for good; new life, new memories, old life gone forever. ¬†That will never be Vladik’s reality. ¬†Romaniv has stayed and will stay a part of his life. ¬†It is our life. ¬†As much as we would love for him to, he doesn’t ever get to fully forget. We will never ever take him to Romaniv again, and we tell him that all the time, but he knows we go there and he hears us talk of it daily. Some people might think it’s cruel of us to bring him back here where he is constantly reminded of his past. ¬†We know that. ¬†We know, and our only response is “God said so.” ¬†Just like our other children have an unusual life because of what God has called our family to, so it is with Vladik. ¬†And just like we trust that God is caring for our other children and giving them what they need, so it is with Vladik. ¬†When we chose to say yes to adopting Vladik we knew this would be his reality and still we knew that we knew God was saying to make him our son. ¬†So we did.

Annnnnd God is making a way for our boy, even here in Ukraine. ¬†He is surrounded by our team who knew him when he was an orphan and know him now. ¬†In their eyes he is a celebrity. ¬†He is what we dream of for all of our boys, in the flesh. ¬†His presence in our church here in Ukraine brings hope and refreshment to those who work tirelessly on behalf of the ones Vladik left behind. ¬†He brings joy wherever he goes. ¬†ūüôā


A local private school welcomed all our kids with open arms, including Vladik. ¬†He gets to do PE, music, and art with the fifth grade, while having individual lessons the rest of the day. ¬†I get to make his lesson plans and our dear friend has agreed to teach him. ¬†She loves Vladik and sees him for the beautiful soul that he is. ¬†Their lessons start next month and I can’t wait to see how he thrives. ¬†So far the kids at the school have been kind and accepting of Vladik. ¬†We are thankful.

He gets to attend a weekly class at Mission to Ukraine where he will be treasured and valued.  Full circle.


The other day we were visiting a beautiful basilica in Budapest. ¬†We decided to pay the fee and go see the inside of the building. We approached the cashier and when he saw Vladik he smiled so warmly. ¬†He almost pushed us into the church, “You don’t pay! ¬†Please, please go for free” he exclaimed with a kind pat on Vladik’s back, and a look of tenderness in his eyes. I could see there was no pity there, only love. Oh man, the tears were flowing. ¬†That man, he saw the beauty of our boy. ¬†There was no look of disgust, no disdain, no mouth-hanging-open staring. ¬†There was love. ¬†For me that moment was a gift from God. ¬†It felt like God was whispering over us “See, I see your boy, and I’m watching over him.”

Vladik’s healing is a long road, but he is definitely well on his way. ¬†He is absolutely flourishing and growing and LIVING. ¬†We will never ever be the same because he is our son. ¬†He is our gift and I pray we never take him for granted.

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The Beauty and the Grief of Older Child Adoption

Vladik will turn 16 next month. It will be the celebration of the century, because our baby finally has a family. I can’t wait to celebrate the life of our boy. He is a warrior. He is a survivor. I can’t wait to shower him with love and attention. I can’t wait to show him with song and cake and presents and word and hugs that he is special; he is loved; he is wanted.

After 15 years of nothingness, he was CHOSEN. 

Older child adoption is a tough thing. ¬†It is a scary thing. ¬†It is not something to go into without much prayer and consideration, just like with any adoption. ¬†Every adoption has the scary unknowns. ¬†Adoption is a leap of faith and there is no “easy” adoption. ¬†Adoption is just hard. ¬†Beautiful and hard. ¬†ūüôā But it’s different with older child adoption, isn’t it? ¬†You can’t erase the cold hard facts that are years and so.much.time gone by. It makes a difference.

Vladik had 15 years of life without us. ¬†He has 15 years worth of memories and trauma and pain and stress and fears, and we weren’t there. ¬†We weren’t there to comfort him. ¬†He was in a very unsafe, very traumatic, very scary place and there was no mommy and daddy to fight for him. ¬†It kills me to think of it.

Our friends at Mission to Ukraine (MTU) and Bible Orphan Ministry (BOM) have told us about what Romaniv was like when they first visited: MTU 8 years ago and BOM 10, maybe 12 years ago.  Before BOM first visited there had been no outsiders ever, that we know of.  The boys were like wild animals, the conditions appalling and disgusting, the staff overworked and hopeless.  Romaniv looks amazing these days, compared to what was, and even today it is a place that turns sweet little boys into lifeless shells.  It is a bad place today.  No child should have to spend one night there.  It was even worse before.

And my Vladik was there.  Sent to Romaniv as a tiny, chubby-cheeked four year old, he was there before there was hope.

I got this picture in my inbox this morning from Bible Orphan Ministry. ¬†It’s from a time soon after Vladik’s transfer. ¬†Oh my baby. ¬†If only we had known you. ¬†If only we could have gotten to you sooner…

What grief.  All that time lost.  All that time, as his view of the world was being shaped, he was living in hell.

The grief of older child adoption can not be ignored. ¬†They have simply waited so long, and because of that, the healing is slow and tedious, and sort of like an onion. ¬†So many layers of pain and fear need to be peeled away- and they don’t come off easily. ¬†So many unhealthy learned behaviors. ¬†Survival of the fittest. ¬†In constant fight or flight- for 15 years.

I needed to see that picture today.  I needed to be reminded of where Vladik came from because I can easily forget.  The longer he is with us, the more I forget all the years before.

Lately he seems to have taken some steps back in his healing. ¬†We’ve seen more guarding, more anxiety, more institutional behaviors, less receptiveness to physical affection, more tears. Somehow I guess I thought we had won those battles. ¬†We were already over those mountains, and I found myself becoming impatient, not wanting to climb them again. ¬†I was growing annoyed with the institutional behaviors. ¬†I was impatient with the tears. ¬†I was less nurturing and more “buck up bucko”. ūüėČ

Then that picture popped up. ¬†How could I have forgotten???? ¬†I mean Romaniv is always on my mind. ¬†I never forget Romaniv. My babies are there, they are always in my heart, in my thoughts, on my brain. ¬†But how could I have forgotten about all those years…all those minutes, all those moments that Vladik endured in that place? ¬†FIFTEEN YEARS. ¬†Fifteen years can not be undone in 9 months. ¬†Sure, progress can be made, but we’re talking reprogramming EVERYTHING. ¬†We are talking about starting at square one and learning anew EVERYTHING.

And in that relearning comes the beauty of older child adoption.  

Redemption.

We get the honor and privilege of showing Vladik with our actions and with our words that things don’t have to be the way they were.

When you are hurt you can cry, you don’t need to laugh, because Mommy will come to you.

When you are unsure in a new situation, you don’t need to hold your ears and make loud noises to fill the space, because Mommy and Daddy are here and we will guide you.

When you have free time and you aren’t sure what you should do next, you don’t need to bang the walls or pace or rock because your brother will play basketball with you. ¬†Your sister will cuddle you and watch your favorite cartoon. ¬†Your Daddy will take you on a motorcycle ride. ¬†ūüôā

When you worry about having enough food or if your body is safe or about your feet that are so different, don’t. ¬†We will always feed you. Your body will be safe even without long sleeves. You will always have socks to cover your feet.

Look what God says!

‚Äú…Behold, I am making all things new.”Revelation 21:5
“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3

God loves our kids so much, and He is all about redemption.

In an older child adoption, we get to start over. ¬†We get to watch the redemption and we get to see our child grow from a frail, cowering little boy into a strong, outgoing teenager with a smile that lights up our world and a basketball shot that amazes us all. ¬†If you had told me 10 years ago that God would give us a 15-year-old son from a rural mental institution and he would be one of our greatest surprises, greatest treasures ever…I’m not sure I would have believed you! ¬†We are so thankful that God knows best.

If you are considering older child adoption, please don’t shy away. ¬†The battle is uphill, but the view at the top is beautiful. No child is beyond hope. ¬†No child is too far gone. ¬†After all, an older child is still just a child, and every child deserves to have a family.

 

These two older children are boys that I know and love with all my heart. ¬†They live where Vladik used to live. ¬†They are precious, and deserving, and they have waited too long. ¬†Would you please consider adding one of them to your family and being a part of their redemption story? ¬†Email me if you have any questions about them. ¬†PS:¬†They are each eligible for a $10,000 adoption grant through Reece’s Rainbow! ¬†¬†

http://reecesrainbow.org/90768/aaron-2

http://reecesrainbow.org/91925/stephan

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