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At Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage, there is one story that breaks my heart more than the rest. The story screams of injustice. But yet again, in the most unlikely of places there are whispers of hope…
Peter is disabled like the rest of the boys. He breathes the same reeking air. He eats the same awful food. Because of his progressive muscular dystrophy, he is confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, and most likely has only a little while left to live.
But Peter’s story is made so much worse by one simple fact. He is mentally healthy.
Yes. This beautiful boy can think, talk, read, dream and learn. He is not some mindless cripple. Oh, but he is treated like one…
Because of his immobility, Peter lives in the “severely” disabled section of the orphanage. Many of his playmates (if you can call them that) can’t even speak. They steal his toys and beat him. His “caretakers” treat him the same as every other boy at Romaniv… like an animal.
Although he is probably around 11 years old, he thinks he is six. You see, they don’t celebrate (or even record) birthdays at Romaniv. When he was dropped off at the orphanage by his father (yes, he remembers his family and yes, at least one parent is still alive), it was as if real life had just stopped for him.
His life is a nightmare, and like the rest of the boys at the orphanage, he lives for one thing… Thursday mornings.
When Mission to Ukraine first started visiting Romaniv a year ago, they took a few of the boys, including Peter, to their annual summer camp. For the first time, Peter was talked to, played with and treated like a person. He had a blast.
But when they brought him back to Romaniv, he wept bitterly. He told Oksana that he didn’t think God was good. How could he be good if he was forced to live in such misery?
For months, Peter’s attitude was the same. He was angry… distant. He wanted nothing to do with Jesus.
But the MTU folks never stopped loving him. Never stopped giving him dignity and hope and joy. And even though he had every right to continue in his anger, something was beginning to change.
Last week, I asked Oksana if we could take Peter outside for an interview. She thought it was a great idea. After bundling him up and carrying him down the stairs (did I mention there are no wheelchair ramps at Romaniv?), he took his first breath of fresh air in months.
Peter looked up and happily shouted, “Sky! Sky! Sky!” We wheeled him around the property, having a little trouble asking questions through his wide-eyed excitement. “Why are those trees cut down? What are they building there? Look! A tractor… ”
After a while, I asked the question, “Peter, what do you think of God?”
His answer? “He is good and he is my father.”
Oksana was blown away. Stunned, she turned and told me how amazing it was to hear him say that. Her only conclusion was that God must be doing something in his heart.
All week she kept talking about our interview with Peter. She just couldn’t believe that his heart had softened so much.
But this past Thursday, the truly miraculous happened. After hearing the Easter story, Peter decided to pray and ask Jesus into his heart. With that same look of stunned disbelief on her face, Oksana told me what had just happened.
Peter had joined the family…
Obviously, the hard truth remains. Peter is still an orphan. He is still trapped at Romaniv. He is still living on borrowed time.
But inside, Peter is free. No longer does he need to fear death, because a brand new life is springing up inside of him. Someday Oksana (and the rest of the folks at MTU) will be laughing and playing and dancing with him.
When the kingdom of God comes in all its fullness, Peter will be whole.
And forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but don’t you find it amazing that there is hope in the midst of such darkness? That in a place of such death, there is a movement of such life?
I don’t know about you, but it makes my world just a little bit brighter…
About the Author: Barry is the founder and Executive Director of World Next Door. A storyteller, traveller and giant nerd, he lives to compel suburban Americans to get engaged with social justice and find their place in God's kingdom revolution. His ultimate dream is to adopt a pet monkey named Kevin.