Meet Peter.

Posted Apr 18, 2009 by 19 Comments

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…

Meet Peter.

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.

Though his body is confined to a wheelchair, Peter's mind is free and healthy.

Though his body is confined to a wheelchair, Peter's mind is free and 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.

The grounds outside Peter's building.  They may not look like much, but for Peter, who hadn't been outside since the Fall, it was like the Garden of Eden!

The grounds outside Peter's building. They may not look like much, but for Peter, who hadn't been outside since the Fall, it was like the Garden of Eden!

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.

Oksana with Peter.

Oksana with Peter.

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…

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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.

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  1. World Next Door said... 


    April 18th, 2009 at 4:34 am  

    Here’s a little icing on the cake:

    The day that Peter accepted Christ was Oksana’s birthday.

    Happy Birthday Oksana!

  2. Kenneth Ney said... 


    April 18th, 2009 at 6:06 pm  

    This story is the essence of what MTU is all about. This is why we exist. To be the light in the middle of darkness, to be the hands, feet, eyes, and ears of Jesus to the lost and voiceless of Ukraine. I had the honor of sitting with Peter at meals at last years camp-what a sweet boy. I saw him weep when he had to go back to the orphanage when camp finished. It broke all of our hearts. Praise God now knows that his future in Christ is secure and that one day he will be whole with all of us who know Christ.
    Thanks Barry for this great news!!!

  3. Chyrise Ney said... 


    April 18th, 2009 at 8:11 pm  

    Barry, thanks so much for your beautiful story and pictures of Peter!! I am reminded again that each life is precious and meaningful to Christ. With so many hurting people in the world, it comforts me to know that I can make a difference with the few people God puts in my path . Without this knowledge I would be too overwhelmed!! Thanks again for your BEAUTIFUL Work! Your writing and photography are exceptional.

  4. Sharon said... 


    April 18th, 2009 at 9:45 pm  

    Wonderful article, Barry! Thank you for once again putting a face on the statistics and reminding us that there is no person or place beyond the transforming love of God if His Church will reach out.

  5. Rachel Royston said... 


    April 19th, 2009 at 10:50 am  

    Thanks for the story, Barry. More stories like this need to be shared. I wish more people could see and feel these incredible things that God is doing to see his kids overcome! Have you thought of visiting one of the summer camps this year? It is truly a remarkable experience. Keep up the great work!

  6. Cindy Bannon said... 


    April 20th, 2009 at 4:20 pm  

    I met Peter last summer at the MTU camp. Praise God that he has joined God’s family. May God continue to bless and comfort him.

    I will be leading a team of people at the end of June to participate in the MTU summer camp. If you would like to participate in this truly unique experience contact Mission to Ukraine at their website.

  7. eness said... 


    April 21st, 2009 at 4:01 pm  

    Yep, this story and a couple other things lately have reminded me again how much I long to be involved in loving the least of these. Thanks, Barry.

  8. Susie Bennett said... 


    April 22nd, 2009 at 10:44 am  

    Thank you Barry for sharing Peter’s story.

  9. Julie B. said... 


    April 22nd, 2009 at 2:50 pm  

    Wow. I pray that the caretakers will see God through Peter, and that they would free these boys more than the one hour a week with MTU. I pray they themselves will be changed to see these boys as boys.

  10. Jane VanOsdol said... 


    April 26th, 2009 at 9:14 pm  

    It is so humbling to think of the many times I have complained about an illness or a trivial thing that wasn’t going right in my day. I have been so blessed in my lifetime, yes, with things, but more so blessed with people who love. me. Peter has had so little love, yet in reading his story, he taught me a lesson about the riches of God’s love. Thank you, Peter.

  11. Erin (Vincent) Rood said... 


    May 8th, 2009 at 8:14 pm  

    What a miracle! I enjoyed Peter so much at last summer’s camp! He is truely an intellegent and well mannered boy! I can’t wait to see him again in eternity! Praise be to God!

  12. Amy Sorrells said... 


    May 25th, 2009 at 10:12 am  

    Oh how I wish we could adopt him!!!! I will adopt him in my heart . . .and all the others you write about on here. This is definiltey one of my very favorite stories on your site.

  13. Marie Saenger said... 


    May 26th, 2009 at 9:36 am  

    I’ve thought about the boys in this orphanage so much over the past year since my daughter was on the Grace team at last year’s camp. She came home telling about her visit to the orphanage and the boys from there who came to camp. My heart is wrenched every time I think about them and especially after reading this about Peter. I’m so thankful for MTU and the hope they’re bringing these boys. I’m praying that God will continue to bring hope and light into their lives…bless their hearts!

  14. Tucker Sorrells said... 


    May 26th, 2009 at 7:10 pm  

    I thought that this story will bring some people to tears. It is one of the most heart felt stories I’ve ever heard. I thought it was a very good story about how god will help any one if their heart is in turmoil. What I can;t believe is that the boys and councilers treat Peter like dirt. I thought it was funny that when he got out side( since he hasn’t been out in a long time) he said “SKY,SKY,SKY!” I just think it’s awsome that god can give hope to even the ones who have been put in a place like that in Romaniv.

  15. Jo Nading said... 


    May 26th, 2009 at 9:35 pm  

    Barry!!! I think I held my breath the entire time I read the article. I am feeling my heart in my head and through my chest as I want to reach through this laptop and touch Peter’s face – and hold his hand and rub his head and speak to him like the 11 year-old wonder he IS. I would say the welcome party planning has begun in Heaven. I have been thinking and praying about taking a trip with MTU even as soon as this year….I must admit this sure makes me want to go all the more. I sure do pray for his heart’s protection …for the assurance of his hope and faith in his Jesus. Thank you Barry for sharing. Thanks to MTU and blessings to you who regularly bring Jesus’ light into darkness such as this. Welcome to the family, Peter!

  16. Tracie Loux said... 


    June 10th, 2009 at 8:33 am  

    Praying for Peter! And what an incredible birthday gift to Oksana!

  17. Dorean Beattie said... 


    June 10th, 2009 at 11:11 am  

    Thank you for writing this. My heart aches for Peter, as well as the others in the orphanage with him. Praying…

  18. Dave Baldwin said... 


    February 27th, 2010 at 2:36 pm  

    Hey Barry,
    I have been thinking about a place the Baldwin family could partner with somewhere else in the world that works with the developmentally disabled. It’s a long story. I’ll share it with you soon. Would this orphanage be a good place or do you know of other places that would be better? I take it this is not a Christian endeavor. Do you know any that are?

  19. Barry Rodriguez said... 


    February 27th, 2010 at 2:46 pm  


    You are right that the orphanage itself is not a Christian organization. It’s run by the government. But Mission to Ukraine, the organization that is visiting each week with these boys definitely is Christian. And they have a fantastic ministry to the developmentally disabled.

    Beyond just the Romaniv Orphanage, they help families all over the city of Zhytomyr who have developmentally disabled children. They teach the kids, do physical therapy, have incredible summer camps, etc. They’re so unique in their care for the disabled that parents of these kids are coming to Christ in droves. They simply can’t believe that people would care for their disabled children the way they do.

    You can find info on MTU at their website:

    Also, you might want to check out the conclusion to this story of Peter. Within just a few months of writing this article, Peter was adopted by a Ukrainian family through the financial generosity of some WND readers!

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