Occasionally during intense or memorable experiences, you and I can have moments of clarity where we step back from what we are doing and realize, “I will remember this forever.”

Well on Thursday I visited the Romaniv Boys Orphanage, and it was definitely one of those moments…

I went with a team from Mission to Ukraine, who visit every Thursday morning to teach, play with and love on the boys. But this is not a normal orphanage. You see, at Romaniv, every boy has a mental or physical disability.

The Romaniv Boys Orphanage

The Romaniv Boys Orphanage. Beautiful on the outside...

In an attempt to prepare me for the experience, my Ukrainian hosts described the place as scary, difficult and overwhelming. Of course, I still wasn’t prepared for the barrage of sights, smells and emotions that came the moment we opened the door.

Immediately after walking into the orphanage, the stench of urine and feces hit me square in the face. The surreal sounds of screaming, laughing and moaning were a constant din in the background. Boys of all ages, with varying levels of physical impairment, sat huddled together on benches. One of them was standing in a puddle of his own urine.

I tried to throw on a big smile as a group of excited boys ran, walked and hobbled over to give me a hug…

One of Romaniv's older boys.

One of Romaniv's older boys.

The orphanage is about one hour’s drive from Zhytomyr, and is located quite literally in the middle of nowhere. Apparently the government likes to pretend that it doesn’t exist, and will do almost anything to keep prying eyes from seeing the conditions inside.

Mission to Ukraine wasn’t even sure that such a place existed when they started looking for it, but they figured that, with the number of abandoned children in the area, there must be a large number of disabled kids somewhere.

After many months of searching and dealing with tight-lipped government bureaucrats, they found it. The Romaniv Boys Orphanage, home to 86 mentally and physically disabled boys.

Ever since that day, the folks at MTU have been visiting the boys every Thursday morning to teach them, play with them, and most importantly, to love them.

Another boy at Romaniv.  He loved seeing himself in the camera.

Another boy at Romaniv. He loved getting his picture taken.

And love them they do. While we were driving, the MTU gals were literally giddy, laughing and talking excitedly. One of them, Yulya, turned around and explained, “We love going every week, so we get really excited…”

Excited? You love going? As I stood in the entrance to the orphanage, surrounded by filthy, reeking boys, I shook my head in amazement.

In many ways, the boys are treated like animals by their “caretakers.” Food, shelter, the occasional bath… Their guardians have literally no training in caring for the disabled. The boys are given no education, no trips off the orphanage property, and no physical touch except as punishment.

The filthy bathroom at the end of the hall.  I won't even describe how it smelled.

The filthy bathroom at the end of the hall. I won't even describe how it smelled.

While we were there, we did things that the boys usually never experience. We sang songs, put on a puppet show and taught them how to wash their hands.

Yes. You read that correctly. The boys (some as old as 15 or 16) had never been taught how to wash their hands. To some it was an exciting new experience. To others it was a game. About half of the boys tried to lick the soap when Oksana took it around the room for them to smell.

I watched with tears in my eyes as these boys got to enjoy the “treat” of basic sanitation.

After leaving the main building (and reveling in the fresh air), we started walking to a different part of the orphanage. I thought that we were about to leave, so I asked where we were headed.

“Now we are going to the building with the severely disabled boys. This is the really hard part.”

That came as a bit of a shock. How could it possibly get worse?

One of the more severely disabled boys, but his smile and laugh were heartwarming...

One of the more severely disabled boys. I couldn't believe how joyful he was.

Again we entered a building that reeked worse than a barn. Again we sat with a group of disabled boys and sang a few songs. And again I wrestled with the absolute injustice of it all.

These deformed, immobile and helpless boys have been abandoned by the world. They live in a tiny building with bare walls. They eat disgusting, soupy slop every day. Frankly, they are treated as less than people.

It is a terrible place.

But the whole time we were there, a glimmer of hope kept sparking in my mind.

In this pit, this hell hole, a few gentle Christ-followers have decided to live out the kingdom of God in the most pure and beautiful way possible… by caring for “the least of these” (Matthew 25) and by giving these unwanted boys the chance to be humans, even if it’s only a couple of hours a week.

The crazy thing is, in such a hopeless situation, MTU’s intervention is actually paying off. They’ve seen immense improvement in the behavior of the boys. Even the orphanage caretakers are beginning to change their attitudes. Hope is beating back the darkness! Wow.

A smile in a place where there should be none...

A smile in a place where there should be none...

As I said at the beginning, it was an experience I’ll never forget. Images of pain and suffering have been seared into my mind forever. But so have images of grace and compassion, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

To the people at Mission to Ukraine, the kingdom of God is not some fancy theological concept. It is the reason they exist. The reason they get up in the morning. The reason they keep on fighting for justice in a place where injustice reigns.

They really are on a mission…

Driving back to Zhytomyr that afternoon, I asked an inevitable question. “Is there an orphanage like this for girls?”

Oksana turned and answered me. “Yes. We found it. They won’t let us inside yet, but we’re praying…”

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Next Steps

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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Comments

  1. Ken Ney said... 

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    April 6th, 2009 at 8:13 am  

    Sobering thoughts, yet so true. It is truly inspiring to see the MTU staff work with these boys

  2. Dave Rod said... 

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    April 6th, 2009 at 9:21 am  

    Read it twice. Wept twice. Never washed their hands? Never leave the place? I so appreciated the picture of hope in the middle of the despair. Maybe those ladies love Thursdays so much because they know they’ll get to look Jesus in the face again.

  3. Jessica said... 

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    April 6th, 2009 at 9:25 am  

    heart-wrenching…this really uncovered a secret, dark world. But I see the hope that exists there, too. I’m praying!

  4. Chyrise Ney said... 

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    April 6th, 2009 at 10:28 am  

    Oh Barry, thank you for the beautiful pictures and commentary. Our MTU girls are truly lights in the middle of darkness.

  5. Julie B. said... 

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    April 6th, 2009 at 2:55 pm  

    I can’t bear to imagine the absence of love on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Then Thursday brings MTU and upon seeing you for the first time the boys run and show YOU love.

    For me, this is bigger than hope! Boys who have been denied love for so long probably shouldn’t even know how to accept it let alone rejoice in it and reciprocate.

  6. Megan Byers said... 

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    April 6th, 2009 at 11:56 pm  

    Hey Barry! What a beautiful entry. I don’t think you could have described the experience any better. I think it’s so awesome that you shared your thoughts and experiences this way, enabling the rest of us to get a tiny glimpse of such realities.

    I went with Ken Ney and the team from Grace last summer to Zhytomir and we also visited the Boy’s disabled orphanage. I remember thinking and feeling the same things as you, and I think its so awesome that by reading this entry of yours, I was reminded of everything I experienced. I’ll be praying for you, that God is continuing to reveal his presence in such unlikely places!

  7. John Wright said... 

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    April 7th, 2009 at 8:55 am  

    Thanks for sharing the way you have. You have written about a hell hole in a way that leaves me encouraged and hopeful. That feels strange even to write. This is and will continue to be resurrection power at work in the world.

  8. Sharon said... 

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    April 7th, 2009 at 6:54 pm  

    Barry, this weekend your dad reminded those of us in GraceMain that we have received the hope of the resurrection have a mandate to be a part of the Kingdom Revolution–to bring God’s Kingdom on earth now. This story is another reminder.

    Every Thursday now, I will be praying for these Kingdom Revolutionaries bringing love to these needy boys.

  9. Steve Znachko said... 

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    April 7th, 2009 at 6:56 pm  

    Barry, I have just logged into your website for the first time. I could not keep back the tears as you shed light on the injustice that exists and ye the hope that reigns because of the “angels” at MTU.

    I am excited about what your ministry can bring in exposing these and other “angels” to the light so that the rest of us can get involved. There is so much we can do.

    I like to discuss some things about the site when you get back. I know your dad said you were looking for input. I am not a “techy” and I am involved with MTU on a personal basis…but I was a little confused by so many options to click on…what date should I look at…what event? When I located the orphanage blog because your dad told me about it…that is where I wanted to be. I am wondering if you can guide us. YOu are there, on the ground, tell us where YOU think we should go on your site first. Does that make sense? Don’t let us miss something!
    Anyway, I love what your doing and what I think you can bring to these ministries. May God continue to bless MTU, the children and You.

  10. Dave Quigley said... 

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    April 7th, 2009 at 8:58 pm  

    Barry – this is a great piece. The MTU are incredible. Thank you for helping to raise their crowns a little higher here on earth!

  11. Barry Rod said... 

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    April 8th, 2009 at 10:55 am  

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I am honored beyond words to be able to witness this stuff!

    So get this… The other night I went out with Yulia, Oksana and Oksana (sort of a common name here) for dinner. For a few minutes we talked about casual stuff, personal stuff, etc.

    But within like 10 minutes the conversation was all about the orphanage. That was the entire conversation for the rest of our meal. Romaniv!

    They laughed and apologized for talking about it so much, but I was like, “Are you kidding? Why not talk about it?”

    It’s amazing. Their hearts beat for this in an astounding way…

  12. Tanya B said... 

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    April 8th, 2009 at 1:04 pm  

    Barry, I amazed at what an incredible gift our Lord gave you to reflect His truths. Beyond words. I look at our ministry in a new way now, inspired and encouraged to press on. Thank you

  13. David Bell said... 

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    April 9th, 2009 at 9:50 am  

    I really am speechless after reading this piece. Thank you. I know you want more comment than that, but I cant give it right now.

  14. Chuck Easton said... 

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    April 10th, 2009 at 8:05 am  

    It’s amazing how the darkness can be almost overwhelming… except for a few folks who take the time on thursday mornings to shine the light of Jesus to some boys living in that darkness. My emotions go back and forth from hurt and sorrow for the boys, to anger for a system that allows this to happen. The only hope for all of us is the Kingdom of God and His new system. Caring for the least of these is a privilege as your hosts so eloquently have modeled. May their tribe increase! Where do I sign up?

  15. Steve Buczkowski said... 

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    April 10th, 2009 at 4:30 pm  

    Barry – Thank you for capturing this as you did. The work MTU is doing is going to pay dividends for not only this group living in the orphanage but the next generation that will be treated more humanely by their care takers.

  16. Sarah McLaughlin said... 

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    April 11th, 2009 at 10:11 am  

    I echo D Bell’s comments and can hardly share anything through my heartache. While I too sense the tremendous hope beating down the darkness, I am simply weeping at what these precious boys must face. Thank you for letting us in.

  17. jeff mclaughlin said... 

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    April 11th, 2009 at 1:53 pm  

    Barry, Thank you for sharing this. I am truly inspired and moved by your initiative to bring light to dark situations such as this. The things we take for granted blows me away.

  18. Susie Bennett said... 

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    April 13th, 2009 at 6:22 pm  

    Barry I need to read this, the world needs to read this. The tears that you experience in the midst of it somehow wash away all of the trivial things that we focus upon. Keep on writing Barry keep on reminding us that ministires like MTU are truly living out being the hands and the feet of Jesus.

  19. Kevin Law said... 

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    April 17th, 2009 at 10:00 pm  

    Barry,

    “Hope is beating back the darkness” – what a beautiful picture in such an ugly situation. This is truly moving story. I will try to remember and pray on Thursdays for the work that is going on.

    Your early articles on the site were good, but seemed too short to me and left me wanting more. These recent articles are every bit as good, if not better, and are more fully developed, more satisfying. My sense is that the Web site is maturing well. The photo quality is excellent.

    I wanted to ask if the Oksana mentioned is the same one that we’ve heard Steve Znachko speak of, but then you mentioned how common a name it is, so perhaps not.

  20. World Next Door said... 

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    April 18th, 2009 at 4:32 am  

    Kevin,

    You’re right about Oksana being a common name. I’m not sure if this Oksana is the same one, but I would guess that she is.

    She’s also mentioned in this article: http://www.worldnextdoor.org/beta/2009/04/meet-peter/

  21. Kim Law said... 

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    April 18th, 2009 at 12:46 pm  

    Barry,

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Even though this could be a very sad story, you showed us the light that is breaking through. The ongoing act of kindness that the MTU is bringing every week to these boys shows how God can bring joy into the lives of so many.

  22. Brittany Thompson Cooper said... 

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    May 26th, 2009 at 1:17 pm  

    Barry,

    My family has been telling me about World Next Door for a while now, and when I was home this weekend, my mom gave me your business card. It’s so exciting to see how God is using you through your traveling and writing! Thanks for this sobering yet joyful story. I’m editing a magazine part-time now and would love to talk to you more about what you guys are doing. Maybe we can feature you or do something to partner with you in this endeavor. How exciting!

  23. Chris & Mary Malone said... 

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    June 5th, 2009 at 9:59 pm  

    Barry,
    Your description of the institution is very accurate and brings back a rush of memories. We returned from Ukraine in March 2009 and adopted a little boy from that institution. We were actually the first to adopt from that city ever. You are also correct that they try to hide that place and “those” children. They literally do not want the rest of the world to know. We were told by one official who refused to sign the release papers even after the court ordered it that it was no ones business.

    The Mission Ukraine team does an amazing thing. We saw them there many times during the month we visited the institution.

  24. Chris & Mary Malone said... 

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    June 5th, 2009 at 10:00 pm  

    Also, if you have more pictures from your trip, we’d love to see them. Perhaps you have one of our Micah. He was in the same group as the boy with the deformed head.

  25. Molly said... 

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    June 6th, 2009 at 8:21 am  

    THANK YOU! I have been looking for a post like this to explain to my family why I feel so strongly about adopting a child with special needs when I’m old enough. Because how can you know how these children live, and know that you can give them a better life and NOT do anything? I’d also love to see more pictures. They tell such a powerful story.

  26. Tracie Loux said... 

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    June 6th, 2009 at 12:05 pm  

    Barry,
    I know we’ve corresponded on twitter. I wanted to let you know that we adopted two special needs children from Ukraine (Novograd). Our son Aiden would have been sent to that same institution within a year or two had we not been able to adopt him.

    You’ve also met (via comment) our friends Chris and Mary Malone. they were in Ukraine with us.

    Thank you for sharing this post. I have linked to it from FB and Twitter and will make a link on it via my blog as well.

  27. Meredith Cornish said... 

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    June 6th, 2009 at 11:26 pm  

    Wow, what an amazing post. I’ve not been to Romaniv, but I’m also connected in with the Malone and Loux families and work in the Ukraine program of Reece’s Rainbow helping with the adoption of children with special needs including the Loux and Malone’s kiddos. We’ve also adopted 2 children with Down syndrome from Ukraine, and visited an “older girls’ institution” for children with special needs in Pugachovka while trying to adopt a child from there ourselves. I wonder if this is the institution your friend speaks of? It is near Korosten in the Zhytomir region. While there we also visited the Novograd orphanage.

    God Bless You all for your work in the Kingdom. Those boys are worth every bit of it!

  28. Courtney said... 

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    June 7th, 2009 at 8:05 pm  

    I am sad to say that I have been in an orphanage in Ukraine that had an even worse bathroom than that–where the bathroom consisted of a trench down one side of the room (in lieu of toilets, Turkish or otherwise) with a hose suspended from the ceiling for “bathing”. They did not have running water. It is also something I will never forget.

  29. Jeri said... 

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    June 7th, 2009 at 8:59 pm  

    Barry, I would like to help MTU but the contact form wouldn’t accept my email address. Could you please forward it to them for me? I believe the little boy with the mishapened head has Hydrocephalus (water on the brain) and possibly he’s paralyzed or partially paralyzed due to Spina Bifida?

    Please continue to share the stories about the needs of these children. Even in a “normal” orphanage, the conditions are often grim compared to what we as Americans live with. Our son was in the Sumy orphanage for preschool to seven year olds when we met him in 2000.

  30. MamaPoRuski said... 

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    June 9th, 2009 at 2:18 am  

    We adopted two older (8 and 15) children with disabilities from Ukraine and know that more than one of these orphanages really do exist. Thank you for posting from the perspective of hope. We pray that everyone exposed to our children will see that what joyful and abled people they truly are! Thank you for joining those of us who have been speaking up and reaching out, each of us can change the world for us and these children one by one! God Bless you!

  31. Jason Hall said... 

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    June 15th, 2009 at 4:29 am  

    We adopted a 10 year old girl from the older kids orphanage and a 4 year old (they were brother and sister) from the baby orphanage both from Novograd Volinsky, in Zhytomyr region. At the baby orphanage the director there told us they converted that place from an old barn. They kept the less disabled kids in a separate place than the others, we only got to see that part until right before we were about to take Vitali out of orphanage. When they showed us the rest of the place I was taken back. There was about 6 groups of 12 in separate rooms about the size of a normal sized living room. They were very disabled and most had down syndrome. But thank God those babushkas and care workers and director cared for these kids and facility was clean, just very small and tight for such a large group.

    Thank you for sharing this about Romaniv, I was wondering what would have happened to Vitali once he left this baby orphanage. Novograd Volinsky is about 50 minutes east of downtown Zhytomyr.

  32. Ken Ney said... 

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    June 15th, 2009 at 10:27 pm  

    Barry
    I noted the posting from Jeri who mentioned she had trouble getting thru to us on our website. Any way you could include our email address mtu@att.net and phone # 317 846 7990?
    Hate to miss these contacts.

  33. Stephanee Potts said... 

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    June 16th, 2009 at 6:19 pm  

    Is there any way possible that you could email me. A good friend of mine is hosting a precious girl from Zhytomyr. Her brother is possibly mentally disabled and they don’t know what orphanage he is in. Possibly it is this one. I would like to give you more information and see if you or the other missionaries have met him. We adopted 2 girls (13 & 10) from Zhytomyr last Fall. What a blessing they have been.

    My email is stephaneep@hotmail.com

  34. Jill said... 

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    August 2nd, 2009 at 10:46 pm  

    Chris and Mary Malone – Go to http://www.missiontoukraine.net and there is a link to the Romaniv Christmas party of Dec 2008 pictures that are posted on Facebook. Perhaps your Micah is in some of those.

  35. Kathy Whitmore said... 

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    January 21st, 2010 at 12:38 pm  

    Barry,
    You have encouraged me. Treasure in heaven, or treasure on earth? How after listening to you, hearing your heart, reading your entries and seeing these pictures could I ever treasure things of earth more than things of heaven? Thank you for opening my heart to those around the world whose voices need to be heard.

  36. Jenny Fitzgerald said... 

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    February 26th, 2010 at 4:12 pm  

    Barry ~ thank you. I remember seeing a video of a “home” for boys with Down Syndrome when our son Garrett (who has Down Syndrome) was born. I could hardly function for a few days. It’s beyond comprehension what “the least of these” have experienced their whole lives. I can’t keep from weeping as I think about it again. It sounds like Grace is closely connected to that orphanage from the posts I read. Is that true? How would I go about getting other churches here connected?

    May the Lord’s Kingdom come here and now for these precious ones….every day of the week.

  37. Zeta said... 

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    March 5th, 2010 at 4:19 pm  

    I was just wondering if they have been allowed inside the girl’s orphanage yet?

  38. Barry Rodriguez said... 

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    March 6th, 2010 at 8:19 pm  

    Zeta, as of a few weeks ago, when I talked to some of the MTU folks who were in town visiting, they have still made no in-roads with the girl’s orphanage. The director there is apparently still rather hostile. They are still praying…

  39. Alla said... 

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    November 20th, 2010 at 9:15 pm  

    Dear Friend, thank you for your ministry.I was in surprise to read this article and watch video.I felt the same when came first time to orphanage in Romaniv in 2001.Now buildings is so-so.When i came first time, children were sitting on the sand where was not floor!The wals had not stucco and orphanage was in worse condition than now.Since that time God changed my heart and called to ministry for orphans.We have ministry in 10 orphanages.In same Romaniv and in same orphanage but for girls, Pugachovka.It is so nice to see faces kids whom you know!God bless you!

  40. Seth Haake said... 

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    November 21st, 2010 at 1:54 am  

    Took me time to read each of the comments, but I seriously enjoyed the article. It proved to be really helpful to me and i am certain to every one of the commenters here! It’s generally nice when you can not just be informed, but additionally entertained! Cheers!

  41. Breanna Sipple said... 

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    February 14th, 2011 at 2:53 am  

    I cry and smile when I read this.
    I’m so thankful God’s using the people who are a part of MTU to love on these His precious children, and I DO believe there is such hope in each of their futures. I pray that God continues to reveal His love to their hearts, as He is already so evidently doing. Your writing is a look into their world; although it was a hard picture to see, I’m glad to see clearer.

  42. Melissa Parton Bear said... 

    Reply

    August 31st, 2011 at 8:35 am  

    Barry,

    I’ve been to MTU several times, at other orphanages, but not Romaniv. I sobbed reading your entry. My heart grieves, yet I am reminded at my first experience in a Ukrainian Orphanage back in 2001, it felt cruel to love on the kids and then abandon them back to their unjust world…until the Lord spoke and reminded me that MY arms gave them hugs from HIM, MY lips gave them kisses from HIM, MY smile was HIS smile delighting in them and it would change them.

    Do you remember the prayer time we had all those years ago at the Boeke’s and you had a vision while praying for me? Let me remind you…you saw me with a sickle in a wheat field, bright blue sky, reaping, feeling all alone. You sensed that I wasn’t alone, I just felt that way. Isn’t it interesting now that YOU are involved with MTU? The Ukrainian flag is light blue and gold, a symbol of…you guessed it, blue sky over what fields. YOU are in the field now Barry and none of us are alone! Hugs and blessings!

  43. miss justina said... 

    Reply

    October 27th, 2016 at 3:47 am  

    hello, my name is miss Justina i was having problem with my husband
    and also having challenge in my business.i did not know what to do to put an end to
    it.one day i was making some research online,when i came across a testimony on how some one
    sow a seed of faith to favor orphanage baby home and her life change for good.so i contact the
    email address,[favourorphanagebabyhome@gmail.com] it was own by a pastor.i told the him what i am passing true.the pastor told me that
    there is nothing his god cannot do. i should have faith and believe that every things will been fine.
    the pastor told me to sow a seed of faith to his new orphanage baby home he just build to help
    the less privilege baby and god will reward me. i did as he said.he pray with me and told me that
    very soon every things will been fine.after one week, the problem i was having with my husband that almost
    break up my marriage and my business that was facing some challenge, every things stop. my husband came to
    beg me and ask me to forgive him, my business was moving well.thanks been to the god of pastor favor.
    i am using this opportunity to let you know that,if you are passing some difficult in any area of
    your life, please do not give up in life, just sow a seed of faith to pastor favor orphanage
    baby home, and have faith and believe that the god of pastor favor will
    solve it for you.thanks, this is the email contact. [favourorphanagebabyhome@gmail.com] you can also contribute to up keeping of
    this orphanage baby home,god will also bless you.

    Children are our future. But for many, that future is uncertain. poverty, hunger, exploitation, abuse, natural disasters and lack of opportunity at a young age are indescribably distressing. Include the loss of love, support and comfort of family life and an orphaned child is the most tragic and poignant symbol of heartbreak imaginable.

    Our Orphanage Home is specially called for the upkeep of orphans, abandoned babies, motherless, abused and less privileged children. All over the street, and society, we find these groups of helpless people who need care, support a sense of belonging and a home they can call theirs. Touched and moved by the plight and feelings of these our fellow human beings hence our vision is to provide them their peculiar needs in the area of shelter, health care, education, food and clothing. Our clear objective /goal is set at erasing completely street, psychological complex, low esteem, negative moral vices homeless children from our society. Beloved, sincerely speaking we cannot succeed in this divine course without your financial and material support. Please help us to put a smile on the faces of these Orphans, less privilege children. Every act of love, care and compassion to these orphans will be greatly rewarded, remember God loves a cheerful giver, nothing is to small join us this quest and help to build a life today.

  44. Victoria said... 

    Reply

    June 19th, 2017 at 7:21 am  

    You are doing a good job! We are also helping destitute children but from Ukraine. Currently, here is a war and a bad economic state in our country. We are looking for your support. Visit our site, please.
    https://hopenowusa.org/

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