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It was a beautiful summer day. A well-worn CD of Ukrainian worship songs played over the van’s stereo system as we drove through the sparsely populated countryside. My heart was filled with anticipation. This would be my first trip to the Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage since visiting more than one year ago.
Back in April 2009, when I saw the orphanage for the first time (click here to read about that experience), Mission to Ukraine had only been making their weekly visits for a year.
Although it was obvious that MTU’s presence was having a huge impact on the boys, the orphanage was still a terrible, hellish place run by negligent caretakers and filled with the stench of squalor. As we drove towards the orphanage this time, I wondered what, if anything, had changed.
As we got close to Romaniv, Oksana turned to me and said, “Get ready. There is a big surprise waiting for you there!”
“A surprise?” I thought. “What in the world could she mean?”
I pondered this as we pulled up to the orphanage. We unloaded the van and started walking to the classroom building. That was when I did my first double take.
Flowers. Lots of flowers! Large, pink blossoms interspersed with yellow and red. Row after row of pretty blue blossoms lining the path.
But that wasn’t all. There were painted, rainbow colored benches. Between the buildings there were picnic tables with bright green canopies above them.
This property, which once looked like an abandoned lot, now teemed with color and life. I was shocked.
But then we went inside, and my shock turned to utter amazement. There, on the floor of the once empty classroom was a semicircle of bright green and yellow desks. The walls that used to have only old wooden benches were now home to colorfully painted bookshelves overflowing with toys.
The smell wasn’t bad at all. The boys were clean and dressed. And as they sat down to begin their weekly class, I heard something I never would have expected… silence.
When Mission to Ukraine started coming to the orphanage two years ago it was literally impossible for these boys to even form a line. They were out of control. Filthy.
Now, here they were sitting quietly, raising their hands when they wanted to participate, learning about the seasons and doing the motions to their favorite songs. They took turns playing games, followed along as they learned a story from the Bible and jumped in with shouts of joy when it was time for their favorite pastime: making bracelets out of beads.
I sat with a couple of the boys and thought about how different everything was from just one year ago. The joy, the life, the energy… it was all so surprising and new. Then, during a break in the lesson, I heard the most shocking thing of all.
“We didn’t buy any of this,” Oksana told me. “The desks, the bookshelves, the flowers… It was all bought by the orphanage’s administration.”
Hearing this took my breath away. This is the same administration that initially resisted the idea of MTU coming to visit once a week. These are the people who once rolled their eyes and told the MTU folks, “You’re wasting your time… these boys are hopeless. They’re like animals.”
In the course of two years, Mission to Ukraine’s stubborn persistence and never-ending love for these boys has led to a radical transformation in the lives of not just the children, but their caretakers as well. For the first time in this orphanage’s history, the staff is beginning to invest in the lives of these boys… to do more than the bare minimum.
The kingdom of God, like a steady breeze, has been blowing away the smoke and the shadows in this place once filled only with hopelessness.
As we drove away from the orphanage, I thought about the beauty of what I had just seen.
In Matthew 25, Jesus implored his disciples to care for “the least of these.” In just about every way I can think of, these boys fit that description completely. The men and women of Mission to Ukraine have been following that call for two years, and their efforts are beginning to bear tremendous fruits.
But my thoughts then drifted to the bigger picture.
The truth is, all this transformation at Romaniv is only a glimmer of light in a much greater sea of darkness. Within the very same region of Ukraine is an orphanage for disabled girls. But the administration of that orphanage will not even let the staff of MTU come to visit. Their hearts are hardened and only God’s direct intervention will begin to soften them.
And then there are the systemic injustices that make orphanages like Romaniv necessary in the first place; deep cultural stigmas attached to parents of disabled children, a broken governmental support system, widespread poverty…
There is much work to do if we ever want to see an end to the hopeless conditions once found at Romaniv. There are many more walls to smash down before the kingdom can truly shine here in Ukraine.
But until that day comes, you and I can be confident of one thing… the staff of Mission to Ukraine will be here in Zhytomyr: hugging a girl with Down syndrome, wiping the chin of a boy with cerebral palsy, helping a girl with muscular dystrophy sit up straight in her chair and tying a beaded bracelet for a boy at Romaniv.
They’ll be here because they’ve tasted the kingdom of God. They’ll be here because they’ve seen the hope of the gospel.
And they’ll be here because to their God, nothing is impossible…
- Pray that the orphanage for disabled girls would finally open their doors to Mission to Ukraine. Pray that their administration’s hearts would soften and that the hope of the kingdom could finally shine in that place.
- Consider supporting the work of Mission to Ukraine financially. Click here to see how your money can make a huge impact here in Ukraine!
- Stay up to date with Mission to Ukraine’s email newsletters. Email email@example.com to subscribe.
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.