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.

I was shocked to see so much color on Romaniv’s property.

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.

Brand new desks (not cheap!) are a symbol of something much more profound going on beneath the surface.

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.

Playing games with a beach ball!

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.

Beading is the boys’ favorite hobby.

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…

Hope in the most unlikely of places…

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…

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Next Steps
    • 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 mtuoffice@utel.net.ua to subscribe.
    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. Chuck Easton said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 6:23 am  

    Great story Barry, thanks for sharing Romaniv with us.

  2. Dave Rod said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 7:00 am  

    I wept out of sadness when I read the original article and today I weep for joy. I keep hearing the words “and the gates of hell will not prevail”. Persistent, sacrificial love did it. One orphanage down and how many more to go?

  3. Meredith said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 7:14 am  

    I’m SO glad to see this! We tried to adopt from the girls’ institution there and weren’t allowed to continue (a girl w/ Down syndrome) in 2008, and we met a boy that was later adopted from Romaniv by another family. This area will always be on my heart and in my prayers. It’s wonderful to see this transformation!!

  4. Jim.M said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 7:39 am  

    What a wonderful story! The other day when I saw the picture of boy with the BRIGHT YELLOW HAT, I thought what a cool hat….it was a hint of what was to come.

    The rainbow benches and all of the brilliant color you describe, born out of the darkness of what you witnessed in that space before, what a transformation! Isn’t it odd that there are “rainbow benches” that caught your cameras eye as the symbols of so much change…why not all green, or red, or what ever…I couldn’t help but think of Genesis 9:16 God is there Barry, watching over that place, it is obvious in so many ways. I hope you get a chance to sit on one of those benches for a few minutes and be still…quiet, contemplative in that space, It will be something very special…those benches are no coincidence.

    What a wonderful way to begin this trip’s reports. This story will sit on our hearts until the next installment of what God is doing through MTU.

    Blessings to you.

  5. Erika said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 8:17 am  

    “..stubborn persistence and never ending love.” Looks like the staff of MTU continues to show up for these kids no matter what. Beautiful post this morning! Keep them coming, WND. Keep them coming…

  6. Jo Nading said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 8:34 am  

    wow. tears tears tears. Smiling and crying and wanting to reach out and rub that scruffy chin of the smiling, tooth-missing young man. I found myself just running my fingers along the screen of my laptop. And the benches – and that ROOM! And then to find out that the admin bought it all. I am blown away – at God’s persistent pursuit of the hearts at MTU and that guided persistence then “passed forward” from MtU to Romaniv. thanks so much for sharing. I can’t wait to read more from everyone. Blessings to you all.

  7. Curtis Honeycutt said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 10:19 am  

    Praise God, Barry…this is amazing!

  8. Virginia Baldwin said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 10:25 am  

    What a transformation! With God all things are possible. I am so thankful for MTU. I will be praying for the girls orphanage. God bless you all.

  9. Amy Sorrells said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 2:21 pm  

    What your Dad said. I cannot ever again read any of your articles from Ukraine without weeping–whether for justice or for laughter or for love. And this one was certainly no exception. WOW and backwards WOW. Praising God and praying for you all! (And you know what my oldest son would type–please hug Peter for us!!!)

  10. Rob Yonan said... 

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    June 9th, 2010 at 11:19 pm  

    So I am sitting here watching the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. Thousands upon thousands are cheering (of which I am one) and millions and millions of dollars have been expended. Heroes are cheered, adored and emulated – all for………………….hockey.
    Thy kingdom come! Please. I love sports, but THIS is what we must cheer. THIS is what must receive millions and millions of dollars and THESE are true heroes.
    Thanks Bar

  11. Calah said... 

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    June 10th, 2010 at 12:25 am  

    Wow.

  12. Don Lawton said... 

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    June 11th, 2010 at 9:14 pm  

    Barry,

    I too have witnessed the’ before and after’ out at the orphanage, and you have to see it to believe it! This format of journalism is a powerful tool in promoting the silent work that goes on in the remotest parts of the world. I will never forget Oksana’s words, when she first visited the Romanov orphanage, she said, “This is where Christ wants us.”

  13. Mitch said... 

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    June 17th, 2010 at 11:19 am  

    speechless and in wonder of our Great God … how many regions are there in Ukraine? how many regions have this same need? how will we proceed in the footsteps of our Lord?

  14. Maeven said... 

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    June 20th, 2010 at 4:34 pm  

    Can’t even imagine the beauty, Barry…
    Can’t wait to hear more…

    -maeve-

  15. Jenny Fitzgerald said... 

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    June 25th, 2010 at 2:20 am  

    Hi Barry! We are finishing our Vacation Bible School tomorrow. This year we had around 45 kids ~ most of whom don’t know the Lord. It was VERY Exciting!

    Anyway ~ I wanted to ask you if you think it would be ok to send our “Jesus Loves You” blankets to the boys at the orphanage for disabled boys. This is the place in the world that has captured my heart. The boys and I have a piggy bank that we put any change that we get from anything we buy into and will save till it’s full..then send it off.

    Would you mind letting me know who I should contact to see if they would want 5 blankets? I’d appreciate it!

    Hope you are well and thank you for showing us the world through the Lord’s eyes. So hopeless to see it any other way!

  16. Steve Wooden said... 

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    June 25th, 2010 at 10:57 am  

    Hi Barry, Good to see you in Ukraine! You may not remember us but this is Steve & Nancy Wooden and we’ve lived in Ukraine for 11 years. I talked with Don this morning and Ellen Smitson is staying wiith us until she leaves for the US. It is a great place to minister and God is doing great things here. Stop and see us sometime since you pass right by out apartment when you go to the airport.

  17. andrew kowlaski said... 

    Reply

    May 3rd, 2016 at 10:54 pm  

    Witam, wierzę, że zauważył odwiedził moją strony www więc i tu mamy aby wrócić w chcą Jestem ?. próby znajdź rzeczy do poprawy mój stronę Chyba ! jego OK używać kilka od !! |

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