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Last year, I had the opportunity to witness the development of a beautiful story… a story of hope and life in the middle of a very dark place.
Peter, an orphan with muscular dystrophy at the terrible Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage, was adopted by none other than the family that hosted me while I was in Ukraine. Even cooler (for me at least), was the fact that the adoption was made possible by financial sponsors from the U.S., many of whom were readers of World Next Door!
The Story Begins
I first wrote about the Romaniv Orphanage back in April of 2009 (click here to read the article). A couple of weeks later I introduced Peter through another article (click here). Then, within two months, I had the pleasure of announcing his adoption by Yuri Levtchenko and his family (click here).
The whole story of Peter’s adoption is recapped in this video we produced for WND’s first anniversary celebration:
It was a beautiful homecoming. A powerful tale. But it turns out that the story was far from over.
So here, as they say, is the rest of the story…
An Incredible Year
The original arrangement for Peter’s adoption by Yuri’s family was a temporary one. Peter would live with them for a year, followed by an evaluation by the state government.
Even though this deadline loomed on the horizon, nothing could hide the beauty and joy of his homecoming. For a year at least, Peter would be safe.
And what a year it was… For the first time in a decade, Peter was living in a home. He had a family. A mother, a father, siblings! Nobody was beating him. Nobody was yelling at him. Peter was being loved.
Peter’s new brothers and sisters accepted him immediately. They included him in their games, watched movies with him and laughed… a lot.
Ira, Peter’s new mother, gladly stepped in to fulfill the maternal duties that Peter had never experienced. She bathed him, dressed him and loved him as if he was her own. All the while, Yuri carried Peter back and forth from his room, drove him around town and taught him things like any good father would.
Of course, Peter still had to deal with many of the psychological ramifications of being discarded and abused, and this was a constant struggle for his parents. The first time his family brought him to MTU for classes, he wept uncontrollably, thinking that he was being abandoned again. For a child as scarred as Peter, recovery would be a long road.
In time, however, his emotional wounds did begin to heal. He began to smile. To laugh. As his family held him and fed him and played with him, Peter’s life finally began to change.
An Unexpected Turn
But things were not idyllic forever. At the end of the year, the state government performed their evaluation. After seeing Yuri’s small house and his seven children running all over the place (eight if you count Peter), they decided that Yuri only wanted to adopt Peter for the pension money he would receive for Peter’s disability. Their hearts were hardened and nothing could convince them of the truth.
As part of the evaluation, these officials visited Romaniv Orphanage to see the living conditions there for themselves. However, because the orphanage staff didn’t want to be embarrassed, they only allowed the state officials to see the inside of one room – a nicely furnished conference room used solely for visiting guests.
After seeing this sugar-coated image of the orphanage (and after stumbling through a lot of bureaucratic inefficiency and lost paperwork), the state officials declared that the living conditions were far better for Peter at Romaniv than at Yuri’s home. Then they made a decision that absolutely baffled anyone who knew the family.
They decided that until further paperwork went through and until all the competing bureaucracies sorted themselves out, Peter would have to go back to Romaniv.
Everyone who knew Peter understood that this would shatter his trust forever. It would be unspeakably devastating. But the decision had been made. One year after leaving Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage, Peter was forced to return.
I remember hearing this news for the first time. I was shocked. What would this do to Peter’s new foundation of hope? Isn’t being abandoned again the one thing he has always feared? Would Peter ever trust again?
I admit that I began to feel a sense of numb helplessness about the whole situation. I thought this story already had a happy ending… How could this happen?
But for Yuri, Peter’s new father, numb helplessness never entered into the equation. For him, the whole situation boiled down to one simple fact: “My son needs me. I will not abandon him.”
So, in a move that left the jaws of the state officials on the ground, Yuri did the only thing he could think to do. He moved into Romaniv Orphanage with Peter.
He didn’t know how long he would be living there. He didn’t know how it would end. But for a dedicated father whose son was in need, Yuri didn’t even think twice.
In a country where conforming to the norm is often valued above all else, Yuri’s bold move put a lot of pressure on the state officials. Fearing a public spectacle, the officials quickly “found” the lost paperwork, attained the correct signatures and finally allowed Peter to return to his rightful home.
After three days, Peter was once again taken out of Romaniv. This time, however, something was different. This time, Peter’s adoption was permanent.
On April 30th, 2010, Peter came home… For good.
A Glimpse of the Kingdom
The other day I had the chance to have dinner with Yuri, Ira and the kids. We laughed and played and talked. We ate and ate and ate.
And as I looked across the room at the wide, beautiful smile on Peter’s face, I knew that I was being given a glimpse of the kingdom of God.
In the banquet of the kingdom, the broken of the world are honored guests. The outcast and forgotten are sons. And there sat Peter. A full tummy. A clean body. And eyes that sparkled with joy.
Peter is home now. Though his body is weak and he may not have much longer to live, he will spend the rest of his days wrapped in the arms of a loving family.
And when he does some day leave this broken world, he will be well used to the phrase he hears soon after.
“My beloved son… Welcome home.”
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.