“This is Dima.  He was just released from prison and we’re very glad to have him back.” Andre & Oksana, two leaders who live at The Shelter informed me, speaking in a tone most people use to describe recent family vacations.  I was taken aback.  All I could do was stand there, smiling stupidly, in the middle of a mall food court hoping I had heard them wrong.

Staring at the sky through barbed-wire and bars for over 400 days has to weigh heavy on any soul, but how much more on that of a child?

Later, I learned Dima had just been released from a juvenile detention center after a 14 month stay.  I saw him hours after he was freed and I had no idea until Andre & Oksana told me outright.  The only indication anything was different about him was his silence. He mumbled a barely audible hello and clammed up after that. In my ignorance, I simply assumed he was a quiet kid.

This is one of many experiences that has hammered home one fact.  No matter how comfortable or normal things might appear to be, growing up in Ukraine is like nothing I’ve ever known.  It comes with problems we’d never expect in America.  Even people, like me, who have lived rough or abnormal lives are not fully prepared for what you’ll find if you really start looking at people here.

Everyone looks normal on the surface, but if you scratch through that thin veneer you’ll always find a story inside.  I know this from personal experience.  I was orphaned when I was sixteen.  Now I was lucky, very lucky to have had people who started walking alongside of me straightaway.  These people met both my physical and emotional needs.

Slight of frame and quick to smile, but without some help, he’s a ticking time bomb.

However, the sad fact for these boys and girls is that they’re only being met halfway.  The government gives them plenty of money every month as long as they hold onto all of their documents but if they lose any of them, they also say goodbye to their pension.  That money is intended for food and rent and other physical necessities but without the proper emotional support, it more often ends up going towards fancy clothes, electronics, or alcohol.

And why should we expect anything different?

Think about any fifteen year old kid you know.  What would happen if you gave them a bunch of money every month, completely checked out of their life, and told them to start living like an adult?  No matter how mature they are, their failure is almost guaranteed.

This is exactly why these kids need some sort of emotional anchor, some way for them to learn how to start really living instead of just surviving.  And that’s what I’ve seen through the leaders at The Shelter and The Haven, two homes that invest in the lives of the graduated orphans.  At least three days a week these leaders spend the day with the kids cooking, studying the bible, playing games, and being a presence in their lives.

These are people committed to being permanent fixtures in the lives of these kids, helping keep them safe and levelheaded when the waves of life threaten to overwhelm them.  They are present through thick and thin, when kids are laughing, crying, or trying to find a tree to hang themselves from.  And it’s not always easy.

And yet, even in the blackest of nights, The Haven & The Shelter are bright beacons of hope in the lives of these kids.

I’ve seen them interact with kids like Viktor (they call him Jim Carrey because he likes to joke so much) who is a textbook problem child.  He drinks, he smokes, and not too long ago he wrapped a metal bar in magazines and beat another kid half to death, leaving him hospitalized.

These are children but they’ve lost their innocence, it’s been violently washed away by the brutal waters their lives have led them through.  Most people have given up on them and many kids have even given up on themselves, content with barely scraping by.  But what a sad excuse for life that is.

What a tragedy that they have been abandoned, not only by their parents, but by their society as well.  And so they sit in a small boat, in the middle of a dark and frightening sea, desperately searching for something to hold onto, something to save them, anything at all.  These kids need emotional support, these kids need love, and most of all they need Christ.

Which is exactly why The Shelter and The Haven exist.  To show these kids the path to freedom from themselves, from their addictions, and from their pasts.  The kind of freedom that only Christ brings, the kind of freedom that you see in a person’s life, even if you only talk to them for five minutes in a mall food court.

Because we’re all captives until He sets us free.

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Next Steps
    • You can help by financially supporting The Shelter & The Haven through online donations to Last Bell Ministries HERE. They could really use some consistent monthly sponsors right now.
    • You can pray for the ministry that The Shelter & The Haven are engaged in.
    • Consider becoming personally involved by committing to praying specifically for one of the individual at-risk teens. More info on that HERE.
    Next Steps

About the Author: Christopher N. Cambell was a summer intern with World Next Door in 2010. He is a graduate of the Moody Bible Institute and an avid reader. He has an endless appetite for stories both true and otherwise and loves using those to better know and understand people.

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Comments

  1. Leah said... 

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    July 4th, 2010 at 7:49 am  

    “we’re all captives until He sets us free”… so true Chris. Thanks for this article. it is amazing to think that these kids are on their own at such a young age. even when I was 21-years-old and graduating from college, I still didn’t feel ready. And really, there are days now that I still wish I could just let someone else take care of me, and I’m twice the age of some of these kids. Praise God for leading Last Bell to minister to the youth of Ukraine.

  2. Jim M said... 

    Reply

    July 4th, 2010 at 9:53 am  

    Thanks Chris, this is an important piece of work. You have shined a light on a universal problem. It is everywhere, perhaps in a different wrapper, but the same problem.

    “Think about any fifteen year old kid you know. What would happen if you gave them a bunch of money every month, completely checked out of their life….”

    You don’t have to go far to see even affluent youth with solid homes derailed in this way. Being consistently present to the lost, and simply showing the love of Christ, with a servants heart has enormous impact on guiding them home.

    “These are children but they’ve lost their innocence, it’s been violently washed away by the brutal waters their lives have led them through. Most people have given up on them and many kids have even given up on themselves….,”

    Never giving up, the consistent investment of time and patient unconditional love will allow the Spirit to work in even the most difficult dark places.

    After reading this article your readers may realize this issue really IS right next door to them, perhaps as close as the family right down the street.

    Praise God for the work being done in His name through Last Bell, (and others) …being the heart of His son to the lost.

    I would love to read more about The Shelter, and The Haven. If you have not read Nouwen’s “Return of the Prodigal” It beautifully unpacks all of the elements of your article Chris.

    Thank you!

  3. Jo Nading said... 

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    July 5th, 2010 at 1:07 am  

    wow – a tough article to read. you did a great job articulating Chris. it is tough to wrap my brain around a government – one with ‘plenty of money’ to spend on these orphans – to just throw money at a LIFE and wash their hands as quickly as possible.

    I will definitely be pondering this….and praying for these kids, for Last Bell, and for you.

  4. Barry Rodriguez said... 

    Reply

    July 6th, 2010 at 4:30 am  

    Wow, Chris. That really is a powerful article. It’s painful to realize how many kids there are in Ukraine facing those exact same issues.

    Thank God that Shelter and Haven exist. Maybe at least a few of those kids can have a chance at breaking free!

    Great work.

  5. Tanya said... 

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    July 6th, 2010 at 1:27 pm  

    Thank you, Chris :). I am amazed at God’s work through Shelter.

  6. Jonathan Pomazon said... 

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    July 6th, 2010 at 8:07 pm  

    Your story illustrates both the need and opportunity in orphanage ministry being filled by Last Bell Ministries. So many of these kids are scarred by years of neglect – by parents, families, friends and a society that views them as expendable. I thank God for Andre and Oksana, who by His grace model what an intact family looks like and who live a biblical Christian life in front of these kids. They are so worthy of our support. Thank you for setting us in remembrance of their work.

  7. Dave Rod said... 

    Reply

    July 7th, 2010 at 11:03 am  

    Chris, thanks for bearing witness for us and for the abandoned. What on earth would they do without the Haven and The Shelter? May God raise up more “permanent fixtures” in their lives!

  8. Rob Yonan said... 

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    July 10th, 2010 at 5:20 pm  

    Your own journey framed this story so much more profoundly for me. It also shined a huge spotlight on the Haven & Shelter – helping me see what can happen when someone has a vision beyond the outer skin!

  9. Amy Sorrells said... 

    Reply

    July 11th, 2010 at 11:35 am  

    “We’re all captives until He sets us free.”

    Amen.

    Love this story and the powerful reminder it provides.

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