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“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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.