I used to participate in my high school’s musical theater program.  Singing, dancing, acting… It was a blast.  And although I was usually up front in a costume myself, I loved watching our tech team “wow” audiences with interesting lighting effects, cool set pieces and dramatic sound effects.

One of the most versatile tools they used was called a scrim, a semi-transparent curtain that could be lit from different sides to make it anywhere from see-through to completely opaque.  Actors would often perform behind the scrim, visible only as shadows. Throw in a fog machine, and the tech team could create quite a bit of ambiance. 

Me with my new friend Sasha at camp.

But then, in just about every musical, there would come an especially dramatic point in which the scrim would be lifted and everything behind it would be instantly revealed in all its color, brightness and vibrancy.

What was once vague and undefined became crystal clear…

Raising the Scrim

Well, I’ve thought about scrims quite a bit this summer as I’ve floated between the ministries of Last Bell and Mission to Ukraine

You see, back home in suburban Indianapolis, things like injustice, joy, evil and the kingdom of God are sort of hard to see… They are like shadows, fighting and dancing behind a scrim.  With a constant barrage of advertising, entertainment, fast food, technology and work, it’s easy to let the important issues of this world slide out of our minds.

Oleg, who had a fantastic time at camp this year!

But for me, coming to Zhytomyr and joining in with the work of these ministries was like having the scrim raised.  Brokenness, justice, life, evil and joy came into sharp focus in ways I never would have expected. 

Here in front of me was a concrete realization of the kingdom of God breaking into this world. 

So, for my sake as much as yours, I’d like to share a few of the things I saw behind the curtain.  I want to get them down on paper.  Because in just a couple of weeks, I’ll be back behind the scrim of suburbia… and I don’t want to forget what I saw.

Part of the Family

Every summer, Mission to Ukraine holds several camps.  Children and young people from all over the region come to participate in an experience that is hands down their favorite part of the year.  Our interns Krystallin and Lauren have already written a bit about the camps, and as you can see from their articles, these summer programs are unbelievably life-changing for the kids.

I was lucky enough to participate in two of these camps myself.  But because my Ukrainian and Russian language skills are pretty much limited to “hello,” “thank you,” and “Please give me apple juice for my elephant” (true!), I couldn’t communicate much with the campers.  So I spent most of my time just observing.

I watched as disabled children were loved on in ways they have never experienced before.  I saw beautiful kids from MTU’s Life-Savers program (here only because their mothers chose not to abort them) run and dance and play.  There in front of me were elderly babushkas smiling as they heard about Jesus for the first time. 

It was the kingdom.  And it was beautiful.

Alyosha, one of MTU’s life-savers kids. If it wasn’t for the caring counselors at MTU, he wouldn’t be alive today.

Images from both camps have been seared into my mind forever.  Little Bagdan, struggling with muscular dystrophy, running as best as he could to give me a hug.  Sweet Anton, unable to communicate with words, smiling from ear to ear.  Lovable Oleg, out of his village for the first time in his life, singing quietly along to his favorite camp tune…

In the “real world,” these kids struggle to be accepted, loved and understood.  But at camp, they are all just part of the family. 

Not Alone

Another powerful image from the summer came from time that I spent with the Shelter, one of Last Bell’s two community centers for at-risk orphans.

These kids, though still a little rough around the edges, would literally be out on the streets if it wasn’t for the Shelter.  After years of abuse, trauma and abandonment, these teenage orphans have every right to be cynical and furious with the world.

But they aren’t. 

If you read the articles by our other intern, Chris, you can see just how alive and hopeful they are.  Surrounded by a surrogate “family” – with mothers, fathers and even younger siblings – these young people are blossoming. 

Just the other day, I spent the night at the Shelter.  Chris and I went with some of the boys to play laser tag at a nearby mall (and got clobbered!).  We grabbed ice cream at Zhytomyr’s only McDonalds and later sat around eating watermelon in the Shelter’s small kitchen. 

Instead of drinking, doing drugs or getting into prostitution to make a few extra bucks, these kids were enjoying life with their family.  It was beautiful.

Kids from Last Bell’s other community center, the Haven. Photo by Chris Cambell.

The next morning, we sat around the breakfast table telling jokes and eating pancakes.  As I looked from face to face, the kingdom was once again was thrown into sharp focus.  Jesus spent most of his time hanging out with the outcasts and “ne’er-do-wells” of this world.  Now I can see the reason why…

Hope.  Where there should, by all accounts, be none.

The Sea

There is one final image I’ll leave here that I think sums up the summer really well.

Every year, MTU brings six or seven boys from the Romaniv Disabled Boys Orphanage to their summer camps. 

The boys, wearing bright, brand new t-shirts in all primary colors, get to participate in each of the camp’s many activities.  They play games, hang out with super-cool volunteers, sing songs… In fact, it is such a highlight of their year that they think camp is called something it’s not. 

Vitalik from Romaniv Orphanage. He had a blast at “the sea”!

Here in Ukraine, the ultimate, ideal vacation is a trip to the sea.  Many people here talk about going, but few can afford to make the trip.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that the Romaniv boys repeat one thing in the weeks and months leading up to camp…

“We’re going to the sea!”

The Front of the Parade

Such hope.  Such life.  Here in Zhytomyr it is all so crystal clear.

The broken, lost and powerless are being loved, honored and respected.   The abandoned, forgotten and outcast are being drawn into a long and steady embrace.

I’ve realized recently that “The last shall be first in the kingdom” is not just some saccharine ideal.  Looking into the faces of disabled children and abandoned orphans this summer, I’ve come to a new understanding of the upside-down kingdom of God.

These are the people standing hand-in-hand with Jesus.  These are the children cradled in the arms of God.  When the kingdom someday comes in all its power, they will be the standard bearers marching at the front of the parade.

In the States, we tend to think of the kingdom of God as a vague and blurry future thing.  Nothing more than shadows dancing behind a scrim. But here in Zhytomyr with Mission to Ukraine and Last Bell, the scrim has been raised.  In sharp clarity and color, the true message of the gospel is shouted out:

“The kingdom of God is at hand!”

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Next Steps
    • Go back and read any articles you may have missed from the summer. Be sure to check out each article’s next steps!
    • Consider getting involved with Mission to Ukraine’s ministry here in Zhytomyr. Check out their website for more information.
    • Partner with Last Bell through prayer and finances. They really need your help! Click here for more info.
    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. Ken Ney said... 

    Reply

    August 3rd, 2010 at 8:12 am  

    Amen!!!

  2. Virginia Baldwin said... 

    Reply

    August 3rd, 2010 at 10:38 am  

    Thanks for giving us a picture of what God’s Kingdom is like here on earth. I am so glad to be a part of it.
    God bless you and your team mates.

  3. Jim.M said... 

    Reply

    August 3rd, 2010 at 3:21 pm  

    Barry,

    What a sharp reminder about
    the scrim. You my friend know well how it is lifted.

    It is often too painful for us to lift and see what awaits behind. On the other hand when you move it out of the way, and immerse yourself in the life hid behind it, you see quickly the hand of God, and feel the pulse of His heart beat. You find yourself in tune with His song. You are changed forever…”scrimless” I guess. What a great story this is. Keep it close, as I know you do.

    J

  4. Jonathan Pomazon said... 

    Reply

    August 3rd, 2010 at 8:47 pm  

    Wow, Barry, I think you said for all of us. There is no greater joy than being able to live out the power and the beauty of the gospel – and to be able to do that with those on the fringes of life. They may be forgotten by most but they are NOT forgotten by God. That He gives us the inestimable joy of participating in His kingdom work is what I think draws so many to this place each year. I pray that God will sear these memories into all of our minds and hearts so that until He brings us back together we will remember to hold these dear ones up before God’s throne of grace. Thanks again for this beautiful reminder.

  5. Crista said... 

    Reply

    August 4th, 2010 at 4:56 pm  

    A couple weeks ago, I finished a book by Wes Stafford (Compassion International CEO) entitled “Too Small to Ignore.” It basically tells his story of growing up on the mission field and the terrible abused he endured at the field school. But, he also writes about the positively life-directing experiences he had as a kid in their African village and how it shaped his passion for what he has been called to do today. Your story has brought to mind two passages of Scripture that Stafford points out over and over in his book and which have been deeply impressed up on my heart as I consider my own calling to work with kids. These verses (among others) should make us all aware that NOBODY is “too small” to be a world-changer. Nobody.

    Proverbs 31:8-9 (not JUST for women…):
    “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

    1 Corinthians 1:27-29:
    “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

    Your team has done a mighty work this summer, Barry. Thank you for taking the rest of us along!

  6. Ballarde said... 

    Reply

    August 8th, 2010 at 1:48 am  

    suburban scrim,
    sly & refined,
    averts our eyes
    lest we may find
    the world beyond
    our lush confines
    to be too much
    for narrowed minds;
    & so we live
    behind the guise
    of faux-naive
    self-centric lies
    that cloud & shelter
    us from Them –
    a veil that you, sir,
    are wearing thin;
    sadly, it seems our secret hope
    remains to keep ourselves
    safe and remote;
    simply stated, we hope & pray:
    “will someone help them?
    (please, just don’t ask us…)”

    wonderful insight, Barry. continue on in your tumultuous/exhausting work at unveiling injustice and challenging our laissez-faire mentality to good & evil. i can’t imagine how insurmountable this calling must seem at times, but your are truly forcing us to look at the World through a hopeful-yet-realist’s lens.

  7. Christie said... 

    Reply

    August 31st, 2012 at 2:15 pm  

    AH! so well put!

    If you want to put your finger on the heartbeat of God, spend time with the orphans. You will surely experience the Kingdom come to Earth as see in the eye of an orphan, the realization that they are orphans no more, but a cherished son or daughter of the King. I will never ever ever be the same after my time spent in Ukraine! I love that you have captured your experience, and by reading them, I am able to feel close to the nation I have come to love! Thank you so much.

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