About this time last year, I made my first visit overseas. I joined my coworkers in a mission trip to change the lives of the 1000,000 plus orphans in Ukraine, I had never been overseas. In fact, I had only flown one time. A few years ago I made a trip to DC. But that was nothing like the 12 plus hour trip I would make over the Atlantic Ocean. I was slightly nervosa as one might imagine.
Funnily enough, issues with planes and getting on were one of the only two things I was worried about. I had heard to many horror stories about people missing their flights or not being able to get on the plane. After a momentary issue when we got there and a potential panic attack, I was fine. I was able to move when I needed to (that was concern number 2; how I would manage my illnesses) and was perfectly comfortable and entrained during my travel.
I took this all as a good sign: a great start to a productive trip. I was excited to see a new culture, to work on the actual soil the orphans I had met with came from. I was excited for my experiences. But I never expected to be as moved or to be as comfortable as I was when I arrived in Ukraine.
We stayed at a transitional care facility in Korosten. A kind of foster home in case where kids were taken care of during the scary time of transition with great care and love, the children here were between families and orphanages here. This was one of the nicer places BOF had been stationed, and I was very thankful because it was easier for me, a chronic illness warrior, to do my job with some comforts. I had respect for all those that came before and after who made do with a lot less and never stopped them.
We met the children briefly before everyone headed to a local park. Everyone but me. I stayed to rest. I was an exhausted from travel and wanted to be able to give the kids my all the first day of programming. I was resting up to deal with the life changing overview I was acquired.
The first day, we started by playing with the kids with our VBS programming planned for that night. We walked with them to their dance lessons, something rare for these kids and were touched by how art can make a difference. As a ex marching band member and music lover, I knew that music could change lives, but when you saw these kids come alive to dance to the music it took on a new depth. They escaped their pain and shook it off. It was amazing.
In fact, these children came alive whenever they got some affection. I sat next to one child while they crafted and for the rest of the trip he was especially attached to me. I let one child wear my sunglasses and then we were best friends. Even just pushing a toy truck across the floor made me popular with the kids. Sure, they had great caregivers that worked with them, but new friends meant the world to them.
Our VBS program was filled with music and dancing and crafts and fun. We shared stories of Jesus and the bible. Each team member shared testimonies of their life. I, of course, shared my story of chronic illness and how I was on broken but that God gave me strength to persevere and gave me doctors and medicines to make me better. This was especially important to me because I had made friends with a young girl with brittle bone disease. When we went outside to play, she had to be extra careful and didn’t get to do as much as the other kids. I hung out with her and helped kept her occupied. I hope one day she remembers that story. When the word seems hard and you can’t do everything you want because of your body, I hope she remembers she met someone who had hope: in herself, in medicine, and in God.
The week was amazing and on the last day with the child, I went with them one walk around the neighborhood. Just me, the kids, and their caregivers. No other team member or translator. And I was perfectly comfortable with this. I had no problem walking around an area I didn’t know with people who didn’t know my language. In fact, I had been comfortable the entire time. When I arrived, I was tired not afraid. I was never afraid. Was I frustrated that I couldn’t communicate like I wanted? Sure, but that nevermore I feel like I didn’t belong. On that walk, I had fun with the kids. We had made up a fake language that had crossed barriers and broke the ice. And on this particular walk, a few of eh kids and I practiced our skills of English and Russian, teaching each other new words in both languages by what we saw around us. I will always remember learning the word for fish at the market that day. Thanks Daniel!
But that walk brought more to my attention than just a few words. I really got to see the big picture. Walking around this town in Ukraine, I notice the differences but I also noticed the similarities. Housing was different but I could see the tell tale signs of those with not enough money. I saw people just trying to survive. The trapping may have been different but the people were the same. Working to support their families. Here they had markets on the street and back home they are cashiers at Walmart. I looked into the faces of these children and saw the same kind of spirit I saw in the kids I grew up with: dreams and aspirations trying to overcome what life threw at them. I saw souls light up: I saw God.
One of the criticisms of our work is that we work with children in a different county and don’t focus on kids in Alabama. As someone who worked in Alabama improving the lives of those with children and adults with disabilities for ten years, I can tell you I’ve done that and I can assure you there are big hearted, god driven people already doing that. But the thing is, God’s people aren’t limited to Alabama–they aren’t even limited to the United States. That I day I truly saw what He was trying to show me! I felt so comfortable because I was among his people! My brothers and sister may have spoken a different language but that didn’t change what we had in common. God was in Ukraine and He loved his children there. He has called me to be part of a team of American and Ukraine who wanted to change these kids life for the better!
I am truly honored. I always wanted to make a difference and never though He’d called me for something as big as international missionary work. I remember their faces so clearly and it’s almost like they haunt me. These children, along with the ones that come to camp, are my touch stone. They remind me that love their neighbor doesn’t mean the person next to you or the person next door; it means that we you love each of your brothers and sister regardless of distance.
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