Well...I know if you have read this with any regularity, you've noticed a dearth of posts lately. This is because we have been in Ukraine! We weren't able to post that we were gone on this blog as it is public and we couldn't risk anything going "wrong" with our trip, etc. It's a big, ugly world out there!
I will fill you in on a few details. It could get long, but I will try to keep this as brief as I can while still covering the highlights.
We flew to Kiev, Ukraine last Saturday arriving on Sunday afternoon. Kiev is a nice city. They had the EuroCup going on while we were there which made things expensive (for Kiev) and crowded. I don't think the EuroCup had anything to do with making it hot 8-) -- but it was DEFINITELY that while we were there too! We were in Kiev 2 days and headed out on Tuesday night to our region, Kherson where the orphanage is. We took a 10 hour train ride in a train that we think had to be at least 30 years old, but maybe closer to 50. It had been "updated" to have air conditioning -- but only when the train was moving. So, every time the train stopped for 10-20 minutes (TWENTY TIMES DURING THE 10 HOUR TRIP!!) the air conditioning went off. Shane and I agreed that it's the hottest we've ever been for the longest period of time without being able to do something about it!!!
We met our facilitator (an INCREDIBLE young woman named Ludmilla aka Luda) who is one of the hardest workers I know. Our train got in at 7 am. She was there and we hit the ground running...almost literally. We went to the apartment which had already been cleaned from the previous people who had left at 5:30 that morning. (The Ukranians that we met work very hard.) It was a "luxury apartment" which basically meant that there was hot water 24/7 and you could flush the toilet paper. It was VERY NICE by Ukraine standards though...and had AIR CONDITIONING which, to me, was the luxury part!! It was basically the only place that we were that had it with the exception of a few restaurants and the grocery store...but apparently, there's never a guarantee that they will work very well. We were able to rinse the sweat off in the "shower" (which is a bathtub where you sit and hold a shower head over your head) briefly before we started all the running around for the day. It was an INSANELY busy day. We went from government offices to the orphanage where they introduced us to the director and she told us they were calling Sasha (his real name is Alexander and his nickname is Sasha) in to meet us.
He came in and we realized that he had not been told about us at all. He was shocked. He was very polite and we shook hands. We talked for a few minutes (through Luda, who translated) and showed him the book we had made of our family photos, etc. Probably 10-15 minutes later, they asked him if he wanted us to be his parents. His immediate response was "Yes, no doubt!" and we were thrilled. Luda told him that he needed to write out a statement saying he wanted to be adopted and he got a little troubled. He said he wasn't able to write it right then. So, we left for a few hours and then had to come back that afternoon when he told us that he was ready to sign the paper. We were over the top thrilled and relieved.
We left him for the day with a promise to return the next morning, but Luda wasn't able to come with us. We were basically on our own with him...with the psychologist (who spoke maybe 15 words of English) with us as well. We took a tour of the grounds of the school/orphanage. He showed us much of his "world" outside...but not inside. We had taken a bag of snacks for his groupa (the 20 or so boys he lives/sleeps with) and learned that he was uncomfortable with them knowing/knowing about us. Apparently, they had begun teasing him and telling him lies about "Americans" -- which we didn't know that morning. We enjoyed our visit with him even though it was a little tough b/c the russian/english programs I had downloaded only worked with wifi and there was no wifi at the orphanage so the language barrier was significant. We drew pictures and did charades to communicate and laughed and did our best.
We told him that we'd be back that afternoon and he seemed great with that. We left, had lunch at a nice restaurant (crepes!! Yum! It was some of the best food we had there!) and Luda met us at the restaurant. She told us that Sasha had expressed some concerns to the director and was waffling on his decision. We prayed our hearts out the entire afternoon as we sat in the car and waited place after place where Luda had to do paperwork. (Did I mention yet that it was 109 degrees while we were there?) We went to the orphanage around 4:45pm. When we got there, he wasn't there. He was with a caregiver at the store. He came back and asked her to come to the meeting with us. We gave him some soccer shoes that we had talked about (he had drawn a picture to describe them) that we had searched high and low for, and a soccer ball with the Ukraine colors/team symbol on it. He was appreciative and gave us that ADORABLE little grin of his and my heart melted!
Then, quite suddenly, the mood changed and he started passionately speaking to Luda. I was watching her intently to try to "read" her expression and getting worried the longer he talked. In the end, she said that he had made the decision to not be adopted and to stay where he is familiar with life. He will go to trade school (he says -- but I don't think he's thought about how to pay for that...) and become a cook. Luda says that kids are encouraged to become cooks because that means that they will always have enough food. That is a pretty sad motivator for choosing an occupation, but it's what his little 16 yr. old heart was telling him to do. Well, his heart and his entire groupa and possibly some care-givers. We were told that his groupa was telling him that Americans take healthy children from orphanages and adopt them and bring them back and harvest their organs to sell to other Americans. They also warned him about us kidnapping him -- going so far as to give him one of their cell phones "in case we tried to kidnap him, he could call them and they would rescue him."
I thought I was going to stop breathing. I couldn't believe that we were sitting there listening to those words from his mouth. We questioned him about why he had asked so many people to find him a family and he said that what he meant when he said that was that he wanted them to find his biological family...which was a bunch of bunk as that family doesn't exist. His father isn't even listed on his birth certificate and he knows that. His mother relinquished her parental rights the day he was born -- clearly indicative that all along she had planned to give up her child -- whether he'd come out with perfect hands or not.
We asked several questions of him trying to help him think clearly, but the peer pressure had gotten the best of him and he was unwilling to change his mind or even think about it. We had asked him if he would be willing to talk to another former orphan (15 yrs. old) who we'd met on the trip who was adopted a year ago from Ukraine and was back on a trip to adopt his sister and was one of the happiest kids I've ever met. Sasha said no. We wanted him to get on FB and see pictures of other children who've been adopted from his orphanage and see that they are happy and healthy. He said no. We had nothing left to offer as he was unwilling to even listen. We could almost visibly see the wall he'd put up. Shane grabbed his hands and told him that he'd always be welcome in our home and then the 3 of us prayed together holding hands. He thanked us for coming, for our efforts on his behalf, hugged us and then walked us out. It was the most heart-wrenching scene I've ever been a part of. I felt like I would never be able to catch my breath again.
We talked to Luda later that night to see what she thought about us staying and she said that she didn't think, based on their conversation, that he had any intention of changing his mind, but that of course, it could always happen. We felt like if we went back to the orphanage after that final "goodbye", we would watch the wall that he had up, reinforce itself and become even thicker. He was resolute in his intentions and, having dealt with teenagers, we know that if they're pushed/pressured, they will only run further in the opposite direction. We certainly didn't want that to happen. So we confirmed our reservations for our grueling trip home on the only flight available, talked to our families, told our children (among the hardest things I've ever had to do) and started packing up. Neither of us slept worth a hoot that night (about 3 1/2 hours) and woke in plenty of time to get ready and leave our accommodations in really good shape! Luda came by to wrap some things up and we left with our driver, Leonid (who was wonderful, but didn't speak hardly ANY English) for the airport 3 1/2 hours away.
We flew from Ukraine to Poland, Poland to Germany, Germany to Denver and Denver to home...over a period of 2 days -- about 31 hours. We are spent. Emotionally, physically, spiritually and are looking forward to regrouping and celebrating our son's birthday (which we were going to miss) and being together as a family this summer instead of separated by a LOT of water and land for a good portion of it -- though we were completely willing to do it (eventually totally united as a family on the decision to adopt) for the sake of Sasha's life.
The parallels we have been able to draw thus far are many. The main one I want to share right now is this: God loves you. He gave the ultimate sacrifice for YOUR well-being. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ from Heaven to earth to DIE a horrible death to pay for YOUR sins because YOU couldn't. HE GAVE THIS TO YOU AS A GIFT. Whether you choose to accept His gift that will save your life and give you hope for the future (eternity) is up to you. You can choose to listen to the influences of friends or those around you who will try to steer you away from choosing right, or you can listen to the voice of One who loves you most and receive the gift He's giving you. He has no ulterior motives. He has no desire for your future other than what is good and beautiful and right for you -- though sometimes it may come after walking down a path that doesn't really LOOK like it's the best path, but in the end leads to more beauty than you could ever imagine. He doesn't really ask anything of you but to obey and receive His FREE gift. No strings attached.
I'm certain there's more to come...