Friends Wanted

Rick and a boy from an orphanage in Veliko Polovetske, Ukraine

Rick and a boy from an orphanage in Veliko Polovetske, Ukraine

My introduction to Rick Barry were his books, Gunner’s Run and Kiriath’s Quest. After reading both, I asked him to do an interview on my book blog. As I explored his blog, I found out that he frequently visits Ukraine and Russia and works with orphans in those countries. When I contacted him to ask for a guest post on TIO, he was kind enough to carve time out of his busy schedule to write this. I hope you enjoy it. And please do use the links to check out his books. Gunner’s Run is my favorite.

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As a full-time worker with a Christian ministry active in Russia and Ukraine, I’ve seen kids in sad situations. Some have been homeless living on the streets. Sometimes they’re in orphanages, because one or both parents have died, or because they have a parent in prison, or because the parents are addicted to alcohol and simply can’t care for their own kids. Sad.

However, praise God, there are kind-hearted people who do what they can to help. Some coworkers of mine have regularly visited orphanages to take gifts of clothing, to present Christmas programs, to offer Bible lessons. One church in Lutsk, Ukraine, daily offers warm meals to kids whose parents have little income, and these kids, too, have received gifts of clothing and blankets from caring Christians. The especially moving thing about this church is that teens themselves help. These are teens who used to be some of those poor kids who needed a hand and discovered God’s love in the process. Now they help others.

Valia, a friend who helps the kids at that church in Lutsk, shared this in a recent letter:

 A girl named Ira used to get laughed at all the time because of her appearance. But she found support and understanding among our children. After six years, she has grown, changed, accepted Jesus into her heart and become a child of God. Now she is helping to make crafts with the children and is very good at drawing.

Two sisters once came to our church. One of them is Alyona, and has now become my daughter-n-law. Her sister is Julia, now also a sister in the Lord. My daughter taught her to play the piano, and now Julia plays and sings in the church worship team. Once they were weak and poor, but now are blessed children of God. Glory to our Lord, He makes strong from the weak.

I understand that most people can’t travel overseas to help in an orphanage. But many of us have kids right in our neighborhoods who have less money. Or who get laughed at. Or whose parents don’t pay attention to them. Could you be a friend to them, even if they aren’t orphans?

The last paragraph of Mr. Barry’s post makes a good point. The Bible specifically tells us to help orphans, but it also tells us to love our neighbors. Do you have any ideas for how you could reach out to hurting kids close to your own home?

Loving Katia (part 2)

Katia with dadMiss yesterday’s post? Read part of McKennaugh’s story here –> Loving Katia (part 1).

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My prayers were answered when, after months of advocating, Katia’s story finally fell into the right hands. The Russell family read a poem that I had written about her in an Above Rubies e-zine and contacted me for more information. I sent them a long email about a child thousands of miles away with medical complications that I couldn’t even pronounce. They prayed. God answered. And the Russells started the year long process of adopting Katia. There were home studies and paperwork, dossiers and passports and fundraisng. When at last they got to Ukraine, they found Katia in an even worse condition. She was seven now. She was still fifteen pounds. After each visit they had with her, the Russells wondered if there would be another. Katia lay in her crib, seizing. But she lived. She was the weakest person that I have ever met but, somehow, she was by far the strongest, too.

Katia - homeKatia made it to the US. She was immediately admitted to a hospital here. Seizure medication, surgery, food. Food. Katia doubled her weight and grew four inches in 4 short months. Her blind eyes began to see. Casts shaped her legs, slowly, so they could bend. Her hair grew out and she has a mother to do it up in bows. She has three siblings always darting in to kiss her. She has a daddy to hold her. Now she is no longer a unwanted orphan child. She is someone’s daughter. The change is very visible. She is beautiful.

Every time I talk to Katia’s mother, Heather, or see a photo of this little girl, I think, “I came so close to giving up.” I had spent many endless days–months–trying to advocate for her and find her a family. For the longest time, it had come to nothing. I wondered within if I should give up. But I didn’t. I thank God I didn’t, for my words finally reached a family. I think that nothing in the world feels as good as knowing that you changed someone’s life. That you, with perseverance, helped a child leave a place where they were destined to live a life in a crib. I’m trying to say this in a way that doesn’t sound like I’m trying to collect credit for myself, because I’m not. I just want to say that anyone can make a difference…even a 14-year-old girl with Ukrainian soil on her feet who decides, “God wouldn’t want this child to die without hope. I can’t wait around for someone else to speak for her when I’m supposed to.” I wasn’t anyone special. I just knew that Katia deserved to have a childhood like I had had. It took a lot of time, effort, love and, most if all, a lot of God’s help. The point of this post is that teens can make a difference and that includes you. You can change someone’s life. All you have to do is try. Go for it.

~McKennaugh, age 17
Katia - after

Want to help a Ukrainian orphan? Yuri, a seven-year-old boy, is being adopted from Katia’s orphanage. I met him while I was there and he was the sweetest child. I was able to find him a family only recently and they are trying to raise funds so that they can bring him home. Visit the following link and consider donating to his adoption fund:  Hope for Yuri.

Have you ever seen before and after photos like this? (I haven’t!) How does this story touch your heart?

Loving Katia (part 1)

Katia with McKennaughI found part of McKennaugh’s story on The Rebelution blog. She’s a perfect example of what a huge impact teenagers can have in orphan care. I cried reading the story she sent about Katia. (Yes, there’s a theme here. I cry over everything related to this subject.) What really amazed me were the pictures of Katia. I’d never seen before and after picture like this. They are stunning, visual proof of the redemptive power of adoption. And now, please welcome McKennaugh.

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I lean forward on the red-brown couch trying to get a glimpse of the next room. The workers were busy for a moment and the children, like always, were so quiet. As empty as it seemed, I knew that Davit, Vanya, Miroslav, and Katia were in there. Miroslav with his angel smile, Davit with the sad, longing eyes, Vanya with the giggle that made you just have to laugh along and Katia…Katia. Oh, how she needed someone. A mama, a papa…anyone. I stood slowly and walked to the door. Katia’s crib was in the corner. I crept over to it. A tiny little girl with huge blue eyes stared blankly up at me. I touched her stiff hands. “Pryvet, Katia,” I whispered. She flinched ever so slightly, but remained staring straight ahead. She was blind. I reached down, moving my hand along her legs. I cringed at the feel of them. They were bent at strange angles. And they didn’t bend. Not at all. She was fifteen pounds. She was six years old. Orphanage life is not kind.

Katia2Tears stung my eyes as I slipped my large hand over her baby fingers. Her medical needs were terribly severe. She had not received the care she needed here. It was a miracle that she had survived this long already. Time was not in her favor. I stood, fourteen years old and face to face with the unfairness of the world. If Katia had been born in the US she would have been a completely different child. She wouldn’t have been malnourished and still in a crib. Someone needed to help this little girl; help all the children here who were underfed and had no stimulation. They lived in cribs at the ages most kids should be going to school and spent each day hoping for love that never comes. But who would help? Almost no one outside of Ukraine knew of Katia’s existence. Then I realized that no one would advocate for Katia to get out of this place, no one would reveal her plight to the world. No one, unless I listened to God and did it myself. She was six. I was hardly over twice her age and, yet, she had to depended on me to do something. Our Lord can use the most unlikely people to make change.

Every time that I could, I would go to her and whisper some words before I was sent away. Sometimes I wondered if she really heard me and knew that I was there. One day she was crying and crying. It was the only sound in the place. I listened to the lonely echo of her wails, my heart hurting. I walked into her room and hurried to her crib before anyone could tell me not to. “Don’t cry, Katia,” I said gently. She instantly stopped. I was told to go out of the room. How I wished I could stay by her side! As I stepped away from her crib, she knew I was leaving. She started to whimper again. I had to try with all my might to stop my own tears, but now I knew that she heard me. She knew that I was there. “Someday, Katia,” I thought, “perhaps there will be someone who will hold you every time you cry and not have to leave.”

I spent seven weeks in that orphanage and each day made me wonder why my childhood had been full of love and siblings and laughter when these children had nothing and no one. When I came home to America, I knew that Katia needed an adoptive family immediately. I started by contacting magazines and e-zines, calling organizations and begging God not to let this child of His die before she heard the words, “You are loved.”

Katia with her mom

Come back tomorrow for the rest of the story.