Adoption Journey

 

********************************************************

PROGRESS

March 29, 2013

It has been two years now since we brought Julia home.  Today she gave me permission to share a letter she wrote me a couple months ago on my birthday.  I read it to her today to remind her some of the very important things she said that show that she has started a healing process. Thank you for all the prayers for her.  Don't stop!  She is a work in progress (we all are).

Dear Dad,

Sometimes I think that you might think that I forgot about your b-day just because in the morning I didn’t eve say “happy b-day.” It’s just because sometimes when I don’t have anything to give then I just don’t say it until I find something to give.

Well, I remember that it’s your special day—50 already. I remember my Russian Mom’s 50th b-day… somebody beat her up. My Russian Dad didn’t even live to age 50.

I hope you have a special day. First of all I want to say I’m sorry for… hmm a lot of things. And I’m pretty sure I will still be bad sometimes and mean, but just so you know—I don’t live to mean, bad, mad and all that, it’s just sometimes I’m a lil dumb. But you know… all my life I’ve been waiting for a normal life, family… just a second chance. And I had a miracle that I’m here, and have a family, and I’d never even think that God would help me so much…. And give me another chance and a normal life.

Sometimes I don’t even accept it but… just because I still can’t believe that I’d ever have another chance. I’m so thankful to God that he did it for me. I’m so happy that I have a Dad and Mom now and you know you’re actually the only Mom and Dad I’ve ever had because my Dad left and didn’t like me at all and my Mom as you know left, and pretty much NEVER care (but you know I still forgive them and love them even if they don’t).

I’ve decided that if you don’t give me away or don’t leave then I’m supposed to treat you right, trust you, love you, accept you, and just have a normal family for once in life. Maybe I do deserve happiness for a change, because it’s so tiring to not have anyone and be all alone all the time. I’ve tried to be alone or push everyone away because I don’t want to be hurt again or let them play me and stuff. That’s why I never trust anyone and try to be mean and stuff even if I don’t like to be mean.

Well, Happy Birthday. I love you.

Your daughter,

Julia

***********************************************************************

RETELLING THE MIRACLE STORY

November 12, 2012

***********************************************************************

THE BEST FATHER'S DAY PRESENT EVER!

June 17, 2012

Grace Place church did church in the park on Father's Day and 51 people were baptized as a part of the celebration.  One of them was our daughter Julia!  On Palm Sunday we baptized 45 people and after witnessing one of the services, Julia raised he hand indicating that she wanted to be in the next baptism.  She went back and forth on the decision because there is significant spiritual warfare going on inside and around her.  On Father's Day she decided again that she did want to be baptized and wanted to do it with her good friend Lizzie who was adopted about the same time as her. I asked her if it was just because Lizzie was doing it or her own choice, reminding her that this was the most important decision of life and that it meant she wanted God, angels, the church, everyone to know that she loved Jesus and wanted to follow him for the rest of her life.  She said it was her choice.  She told Selene that she listened to Carrie Underwood's song, "Jesus Take the Wheel," over and over and decided that is what she needs to do.  I just noticed, and found it interesting, that her friend wore a picture of Underwood on her shirt.  I pray it is a turning point in both of their lives!

***********************************************************************

LOVE IN ANY LANGUAGE

Jan. 1, 2012

Julia has now been in our family for over nine months.  Adjusting to the reality of parents has not been easy, but there has been progress.  She made me a Christmas present that means more to me than most any gift I've ever been given.  It conveys a lot of things that are not able to be said out loud–yet.  I put it on the wall in my office and treasure it!  Thanks Julia.  I love you too!

***********************************************************************

FAMILY PICTURE

Merry Christmas, 2011

***********************************************************************

LOVE NEVER FAILS

November 23, 2011

Through the adoption journey we continue to learn about God's persevering love.  Love never fails…  (1 Corinthians 13:8)

God never stops loving and never gives up—even when we spurn his love.  He fights for us, he pursues us.  Someone wrote a poem called “The Hound of Heaven,” talking about how God keeps chasing us even when we run, even when we resist, he pursues us, he perseveres.

We are understanding God’s persevering love like never before in this adoption experience.  IT IS NOT EASY!  We adopted a teenage girl (nuf said)!  Not to mention a former orphan, one who has had a very hard life and she is still resisting the idea having a father and mother.

God knows how that feels!  Even when we spurn his love, even when we respond to his grace sporadically, he keeps on loving us—he is committed and he perseveres.

My wife and I feel very inadequate as we have taken on a difficult assignment.  But we keep reminding each other over and over that God doesn’t call the qualified, but he qualifies the called!

I wish I could end this blog with a testimony in Julia's own words about how her life is totally transformed, telling how she loves Jesus, she loves her parents, she loves America, she loves her school, she is ready to live happily ever after.  But we aren’t anywhere close to that yet…  This miracle story is a work in progress and we are still fighting for her—fighting hard!

I believe that “love never fails.”  God’s love, especially as it is seen in and through us, is going to win her heart.

Julia with her brother Landon (we have this framed over our fireplace)

I’m choosing to trust even when I don’t see answers to my prayers.  Recently I was doing a message on biblical praise in the Psalms and talked about the 7 most common words for worship.  One of the words is: Todah:  “to extend the hands in a sacrifice of praise, thanksgiving, or a thank-offering

This word is connected in Psalm 50:23 to an act of faith in God’s deliverance which is not yet visible.  The Lord says —

He who sacrifices thank-offerings honors me and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God. (Ps. 50:23).

Praising the Lord in advance of seeing him rescue you, prepares the way for him to work powerfully in your life!

Maybe someone who is reading this needs to hear that.  You are like me.  You are going through something very difficult.  The future is unclear.  You feel overwhelmed, in-over-your-head.  You have been praying and believing but you are not seeing victory, you are not seeing the solution, you are not receiving the answer you long for and need.  It’s so frustrating and discouraging.

Here is the challenge you need to hear: MAKE A DECISION TO PRAISE THE LORD ANYWAY!  Praise Him in advance; having faith that he will make your way clear in time. When you do that you prepare the way the way for God to show you his salvation.  By sacrificing human visibilities and logic, praising God is spite of your difficulties, you “prepare the way” for God to show himself strong on your behalf!

***********************************************************************

TWO MONTHS HOME

June 1, 2011

A couple weeks ago Julia flipped a switch and began to talk to us in English.  What a blessing!  She is doing amazingly well and hardly has an accent, very easy to understand.  When she is up, she is talkative and fun, with a winsome sense of humor.  When she is down, she is way down.  The emotional roller coaster continues.  This is a long hard adjustment, but we keep seeing little steps of progress.  Last week Julia told Selene that she did not want to call us dad and mom, but instead—“Selene and him” (meaning me!).  But then a few days later I sent her a text, saying I loved her, as I have done so many times with no reply, and she replied with: “Love you and mom too. Good night.”  That brought tears to my eyes because it represented progress and we will mark every little movement forward.

We had to fight hard to adopt Julia, facing impossible odds involving U.S. adoption law.  I am considering writing a book about it and have contacted a publisher.  But I am not ready to write it yet, because the fight continues—fighting for her trust and love.  I recently read a book called “Love Wins.”  Although I was not impressed with the book, I love the title.  And I am convinced that God’s love is going to win—helping Julia to learn to accept and receive our love, even loving us back, and drawing Julia into a close and secure relationship with her Heavenly Father.

This adoption experience is teaching us so much about the love of God.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

The great love of the Father has been lavished on us!  The Greek word for love in that verse is agape. It describes a unique love that his not natural human love, unless it comes from God.  It is unselfish, giving, sacrificing, and unconditional.  God lavished his great love on us by adopting us has his children, through faith in Jesus and his atonement for sin.  We are now called “children of God.”  And this is not just a title, it is a reality. The text says: “And that is what we are!” As believers, our security and status is assured.  We can be confident.

When I think about adopting Julia, it makes me appreciate more what it means to be adopted as a child of God.  Consider the following things that are true about adoption:

  • It was totally our initiative.  Julia did not come after us, we went after her. She didn’t even know we were coming until the day before we arrived! So it is with God.  Salvation is all his initiative.  "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)
  • We loved her first.  Our love for her was not (and is not) based on her response to us.  In fact, we loved her before we even met her.  Our love is unconditional.  So it is with God.
  • We did not force her to accept our invitation. She had a chance to say no—in the orphanage director’s office initially, every day for several weeks before court, and in front of the judge on the day of court when she was asked extensively if she wanted to be adopted by us.  It was her decision to say yes to our offer.  And so it is with God, who “wants all people to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4), but grants us each freedom of choice.
  • We made all provisions for her adoption.  We saved, raised and borrowed money. We did six months of preliminary work: a thorough “home study” with a licensed social worker, hours of parenting classes and reading, piles of paper work, extensive preparation of foreign documents, etc.  Then, of course, the seven-week trip to Ukraine filled with multiple adventures.  It did not cost Julia one cent of her money or one minute of her time to make it happen.  So it is with God.  He has made all provisions for our adoption through the perfect and finished work of Jesus.
  • We permanently changed her identity. We changed her name, birthdate, birth certificate, citizenship, passport, and social security card. And so God has given his children a new identity—even a new name “Christians” and a new date when we were “born again.”
  • Julia now has a new family, home, future and inheritance. All these things are true for God’s children as well.
  • Her adoption was not based on her merits. Her looks, grades, scores, achievements, or behavior did not have any bearing on her selection or adoption.  It was based on grace alone!  And so it is with God (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Does that mean that our daughter feels like our child immediately? No. That is certainly taking some time.  But it is still true whether she feels like it or not!  So it is with our relationship with God.  We may not feel secure at first, but God wants us to become sure of our acceptance with him, through Christ, of our status as much loved children of his.  He wants us to feel accepted, safe, and cherished.  "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life." (1 John 5:13).

Last week Julia decided to give us the silent treatment for two whole days.  It was painful.  On the third day she started talking again.  In fact, she spent a whole hour talking to me about various things that involve her life.  I was so happy and blessed.  Then I started thinking about how much the Heavenly Father must appreciate it when his children take time to talk to him.  I have never before appreciated the depth of God’s love like I have since this adoption journey began.

***********************************************************************

TWO WEEKS HOME

April 8, 2011

We’ve been home with Julia now for two weeks.  It has been an emotional roller coaster; highs and lows—low lows.  Our social worker reminds us to not consider whether there has been any progress until after three months.  Good reminder.  We keep repeating to each other, like a mantra: God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.

Mother and daughter

The first week home was Spring Break.  That was good timing.  By the second day culture shock was setting on many levels for Julia—overwhelmed by the language challenges, all the new things to see and learn, along with missing her close friends from the orphanage and all that was familiar. We are feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.  In God’s amazing providence, he had already made provision for us.  On our first weekend back to church, handing out bulletins at the front door was Olena, a 26-year-old woman from Ukraine who was only at Grace Place for her third week in a row.  Olena immediately connected with our daughter who was able to unload a lot of feelings in a safe and therapeutic way.  In no time at all Julia was smiling again.  Olena has quickly become our trusted friend and translator, on speed dial.  What a gift!

With our new friend Olena

We are learning so much about God’s undeserved favor through this adventure.  My first week back in the pulpit at Grace Place I shared eight “Lessons from a Rescue Mission.”  If you want to view the message online you can see it here: http://vimeo.com/21891024

During the latter part of Spring Break Selene took Julia to Nebraska to meet Selene’s sister, Stephanie. It was a great trip.  Stephanie gave her a ton of clothes and found out that she liked cooking.  Stephanie put an apron her and had her making eggs, chicken, Russian Salad, and even crème brulee!

Cooking with Aunt Stephanie

At the beginning of the second week home I took Julia to Berthoud High School to sign her up and found out that she first needed to be tested at the district with the English as Second Language department.  It took all week to get the necessary meetings and tests.  As a result of this process it was decided that she will need to go to Loveland High School due to the fact that they have the only New Comers’ English class in the district—2 periods a day, every day.  It just so happens that the class only has one student in it right now!  So Julie will practically have a private tutor at school to jump start her English learning.  Another unexpected blessing came in the form of a 11th grade girl named Oksana who is from Belarus and speaks Russian.  She connected with Julia and is so nice.  She agreed to take her to all her classes the first two days of school and to eat lunch with her and give her a guided tour.  When they left each other Oksana hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.  Another gift!

In the middle of the week we attended a concert by Chris Tomlin.  If you have been reading this blog you know how Julia loved his song, “Indescribable” and I had it translated for her in Russian after the miracle that enabled us to continue our adoption of her.  The chorus declares that God is an amazing God.  Our friend, astronaut Joe Tanner and his wife Martha, surprised us with tickets and a backstage pass.  Out of 5000 people at the concert, we were the first ones to go backstage and spend time with Chris Tomlin and speaker Louie Gigglio.  We were able to tell them briefly about the miracle that happened for us to adopt Julia.  Julia was so excited to meet Chris and started crying a little when he came into the room, totally star-struck.  Another gift!

Before the concert with Rimma (Julia's new Russian speaking friend)

Julia backstage with singer and song writer Chris Tomlin

Yesterday I was contacted by representatives from the 700 Club television show regarding their interest in doing a story about the miracle that we experienced with the “Julia Peck Decision.”  They want to film an interview and highlight the speed of the decision and the wide-ranging impact for the future.  We hope that God will get much glory from this story.

We feel very challenged and inadequate to face the real challenges we are facing, too private to share, but we keep watching God come through with encouragement and resources just in time and it builds our faith.  Truly he is an amazing God.

With new brother Landon

Making Russian Salad at home

 

***********************************************************************

ARRIVING HOME

March 24, 2011

If you have been following our story, you know how meaningful the song "Amazing God" was to us when Julia picked it out as a favorite.  We translated it to Russian for her after the amazing miracle that happened when American officials declared a new reading of the law, enabling us to adopt Julia.  That makes this video extra meaningful to us.  I love the way cousin Glenn edited it so that there is a musical crescendo when my two lovely ladies walk out of the airport security doors!


***********************************************************************

HOMEWARD BOUND!

March 23, 2011

 

The day has finally arrived, seven weeks to the day—we’re coming home.  When we arrived for our 2:00 PM appointment at the American Embassy to obtain the U. S. visa to be stamped in Julia’s Ukrainian passport, we were told that the printing machine was acting up and if they couldn’t get it to work we would have to come back tomorrow to pick up the passport.  Really?  I went and sat down and said a little prayer: “Lord, I know there are much bigger issues in the world…but with all we have been through, might we have to wait another day here and spend hundreds of dollars on transfer fees to get new tickets simply because of printer problems?”  Ten minutes later, to our delight, as well as that of another woman with a nine-year-old new daughter, we received the good news that the printer worked and we had our visa.

We got Julia’s daily ice cream to celebrate and then caught a taxi to the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN) headquarters.  In Karen Springs’ office, along with her two associates, Galena, and our now dear friend Julia Sergienko, I explained to our Julia carefully, with translation, where we sat in that very room and how we felt when we got the news earlier from the embassy that we would not be able to adopt her due to a typo on her birth certificate. When I explained to her how I felt as I imagined getting on the train to come tell her the heartbreaking news, I got choked up and couldn’t talk for a few moments.  Then I explained how the CBN director, Steve Weber, had entered the room, heard the situation and said with conviction: “People need to fight for orphans…who is going to fight for them…you need to ask whether God is calling you to fight…these type of situations allow the world to learn about the plight of orphans…this is how laws get changed.”  I told Julia how we all stood in a circle holding hands and Steve prayed a passionate prayer for guidance and for justice to prevail as we wept.  At the conclusion of that prayer Selene said “I think maybe God is calling us to fight.”  God had spoken to my heart through Steve and through Selene.  So I explained again how we engaged an army of people to pray and advocate.  I showed her where I was sitting when I got the call the next day from the embassy with the good news that the law had been changed.  I told her how we cried again, this time tears of joy, as Selene and I hugged each other and thanked the Lord.

With that set up, we then walked down to Steve’s office.  He was waiting with a warm greeting.  He brought us into his office where had a cake waiting, with coffee (and even a juice pack, which Julia chose).  He talked to Julia in Russian about her story and we had a wonderful and encouraging visit with Steve (who has adopted three children himself—two from Russia and one from Ukraine).  Steve is such a man of God and has contagious faith.  He reminded me again that “adoption is not charity, it is warfare.” It was a helpful reminder since we have had some real emotional and challenging transitions into the world of suddenly parenting a troubled teenager—not unexpected, but tough nonetheless, with true dimensions of spiritual warfare.  We know that God doesn’t call the qualified, but qualify the called.  So we continue to trust him for wisdom and strength for one day at a time.

Now we are all packed and ready to get a few winks before the alarm goes off at 2:45 AM.  Karen Springs, Steve Weber’s niece, and director of Orphan’s Promise, a ministry of CBN, has become a treasured friend through this whole process and we are blessed to stay with her for these final hours.

To all my dear family and friends I want to say a word about expectations in my final blog from this side of the world.  Your prayers and expressions of love and support have helped carried us along during this experience and we are so grateful.  It is also cool to know that a gang of Ukrainian Orphan Outreach adoptive families, along with some other friends and family are showing up at the airport to welcome us home.  We look forward to the reception Grace Place has planned as well.

Please understand, though, that our daughter is extremely shy, easily overwhelmed and unpredictable.  While it has been fun and rewarding to make our story so public through this blog, Facebook, and You Tube videos, I am a bit worried that it has created a bit of celebrity status for a little girl who is not only introverted, but also very bewildered about life right now and apprehensive about what is ahead—the airplane, the language, the schools…and the list continues.

So, don’t be put off she is unable to respond warmly (or at all) to the attention that many are dying to give her.  Sometimes she responds to us positively, sometimes not at all, and sometimes negatively.  It is unpredictable, it is complicated, and we understand that.  You must also.  Although she does not articulate much about her emotions at this stage (except when she doesn’t like something—such as food, clothes, etc., which she can be very opinionate about), I do believe that she is impressed by the fact that people want to greet her and throw a party for us all.  I can tell it is touching her, but cannot predict how she will be able to handle it.  Selene and I just want to ask everyone to be patient.

Although Julia understands a lot of English words and is learning more all the time, she has mostly refused to say anything to us in English. Part of it is due to shyness or embarrassment. Part of it may be downright stubbornness.  Since we have been picking our battles carefully in order to build trust, limit emotional meltdowns, and keep her positive about getting on a plane with us, we have not pushed her to speak. That is all about to change, but she can’t (or maybe won’t) talk to you yet.  Be patient.

When I asked her if I could set her up a Facebook page she was positive.  She immediately had well over 100 friends in one day, and tons of messages, but she didn’t understand how to navigate it and got overwhelmed by it, saying she didn’t like it.  I’m the one who has accepted the friends for her. It will take time before she is able to go on there and read all your sweet messages (we have communicated some) or answer anything.  Be patient.

And please don’t be offended if we are not very sociable for the early weeks after our return.  We have been repeatedly instructed through the adoption training process and our reading that we need to “hunker down” as much as possible when we return to try and jump start the bonding process.  Adopted children don’t automatically bond; there must be lots of intentionality.  Some never do.  We believe Julia is and will bond to us, but it will take a lot of time, patience, love, and persistence.  We won’t be accepting a lot of social invitations early on.  Be patient.

Finally, the day has arrived. We are homeward bound.

***********************************************************************

A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

March 22, 2011

I can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel (and it is not a train bearing down on us–hopefully)!  Today was another full day.  We took Julia to the U. S. Embassy to submit and fill out necessary documents for her visa, and have her fingerprinted (since she is over 14 years of age). I must say that after all the waiting we have done; it does feel good to be treated with priority as an American at the U. S. Embassy.  Every time we’ve been there, we are immediately ushered by the guards, right by the long lines waiting outside (in all weather).  Somehow they spot us as Americans before we ever open our mouths.  Today Selene was looking quite stylish and extra beautiful. One of the guards asked our translator, after we went in, if she was a movie star! He didn’t ask about me. Perhaps he thought I was her driver.

Within less than an hour we finished and had a late morning breakfast to sign off with our dear translator Natasha. She has been a trusted companion in this journey, a person of faith and prayer, and a tireless advocate for orphans. We appreciate her so much and will miss her.

Natasha drove us across the river to the “Left Bank” which is a part of the capital city  (population five million) where we had not yet been.  She delivered us to the home of Oleg and Lena Vasilevsky. These fine people run a Christian camp ministry for orphans called Radooga (wsw.news.radooga.com). Through an amazing series of events (not coincidence, but God-sequence) they ended up connected to the same orphanage in Novo Vodolaga where Julia was.  They have gotten to know her well over the last few years and are thrilled she is adopted.  She enjoyed hanging out with their three children, receiving love and affirmation from this family who is doing high-level ministry for those who are overlooked in this country.  They commented several times about her smile, telling us that they had rarely seen it.

Oleg explained to us how the old Soviet mentality still persists that orphans have bad genes; that if their parents were alcoholics or unproductive, the offspring are irreversibly destined to follow the same course.  Therefore the lingering attitude is that it is the government’s problem (socialist thinking), it is no one else’s problem.  They pay taxes so that allows the government to house and educate them away from society in orphanages.  Out of sight, out of mind.  The Vasilevsky’s are doing their part to not only facilitate American mission trips, but also educate Ukrainian Christians to the desperate need and opportunity of orphan care.  We had an inspiring visit and intend to continue our new friendship.

Oleg with Julia some time ago

***********************************************************************

WHO SAID YOU CAN’T WORSHIP WITH CLASSIC ROCK?

March 21, 2011

 

Today was another (hopefully a final) experience in Ukrainian bureaucracy at its finest, filled with drama and unknowns.  While Selene spent a full day in Kiev getting Julia her required medical exams, picking up the two tiny pictures of Julia (when she was little) that were in her file at the State Department on Adoption, returning to obtain the results of the medical exams, and getting her birth certificate apostilled, I was having all kinds of “fun,” one more time in the town of Novo Vodolaga.

After the hour long taxi ride we waited at the courthouse to get the signed court decree (now that the mandatory 10-day-wait period is over).  We waited an hour and half to find out that the judge who heard our case, whose signature was needed, was sick. “Come back on Thursday,” we were told.  There were several problems with that response.  I will only enumerate two: 1) We have an appointment to me application for Julia's visa at the U. S. Embassy at 10:30 AM tomorrow in Kiev and we must have that court degree; 2) On Thursday I will be on a “big ol’ jet airliner carrying me to my home” with my wife and daughter! (Contrary to the Steve Miller Band lyrics, it is not “here that I want to stay”).

Our assistant facilitator persuaded a court aid to take us the hospital to get the judge’s signature.  That’s right, the hospital!  I kid you not.  It appears that they go to the hospital here for much lesser ailments than in the U. S.  It worked.  She signed the paper in the hospital.  Then we returned to the court building where the chief judge had to put a stamp on the decree.  Remember he is the one who said “adoption is fraud… get out of here” when our facilitator first approached him a couple weeks ago.  The Lord answered our prayer request to get the more sympathetic female judge for court, but now she was not there to do the official stamp.

We waited another hour and half on that judge. During seven hours in the car today, I was able to finish Rob Bell’s new book, a controversial, but quick read, and make it half way through  Mark Batterson’s book “Wild Goose Chase: Reclaim the Adventure of Pursuing God.”  On the way out to the town I listed to worship music by Third Day to drown out the Russian conversation in the front, the bad pop music behind my head, with each song sounding like the same annoying dance beat… and to worship.  Then at the court building, waiting in the car, I started listening to a classic rock play list.  “I Won’t Back Down,” by Tom Petty came on and I listened to the lyrics:

Well I won’t back down,

No I won’t back down,

You can stand me up at the gates of hell, but I won’t back down.

No I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around.

And I’ll keep this world from dragging me down.

Gonna stand my ground, and I won’t back down.

 

I got all fired up!  I thought about God being the Righteous Judge who will eventually make all things new, but is even now extending his kingdom of mercy and justice through his people.  Some times that means we must fight; not back down.  I decided what I was going to go say to the judge if he wouldn’t give the stamp on the court decree.  Starting with a review of the last six months of legal work and preparation, I would then let him know that we have been here for six weeks following every detail of Ukrainian law, willingly spending a lot of money and effort to give an orphan a new life, and now it was time for him to follow the law of his land and stamp the damn thing!  Yes, those thoughts came right out of my worship time with Tom Petty.  Then, if he was still belligerent I was going to ask if he had children, and if so, if he would like them growing up in an orphanage since he’s so down on adoption—at least international adoption.  Finally, I planned to ask who his supervisor is and go storm the gates there.

Then I realized my best move at that point was probably to stay seated in the taxi and pray more earnestly to the big Judge who is the “defender of the fatherless.”  The judge eventually stamped the decree, filling the ear of the court aid, railing about how bad adoption is.  Fortunately I never had to see him.  The paper I signed was brought out to the car where I was “patiently” waiting.

After that, we were off to the orphanage (for more waiting), then to make copies, then another hour wait for the “inspector” appointment (county social worker), then back to the orphanage one more time to drop off copies, then to Kharkov to another “inspector’s” office, and finally to the train station to catch the “express” train to Kiev. (Might have to listen to my one and only Ozzy Osborn song, “Crazy Train” now that I’m finally on board the train.  That song describes this day well!).

Oh, right after I decided my best strategy was to keep praying, the next song on the iPod was “Peaceful Easy Feeling,” by the Eagles.  Who said you can’t worship with classic rock?

***********************************************************************

JULIA SAID “GOOD BYE” TO ORPHANAGE LIFE TODAY

March 18, 2011

I was not prepared for what an emotional day today would be. We brought food for a party for Julia's class at the orphanage.  She wanted a “sweet table” which she defined as cake and fruit.  She wanted oranges and especially bananas—her favorite fruit.  We added grapes as well, and candy.  We asked her if she wanted pop, but she preferred fruit juice.  We put candy all over the table and brought three cakes.  It is just amazing to see teenagers excited about oranges, bananas and fruit juice!

Setting up for the party

Before the party the director called us in to say goodbye to Julia.  He told her that he wished her a good life and he hoped her children didn't have to live in an orphanage like she did.  She got all teary eyed, shyly saying “thank you.”  After the party Julia packed up everything she owns–a photo album (we gave her), two stuffed animals (her roommate and another friend gave her), and a collection of stuff that would fill a mid-size woman's purse. Some of those things we had given her too, such as a hair brush.  16 years doesn’t fill up half of one grocery bag!

With a caretaker and the director

Her whole class (12 boys, 2 girls) came out the taxi to say goodbye.  As soon as she got in the car she burst into tears and cried the whole way back to Kharkov (one hour). Can't imagine what was going through her mind.  She said goodbye to children that she has grown up with for years.  What else was she thinking?  “Who are these people I’m going with that I’ve only known for five weeks?” “Where is my biological family?” Who knows what she was thinking but our hearts went out to her.  Selene kept her arm around her and every time Selene stroked her hair she cried harder.  I prayed the whole way home for God to flood his peace into her heart and help us to show her his grace.

After an hour of sadness at the apartment she had supper and cheered up some.  Then Selene took her out to buy a purse and now she is having ice cream. Life is looking up.  She has her own wallet with a little Ukrainian cash in it and some other small stuff to put in her new purse she picked out.  Her new life has begun.

***********************************************************************

OUR UKRAINIAN APARTMENT

March 16, 2011


***********************************************************************

CHANGING SEASONS

March 15, 2011

When we arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine it was snowing every day, thick ice covered the sidewalks, moms pulled children in sleds, and everyone was bundled up, plenty of fur coats and big fur Russian hats. It was bone chilling cold, cold.  But today the birds are singing, coats are being replaced by jackets, strollers have replace sleds, sidewalks are wet and muddy, most of the ice is gone, and girls are wearing…well still plenty of miniskirts and spiked heels.  That part hasn’t changed.

It feels like we moved here!  We have our own rented apartment, have supplemented the limited cookware, have done many of loads of laundry (all hung up to dry), know all the servers at our favorite café, and Selene even has a discount card for the drug store.  It feels more like we moved here than are just visiting, but we are ready to move again—soon!  We bought our plane tickets for three—arriving in Denver March 24, 4:50 PM.

***********************************************************************

THE “JULIA PECK DECISION”

March 15, 2011

 

Amazing.  An American family who is here in Ukraine adopting a teenage boy found my blog and read about Julia’s story.  They have fallen in love with another boy who turns 16 in May.  They also found a family in Denver willing to adopt him.  Now, because of what is now being called the “Julia Peck Law” or “Julia Peck Provision” it is actually possible for this boy to have a family if they move quick to get the right U. S. approval at home before he turns 16.  This would not have been possible without the miracle that happened during our unexpected delay.

Here is the exact language of the letter we received from the U. S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine:

"Adopting parents may adopt the child after the 16th birthday provided both of the following requirements are met:

"1. The Form I-600A itself was filed after the child's 15th birthday but before the child's 16th birthday (or, if applicable, after the child's 17th birthday but before the child's 18th birthday); and

"2. The Form I-600 is filed not more than 180 days after initial approval of the Form I-600 A."

We were able to connect the family with our social worker and translator/facilitator and the mission is on!  The family called and talked to the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, asking them about the "Julia Peck Decision" and taking down careful notes. They now believe that they can make this adoption work.  Yeah God!

Packing gifts for friends and teachers at the orphanage

The perfect gift for friend Luda

***********************************************************************

LEARNING MORE ABOUT GRACE

March 14, 2011

It means more to me today than ever before to think that the God of all creation and all eternity has offered me not only forgiveness, not only the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, but also adoption as his beloved child and the privilege of calling him, not just “Father,” but even “Abba” (Mark 14:36, Rom. 8:15, Gal. 4:6).  “Abba” was an Aramaic word used as a tender, familiar term that a child would call his father, “dad” or “daddy.”  My adoption was all about grace. It was not my idea.  It was not my initiative.  Even though I have often been rebellious or unappreciative, he loves me anyway.  I am secure in his acceptance of me, in Christ, not because of my performance, but in spite of it!

A friend sent me these words by Max Lucado, which make me appreciate more the gospel, and at the same time, meditate on the grace involved in our adoption of Julia.

“Delight in these words:

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

“God adopted you simply because he wanted to, you were in his good will and pleasure.  He signed his name next to yours and changed your name to His.  Your Abba adopted you and became your Father.  Your Father will never turn you away.  It is right to call him Holy; we speak truth when we call him King.  But if you want to touch his heart, use the name he loves to hear.  Call him Father.

“Adoption is not something we earn, but it’s something we receive.  To be adopted into a family is not a feat one achieves, but rather a gift one accepts.” The Great House of God – Max Lucado

***********************************************************************

A SERIES OF "FIRSTS"

March 13,2011

Cutting food with a knife, blow drying hair, using a flat iron to straighten hair, shopping together, exploring the line between protecting and allowing independence, between parenting and spoiling… this weekend has been a series of firsts.  Our daughters emotions go from happy giggles to deep sadness without much notice, but the weekend has been mostly happy and we are determined to show steady love and kindness regardless of what we receive (or don't).

Shopping together

Saturday morning cartoons

Julia's friend Luda used to be in the orphanage but now lives with her aunt and uncle

Ice cream is a daily treat (for now)

Luda and Julia in front of the opera house named in honor of the great Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko

***********************************************************************

OUTSIDE THE ORPHANAGE

March 12, 2011

 

Yesterday the orphanage director agreed to let us take Julia out of the orphanage from Friday morning until Monday evening.  What a blessing!  In some regions this would be no big deal, even before court.  But in this region there is a very conservative and cautious attitude.  Even though she is now named Julia Peck, the orphanage director is still her legal guardian until the end of the mandatory 10-day-wait period.  So our facilitator had to sign a statement taking full legal liability if anything were to happen to Julia.  No worries; there’s nobody on this planet more protective of that little girl than her new parents!

Friday was a flurry of activity; not fun, but highly productive.  We ran all over Kharkov, sometimes split into two different groups with two translators, traveling by subway, taxi, and lots of walking (and waiting). We changed her birth certificate to reflect her new name, new birthdate, and new parents.  Then we changed her name in the tax code registry (a number every citizen has like our Social Security).  That office already had her birthdate indicated as May 6 (according to the earlier typo on her birth certificate), so by changing the date we saved a whole change-reaction of more delays and paperwork that would have been necessary. The good news for her is that she will get two birthdays in one year.  The first one wasn’t really celebrated; you can be sure the next one will be!

Signing docs outside the tax code office

Then we walked around to find a place to take passport pictures, then on to the office that processes passports.  At first we were told we would have to come back after the weekend, but thanks to our facilitator’s relationship with one of the ranking officials, we were hurried in just before the office closed to complete all of the necessary application.  Next we were off to the notary for more waiting before Julia signed her name (for the first time as “Julia Grace Peck”… we made her practice first!) saying that she agreed to leave the country with us.

Julia stayed very positive through all the rushing, waiting, and rushing again.  It was a long and stressful day.  We finally made it to a restaurant where she ordered pizza.  After one piece, she decided she didn’t like it.  I think maybe the sausage she chose was too spicy, but who knows.  Discouragement hit and she shut down.  Selene is so persistent, gentle, and kind when this happens.  She just kept talking to her lovingly, even when no response, and insisted that they walk arm in arm for the long silent walk back to the apartment.  Selene intuitively knew exactly what to do (good thing because I was clueless!).  She took her in the bathroom and showed her all the shampoos, soaps, lotions, etc. (stuff women use) and told her she needed a good hot shower.  About a half hour into the shower, we had to restart the apartment hot water heater.  After about an hour (no kidding!) in the shower a new girl emerged, in her cute pink “Hello Kitty” PJs, with a smile.  Relief!

Selene gave her some Russian fairy tale books full of pictures.  She was excited, and looked through them pointing out the ones she knew.  Selene pulled out bags of small gifts for her to look through.  Julia wants to give gifts to seven teachers or caregivers, five girls, and four boys.  Today we will go shopping to supplement the gift bags.  Finally, we curled up together on the bed to watch “Madagascar” on the bed. With English subtitles it made it easier for her to follow.  She understood the main story line and giggled several times.  I forgot how much “adult” humor is in those kids shows, which went right over her head.  I realize I will now be revisiting a different genre of movies for a while!  Life has changed.  About halfway into the movie she was fading.  Bedtime is 9:00 PM in the orphanage.

This morning we woke her up after 11 hours of sleep (yes, she is a teenager!).  After breakfast of omelet’s and toast, we came to our favorite café, Plombiro, to introduce her to our friends here and let her pick out a treat.  Three flavors of ice cream got consumed in a hurry.  Selene and Julia spent some time looking at the “American Dolls” website and at different styles of clothes (online) to get a feel for what she wants to wear.  She is very opinionated about it.  So now I have two women in the house who share that in common.  This afternoon we’re going to a large department store where she can pick out a few things to get her by until we return—clothes, hair products, (girl stuff), etc.  The real adventure is now beginning!

***********************************************************************

A NEW NAME

March 11, 2011

(This blog entry is written by Selene):

On March 10, 2010 Yulia Abakumova legally became Julia Grace Peck.

The day, cold and clear, the sun shining brightly, marked the long awaited for court date to legally adopt Julia.  She is no longer “J”, and she is no longer Yulia (the Russian pronunciation for Julia).  When we discussed middle names with Julia, she adamantly insisted that her name be pronounced with the English “J” instead of “Y.”  Because a name is closely linked to identity and is so personal, we pressed her on this asking if she was certain she wanted to change the pronunciation, and she clearly expressed her wish to be known as Julia.  Anyone who knows us isn’t surprised that we chose Grace as her middle name—what a beautiful word with such profound meaning—additionally, it is my mom’s middle name and my great grandmother’s (who I was extremely close to) first name.

Arriving at the orphanage late morning, our facilitator dropped us off to help Julia prepare for court.  Before coming I had bought a sweater dress and some Ugg boots for Julia, and she looked absolutely adorable in her ensemble though she made it clear to me that she is not a fan of dresses.  Again, anyone who knows me knows that I am not a fan of dresses either, but we needed to look our very best for court, so we both wore them!  Our handheld translator has been so useful on this trip, and Julia communicated to me that the laundry had not given her back her towel.  I finally got the message she was trying to give me, and it made me so sad to think of these children with only one towel to use.  My job is to get another towel out to her in the orphanage immediately.

Our facilitator finished up her meeting with the orphanage director and came in to rehearse what court would be like with timid, shy Julia.  Making Julia stand erect and respond to questions caused me to worry a little because she was so hesitant and soft spoken in her responses.  We learned that the night before her sister had phoned her and told her that in America there are earthquakes and in America they harvest your organs.  Our facilitator laughed and reminded Julia that she keeps in touch with kids that have been adopted to the US and that they are still alive and well.  Putting myself in her place, I can’t imagine the fear, confusion, and uncertainty that she must feel.  Clay had a prayer before we left Julia’s room, thanking God for the miracles he has already done to bring us together and asking for God to remove all fear, filling Julia with peace, giving us all courage, and guiding us every step of the way.

With a little time to spare we tried to find a café to have lunch, and this proved an enormous challenge in the tiny village.  Finally, we found one place where we were able to order a hodge podge lunch:  potato chips, warmed up pizza-type bread, tea, candy, and French fries.  Definitely not a gourmet lunch but having Julia with us made it wonderful, and I think she enjoyed every one of her French fries (which were actually freshly cut and fried).  Clay had a bowl of soup, saying he didn’t know what was in it and didn’t want to know.

Arriving at the small courthouse, we waited in the only three chairs available in the hall for about ten minutes and were then told that it was time for our hearing.

I could see real fear on Julia’s face as she sat down by me on the front row of seats in the small, bare bones courtroom.  Our facilitator and her assistant, a court reporter (who sat in front of a computer, yet hand wrote everything), a prosecutor, two jurors, and the judge all came in the room.  We were asked to stand and answer questions:  name, birthdate, address, why we wanted to adopt, what our professions were, how long we had known Julia, how we found out about her, and what requests did we have.  Both of us had to respond to questions, but Clay did most of the talking.  He spoke about our church ministry, Ukraine Orphan Outreach (UOO), about how we have a number of Russian speaking teens in our community, and that it is our desire to have Julia retain her Russian language and Ukrainian heritage.  He also talked about me being an English teacher, that we have made arrangements for her learning at the high school, and that we have hired a Russian speaking tutor.  Clay told the judge that we had been visiting Julia for a month now and fell more in love with her every day.  She asked if a month was enough time and we quickly responded “yes.”  Clay later said that he wanted to say that we fell in love with her before we met her.

Julia was asked to stand next, and the judge asked her to move forward and stand in front of the podium.  Her timid voice turned bold and brave, and it was tear jerking to listen to her speak so confidently in Russian as our facilitator translated.  My heart ached as she was questioned about her parents, and I heard her respond that her father was dead (though there is no death decree to validate this), and that her mother’s whereabouts are unknown.  This child has endured so much heartache and loss in her short life!  Then she was questioned about her siblings (4 adults living only one hour away).  Again, how she has coped with the rejection she has experienced is more than I can imagine.  I was reminded of the wisdom I heard from Lizzie Roge, recently adopted by our good friends Felix and Heidi.  We were fortunate to see Lizzie and Felix on their way out of Ukraine, and Lizzie called Julia to encourage her for us.  As she spoke to Julia, Karen Springs sat by us and translated in whispers.  Lizzie asked Julia, “Do you have family?”  After the answer Lizzie said, “Well, I have family too, and family doesn’t leave you in an orphanage.”  Profound truth!

On the lighter side, the prosecutor questioned Julia, and he asked her about being adopted by strangers from America that she had only known for one month.  Her response was that she liked it that we were foreigners, that she speaks and writes in English, and that wants to be an interpreter.  She also informed him that one month was long enough because she would have plenty of time to get to know us better after she was adopted!  Talk about trust.

The social worker and village inspector spoke, both affirming that this adoption is for Julia’s best.  Finally, each adult formally gave their consent, and then the judge and two jurors left the court room.  They came back shortly and informed us that our requests had been approved:  1. Julia Grace Peck is now our daughter’s legal name; 2. Her birth date is changed to May 6, 1995 (the reason for that is too complicated to go into now); 3. We can begin the formal paperwork to get a new birth certificate with her name and passport during the 10-day-wait period.

As you can imagine, there were huge smiles and big hugs all around.  We were so incredibly thankful to God for his presence in the courtroom and for giving Julia the strength and courage to speak her heart.  Julia is not shy about giving bear hugs, which we love, and our day in court ended with an enormous Julia hug!

~Selene

***********************************************************************

LOVE IN ANY LANGUAGE

March 9, 2011

 

Hanging out with children at J’s orphanage, at the transition house dedication, and at the orphanage in Kherson has taught me in a deeper way than ever that love is not just communicated by words.  A look, a smile, sign language, teasing, playing games, eating together, and hugs can communicate so much, even when there is a language barrier.

Aleks Fedorchuk, director of Agape, told me a moving story of when he was a young man.  He went to a camp where there many teachers who spoke Russian along with an elderly retired American couple who could only speak English.  Every day the American couple hugged all the kids in the morning, and again in the evening, communicating their love.  Aleks said at the end of three months the children decided that couple was their favorite, even though they never communicated with words.

Before leaving Kherson on Monday, I had a chance to tour another transition house, “Joshua’s House” for boys.

Aleks out front

There is a young Ukrainian couple who lives there as house parents.  They do a good job, but have no children of their own and not a lot of life experience.  Aleks has a vision for older American couples to come over for short term mission trips, maybe three months. In this large three-story house there is a room with a private bath which would serve as a suite for the couple to stay.  For around $1000 round trip air (per person), and no rent expense, a couple could come over here and just show love.  Hug these boys in the morning and evening; help them with breakfast before they head off to school, read to them at night, play games, and help them work on English.  If the husband or wife knows any crafts or trades, like woodworking, for example, that would be an extra bonus, but not necessary.

Some of the boys at Joshua's House cleaning up

I believe that someone reading this or hearing me talk about it later or watching this youtube video is going to respond.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we could keep  Christian American couples in this house throughout the year, just showing the love of Jesus with skin on?  You don’t have to know Russian.  You don’t have to have any training.  You do have to be filled with the love of God—“agape” love.  That is all.  Watch this:


***********************************************************************

MISSION TRIP TO KHERSON

March 6, 2011

After the transition house dedication near Berdyansk, we crawled into the diesel van that Grace Place, along with Heart for Orphans, provided.  Aleks, director of Agape, was the driver.  I sat up front with him for the five-hour bumpy ride to Kherson, while Selene and the others tried to sleep in the back.

With Aleks and Nancy

During the drive there was plenty of time for Aleks and me to share our stories with each other.  We became fast friends that night!  His story is inspiring.  His parents immigrated to America when he was 17, refuges leaving religious persecution in the U.S.S.R.  Early in life, Aleks felt God was calling him to a ministry to orphans. He met his wife, also an American who emigrated from Ukraine, on a mission trip.  They moved to their homeland and together started Agape seven years ago.  Now the ministry has a large and growing staff of paid and volunteer workers, ministering to over 4000 orphans, providing daily Bible classes in more than 40 orphanages.  Alex told me many stories about God’s provision over the years.  The ministry is funded by private donors in American, as well as Heart for Orphans (H40 has purchased several transition houses which are staffed and operated by young Christians couples who have proved themselves as Bible teachers in the orphanages).  We dreamed together about the idea of a training center where aged-out orphans from all over Ukraine could come to be trained to be pastors, missionaries, while learning practical trades.

We stayed at the Ukraine Bible Society headquarters.  The next day we had breakfast at one of the transition houses for girls, it is an apartment with limited space, housing only 4-6 girls.  A house is needed for girls in Kherson.  One of the girls, Natasha, made us a hot breakfast of omelets and blinchiki (crepe-like pancakes rolled up with fruit and crème inside—yummy).

Then we headed for church.  Babiychuk Alexander, Secretary General of Ukraine Bible Society, is also the pastor of a church that meets in a nice rented auditorium in Kherson.  He invited me to preach.  From what I have been able to deduce, there are only a few different types of churches here, besides orthodox: Pentecostal, Baptist, and Methodist.  They don’t seem to understand the concept of “non-denominational.”  The church I preached at is Pentecostal, very conservative.  Most the women had little head shawls over their hair.  The only real distinctive that I could observe that identified the service as “Pentecostal” was that when they prayed, often and lengthy, everyone in the whole congregation prayed out loud at the same time–very passionate and inspiring, although not a style that I’m used to or comfortable with.

The first hour consisted of singing and communion, the second hour was the message (remember Aleks, my translator, was talking half the time!).

 


I prayed about what to say, considering that I may only speak once to these people.  I decided on this simple outline stating that there are two important questions that every person on this planet should answer:

1. Is there a God?

The answer is an emphatic YES because he has revealed himself:

A. Through nature (Rom. 1:19-20)

B. Through scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21)

C. Through Jesus (Heb. 1:1-3)

2. What does he want from me?

A) To receive the gift of salvation (1Tim. 2:4)

B) To grow and become mature as a follower of Christ (Rom. 8:29)

C) To join him in his work of redemption (Matt. 6:10, Luke 4:18-19, Micah 6:8)

At the conclusion I told about two miracles that we witnessed recently as a result of aligning with God’s heart for orphans.  The first was the generous offering that Grace Place gave, leading to the purchase of the transition house and the dedication the previous day.  The second was the incredible turn of events that allowed us to continue our adoption mission after a law was amended by the U.S. government.

After the service a number of elderly ladies stood in line to tell me stories of miracles that they have seen God do in their lives.  It was precious.  What a joy to fellowship with these believers.  Regardless of race, language, cultural, style, socio-economics, theology, and other differences, we are brothers and sisters through adoption, based on the perfect finished work of Jesus, preparing to spend eternity together.

After church, Aleks insisted on treating us to lunch on the top floor of a nice hotel with a 360 degree view of Kherson, the massive river, and the port where freight ships are loaded.

With David, Aleks and pastor Babiychuk

Then our driver, David, Selene, Julia Sergienko, traveling with us from Orphan’s Promise, and I headed for the large, multi-building orphanage in downtown Kherson known as “Number One.”  There are at least a half a dozen teenagers in Northern Colorado who were adopted from this orphanage.  There are also some children there who have come over for the Ukraine Orphan Outreach camps.  Julia called one of the boys, Edik, who attended the 2007 camp to tell him we were coming.  He is now 17, very polite, and close to his two younger sisters who live on the same wing floor—a special wing where siblings can live in close proximity.

Julia and Edik

We were met by a small delegation of children, including Vika, who has visited Colorado more than once.  We were ushered through the maze of long halls and steps to a TV room with couches and chairs for a visit.  The room soon filled up with a number of children, hungry for love and attention.

David and I had to cut our visit short in order to make it to an Agape ministry training event that I was scheduled to speak at in the evening.  Julia and Selene stayed on.  It is hard to explain a visit to the orphanage.  On the one hand, it is rewarding to see the smiles, share hugs, and visit together as best as language permits.  On the other hand it is heartbreaking to have to leave those precious children behind. Heartbreaking!

With Vika and Veronica

Agape ministry kicked off a two day retreat that evening, bringing in workers from several hours each direction.  Nancy Hathaway, from H40, was also there.  It was a time of prayer, fasting, dedication, and vision-casting.  I prayed about what to share and felt led to give a message of encouragement.  Many of the workers serve in remote areas.  It can be lonely and feel discouraging, like they are not making much of a difference.  I shared thoughts based on 2 Corinthians 3 where we are told that some day God is going to reward those who “built to last,” invested their life on earth in things that really count for eternity.  I encouraged the workers to believe that God sees their tireless work and they will be rewarded far beyond many who receive acclaim in this life, because as defenders of the fatherless they are totally aligned with God’s heart as expressed over and over in Scripture.  Aleks interpreted and told me later that my words were a blessing.  As is often true of mission work, I was the one who received the largest blessing through association with these dear saints.

Agape staff team

***********************************************************************

TRANSITION HOUSE DEDICATION

March 5, 2011

 

We left early Saturday morning to drive seven hours south to Berdyansk, on the southern coast of Ukraine. We were bound for the dedication of the transition house for older orphans that Grace Place purchased last fall.  Because it was a holiday weekend, all the trains were full.  So our taxi driver, Victor, agreed to take us.  The wonderful four lane road out of Kharkov soon deteriorated into a pothole maze that we bounced over for hours. At times the road was so bad that our driver would slow to a crawl to negotiate it, or drive in the wrong lane or off on the shoulder.  What amazed me were the massive fields, sometimes as far as the eye could see, with no farm houses or fences anywhere; just rows and rows of furrows made by tractors.  Stalin starved to death millions of Ukrainians to eliminate the independent farmers who stood in the way of his vision of communist collective farming.  Except for a couple towns and a few tiny villages, there was no sign of life in the country side.  We stopped at a “rest area” which ended up being a few outhouses.  Wild dogs ran up to the door barking at us, and we decided we could wait.

Our faithful driver Victor

We arrived at the small village near Berdyansk where Heart for Orphans, led by Nancy Hathaway, has partnered with Ukrainian ministry, Agape, led by Aleks Ferdorchuk, to operate first one, and now two, group houses.  The first house was full of boys and there were several girls in need of a place, some staying in an unheated “summer kitchen” (shack) out back.  Grace Place church gave money to buy and furnish a second house next door.  Upon our arrival we met both Nancy and Aleks and soon learned that pastors from several area churches were arriving as well.

We toured the outside, seeing the pigs, chickens, dogs, cats, gardens, etc., and then toured the inside of both houses and met all the kids.  The children were polite and friendly, several of them working together to prepare the meal that everyone would eat after the service.

The dedication service was very moving.  Each pastor brought a short thought, as did the house parents, Aleks, and Nancy.  Half a dozen or so children gave their testimonies of how Christ had changed their life. It was so touching.  They are very sincere and serious about following the Lord.  One boy talked about how their were "cities of refuge" in the Bible and this house was like that.  I got tears in my eyes and looked over at Nancy and saw the same thing happening to her!  Finally, Aleks asked me to “preach.”  So I obliged.

I talked about four purposes for the house (starting at a very basic level and moving to the most important): 1) Protection (God is a “defender of the fatherless” and has called us to create a place of safety); 2) Provision (God commanded people in the OT to leave extra food in the field and on the vines for orphans, teaching that those with more should make provision for those with less); 3) Relation (God “sets the lonely in families,” he created us all to need relationship and family, this is not just a house but a home); 4) Redemption (God provides adoption for all of us into his family, this is a place of grace where many will receive his gift and be equipped to work for him).

At the end, I asked if there were was anyone there who had not received Christ as Savior and Lord.  One young man raised his hand.  We brought him into the center and led him in a prayer to become a Christ follower.  Then all the children were brought into the center, and they knelt down while the adults gathered around and prayed (all at once) for them.  It was a powerful time of consecration.

I told them about gifts we had brought from Grace Place—two new sewing machines; a huge suitcase full of fleece blankets made by a mom’s group; and some special pictures.  Astronaut Joe Tanner obtained two pictures of fellow astronaut Heidemarie Stefanyshyn-Piper. She is of Ukrainian descent and well known as a hero in Ukraine.  She signed two pictures to the girls at “Ruth’s House” and wrote them a message in Ukrainian, including the patches from two missions that she could be seen wearing in the pictures.  When Joe first gave me the pictures, I asked him if he would consider signing a couple pictures of himself for the boys in “Mel’s House,” to which he agreed.  They were “awestruck” by those pictures, and the audible “AH’S” in the group were really touching!

After a bountiful meal and time visiting with the young people in the evening we were reluctant to leave.  Aleks had asked me to preach in the morning at a large church in Kherson, five hours to the west, so we finally had to tear ourselves away.  Some boys were fascinated by my iPad, and I hated to have to retrieve it from them and tell them goodbye.  If anyone wants to have a powerful ministry experience, just decide to take your vacation over here.  All you have to do is come show love and your world will be rocked forever.  It is hard to express what a powerful experience this day was.  The house parents are so on fire for the Lord, and they are conveying their zeal to the young people.  If you are one of those who gave financially toward the transition house, you can rest assured that your donation went to help children not just materially, but spiritually, and eternally.

Slight misspelling on "Heart"

The whole gang in back of the house Grace Place purchased

The van that Grace Place helped provide due to overflow offerings!

***********************************************************************

WORLD WITHOUT ORPHANS


***********************************************************************

LORD I NEED PATIENCE…AND HURRY UP!

March 3, 2011

Selene and I have been gone almost a month now, and we are missing our family and friends very much!  When we committed to this adoption journey in Ukraine we knew that our timeline was uncertain.  From all the stories we heard, we calculated that it was possible to meet all the requirements in four weeks, so we hoped for a best case scenario.

Apparently, God had other things he wanted us to learn and experience.  We have experienced two significant delays.  The first detour resulted in a miraculous outcome that will be a story repeated over and over, resulting in glory to God.  At first it looked like we would not be able to adopt the daughter, whom we had already fallen in love with, due to a typo on her birth certificate.  As a result of prayer, an incredible flurry of activism, and effective leadership at high levels, the United States government actually changed the reading of the adoption law—a change that not only enabled us to continue with our process, but will potentially impact positively other children and families all around the world!

The second delay is a bit harder to understand.  After restarting the paperwork process with a new birthdate and submitting the documents to the local court where the orphanage is on February 23, we had planned for a court date one week later on March 2.  On March 2, we were informed that although the documents had been sitting at the court for a week, they had not been “assigned to a judge” until this week, thus we had to wait five business days until we could be scheduled, assuming there was room in the schedule.  Since all government offices are closed next week on Monday and Tuesday (for a national holiday called “Woman’s Day”) and the judge’s schedule was full on Wednesday, we are finally scheduled for court on March 10 at 2:00 PM.

According to Ukrainian law, there is a mandatory “10-day-wait-period” after court before the child is officially adopted (“gotcha day”).  In theory, this makes sense for protection of the children.  If there is a legitimate family member with claims on the child, there is opportunity to contest the adoption through the court of appeals.  In reality, though, it is frustrating when a child has been left in an orphanage for many years to think that anyone might have a right to come along at the eleventh hour and have a say.  But that’s the law.  The good news is that we are in a region that allows for a new birth certificate and Ukrainian passport (containing the new adopted name) to be issued during the wait period.  Some regions do not allow this, adding more time.  After the wait period, we need at least two days in Kiev, the capital city—one day applying for a U.S. visa at the embassy and doing required doctor appointments, the second day receiving the visa.

Selene and I both take very seriously our responsibilities at home and are disappointed that we are unable to return as soon as hoped.  As frustrating and costly as it is to encounter these delays, we know for sure that God put it on our hearts to come on this rescue mission and that he is accomplishing his purposes.  We are reminded of the many exhortations in Psalms to “wait on the Lord.”  This verse is particularly for me today (since the command is found twice in one short sentence!): “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

Two ways to get around: walking (bundled up) or in a bus (without heat)

Or you might take a mini bus

***********************************************************************

MORE ANSWERS TO PRAYER

March 2, 2011

 

Yesterday we learned that our case has been assigned to a judge who is sympathetic to international adoption.  That was good news!  Also, we learned that two of J’s brothers called, and then an uncle, all telling her that she was doing the right thing to accept adoption.  This is a relief.  Not only does it imply that we will be able to finish our mission without opposition, it also seems to be a gift that Julia will always have of a family “blessing.”

We are still waiting for our court date. The judge said that her schedule is full, that we may have to wait until next week.  If that is the case, we will be delayed another week because Monday and Tuesday are national holidays, which pushes us to Wednesday as the first option next week.  Why are Monday and Tuesday holidays?  Because Tuesday is “Women’s Day.”  I asked our translator why nothing was closed last week for “Men’s Day,” but everything is closed for two days for “Women’s Day.”  She said it is discrimination, but the rest of the year women are discriminated against in this culture.  We have an appointment today at 3 PM to appeal, after the judge has had time to look at the paperwork, and see if we can get slipped into the schedule on Friday.

Yesterday our translator was very concerned about which judge we would have.  We reflected on the promise of Scripture found in Isaiah:

"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you." (Isaiah 41:10-13)

 

We experienced God’s peace as we prayed these words to him and asked him to be true to his promises, defending the cause of the fatherless.


***********************************************************************

WHAT IS THE VALUE OF A PERSON?

March 1, 2011

We continue to wait; in the dreary, frozen land of east Ukraine, just moments from the Russian border.  Kharkiv might as well be Russia.  Even though the map and signs call it Kharkiv (Ukrainian language), everyone here says Kharkov (Russian language, the “K” is silent).  A travel book tells us that 100 miles either direction from here is the same people, language, culture.  Most Ukrainians speak and understand both Ukrainian and Russian, but Ukrainian is more widely spoken in the west, Russian in the east.

Kharkiv on the map of Ukraine

This city of over two million was the center of industry for the former Soviet Union.  70% of the buildings were destroyed by the Nazis during WWII (along with tens of thousands of inhabitants), so the city is mostly rebuilt with the drab, non-descript architecture of the long communist era.  Thousands of high rise apartment buildings, one after the other, mostly identical looking, make up the skyline.  The U.S.S.R. died only 20 years ago, the influence lingers.  The KGB headquarters has a new name, but is still headquarters for a similar force.

The street in front of our apartment

Not sure if the wiring outside our apartment meets code

Although the economy appears depressed, ancient looking buses and trolley cars, graffiti everywhere, buildings half-built and abandoned, nevertheless there are people with money here.  We pass a Porsche dealer every day, see Land Cruisers on the roads, could not count all the gorgeous fur coats, and we have window shopped outside clothing stores with prices like Sax Fifth Avenue.  There is a significant gap between the haves and have-nots, though.

For the most part, with the exception of a few grouches, we have encountered wonderful people, especially the young people.  The wait-staff at the little café where we have coffee are eager to please, always smiling and friendly, and enjoy practicing language– their English (very limited) and correcting our Russian (more limited).  Our taxi driver, Victor, is a positive, friendly, family man who seems to understand why we are here and has become someone we not only trust, but like– a lot.  The caretakers and teachers at the orphanage have warmed up considerably to us.  Most of the people we have encountered in stores have been helpful and accommodating of our limited language and trouble counting out money.

One thing that really troubles us is that the people do not seem to understand the plight of orphans here.  They seem puzzled when we talk about why we are here.  They do not appear to have perspective on how many orphans there are, or how desperate their life can be when they leave the orphanage.  Of great consternation to us, was to learn about how special needs children are “cared for” here.  Many children whose lives could be improved with simple surgeries or with a loving family who would encourage them to walk, play, and go outside, instead are confined to beds and transferred to mental institutions where they die.

The American declaration that: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights…” was developed from biblical values, based on belief in a “Creator” (obviously!), and from the inference that humans, created in his image, are all of equal value with rights to humane and fair treatment.  A spirit of atheism, based on Darwinist naturalism does not lead to the same conclusion.  It is so obvious here.  So many of today’s secular Americans are blind to the true origins of the values they hold to.  They insist that “religion” be kept out of the public dialogue, then nevertheless, assert opinions about human “rights” that can only be derived from some type of religious basis.  The majority of Americans say they believe in God, but the majority also live as if there is no God—“practical atheism.”  Where will our country be in future decades as values shift more and more to be consistent with the practical atheism of our day?

***********************************************************************

NEW LEVEL OF COMMUNICATION

Feb. 27, 2011

 

Today we took a big step forward with communication and bonding.  It was our first trip to the orphanage without a translator.  Our taxi driver, Victor, is friendly and trustworthy.  I kept him laughing on the drive out, with our little electronic translator.  He can’t speak a word of English, but he enjoyed the phrases I was having the translator say.  I tried to say that the sun shining through the widow was warm, but the translator said: “It’s hot as an oven in here!” Victor got a kick out of that.

By now all the orphanage workers know who “the Americans” are, so the hall monitors who watch the doors no longer follow behind us, hollering at us in Russian to stop when we head up the steps to J’s room.  Our visits happen in J’s friends’ room, Nastia and Sasha, one or both of whom usually hang out with us the whole time.  There is only one key to J’s room and often her roommate is gone with the key, so she is locked out.  Other times her 16-year-old roommate’s older boyfriend, from the community, comes to visit and J is kicked out while they “visit” or whatever they do in the locked room!  I guess he sneaks in to see her.  We found that disturbing.  J insists that she doesn’t have a boyfriend, which is good news to her new parents; although her teacher told us that the boys have more recently become interested in J.  She laughed and blushed when that news was shared.

Playing Uno with Shasha and J

We always bring a picnic lunch so that breaks the ice at the beginning of our visit.  Besides sandwiches, chips, juice, cookies, and oranges, we brought some fresh baked donut pastries today, which were well received.  They seemed to savor the mixed nuts that I remembered to pull out of my bag later in the visit.

It was a bit awkward at first since we really couldn’t talk much.  Selene pulled out a teen magazine she had bought and that was a big hit!  Then we had fun looking through the stack of pictures we had printed that we have taken over the past two weeks, and that J took on a little camera we left with her.  She took pictures with a lot of her friends, so we got her two of everything so that she could give pictures away.  She pointed out the ones she liked best and it warmed our hearts that some of her favorites were with us.  Several good family pictures she pointed out and said, “clauss” (which is “cool” in Russian), with a big smile and thumbs up.  To say she is working her way into our hearts would be a huge understatement.

I found an app to purchase on my iPad of fun Russian/English Flash Cards.  J and I practiced it for quite a while.  It has dozens of different categories with 10 Russian words for each category, and then multiple choice English words or phrases to match.  It makes a noise when you get a right or wrong answer before moving to the next word.  She really enjoys it, and I try to say all the Russian words, which provides extra entertainment!  She laughed a lot and had to do sign language or charades to explain some of the words she didn’t know (like pocket, sleeve, watch, brown, gold, husband, wife, etc.). I am impressed at how much vocabulary she already has, even though she is nervous about saying the words and struggles understanding us when we talk.  This exercise is not just learning time, but also bonding time because of all the teasing, giggling, elbowing, etc. that comes along with figuring it out and getting right or wrong answers.

The last time we were at the orphanage, J totally shocked Selene by giving her a bear hug just before we left, lifting her right off the floor, and then laughing really hard.  It was so surprising and so endearing.  Today we got the same treatment, but she couldn’t lift me, so I lifted her up instead.  After lifting Selene, twirling her around and around, she raised her arm to show me how strong her biceps are.  Very sweet.

Even though it was tougher to communicate today without a translator, in many ways it seemed like our communication went to a deeper level because we had to work so much harder, and it was rewarding for all of us.  As we left the orphanage, we heard rapping on a window, we looked up and to see J and Nastia with ear-to-ear grins waving goodbye.

***********************************************************************

FIGHTING FOR HER

Feb. 25, 2011

 

A girl (or woman) wants a strong man who will fight for her.  God created her that way.  John Eldridge writes: “Every woman yearns to be fought for. She wants to be more than noticed – she wants to be wanted. She wants to be pursued.”

Matt and Aimee Garrett came to Ukraine to adopt two siblings, Oksana and Vlad, who came to Colorado for the 2010 Ukraine Orphan Outreach camp.  The Garretts got all the way over here and were told that the kids wouldn’t be ready for adoption, according to the paperwork, for a couple more weeks.  So they went all the way home and returned last week.

Alas, the 13-year-old Oksana had decided that she didn’t want to be adopted.  She was choosing a lame boyfriend, who had dumped her twice, over a family.  This meant her little brother, desperate for a family, was out of luck.  The Garrett’s and their helpers spent hours trying to change her mind, but she refused.  They were devastated, considering returning to Kiev to receive a referral for other children.  We know that feeling.  But we also know the incredible power of prayer, and the thrill of a divine breakthrough.  And so do the Garretts!

I got chills and breathed a prayer of thanksgiving when I read Matt’s Facebook post the next day: “Below is a picture of Oksana's letter of consent. Post on blog later, but God gave her to me today. I remembered what Felix said a couple of weeks ago about Oksana needing a strong figure in her life. I'd had it! Sometimes you have to decide in someone's own best interest. Game over! We win.”  You can read the whole story here: http://garrettsinukraine.blogspot.com/

In Aimee’s words:

We arrived at the orphanage this morning about 9:30 to visit with the director and ask them to separate Vlad & Oksana for us to adopt Vlad. The director is out for the day in Odessa, so vice director talks with us a bit, then has Oksana & Vlad come down to the office. Again both her and our translator Yuri keep trying to convince Oksana to agree, and she digs her heals in and says no again.

At the end of this meeting the vice director asks that we wait out for a minute while she speaks with Oksana alone. While we are sitting out in the hall, God must have been giving Matt the words to say, he tells me this is enough I am just going to tell her she is going, and not give her the choice that will ruin her future. After Oksana comes out they ask us to go talk in that visitation room again. We sit for a minute and Matt asks Oksana to look at his eyes and he says, "Oksana you are going to America" " It is good for you and I am not giving you a choice, you will tell them yes today and we will start the paperwork" Over and over he tells her this, and every time she tries to look away and say something to object he tells her again, she smiles and laughs a little and then the tears start and she runs into his arms, now they are both crying as he tells her how much he loves her and that there is no way he is leaving Ukraine without her. He tells her that he needs her in America so he can take care of her, that he will always take care of her, and that no boyfriend here in Izmail is ever going to care for her the way she needs. It was so amazing the way she melted.

Way to go Matt!  You’re the strong man she needs.  She will always remember that her dad fought for her.  I hope J knows and remembers the same about me.  And we will always remember our Heavenly Dad fighting too, and coming through for us!

***********************************************************************

ALL AROUND THE WORLD KIDS ARE KIDS

Feb. 24, 2011

 

(Guest blog by Selene)

Almost every day at the orphanage J’s good friend, Nastia, has asked us if we would be here on February 23 so that we could attend their school program.  We promised to come, and yesterday as we walked in the orphanage we were met by Nastia who greeted us with (of course in Russian), “The program is getting ready to begin, come and find your seats.”  We were ushered in the small school auditorium, which is most certainly unheated and taken to saved seats in the second row.  Five of us crowded into the four available seats:  Sasha (J’s friend) sharing a seat with her idol Julia, me, Clay, and J.

Julia and Sasha

Immediately, I was struck by the irony that these children were celebrating the orphanage’s 49 years of existence.  How could this be something to celebrate?  Balloons were taped all over the stage, a big “49” was hung from the stage ceiling, and a large banner read “Happy Birthday School,” in Russian.  Again, I had to remind myself that as humans, we need, we long, and we must have something to celebrate.  The program began with gusto as students sang duets together, teachers and staff performed skits and songs, videos were shown, the director spoke and awards were given.  Julia tried to translate for me, and the overall message was “celebration.”  Amazing talent and initiative was displayed as students sang and performed.

Two young girls, around 11 or 12, sang and danced to a song all about the importance of birthdays.  Birthdays are the most important day of the year, a miracle really, a time to enjoy all your favorite things, and this was the song’s message.  Their faces were lit up in smiles, their beautiful long hair pulled up in high pony tails, wearing their best dresses, tights, and dress shoes they sang with incredible confidence and joy.  I kept thinking, “How precious and beautiful, and yet what they really need is a mother and a father.  They need a family!”  Ironically again, they don’t get to celebrate their birthdays in the orphanage, and yet they were able to find joy in singing about the birthday of an institution.

One video caused tremendous laughter and clapping from the audience, and yet it only caused me to feel depressed and sad.  The video started out in a boy’s room.  Not just one boy’s room, but rather a large square room with a row of about 9 or 10 identical beds, small nondescript nightstands, and large empty windows.  The video was a comedy (really?) about trying to wake up boys, and all the effort and nagging that goes into that job.  A teacher was shaking boys awake, putting alarm clocks by their heads, pulling off their blankets, finding them hiding in closets with a teddy bear, and even one lying on top of a large armoire piece.  While the laughter erupted around us, I felt the immense sadness of what life without a family would be like; it would be like this, and this sucks!

I realized that kids are kids wherever you go, all around this world, they just want something to rally around and be proud of, even if that something happens to be a 49 year old orphanage that is a cold, ugly, large institution in the middle of nowhere.  This nowhere is the only “where” that these kids have, and yet the director informed them all that on September 1 it would become an orphanage for children with stomach problems.  What will happen to these kids?  Will they be transported to another orphanage in the Kharkiv region and have to start over again?  Clay and I were talking about the human spirit, and he wisely noted that in spite of dark circumstances most of these orphans were spunky and smiling and resilient.  We could not believe the practice and diligence that went into their program.  The transitions were smooth and seemingly effortless, and we were blown away by the obvious hours they spent rehearsing and memorizing.  Even though they didn’t have dads and moms to cheer them on, say “good job,” “well done,” “way to go,” “you did it,” they gave it their all for the sheer enjoyment of a job well done.  I suppose the only affirmation most of them got was from each other.  I will never forget that school celebration in that bleak orphanage in the middle of nowhere.

~Selene

***********************************************************************

WHEN CHILDREN PRAY

Feb. 23, 2011

 

When we were told that we would not be able to adopt J because of a typo that had been found, revealing that she was already 16, many people began to pray.  Especially touching to me were the prayers of children.

J, learned about the Lord and accepted Jesus as her savior on her actual birthday, interestingly, January 6, four years ago.  Whatever little bit she learned during her two week hosting experience, combined with occasional encounters with people of faith over the years, led her to start praying daily for a family.  It appeared that her prayers would not be answered as she approached 16, but she kept praying anyway.

When she learned that we may not be able to follow through with our promise to adopt her, she was devastated, slumped on the floor sobbing.  It was heartbreaking.  I picked her up in my arms, attempting to encourage her, feeling her pain deeply.  But, even as bleak as it seemed, as we left her behind to go to the U. S. Embassy in the capital city, she continued to pray.  Each morning she hurried to her friends’ room and asked them if they were remembering to pray.  When I asked her later if she believed that God would answer her prayer, she said yes.  I am amazed at that faith.  Jesus once encountered a Roman soldier, who knew little about the true God of heaven, but responded with confidence to what he knew.  Jesus was “amazed at him” and said: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel” (Luke 7:9).

I begin to hear from friends and family that there were other children praying about this situation, pouring out their hearts, with sincerity and faith that was heartwarming and inspiring. Here are just a few examples:

Our neighbor, Shannon Pivetta, wrote about how, when we received news from the embassy that we would be able to adopt J, her daughter, Anika, first grader, pumped her fist in the air and shouted “yes!”  Shannon said, “God heard our prayers.”  Anika smiled and said, “He even heard mine.”

Former Grace Place member, Amy Hocking, now living in California wrote about her young son was praying for us.  “This morning during his devotions,” Amy wrote, “Ethan wrote down verses of encouragement that he wanted to send to you. He typed up a few:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6-7

Offer right sacrifices and trust in the Lord. Psalms 4:5

We have heard with our ears O God;
Our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago.
With your hand you drove out the Nations and planted our fathers;
You crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish.
It was not by their sword that they won the land,
Nor did their arm bring them to victory;
It was your right hand, your arm and the light of
Your face for you loved them. Psalms 44:1-3

These verses are encouraging by themselves, but coming from a young boy who searched them out for us and put his faith in the God of heaven and history, provided encouragement on steroids!

My dear cousin, Lisa Poole, and her family have been following our journey closely.  Her sweet children, Issac and Johanna, have already fallen in love with J and were distraught by the news that the adoption may not be possible.  Lisa wrote:

This morning after we read your post about "Hard Day" – we gathered around with a photo of J in our midst. We cried, we preached, some of us got angry, and we all spilled our hearts out to God.

Some of the emotions expressed during prayer were:

Isaac: "Lord you know we all want J to be our cousin. Please work it out. . . ."

Johanna: "God I am powerless to do anything but pray. I am so unbelievably angry!! How can anyone tell J she can't be adopted??? NO THEY CAN'T!!!! (sobbing)" "If she doesn't get adopted her life is ruined!!! Is all I can do is pray – so I'm praying to You now!!!! I love her!! Please do something to save her!!! . . ."

After prayer we asked the kids if they had read anything in their devotions that might be encouraging to share with you. Turns out all of us had been given encouragement that we wanted to share with you. [Each family member shared verses… of special encouragement to me was Johanna’s choice]:

Johanna: 1 Thessalonians 3:7 "So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith." God wants to use this trouble to make my faith strong so I can tell others.

The children insisted that their parents wake them up the next morning at 5:00 AM to pray during the same time we were visiting the U. S. Embassy (2:00 PM here).

Other examples could be added.  This is sufficient to illustrate the truth once again that Jesus expressed when he said: "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it" (Mark 10:15).

***********************************************************************

FOUR YEARS AGO

Feb. 22, 2011

I received this letter from the family who hosted J four years ago, a defining couple weeks for this orphan girl.  I'm sharing parts of the letter, with permission:

"This is the first time I have checked your adoption blog since our conversation.  I was nervous to see what you had decided about J.  I cannot imagine the roller coaster ride the three of you have been on these past days!  I am glad that I am reading your story now that the ending is a happy one.  I am so excited to hear that you have decided to adopt J!  How like our Lord to not only redeem J's situation, but also bring redemption for who knows how many orphans' lives because of the policy change!

"I wanted to share with you about her true birthday, January 6.  Not only is that her birthday, but it is also the day that she accepted Christ into her life.  I was privileged to watch the Lord totally transform her life.  It was a visible change, and awesome to see.

"I first met J on my first mission trip to Ukraine.  We went to two orphanages to do Bible studies and build playgrounds.  (Our group put up the swing sets in your blog picture.  Sad that they are no longer used.)  At the end of our trip, we were given the opportunity to have some of the older kids (many who helped us with construction for the week) visit us in America for Christmas vacation… [it was] suggested that we host J even though she was younger than the other kids.  I asked some of my friends if they were interested in hosting, and so we had two other families host three more girls closer to J's age.

"Our family fell in love with J.  After she left, we prayed and prayed about adoption, but the Lord clearly said 'No.'  There were several reasons, but mainly, because of her personality and past, it was evident that she needed to be in a family where she would be the number one priority, not one of six kids.  She needed a home where she would get undivided attention, from Dad in particular.  She wasn't meant to be our daughter, she was meant to be yours!"

***********************************************************************

BUILDING TRUST

Feb. 21, 2011

Selene and N, J’s best friend, started on a third puzzle during our last visit.  It is touching to see how excited this 17 year old girl gets about starting a new puzzle.  She is a very bright girl, but with limited opportunities for intellectual stimulation.

Julia brought some Russian language paperback New Testaments from Karen Spring’s office at Orphan’s Promise (CBN).  She gave them to the three girls, and I gave them a little talk about how to read the Bible—not quickly for information, but slowly for communication.  I told them how important it was to start with the NT, the story of Jesus, and how the Bible was not just another book, but a God’s communication to earth.  I encouraged them to read a little each day, just enough to read something that seemed like God speaking personally—maybe one verse, maybe a couple pages.  I suggested that they stop whenever they get to that verse and say a little prayer thanking God for speaking to them and asking for his help to apply his Word to their lives.  I then informed them that it was Sunday, and they just got their “sermon!”

Since we had learned earlier that J likes art, Selene brought a pencil sketching project.  J was really excited about it and cleared the desk so that we could sit together and work on it.  Unfortunately, it was way more difficult than we had anticipated.  Very quickly, she became discouraged and shut down.  She would not join in and work with me, no matter how much I gently encouraged her.  She is afraid of failure and it will take a lot of time and trust building for her to start taking risks.  We will have to be patient and reassuring to help her build confidence over time.

We put the project away and I took out the electronic translator that we brought for her.  It can be very helpful, and it can also translated phrases in a nonsense way, so it is sort of a coin toss in terms of accuracy!  But it has some games and a picture dictionary.  We had a lot of fun sitting together and using the picture dictionary—especially going through all the food groups and asking her which ones she liked (or not).  She likes most vegetables and fruits, although she rarely gets them in the orphanage—mostly just beets, potatoes, cabbage, and soup (made out of beets, potatoes, and cabbage).  She especially likes hamburgers, hotdogs, and French fries, although she never gets them.  She loves pizza.  We asked when the last time she had pizza was: four years ago when she was hosted in America.  We must get that girl some pizza!  She has never tasted mangos, avocados, or cashews, among other things.

We put some minutes on a cheap little phone so we can text each other.  The first text I received from her said: “I love you also, Julia :)”  A few times she was confused by my texts and wrote in Russian to Julia saying “I can’t understand what Papa is saying!”  We left the translator with her last night, which, I assume, led to a couple cute texts.  The first, “Hello what got? Long for you.”  The next, “The Jesus loves you, and I love you :)”  Very touching.  We have a lot of work to do with English, but that will come.  Right now we are working on her teaching us Russian words and phrases.  She enjoys it, as do we.

***********************************************************************

DOING JUSTICE

Feb. 21, 2011

I just started reading a new book by Tim Keller.  I vowed to read every book he wrote and recently discovered that his newest book, released last October, is about a subject the Lord has laid heavily on my heart during the past year.  The book is, Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. I know I’m reading a good book when I am already quoting the first paragraph of the book.  When Jesus began his ministry, according to Luke 4:17-18,

“He identified himself as the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ prophesied by Isaiah, who would ‘bring justice’ to the world (Isaiah 42:1-7).  Most people know that Jesus came to bring forgiveness and grace.  Less well known is the Biblical teaching that a true experience of the grace of Jesus Christ inevitably motivates a man or woman to seek justice in the world.”

 

Keller argues persuasively, based on scripture, that justice is more than just bringing penalties to those who do wrong; it is also bringing redemption to the victims of wrong doing and oppression.  “When people see the beauty of God’s grace in Christ,” Keller writes, “it leads them powerfully toward justice.”  Throughout scripture there is a quartet of people groups that God especially draws our attention to: the poor, the widows, the immigrants, and the orphans.  “Today,” Keller adds, “this quartet would be expanded to include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, and many single parents and elderly people.”

God’s heart is inclined especially toward those who are most needy and vulnerable in this broken world, and we draw closest to him when we align our heart with his.  He is not calling all of us to respond the same way, but he is calling all of us to respond is some way.  I totally agree with Keller’s assessment that “there is a direct relationship between a person’s grasp and experience of God’s grace, and his or her heart for justice and the poor.”

***********************************************************************

AMAZING

Feb. 20, 2011

Arriving back in Kharkov, after a six-hour train ride, we jumped in a taxi, headed straight to the notary’s office, to restart the official paperwork, now with a new birth date.  From there, we raced to the orphanage.  J had a huge smile on her face when she came down the stairs to give us each a big hug.

As soon as we assembled in her friends’ room, I pulled up a chair close to J and said (with big Julia translating), “I want to tell you a story, an amazing story.”  J, and her two best friends, listened intently while I explained to them the step-by-step detailed experience that transpired in Kiev and America while we were away.  They listened with rapt attention, like hearing an exciting mystery novel.

It probably took a half hour to tell the story, with Selene interjecting details too.  Finally, I put my arm around her and said, with unavoidable tears in my eyes, “J, I want you to know how loved you are.  The God of heaven heard your prayers, and the prayers of many, many others, and moved leaders in the most powerful nation on earth, to change a law that will have long lasting impact around the world…all because he loves you!  Even though you are out here in this little village that most people in the world have never heard of, God knows you and hears you and loves you.  And, there are many people in Colorado, and all over America, who now know about you and already love you too!”

She responded with a great big smile.  Her friend, Nastia, told us that every morning J ran into their room and asked, “Did you pray for me?” to which they responded, “Yes, we did.”    I said, “Did you believe God would answer your prayer?” “Yes (da),” she replied. “Then you have a lot of faith,” I responded.  J’s best friend, with a very serious countenance, said, “This means that you really love her, that you would go to all this trouble for her.”  I am glad that message got through!  What a story.

Earlier, J told us that her favorite song on the iPod we gave her was “Indescribable,” by Chris Tomlin.  The chorus is:

Indescribable, uncontainable,
You placed the stars in the sky and You know them by name.
You are amazing God
All powerful, untameable,
Awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim
You are amazing God

 

When we were begging God to hear our prayer and do a miracle so that we could continue the adoption process, I prayed, “Lord, prove those words to her.  I know they are true no matter what happens, but will she?  Reveal that you are indeed ‘all powerful.’  Do it for her, and we will give you the credit!”

We’re having the lyrics of the whole song translated for her.  Today, and forever, we give Him the credit. Truly, “You are amazing God!”

***********************************************************************

GOD’S HAND

Feb. 19, 2011

When the U. S. Embassy official told us, “We are sorry to have to tell you that there is nothing we can do,” our hearts fell.  We had been holding out hope, and no matter how we tried to reason and question the conclusion, we were told, “The law is very clear: you cannot adopt a child who has turned 16 unless you filled out an I-600 form before the child’s birthday.”  We desperately appealed, “But how could we do that when all the documents said that the child was 15, and no one knew that there had been a typo years ago?”  “I’m so sorry, but we can only do what the laws say.  No exceptions.  We could lose our jobs.”

With that devastating news it appeared that the door had slammed shut.  We left the Embassy in a daze.  With tears in our eyes we imagined traveling back to the orphanage to inform a lonely little orphan, who has prayed daily for a family, that “we are sorry, because of a typo, we are no longer able to adopt you.”  We were sad for ourselves, for we have surely fallen head over heels in love with her.  But we were profoundly sad—sickeningly sad—for J.  How could she ever make sense out of this?  Would she give up on hope, on life, on God?

We went to Karen Springs’ office at the Christian Broadcasting Network and sat there in shock– confused, discouraged, pondering what options, if any, were left.  We felt like coming home.  We talked about how hard it would be to go back and get a referral for a different child.  Then something incredible happened.  Steve Weber, Karen’s uncle, and President of CBN in Eastern Europe, came into the room to inquire what was happening.  God used this amazing man.  He boldly declared, “God has called us to defend the cause of orphans…there must be people who will fight for them…that’s how laws get changed, when people stand up and fight…it may be costly, but who else is going to stand up for them…” His speech was a word from the Lord.  God used him to renew our resolve and hope.  We gathered in a circle, and Steve prayed one of the most inspiring prayers I have ever heard.  At the end of his prayer, we were in tears and Selene said, “Maybe we are supposed to fight this…and whether we win or not, maybe this will help raise awareness in a way that God can use on behalf of orphans around the world.”  I agreed and said, “Let’s fight!”  We were both filled suddenly with peace and new confidence.

So we went to work.  The Bible says, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).  I like the quote attributed to Oliver Cromwell, “Put your trust in God and keep your powder dry.”  We appreciate all the people who prayed; and we appreciate all the people who worked!

The three-decade president of Egypt was forced out of office as a result of protests that were rallied by the new communication tool of our generation—social networking (especially Facebook and Twitter).  It was astonishing to see people come to life as activists when we put the word out on the internet that we needed help.  Tim Fritz contacted me on Facebook and let me know that he served for a couple terms as a Colorado State Representative and had many relationships throughout the government.  He contacted former-Congressman Bob Schaffer, of Ukrainian descent, who traveled to Ukraine on several diplomatic missions.  Schaffer agreed with Tim that Congressman Cory Gardner and the two Senators should be contacted and encouraged to become advocates.  Tim made the contacts and in no time at all I was in communication with Cory Gardner’s and Michael Bennet’s office.  Both offices began making calls and writing emails.  Dan Betts, from Gardner’s office, was especially helpful.

Another key player in this drama was Kelly Anderson, another Facebook friend, who has an extensive understanding of adoption law and was very helpful in supplying key names and emails of high ranking officials.  I sent my “Urgent Appeal” letter to every address that was given me.  Within an hour of starting the battle, I was communicating with high level officials at the Department of Homeland Security: Alejandro Mayorkas, Director, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Joanna Ruppel, Chief, International Operations Division, USCIS Refugee, Asylum and International Operations Directorate.  Joanna Ruppel facilitated the resolution.  When I thanked her, she, like a good leader, gave credit to her staff saying, “I am glad that we were able to assist. The kudos go to my staff and our lawyers who reviewed options right away and spoke with our Department of State colleagues, who were very responsive.  I know this must have been a very stressful past few days for you.  I wish you, your wife and your new daughter all the best.”

When we returned to the U. S. Embassy today, the Chief of the Immigrant Visa Unit, asked, “Are you politically active?” I said, “No, but I am a pastor with a lot of members and friends who got involved to help us.”  He said, “I am shocked.  I would never have thought something like this would happen.  We are so happy for you, but also we are pleased with what this means.  There has been an amendment, a new law that will benefit many families and now impact every post in the world.”  This was not an exception made for us; there was actually a new law created (or a new interpretation). Can you believe it?  Now they are giving adoptive parents a 180 day period of leeway after they have been approved for adoption in the U.S. to fill out the I-600 form (as long as a child turned 15 before initial approval).  If we understand correctly, no one has been able to fill out the I-600 after a child turned 16 until today.  How’s that for amazing?  We filled it out February 18, after our potential child already turned 16 on January 6 (due to the fact that we were initially approved November 17, 2010.

Kelly Anderson wrote me with this analysis: “Clay, this is not just an overwhelming story for your family and J, but having the rules clarified that the I600a (which creates the 171H approval) is approved before 16, the child can be adopted… is an unbelievable victory…as when …this situation comes up again (and it will) that will be resolved easily by Joanna's office. Many countries do not allow I600 submittal until travel is made…so this is key for many families…there has been precedent for this, but no official ruling on this. I cannot imagine a better ending to this situation as it not only resolved your case, but many others waiting in the wings…it is good to serve a God with such love and devotion to orphans. I am sure many parents would thank you for this as they go through the process."

So this was a big win.  I want to thank every one of you who made a call or sent an email or fax.  Several people told me that they made calls and heard, “Yes, we know about that situation and are working on it.  Please tell people to quit calling!”  Way to go friends.

With all its problems, the United States of America is like no other country.  Our Ukrainian friends are amazed at this story.  Several have told me, “This would have never happened in Ukraine.  Our members of parliament would not listen to someone like that or advocate, nor could there be a rapid decision made.”  The Office of Children’s Issues at the State Department was involved in this issue, along with the Department of Homeland Security.  On the Office of Children’s Issues’ website I read these words: “You can understand a lot about a society by the way it treats its most vulnerable members and I think that the time, energy, and attention devoted to children’s issues at the Department of State and within the U.S. Government reflects well upon the United States as a society.”  I agree.  Also, the willingness of “representatives” to truly represent the people reflects well on the United States.

And thank you to all of you who prayed!  Prayer makes a difference.  There is a God who listens to his children.  I love this comment by Eric Shanfelt:: "Wow… God loves Julia so much that He would send you two halfway around the world just for her… and would move the hearts of Senators and officials of the most powerful nation in the world… just for her. THAT'S our God! THAT'S how much he loves Julia. And THAT'S how much He loves each one of us!"

Joyce Druchunas writes: “I believe [this story is] an awareness of how united prayer can move even the biggest mountains. May we not forget this and continue to press forward in prayer TOGETHER. We really are one family in Christ. May the Lord use this story to lead unbelievers to Christ as they see our love for one another.”

If I have time I’m going to do a blog called “when children pray.”  I received so many heart-warming messages from parents telling me about the prayers of their children for this situation.  And, of course, little J, has been praying daily for a family.  And God heard her prayers.  We put minutes on a cheap cell phone for her and she anxiously texted messages asking what was happening.  When we finally had the good news, she burst into tears of joy.  Thank you, Lord!

We still have a lot of paper work ahead of us, with other potential obstacles.  This situation has delayed our process by at least a week.  But we are filled with renewed confidence and resolve after seeing God’s hand at work.

Reading through the Psalms there are prayers seeking God’s face and God’s hand. To seek God’s face is a quest for relationship with him, “Seek his face! Your face, Lord, I will seek” (Psalm 27:8). To seek God’s hand is to petition God to act on behalf of his people by extending his “mighty right hand.”  “Save us and help us with your right hand, that those you love may be delivered” (Psalm 60:5).

Over the past couple days we have seen evidence of God responding to his people’s prayers.  “Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” (Psalm 118:15).

***********************************************************************

Situation Resolved in Ukraine!

Feb. 17, 2011

To all involved in advocating for Clayton and Selene Peck regarding our adoption in Ukraine, thank you from the bottom of our hearts.  We just received a call from the U. S. Embassy in Kiev saying that the situation is resolved.  They received clarification from the U.S. officials stating that it is possible to now fill out the I-600 Form due to the fact that our initial paperwork and U.S. government permission to adopt was granted before this girl turned 16.  The U. S. Embassy was happy to learn this interpretation of the law because it has never been done before and will allow for others to do the same in the future.  This has been a stressful few days, but we are so glad they we did not give up.  Thank you to every person who made contacts and who gave careful consideration to this case.  Justice was served.

***********************************************************************

HER STORY

Feb. 17, 2011

“There are many orphans who need a family,” someone might say, “why not just go after another one?”  Because this one matters to us.  The Lord put her on our heart, and we love her. No one else is going to advocate for her.

The legal documents we have been given say that when they removed parental rights they found her in a dire situation—her father dead, her alcoholic mother gone, staying in a building with broken windows, no electricity or plumbing, no food, homeless adults and unrelated children finding shelter together.  She was in shelters until her parents received official removal of parental rights; and then she was sent to the orphanage in 2006.

She is a tender, wounded spirit.  Other orphans around her have more confidence, look you in the eye, speak up for themselves, initiate contact, practice their limited English, and appear to be motivated to make something of their life. Some of them have extended families who take them out on holidays.  On the other hand, she is extremely shy, insecure, unsure of herself, hesitant, looks down when spoken to, shakes her head no, nervously, but with a slight smile, when asked to practice her English.  She is not a fighter. On her own she will be pushed aside, taken advantage of, and stepped on. Family doesn’t visit.  Where will she turn?  What will she do?

She was hosted by an American family four years ago.  For two weeks she got to see what a true family was like—happy father and mother, five children celebrating Christmas with joy.  Her heart was forever gripped by the thought of family.  She wanted a picture in every room of the house and with every family member before she was shipped back the orphanage.  To this day, she speaks often. and fondly of that family—the ones who talked personally to her about God, the only time she ever rode a bicycle, the only taste of happy family she has ever known.

She decided to pray daily for a family.  That dream became more and more remote as she got older.  Who wants to adopt a teenager?  There hasn’t been an adoption at her orphanage for more than two years.  In January she told the women who had helped her get hosted that she was ready to quit praying for a family, but was still holding on to hope, somehow.

Then suddenly she is informed that an American family will arrive the next day with intentions to adopt her.  Imagine the emotions that rushed through her.  And questions.  “Will they want me after they see me?  What if I can’t meet up to their expectations?  Could this be the fairytale I have dreamed about?”  Ushered into the orphanage director’s office the next day, with her teacher on one side and social worker on the other side, she musters every ounce of courage she has to hold her head up, with a big smile and say “Da” (“yes,” in Russian), “I want to be adopted.”

Every day for a week, she waits for her new “parents” to arrive for 2-3 hours of conversation, games, meals, gifts, looking at pictures and video of what her new life holds for her, hugs, prayers, and love.  She soaks it up and beams when she is told that she is loved.  And oh, how she responds to warmth and affection…she eagerly hugs back and welcomes human touch.

Then comes the day when she is sitting on the floor sobbing, clutching her Valentine’s stuffed puppy to her tear soaked face.  She has learned that, although the copy of her official birth certificate at the orphanage says that she is 15 years old, although her new potential parents who love her very much had told her that they came for her just in time—some 80 days before she would turn 16 and be ineligible by American law (not Ukrainian) for them to adopt her, although they have assured her that God answered her prayer by laying her on their hearts, nevertheless, because someone, somewhere made a typo, her real age is apparently 16.  She turned 16 on January 6.  Her potential parents were approved for adoption by the U.S. in November.  They could have easily filled out the necessary documents (I-600) to show that they were in process to adopt her even while they were learning more about her in America, calling the family that hosted her, looking at her pictures, and falling in love from a distance.  But they didn’t know, she didn’t know.  It was just a mistake.

Mistakes happen; the human factor.  How do we respond to mistakes?  Do we take into account the story, the pathos, the lives that are impacted forever?  Or do we just study the law and opt for the strictest interpretation regardless of the consequences?  Laws are made to protect people.  Occasionally, circumstances get complicated, the issue is no longer black and white, and decisions need to be made based on good judgment, the spirit of the law.  If there is never an exception made based on extraordinary situations, then good laws can become bad laws that hurt good people.  Yes, it is easier for the enforcers to never make exceptions; yes, it takes more work; yes, it can get messy; yes, it may set a precedence; yes, it may open the door for other appeals.  But that is real life.  Life is not always black and white.  Sometimes issues are gray.  That’s when good people, with good judgment, and appropriate authority, need to step up and make good decisions based on what is right.

No one else is going to advocate for this little girl.  She will stay at the orphanage until she graduates from eleventh grade in two years.  Then what?  She doesn’t have good grades.  She won’t get any scholarship or entrance into a good school.  She may receive some government money to go to a trade school if she will.  She may live in a cold dormitory for orphans where there is no security.  She will be treated as a second class citizen in this society, branded as “orphan.”  If a bully or predator wants to steal from her, beat her, or rape her, he will get away with it and no one, if they even know, will likely do anything about it.  Some statistics say there is a 10% chance that she will commit suicide; 60-70% chance that she will become a prostitute—forced into it against her will, or reluctantly, out of desperation, realizing that her body is all she has that is worth anything to sell.  After all she owns nothing, except for her small stack of pictures, and a few gifts the new American family brought her.

This is a real story.  This matters.  If this doesn’t touch your heart I feel sorry for you.

This is not a Ukrainian law issue.  This is an American law issue.  Will Americans tell this girl she cannot have a family based on a typo?

If you can help, call us on our Ukrainian phone number: 380984387709.

Clayton and Selene Peck

***********************************************************************

URGENT APPEAL

Feb. 16, 2011

To Whom It May Concern:

From: Clayton Scott Peck and Selene Danette Peck

I’m writing with an urgent appeal from Ukraine.  We were approved for adoption and received the I-171H clearance from Homeland Security in November.  We received a referral from the State Department on Adoptions (SDA) in Ukraine on Feb. 9.

  • The document indicated that the girl we had been pursuing for adoption was, as we thought, 15 years old.  Her birthday was stated as May 6, 1995.
  • When we arrived at the orphanage, we were given a copy of an official birth certificate also indicating a birth date of May 6, 1995.
  • We spent a week developing a relationship with this girl who we now know love and consider our daughter.
  • In the process of doing paperwork, we noticed what at first appeared to be a typo.  On the three page court decree (2006) for the “removal of parental rights,” her birth date was indicated twice as January 6, 1995, and once it was stated to be May 6.  This caused immediate concern and we begin to do more investigation.
  • We were given a later Decree of the Board of Trustees on placing her in the orphanage which also indicated a birth date of May 6.
  • Unfortunately, we discovered just yesterday, that the Registry Office in the Kharkiv region shows her official birth date as January 6.

This means that she is apparently already 16!  We have an official document already prepared by the region where the orphanage is for the SDA stating that her birth date is May 6.  We traveled to Kiev today to talk to the U.S. Embassy.  The people that we talked to looked at all the paperwork, made some phone calls, and told us that they were sorry but there was nothing that they could do, U.S. law prohibits adopting a child over 16.  I asked who we could appeal to; who has the authority to make a judgment call on something that is extraordinary?  We know that our U.S. Congressman is sympathetic to this situation and willing to help out.  We have also contacted our Colorado Senators.

If we had known about this we could have filed an I-600 form before we traveled, but obviously we thought we had several months before she would turn 16.

It is possible to have her birthday changed under Ukrainian legislation to within 6 months from the pre-adoption date of birth.  So even if now the child is really 16, after the adoption we could legally be issued a new birth certificate, as well as the international passport which states that she is 15.  But the U. S. Embassy has told us that they would not accept it.

I understand that laws are for the protection of people.  I also know that sometimes situations complicate things and call for occasional exceptions that are in the spirit of the law, whether or not according to the letter of the law.  A strict reading of this law is not protecting people in this case.  There will be a young girl who is totally devastated to learn that her life-long dream of a family, which she prayed daily for, has been crushed because someone made a typo.  She is a very vulnerable and crushed-down child who is going to be at high risk outside the orphanage without a family.  Her father is dead and no one knows where her alcoholic mother is.  We love her and she considers us her parents.

If there is anything that can be done to help us, please respond ASAP.

My phone number in Ukraine is 380984387709

We can supply a copy of all the documents mentioned in this letter, including the official copy of the birth certificate that indicates May 6 birth date.

A respectful and urgent appeal from,

Clayton Scott Peck and Selene Danette Peck

***********************************************************************

HARD DAY

Feb. 15, 2011

We ran into a major problem with documents.  Tomorrow we leave for Kiev to try and work it out.  I'm not sure when or where I will next blog. 

Dear Lord, You declare that you are a "defender of the fatherless;" You assert that you are a "Father to the fatherless;" You told your people to "defend the cause of the fatherless;"  You commanded that "true religion" is to look after orphans "in their distress;" We are only trying to follow your Word and will.  We plead with you to intervene–for your glory and for this little girlYou led the children of Israel out of Egypt, past Pharaoh, and through the Red Sea… you can break this little daughter out of a Ukrainian orphanage!  Please Lord."

***********************************************************************

VALENTINES DAY

Feb. 15, 2011

We have a 2-2 ½ hour round trip taxi ride each day and spend 2-3 hours with J at the orphanage.  We looked at the only “hotel” in the village where the orphanage is.  The handful of rooms are primitive. That part doesn’t bother us, but there is no kitchen, so we would be eating out at the couple eateries which are a long walk.  No internet either.  Plus it is quite a walk, in the snow, to the orphanage.  We looked into cheaper bus fares, but the bus stops so many times it takes 3 ½ hours to go about 50 miles.  So we are resigned to paying $35-45 per day for a taxi.  We found a good man for a driver who seems sympathetic to our mission.  He only charges $5 per hour to wait in the cold for us at the orphanage.

Valentine’s Day was a good day with J. She was all smiles when we arrived.  We had some Valentine’s gifts—a necklace with angel’s wings (representing her guardian angel), some chocolate (of course), and—the big hit—a super soft stuffed animal puppy.  She put it under her arm and against her chin, never letting it out of her touch during our whole visit.

A Valentines apple

J took us to her friend’s room.  Both of them were in the room, and we waited in the hall while they quickly straightened up.  We met them both (Nastia and Sasha), and they prepared to leave us alone.  We insisted that they stay and get to know us.  They are both very sweet, 17 years old, graduating from the school May 25 and going out on their own.  They are much more confident and mature than J. Very sweet and innocent young ladies.  I thanked them for taking a younger girl “under their wing.” And they laughed as that metaphor had to be explained to them.

We asked the friends lots of questions about their favorite subjects, activities, goals, etc.  They were quite talkative and it helped J to not be the center of three adults’ attention.  She enjoyed having us get to know her friends, and we enjoyed it very much as well.  We all shared a picnic together, found out their favorite foods—two girls wanted us to bring bananas, one wants a mandarin. J is very fond of chips, eating a whole bag again!  Selene’s already in the mom-mode, asking her if she has eaten her two daily vitamins.

During our visit we learned that the girls had spent a few hours playing the “Go Fish” game that put J on emotional overload the day before.  That was good to hear.  One of our friends, Sarah Mendez, mother of four adopted children, wrote us some wise counsel:

“Adoption grief does tend to come out of nowhere and catch you totally off guard.  We had a counselor once tell us that emotions flow like water from a faucet.  When you're playing a game or having a great time and all the good feelings are flowing, it is much easier for all of the negative feelings to come rushing out right behind it.  We've seen it over and over with our kids and it sounds like exactly what happened to J.  She was so excited to see you, show you her friends' room, have a picnic, play a game… then just imagine the feelings that started to flow — the realization that she will have to say goodbye to her best friend; thought of worthlessness (abandoned by family – not chosen to be adopted after her visit to the States); being afraid of the unknown, etc.  Sometimes all we can do as parents is let them see us weep over their losses – tell them that it grieves God's heart and that you are so very sorry for all she has been through.”

Sarah also suggested that, since learning English is a source of stress for J, that we focus right now on learning some key Russian phrases.  Since Russian is her “heart language,” mastering some important messages in her language will be endearing to her and she can teach and correct us.  Sarah writes: “Work toward mastering these phrases.  Enlist Julia's help as your resident expert as you work toward this goal.  Think of phrases you as her mom and dad really, really want to have at your disposal whenever they are needed: ‘I love you;’ You are of infinite worth;’ ‘Can I hug you?’ ‘You bring me joy;’ etc.”  Wise, wise words!

Our social worker wrote similar counsel including: “You don’t need anxiety about her English.  It will come easily. This can be your time to get to know her world and try to do more in Russian, let her see your joy in learning!”  That is our new plan.

After a good visit with J and her friends, Selene asked if they would like to play a game or do a puzzle.  “Puzzle,” they squealed and all jumped up to clear off the dresser.  We had no idea it would be such a hit.  One of the girls opened a desk drawer and showed us a small stack of half a dozen or so puzzles they had put together.  They were small, simple puzzles (20-25 pieces), cartoon characters.  They had put paper across the back of them and clear tape across the front and around the back to turn them into little pictures.  They were proud of them.  The 300 piece puzzle of a Thomas Kincade painting was clearly a larger challenge. J’s best friend went after it like it was a competition.  She had probably 20% done by the time we left and guaranteed us that she would stay up all night if necessary to complete it.  We are going to look for more puzzles today!  What a different world.  How many American 17 year olds would get that excited over a puzzle?

Due to the difficulty level, and perhaps because she did not want to let go of her treasured stuffed animal, J mostly just watched.  After a while, I asked J to come sit by me on the bed and look at some games on my iPad.  She tried a racecar driver game which brought a smile but was a bit hard.  Then we scored!  We found a game that she LOVES.  It’s called “Angry Birds.”  I downloaded it before coming.  You use a slingshot and fire birds over to crash into obstacles and blow up little monsters.  Sounds crazy, but she kept giggling over and over, and it was absolutely precious.  Can’t wait to go play it again with her today!

We appreciate your continued prayers as we seek to sort out some issues with paperwork today.  When the stress starts to rise we remind each other of Philippians 4:6—"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

Sinks outside the cafeteria

The girls' restroom

 

***********************************************************************

LEARNING

Feb. 14, 2011

Our fourth visit to the orphanage was emotional once again, but for different reasons.  J took us to her best friend’s room.  Her friend and friend’s roommate were both gone for the day with extended family who had taken them.  She wanted us to see their room where she hangs out most the time.  They have a small CD player in their room, so she was playing some Russian pop music.

We had a picnic lunch together with plenty of leftovers for her and her friends.  Whatever is left over is always consumed before we return!  We had a nice visit and I showed her a video we took of a day in Boulder—walking around Pearl Street, listening to street performers, eating at Salt (an organic restaurant that we really like), Selene trying on some Ugg boots that we brought for her, as well as a Colorado sweatshirt.  There was also video of us taking the dogs down to play in the Boulder creek.  I told her we’d go have a picnic there.  I could tell she really liked the video.

We keep encouraging J to say English words and she usually looks down with a smile and shakes her head no.  She knows some words and phrases but she is super shy about saying anything.  It was funny, when we were looking at some pictures, Selene asked if someone in the picture was a family member or friend and she said “friend” before she could catch herself.  She put her hand over her mouth with a startled look that said, “Whoops, I blew my cover!” We laughed and teased her.  Sometimes when I say something funny to tease her, I see her laugh before the translation comes and I know she understood.

We decided to get down on the floor, the four of us, and play a game.  Selene had been told that the “Go Fish” game, where you match upper and lower case letters of the alphabet, was a good game for learning English.  She understood the game and seemed to like it at first, even laughing mischievously when she would ask me for a letter that she knew I had.  She is so shy and fearful of making a mistake that she would rarely come out and say an English word or letter. She would show it or say it in Russian.  When she occasionally said the name of the letter, we said “Good!  See you know these letters.”  She told Julia that she knows the letters when she says them in order but it is hard when they are mixed up.

About half way through the second game she suddenly became despondent.  She quit playing and looked down at the floor with a glum look on her face.  We asked her what was wrong and she wouldn’t say.  She said she wanted to quit the game.  I suggested finishing the game and trying something else and she said didn’t want to.  So we put the game away and tried to encourage her.  She was very down and it came out that she was discouraged by a few mistakes she had made and just suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of learning English.  She told us the first day that English was her favorite subject, but now confessed that she had not applied herself to studying English since fifth grade (which happens to be the year she was hosted in America… but not adopted).  It was heart breaking to see her so discouraged.

She sat on the bed and Selene got down on her knees in front of her with her arms around her legs and just talked lovingly to her, reassuring her that we weren’t worried about mistakes, that we thought she was doing really well, and that she had lots of time to learn English, not to worry.  Julia shared that, although she studied English in school, she didn’t really start speaking it until she got into her twenties.  It will be easier for J because she is younger and will be immersed in an English-speaking culture.  After much encouragement, she was starting to smile again by the time we left, although still a bit muted.

It was a learning experience for us.  I know there will be many and much larger issues to work through in the future (I’m sure other adoptive parents are saying, “You ain’t seen ‘nothing yet!”), but we realized that we were pushing too hard.  Right now we just need to show her love and build trust during our daily, Groundhog Day- like, visits.  Our focus now is getting her ready to say “yes” when she stands before the judge in court.  There is plenty of time for language study.

I am sitting here in the internet café debating whether to post this since it is so personal and it would be embarrassing for Julia if she knew the world was reading this, but I’ve decided to let you in on some of our experience at this time so you know how to pray for us.  The day will come soon when our parenting challenges will be private and I can go back and edit this blog someday when J is able to access the internet and read.

I know many of you reading this are not aware of the detailed process of Ukrainian adoption.  We are just now beginning the legal paperwork and there are still challenges.  In fact, I cannot speak of the details, but there is an issue with the documents that we recently learned about that is of potential concern.  We are asking for special prayers for this matter.  Thank you friends for your love, support, AND PRAYERS!

Here is the view out of her orphanage window.  We asked her if  they took the swings off for winter.  She said no, they are no more.  Can’t wait until it is only a memory for her.

Looking out of J's window

***********************************************************************

THIRD VISIT

Feb. 13, 2011

 

On our third visit to the orphanage we were allowed to go to J’s room.  We met her roommate and offered for her to have lunch with us, but she nervously declined and left the room after just a few awkward moments.  Then J surprised us by pulling out a stack of pictures.  We sat together, with Julia translating, and spent probably an hour looking at her pictures as she explained.  Perhaps a quarter of the pictures were old pictures of her family.  There were a few pictures of her when she was 2-5 years old.  This is priceless!  We have heard from so many others that their adopted children had no pictures.

We also learned some other significant news.  She told us before that she had been in the orphanage for five years, but we misunderstood.  She has been in this orphanage for five years.  She has been in other shelters or orphanages since she was four or five—most her life.

Another quarter of the pictures were of the family that hosted her in America for two weeks, at Christmas, four years ago.  She was eager to explain each picture—who the family members were, what the house looked like, etc.  It was clear that this was one of the happiest memories of her life.

The rest of the pictures were of her friends, some who had been hosted to America and brought back pictures, a few who had been adopted.  We found out also that the last adoption from this orphanage was two years ago. No wonder it is such big news in the orphanage that “the Americans” are here.  One boy in the hallway warned J that we were going to “harvest her organs.” That myth exists everywhere apparently.

We told J that her new grandfather had a bike for her.  She smiles appreciatively with each new revelation.  I asked her if she knew how to ride a bicycle.  She said, yes, she had ridden one in America.  The only time she rode a bike was during her two weeks in America five years ago!  I asked her if she had ever been swimming and she said no.

We brought a picnic lunch and I noticed that she took small bites of her sandwich as if savoring every bite.  She doesn’t complain, but when we asked her what kind of food she likes she said, “Anything that is not served here.”  She said that there is never enough to fill her up.  We gave her a small can of Pringles potato chips and she ate them all, slowly. She seemed to savor the grape juice pack too.  For desert, Selene brought a piece of cake from the internet café where we have been hanging out.  That was a big hit too.  We left more fruit, cookies, another sandwich, and chips for her to share with a friend in the evening.

We are making friends at the internet cafe

 

I asked J what her favorite thing to do was and she quickly answered, “Listen to music.”  We told her that her new brother would love to hear that!  She must have stayed up all night listening to the iPod because the battery was almost empty.  We had to take it to recharge.

It is heartbreaking to look around her room and see that she has nothing.  There are too small shelves with a few books and stuffed animals.  We asked if they were hers or her roommate’s.  She said, “Both of ours.”  We discovered that everything belongs to the orphanage. Except for her pictures and anything we give her, she will leave everything behind.  It is so hard to leave her there each day.  There is nothing to do.  Selene gave her some workbooks with an English learning assignment for her evening “fun.”

There are 72 orphans at this orphanage and over 100 students since some children come to the school from the community.  There are only 20 some girls living there, so it is mostly boys.  We see them rough housing in the halls and few try to practice English on us.  The boys are on the first floor and the girls on the second.  We were disturbed when a boy knocked on her door while we were visiting.  We asked if boys were allowed on her floor.  She said only during free time after school and before supper, but not in the evening.  She has a lock on her door and key.

When we walked by the restroom to leave, the door was opened.  I saw a row of “squat pots,” side by side in stalls with no door or curtain.  I felt a pain inside, imaging that lack of privacy for a teenage girl.  I doubt I have ever experienced a more emotional stretch as the last few days.  Selene and I laid in bed last night recounting feelings and observations and quite a few tears were shed.  God has filled our hearts with such strong love for this little girl.

***********************************************************************

WAITING

Feb. 12, 2011

Now that we have a yes from “J,” we have to hurry up and wait.  It took us all morning to get two official papers prepared and notarized; an official request to adopt her—one for the regional office, one for the national office.  Over here, notaries are on every corner and they are really important, like a judge or lawyer.  We sat in a fancy waiting room for about an hour then went in to carefully sign our names in all the right places, multiple times—no room for err. (This process is all about law; old covenant legalism on steroids!).

Waiting at the Notary Office

One of the papers has to travel to the SDA in Kiev, get submitted on a certain day, get picked up on a certain day (several days later) and returned to where we are (500 kilometers away) before we can have our court day.  At court, the judge will ask “J” if she wants to be adopted and make a decree that she is our daughter.  Even though she will be ours on that day, the law of Ukraine requires a “10 day wait period” after court. Fortunately, this region allows for obtaining the birth certificate (one day) and Ukrainian passport (one day) during the wait periods.  Other regions require that this happens after the wait period.

During our eight day wait, we are hoping, if possible to get away for a couple days to travel south to Berdyansk to visit Ruth’s and Mel’s House (where Grace Place purchased a group home for older orphans).  We are still uncertain whether we will be able to do this, due to logistics and the fact that we will have to leave Julia.  One option would be for me to go and leave Selene here.  But that would depend on who is available to stay with Selene.

We have a team of three translators/facilitators who are working for us here and in Kiev.  We also have the added amazing blessing of Julia Sergienko.  She has been to Grace Place during the last two summers when she traveled with orphans to the Ukraine Orphan Outreach camps.  She works for our friend Karen Springs at Orphan’s Promise (a CBN ministry).  Karen has been so helpful, calling us every day, encouraging us, and helping us with so many logistics. And then she gave us the wonderful gift of allowing Julia to travel with us, initially for a few days, and now for an extended period.  Julia is like an angel.  She loves the Lord (always saying “Praise the Lord!”) and extremely optimistic, regardless of circumstances.  We call her “Miss PMA (positive mental attitude).  She and Olga are sleeping on a pull out beds in the living room of our small apartment.  She is engaged to a gentleman from Lebanon who is studying to be a pastor.  Her life goal is to be a pastor’s wife and missionary. She and Selene walk arm and arm through the snow on the cold sidewalks and are having so much fun together.  And Julia is able to translate with much love and warmth to little Julia.

The Cafe with Wi-Fi

We asked our Julia if Christian missionaries ever came to the orphanage or she ever had Bible classes.  She said no.  We asked her if anyone had talked to her about God. She said only the family that hosted her (for two weeks) in America four years ago.  She said that they gave her a Bible in Russian, but when she returned to the orphanage, she left it with her things when she went to a camp and when she returned it was gone.  I asked her if it was true, what we heard, that she prayed every day for a family.  She said yes.  So I told her that God had answered her prayer; that he had laid it on our heart to come for her because of her prayers.  We had prayer with her and I said: “Lord, help Julia to know that you are real and that you have heard her prayer and are giving her a family…”  It was very touching.  There is so much to teach her, but we have time.  We also talked to her about the meaning of the word “grace” and told her to think about Grace as a middle name (since we will have to choose one for her passport).  She informed us that she does not want to be called Yulia (which is the Ukrainian/Russian pronunciation and what we are more than willing to continue calling her).  She is very opinionated that she wants to be called Julia with a “J,” American style.  We are glad that she wants to keep her given name.  It is beautiful.

***********************************************************************

SHE SAID “YES!”

Feb. 11, 2011

So much has changed since our last blog post.  In fact life has change forever for us and our new daughter!  Yes, she said “yes.”

The overnight train ride was not very conducive to sleep.  We stumbled off the train at 6:45 AM with just enough time to have a coffee before getting in a cab to head to the village outside Kharkov where we would meet “J.”  After an hour ride, we arrived in the village around 8:30 AM.  We waited outside an office for 30-40 minutes while our translator talked to the “inspector,” a legal officer who reviewed our documents.  Then we all crowded in the small taxi (the inspector joined us which made four ladies in the back).

A few minutes later we pulled up in front of the orphanage and school where there are 72 students—some orphans who live there, and some day students from the neighborhood.  As we walked up the long sidewalk, several boys were shoveling the fresh fallen snow.  A teacher was watching them by the steps.  They eyed us.  Julia whispered, “They know.”

We were ushered into the waiting room of the orphanage director’s office.  We waited for at least 15 minutes listening to lively, animated conversation going on behind the door.  We were filled with excitement and slight anxiety.  We had no idea what to expect when we entered his office.

In the waiting room minutes before we met "J"

When the time came to enter we were seated at a table in front of the director’s desk.   Within a few moments he barked orders to an assistant.  We asked what was going on, and our translator informed us that “J” was being called, with her teacher, to come to the office.  That fast!

Before any time at all, she was marched in with a teacher and social worker and sat against the wall with one adult on each side.  She was nervous and shy, but had a huge smile on her face.  There was a long silence; very awkward.  Finally, I asked, “Should I speak to her now?”  “Yes,” was the answer.  We had thought that we would have some time to visit with her before asking for her answer.  We would tell about ourselves, ask questions about her, and tell her that she had time to think about it and did not have to make a decision right away.

But it didn’t work that way. It was clear that the director expected us to get to business, right there, right then, with one girl in the center of attention and nine adults looking at her.  So I said (through a translator), “We are Clay and Selene Peck…we have a 22 year old son… we were never able to have more children… the Lord laid it on our hearts to adopt a teenage girl… we heard about you from a family that hosted you in America several years ago… and we wanted to come meet you.”  I paused, and the director said, “Tell her what you both do for a living.”  I told her that I was a pastor and Selene said she was a high school English teacher.  The director made a comment indicating that he was pleased with Selene’s profession.

He began talking to “J.”  He told her that we wanted to adopt her and it was her decision; that she would have until she was 18 to change her mind if she wanted and still return with Ukrainian citizenship, but after 18 she would only be a U.S. citizen.  Then he said, “Do you want to be adopted?”  Immediately she said yes.  She had a big smile on her face and again there was awkward silence while Selene and my eyes filled with happy tears.  I said, “We are very happy and want you to be our daughter… (sniff, sniff)… but don’t want you to feel pressured.  If you need time to get to know us and ask us questions, you can take time to decide.”  Apparently, they had told her the day before that we were coming and she said, “From the beginning, when I heard about it, I said ‘yes.’”

We asked if we could have her move over by us and look at some pictures we had brought with us.  The director gave us permission.  We showed her pictures of our son, family, dogs, and our house… and the room all fixed up for her.  She kept nodding her head and smiling.  It was so precious and touching.  Still awkward with everyone watching us, but who cares, we were overjoyed to be at this stage in our journey.

Soon the director gave some more orders and the social worker brought in a sample letter for her to copy. No nonsense, get the job done.  The law calls for every child who wants to be adopted to write a letter for the court hearing, formally indicating her desire to be adopted.  She had to write very carefully with close supervision.  After she finished, the social worker marked up her letter, and then gave her a fresh piece of paper and asked her to write it once again so it would be perfect.

Once her letter was finished, the director took us down the hall to a large meeting room where he told us we could take some time to visit.  We sat in a circle, and Julia translated as we told her more about ourselves and asked about her life.   I took out my iPad and showed her one recent picture we had of her and three pictures from four years ago that were sent us by the family that hosted her in America.  We started playing a few games on the iPad, starting with tic-tac-toe and moving on to some harder games.  She loved it and laughed as she became competitive and wanted to win.

She is extremely shy and not confident at all.  She needs a lot of love and affirmation.  She received affection, which was encouraging.  When we put our arm around her or hugged her, she smiled and hugged back!

After a very emotional meeting, we decided it was time for us to go find our apartment in the big city and give her time to process the events of the morning.  When I hugged her and said goodbye, I assured her that this was not a dream, we are coming back for her. Her Cinderella story is beginning.  We are so happy and feel God’s favor is all over this story.  Maybe this adventure is more about God answering her prayers than ours. She prayed for a family every day.  Now she has one.

(I can't wait to share pics and video… but out translator has asked us to wait until after the court date when it is officially decreed that she is our daughter.  We're not sure when that will happen.  Depending on paper work, hopefully in a week or so.)

***********************************************************************

SUCCESS!

Feb. 9, 2011

This is Selene writing, guest blogger 🙂

We are at the CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network)office right now hanging out with Karen Springs, using their computers.  We had to be out of our apartment at 1:30 p.m. and Julia Sergienko met us with the CBN van and drove us to CBN.

Leaving the Apartment

We stored all our luggage and then and had a light snack with Steve Weber (Director of CBN Worldreach, Kiev) and Karen Springs. It was absolutely fascinating to listen to Steve speak about his passion for the Russian people. He has lived in Ukraine for over 20 years, is passionate about the people here, spreading the gospel, has adopted three orphans. He had a burden on his heart when he was 22 to make a difference in the Soviet Union where people where not permitted to have a faith at all. So now they beam Christian television out to all the former Soviet countries and are really making a difference in this part of the world where it is very dark indeed.

Lunch with Steve Weber and Karen

In addition, Karen Springs and Julia Sergienko work with orphan outreach (so very interesting). They have translated two books about adoption into Russian for the people here who adopt. They write books to train orphans about God and to give life skills to older orphans. Very cool.

Karen and Galina

When I listened to Julia talk in the van about her visit to an orphanage near Kiev yesterday, it was undeniable that there is a passionate fire inside her for these orphaned children. She loves them so much and has pictures of them all over her office. It is quite touching.

We hopped on the metro after a cappucino and in 7 minutes were back at Independence Square, near our former apartment, and a 10 minute walk from the SDA. The weather has turned decidedly colder, it was 3:50, and our appointment was set for 4:00 p.m. We hoofed it up the hill and made it to the SDA with one minute to spare. We walked into the little, dark waiting area where other families were already waiting, and Helen (our person) was waiting for us. She informed us that we were second in line, and I guess that is due to the fact that she got there and got in line! ha ha. We waited about five minutes, went in, watched the woman behind the desk write by hand on a notebook, "J" on top. There was no envelope or covering, just a stack of incredibly important paperwork for us to take out into the wind and onto the metro! Thankfully, Helen walked us into the post office where we purchased a plastic folder to keep them safe. Needless to say, we are ecstatic that we have the referral! There is her name, her date of birth, her region (of course all in Russian and we can't understand it!)

With Helen, clutching the treasured documents

Tonight at 10:45 we board our train with Olga and Julia.  Tomorrow morning we will arrive in Kharkov, and I imagine we will drop off our many, many suitcases at our apartment. Then…yes, we get to go to the orphanage. We have been told we will meet with the Orphanage Director, the doctor, and the lawyer. "J's" history will be shared with us, her condition, why she is there, etc. We have already been told she is healthy, smart and kind. This is just a formality. Then, we will get to meet "J" and that is what we are really excited about. In 86 days she will be too old to be adopted. We are getting there just in time.

~Selene

With Julia in downtown Kiev

 

***********************************************************************

REFERRAL DAY

Feb. 9, 2011

Selene slept in today and is feeling a bit better after what she described as a “wicked episode of food poisoning.”  We went for a walk this morning, and she bought some slippers and underwear for “J.”  If it is like many others have described, she will have to leave ALL her clothes behind on the day we take her away from the orphanage.

Now we are packing up in order to check out of our apartment around one.  Karen Springs is sending a van from CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network) to pick us up.  We will go to CBN where Karen will give us a tour.  Then we must come back to the SDA for a 4 PM appointment to sign documents and receive our official referral to go visit “J.”

We will get dinner and kill time until we catch our train quite late—10:45 PM.  It is a “sleeper” train.  Felix Roge, here now adopting his fifth child from Ukraine, calls the overnight trains the “shake and bake” since they get hot in the cabins and rattle down the track, sometimes suddenly changing tracks.  He said if you are on the top bunk bed, lay on your back or you may roll out of bed when they suddenly shift tracks at 50 MPH!  Don’t know how much sleep we will get.  We’ll be in a cabin of four with our friend Julia (who works for Karen) and our translator, Olga. I’ve got our iPods, Kindle, and iPad charged!

I’m about half way through a really good book that I started on this trip.  It’s by Laura Hillenbrand, excellent writer, and author of “Seabiscut.”  It is entitled, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.”  If you think you have any hardship in your life, this true story will bring perspective to what true endurance is all about.  Fascinating and inspiring.

We are still trying to figure out the process as we go, but hopefully we will see “J” tomorrow.  When we get to Kharkov in the morning I think that we have to go to some regional office before we go to the orphanage (about an hour away).  I don’t know if we are able to go to the orphanage on Thursday or not, but we really hope so.  It may be awhile before I have internet access again to update the blog.  Our global phones are not working, and I’ve been on the phone eight times with Verizon and have finally given up.  I have a little cheap Ukrainian cell phone for communicating with our people here.

It has been so encouraging to hear all the prayers and support on Facebook.  It feels wonderful to have so many friends who love us.  We love you too!

***********************************************************************

87 DAYS!

Feb. 8, 2011

87 days.  That’s how long a little 15-year-old in Eastern Ukraine has until she turns 16 and will be ineligible for adoption.  We’ll call her “J” for now.  Over the last several weeks we have become aware of a girl who has been praying every day for a family, even as it has become more and more unlikely as she gets closer and closer to aging out.  It is now likely that God is going to use us to answer her prayers!

A family hosted her for two weeks in America four years ago and told us that she was shy, smart, and sweet.  They gave her a Bible in Russian and she stayed up all night reading it.  There had been a lice problem in the orphanage before she left Ukraine, so all the kids had their heads shaved.  She had to go on her trip to America with shaved head, but bravely held her head up none-the-less. The hosting family bought a wig and fastened it into a hat for her to wear.  Before she left she wanted a picture in every room in the house and with every member of the family.  They let her take pictures with their camera and she took over 50 in a pet store!

When we arrived at the SDA today, we waited for about 15 minutes.  Other couples were waiting outside the building and inside on the steps going up to the second floor.  They were all accompanied by local translators.  No one seemed to want to talk.  Like us they were sober, contemplative, thinking about this big decision, unsure what would transpire on the other side of the door.

When our name was called, we made our way into a room with a social worker.  I was surprised at how young the social worker was, very pleasant. Beside her desk was a bookshelf.  There was a row of red binders with dates on them (going back about 16 years) and a row of blue binders, also with dates.  They were filled with pages representing orphans, mostly special needs kids we were told (red for girls, blue for boys).  She asked us a few questions about ourselves and why we wanted to adopt an older girl.  When she learned that we knew about a specific girl, she left the room and came back very quickly with the file.

There were two pages on “J.”  She has been in the orphanage for five years.  Her parents are a few years older than us.  She has four siblings—the oldest is 34, the youngest 22.  That’s about all we know about her.  We got a bit misty-eyed looking at a picture of her taken two years ago, standing against a wall as a snapshot was taken for the orphan book.  The social worker asked if we wanted to look at other children.  We said, “No, we want her.”  She asked if “J” knew about us.  We said, “No.”  She smiled and said, “Well then, she is about to be in for a surprise!”

Lord willing, we will meet her on Thursday and find out if she would like to become our daughter.  It is her decision.  She will have to write a letter indicating that she wants to be adopted by us, and later stand before a judge and declare the same.

 


 

***********************************************************************

THE DAY BEFORE

Feb. 7, 2011

On Monday morning Selene decided to stay in and get some rest.  I caught a cab to Hotel Rus where I sat with my new friend, Norm Edwards, while Bill Hybels spent three hours answering questions from Ukrainian pastors.  What a treat it was to hear Bill who has been such a powerful mentor in my life since I first encountered him more than 20 years ago.

Bill loves the Lord, loves the church, and loves pastors (and flip charts!).  In addition to pastoring one of the largest churches in America, writing books, doing conferences, mentoring high capacity businessmen (and even presidents), he flies all over the world to encourage and train pastors—even small groups in remote locations.  I was especially moved by the way he honored some of the elderly pastors who had stood faithful to Christ, despite many hardships, during the Soviet era.  It was interesting to hear the pastors’ questions, some unique to their situation, most common to all pastors.

In the afternoon we walked around upper Kiev, locating the SDA (State Department on Adoption), where our appointment is scheduled for Tuesday at 10:00 AM, and seeing the three cathedrals that are clustered near each other on the top of the hill.

Here are a few scenes from our wandering:

 


***********************************************************************

ADJUSTING

Feb. 7, 2011

I never thought I would sleep through the Super Bowl, but it happened last night. Well, I may have actually laid awake during part of the game since we are still adjusting to the nine hour time difference.  I awoke this morning to learn that the Packers pulled off a hard fought win after losing two of their top players.

It was good to arrive a few days early to get orientated, meet our new friends, see some of the mission work here, adjust to the time difference (some), and prepare.

Tomorrow is the BIG DAY-our SDA (State Department on Adoptions) appointment.  Our apartment, strategically selected by Karen Springs, is just a 5-10 min. walk from the SDA.

Yesterday at church, International Christian Assembly, I met Norm Edwards.  Norm is the leader of mission work for the Assembly of God in something like eight different Eastern European countries.  He was telling me exciting stories about church planting efforts in progress over here.  Then I discovered that he is good friends with my friend, Dary Northrup, pastor of Timberline Church in Fort Collins.  Feels like a small world or a “large village.”

Norm invited us to attend a pastors meeting this morning with Bill Hybels, pastor from Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago.  I can’t believe Hybels is here.  What a blessing.

Here's a little bit of church at the International Christian Assembly:


 

And grocery shopping after church with Karen:


 

***********************************************************************

WE'RE HERE!

Feb., 5, 2011

After months of prayer, planning, paperwork, and preparation, it is exciting to finally be here in Ukraine.  We had an overnight layover in Munich.  I didn’t realize you could see the Austrian Alps from the top of the bell tower at St. Peter’s Cathedral (one of the three churches we visited downtown). We walked our legs off and had a fun day with the Germans before flying to Kiev.

Leaving the airport in Kiev

Our friends from Orphans Promise—Julia Sergienko and Karen Springs have been so helpful at every step of the way.  Julia met us at the airport with a driver from the ministry they are with (CBN) and took us to an apartment very near the center of Kiev.  You can rent an apartment by the day here.  We will probably be here only four nights if things go as planned.  Then we’ll get on an overnight train to the city near where the orphanage is.

A few scenes from our arrival:



We walked downtown and saw the buildings, monuments, and lights in Independence Square.  If you go down the steps under the square towards the subway there is a huge modern mall underneath the square. What a surprise.  It’s busier under the square than above!

We met up with Karen and we all went to dinner at an authentic Ukrainian restaurant that is hanging on to the Soviet era with the decor.  Karen and Julia have been there many times with other families who are adopting.  The food was delicious, but I’m glad they were there to help us figure out the menu.  They both choose to give and give of themselves because they love the Lord and have huge hearts for the fatherless. We talked about how difficult it is to make a decision about who to adopt since we have heard so many heart-rending stories about kids who want a family.  We just keep praying that God will prepare the way and give us peace that we are making the right decision.

Thanks for all the prayers.  This blog is not set up for comments (I guess that only works on my main page).  But the TONS of well-wishers on Facebook have made us feel so loved and supported on this mission. We love you all too.  Clay (and Selene)

***********************************************************************

PRAYING FOR WISDOM

Jan. 25, 2011

"Those who trust their own insight are foolish, but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe." (Proverbs 28:26, NLT)

We are praying that God will give us wisdom as we have to make a decision soon about who we will adopt.  We have had friends, and even people we don’t know, sending us pictures and stories about girls in Ukraine who are soon to age out of the orphanage and are longing for a family.  Each story is heart wrenching and it makes us feel like taking them all!  We are especially drawn to the 15 year old who we will call "J" who has been praying daily for a family and turns 16 on May 6 (which means no longer eligible for adoption according to U. S. law).

We sure appreciate all your prayers and are asking God in faith for wisdom according to his promise: "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." (James 1:5, NLT)

***********************************************************************

PREPARING TO TRAVEL

Jan. 12, 2011

While no one seems to know for sure, it appears that the vote on a bill in Ukrainian Parliament that would have placed a moratorium on international adoptions has been postponed indefinitely. Good news!  Therefore, Selene and I are planning to board a plane, Lord willing, on Feb. 3, to begin our adoption adventure in Ukraine.  There is a lot unknown right now, so we are trusting the Lord to lead.  We also hope to visit the aged-out orphans at Ruth's House, the group home that our church recently funded (through Heart for Orphans ministry).

***********************************************************************

UKRAINE PARLIAMENT VOTE

Jan. 10, 2011

According to the official website of the Ukrainian Parliament, the second reading is scheduled for Tuesday, 1/11/11.  If passed, and signed by the president without modifications, it would place a moratorium on international adoptions from Ukraine.  Please pray for all those children and parents who are already in the process of adoption or preparing for it!

This vote has been rescheduled several times.  The agenda for this week can be seen at the following link (utilizing Goggle Translate).  Under "Planning," click on "Office of the Parliament of Ukraine for a week."

http://translate.google.com/translate?js=n&prev=_t&hl=en&ie=UTF-8&layout=2&eotf=1&sl=uk&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.rada.gov.ua%2Fzakon%2Fnew%2Fkarta.htm

 

***********************************************************************

APPOINTMENT DATE

 

Dec. 16, 2010

 

We received both good news and disconcerting news today.

First the good news: We received the good news that we have been given an appointment date in Kiev, Ukraine to appear in person on February 8 to receive permission to adopt!

The disconcerting news: The Ukrainian Parliament, according to our Ukrainian facilitator, will be voting for a second time on a proposed moratorium on foreign adoptions on December 24.  The vote was scheduled for today and got postponed.  If it is approved a second time all that is necessary for it to become a new law is for the president to sign it.  Please pray that the doors will stay open for the tens of thousands of orphans who need and want families!

***********************************************************************

The Golden Ticket

Nov. 8, 2010

Today we received the “golden ticket!”

Since this is our first time with international adoption it has been a real learning experience.  I had no idea how stressful it can be—even before traveling.  After completing our Home Study through an adoption agency to satisfy the requirements for adoption in Colorado, we then had to prepare a dossier to send to Ukraine complete with the following documents:

1. Adoption Home Study.

2. Permission of the competent authority of the country in which the potential adoptive parents live to the child’s entry and giving him/her permanent residential status (Form I-171H).

3. Statements of employment for each prospective parent.

4. Statements of health from a physician for each prospective parent.

5. A copy of the marriage certificate.

6. A copy of the adoptive parent’s passports.

7. Letter of Clearance from the police for each prospective parent.

8. Letter of Obligation

9. Home Ownership Documents

10. Statement to request the clearances through the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies and Interpol.

We have hired a translator and facilitator in Ukraine to whom we have granted power of attorney to submit these documents on our behalf at the State Department on Adoption and Children's Rights (SDA) office so that we may be assigned an appointment date to show up in person.  Originally, the submission date was set for mid-December.  But then the SDA office in Kiev decided to close for the entire month of December. This meant the latest submission date we could get (in 2010) was November 30.  If we can make this date it is likely that we will be traveling to Ukraine in January.  If we miss this date we may not be able to travel until late February or early March.

Since time is of the essence, due to the possibility of a halt on adoptions being issued, and due to the fact that the clock is ticking for us to be able to adopt a 15 year old before she turns 16, we have rushed to complete all the paper work.  A couple weeks ago we mailed nine out of the ten items listed above—all except for #2, Form I-171H.  This is often referred to as the “golden ticket” by those involved with international adoption.  It is the last document and the most important.  It comes from the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  It proves that you have been scrutinized and approved by the federal government to adopt a foreign child.

It often takes 6-8 weeks to receive the form after application.  We mailed the application on October 26 (overnighted Fed-Ex) and completed the process today, November 18 (received as a PDF attachment).  Less than a month!  This afternoon the document will be notarized, then apostiled in Denver tomorrow morning and shipped to Ukraine via Fed-Ex ($150 for one piece of paper!).  It should arrive in Ukraine next Wednesday in time to be translated and presented in court on our behalf the following Monday.

I’m sure that many readers of this blog are not interested in this level of detail.  But this is an answer to prayer for us and we appreciate all of you who have joined us in prayer.  It took a lot of perseverance, persistence, phone calls, emails, and gentle nagging (or urgent pleading) to get this done!

Yesterday, when I was told that corrections were needed on our Home Study, and it would take a couple weeks with the mail and with Thanksgiving to complete everything, I was stressed out.  It appeared we would not make the deadline.  I sat down with a headache, neck ache, and backache to try and do some research for this weekend’s message at Grace Place.  I turned to the text and read:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7)

 

I felt rebuked for my lack of trust in the Lord.  I took a few deep breaths to let out all the stress and prayed: “Lord, this is in your hands.  If you want this to happen now, you can make it happen.  If you want us to travel later on our rescue mission… so be it.  I trust you.”  That same afternoon, the government officials decided that faxed changes would be acceptable rather than a hard copy; and today they decided that an emailed PDF would suffice rather than a hard copy.  And we have an answer to prayer.  Thank you Lord!

***********************************************************************

LOVE IS MORE THAN A FEELING

Nov. 9, 2010

God cares about every child on this planet, each one created in his image. In fact, God sees children and considers them persons of value even when they are in early stages of formation in their mother’s wombs.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together…your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:13-16).

Every child deserves a family and a home. God is calling some of us to open up our hearts and home and adopt a child (or children). God is:

“A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families…” (Psalm 68:5-6).

God is working to set orphans into families. The way he does that is by doing a work in the heart of his followers who are willing and able.

There are over 150 million orphans in the world right now. That’s an overwhelming number. How could we ever make a dent? Well, think of this. There are over two billion professed Christians in the world. I realize that not all “professed” Christians are truly disciples of Jesus, surrendered to him and following him obediently. But still, if only seven percent of Christians would respond to the call there would be no more orphans in the world! Is it possible to imagine a day when there are no more orphans?

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another. If any one of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:16-18).

Love is more than a feeling. It is actions!

***********************************************************************

PREPARING A PLACE

Nov. 8, 2010

Selene has been busy creating a beautiful bedroom for a teenage daughter.  She thought about colors and found patterns, pillows, pictures, and pretty stuff to set around.  I suggested that she wait until our daughter arrives so that she can pick out her own stuff.  But Selene said that she wants her to walk into a beautiful room and realize that it was all prepared for her in advance…if she wants to change it around and add or subtract things, no problem.

 

The more I think about that, the more it reminds me of God’s love for us.  When Jesus was preparing to leave his disciples he said: "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you" (John 14:18).  He also assured them (and us) that he was going to prepare a place for them (and us).

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. My Father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3).

Doesn’t that make you feel loved?

I especially like this plaque we found.

 

***********************************************************************

URGENT PRAYER REQUEST!

Nov. 7, 2010

The following notice indicates that there is a possibility that Ukraine will suspend all international adoptions.  Parliament did vote affirmative on this last Tuesday.  It still has to go through other stages.  Please pray that this will NOT happen!  There are so many children who need homes and there are families in process who would be devastated.  There are kids in orphanages who are counting on their new parents coming to get them soon. Their hopes would be dashed.  “Dear Lord, you are a ‘Father to the fatherless.’ Please keep the doors open for the children of Ukraine!”

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE

Bureau of Consular Affairs

Office of Children’s Issues

 

November 3, 2010

The Ukrainian legislature is in the process of voting on a bill that would suspend all intercountry adoptions from countries without bilateral agreements with Ukraine, including adoptions from the United States.  The bill passed a first reading and vote, but must still pass a second reading and be signed into law by the president.  The second reading could take place in the next few weeks.  If the bill passes the second reading, it may be signed into law as early as the end of 2010.  The draft bill appears to include suspension of all adoptions in progress.

http://adoption.state.gov/news/ukraine.html

 

***********************************************************************

FRIENDS  HELPING US UNDERSTAND THE JOURNEY

Nov. 6, 2010

As we began the adoption journey, facing the unknown, we were filled with questions.  We turned to our friends from church who are experts on international adoption through Ukraine.  Expanding their family beyond their two biological children, Clarke and Kris Stoesz have adopted three children from Ukraine and are in the process of adopting a fourth.  They are the founders also of Ukraine Orphan Outreach (http://www.ukraineorphans.org) which has hosted orphans for a three week camps each year for the past four summers. Through the influence of UOO more than 40 orphans have been adopted or are in the process of being adopted.

The Stoesz family

Clarke and Kris spent hours with us telling us their stories and answering a myriad of questions.  They are people with huge hearts and we have really grown to love them.  With their support it became easier to understand the journey ahead of us.  They told us about Karen Springs who leads Orphan’s Promise in Kiev (http://www.cbn.com/orphanspromise/).   Karen is an American missionary who has dedicated her efforts to showing God’s love to orphans.  In addition to her work with Orphan’s Promise, which runs an extensive ministry, she spends many hours helping to encourage and facilitate families who are in the adoption process.  If you want to be inspired, read some of her blog posts about her work (http://karensprings.blogspot.com/).  Karen and her team organize summer camps for orphans at various locations around Ukraine.  Here’s a picture of Karen at one of the camps (on the right).

Julia and Karen

On the left is Julia Sergienko.  They look like they are impressed with their food!  Julia is a native Ukrainian who works with Karen and has traveled to Colorado as a translator for the past two summers with the UOO kids.  They are both very sweet, and dedicated Christ-followers.  Both Karen and Julia began praying for us and communicating with us, promising to help us in any way they could.  We are fast becoming friends from a distance and look forward to getting to know them better when we arrive in Ukraine.

***********************************************************************

HOW DOES GOD FEEL ABOUT THE FATHERLESS?

Nov. 3, 2010

The word “fatherless” or “orphan” occurs 45 times in the Bible. It is clear that God is not blind or detached from the suffering going on in this broken world.

 

"But you, O God, do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand. The victim commits himself to you; you are the helper of the fatherless." (Psalm 10:14)

 

God sees the trouble and grief of those who suffer and he cares.  Victims of injustice may commit their case to the Lord, confident that he is a righteous judge and a “helper of the fatherless.”

"You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, in order that man, who is of the earth, may terrify no more." (Psalm 10:17-18)

 

Not only does the Lord see human suffering, he hears the cries and brings encouragement to those who put their trust in him, taking away the fear… and “defending the fatherless.”

Not only is the Lord a helper and defender of the fatherless… but one step farther! God promises to be:

"A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling." (Psalm 68:5)

 

Isn’t that beautiful?  Those who have never had a loving father in their life may turn to the heavenly father who promises to be “a father to the fatherless.”  In another place the Psalmist wrote: (Psalm 27:10) “though my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will receive me.

 

God loves the fatherless!

***********************************************************************

WHY ADOPT?

Nov. 2, 2010

Selene and I are in our late 40s and we are officially “empty-nesters.” Our son, Landon, is in college studying classical guitar and philosophy, in an apartment of his own. This is the opportunity for us to just enjoy life together! So why adopt? All we can say is God put it on our heart.

Feeling a strong desire to make our lives count for the Lord, we started praying a prayer we should have been praying already but have not prayed for a long time: “Lord, I surrender all to you.  I want my life to honor you and count for you. I will make any change you want me to.  I will sell anything or everything if need be—house, vehicles, motorcycle, etc.  I will move anywhere–even if it is a miserable city in India or Africa–if that’s where you want me.  I do not want my life to be about my agenda, or my success, or my comfort, but glorifying you.

The heart preparation for adoption started for me with a sermon series I did at Grace Place in the spring of 2010 called “Comfortably Numb.” We talked about how easy it is for us Americans to be numb to the suffering of others because life is so easy for us compared to most of the world. We studied the key passages in the Bible where God talks about how he wants his people to love and serve those who are hurting, helpless, hungry, and homeless; those who are disenfranchised, marginalized, outcasts, and misfits.

I preached a message on Father’s Day called “God’s Heart for the Fatherless.” I read every verse in the Bible about orphans and realized anew how God expects his people to “defend the cause of the fatherless” (Is. 1:17) and “look after orphans…in their distress” (James 1:27).

Selene and I agreed to take lunch the next week to the orphans who were visiting with the Ukraine Orphans Outreach annual camp. We were so blessed as we watched the incredible leadership of Clarke and Kris Stoesz and hung out at the lake for an afternoon with those precious children. One child especially touched us. She hurt her neck by falling on the dock. Selene took her to see our neighbor who is a doctor and fell in love with her. We talked about what it would be like to adopt, but she came as a package of four with three brothers and sisters! We were not ready for that.

During the Comfortably Numb series I read some statistics about the growing plague of sex-trafficking in the world. I spent hours during the summer researching the truth about this explosively growing problem which will soon become the number one crime in the world. There are 27 million victims of human trafficking in the world right now. I discovered that the girls that bring the most money are from Eastern Europe.

I realized that God had already linked our congregation to Ukraine through the influence of Ukraine Orphan Outreach ministry and begin to think and pray about how our church should be involved in that area to fight against sex trafficking.

Then we learned that in the depressed economy of Eastern Europe, some orphanage directors are being bribed by sex-traffickers to give the names of girls that are about to turn 16 so that they can be targeted when they are released from the orphanages. When they leave the orphanage 10% commit suicide, 70 % of boys become criminals, and 60% of girls become prostitutes. It is a very bleak future for older orphans in that part of the world.

Suddenly, Selene and I became convicted that we could rescue a teenage girl. We only have one child. We were never able to have a second biological child. Selene always thought it would be wonderful to have a daughter. Most orphans over 10 will never be adopted. Why couldn’t we do this? Selene believed it was our calling before I did. But we both came to believe that God was laying it on our hearts.

Tom Davis, in his book Fields of the Fatherless, writes: “While every adoption experience is unique, one word seems to speak to the ways in which children and families are brought together: convergence. I believe once people open or lend themselves to the idea of adoption, God works in miraculous ways to bring about the desire of His heart: the grand orchestration of setting the loneliest of His children in a loving caring family (p. 82).”

God laid it on our hearts. That’s all I can say.  We decided to adopt a teenage girl—at least one. Later we heard a quote that fueled our passion: “I cannot change the whole world, but I can change the whole world for one child.”

Now we are on a rescue mission!