Thursday, March 10, 2011

Christmas Presents for Orphans in Ukraine

I know it is March, but my mind is still on Christmas. I love Christmas for several reasons. One of the most recent reasons is that our family found a way to reach out to the orphans in Ukraine at Christmas.

Teaming up with a Ukrainian orphan ministry, we fill quart sized ziploc bags with a pair of socks, a gift, a Christmas card and candy. It is amazing what you can stuff into a small bag, but what is even more amazing is how much fun we have doing it!

When Anderson and I shopped for the gifts to put into the bags, we talked about what the boys and girls would like and Anderson really got into it. As we walked out to our car, he stopped in the middle of the parking lot.
"Wait a minute." He said. "Are you mailing these to the orphans or are you taking them?"
It was a fair question. Last year I had the opportunity to deliver our bags to Ukraine. Anderson remembers the suitcase overflowing with candy, toys, socks and scarves. He also remembers his mother being gone for days and days.

My girls helped pack bags for the girls. We wrapped princesses and pink socks and even coordinated by putting pink candy in the bags. As we filled the bags we talked about the little girls who would open these bags.
My three-year old, Ellen, was full of questions. "What is her name?" "What does she look like?" "Will she like princesses?"

Our church got involved and we were able to send 61 bags plus money to help the ministry team with transportation to the orphanages. As I talked with people who filled bags, I noticed that many of them radiated with JOY.

It seems like such a small gesture - a quart sized bag, candy, a pair of socks, a toy and a Christmas card. And it could even seem a little abstract since the bags are going to children in orphanages on the other side of the world.

Our friends who distribute the bags videoed the children opening the bags sent in 2010. You can find it on Youtube under Ukraine Christmas Gifts for Orphans January 2010. As the video plays, the abstract feeling fades and the impact becomes real.

At the very least we are bringing a smile to the face of a child. At a time of year when all children should smile - especially those who have been tossed aside, neglected, and abandoned by the adults in their lives.
On the larger scale, we are placing these bags in the hands of a ministry team who will have the opportunity to meet these children, to hug them, to reassure them that they do matter. They also have the wonderful opportunity to share the Gospel with the children in the orphanages they visit.

I am thankful that in God's economy there is nothing random, no effort too small, and nothing wasted.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Three Monkeys & Company

Between donations and proceeds from the notecards, enough money has been raised to pay for 11 weeks of English tutoring for a group of 5 boys I met in an orphanage in Ukraine. That's almost a whole semester! I'm very excited about the opportunities I've had to tell others about orphans in Ukraine. People's response to the notecards have also been encouraging.

As our family has looked for ways to reach out to the orphans in Ukraine, Three Monkeys & Company has taken shape.

Three Monkeys & Company began with a cookie and a four year old's desire to help an orphan in Ukraine find a home.

Our purpose is to stretch out a hand of relief to the orphans in Ukraine. This is based on James 1:27. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

We strive to do this in two ways:
By giving all proceeds toward specific projects of orphan ministry
By raising awareness of the situation of the orphans in Ukraine through stories and writeups on our products and packaging.

Our current project is English tutoring for a group of five boys in an orphange in Odessa, Ukraine.

Results hoped for:
We hope to give people a way they can stretch out a hand of relief (through buying our products) and inspire them to think about ways they can reach out to orphans by using their own gifts and abilities.

Motivation for what we do comes from 1 John 3:16-18

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

Three Monkeys & Company is another answer to my question:
Now that we know about the orphans in Ukraine, what do You want our family do?

Over the past 18 months, God has answered this question in different ways.
We've made and sold cookies to help friends with adoption costs, we've written letters to orphans, we've prayed for families in the adoption process, we've made Valentine cards for orphans, I traveled to Ukraine and met the children we've been praying for.

Participating with God in His plans for the fatherless has been an adventure. And as we seek to raise money to pay for English tutoring for these precious boys, it looks like another adventure is unfolding.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Mama, Don't Forget the Orphans

I snuggled on the couch with Anderson, my 6 year old, for Bible and prayer time.

"What do we need to pray about?" I asked him.

After listing the day-to-day concerns, he wiggled in closer to me and said,
"I want you to pray tonight. And Mama, don't forget the orphans."

I fought back tears as I pictured the boys and girls I met in Ukraine in the orphanages. Children who yearn for a mama who will snuggle on the couch with them. Children who are convinced that they have been forgotten.

Anderson has a tender heart toward the fatherless. He understands the importance of having a mama and daddy. I love to hear him pray for the orphans because he knows God hears. He has seen God provide for orphans.

And he does what he can to reach out to these children. He draws pictures to send to them.
(Anderson is the one in the green.)

He writes letters to them. He lets them know that they are not forgotten.

When you hear that there are over 100,000 orphans in Ukraine, the mind just races.
Thousands of children left at orphanages by their families, or who ran to the orphanage for shelter from their abusive family.

Children whose hearts ache for something they've never known - stability, security, significance.

It is easy to get overwhelmed by this picture. It is easy to not do anything to help because
what can you do to change the situation of thousands of children. It is easy to think "What difference could one person make?"

"What can I do?" is exactly the question to ask.

A willing heart is a powerful tool in the hand of our mighty God. The needs are great. And so is our God.

Thankfully, God has an even bigger picture in mind as He calls people to help, to reach out to orphans. He isn't asking one person to change the situation of thousands of children. He is asking each person to be willing to be used by Him. And as He works through thousands of people in thousands of ways, the bigger picture will change.

How could God use you?

Some people are called to adopt. They feel it, they know it, and they step out to bring a child (or children) into their family. But they don't step out alone. Behind them are a team of people who pray for them, encourage them, help them financially. And everyone who is involved gets a front row seat to see God's might and power as He provides every need every step of the way to bring an orphan into a loving family.

But with over 100,000 children, many will not be adopted. What about them? What about their future?

Well, when they turn 16, they will "graduate" from the orphanage, which basically means that they are put out on the street with little preparation for life, no guidance, and no hope for the future.

While in Ukraine, I discovered that knowing English and Russian is a valuable skill. Translators and drivers are in demand. Our team would have been literally lost without them.

And while I was in Ukraine, out of the statistic of 100,000, God brought a group of boys into focus. These boys are 13-15 years old and they know their time to be on their own is getting closer. If these boys walk out of the orphanage knowing English, they walk out with a valuable skill that will open up more possilibities for work.

There is a tutor willing to work with these boys. The cost will be $20.00 per week for each boy.

After my trip, I brought home artwork painted by 3 children in one of the orphanages we visited.

This one was painted by a 7th grader.

A 6th grader painted this one.

And a 5th grader painted this one.

We are selling notecards made from this artwork to help raise money for the English lessons.
We would like to raise enough money to pay for lessons for these boys until they are either adopted or until they "graduate" from the orphanage at 16. It is amazing to think that efforts made on this side of the ocean could really impact the future of these 5 boys way over in Ukraine.
And I hope that every day that they have class with the tutor and every time they practice English, that they will know that they are not forgotten.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hidden Treasures

While I was in Ukraine I discovered that you never knew what you'd find inside of things.

At the market, the salesman told me there were 8 dolls inside this doll. At my look of disbelief he waved his hand in the air. "I will show you, " he said.

And he did. Tucked inside the mama, there was an entire family . . . plus pets . . down to the itty bitty yellow chicken.

The food was the same.
Biting into pastries was always an adventure. Sometimes you'd bite into delicious sugary icing. We found a pastry filled with cottage cheese. And there was one that could only be described as a cheeseless cheeto covered in chocolate.
We ate a chocolate mousse type dessert in the shape of a cube that had a prune in the middle of it.
It was all so interesting. And there was no way to tell what was inside except to take a bite!

The orphanages are the same. There are treasures hidden inside each of these buildings.
Children with smiles that will melt your heart . . .

with antics that make you laugh . . . .

Children who dream of a better life.

They would like to have a dad to kick a soccer ball around with them. Or a mom to teach them how to cook. They yearn for stability, for family the way family is supposed to be. For someone to tell them that they do matter, that they aren't mistakes, thrown away and forgotten.

They all have talents hidden inside, but haven't had someone to encourage them, to challenge them, to cheer for them.

The children we met were eager to share their talents with us. Anya ( in the above picture) handed me a pink bookmark - the craft we helped her and her classmates make. After checking her English with our interpreter she said "From me to you."
Maria gave me a picture she painted.

And hidden treasure is inside each one of us. There are gifts waiting to be used. And hearts that yearn for that "I was born to do this" feeling.
God gives us talents so that we can use them in ways that bring Him glory.
Throughout the Bible, verses describe the compassion and special concern God has for the fatherless.
When we combine these two statements, something very exciting happens. When we use the gifts God has given us to be a part of His plans for orphans, we are involved in something bigger than ourselves. God does have plans for these children, and He has invited us to participate in these plans. It is amazing that our efforts made here could be used by God to change the lives of these kids.
Personally, I don't have a long list of talents. I love missions and I love to write. And I make cookies a lot with my children.
I learned about orphans in Ukraine by selling cookies to help raise money for the adoption of one 13 year old who desperately needed a family. Since then, opportunities have come up to write articles about Karina's adoption and about the orphans in Ukraine.
The Lord is using these talents on behalf of the fatherless and I am excited about participating in His plans.
So whether in Ukraine or not, it is true that you never know what you'll find inside. God knows and when we ask "What can I do?" He shows us, step by step.
A willing heart is a powerful tool in His Mighty Hands.
What talents do you have? How could they be used to reach out to the fatherless?
I'd love to brainstorm with you. Exciting possibilities await . . . .

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Children Reaching Out to Orphans

Valentine's Day is a fun day for my children. We have a treasure hunt . . .

tell each other those wonderful words "You are a gift from God. I love you." . . . .

act silly . . . .

and have a tea party.

For thousands of children, our Valentine's celebration is something they can't imagine ever having. For an orphan, there is no one who prepares surprizes for them, who hugs them and says "You are a treasure. I love you."
I am well aware that there are things in my children's every-day lives that the children I met in Ukraine have never had. And my children know it too. In the past year of praying for orphans in Ukraine, the Lord has given Anderson, Maggie and Ellen tender hearts toward orphans.
Children understand the importance of having a mommy and daddy.
Children who don't have a family yearn for one - even though they don't know exactly what that would be like.
Our family lives at French Camp Academy, a Christian home and boarding school. A few of the students here are true orphans, meaning that both of their parents are no longer living. Many of the students here are being raised by their grandparents because their parents did not take care of them. Most of our students are here because of difficult home situations.
When a parent chooses addiction, or a new family, over their own child, that child's heart is wounded. There are many children at FCA that are hurting and yearning for a solid, loving family.
And just maybe that is why the children here at FCA have responded so enthusiastically to opportunities to reach out to orphans.
For Valentines' Day, around 90 of our students made Valentine's Day cards to send to orphans in Ukraine. They took the time to send beautiful and creative cards to complete strangers.

Why would they do that? I think it is 2 Corinthians 1 in action. Verses 3-4 speak of the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Many of the students here know what it is like to be hurt, rejected, and basically forgotten by their family. And they are reaching out to children their own age, across the ocean, who have had a similar experience - but worse.
Students at FCA are surrounded by staff who are here because they've felt called by God to come here. Staff who love the students and who seek to communicate the Gospel in word and action. Over 90% of our graduates go on to college or go into the military. They have a hopefulness as they look toward their future.
The students here recognize that no matter how bad it seems for them, they have it better than the children in orphanages. And so they did what they could to bring a smile, to make a day better, across the ocean.

Some might think, so what difference does a piece of decorated construction paper make in the large scheme of things?
To someone who is convinced that no one cares if they live or die . . . who wonders if God even knows they exist . . . it might give something very powerful.
At the same time, these children do need more than a smile. They shiver through the cold Ukrainian winter nights because they need thicker socks or pajamas or winter coats. Money was also given with the Valentine's cards to meet practical needs.
The students at FCA gave their time, gifts and abilities. And other people gave money. It was a team effort to visit orphans in their trouble.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Stretching Out A Hand of Relief

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." James 1:27

To visit in cases of need, means to stretch out a hand for the relief of those who are oppressed. - Calvins' New Testament Commentary
We found many ways to do this on our trip . . .
Buying coats for orphans in Balta who had no winter coats.

Two churches in Jackson, Mississippi heard about this need and responded by donating money for the coats. We had the fun part of shopping at the market . . in the snow!

People also donated over 100 ziploc bags filled with Christmas presents. On our first morning in Odessa, we wrapped these presents that will be delivered to children in a village outside of Odessa. In this picture Karina and Kristina are wrapping and putting the presents in categories by age for boys and girls.

As I think back over our trip, and think of ways God used our small team to stretch out a hand for relief for orphans, two conversations come to my mind.

On one of our days in the first orphanage, Matthew (with Karina's help) shared the gospel with one little boy. As he talked about Jesus coming to die on the cross to pay for our sins so that we can know and love God and live with him in heaven, this little boy listened and nodded. He looked at Matthew and said, "I love God."

"I am glad you love God." said Matthew.

This precious little boy carries a disease that, without treatment, will end his life. Of all the kids that we visited, this child looks eternity in the eye on a daily basis.

Then he looked at Matthew and said, "Heaven is better than here."

This statement reveals that over the years, God placed Christians along this boy's path to tell him about Christ, to teach him about facing death. It also reveals that God's Spirit is working in his young heart.

These people were willing to be the ones to strech out a hand of relief to this sweet boy -and they have been used by God to make a difference that reaches into eternity.

While Matthew was playing football with some of the boys, Karina called out, "Daddy, can you come here?"

She was talking with Edic and Marat, two boys that she had grown up with in the orphanage.

"These boys want to tell you something," she said.

"We want a family."

Matthew looked at them and said "Karina, tell them that being in a family can be hard sometimes. Families have rules that you must follow. Are you willing to follow rules?"

Karina took a few minutes to describe some of the differences of living in a family. And after she stopped, the boys said, "Yes, we are willing to do this. We want a family."

These boys are 14 years old. When they turn 16, they will "graduate" from the orphanage. This means they will suddenly be on their own, without job skills, without a great education, without a place to live.

Later Karina told me that these boys know that when they leave the orphanage, their lives will be shortened by living on the streets.

The two greatest needs of orphans are to belong to God's family and to belong to a godly family.

Sometimes it takes being in a godly family to understand God's love.

Stretching out a hand of relief to orphans can mean sharing the gospel with them, it can mean praying for them, it can mean opening up your home through adoption.

By reading James, we can see that it is in God's plan for us to offer a hand of relief. The question for each person to ask is "How?"

The situation of 100,000 orphans is too overwhelming to get involved in without asking God where He wants to use us. Without asking God's direction, it would just be easier to never get involved. But by asking for God's direction, we can take part in the life-changing plans He has planned for these kids.

I first found out about orphans through Karina's adoption. From the beginning I have asked God

"Now that we know about orphans. Now that you have brought this group of children to our attention, what do You want our family to do?"

We've prayed for them, we've sent packages and pictures my children have drawn, we've talked to other people about them, and now I've actually gotten to meet them, hug them, and spend time with them.

I am beginning to see that by taking part in God's plans, He often changes our lives as well.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Have you ever wondered what pure religion looks like?

I've read this verse many times over the years, but really came face to face with it yesterday.

"Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world."

In the past when I've read that verse I've made a mental list of the widows I knew and looked to see if they had any needs. Then I thought, I don't know any orphans. And I was done.
But yesterday, I caught a glimpse of pure religion as I loved on and got to know a roomful of orphans.
What did it look like?

Yesterday it looked like this . . . throwing a football back and forth, working a puzzle, giving out presents . . . and just being silly.

My sweet mama made these scarves and the girls really liked them!

Pure religion also involved . . . cookies and milk (you know me!) Robert and Kristina brought milk for the kids. Thanks to Margaret Mahelmann and the girls at Spencer-McCain home at French Camp Academy for making Karina cookies. They were a huge hit!

Thank you also to everyone who gave candy for our team to hand out. Those 16 bags of candy are bringing smiles to some faces! We'll be visiting at least two other orphanages and it is great to have candy to take to the kids.

Seeing the kids faces light up today was amazing. When Robert played football with Yuri, Yuri's face absolutely beamed each time he caught and threw it back. Jenya LOVED the remote control car sent from the Moen family from French Camp. That car really helped to break the ice. The boys have already worn out one set of batteries!

Deuteronomy 10:17-19 describes God's power, His compassion, and His desire for us to follow His example in reaching out to the fatherless. Sure, the needs of thousands of children are overwhelming, but God is not asking any of us to solve the problem. He is asking us to join with him in what He is doing.

For the needy shall not always be forgotten; The expectation of the poor shall not perish forever. Psalm 9:18

This is a promise in God's Word. In this picture I am standing in front of the orphanage with Karina and Kristina, two former orphans who have seen Psalm 9:18 happen. God kept His promise by working through two families who were willing to join Him in His plans for these precious girls by bringing them into their families. God keeps His promises.

This is a picture of Karina, Kristina, and Masha, another classmate who has been adopted.

A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation.
God sets the solitary in families . . . Psalm 68:5-6a

After we visited the orphanage, we ate pizza with Alonya.
Back in March, Anderson wanted to write a letter to Alonya. He wrote:
Dear Alonya,
When your mama and daddy come to adopt you,
we can go to Karina's house and have a cookout.
I love you.

"But Anderson," I gently said. "There is no mama and daddy for Alonya."
In exasperation, he said, "Mom, I said WHEN!"
And now, WHEN is in process. A family is in the process of adopting Alonya.
Please pray for the paperwork and finances they need for their adoption process.
Anderson won't be surprised when it happens, he'll just say "So, when are we having the cookout?"

He will bring justice to the poor of the people;
He will save the children of the needy. Psalm 72:4

God has a special concern and love for orphans. It is an honor to be a way the kids saw God's love today. And the hug and kiss on the cheek from Vladik was a bonus!

Ways you can pray for us:
PRAISE for all the answered prayers for our traveling and safety.
Pray for our traveling and safety as we leave in a few days for another city.
Pray for our time in the orphanages.
Pray for Alonya's adoption process.
Pray for Yuri. He is in the orphanage we are visiting now.