More About School

Yay December!  Pandora comes to life in our house around Christmas time.  We’ve got the “Peaceful Christmas”, “Ray Conniff Singers Christmas”, “Amy Grant Christmas”, and “Frank Sinatra Christmas” stations on heavy rotation. It’s a beautiful thing.  I’m smiling just typing it out!

Life has been a bit non-stop around here, but it has also been good.  We’ve found a smidge of a rhythm, which is more than I could say for many months before this, so I find joy in that.

The kids are really doing awesome at school.  They have passed through the season of merely surviving (thank God!) and have moved into a season of growth.  God has been so faithful to our kids.  I have done more than my fair share of worrying about them since we very first moved to Ukraine, and all along God has spoken the words “Do not worry about your kids.  I am with them.” But of course I still worry and worry and worry…because I guess I’m a slow learner. Anyway, I’m now seeing some of the fruit of His watch and care over them.  Things are still challenging in many ways, but we aren’t drowning anymore, and there are a whole lot less tears.  Things are looking up!

Addy is in fifth class and is just fantastic.  She’s really growing into a lovely young lady.  Can you believe she’ll be THIRTEEN in February????  What the heck? She is so kind and so joyful.  If you knew her as a little bitty girl, she is just the same, only taller, and with some maturity added in.  By age, she should be in 7th class, but the school really thought it was best for her to do 5th this year.  She’s feeling the age difference in a pretty big way, but has found one sweet friend, Vika, that she really loves.  

Addy is hoping to talk with the school and work hard to skip a grade next year, in order to get her closer on par with her peers.  We’ll see if they are open to it.  I’m proud of her for having the guts to try!  Addy also goes to a middle school youth group at the church where a few of our friends go.  She enjoys that a lot, and it’s just the right thing for her to spread her wings a bit.

Addy LOVES Bluebell and helps take such good care of her

Ezra is in fourth class and is coming right along.  He has a couple little friends, Mark and Nikita, that he really loves.  I’m so thankful for them!  School is harder for him than it is for Addy, but he is really working hard and doing well.  Our friend who helps him with his homework is just fantastic with him, and step by step he is improving his skills and understanding.  

Last week Ezra’s class did a dance for all the parents and other students and Ezra rocked it!  He was amazing!  We were shocked because he was dreading it so much.  You know, he had to hold a girl’s hand!  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!  He warned us that he would probably be sick that day and not be able to participate.😉 But, lo and behold, he gathered the courage and did amazing.  What a brave kid.

Ezra and his buddies at his birthday outing

Hava is in first grade and is just rockin’ it.  She is so blessed to be able to start out from the beginning with her appropriate age.  She’ll have a much easier time than Addy and Ezra because of it.  She’s learning to write Ukrainian cursive and is coming right along with her Ukrainian reading.  She has lots of little girlfriends in her class, and her biggest complaint is that they all fight over who’s going to hold her hand when they have to pair up to walk down the hall to lunch. What a hard life!  Hehe.  

School in Ukraine is generally much more serious than in the US.  There is not a lot done with fun in mind, and the standards for work are extremely high.  Despite that, I think Hava’s teacher does her best to understand that her little students are very young and need extra grace.  I appreciate that.

Hava and her little school friends. CUTIES!

Vladik is attending the same school as Addy, Ez, and Hava and he LOVES it.  Oh my word.  He gets absolutely giddy when it’s time to go to school.  Our friend Tamara teaches him and she is just the right fit for our special boy.  She is not a trained teacher, but she is an experienced mom and she loves Vladik.  She sees his value and sees his potential.  That makes her the perfect choice.  Four days a weeks she comes to our house, picks up Vladik and takes him on the trolleybus to school.  He does PE and art with Addy’s class, and the other time is spent in his own little classroom doing individual lessons with Tamara.  Then she brings him home after lunch. They are working on learning about months, days, seasons, weather, numbers, counting, personal hygiene, appropriate social interactions….all the stuff you would teach your toddlers and preschoolers.  

Vladik has many big gaps in his knowledge, so we decided to start at the very beginning and make no assumptions about what he does and doesn’t know.  He is eager to learn and is soaking it all in.  Tamara speaks no English, so Vladik has learned to speak English at home and Ukrainian at school.  His language is EXPLODING!  It’s really the ideal situation for him and we are so thankful that God made a way for him to get the education he needs.

Vladik at his class that he attends once a week at Mission to Ukraine

Seth.  Seth was and is our biggest mystery.  :) His needs are different than our other kids and much more difficult to decipher.  We have struggled since September to find the right educational fit for our Sethers.  He just wants to stay home with mommy all day, which would be fine, except that then he gets zero Ukrainian.  He will go to first grade next year, and it will be 500 times harder for him if he doesn’t get a better handle on the language. Because of that, we knew we had to find some sort of kindergarten/preschool for him to attend, at least part time. 

We tried a few places and just never felt peace about it.  FINALLY, last week we found our landing place for Seth.  Ivanivka, the village where we are building our Wide Awake Homestead, opened a kindergarten at the public school there and we started to send Seth.  There are 7 kids there right now, but more will come when the weather warms up.  (It’s super cold in the classroom…like kids wear their snowpants the whole time…) It meets for 4 hours a day, and we send Seth four times a week.  They do some preK stuff in workbooks, but mostly play.  It’s perfect for Seth.  He’s not ready to do a bunch of seatwork.  He mostly needs to interact with other kids and gain some confidence with the language.  We’re only in week 2, but so far so good. He’s only refused to stay one day so far, which for Seth is pretty good!😉   Hopefully things will only get better from here!

Ivanivka School


I took a pic of the math book I needed to buy for Seth’s class

 School has been a HUGE help in bringing some stability to our lives here.  Our kids know what to expect and where they belong.  It is definitely a super challenging road to walk, but so far any issues that have arisen have been able to be worked out with administration.  They love our kids there and really want to work with us.  I’m thankful.

Thank you to all of you who pray for our kiddos.  It means so much to us!

While the Light Remains

About three weeks ago two new little loves arrived at our institution.  We had been anticipating their arrival, wondering what they would be like.  Our Ben had recently vacated his crib (YAY!), and while our hearts were broken, knowing his crib would soon be filled again, our hearts were also expectant, knowing two new lives would enter ours, and knowing we would love them instantly.

We were right.  Love at first sight.

Sweet Baby A has been hospitalized almost continually since the transfer.  We haven’t been able to get to know him yet, but we love him nonetheless, and right now we are just thankful that he is alive and on the mend. 

Our other little love has us all smitten.  We are goners, and I can guarantee you’ll be one too by the end of this post.

Meet baby “Kayden“. 


COME.ON. How can cuteness like this exist?  Especially in a mental institution out in the boonies????  He is out of control perfection.  COME.TO.MAMA. 

I introduced him to you on FB yesterday and so many people were instantly in love.  We had let our kids name him “Sam”, after our friend Sam who just visited us last week.  Boy was I surprised when I found out that he had already been listed on an orphan advocacy site, and there were already people who had been trying to find a family for him!  They had named him “Kayden“, so we’ll just run with that.  Sam=Kayden=bundle of love. 


If you click on his profile on the advocacy site you will find a loooooong list of diagnoses.  Many of them sound very scary and many of them sound just plain confusing.  I get that.  But for just one minute, forget that list and look at the child.  

He is perfectly amazing.  He is beautiful.  He is pure sunshine.  He is giggles and smiles and hilarious expressions.  He is light in a dark place and HE DOES NOT BELONG THERE.  No child belongs there, it’s true.  But seriously, we have got to get this baby out, and we’ve got to do it quick.

The thing is, our institution ruins children.  It is all sensory deprivation and neglect and ugliness. Little Kayden has a spark.  He has life and light in his eyes and he doesn’t yet know that he has been sent to die.  Did you know that when baby houses transfer boys to our institution that they expect them to be dead within 6 months?  It’s true.  I’ve heard it from directors’ mouths.  Everyone knows that a mental institution is no place for a fragile piece of sunshine like this.  How can a child thrive in a place like this?  He can’t.  A mental institution is a death sentence.  It’s the end of the road. 

Unless. 

Unless one brave family looks at the child, and considers the diagnoses and decides to take a leap for the sake of a life. 

Kayden is available for adoption, and adoption is what will save his life.  

We have him in a room with our Isaiah where he will get good nanny attention, and that is good.  That is necessary.  He would most surely die if it weren’t for those special nannies.  But even the best nanny can not provide what a mommy and daddy can give.  Consider our little Ben!  He is home with his family and is gaining weight like crazy!  Our nannies could never get him to gain no matter how hard they tried. His mommy reports that he is starting to find his voice.  With us he was practically silent.  I’ve seen video of him smiling and laughing- that is not the boy we knew.  Now he is known.  Now he is loved.  Now he has light in his eyes.  Children were not made for institutions.  Children were made for families.  Our Vladik and little Ben are living proof of that.  

Kayden still has light and hope.  My heart longs for a family to scoop him up before we have to watch that light fade.  



Kayden is five years old and weighs 19lbs. Right now he only drinks from a bottle, but our team is trying to teach him to eat from a spoon. He can sit up, but he does not crawl or walk. Would you please consider our boy?  Would you please pause and ask God how He would like you to respond to this face?  Would you please share Kayden’s face far and wide so that his mommy and daddy might see him as quickly as possible and come to him?  Sharing works.  That is how our boys are being found.  We simply have to get their faces out there and then God does the rest.  Let’s get this baby out while the light still remains.  Ready, set, go! 

​​

If you would like more info about Kayden, please do not hestitate to contact me.  You can comment here, or you can email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org. You can find more photos of him, and info about the adoption process in his country here.

Tuesday

1.  THANK YOU all for praying for the situation with our new little guy at the institution.  Please keep praying for his health, as well as for the impact of that night.  The impact is far-reaching, relationally, politically, and spiritually.  I know I sound vague, but I gotta be. (Any former youth groupers remember the “unspoken” prayer request?  Ha!)  Just keep praying, pretty please.  Thanks :) 

2.  School is going great for the kids!  We have gone from daily tears to smiles and declarations that “This was the best day!”.  Of course if you ask, Addy and Ezra will tell you that school is “so boring”.  But, they are making friends and feeling comfortable and understanding more each day.  Our friend, Romana, comes each day at 4:30 to help them with their homework and she is saving our lives, one story problem at a time. I really do like our school and I am so thankful that God has given our kids a safe place to land and grow.  

On the bus, headed to school


3.  Jed and Vladik return today! FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY!  I didn’t mention it here, but we had a bit of an immigration fiasco last month.  We are applying for permanent residency and we were missing one apostille.  We didn’t know it, and Jed had to leave the country.  You can only be in Ukraine for 90 days out of 180 days without a visa or residency, and he met his limit.  So, in the dead of night we made a run for the border.  Think Sound of Music, but much less romantic.  Think tears and a trashed house and frantic calls to friends to take Bluebell at the last second.  We spent a few days in Budapest as a family, and then I returned home with four of the kids, while Jed and Vladik couch-surfed throughout Europe, waiting till Jed could get on the other side of his 180 days.  Finally, today, after 33 days and 10 countries, Jed and Vladik are coming home! Many thanks to our gracious friends all over the continent who have cared for my boys so well.  What would we do without you all?  

Hungary

France

The border of Germany and Austria


4.  We are hiring a friend to teach Vladik individual lessons at school.  I’m so excited and hopeful for him!  Starting next Monday he will go to school with the other kids in the morning, and his teacher will accompany him.  He will do music, PE, and art with Addy’s class (fifth grade), and then his teacher will give him his own lessons for the rest of the time. Vladik will attend school half day, 4 days a week.  I’m working on making the lesson plans and it’s quite the job, but necessary.  Vladik wants to learn, he wants to go to school like the other kids- and he should! I think he’s going to love it.  I’ll keep you posted! 

5.  Today we re-submit our residency documents.  Hopefully all is in order…otherwise the 4 kids and I will meet our 90 day limit.  Yeah, let’s not think about that.  Everything will be fine.  Everything will be just fine.  No need to worry….ahem. Yikes.

Photos for residency: no smiles allowed!


6.  Guess who saved my life this past month?  GRAMMY!!!!  When Jed’s parents found out that I would be without Jed again, and this time here in Ukraine, Grammy hopped on a plane and rescued me. Seriously, if Grammy hadn’t come my kids would be running with the wild dogs in the street.  Things were at critical mass around here.  She has cooked every meal and washed every dish since her arrival.  I bow at her feet.🙂


7.  For all the Bluebell-lovers out there, I’m happy to report that Bluebell is doing just fine.  She is happy and obedient and just a joy to our whole family.  She was a bit bored so we found her some new chewies at the grocery store.  Cow hoof, anyone?  


Welp, Jed and Vladik are on their way home from the airport, so I better go.  Thanks all, for loving us and praying for us.  This has been a bit of a tough season, but we know that God’s plans are in motion and our trust is in Him!  

The Front Lines

Last night, in the middle of the night, we stood outside the orphanage, unsure of what to do.  A young child lay dying inside and never had we felt so helpless.  All the details of what transpired are for a later post, as a lot is still unresolved, but last night there was a fight for his life on all levels, and I will never ever forget it.  For now, he lives.  

Lately we have felt pressed on all sides.  Lately it’s felt like the difficulties will never stop and the obstacles will just keep on coming without relief.  Several times over the past couple of months we’ve said “Something’s gotta give.”  Some days we felt like we just couldn’t take one more challenge.  It all just feels like too much. 

BUT

Then we remember the big picture.  We are not simply fighting an injust system.  We are not just battling passport officers and city administrators and higher-ups only looking to fill their pockets.  This battle is not against flesh and blood.  

We are fighting for lives.  We are fighting for precious souls who have been discarded by the world.  We are fighting for God’s Kingdom to come in a very dark place.  We are fighting for glimpses of Heaven to break through.  And we do not fight alone.  God goes before us and this is HIS battle.  

Right now our team is on the front lines and we are advancing.  Look what God is doing!

Our sweet Stephan will have a family!  Yes, a family has committed to adopting our little love.  It’s a miracle. He will have a future.  He will be saved.  They are in the beginning stages of paperwork, but they love him and are fighting to get to him.


Two other families are still working hard to adopt Isaiah and Jonathan.  They have hit many roadblocks along the way, but progress is being made and we are confident that God goes before them.


The new roof is going up on our Wide Awake property house.  Every day brings us closer to bringing our boys out for good.

Next week our family will submit our documents for permanent residency.  Once we get permission to stay here forever it will be much easier for us to register Wide Awake as a Ukrainian non-profit.  That will be a big and necessary step toward getting our boys out.

Jed and Den, our pastor and board member, met with the Ukrainian Ombudsman for the Rights and Protection of children to discuss Wide Awake’s vision and plans.  The President’s office is aware of our team and the work.  Relationship is building there and who knows how God plans to use that? 

All of this is thanks to God.  He gets the glory for every single bit of it because there is NO WAY we could have strategized enough or worked hard enough for this kind of advancement.  We certainly would have screwed it all up.  God loves our Boys so very much and He is clearing the way for the freedom.  HE is doing all of this, not us.  

So, it is no wonder that we meet resistance.  It’s no wonder that with all of this amazing stuff happening that we meet obstacles of every kind.  It’s no wonder that our hearts get overwhelmed and we are hit with trial after trial.  It’s no wonder that we get afraid and intimidated and distracted.  The enemy will not give up his ground so easily.  

Last night, standing in the cold, knowing death was near, we were on the very edge of the front line.  We were in the line of fire.  Never in your life can you be prepared for a moment like that.  Never in your life could you imagine that you would need to convince medical professionals of the value and worth of a life.  

Friends, we need prayer like never before.  The battle is heating up and much is at stake.  We need supernatural wisdom like never before.  We need favor with government officials and orphanage administration.  We need to know when to push and when to hold back.  Most of all we just need Jesus.  We need to have his heart and his eyes. We need to remain humble and small in our own eyes, that He might be lifted up.  We need to simply say yes and give Him the control.  He loves our boys more than we ever could.   


Please pray for our new little one who is so sick.  I will give details as I am able. Thank you! 

From Darkness Into Light

One month ago the most miraculous thing happened.  I didn’t realize that basically I’d been holding my breath since January.  I didn’t realize it until one month ago when our team finally breathed a collective sigh of relief.  

He made it.  He survived.  He made it out. His family took him out forever, never to return.  

Our baby Ben was saved.  


I think we all hoped with all of our hearts that it would happen, but until I watched Ben’s mommy and grandma walk him out of the Isolation Hall, down the sidewalk, and actually get into the van with him, I’m not sure I believed it would really happen.  It was just too good to be true.  FREEDOM!!!!

Ben is at home with his loving daddy and mommy and two brothers.  He is doing amazing.  He is a survivor and he beat the odds.  And now he has a future!  It’s what we want for every single one of our boys.  It’s the perfect end to a beautiful love story…actually I guess it’s the perfect beginning, because only now does Ben’s life truly begin.  


Freedom. It’s what we want for every single boy and man within the walls of the institution.  That’s why we moved here.  That’s why we purchased the land.  That’s why Jed spoke in Switzerland yesterday and in Germany today.  Many, many people need to know about our boys because it will take many, many people to help set them all free.  

Almost all of our boys are trapped in the cycle of institutions forever unless we get them out into group homes.  They are too old to be adopted or their parents still maintain their rights.  They are stuck. 

BUT Stephan.  Stephan is not stuck.  He is one of the very few who is available for adoption.  His fate doesn’t have to be the same as the others.  He could have the freedom and love that Ben now knows- and he could have it soon!  All that is needed is one loving family to step forward and claim their son.  


Stephan is such a tiny little love.  He’s thirteen years old but about the size of our 6 year old, Seth.  If you didn’t know his age you’d swear he’s 6 or 7.  Years of neglect, physical and emotional, have stunted his growth.  He loves to eat, and eats well, but he’s still so tiny.

I’ll tell you what, Stephan is all boy!  There is nothing he likes more than to be spun around and around and to sit on a walker or in a wheelchair and be pushed FAST.  The faster the better for our boy.  He loves to play rough and he loves tickles.  See, the thing is, our sweet Stephan is blind.  To be in darkness in that place, oh my heart can’t even comprehend.  The institution is a rush to all of your senses.  The smells, the sounds, the sights, all of it rushes you like a freight train upon entering, but when I think about hearing and smelling all of that and not being able to see?  Yeah, I get a little panicky just thinking of it, and I’m a grown woman!  No person should have to sleep one night there, let alone spend years there in darkness.  It’s just too much.  Too much.  Someone please get him out of there. 


I’ve been wanting to hardcore advocate for Stephen for a long time.  There was just one major detail that kept me from it.  We knew that he was blind, but then several nannies told us that he was also deaf!  This was news to us because deafness was not in his medical file.  Yet several insisted that yes, he was deaf.  I did not believe it, but I needed to be 100% sure before I could ask a family to come for him and be confident on that very big detail.

You might be thinking “How could you NOT know if a child is deaf or not?  Wouldn’t it be obvious?”  In a typically developing child in a safe environment, yes I guess it would be fairly easy to detect if there was a problem, but at our institution it is not.  I told you before that the your senses are assaulted upon entering, right?  I don’t even know how to fully explain to you what it is like there.  It is loud: screeches, screams, some laughter, crying, yelling.  During the day the noise is just about constant. And then there is the lack of stimulus.  There is just nothing there.  Unless the interns or a team is there, the Isolation Hall is just pure nothingness.  No books, no toys, no music, nothing.  Years of pure nothingness, lack of stimuli, has left our boys with many inappropriate behaviors and responses.  Pure nothingness leads them to self-harming behaviors and autistic-type behaviors.  Now imagine that nothingness coupled with darkness?  Yeah, horrible.  Stephan, like many of the other boys, does not respond appropriately much of the time.  He has learned to tune out the world around him.  It’s survival.  


A few weeks ago I was sitting on a bed with our Vitya, cuddling him to sleep because he had a horrible toothache. Stephan came and was sitting at the other end of the bed.  I sat quietly and just observed him, hoping to get my questions answered about his hearing.  I called his name, no response.  He sat quietly twirling his sock in front of his face, twirling and twirling.  Then a nanny came in and saw that his socks were off.  “Stephan, why are your socks off?  Give me your foot” He stuck his foot out.  “Now give me your other foot.”  He stuck out his other foot.  She wasn’t touching his feet, she was only speaking, and he listened and obeyed.  Question answered.  He hears.  I told that nanny what others had said about him being deaf.  Her reply “Maybe he doesn’t want to listen all the time, but of course he hears!”  Haha.  Sounds like a typical kiddo to me! 



Stephan is potty-trained and goes to the toilet independently.  He does not self-harm, nor have I ever seen him harm others. He doesn’t really interact with the other boys at all.  He could learn to feed himself, but at this time he’s not interested in learning. He can walk and run, but he does not speak. he spends all of his days standing under the window or sitting in the kitchen waiting for the next meal.  He spins and twirls to get his sensory needs met and he adores going outside. But, his quality of life is very poor and will remain that way until he is free.

I believe with all of my heart that there is a family out there for our sweet boy.  He has SO MUCH potential!!!  Please don’t be scared off by his age.  He’s like a toddler in behavior, and like a first grader in size, yet in a little over two years he will age out and his chance to be adopted will be gone forever.  He has waited too long in unsafe darkness.

Would you please pass on Stephan’s face to others?  Would you please consider him for your own family?  Maybe you have said that you hope to adopt some day but have never considered a special needs adoption.  Would you consider it now?  Would you at least promise to pray and ask God how He would like you to respond?  We always said we would not consider special-needs adoption…uh yeah…never say never.  Ha! 

This boy lives in a very bad place and he needs out yesterday.  I know that I know that the family who chooses him will be so blessed to see him blossom before their very eyes.  He is an absolute treasure. 


I am happy to answer any questions you may have about Stephan.  Just comment here or email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org 

Also, our Stephan has a $10,000 adoption grant through Reece’s Rainbow!!!  That removes a HUGE barrier to his adoption.  Please share him far and wide and let’s find this boy a family!