This week has been one for the books. It has been a week in which dreams have been fulfilled and what once seemed impossible became possible!
This week the duplex has a family! It’s no longer just a building site, but this week it became a home. We are so thankful and so excited.
For a while we had been thinking about and praying about the possibility of Anton living in the duplex with Max and Morgan. We are still waiting for Sasha’s guardianship to become official, and we felt pretty strongly that Anton would be happier if he lived in the village, closer to us, and in a place with more support. Lesya and Masha have lived with Anton in an apartment since June and they have done a wonderful job with him. He is healthier and stronger than ever. He is also more emotionally healthy. Still, living with him is plenty challenging, and everyone agreed it would be more sustainable for all if Anton was in a place with larger net of support.
So, this past weekend Masha, Lesya, and Anton joined Max and Morgan in the duplex and we are all just really, really happy about it. The girls have agreed to live in the duplex till the summer, in order to help with the transition of Anton, and later, Sasha. They are helping Max and Morgan learn how to live with our boys, and also helping them with all the language needed to communicate with the boys. It seems like it will be a great fit. Ruslan moved into Anton’s old apartment with Luda and Nazar, and that’s great too, because Anton’s old apartment is nicer and bigger. Win win!
I can’t even accurately describe to you how it feels to have life in the duplex. We have dreamed of a community like this for so long. We have an amazing community in our team, but to have community, right here, out our back door is a literal dream come true. We are living life together, with our boys, as friends and family and it’s just so beautiful. I’m sure it will have it’s challenges- because…humans. But, I really feel God’s smile on this. This is the life our boys deserve.
The timing seems just about perfect too, because today Jed finally began the guardianship classes required to bring Sasha into the family. We have been waiting since September for these classes to start. FINALLY!!! The classes last until mid-March, and then hopefully all will be in order for Sasha to move into the duplex. That gives Anton enough time to get adjusted to his new digs before Sasha joins. We are all eager to see Sasha again and bring him from darkness into light. So much love awaits him!
Thank you, thank you, thank you to each one of you who has prayed and encouraged and given money over the past years. The dreams are becoming reality. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of this work. Wahoo!
PS: If you haven’t heard yet, we are doing a BeLOVE[d] t-shirt/sweatshirt fundraiser! It ends on March 2. 100% of the proceeds will go toward finishing the second side of the duplex. Click the link below to buy a t-shirt 🙂
It’s Story Time. 🙂 This story doesn’t have an ending yet. It’s ongoing, but the outcome is looking very promising.
Back in July, we were out working in the garden when we got a call from the Director at Romaniv. He had a mother with him in his office at the institution, and she wanted to give up her adult son. Because of COVID and institution restructuring, they weren’t accepting any new boys at that time. But, the mother was at her wits end, so he called us. He asked if she could come to our house and talk to us about her options.
An hour later we met one brave mama.
Have you ever wondered what kind of parent would willingly leave their child in a terrible place like Romaniv? Have you ever said the words “How could they? I would never ever.”
I have. I have wondered and I have judged and I have said “I would never ever.” But I’ll tell you what, it’s only by the grace of God that I have never. I used to judge those parents, and I judged them harshly. But, that was before I better understood their circumstances. Now I realize that if not for Jesus and the outrageously privileged circumstances into which I was brought up, it could be me. It could be you.
I would never condone a parent leaving their child in an institution. Never. I’m not saying I agree with the practice. Please don’t read that. What I am saying, is that in a country like Ukraine, with absolutely zero safety net for families with children with special needs, sometimes it seems they have little choice. Add in the fact that most of these families don’t know Jesus, are living in poverty, and are in a culture that absolutely does not value their child, – and calling their circumstances an “uphill battle” is putting it insanely mildly.
Take that mama who came to our house on that July day as an example. She is a single mama of 2. She and her husband are separated and he is not involved at all. Her older son, Siri, is 23 and has an intellectual disability. He also has some mental health issues for which she has found zero help from doctors. Siri used to attend a boarding school for children with special needs, and he was happy there. Then, when he turned 20 and aged out of that program she had nowhere else to turn to for help. Siri, a social guy who was used to spending lots of time with peers, was suddenly home alone all day in an apartment while mom had to work. He really isn’t safe to be home alone, but what other option was there? With no extended family willing to help, and no programs offering assistance of any kind, the family was forced into an extremely unsafe situation.
After many months of being home alone all day, trapped in an apartment, Siri began to decline. He stopped using the toilet, stopped feeding himself, and eventually stopped talking. This young man who used to thrive in the company of others, who could even read and write, was now dependent on his mother to (literally) run home every three hours to feed him, change him, and make sure he was okay, before locking him back inside for his own safety. Then an already impossible situation became even more difficult when Siri became aggressive and explosive. COVID forced his younger brother to learn from home, and the two boys at home alone all day was just absolutely not sustainable. But still, what could mom do? She was 100% on her own with no support and no help. In order to keep her younger son safe she felt she had to put Siri in an institution. This hero mama who had raised her son alone for 23 years was at the end or her rope.
It seems like a nearly impossible thing, to raise a child with special needs, alone, in a culture that has some built-in supports like Medicare and public schooling. But it is a whole other beast to raise a child like Siri alone in Ukraine. This society says our boys have no value. Finding appropriate medical care for them is daunting and nearly impossible (no exaggeration). The government gives zero help, and even walking down the street is a constant reminder that this culture will only accommodate the able-bodied and independently-capable. I find raising our boys here a super difficult task- and I have a whole team of help!!! I remember how scared we were when Anton became aggressive toward our kids. I had Jed there to help me- and it was still scary and confusing. We felt so helpless. I can’t fathom the hopelessness and fear that this mom has felt. Whichever decision she made, it was like she was choosing one child over another. Hers was 100% a lose-lose situation.
After meeting with mom on that hot July day, we spoke with our team about how God might be asking us to step in and help. Mom was still pretty determined to place Siri in the institution, but was agreeable to our help while she waited for a spot to open up for him. We started including him in our weekly art class and group activities on Fridays. He was withdrawn and shy, but his mom seemed mostly happy for him to have the outlet.
Over the past several months we have watched Siri change into a different person. It’s actually pretty incredible. We are starting to see the boy he probably was when he was in school. He has slowly learned that our team and our boys are a safe place for him. He has begun to dance, to sing, to hug. He has a light in his eyes when everyone is all together. He has found his people. It’s not all unicorns and rainbows. There have still been some pretty rough times at home, but, thankfully, they are countered with good times- times of growth and happiness.
A few days ago mom called Tanya, our teacher, and told her that a place had opened up for Siri at an institution in our region. She was on her way to check it out. She had only a few days to make a decision as to whether she would place him there, or the spot would go to someone else. Tanya was at our house when she called. We stopped and prayed. We asked our team to stop, wherever they were in the city, and pray. So many people all over the world were praying! We cried out to God to intervene. We asked for his mercy over this family. We asked for His will to be done. After the visit, mom had a lot to think about. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, and we just waited and prayed. Then, finally, when our team was all together at the mountains Tanya got a phone call from her. She had decided to turn down the placement. Siri would stay home with her! Praise God. A few of us might have cried tears of relief. 😉
Now comes the road of figuring out how to help mom keep her son for the long haul. Now is the time to figure out how to make their living situation sustainable and safe for all. Now, more than ever, we need God’s wisdom for how to hold this mama’s arms up.
Would you pray with us for Siri and his mama and brother? Pray that God gives this hero mama strength. Pray that she would come to know Jesus and his never-ending love. Pray for our team, that we would have wisdom about the best way to help this little fam. Thank you!
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Her heart pounded in her chest and her stomach churned as the van turned onto the gravel road lined with trees.
Two weeks earlier she and he had left their four small children and flew all the way across the world to visit that place. They had heard the stories and knew deep in their souls that they were supposed to DO something about the injustices being done in that place and others like it.
She had cried countless tears over the past year as she washed dishes and changed diapers and swept the floor in suburban America. Her heart was broken for the helpless ones who were trapped in their suffering with no future, no hope. Though she had never met them, in her heart she already loved them. Her mama heart ached to hold them and make everything better.
The van pulled up to a gate and stopped. They stepped out of the van and instantly she heard them. She heard the sounds of the ones she had dreamed of and longed to know. The yelling, the moaning, the cries of excitement intensified- visitors had arrived!
She and he walked hand in hand down the sidewalk of the institution and the noises became louder. She saw curious faces peeking through windows and her heart skipped a beat. Would her heart deny her? Would her body betray her? Would all their preparations and prayers leave them reeling in the depth of their naivety? What if they met the boys face to face and wanted to run away from them instead of embracing them? What if this was not the YES they had hoped it would be?
But then a door opened and she was among them, punched in the gut by the smells and the sounds; all five senses assaulted in an instant.
As she and he were swarmed by faces and hands and bodies, fear melted away and her heart became alive. In that moment she realized that her soul had been longing for those souls in front of her. Her hands were covered in their saliva and their scent, and yet she couldn’t contain the joy and the “rightness” she felt in that moment. She glanced in his direction and their eyes met. He gave a slight nod, yes, he felt it too.
This was what they were put on the earth to do. These were their people. This was their path.
That first day at Romaniv will forever burn in my memory. I met my boys that day. I met my future that day. I loved them instantly and fiercely that day and I promised myself I would fight endlessly for them. It was a naive love, most definitely, but it was true.
Mama Bear awoke that day. Circumstances and disappointments have made her cower in her cave these last months, afraid to love them like she did before. Living with them was harder than she imagined it would be. In the midst of their overwhelming trauma, her love has not been enough. Their hearts are like bottomless pits that can never be filled. No amount of her love will ever be enough. So she cowers in her cave, afraid to give more, afraid to bring more boys to freedom because of the damage, pain and disappointment that is sure to follow.
But she can not fight for them from her cave. She can not fight for them and remain safe from pain. To love them is to feel their pain and to walk with them through it, even if that walk takes forever.
Below is the Role Description for “Live-In Assistants” for the new duplex.
We are actively seeking individuals, couples or families to live in community with us, our boys, and the ones we have yet to bring out of the institution. We are looking for a commitment of at least one year after a successful 90-day trial period. An openness to a longer commitment would be amazing, but is not required.
We are seeking foreigners and Ukrainians to grow this community together.
Because of the nature of this work and the experience we have had thus far with the deinstitutionalization of our boys, we are not currently open to families with small children living in the home. If you have small children and are interested in joining our team we definitely have a need for “Live-Out” assistants as well. So, please inquire by email if that interests you. firstname.lastname@example.org
Live-In Assistant Job Description
Live-In Assistants are people who choose to live in a Wide Awake International home with adults who have intellectual and possibly physical disabilities, the “core members” of the community. Assistants share life, laughter, and friendship with the core members. Assistants provide skilled direct care supports to core members, ensure their safety and well-being, and support their integrated participation in all aspects of daily life. They are committed to mutual relationships with core members and other assistants in which all parties are recognized as having something to share with the others.
Live-In assistants participate in community prayer, retreats, trainings and celebrations.
Please read the job description and qualifications below
Contact Kim Johnson for an application at email@example.com
Live-In Caregiving Assistant Purpose: Assistants accompany and assist core members in their activities of daily life: creating home and supporting core members in sharing their gifts within the house and the larger community.
Responsibilities relating to:
Uphold and share the vision and hope of the community and maintain the simple life style of the community
Help extend warm welcome to visitors, including community members, families, neighbors, and merchants
Encourage households members to develop and nurture friendships within, and especially outside the community
Attend team and community meetings, community nights, and community activities.
Help plan celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, and days of special importance to household members
Accept community mentoring from more experienced community members
Develop caring and loving interpersonal relationships. The most important aspect of the “living with” spirit of Wide Awake is that of fostering relationships.This area calls forth both the assistant and the core member in their personal growth, as well as the growth of the community. It is a process of discovering one’s own gifts and helping the other to find theirs.
Carry out core member training programs where applicable and teach skills needed to be learned (personal hygiene, personal appearance, laundry, room management, household cleaning, cooking, budgeting, job skills, shopping skills, appropriate behavior)
Help core members to look at alternatives, anticipate consequences, make decisions, and accept responsibility for their actions
Listen to and respect the desires of the core members.
Assume responsibility for the health, safety, and care of core members
Do assigned housekeeping chores and take initiative to keep house (inside and out) clean and in repair. Assist core members with their chores if needed. Aid in motivating core members to complete needed tasks
Plan and prepare balanced meals. Assist core members to help cook and prepare meals.
Maintain and operates house vehicles in a safe manner
Maintain accurate financial records of core member and house money
Be conscious of budgeting and keep within house and community budgets
Take initiative, be resourceful and creative, think out problems, be willing to use own judgment when deemed necessary
Support the community and carry in prayer the homes, each member of the community, their families, friends, and concerns
Maintain and respect the home as a Christian home in terms of values and prayer. Encourage prayer in the home and in the community with assistants and core members.
Respect days of worship. Attend with core members their choice and place of worship.
Share faith life with the community. Be responsible for communicating needs and meeting personal worship needs.
Interest in living in a faith community founded on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)
Minimum age of 18 years
Desire to work with individuals with disabilities (Experience with people with disabilities is not a requirement)
Creativity, flexibility, attention to detail, and ability to organize time
Commitment to living in the community for at least 1 year after a successful 90-day trial period
Verbal and written communication skills
Physical ability, with reasonable accommodation, to fulfill role responsibilities, including ability to transfer adults from wheelchairs to vehicles, beds, etc. and to lift wheelchairs into and out of vehicles
Ability to work as part of a team
Assistants are responsible for funding their own way to and from Ukraine
After a successful 90-day trial period, assistants are responsible for the costs related to obtaining a visa and temporary residency in Ukraine. Wide Awake International will assist with the legal process in obtaining residency
Food and lodging will be provided by Wide Awake International
Assistants will be responsible for providing for their own toiletries, food needs beyond the community meals, and personal spending money
Much of our language, like “assistant” and “core member”, and some wording for the role description was adopted from an organization with a lot more experience than us. Thank you, L’Arche Communities, for paving a beautiful path of dignity for us to follow.
January ended up being a pretty great month. To start with, Jed’s mom brought Vladik home to us. Yay! Then she stayed for a month to spend time with us and help with the kids so Jed and I could go to the Vineyard UK National Conference in Nottingham. One of our partner churches flew us out there for the conference and a few days of rest and man oh man, we didn’t even know how much we needed it until we were in it.
When you’re knee deep in a project or work it’s helpful to get away and regain some perspective. We’ve been neck deep for the past year and a half, so our perspective in some areas was severely lacking. Time away spent with friends who love us and speak into our lives was a precious treasure that came just at the right time. I’m so thankful we had that opportunity.
While we were away we had good news and not so good news. The good news was, our precious “Preston” flew home to Indiana with his new family to begin his new life! The bad news was, our “Aaron” who was just adopted from Romaniv (the last child who was available for adoption!) failed his medical exam and therefore wasn’t issued a visa to the travel to his new home in the US. Noooooooo!!! Failing that exam is every adoptive parent’s fear. Additional testing had to be done, and now there is an 8 week waiting period for those results to come back. Obviously, Aaron’s family couldn’t wait 8 additional weeks in Ukraine, so a different plan had to be formed.
I shared that story on our social media and invited people to help cover the expenses of caring for Aaron for the next 2 months, as he requires full-time care, and the Wide Awake community rallied! In less than 24 hours all of the expenses were covered, plus additional funds that the family can use for airplane tickets when they travel back at the end of the waiting period. Thank you so much to all who gave so quickly and so generously! The family was blown away by your love.
The plan we came up with was that Max, one of our team members who is currently on a break from university, would live in an apartment with Aaron for the 2 month waiting period. When Jed and I arrived back in Ukraine after our England trip we picked up Aaron in Kyiv and brought him to our house for the weekend because Max wasn’t available to start caring for him till Monday. Aaron did SO WELL in our home. He obviously loved the stimulation of all the people, the space to move around, the toys and balls. It seemed like a no-brainer to all concerned that he would be better off in a family environment instead of one-on-one in an apartment.
That left the question of how to make it all happen. Aaron on his best day still requires full-time supervision and assistance. There was no way we could simply add him to our family and not change things up. The money had been donated to care for him, we just had to find the best way to use it. Then we had an “Aha!” moment and we made a decision that was better for all involved. Andriy stayed with us in our home, and Ruslan moved into the apartment with Max. Not what you were expecting to hear? Yeah, it took us a bit by surprise too, but sometimes the most obvious answers are the hardest to come by. 🙂
For several months we had been mulling over the idea of moving Ruslan to an apartment, even before Anton moved. There are several reasons that made this the right choice for this moment. First, Ruslan has a great potential for independence. He will never live alone, but he has great potential to learn to care for himself in many ways. He wants independence. He sees all his friends (our team) live in apartments with friends so the concept was interesting to him. In an apartment setting there will be more time and space for him to learn skills necessary for independence.
Second, Ruslan is highly anxious and quite obsessive. Anton did not thrive in the large family environment, and Ruslan, although he managed it better than Anton, also had big struggles. Ruslan wants to control everything and everyone in his environment. He’s been learning that when you live in a family it’s not possible or necessary to control everyone and everything, but in the large family context it was causing him a lot of angst.
Third, there were some personal matters that made it necessary for the health of our family that Ruslan move to a different space. To protect the dignity of all of us I don’t want to really expand on that. Everyone is safe, no one has been physically harmed, but you just can’t predict how interpersonal relationships will develop when you bring new people into your home, specifically people who have endured 30+ years of trauma and abuse. We have learned much from having Ruslan in our home, and we love him dearly. It is just healthier for everyone if he lives separate from us. I know it might seem like I’m glossing over this, but I hope you can trust that this is not a decision we came to lightly. We have been agonizing how to make it work, interpersonally, with Ruslan in our home, and the reality is, it just can’t work for the long term. If you have more questions about this, please shoot me an email. I’m happy to talk.
This move, even though we had considered doing it for a long time, was unexpected, but it feels 100% right. When Anton moved out it was traumatic and sad and felt like a loss (at the time). This does not feel like that. Ruslan was excited for the new adventure of living with Max, and Max is the perfect person to lead Ruslan into a more independent life. Anton’s leaving felt like failure, at the time, because Anton is developmentally much younger. He was confused and it felt like getting him out of the house ASAP was the only option in that stressful situation. This move feels like a next step. Aaron’s coming into our home for this time caused everyone to rethink how we are doing what we are doing and shook us up a bit. But we feel confident God used that situation for all of our good.
At church on Sunday Ruslan was happy, loved and well-cared for; Anton was happy and loved and content. They arrived at church with different people, but were still surrounded by so many who love them. God is so faithful to provide the people to love our boys. Every one of them is in a good spot right now and we couldn’t be more thankful.
I don’t know what the future will hold for Ruslan and Anton. Possibly they will stay in apartments, possibly they will live in the duplex, we’re tossing around the idea of tiny houses on our property. We want to do what is best for them and we are committed to them, so we know God will show us in his timing.
I wanted to share with you so you would know how to pray and also so that those who gave toward Aaron’s care would be fully informed on how the money is being used. Max is being paid to care for Ruslan, so that we have the ability to care for Aaron in our home. Same use of funds, just a “change in seating”, if you will. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. We always want to be open and honest. Thank you for your love and encouragement, as always!