ROMANIV DAY CAMP: A Week in Pictures

Last week was a very special week!  We had a week-long day camp at Romaniv orphanage! For the older, higher functioning boys the staff of Mission to Ukraine does a full-on VBS type camp for them with games, snacks, crafts, and lessons about Jesus.  They had Olympic games, opening and closing ceremonies complete with the Ukrainian flag and National Anthem, and LOADS OF FUN.

Since the doors to Romaniv were open to us all week we just had to take advantage of it and spend some special time with our Boys in Isolation.  Our boys could not handle, nor participate in a camp like the bigger boys, so we decided to spend the week taking small groups of boys aside each day in order to have some more intentional interactions with them.  It was AMAZING.  It was like a dream to be able to be with them one on one, to see them every day, to give them the individual attention they need.  Woohoo!

I shared a small glimpse of each day on the Wide Awake Facebook page, but I know many of you aren’t on FB.  Plus, there were sooooo many wonderful pictures to share- totally deserving of a big fat blog post.  Here you go!  I’m just cutting and pasting the FB blurbs and then you can see the pics of that day following the blurb.  Mmmmk?

ROMANIV DAY CAMP, DAY 1: I can’t even express the joy that was today. We decided for the Isolation Room kiddos we would use this week to focus on one-on-one interactions with the boys. So each day we will be taking a group of 5 boys aside and interacting with them more intentionally.

The Directors gave us the use of the sensory room and it was like heaven. Today we heard the first laughs ever (for us) from two of our boys. Big, hearty, belly laughs that we didn’t even know they had inside them. It was like hearing your baby’s first laugh- PURE JOY. These boys are growing and changing. It’s miraculous. Praise God for His love that never fails!!!


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B loves the weighted blanket.

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…and he also loves the ball pit!

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Lesa helped us with the boys on Monday and Tuesday with her 14 year old son Igor. They were awesome. We were so happy to meet them!!

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Sweet S is out of his wheelchair!!!!

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Look at all that eye contact! And a smile!!!!! A few months ago we would have never dreamed smiles like this would be possible from V.


Today we fell in love… again. 

It started out a bit rough, with miscommunication and WAAAAAY too many boys with high needs in too small of a space. Ha! We really want the Sensory Room to be a safe place, and boys were stressed and self-harming, so we had to act fast. We switched boys in and out till we has the right mix, and then had a super great time.

Yuroslav, oh sweet boy. He rarely joins us on our Friday visits, content to sit outside in the hall calling out “Mama! Papa!” every so often and sucking his thumb. Today we learned he is strong and he LOVES to play ball. It’s awesome to have the time to connect with the harder-to-reach boys. We can observe them closely and try different ways to make that human connection.

Two days down, three more to go!

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Misha is blind and he loves music. He ADORES music.

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Did I mention music makes him very happy? 🙂

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Today was interesting and different and goooood. When we arrived, we learned it was “bath day”. We didn’t know, since we never go there on Wednesdays. So, we first waited for baths to be done. It was pouring down rain outside and when we asked the caregivers if we could take a few boys to the other building to the Sensory Room after bath time they WERE NOT having it.  So, we winged it! 

We brought all the boys together and basically did what we normally do on Fridays. At first the caregivers said we could only have one hour with them because they needed to clip their nails and such (remember, it’s Bath Day), but once we got going they relaxed and let stay for the whole time. 

There was some great connection time with several of the boys. Zhenya even fell asleep in my lap! Happy sigh…  We got to connect with a caregiver we had never met before and ease her load for a couple of hours. All in all it was a very sweet time. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement. Pray we have a dry day tomorrow so we can visit the Sensory Room again! Thanks  

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Christina and Maks got to come help on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. This was Maks’ first time to Romaniv. Thank you dear friends!

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Zhenya loves a good cuddle. 🙂

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Today was a day of hopes fulfilled, and dreams dreamed.  

The sun was out so we got to take a few boys to the Sensory Room! There were 4 boys in particular we were hoping to work with today and lucky us, the caregivers were like “Go for it! Take whoever you want! Take them all!” Ha! We took our 4, plus sweet Yuroslav and Valera for extra cuteness sake.

We had amazing interactions with two of the boys we brought. They are usually very medicated and they sleep a lot. During our time in the Sensory Room they were alive! They smiled and giggled and responded very well. Just what we had hoped for!

The other two boys are always highly medicated and distant. They don’t interact with others at all. Unfortunately we were not able to break through to them today. Their bodies were in the room, but their minds were far away. We have much work to do before we can connect with them in a meaningful way. We dream of that day- the day we truly see who they are. 

We are not discouraged. We are hopeful! We are thankful for an open Director who cares, willing and cooperative caregivers, those who have paved the way for this work. and most of all for a God who is bigger. NO ONE is beyond His reach! One step at a time…

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Misha was not so sure about the swing at first…then promptly fell asleep.

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Valera loves stuffed animals of all kinds. He is so sweet.

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Orhan does so well with a weighted vest. He is making good gains these days, learning to be less aggressive…one step at a time…


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Z needs to taste everything

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Oooooh it makes noise!

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Tasting the puzzle…

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Leaning in for the cuddle…

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So sweet…

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Ha! Unexpected kiss! Hahaha

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We had hoped to connect with these sweeties, but they are unreachable right now- locked inside themselves. We’re praying for wisdom in how to help them. Pray with us!

Today was the end of a wonderful week spent with Our Boys. Almost all the boys got to go outside to spend some time in the sun and it was WONDERFUL. Their faces lit up when they saw the team arrive for another day. Like “You guys are here AGAIN???” It’s awesome to see them begin to walk, scoot, and crawl to the door when we arrive, hoping they get to go out to play for a bit. 

Today after camp all the volunteers, the staff of Mission to Ukraine, and a couple of the orphanage staff went to a park for a picnic. We celebrated the wonderful strides that have been made this past year, and began to dream of the work that is yet to be done.

Our dreams are BIG. We dream of each boy having an occupation- a way to spend his time, a way to contribute to the world around him. We dream of the Boys serving each other in greater ways; we dream of boys learning to read, learning to walk, learning to speak. Mostly we dream of a place for the boys to be where they can know the love of their Father God through the love of a family. I could go on and on. 

One day at a time, one boy at a time, one YES at a time. Thank you for sharing in the journey! Today, wherever you may be, may you live this day Wide Awake- ready for the next YES that lies before you.



Sergey got to come help on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. I can’t even tell you what a wonderful servant he is. Sergey KNOWS the boys well and he loves them very much. Thank you Seriozha!!!



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Our wonderful Nina got to come on Friday!!! Every single boy loves Nina. She has the biggest heart and such a wonderful, peaceful way with them. Thank you Nina!!!



At the closing ceremonies. Our hope for Ukraine is in God alone. He knows and He cares. 🙂

Our dear friend Olya, from Kyiv, came to stay with our family Monday through Wednesday so Jed and I could both be at Romaniv those days.  On Thursday I went, and Jed stayed home with the kids, and then on Friday Jed went and I stayed home.  We both really wanted to be at the picnic on Friday, so wonderful Dima, the driver for MTU, drove the kids and me out to Romaniv on Friday to meet the team and go to the picnic together.

Our kids have been longing and dreaming of visiting Romaniv.  They hear about the boys all the time.  They see their pictures almost daily.  These boys have become a huge part of our lives and our kids were dying to meet them in person.  We haven’t gotten permission yet for Addy and Ezra to visit the boys with us on Fridays, but we feel like they are ready (Hava and Seth are too young).  I wasn’t so sure before- I was afraid Addy and Ezra would be frightened, we didn’t know the boys as well.  But they have been asking more and more, so Friday was a good chance to give them a little taste of Romaniv to see what they thought.

Dima drove us to Romaniv and I told the kids if the team wasn’t quite finished and if they were still inside we would ask the caregivers if we could come inside to see the boys just for a minute.  You would have thought we had backstage passes to the concert of a lifetime they were so excited!

When we arrived the team was still cleaning up, so I took the kids to the Isolation building.  They were immediately greeted by the boys who were outside and I was so proud of them!  They looked the boys in their eyes and shook their hands- even Hava and Seth!  They looked a little unsure, but not really afraid.  Then Addy and Ezra came inside the building and got to meet several of the boys inside.  They knew them from the pictures and they were OVER THE MOON to meet them!  You could see they were excited, but also nervous.  I mean, it’s a big sensory experience even for adults, so I thought they did really well.  The boys can look kind of scary, it’s super stinky, but they both really loved it.  They have been begging to go back, so we just need to pray and ask God what He has in store for our kids at Romaniv.  I hope soon they can be joining us regularly.  It’s part of who they were created to be!


Addy and Seriozha. His face lit up when he saw her. I wonder when he last saw a little girl?

IMG_6491Overall it was a fantastic week.  I can’t even tell you how extraordinarily thankful we are for those who have gone before us.  For years, MTU and several volunteers have faithfully poured in to the boys and the staff at Romaniv.  Without their faithfulness and perseverance we would have never had the week that we did.  The Directors are so open to the help- that is a huge answer to prayer.

There is a lot of work to be done.  There are many boys not pictured here because they were too medicated, or too withdrawn to participate at all.  There are many boys still locked inside themselves.  Our boys still spend the majority of each day tied to their beds because there isn’t enough staff to keep them safe from themselves and others.  Many of them only see the sun when we come on Fridays.  Oh there is so much to be done.  BUT weeks like this remind us of just how far things have come.  God has done the miraculous in Romaniv and He’s not about to stop now.

Praise God for his abounding love for these boys and their caregivers.  Praise God that what was once hidden is now brought to light.  Praise God that He has a hope and a future for each boy, for each person He created.  And praise God we get to partner with him that!






Zhitomir Scoop

What exactly will we be doing in Zhitomir?  Why Zhitomir? Have you been wondering? 

Well, if you’ve been wondering, you aren’t the only one.  People have been asking, so I thought we better set the record straight.  🙂  

I’m not sure we’ve done a super good job of explaining what exactly our purpose is for moving to Zhitomir, specifically, and what we plan to do once we’re there.  I’m so sorry about that!  I feel like I’m constantly talking about it all with someone, so pretty soon I forget who knows what, and what I’ve blogged about vs. what I’ve emailed about vs. what I’ve texted about vs. what I’ve chatted about over coffee dates vs. what we’ve shared at church leadership meetings. Yes, we talk a lot.  🙂

So, here is the full Zhitomir scoop, in all of it’s glory!

Why are we moving to Zhitomir?
We are moving to Zhitomir because God led us there.  Last April (2012) when Jed and I visited all over Ukraine checking out what different people were doing for disabled orphans we decided to check out Mission to Ukraine (MTU), and MTU is in Zhitomir.  We were totally amazed and touched by the work done at and through MTU.  

So, when we got home and prayed about where we should land when we first move to Ukraine, our hearts kept going back to MTU. They are the only ones we know about in Ukraine who do what they do, and we want to be a part of it.  We have a lot to offer them, professionally, but more than that, they have so much they can teach us.  We asked MTU if we could spend our first year in Ukraine volunteering for them, and after many months of communication they said yes!  So, to Zhitomir we go!
Seth got into my flour bins, so we added some beans and made it a low budget “sensory experience”.  Ha!

How long will we be in Zhitomir?
We don’t know the answer to that one. We committed one year to MTU, so we know we’ll be there for at least a year.  This first year is really going to be such a time of learning.  We don’t know what The Lord has for us after the first year.  Maybe He’ll keep us around at MTU for longer, maybe doors will open in another place, we just take one step at a time and say yes.  We’re really okay with that.  The dreams He’s given us for the group homes are still completely alive in our hearts.  We don’t know how God will take us from Point A (MTU in Zhitomir) to Point Z (medical group homes), but we don’t need to know that yet.  Step by step…breathe in, breathe out.  Whew!  We are blessed this first year to have a “landing place” at MTU where right away we can be actively involved in the type of orphan care we love and have a passion for, but we don’t have to come up with something all our own, starting at square one.  We can join what the Father is already doing and bless that.  Super cool.
Note to self: I will know what I need to know, when I need to know it.  Chill out.  

What is Mission to Ukraine?  What do they do?
Awesome, and a lot.   
How’s that for an answer?  
Kidding!  You know I can’t just leave it at that!  Remember, I like to talk too much.  🙂
MTU is a Ukrainian non-profit.  It was started by an American missionary years ago, but now all the daily operations are run by Ukrainians.  They have an American Board of Directors in Indiana that support-raises, resource-gathers, and provides guidance as needed, but MTU is a Ukrainian organization at heart.  We will be the only foreigners working at MTU in Zhitomir.  

MTU has a center in Zhitomir, but they minister all over the city. They have 3 main focuses: Crisis Pregnancy Counseling and Support, support of children with disabilities and their families, and the work at Romaniv Boys Orphanage.  

Our primary interests lie in the work done with the disabled children, and the work at Romaniv.  At the center children are given free physical therapy and speech therapy.  There is a specialist who has started doing some work with autistic children, and MTU is in the process of developing Occupational Therapy, which doesn’t exist as a profession in Ukraine at this time.  They have a wonderful pediatrician who is on staff full time and provides free care to children, as well as an ophthalmologist and dentist who volunteer time a couple of days a week when they aren’t at their own practices.  All the therapists and other medical professionals are Ukrainian too!  There are various classes held throughout the day for disabled children and adults of all ages.  In their classes they get to learn about Jesus, do crafts and artwork, beading, learn different life skills, and build friendships in a place where they are fully accepted, just as they are.  It is BEAUTIFUL.  Every day several different special needs preschool classes are taught as well.  All I have to say about that is CUTENESS OVERLOAD.  When I got to assist with the preschool class for kiddos with Down Syndrome I thought I was going to freak out due to the extreme cuteness.  It was almost too much to handle.  OMG.  While the kids are in class or therapy, there are Bible studies and support groups for the parents.  Genius.  

You’ve heard us talk about Romaniv.  Love, love, love that place and those boys.  MTU staff have visited Romaniv once a week for 5 years now.  The transformation has been miraculous.  There is still a lot of work to be done, specifically with the more severely disabled boys. Their lives haven’t changed nearly as much as the verbal boys and the ones who are more physically capable.  We really desire to help in that area.  We would love to be able to do what we can to bring about more change and help for the boys in “isolation”, as they call it.  Those are the boys we would love to target while working with MTU, so we’ll see what God has in store!  

There is so much more that is done at MTU: summer camps for disabled children and their families, summer camps at Romaniv, a social integration project, abstinence education…and on and on….cool, right?
“Look Mommy!  I make Splash Mountain!!  I put my arms up!”

What will we do at MTU?

We’ll do whatever they want us to do!  We’ve said it before on here, and we really mean it.  We want to be a blessing and we don’t want to push our own agenda.  Right now it seems that they have a big need for Jed’s professional skills.  Jed has a lot of experience in non-profit program management, building new programs, building a volunteer base, teaching caregivers to care for themselves, teaching people in the helps field learn to process what they see and work with…Jed’s job here in Salem has basically groomed him for helping at MTU.  We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried.  God is so smart!  Jed is nearly bursting with ideas for MTU and already has plenty of work to keep him busy there for quite some time.  

It seems right now that the best use of our family will be having Jed be the primary help at MTU.  Of course I will help too, but Jed will invest the most hours.  My main job this first year will be helping our family acclimate to living in Ukraine.  I will home school the kids- like I do now, learn to grocery shop and run a house in Ukraine, and support Jed.  I will most likely find out what special needs classes they need the most help with and assist every week in at least one class.  I’m excited to have Addy and Ez help me with that!  The woman who supports the moms asked me to help her as well.  Yay!  My biggest love at MTU is Romaniv.  I hope to go to Romaniv every week and do whatever I can to support, help build, and expand the work being done there.  I am SUPER excited for that!!  

Wow, this is getting long.  I better stop now.  🙂  I hope this helps fill in some of the info gaps.  If you have any questions at all after reading this, please ask away!  We really want to be clear and lay things out as plain as possible, so if I’m assuming you know or understand some things and you don’t, just let me know and we can explain better.  
The aftermath.   You either laugh or cry at the mess.  We definitely decided to laugh. 

I better go to sleep now.  But, just so you know, I typed this post using my healed up blender finger!  Aren’t you proud?  Things are lookin’ up for the old finger!  Yessssssssss.

*Random pics due to the fact that 
#1 We’ve already posted all our cool Zhitomir pics and have none left 
#2 Seth is too cute to resist.  How could I deny you the cuteness??