Introducing…Interns!

The vision of Wide Awake is to offer hope, dignity, and improved quality of life for some of Eastern Europe’s most marginalized children.”

If you’ve hung around here for a while you know that our big, God-size dream is to open small group homes for our boys to live out their days.  The dream is to remove the boys from their horrible reality and insert them into safe, loving, warm environments where they can get all the love and help they need for the rest of their lives.  They will play and receive therapy and sleep in soft, warm beds.  They will be surrounded by music and laughter.  If they are able to work they will garden and care for animals and work with their hands.  Our boys need occupation.  They need to contribute to the world around them.  It brings meaning to their lives.  The dream is for them to be IN the city, not hidden away from society.  The dream is for them to have the opportunity to become all that God has created them to be, surrounded by people who love them and treasure them and believe in them. 
We’ve got big dreams around here. We’re dreaming big, believing that God has great futures in mind for our boys.  

We will not believe that God’s best for them is to lay in bed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, staring at blank walls. We will not believe that spending the next 20 years rocking back and forth on a bench is God’s hope for their future.  
We know God wants more for our boys and we know that He uses people as his hands and feet in the world.  

Last year it became apparent that less money needed to be spent improving the physical living conditions of the boys, and more money needed to be spent placing loving, consistent people in their lives.  To answer that need, through a three-way partnership with Hands of Hope (funded by their child-sponsorship program), Mission to Ukraine (local non-profit acting as fiscal agent), and Wide Awake (hiring and training) we were able to hire two full-time teachers who teach the bigger boys Monday through Friday.  That  need is also being answered by an increase in the amount of time our team spends with the boys each week.  Since last spring there are teams going to visit the boys 3 days a week.  The team has grown in number and in love.  It is a truly beautiful thing.

Now I am so very happy to report that the need is being answered in yet another way.  INTERNS! 
 

Tanya, Mira, and Maxim

 

Our family attends a wonderful church in Zhytomyr: Христианской Молодежной Церкви (Christian Youth Church).  Youth Church is our family in Ukraine.  God has done a wonderful thing in partnering us together.  Almost all of our team comes from Youth Church, and Wide Awake gave Youth Church a grant to carry on the work of bringing teams to the boys while our family is here in the US.  Youth Church has done a FANTASTIC job of growing the team, and now the work in Romaniv has become an official ministry of our church!  Vika, the team leader for Romaniv, has just rocked it.  We are so proud of her and the whole team, and are honored to call Youth Church our Ukrainian home. 🙂 

Youth Church, in partnership with Wide Awake is now sending three interns to Romaniv three days a week!  The interns were picked from our team.  Maxim, Tanya, and Mira have been volunteering at Romaniv since October of 2014.  They have been faithful, loving, extremely dedicated and committed to the boys.  This is not a project for them.  This is their love.  The three interns are university students who are doing this paid internship in addition to their schooling.  They will be with the boys for six hours, three days a week and are an answer to prayer.  Jed began their training when he was in Ukraine in October, and then our dear friend Olya, an OT, continued their training when Jed came back to the US.  Thank you to Salem Vineyard, our sending church in Oregon, whose child-sponsorship helps to pay for this exciting new venture! 

Yesterday was their first day on the job and we are all so excited!  Maxim, Tanya, and Mira’s focus is on the boys in the Isolation Hall, since the teachers are not working with those boys.  They have divided the Isolation boys up between themselves  and will each work with the same boys every day they are there.  They are beginning with performing functional assessments on each boy and then setting individual goals for the development of each boy.  Their work is more focused and therapeutic because they have the ability to give their time and attention to the same boys each day.  

  
   
 

We are looking forward to awesome results!  Even just their consistent, positive presence is life-changing for our babies.

Do you know what that means?  That means that between our teams and the interns we have loving, energetic, amazing youth spending time with the boys SIX DAYS A WEEK!!!!!!  Freaking out excited!!!!!  That’s not even counting the teachers who are there Monday through Friday and teams who visit from other churches.  PRAISE GOD!

I remember back to the spring of 2014 when Jed and I decided to start going to Romaniv a second day each week. It was just the two of us going to Romaniv alone, asking God to bring more help…and now this.  God is so amazingly faithful.  

We believe that all of this loving presence is preparing the boys for the lives of freedom that await them.  

Soon my babies, soon you will be free. But in the meantime, I hope you can see how many people love you so dearly.

 

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Indiana Adventures

I gotta tell ya, we just had the most encouraging week!  

I’ve written before about Hands of Hope, our fabulous partners in Indiana.  Hands of Hope provides awesome support to adoptive and foster families in Indiana, and they also do great orphan care through child sponsorship.  Through the Hands of Hope Romaniv sponsorship we are able to bring fresh fruit to the boys three days a week, pay the salary of two teachers who are working full-time to teach the boys, and more.  Hands of Hope is an immense help in bringing greater quality of life to our boys.  Because Hands of Hope pays for much of the work that is done at Romaniv now, Wide Awake is able to put funds away to prepare for the future: group homes instead of institutionalization.  

Their partnership and investment into our boys is priceless. 

This past Tuesday Jed, Vladik, and I were able to fly to Indiana to spend some time with the Hands of Hope peeps and talk a whole lot about the boys we adore so much.  It was a fast and fabulous trip!  Jed flew in from Ukraine on Monday and we flew out to Indiana on Tuesday morning.  At this point I’m pretty sure Jed could go 10 years without stepping foot on another airplane and be pretty happy with that. 

   

 

On Tuesday night we got to spend the evening with some lovely people who sponsor sweet Boris and Zhenya.  And then on Wednesday night there was an open house for “Friends of Romaniv”.  Basically sponsors and any and everyone who loves our boys could come and just hear about what’s happening at Romaniv and how they can pray.  It was beautiful.  Many of the people who came Wednesday evening have visited Romaniv before and dearly love the boys.  We always love talking about our sweeties, but talking about them to a room full of people who have loved them for years (in many cases before we even knew they existed!) takes it to a whole new level.  Love-fest level!  🙂 

The highlight of our Wednesday was a lovely young lady named Renee.  Renee visited Romaniv on a mission trip when she was 16 years old.  She fell in love with Vladik on that trip, came home and became his sponsor through Hands of Hope.  Renee prayed and prayed over the years that Vladik would find a family.  She LOVED our son before we did.  Well, now Renee goes to college in Kentucky.  She found out Vladik was going to be in Indiana and drove over 3 hours to come and see him in person.  

  
 

What a special reunion.  Vladik was clueless of the importance of that night, but someday he’ll understand.  

Thursday night was just beautiful.  Hands of Hope had an event called “Sip and Savor”.  It was so classy!  Free lattes and people walking around with trays of cheesecake?  Yes, please.  🙂  

The three main focuses of Hands of Hope were presented at the event: Orphan Care (child sponsorship), Foster Care support, and Adoption.  Jed and I did the presentation about adoption because we received a matching grant for our adoption through Hands of Hope.  THANK YOU!!!!!  It was doubly special because Vladik was the first Hands of Hope sponsor child to be adopted.  Cool, eh?  I say hopefully the first of many! 

Man, it was just wonderful to be in a room full of people passionate about caring for the orphan.  There are so many different ways to say YES and hearing about all the ways people can say YES by partnering with Hands of Hope is just rad.  It’s the real deal.  

  
 
  

Besides those official meetings, we just had plenty of time to drink coffee and eat yummy food with our friends.  All of these friends we met in Ukraine at one time or another through Hands of Hope, World Next Door, or Mission to Ukraine.  They were all so happy to see Vladik in a family and we were so blessed to spend time with people who know our boys and our friends in Ukraine and love them.  Common hearts + coffee + cozy couches = a whole lotta good times.  We got to stay with our friends Christopher and Lois and it was seriously like a vacation.  They spoiled the heck out of us.  SO FUN!   

  

God has blessed us so much with this partnership with Hands of Hope.  Again, we are just amazed at God’s love for the boys.  How is it, why is it that He has drawn so many hearts to this one institution in the middle of nowhere Ukraine?  We believe it’s because God has something very special for our boys.  He has been drawing them out of darkness into light for such a time as this.  I’m just thankful we get to be a part of His unfolding plan.  

To God be ALL the glory for the GREAT things He has done!

  

The Most Important Post, Revisited

November is a good month. We have two family birthdays, it’s Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins, the weather is cozy, and it’s National Adoption Month! Did you know? Have you heard? There is a whole month designated for sharing about the plight of orphans and the blessing of adoption. Yep, that sounds just about perfect to me.

I wrote this post last November.  I wanted to share it again (revamped a bit) in honor of National Adoption Month.  It’s crazy because when I wrote this a year ago I had no idea we would adopt Vladik.  Now this post means more than ever to me.  There are many different great responses to the orphan issue, and your response will likely be different than mine. But for the sake of our Boys, every response is important.

  

The work we do, and Mission to Ukraine has done for many years at Romaniv is important and necessary. It is life-altering for our Boys. Boys who were once strangers that flinched at touch and cowered from any human interaction are now dear loved ones who come scooting and crawling and hobbling as soon as they hear our voices. One boy who used to avoid eye contact at all cost now seeks out our gaze and will sit forehead to forehead with Jed as the guitar is played- just looking into Jed’s eyes. No words, just a look. It is enough for us to see that God is doing miracles.

And yet.

No work we do could ever be more beneficial than a family.

No treatment could ever be as effective as the love of a family.

No weighted vest could be more comforting than a mother’s arms.

No helmet could offer better protection than a father’s embrace. 

This work we do is a stopgap. It is the next best thing possible in this situation. But it is not a family, and it is not nearly enough. There is no future for our Boys here. Even when our dreams come true and we build group homes where they can be loved and cared for, it still won’t hold a candle to a life spent as part of a loving family. There are nannies at Romaniv that do care for the Boys deeply, but they face an impossible task. How can 2 nannies care for more than 20 boys with severe disabilities and do an even satisfactory job?

Most of the boys and men at Romaniv are not legally free to be adopted. Either their parents still maintain their parental rights, or the boys are over the age of 18 which prevents them from being adopted. To those boys and men we commit to doing whatever we possibly can to love them, care for them, and give them a future worth living until they day they are made whole in heaven.
  

Some of our Boys, though, ARE available for international adoption.  After some hesitation, and prayerful consideration we shared them with you.  There are many layers to this. We feel protective of our Boys and the work that is being done; we want to avoid any exploitation; we have a relationship to maintain with the orphanage directors that requires vigilant care. Nothing about this is simple, so we have been treading lightly with steps full of prayer. And yet, our boys are just not thriving, and they never ever will in an institution.  They need families.  ALL our boys need families, but Alex, Micah, Stephan, Aaron, Ben and Isaiah actually have the opportunity for family- a life saving opportunity.

So I’m asking that you see our Boys. I’m asking that you stop and see them for the treasures they are. See their immense value. See their precious beauty. Consider their lives as weighty as your own and ask the Lord how you should respond to this knowledge that some of them are waiting for families. If you follow Jesus you are called to care for the orphan in some way. Even if you don’t believe in Jesus I bet you can agree that this is a justice issue that can not be ignored.
                                                                    

                                                                 “Learn to do right; seek justice.

                                                                            Defend the oppressed.

                                                                 Take up the cause of the fatherless;

                                                             plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Maybe you are supposed to pray. A million times thank you! Prayer is important and essential. Any of the progress that’s been made has only come through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our Boys need prayer!

Maybe you are supposed to give financially to help improve the quality of life for our Boys. Yes! Thank you so very much! None of this would even be happening if we didn’t have faithful financial supporters on the team.
Maybe you are supposed to adopt. Please don’t dismiss this response. I am confident that some of you who read this are called to respond through adoption. Children were made for families! Children were not made for institutions. One hour spent at the institution will prove that point. I must warn you though that any romanticism concerning the adoption of one of our Boys ends with the fuzzy feelings you may be feeling as you read this post. It will not be romantic. It will be a hard road and much faith will be required. But- it will be a road worth walking. I am confident of that. Orphans are very important to our God and He has gone to great lengths to prove His love for these particular Boys. He will not allow the world to forget them now, and He’s not about to forget them when they step out of Romaniv’s gates.

  

I have spent hours with these boys. I have held them in my arms. I have kissed their cheeks. I have held their hands so they won’t harm themselves. Now I call one of them my son and he is asleep, warm and safe in the next room.  They are real people. They were created with purpose and God has good plans for them. When I look at Vladik now and think of the life he lived there and was destined to live for the rest of his days had he not been adopted I can’t help but cry.  Friends, he is precious.  He is a joy in our lives.  He is smart and funny and loving and worthy of this life he’s been given.  All the love and attention and cuddles we can heap on him- he deserves them all.  Hopes and dreams of retirement and empty-nester days fall flat when weighed against the life of a child.  

There you have it. Now you know, and I now I humbly ask you to respond. I ask you to stop and pray and ask the Lord what He would have you to do. Say yes and don’t look back.  Please pray that adoptive families would step out with boldness and faith. Any serious inquiries can be emailed to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I would be happy to talk with you more. 

Please share this post and give our Boys a voice this month. Thank you!
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8


Alex, Micah, Stephan, Aaron, Isaiah, and Ben all wait for families of their own.  A friend of ours is doing a wonderful fundraiser/giveaway to help raise adoption grants for them, so that when their families do step up the expense will be defrayed a bit.  If you feel that your response is to give financially, then please, please visit this website and drop some dollars in their accounts.  Thank you!  

 

Alex

  

Micah

 
 

Stephan

  

Aaron

  

Isaiah

  

Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Hands of Hope to Romaniv

This is a post that has been in the works for many months, but I think you’ll find it worth the wait.  (Even though you didn’t know you were waiting for it…I did.) 😉 

We are so excited to introduce you to…drumroll please….
ROMANIV CHILD SPONSORSHIP!!!

Wahooooo!!!

You asked for it, and we are so happy that you are getting what you asked for!

Here’s the deal. Wide Awake is super blessed to have an awesome partnership with a non-profit in Indiana called Hands of Hope Adoption and Orphan Care Ministry.  I wrote about them before, here.  Hands of Hope has been involved in helping to improve life at Romaniv since March 2012, after Suzy, the executive director, and Lois, the Romaniv liasion first visited our Boys.  

 

Suzy and Lois with Romaniv Administration

 
Hands of Hope provides the money that we use every week to buy bananas for the Boys.  They give money for special projects around the orphanage, like outfitting a sports room for the Boys that they can use during the long winter months when they are cooped up inside for hours on end.  They pay for Leysa, one of our awesome team members to go to Romaniv three days a week to teach the boys music, and lessons about Jesus.  They have also partnered with Wide Awake and Mission to Ukraine to pay for the two new teachers who have begun to teach our Boys 5 days a week.  They let us know how much money has been given by sponsors, and we, Wide Awake, work together with Hands of Hope and Mission to Ukraine to decide the best way to use it to most benefit our Boys.

Hands of Hope has poured a ton into our Boys over the past three years.  And how do they pay for all of the awesomeness?

CHILD SPONSORSHIP!  

Hands of Hope is no new kid on the block when it comes to child sponsorship.  This is their deal.  They rock at it. We have been working hard with Hands of Hope to update many of the profiles of our Boys and we are so excited to share this opportunity with you.  

Want a way to tangibly change the lives of the Boys?  This is it.  100% of sponsor support goes toward improving the quality of life for our Boys.  100%!!!!


Here’s how it works on your end:

1.  Go to Hands of Hope website and choose a boy.  (I know, how can you choose?  They are all amazing!)

2. Click on your adorable choice and set up your tax-deductible monthly sponsorship of $35/month.  You can give by debit, credit card, or check.

3.  Hands of Hope sends you a welcome pack with more info about Romaniv and your special boy.

4.  You literally become “hands of hope” for our babies.  THANK YOU!!!! 

Here’s how it works on our end:

1. Hands of Hope sends the sponsorship money to Ukraine, to Mission to Ukraine (the fiscal agent), and lets us, Wide Awake, know how much money was sent.  

2.  We use the money to buy bananas three days a week, pay for teachers, and collaborate with the orphanage director, Hands of Hope, and Mission to Ukraine to pay for special projects around the orphanage that directly improve the Boys’ quality of life.  

3.  We update Hands of Hope on the Boys, give prayer requests, and keep them posted on any significant happenings and needs around Romaniv.

 
That’s the scoop!  Cool, right?  This is the real deal.  Suzy and Lois, our friends at Hands of Hope love the Boys so much.  They visited in March and for us it was like love at first sight.  They are AWESOME.  I can also guarantee you that the money donated is used with only the Boys’s best in mind.  No money is ever in the hands of the orphanage administration. We are the ones who do all the paying and purchasing. We try to use the money prayerfully and strategically so we aren’t just throwing money at need, but we are truly using it change the culture of Romaniv.   And it’s happening.

God is doing big things .  Won’t you join us? 🙂

A Love Story, Part 3 

This is Part 3 in our adoption story.  You can read Part One here and Part Two here!

After camp Jed and I both began to see Vladik differently.  Our hearts toward him were changing, but it wasn’t something we talked about with each other.  We both just knew in our hearts we had a special love for him. Honestly, every person who serves at Romaniv has their “favorite”.  Ha!  You know, that one boy that you just connect with in a special way.  My “favorite” changes from week to week.  😉

Separately, Jed and I both began to think more and more about Vladik.  Our love for him grew and grew. Separately, we started to wonder if God had something more for us and Vladik together.  We didn’t know even what that would mean.  We didn’t know how old Vladik was (it’s impossible to guess the ages of the boys at Romaniv), if he was even available for adoption (only 9 boys out of 86 at Romaniv can be adopted), or what God had in mind. Then, over time we both, separately (great communication skills, eh?), began to feel like God was maybe asking us to consider adoption.  Holy smokes.  Scary thought.  It’s one thing to love Vladik at Romaniv and camp.  It’s a whole other thing to love him in our home, as our son, for the rest of his life.



In October Jed and I began to talk about Vladik together.  We both shared with the other our musings about adoption and laughed about how crazy it sounded to bring pursue adopting one of our boys while continuing to live in Ukraine.  Was it even possible?  I mean, all of our boys have so many needs, could we raise Vladik here and continue to be effective in the work God has called us to?  Was Vladik even adoptable?  What about our other kiddos?  Were there any safety concerns for them?  Would a family need to live in America to be able to adequately care for Vladik’s medical needs?  How could we afford an international adoption while living on raised support?  Would it be possible to do an American adoption from Ukraine while living in Ukraine? So much to pray about and consider. We decided to keep those thoughts to ourselves for the time being and just wait on the Lord.  We knew that if He wanted Vladik to join our family He would speak to us.



The very next morning, after we had first talked about our love for Vladik we got an email from a dear friend in Switzerland. She told us that she had had a dream about us and felt like she was supposed to share, even if it sounded strange to us. She dreamed that she was coming to visit us in Ukraine and we were so excited because we were adopting two boys from Romaniv!  In the end we ended up adopting one boy, but then before we could get back to adopt the other one he passed away. 😦

Of course we didn’t know what the whole dream meant, but wow.  What an encouragement from the Lord that he would speak to us through our friend about adoption when we had told NO ONE our hearts!  Shortly after that we found out from the assistant director of the institution that Vladik was one of the few boys available for adoption!  Oh my.



Then came November, a really dark time for us.  We began to learn more about what makes Romaniv the way it is.  Jed always says “Romaniv didn’t get the way it is from everybody doing their best job.”  Ain’t that the truth.  The plain and simple truth is that the enemy has kept that place in darkness for far too long, and he doesn’t plan to give it up easily.  This work we do is absolutely our dream come true.  We couldn’t imagine doing anything else, yet this work comes with plenty of pain and heartache. All is not lollipops and roses.  We try to be very positive about what we share on social media about the Boys and our work.  It’s not like we’re dishonest or anything, it’s just very important to us that we always maintain the boys’ dignity, and to remember hope when we share.  Our boys have had everything stolen from them.  We will not go in and steal their dignity as well.  Honestly though, the more and more time we spend at Romaniv, the more and more layers of ugliness we uncover.  That’s just bound to happen.  In that regard, November was just plain rough on our spirits. It was not pretty. We couldn’t manage to think of much except putting one foot in front of the other.  The weight of injustice became almost too much to bear.  Adoption dreams were on the backburner.

Then two of our boys that we love VERY much were sent to a hospital several hours away and were lost to us.  The Director said they would be gone for at least a year, and “maybe forever”.  It felt like a death.  We just arrived one day and they were gone.  Oh the tears.  We were devastated because we knew those boys would not understand what was happening.  Would they be scared?  Would they be treated well?  Then we remembered our friend’s dream.  One of the boys that was sent away, Valera, was Vladik’s only real “peer” in the Isolation Hall.  He was the one other boy that would try to play a little, and the two of them were attached at the hip.  One of our big issues with adopting Vladik was knowing we could never take him away and leave Valera behind, but Valera was too old to be adopted. When we first started talking about adopting we had discussed trying to get guardianship of Valera and were really thinking we could find a way to take him home too, and then he was gone.  Just like the dream.  So, so sad.  Maybe this adoption idea was too much for our hearts to take on.

Sweet Valera

December came and we prepared to make a couple Christmas videos for Wide Awake, to introduce people to two of our boys.  Jed decided to feature Boris in his video because they have a really special connection.  I couldn’t decide who to feature in mine!  After lots of indecision I decided to feature Vladik in my video because my deepest connection was with him, and I hoped maybe his family would discover him by watching the video.  Jed and I had basically stopped talking about adopting him ourselves, so if he couldn’t be ours I made it my mission to find him a family of his own.

Thousands of people saw the videos of Boris and Vladik.  🙂  Only a few days passed and a family wrote an email inquiring about adopting him!  My heart leaped and sank at the same time when I read their email.  Is that even possible?  It sure felt like it.  We wanted a family for him so badly, but oh man, I had so hoped it would be us.  Whenever our kids would watch the video of Vladik (which they were slightly obsessed with) Havalah would say “But Mommy, we don’t really want him to be adopted right?  Because then we would never get to see him anymore!”  She said it every.single.time.  Anyway, I got over myself 😉 and  was truly excited to get that inquiry about Vladik, but then we found out that the interested parents were too young to adopt Vladik.  They were only 12 years older than him, and by Ukrainian law adoptive parents have to be at least 15 years older than the child they are adopting.  Back to the drawing board, loving our boy more than ever after seeing how many people responded to his preciousness in the video.


  
Then one morning in January Jed woke up early and felt like God spoke to him super clearly, “So, when are you gonna finally move forward with adopting Vladik?”  Uuuuuuh now, I guess????  Ha!  Jed came and told me he felt like we were supposed to go for it, and that was that.  I mean, we loved him, he needed a family, it was really a no-brainer.  All of our reasons for saying no seemed absolutely fearful and selfish and lame.  Our baby was right in front of our faces and he needed his mommy and daddy.  We sought wisdom from our parents, our pastor, and a few friends, and they were all completely supportive and completely not surprised.  🙂  In mid-January we began working on documents, and on August 31st Vladik became our son.

It might have taken 15 years, but Vladik is finally found.  We pray and believe that God will use Vladik to be a voice for those who are yet to be rescued. We pray and believe that God will use our family, and our adoption story to show Ukrainian people the value of our Boys.  It’s awesome, God has spoken to us, and to many others that Vladik is going to bring our family so much joy.  We know that of course there are bound to be some rough moments ahead, but we just keep getting the word “JOY”.  As Jed and I drove away from court after the judge declared Vladik was our son we had tears streaming down our faces: “How is it that God saved Vladik for us?  How did we get to be the lucky ones?”

He is so valuable.  He is so beautiful.  He is our baby and we are the happiest, most blessed family in the world.