A Different Kind of Hero

On Sunday we had quite the scary experience. We had been at church, picked up some groceries, and arrived back at home. Seth was helping Boris get out of the van and Boris, for whatever reason, didn’t try to step out of the van at all, but just leaned all of his body weight on unprepared Seth. Boris fell backward and hit the ground- head first with a loud thunk/crack/give.me.a.heart.attack. I screamed (loudly) for Jed and he rushed out to scoop Boris up in his arms. It was so scary. It makes my stomach ache just remembering that moment.

Boris turned out to be fine. Thank you Jesus!  Since he is nonverbal and couldn’t tell us anything about how he was feeling, we decided it was best to take him straight to the hospital after the fall to get him checked out. All the questions about blurry vision or pain or feeling confused were irrelevant since Boris doesn’t speak.  I found myself watching him constantly for any sign of discomfort or any irregularities. He seemed a bit “off” that day and the next, but since then has been totally himself. We are so thankful.

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In those moments after the fall his vulnerability slapped me in the face. In those moments my empathy for him grew by leaps and bounds. I realized again just how incredibly vulnerable Boris is. He can’t verbalize his needs or wants. He can’t cook or prepare his own food. He can’t get to the toilet without help. He can’t get his clothes on and off without help. He can’t bathe himself. He can only walk very short distances. He relies on us for absolutely everything – 100% of the time.

We don’t know if Boris was able to do more things independently in his early years, before he came to the institution. But we do know that for the past 19 years at the institution he was 100% reliant on others to meet his needs. He was completely at the mercy of the institution’s staff. He relied on them for food, drink, cleanliness, safety- he could do nothing for himself. He was completely vulnerable and had to entrust himself into their hands, because he had no choice. But the ones who were meant to meet all of those needs let him down. He wasn’t safe. He wasn’t clean. He was chronically dehydrated and his body was emaciated and twisted from neglect. Because of lack of resources, lack of staff, and an environment that does not value life, he suffered. He suffered so greatly for many years. The neglect and abuse he has seen is more than any human should ever have to endure. My heart breaks.

Then one day, 4 months ago, Boris was plucked out of that environment and had no choice but to entrust himself to others: us. As vulnerable as ever, he came to us broken and afraid. Life has not taught him that people are to be trusted. Life has taught him that he has to fight and manipulate to make sure his needs are met.  Boris didn’t know our intentions, and maybe he still doesn’t fully know them, but because of his physical and mental limitations, he must put his trust in us. He is completely vulnerable. He has no other choice.

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This morning I was helping Boris to put his dirty clothes in the hamper. He did an awesome job and I was so proud of him! In that proud and happy moment I reached up to give him a high five and he flinched. He thought I was going to hit him and all the happiness of the moment flew out of the room. Oh my heart. He had so much fear on his face. So I tried to repair the moment. I told him how much I love him, I told him how smart he is, how special he is…I kissed his face and hugged his neck. But the peacefulness of the morning was ruined. He went back into his place of fear. Self-harm was again the order of the day.  I took him outside to wait for our neighbor to take him for his morning walk. I brought Bluebell (our dog) over for comfort, put his weighted blanket on his lap, turned on some of his favorite music, and after a few minutes he was smiling at me again. He again entrusted himself to me. What a precious, brave soul.

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What will we do with the trust Boris gives to us? How will we care for him in his moments of greatest vulnerability? Will we shush him and brush him off even when we see that he is trying to communicate something, or will we take the moment to be patient and try to understand? Will we get irritated when he self-harms, or will we choose compassion and again help him to keep himself safe? Will we become victims to our own life decisions, or will we recognize what an honor it is to care for him and take part in his healing?

I want to always remember what an incredible honor and privilege it is to be the ones who get to care for Boris. We get to teach him a new way. We get to show him that people can be loving. Hands can be for hugs and gentleness. Words can be spoken in love and patience. What joy to watch him learn that there will always be enough to eat. He will always have a place at the table. He will always have a daddy there to scoop him up when he falls. He will always have brothers and sisters to push him on the swing. He will always have a safe, warm place to sleep. Every time we serve Boris we show him a new way. We hold his vulnerable heart in our hands and we care for his vulnerable body. It isn’t always easy, but if we keep our hearts open it will always be beautiful.

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Boris is so incredibly strong. His body may be weak, but to have endured the life he has been given and still choose to smile, still choose to love, still choose to accept love from others… I have so much to learn.

There is no doubt in my mind that people like Boris will be the ones at the head of that big feasting table in heaven. The weakest among us has become my hero.

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I remember that night as clear as day. I remember the night we drove to the institution, knowing only that one little boy was dying and we had to do something about it.

He was new to the institution, having arrived the week before from the baby house. He was sick upon arrival and was quickly sent to the hospital. The hospital said there was nothing they could do for him: “His brain is dying”. So they promptly sent him back to the institution to die. We had seen him just the day before, and although we had never met before and had no baseline, we didn’t think he looked too concerning. I’m an RN with many years of experience and I never would have imagined that the next night he would be on his deathbed. He looked pale, stiff, eyes with circles under them from exhaustion, but many of our boys look like that and they are not actively dying. I thought he looked fragile, but I did not fear for his life.

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The first day we met

I was wrong. Because now that I know this precious, precious boy I can look back and see how very ill he was that night. He was a shell of a boy. His body was there, but his soul was just barely hanging on. The boy we saw that day should have frightened the heck out of me. He was oh so sick. We just didn’t know.

Late at night, the day after we first met him I was contacted by some ministry friends who told me that he was dying and the nannies didn’t expect him to live through the night. I was shocked. What???  I just saw him! How can this be? A few of us from the team rushed to the institution late in the night to see if there was anything at all that could be done to save his life.

It was a fight. It was a battle I’ll never forget. I remember standing on the sidewalk outside the Isolation Hall. All around us was dark, save the moon above us, the four of us were discussing/arguing about what to do next. We were panicked and knew time was not on our side. In the end we had to pull connections at the very top of the Ukrainian government to get our boy to the hospital. But, God made the way and to the hospital he went. From the local hospital he went to a regional hospital, then to a hospital in Kyiv- creating waves at every stop.

His story reached many people all over Ukraine. Top Dogs in the Ukrainian government took a big interest in his story and a fight for life became no longer just about him- but he began to represent the thousands just like him: forgotten, neglected, deemed unworthy, deemed a waste of time and resources. News stories were broadcasted and people rose up in outrage. This little boy whose life was miraculously saved that night in a rural institution became a type of poster child for orphan reform. His life became a voice for the voiceless.

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In the hospital in Kyiv

Eventually our little one, we’ll call him “Andy” (Addy’s name choice) 🙂 was released from the hospital and went to live with a sweet family from our church- an older mom and her two adult daughters. The plan was that he would live with them for a short time while his birth mom decided what she wanted to do: take him home, or sign away her rights and release him for adoption (returning him to institutional care was never an option any of us considered). The weeks turned into months and the months turned into a year, and the foster family fell in love. Andy has become a member of the family and he loves them just as much as they treasure him. And oh, how he has thrived in the light of their love.

The time has now come- the time we anticipated and dreaded all at once. The time has come to find our Andy a forever family outside of Ukraine. Mom decided that she is just not able to give him the care that he needs and deserves and she has signed away her rights. Our sweet foster family, as much as they adore Andy, recognize that he will never be able to live up to his full potential here in Ukraine. He needs therapy and medical attention that is simply unavailable here. They cry just talking about me writing this blog post, but they love him enough to let him go.

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So, I’m turning to all of you, asking for help. The time has come to find the family that is perfectly suited for our boy. I am absolutely confident that they are out there.

Let me tell you more about Andy. He is 7 years old and has lived most of his life in family. He lived with his mother and father until they felt they couldn’t care for him anymore, and then he spent a year and a half in institutional care before moving to live with our foster family. Because of that, he does not have the institutional behaviors you see in our boys at Romaniv. He has endured trauma, there is no doubt about that, but he has also known the love of a family and has been very well-loved at that!

Andy has Cerebral Palsy and this is his great challenge. He is not able to sit up, stand, or walk independently- but he sure wants to! He tries to mimic people and say words, but does not speak fluently. He is not toilet trained at this time. His muscles just do not listen well to his brain, so his ability to feed himself or do much independently is limited. He is so smart. He understands everything and knows what he does and doesn’t want. Don’t let his disability trick you- he is fully alive in there and I can’t wait to see what he has to say once he is given more ways to communicate. Other than his CP diagnosis, he is a fairly healthy boy. He gets the occasional respiratory infection, but he is growing and developing in a healthy manner.

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He wants to stand and walk so bad!

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Andy enjoys cars and trucks and toys of all kinds. He needs some help to play with them, but he does like to play. He loves to watch cartoons and to color…he enjoys age-appropriate activities, he just needs help in order to engage. His arms move unpredictably and the spastic nature of his CP makes intentional movement extremely difficult. He absolutely needs consistent therapy.  Andy is social and likes to be with people. He is firmly attached to his foster family and it’s easy to see how he loves them. He prefers them over anyone else and cries when he is separated from them. He even sleeps in their arms! I told you he is well loved. 🙂

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Andy is now available for international adoption and we are actively seeking a family. This adoption will be different than any other Ukrainian adoption I know of, because Andy will be adopted while living in the foster family- not from an institution. The high-ups in the government who personally care about him have worked to make that exception possible. The adoptive family will be well-supported in Ukraine as many, many  people have a very personal interest in Andy and his well-being. He is loved by many. The Ukrainian portion of the adoption will be well-supported by the government. The foster family is an absolute wealth of knowledge and would love to be a support to the adoptive family in whatever ways the family wants.  In other words, if you step off the ledge for this one you will not be alone. We are here for you and our love for Andy compels us to do anything and everything we can to make his adoption a success.

Saying yes to adopting Andy is no small decision. He will require a lot of care- especially in the beginning as he will be separated from everyone he loves. His care is physically demanding too. He’s getting to be a big boy and he can not care for himself at this point.

But, oh the joy. Oh.the.joy!

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Out of the many thousands of children in institutions all over Ukraine, God chose this one. He plucked Andy from his deathbed in the dead of night from an institution in the middle of nowhere and saved his life. He was mere hours away from dying- this beautiful, amazing, smart, happy boy was almost lost to us. But no. God saw him and acted. God has used Andy’s life to be a voice for others and I believe He will continue to do that.

He is one special boy and I have no doubt that his adoptive family will be blessed beyond measure by his life.

Will you help share him with the world?  Please share this post and please pray about your own response. Are you the family that is missing their son?

If you have any questions about Ukrainian adoption in general, or more specific questions about Andy you can email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I will be happy to talk with you. Video can be made available to interested families. 

In Loving Memory

I was sitting at the doctor with Vladik yesterday when I got the text.

Our sweet Dima had left this earth, gone to be with Jesus. He was twenty-seven years old and he was my love.

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Dima had been ill and away in a special hospital for the past several months.  We missed him desperately and couldn’t wait for him to get well and return to us.  He did return last month, but to our dismay he looked terrible.  He was so much worse, not at all healthy.  He was thin and yellow and just so sick.  After only a few days he was taken back to the hospital, several hours away.  He died there a couple of days ago and was buried yesterday at the cemetery in the town of Romaniv. We went to see where his body was laid, surrounded by the graves of other boys gone before him.

We are shocked and just heartbroken. It wasn’t supposed to go like this.  He was supposed to be with us. We were so excited for the day when Dima would come live with us at the homestead.  We pictured him in our family forever. He was my special boy and I just knew that someday I would get to mother him the way my heart longed to mother him.  I so desperately wanted to watch him blossom and grow and come to know the love of a family here on earth.  But, God had another plan.

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Can I tell you about my Dima?  I want as many people as possible to know him and to see him for the precious, beautiful treasure that he was.  He was amazing.

When we first started going to Romaniv we hardly noticed Dima.  He was always tied to his bed because he wasn’t able to walk and was a fall risk.  He usually looked drugged and out of it, and just wasn’t able to connect with other humans on pretty much any level.  He was like a dead person. I’ve seen an old video of him from years ago and know that he wasn’t always like that, but somewhere along the way he was lost. 

In the summer of 2014 we started taking a few boys at a time to the Sensory Room to get them into a quiet environment where we could try to connect with them one on one.  I remember our team debating if we should even try to take Dima there.  He couldn’t walk, but was long, awkward and heavy.  One of the guys would have to carry him. Whenever we did take him there he would just sleep or zone out and it felt almost like a waste of time.  There were so few hands available, shouldn’t we be focusing in on the boys who seem to enjoy our company, or at least seemed to benefit from it?

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No, no, no.  Dima had been passed over for his entire life.  Drugged and left to sit in his own excrement for hours on end, his whole life he had been cast aside.  Would we be the next in a long line of people who had passed over him and thought of him as unworthy?  NO.

So, we kept taking him to the Sensory Room. And one day that summer, a miracle happened. Nina, one of our team members, was sitting on a bean bag with Dima in the Sensory Room.  She was just sitting near him, being with him, when she picked up a little toy xylophone.  She tapped tapped it next to his ear and he sat up! He looked at Nina with wide eyes, made some sounds and gave her the hugest smile.  Our Dima was awake! Nina was crying and laughing. In amazement we all jumped up and ran over to see. I will never ever forget that beautiful moment.

How is it possible that after a lifetime of suffering, when Dima finally awoke, his first response was a smile?  JOY. I can’t even comprehend it.

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Over the next two years we had the awesome privilege of watching Dima come more and more alive.  He still had many days when his mind was somewhere else, not wanting to, or not able to engage with us, but he also had many days when he was funny and smiley and would babble your ear off.  We all absolutely adored him. He learned to say “banana” and “Lala” (the Ukrainian word for a doll). Roma, one of our team members had a special love for Dima and was working to teach him to feed himself independently.  Every time he was at Romaniv, Roma would make sure to pick up Dima and get him out of his bed.  He would cuddle him on the couch and just enjoy being near him.  Our baby.

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I know that our grieving and mourning is more about us than about Dima.  He is finally free.  He’s definitely not grieving and he knows no pain.  He is made whole.  He can run! He can speak! He is healed and right now he knows the great love of the Father better than we can even begin to comprehend.

Still, we grieve.  We miss our friend and we always will.  My heart aches for the suffering he had to endure in this life.  I wonder if he was alone when he died?  Did he suffer?  Was he in pain? Did anyone at that hospital far away truly care for him?  Was he treated well?  Did anyone see him for the treasure he was? My heart longed to show him every day that he was loved, even adored.  I dreamed of how much he would blossom in the love of a family.  I so wanted him to experience that joy and peace here on earth. Why was so much of his life spent waiting for life to begin?  It’s hard to trust God’s ways in times like this. 

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But then I remember his joy that day, years ago in the Sensory Room. For many years humans had not been a positive thing in Dima’s life.  Humans had hurt him and neglected him and cast him aside.  But when awakened and faced with humans- he smiled.  The only way that was possible was if God was near to him in a way that we couldn’t see. God promises in His Word to be a Father to the Fatherless, and we have to trust that He keeps his Word. We have to trust that God showed his love to Dima in the deepest places of his mind and soul. We have to trust that even if he seemed to live this life so alone and abandoned, his Father in heaven never left his side, even for one second.

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It was the joy of the Lord that brought the smile to Dima’s face.

It was the peace of God that followed him when he traveled to the hospital far away.

And it was the goodness of God that allowed his suffering to end.

We will never forget our precious Dima.  We will miss him forever.  But may we never ever forget his joy in unimaginable circumstances.  Please, learn from his life. Choose joy today. 

Precious Dima, you were loved.  You were treasured.  You were longed for and wanted. We saw your beauty and we will never be the same because of you.  

Run free, my love.

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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! 

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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.

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. 

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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!