The One Left Behind

Today our precious “Kayden” met his adoptive family. That means that Aaron is the only boy available for adoption at the institution- and he ages out at the end of this year! SEVEN of our boys have been advocated for and are now living in families. SEVEN boys who were once lost are now found.

Aaron is the only one left behind who has the chance for a family. I wrote this post a couple of years ago. Will you please help me share Aaron’s face? He is so in need of the love of a mama and daddy. 

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Today I want to help you get to know our precious Aaron.

I haven’t done much advocating specifically for him.  Out of all of our boys who are available for adoption you probably know him the least.  That’s my fault.  My faith has been small.

This is the thing: some kids are really easy to write about.  Every picture you take of them is adorable and people can’t get enough of their cuteness.  Maybe they smile all the time and our cameras seem to find them on every visit.  I can’t keep cuteness like that to myself!  It just wouldn’t be right!  😉

Other kids are more difficult to write about.  Maybe they don’t photograph well, or maybe they just never sit still long enough for anyone to capture more than a blur of movement. Maybe their behaviors are really difficult to manage and it’s hard to know what to say.  Maybe there aren’t many cute stories to share…maybe none of their history is known so it’s hard to paint a whole picture.

Aaron is one who has been difficult to write about.  I haven’t quite known what to say.

One of my biggest concerns with advocacy is that I want to be very, very certain that I am writing with honesty. I have nightmares about adoptive families arriving at the institution, meeting their child for the first time and saying to me “You didn’t tell me this!”  I know that adoptive families can never truly understand what our boys are like, or what Romaniv is until they arrive and see it firsthand: smell the smells, hear the sounds, feel the pain.  But I’d like them to at least feel that I was honest in my description of the son they have fought so hard to rescue.

Because of that, it’s more difficult to advocate well for a child like Aaron.

He’s so difficult to photograph. His behaviors are extremely tricky to manage.  He is not liked by many of the orphanage staff. His quality of life is so poor, I can’t even accurately describe it.  He is loud. When we first met he was like a wild animal: a sensory-seeking boy in a sensory-deprived environment.  His life is pure nothingness so he searches for sensory input however he can get it.  If that means he has to literally climb up a team member’s body to get their attention, he’ll do it.  He absolutely LOVES water, but never gets access to it, so we have spent many a visit with one team member’s sole task being to keep Aaron from ripping the sink apart in his desperate attempt to feel the water.

He needs so much more than he is getting- in every single area of his life.

But the thing is, all the reasons that make advocacy difficult are the reasons why Aaron needs a voice maybe more than any of the other boys who are available to be adopted.

It’s almost impossible to get a good picture of him.  But I think he is absolutely beautiful.

He is loud and he screams and he has no words.  I hear the plea of a baby boy asking for his mommy.  I hear a sweet little boy whose voice is never heard.  I hear a child crying to be rescued.

He is a wild man who drives the nannies absolutely crazy with his quest for sensory input.  I see a little boy who is desperate for a big backyard and a dog and a hose on a sunny day.  I see a sweet soul who needs to be able to swing for hours on end, feel the wind in his face and the grass under his toes.  

God has given us a very special love for our boys that goes beyond reason.  It’s a supernatural love that could only come from him.  He gave us mommy and daddy love that sees the beauty of our boys, even when they do things that would not be considered beautiful, or even cute. He gave this love to us so that we would have the umph and the passion and the drive to fight for them.  He gave us voices so that we could speak for the voiceless. He made us totally biased, because our boys need people who are on their side and are completely biased for them.

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I am biased in my love for Aaron.  It’s true!

So today I speak for Aaron and I tell you that he is a treasure. He has boundless energy and so much curiosity. He wants to learn and soak in all that life has to offer. And this most precious treasure is desperate for a family.  His situation is dire.  He is unwanted and disliked and abused…and soon his time will run out. I want to talk all about the ways I believe he would change in a family, but I need to tell you how he is right now, because I can’t know he will or won’t change. A family that chooses him needs to come in with eyes wide open and love him just as he is.

See my boy.  Please see him.  Imagine if he was rescued and brought into a family where he could get love and care.  No doubt it will be a difficult road to walk, and the adoptive family will need to be prepared to devote a lot of time to Aaron, but oh my, it will be so worth it! To watch him come to life would be an absolute miracle to behold.  The parents who get that privilege are blessed indeed. I know from experience.  🙂

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God knew Aaron before he was even born.  He saw him in his mother’s womb and formed him there.  He created him for purpose and destiny.  He is as valuable as you.  He is as valuable as me.  He is as worth it as my Ezra, my Seth, my Vladik.  He is someone’s son- they just don’t know it yet.  He shouldn’t be spending his summers sleeping on a mattress to avoid attention and abuse.  He should be running in the sprinkler and going down slides and eating Popsicles.  Why not?  He’s just a little boy.  A little boy in a desperate situation.

So, please pray and please share.  Please pause and ask the Lord how you should respond to Aaron.  Don’t dismiss him because he sounds difficult, please.  He is made in the image of God and he will bring blessing and joy to some lucky family’s home.  Maybe yours?

 

 

You can read more about Aaron and donate toward the cost of his adoption here. Interested families are welcome to contact me with questions at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

My Joy

I remember the first time Jed and I ever visited Romaniv. It was in the spring of 2012 and we were in Ukraine just checking out what God had for us here. We thought we wanted to work with institutionalized people here, but we had never even been here! We knew zero language, pretty much zero about the culture and had never stepped foot in an institution. We were clueless, but we just wanted to follow Jesus and we knew He had something for us in Ukraine.

I remember we walked into Romaniv and were instantly surrounded by men. They were grabbing my hair, stroking our arms, taking our hands. The smells and sounds were completely overwhelming. But I distinctly remember catching Jed’s eye though the mob and both of us having this sense like “Yep, this is it. This is where we’re supposed to be.” We didn’t necessarily know that Romaniv was the place for us to be, but we definitely knew that we were supposed to be in close proximity and close relationship with the vulnerable and the broken.

Fast-forward 7 years and here we are, livin’ the dream in our Ukrainian village. 🙂

For the past couple of years my focus has had to be less and less on Romaniv, and the boys in the institution, and more and more here, at the Homestead with the boys in our home. I went to Romaniv at least once a week from the time we moved here until the fall of 2017 when I was more advanced in my (surprise!) pregnancy with Evie and it just didn’t feel safe to be there with a big belly. Plus, the terrible roads made my uterus very unhappy. 😉 I have visited some, over the past two years, but it has been infrequent and the visits have been too short for my liking.

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Then after Evie was born I still really couldn’t be at Romaniv because she was nursing and I couldn’t leave her for long enough periods of time to get there and back and to be able to have any time with the boys. We had Boris with us too, and I was simply needed at home. Then enter Ruslan and Anton and our lives were turned completely on their heads. Suffice to say, We’ve been rather busy. Oy.

During that time while I’ve been absent our awesome interns and our wonderful Vika have been serving as faithfully as ever, loving and serving the boys. Of course Jed has gone too, as time has allowed.

We always knew that the more boys we brought here, to the Homestead, the more our attention would need to shift toward home. There is just no way to be in both places at once. But man, we have missed our boys. We knew they were being well-loved by our team, but we have missed our friends.

That’s why I’m so so happy to say that I’ve recently been freed up to go regularly with our interns Romaniv! Vika has been overseeing the interns for the past three years and has been a wonderful leader and mentor for them. But over the past several months she has taken more and more of the lead on caring for Preston and at this point it is better for her and for him if she is able to focus solely on caring for him until his adoptive parents arrive. We want her to be able to give her best to Preston and not feel pulled in too many directions. So, for the time being, I get the privilege of working with our interns!

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Every other week I will go with them and spend the whole day with them as they work with the boys in the Isolation Hall. My role is basically to support them in any way I can. I’ll make sure they have everything they need, help liaison between them and administration, and mostly just be a supportive presence so that they know they are not alone in this difficult work. I’ve already gone twice with them and I’m JUST SO HAPPY!!!!

I’m so THANKFUL to get to spend time with the boys I love.

I’m so THANKFUL that Jed is behind this and is supporting me in this time away.

I’m so THANKFUL that Evie is a trooper and loves her brothers and sisters and daddy so much that she is okay without Mommy for a day.

A part of me that has had to lie dormant for a while is being brought back to life and it feels good and right to be there. Of course Romaniv is never going to be a comfy place or a ” nice” place to be, but it is one of the few places here in Ukraine where I feel completely myself. If you really think about it, the friendships we have there with our boys, some of the nannies, and administration are some of our oldest relationships here in Ukraine! We knew our boys before we knew our team! Sitting with them and just being with them, without distraction, without laundry to tend to or phone calls to make or meals to cook is a gift and I am not taking it for granted.

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Another gift that comes with going regularly to Romaniv is that the visits renew my empathy and compassion for the guys living in our home. When I am reminded, face to face, of where our guys came from I can see with fresh eyes just how far they’ve come. When I come home from a day at Romaniv I’m so full of gratitude that Vladik, Boris, Ruslan and Anton are safe at home and not back in that place. It also renews my purpose and passion to get the others out as soon as possible.

So, expect to see more of our Romaniv boys in this space in the coming months. I bet you’ve missed them too!

PRESTON: An Update + Video

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

THANK YOU to every one of you who has shared Preston’s story with the world. As of today more than 40,000 people have viewed the blog post about his urgent need for a family.

Please keep sharing! So far no one has stepped up for Preston. There have been many, many inquiries by email, Facebook and Instagram, but no one has taken the leap.

I can not emphasize enough that this is a race against time. A family must step up NOW. If you are one of those interested families, I’m sorry to rush you…but hurry up! 🙂

Certain questions about Preston have been asked several times, so I will answer them here.

Why can’t Preston’s current family adopt him? There is no doubt that Preston’s current caregivers love him immensely. They adore him and he is a genuine member of the family. They also went into this committing to care for him for one year, and now have passed the two year mark. They never took Preston in with the plans to keep him forever. His current family saved his life. They nursed him back to life and have sacrificed SO MUCH because of their great love for him. Their hearts will break to see him go. But they are not, and have never been, his permanent plan.

  1. Much like in the US, after a certain length of time in transition, a child’s case must move to a permanency plan. Preston’s time in transition has run out. His permanency plan is adoption- either domestic or international. He can not legally stay in his current situation.
  2. Ukraine does not allow single parent adoptions. He currently lives with a single woman and her adult daughter. Neither of them are legally allowed to adopt him.
  3. Both members of his current family have expressed more than once that they believe Preston would do best with a father in the family. He lights up around men and you can see he longs for that relationship that a father can provide. His current home can not provide that for him.

How can it be best for Preston to leave his country, culture and language and be adopted internationally? This is a question that is not easily answered in one paragraph of a blog post. So, so much in that question.

For sure, bringing Preston out of Ukraine into a family culture and language that is completely foreign to him will be very difficult on him. FOR SURE. There is no denying it. I am a huge advocate of keeping kids in their home culture whenever possible. The USA and other western countries are wonderful and have many amazing resources that we do not have access to further east, but I definitely do not believe that the USA and other western countries are the best place for every child.

So why do I advocate for Preston to be adopted out of Ukraine?

  1. I advocate for that because no one in Ukraine has stepped forward for him.
  2. Preston would greatly benefit from medical resources (therapy, medications) that are simply not available yet in Ukraine. He has so much potential, but lack of consistent therapy and doctors up-to-date on the latest in helping children with CP hold him back significantly. His CP is basically untreated at this point.
  3. He is a very smart boy, but Ukraine does not have special education, so he is unable to attend school. This breaks my heart because I KNOW he is so capable. There are no resources here for home education- least of all education of a child with any special needs.

We love Ukraine. Heck, we moved our entire family here, permanently. I am not some random person who is not personally invested into this country and her people. We have given our lives to being sparks of change here. So let’s get that straight: I love Ukrainian people. I am committed to Ukraine. I also am raising children and adults with significant special needs here in Ukraine and I face every day what it means to live with people in a culture that does not accept them. Change is coming slowly, but it is extremely difficult to  live in Ukraine with people with special needs. I’m not just talking about lack of accessibility, which is a big problem, I’m talking about the attitude of the society as a whole. Life here is an uphill battle for our guys every day and I’m not going to pretend that life would necessarily be better for Preston here.

If a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that love him and are ready to fight for him then OF COURSE it is better for that child to stay in Ukraine with his family. That’s not even a question. On the other hand, if a child with special needs is born into a Ukrainian family that does not want him (like Preston) or feels they can not care for him and they give that child to the State, then it is in the child’s best interest for us to look as far and wide as we can until we find someone who will love and care for him.

Those are hard words to write, but it’s my love for Preston and thousands other just like him that compel me to point at the elephant in the room and not ignore it. If Preston is not adopted he will return to the institution where he nearly died, so no, when it comes down to him losing his language or losing his life, I will not say it is best for him to stay in  Ukraine.

If you have more questions about Preston or adoption please don’t hesitate to ask! I am happy to talk with interested families.

I wrote extensively about his needs here.  You can give a tax deductible donation to Preston’s adoption grant here.

Thank you for your continued advocacy! Please keep it up! Let’s find our boy a family.

I know I wrote some strong words about Ukraine. Of course there are many exceptions to this and a few of them come and work at our house every day. They fight alongside us for our guys and they, and others like them, will be the ones to change their country. 

URGENT- Family Needed

Update 4/15: An adoptive family has stepped forward for Preston! They are currently compiling their adoption dossier as quickly as possible. If you would like to donate to their adoption fund follow this link: https://reecesrainbow.org/129794/sponsorrichardson2

Hello Dear Friends.

I’m coming to you today with an urgent need. My heart is heavy and I’m pleading with you to share, pray, and consider how you could play a part in this story.

Remember “Preston” (formally known as ‘Baby A’)? I wrote a detailed blog about him here. To jog your memory, he was dying at the institution in October 2016. We went there in the night and after calls to people in high places of Ukrainian government, he was rescued and he lived. He now lives with a wonderful family in our church and is available for international adoption.

We just learned that Preston has 6 months to be adopted or he will be returned to the Institution.

Friends, this simply CAN NOT happen.

Life in the institution almost killed Preston. He was hours from death when we came to him that October night. I am certain returning to that place would be a death sentence for him.

He is so smart, so beautiful, so social. He is a part of a family now and he is adored. Preston has blossomed in family life and we just can’t let him be orphaned again.

Due to personal circumstances and Ukrainian law, Preston cannot remain in his current living situation. He is loved very much, but all involved know international adoption is the best plan for him.

So I am asking you to please DO something to help our boy. Do not just read this and move on. Imagine your son or daughter, your nephew or niece, safe in their bed at home one day and the next day left alone in a mental institution. What would you do to prevent that reality? I know what I would do. I would shout. I would share the story. I wouldn’t give up and I wouldn’t shut up until they were free. Preston is no less worthy of that effort.

Here are ways you can help:

1. Share this post far and wide.

2. Donate to Preston’s adoption grant. The donations are tax deductible and help remove the financial burden of the adoption process for the family that chooses him. Donate here.

3. PRAY! God knows and sees our boy. May His will be done.

4. Consider if you could be Preston’s family. Why not you? Do not assume this is someone else’s YES. Maybe this is your YES. Please consider.

Help me shout for Preston! He can’t speak up for himself. We are his voice.

Read more about Preston here.

BeLOVE[d]

Please email me at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org for more information about Preston or the adoption process.

The Next Big Leap

Tomorrow is a big, big day around here. Tomorrow Ruslan and Anton, two more of our friends from Romaniv will come to live with us forever. Jed has legal guardianship of them, and now we are taking the next big leap to bring them into our family.

I’ve been posting updates about the process on our Wide Awake Facebook page, but I haven’t really had the time to write all about it on here. So, here goes!

The plan all along has been for us to be a pilot home for deinstitutionalization here in Ukraine. The family-style homes that we dream of don’t exist here (that we know of), so we are taking the leap to do it ourselves and see if we can be a model that Ukrainians can replicate. We don’t pretend to be, nor do we want to be THE great hope of Ukraine (that would be Jesus). This issue of institutionalized people is an issue that Ukrainian people need to solve. We are just called to be a spark. We are called to model a different way and encourage others to follow. To that end, we remodeled the Homestead house with the space to bring 3-4 boys/men from Romaniv to live with our family, to become members of our family. We already took guardianship of Boris back in December, and now Anton and Ruslan will round us out as a family of 11. We would technically have room for one more, but we feel that with Boris’ needs, plus the added blessing of our Evie, two more will pretty much bring us to capacity. 🙂

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Jed with Ruslan and Anton a couple weeks ago 🙂

Just like with Boris, we are now the legal guardians of Anton and Ruslan. We did not adopt them because they are already adults, so it’s not legally possible to do an adoption. Our Vladik is adopted (he was 15 when we adopted him, so legally still a child), but in our minds and hearts they are all the same. It’s just different in legal terms. In our minds, once they enter our home they are our family till death do us part. The intensity level rises a tad when you are bringing in a 30 year old, instead of a 15 year old, but if this is what God is asking us to do our answer still needs to be yes.

People have asked how we chose Anton and Ruslan out of all the wonderful boys that we know and love at Romaniv. Wow, that’s a good question with probably kind of a vague answer. I guess we just knew! With Boris it was no question. Jed and I both had a really intense attachment to him and it was just a “duh” that he would be the first. He needed out desperately and we knew he was meant to be with us. Then we started to pray and ask God who would be next. At first we thought we would take the men who were going to be first to age out of Romaniv, but right now in our region no-one is being transferred in to the institution, and no-one is being transferred out. So age doesn’t really matter. We knew we wanted to take men who were too old to be adopted and we wanted men who had no family to go back to. In our minds, reunification with birth family is the most amazing plan ever, and we want to advocate for that as much as possible. So, it was important for us to take men who would not have the opportunity for reunification.

Three years ago Anton and Ruslan were taken to a camp for children with special needs that our friends at Mission to Ukraine provide each year. I was on the “Romaniv” team with them and got to know them a bit. I’ll be honest that before that camp I had never noticed either of them at Romaniv. I absolutely fell in love with Anton at that camp. He has such a sweet spirit and boy oh boy, he is so abused at Romaniv. He is a whipping boy for the aggressors and spends most of his days rocking on a bench, probably attempting to disappear. At camp his precious spirit came alive and it was such a joy to behold. I’ve had a special love for him ever since that time.

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Anton and me at camp (2015)

Jed and I both also recognized at that camp the awesomeness of Ruslan. He is so smart and full of joy. Then in the spring of 2017 Jed and I both had encounters at Romaniv with Ruslan that firmly placed him in our hearts. We each had encounters when we were present when he had been hurt by another boy/man and were able to be at his side to comfort him while he cried. We had the gift of holding him and giving him the compassion that he has lacked for so many years. When it came time to choose our guys, Jed and I both eventually, in discussion and prayer, narrowed it down to those two boys. And we have never swayed since. There are many guys that, for safety reasons, we could not have in our home with our children, and then there are many that we absolutely adore and wish so much could come be a part of our family. But, we just don’t have space for everyone. We really needed God to speak to us, and we believe He has.

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Jed and Ruslan at camp (2015)

Anton and Ruslan are both more independent than Boris. Boris needs help with every aspect of life. Anton and Ruslan can feed themselves, go to the toilet independently, dress themselves, and walk. Ruslan has some mobility issues, so when we are out and about in town he’ll need to use a wheelchair, like Boris. Ruslan can speak, Anton only has a couple of words. Anton will need more assistance with daily life activities than Ruslan, but in general they will require less “hands-on” than Boris.

We understand the gravity of what we are about to take on. Well, I should say we understand it as much as we can at this moment! In reality, there is zero percent chance that we can predict what this transition will be like. We know that it is no small thing to take in two thirty year olds who have lived in hell for 20 years. We know they have been neglected and abused beyond belief and the path to healing will be long. But, we also know for certain that these two are meant to be with us. We have put safety precautions in place. We have had discussions with our kids. Our interns and Jed’s assistant, Kenny, will be helping us several days a week. Now all we can do is see how it goes, modify the plan as needed, and trust God to give us the wisdom we need. It seemed right to take Anton and Ruslan both out at the same time. Ruslan is a helper, and we hope he might be a comfort to Anton. Also, our family has been through A TON of transition over the last year and we just feel like we need to do this big transition and then be done with transition for a bit (if that’s even possible). We are eager to settle in as a family of 11 and get on with it!

I’ll be honest, this YES is the biggest yet for me. Yes, it was a lot to commit our lives to Vladik and Boris, but this feels even bigger to me. It feels scarier. Maybe that’s because now we have lived the reality of our commitment to Boris for several months and we are knee deep in the challenges and reality of what that looks like. Life with Boris is not without joy, but it is a hard, hard road. I know that Anton and Ruslan will have their own challenges and sometimes I worry about what that will look like in day to day life.

BUT

We know that we know that this is what God has asked us to do, so we have to put our trust in Him and keep on trusting.  Just like before, the only thing required of us is the next YES. We don’t need to worry about the future, because we’ll have the grace for it when it gets here. 🙂 I’m so excited to watch Ruslan and Anton become the men that God created them to be. I’m so excited to shower them with love. I’m so excited for our family to be complete.

Please pray for us as we take this big step. Pray for grace and peace and safety and health and most of all that God’s Kingdom would come and His will would be done in our home.

Thank you, Friends!

(This little snippet of Anton at camp a few years ago makes me smile)

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