Inside a Moment

Watch this 26 second video:

Our team sent us that video this past week and my heart melted. Tears filled my eyes and I couldn’t stop watching it over and over. Then I showed it to Jed and he kinda bawled his eyes out. I haven’t seen him like that for quite some time. It was a moment.

That video means so much to us because of the people in it, their stories, how our lives have become entwined and all that has led up to that beautiful moment in time. I’d love to break it down for you so you can see some of what we see when we watch.

The first boy I see is our friend Maxim. He is 34 years old and loves to tell that fact to everyone he meets by holding his fingers up in their faces. He knows how to count and is proud of himself when he counts correctly.

We met Maxim and his mama 6 years ago and have loved them ever since. Maxim is tall, quick to bear hug, only speaks a few words, but is as smart as a whip when it comes to math. He has always lived with his parents, but they are quite elderly, and after his older brother passed away they had no plan for who would care for Maxim after they are unable to do so themselves. A couple of years ago his mama approached us and asked if we would be willing to take Maxim into our Wide Awake family when they pass. “You don’t have to do much for him. Just help him with his clothes and make sure to cook him food.” Of course our answer was YES! And we’ll do more than just help him with his clothes and feed him. We will love him and care for him always. He will never be alone. He will never be placed in an institution. NEVER.

When we were at the sea in the fall our team felt like we needed to start incorporating Maxim into the life of our team, so every week, twice a week, he joins our boys for lessons and special time together. Because Maxim has always been loved and cared for, he doesn’t carry trauma like our other boys. His joy is like a little child. He adds something special to our family and is God’s gift to us all.

Next I see Ruslan, and then a glimpse of Anton: my precious boys. They wasted away for years- for decades- living like animals. Now they are celebrating Christmas, surrounded by people who love them and have given their lives so that they could live. They are known. They are happy. They are growing and thriving. In the good and in the bad, they are loved and accepted for who they are. BELOVE[d]

Then Kostya, sitting next to Masha, pops into the scene. Oh, my heart was so happy to see him there! Kostya lives with his courageous mama and is a great addition to our little group. Kostya has Down Syndrome and is also autistic. His autism makes it very difficult to engage with him. He is nonverbal and can get easily overwhelmed by new situations. But, oh man, he is perfect for us. He is just the kind of boy we love to love. He can be easily passed over in social situations, and it’s hard to know what’s happening in his mind, but our little company is great for him and his mom. Our teacher, Tanya, has worked really hard to keep connection with them and to help insure they are not isolated. They belong with us.

Oh, and then there’s Sergei! Look at that sweet smiling face. He’s showing us the ornament he’s made and he’s so proud of his work. Man, he looks so good, so healthy.

We met Sergei and his mama a few months ago when they were referred to us by the director of the institution. Sergei’s mama has been raising him all on her own and had reached the point of overwhelm many months earlier. Their situation seemed impossible, and his mama felt the only situation was handing him over to the institution. She couldn’t see any other way to move forward. Since then our team has worked so very hard to help keep Sergei in the home. They have encouraged mom, included Sergei in our classes and activities and brought him into the life of our team. We are praying and acting, doing whatever we can to keep this family together. We don’t know what the end of the story will be, but for now Sergei has new friends and he and his mama are a part of something bigger than themselves. Oh, my heart leaped when I saw his smiling face- happy and loved by friends. Please pray for his mama. She has been brave for so long. Pray that she will open up to our help and that she would know the Father’s love.

I see our team and Kostya’s mom, looking on with love and care. I know them and I understand what they had to do behind the scenes to make a little gathering like that come together. Oleg must have traveled all over town, picking everyone up and transporting them from their homes. Masha arranged the work schedule so there would be enough helping hands. Tanya planned the craft and made sure it was ready and developmentally appropriate. Max was there next to Anton, helping him to regulate his emotions within the bigger group. The candle was lit. I know music was playing- the atmosphere of love and warmth thought out and intentional. A gathering like that, with a group like that doesn’t just happen. It has to be thoughtfully created. But it is worth it that our boys would know they are loved and valued, and that they would feel Christmas cheer. 🙂

When I watch that video I remember the stories of how God brought so many different people together, people that 7 years ago we had no idea even existed, but are now our family.

Now go watch those 26 seconds again. Look into those faces and see what I see. I see beautiful, precious friends who were overlooked for too long, but are now celebrated. I see lives changed and I see love in action. Annnnd I’m thankful.

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About a Dog (Or a couple of them, rather)

Way back before COVID was in our lives (the beginning of last year, or 5 lifetimes ago…I’m not even sure anymore) our family made a plan to visit the US in the summer. We had this great idea to buy ourselves another dog, and then bring him back home with us to Ukraine when we returned in the fall. 

Our dog, Bluebell, is an English Shepherd and the best dog on the planet. We felt like she needed a companion, and was also the perfect age to teach a new pup how to behave. Our friend Paige, breeds English Shepherds and gifted us our Bluebell 5 years ago. She had a new litter of pups that would be the perfect age to travel to Ukraine at the end of the summer. Paige even had a sweet, sable pup that she thought would be a perfect addition to our family and he hadn’t been claimed yet. The stars were aligned- it was time to get ourselves a puppy! 

Bluebell

We purchased our puppy, Auggie, and Paige graciously agreed to keep him until we arrived in Oregon in June. 

Then COVID. (How many times have I written that sentence in my storytelling over the past few months??) 

The borders closed and flights were cancelled. It quickly became apparent that we were not going to be heading to the US for the summer. But what about our Auggie?  Well, a wonderful family that are also English Shepherd owners stepped in and agreed to care for Auggie till we could come to the US this winter. Problem solved! We were bummed to miss out on puppy time, but knew he was being well-cared for, and that the time would fly by quickly.  

Then came time to buy our tickets for our winter visit. And…surprise, surprise…COVID! 

Come to find out, many airlines have suspended pet travel during the pandemic, so our options for getting Auggie back to Ukraine dwindled and dwindled till we realized the only way to get him home would be by paying a pet shipping company like $1500. Needless to say, our “pet budget” doesn’t extend that far. Yikes. We were so sad to finally admit to ourselves that Auggie wasn’t going to be coming to Ukraine.

In the meantime, another pup had entered the picture. Our Seth, the saver of all strays, brought a puppy home off the street. This wasn’t the first time Seth has tried to adopt a stray, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. His soft heart can’t bear seeing an animal all alone. We told Seth that we didn’t need another dog because Auggie would soon be coming home (we were still fighting that battle). We tried to turn the pup out, but he wouldn’t go away. He stuck around, sleeping on our porch and even barking at strangers who would pass by! I guess he felt he had found his home. Pretty soon we started feeding him, giving him soft blankets to sleep on, and…it all kind of snowballed from there. At one point I told Jed “If we’re feeding this puppy we need to decide if he’s ours.” There are too many stray dogs around our village to start randomly feeding them all!

We were still tossing around the idea of keeping the puppy when we came to the conclusion that it was literally impossible for us to get Auggie to Ukraine this winter. I asked Auggie’s foster family if they wanted to keep him and they were more than happy to comply! They love Auggie and had become quite attached to him. Our hearts were at peace. Auggie was with a loving family, and “the puppy” was an orphan. He needed us. The whole situation seemed pretty “on brand” for our fam. Hehe. 😉

That’s the story of how Wendell joined our family. Life in the times of COVID- you just never know which strange turns it will take. Am I right? Our little Wendell will always be a reminder of our strangest year yet.

PS: When we were choosing a name for Auggie, Jed was really pushing the name “Wendell”. No one in the family agreed with him. None of us were fans. Then when the pup started hanging around our porch he started covertly calling him Wendell. I guess Jed came out as the winner on this one.

Bluebell and her new buddy

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Help is On the Way

I have the most incredible news to share with you! A wonderful couple from the US has decided to join our team as Live-In-Assistants!  I still can’t believe I actually get to write that. I kinda thought it would never happen. My smile is so big right now. It’s more than a little unbelievable that something we have prayed for for so long is actually happening- and right on time. But, I actually shouldn’t be surprised because that’s how God has worked in every step of this journey. He rarely sends what we need early, but he has yet to ever send it late. His timing is absolutely perfect. 

I am so happy to introduce you to Max and Morgan Martinez. Max and Morgan are a newly married couple that we actually met here in Ukraine. About a year and a half ago, a team came to visit us from Vineyard USA’s Heroic Leadership Institute, and Max and Morgan were on that team. The Heroic Leadership Institute is a discipleship program that lasts a full school year, and ends with an outreach overseas. Their team was sent to Ukraine for their outreach and spent about a week with us here at the Homestead. They helped us in the garden, played with our boys, spent time at Romaniv with our interns and made us laugh for basically the entirety of the week. 

Max and Morgan were deeply affected by their time in Ukraine and over the past year and a half, the work here hasn’t left their hearts. They just haven’t been able to shake it. That often happens with people who come here. Our boys and our team just have a way of grabbing on to your heart, and they don’t let go easily. Sooooo if you’re considering a visit, proceed with caution. 🙂 Max and Morgan got married this past spring, and as they looked forward into their future they found themselves talking about Ukraine and wondering if someday they would join us here. At some point the conversations became less “Maybe someday” and more “Why not now?” They are in a time of transition and find themselves as free to adventure as they’ll ever be. We are so honored and happy that they have chosen to adventure with us.

 At this point they are beginning to gather prayer support and the funds necessary. It’s an exciting time and a faith-building time. Max and Morgan are hoping to join our team around the first of February. So soon!!  It’s really perfect, because our family will be in the US for the holidays, and then once we return to Ukraine we’ll have a bit of time to prepare for them, and then it will be go-time! They will live in the duplex, helping us bring boys out of the institution to live with them there. Our team will work together with them to help our boys learn the love of family. It’s going to be awesome and hard and beautiful and stretching. The current plan is that Sasha will be the first boy to come live with Max and Morgan. He will be one blessed boy. Then as he adjusts, and as the team feels ready, we will add three more boys, one at a time, over the course of several months. We always feel a sense of urgency, but we refuse to rush. All will be done prayerfully and we will follow peace in the process. 

At this point, Max and Morgan are committing to living in the duplex for one year, and as time passes they will prayerfully consider another year. Again, no rushing out ahead. We are all really trying to move forward prayerfully, knowing that God will give wisdom as it is needed. 

Max and Morgan are beginning to reach out to their community for prayer support and financial support. They will need to raise money for plane tickets, visas and residency costs, translation help, and then just personal money to have on hand here for their days off, for time to take care of themselves and such. The total needed for one year will be $8,000. If any of you feel like you would like to help get Max and Morgan here you can give a tax-deductible donation at the link below. The funds will be separate from the Wide Awake General Fund, so 100% of your donations will directly support the Martinez family. 

Thank you to all of you who have joined us in praying for the right people to come along to help. God hears our prayers and he loves this work. He is always for us and we are just in awe of his provision. Exciting times are ahead!

PS: We are still in search of people who would like to join our team here in Ukraine. The need for Live-In-Assistants will be ongoing- forever. Ha! As we finish the second side of the duplex and plan to bring more boys to live there, more willing hands and hearts will be needed. If you are interested or have more questions, please do reach out! 

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An Idea I’m Excited About :)

A couple days ago I got the best message from an American couple that live in Kyiv. I met them briefly on a trip to Ukraine before we moved here. Throughout the years they have followed the work and sent encouraging notes here and there to let us know that they pray for us. (Those kinds of notes are the best notes, by the way)

Last winter when it all hit the fan and we had to immediately remove Anton from our house, they let me know that they had been praying for Anton every night, and would continue to do so. In that terrible time, it was such a giant encouragement to hear that they were praying faithfully for our precious guy.

That brings us to a couple of days ago when I got another message from the couple letting us know that through all these months they have continued to pray for Anton every night. I was so shocked to read that! In that moment I was able to let them know that actually, Anton has really been struggling the past couple of weeks. They were thankful to know so they could understand better how to pray for him. It made me wish I had been sharing more about Anton with them all along.

Then I had an idea!

As we’ve been planning our transition off of social media, we have been trying to think of ways for the Wide Awake community to stay engaged. I love the “back and forth” we have on social media and I really love that so many of you feel that you truly “know” our boys. That is a beautiful thing, to know our boys have cheerleaders in their corner that rejoice with us in every little victory and cry with us when times are tough. I don’t want to lose that part of community. It is an important piece at the heart of this work: to know and be known.

I would love to gather like-minded people together into groups that would celebrate, cheer on, pray for, and share the beauty of each of our boys. I’m thinking we need a “Team Boris”, “Team Ruslan”, “Team Anton” and “Team Vlad”. Then as more boys are added to our Wide Awake Family, we can gather teams for them as well. We probably need to gather a “Team Sasha” too, seeing as how Jed will soon be his guardian. Woot!

What does it mean to join a team?

  • We will send each team member a postcard of their boy that they can put on their fridge as a daily reminder of the precious life across the ocean.
  • I will email the teams each month with an update on their boy, prayer points and fun videos and pictures.
  • If we’re going through a rough patch I can let the team know and they can pray, support and encourage.
  • If there is a big gain for one of our boys, the team will know and be able to celebrate with us. I know it would mean a lot to our team here in Ukraine to hear that support and love from others for the boys that mean so much to them.
  • I even had an idea for a live chat with the team and their boy every so often…now that sounds fun!
  • Edited to add: I will still give regular updates about all the boys on the blog and in the weekly emails. The “teams” are more about targeted info about that specific boy. You can totally join more than one team!

What do you think? Wanna join a team? We would absolutely love for you to join us in caring for our boys in this way.

How to join?

  • Send me a message and let me know which team you would like to join.
  • Make sure I have your email address so I can send you the monthly updates.
  • If you would like us to send you a postcard, please send us your mailing address as well.

I’m so excited to see what comes of this. This idea was prompted because you all have shown so much love for our boys over the years. Thank you for loving them and for seeing them. Thank you for looking past the diagnoses and seeing the people. I can’t wait to keep sharing them with you and I really can’t wait till we have even more boys to introduce!

Wide Awake is leaving social media on Monday, October 12. But that doesn’t have to be goodbye! We are sending weekly email digests, so all the goodness you usually see on social media lands right in your inbox. Sign up below to get the weekly emails. I promise not to spam you. 🙂

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Wide Awake International “Live-In Assistant” Role Description

In the last blog post “A Call to a Small Life” we hinted at the soon-to-be-revealed job descriptions. The time is come!

Below is the Role Description for “Live-In Assistants” for the new duplex.

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We are actively seeking individuals, couples or families to live in community with us, our boys, and the ones we have yet to bring out of the institution. We are looking for a commitment of at least one year after a successful 90-day trial period. An openness to a longer commitment would be amazing, but is not required.

We are seeking foreigners and Ukrainians to grow this community together. 

Because of the nature of this work and the experience we have had thus far with the deinstitutionalization of our boys, we are not currently open to families with small children living in the home. If you have small children and are interested in joining our team we definitely have a need for “Live-Out” assistants as well. So, please inquire by email if that interests you. kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org 

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Live-In Assistant Job Description

Live-In Assistants are people who choose to live in a Wide Awake International home with adults who have intellectual and possibly physical disabilities, the “core members” of the community. Assistants share life, laughter, and friendship with the core members. Assistants provide skilled direct care supports to core members, ensure their safety and well-being, and support their integrated participation in all aspects of daily life. They are committed to mutual relationships with core members and other assistants in which all parties are recognized as having something to share with the others.

Live-In assistants participate in community prayer, retreats, trainings and celebrations.

To apply:

  • Please read the job description and qualifications below

  • Contact Kim Johnson for an application at kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

Live-In Caregiving Assistant Purpose: Assistants accompany and assist core members in their activities of daily life: creating home and supporting core members in sharing their gifts within the house and the larger community.

Responsibilities relating to:

Community Development

  • Uphold and share the vision and hope of the community and maintain the simple life style of the community

  • Help extend warm welcome to visitors, including community members, families, neighbors, and merchants

  • Encourage households members to develop and nurture friendships within, and especially outside the community

  • Attend team and community meetings, community nights, and community activities.

  • Help plan celebrations for birthdays, anniversaries, and days of special importance to household members

  • Accept community mentoring from more experienced community members

Core Members 

  • Develop caring and loving interpersonal relationships. The most important aspect of the “living with” spirit of Wide Awake is that of fostering relationships.This area calls forth both the assistant and the core member in their personal growth, as well as the growth of the community. It is a process of discovering one’s own gifts and helping the other to find theirs.

  • Carry out core member training programs where applicable and teach skills needed to be learned (personal hygiene, personal appearance, laundry, room management, household cleaning, cooking, budgeting, job skills, shopping skills, appropriate behavior)

  • Help core members to look at alternatives, anticipate consequences, make decisions, and accept responsibility for their actions

  • Listen to and respect the desires of the core members.

Home Management/Administration

  • Assume responsibility for the health, safety, and care of core members

  • Do assigned housekeeping chores and take initiative to keep house (inside and out) clean and in repair. Assist core members with their chores if needed. Aid in motivating core members to complete needed tasks

  • Plan and prepare balanced meals. Assist core members to help cook and prepare meals.

  • Maintain and operates house vehicles in a safe manner

  • Maintain accurate financial records of core member and house money

  • Be conscious of budgeting and keep within house and community budgets

  • Take initiative, be resourceful and creative, think out problems, be willing to use own judgment when deemed necessary

Spiritual Life

  • Support the community and carry in prayer the homes, each member of the community, their families, friends, and concerns

  • Maintain and respect the home as a Christian home in terms of values and prayer. Encourage prayer in the home and in the community with assistants and core members.

  • Respect days of worship. Attend with core members their choice and place of worship.

  • Share faith life with the community. Be responsible for communicating needs and meeting personal worship needs.

Qualifications

  • Interest in living in a faith community founded on the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

  • Minimum age of 18 years

  • Desire to work with individuals with disabilities (Experience with people with disabilities is not a requirement)

  • Creativity, flexibility, attention to detail, and ability to organize time

  • Commitment to living in the community for at least 1 year after a successful 90-day trial period

  • Verbal and written communication skills

  • Physical ability, with reasonable accommodation, to fulfill role responsibilities, including ability to transfer adults from wheelchairs to vehicles, beds, etc. and to lift wheelchairs into and out of vehicles

  • Ability to work as part of a team

Other Details:

  • Assistants are responsible for funding their own way to and from Ukraine

  • After a successful 90-day trial period, assistants are responsible for the costs related to obtaining a visa and temporary residency in Ukraine. Wide Awake International will assist with the legal process in obtaining residency

  • Food and lodging will be provided by Wide Awake International

  • Assistants will be responsible for providing for their own toiletries, food needs beyond the community meals, and personal spending money

You can also find this role description on our website: http://wideawakeinternational.org/volunteer

Much of our language, like “assistant” and “core member”, and some wording for the role description was adopted from an organization with a lot more experience than us. Thank you, L’Arche Communities, for paving a beautiful path of dignity for us to follow.