YOUR QUESTIONS ANSWERED: Vol. 1 and 2

Hi All!

Thank you so much for all the wonderful questions! It has been fun for us to find out what you are interested in and where the pieces are missing in the stories we share. People asked questions on Facebook, by email, and on Instagram. So fun!

The response was big so we divided the questions into 4 categories: Family (Johnson Fam minus the guys), Food, The Guys (Boris, Ruslan and Anton), The Homestead, and “Past, Present, Future”.

Here are the video responses we created for “Family” and “Food”. The rest are in the works, so stay tuned! If you follow Wide Awake on Instagram you can also see responses to the Instagram questions in our Stories and Highlights. 🙂

 

Ask Us Anything!

Happy New Year! Welcome 2019!

So very much has changed in our family and in our work this past year. It’s hard to imagine that last year at this time I was ginormously pregnant. Ha! I’m really, really glad that’s not the case this year. I like seeing my feet.

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Yikes. 

Things have changed and grown rapidly around here, and as much as I try to share and keep you all up to date, I know that some details get lost in the shuffle. Soooooo, we decided it’s high time for a good ol’ Q &A. We would love to answer your questions, so go ahead and shoot and we’ll do a video response in a couple of days. You can ask about our family, the guys, our team, work at the institution, the Homestead, plans for the coming year, our history, Wide Awake International…any of it!

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You can leave your question in the comments, or you can email them to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org

I can’t wait to hear from you!

 

Wrappin’ up a Doozy

I think I can rightly, without a doubt, call 2018 the biggest year of our lives. Wow. It was a doozy y’all. (Okay, I never say “y’all”, but it just felt right in the moment) 2013 and 2014 were big. We moved to Ukraine at the end of 2013 and then 2014 was our first full year here. I thought those years could never be beat- but I stand corrected. In those years, when we got overwhelmed by Ukraine and it’s differences and struggles we could just close our door and have our own little American island. When days at Romaniv were hard we could run home and love our kids and try to compartmentalize a bit. Not these days! Little America no longer exists. Romaniv has come to us. We are fully immersed and we are being changed to our core. Praise God. And….help us, God! 🙂

Boris joined our family! Technically, Boris came to us in December 2017, but you get the idea. Much of 2018 was spent integrating Boris into the family and helping him become human. Boris has changed us, challenged us, brought us to our knees and brought us more joy than we ever expected. You can read more about that journey here.

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Evangeline Joy was born! Oh our sweet little Evie Joy, joy-bringer-extraordinaire, we had no idea how much we needed you. We could only see the unexpectedness of her arrival, but God foresaw the necessity of her arrival. In the darkest of moments Evie has been good medicine to the soul of every member of our family. We can not thank God enough for our sweet bundle. You can read about my Ukrainian maternity experience here and Evie’s arrival here.

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Land was purchased. Praise God for our friends from the UK Vineyard and their amazing generosity! They gave a big ol’ chunk of money and we were able to purchase the property neighboring the Homestead. A road was built to access the back of our land and now we have space to build 3 duplexes for more of our precious ones who are waiting in the institution. We hope to break ground in the spring! More on that at the bottom of the post.

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Summer in the USA. It was such a blessing to our hearts and such refreshment to our souls to be able to spend the summer with family and friends in Oregon. So many good memories were made and so much English was spoken. It was awesome! Ha. We also did a successful reconstructive operation on Vlad’s feet. You can see photos of the awesomeness here. 

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Ruslan and Anton joined our family! This one was a biggie. I’ve tried to always be very honest with you about the journey. That honesty includes sharing part of the struggles. It’s no secret that adding Boris, Ruslan and Anton to the fam has been the hardest thing we have ever done. But I want you to know that there is plenty of joy along the journey as well. In some seasons the hard overshadows the joy, but that is when we lean in hard to Jesus and ask him to carry us. We have zero doubt that this is exactly what we were created to do with our lives, so even though many days seem dark- hope shines through. We love our guys and see them growing little by little each day- becoming more and more human. Praise God, the Redeemer of the broken. You can read more here, here and here.

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What’s Next? Why, thank you for asking! We are planning to break ground for the three duplexes when everything thaws in the spring. Then, as long as the money is there, we’ll hit the building project hard. Each side of the duplexes will be a home for 4-5 of our friends from Romaniv, along with those who will be family to them. We’re talking about providing forever homes for 24-30 more of our friends! EEEEEEEEK!

We have budgeted $160,000 for each duplex. Right now we have a very generous  MATCHING GRANT from our friends and partners at Hands of Hope. They will match donations up to $80,000! Yes, that means if we meet the matching grant we will have the funds for one entire duplex!

Sooooo, if you’re looking for a place to give end-of-year donations, we will gladly accept them. 🙂 Let’s help more of our friends learn what it is to live in love and safety each day of their lives. Let’s help more of our friends to become humans after a lifetime of being treated like animals. Let’s help more of our friends experience the love of a family: brothers, sisters, mama and papa.

We’re ready for ya 2019. Let’s do this thing!

Click HERE to donate!

Thank you for your generosity. Thank you for walking this journey with us and helping to make it possible for our boys to know life. We are forever grateful.

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Five Years!

Happy Ukrainiversary to us! Yesterday marked 5 years since the plane touched down in Kyiv and we began our new life. FIVE YEARS! Momentous. 🙂

So much has changed in the past five years it hardly feels like we are the same people that arrived in Ukraine with 12 suitcases and a guitar. For one thing, we’ve grown from a family of 6 to a family of 11. Wooooooah Nelly!

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Then

 

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Now

Last night we had plans to go out to a restaurant for a traditional Ukrainian meal, but one of our guys was having a rough one so we needed to stay in for the night. After we got the guys to bed we gathered the kids on our bed upstairs and took turns sharing something we each love about our life here in Ukraine. It was a sweet time. Many of your names were mentioned! Along this journey we have met so many wonderful friends from all over the US and around the world.

I shared with our kids a memory of our very first day in Ukraine. It’s a memory that about sums up our first several months here.

When we arrived in Kyiv on November 13, 2013 our dear friend, Olya, came with us from the airport to Zhytomyr to spend the first couple of days with us, to help us get settled a bit. Keep in mind that we knew ZERO language and were basically clueless about everything having to do with life in Ukraine. Sure, we had visited, but let me tell you- visiting another country IS NOT the same as setting up a life there and living there. The morning after we arrived we decided to hop on the bus with our littles in tow and head to the big grocery store to get some necessities. I remember arriving at the store, hopping off the bus and Addy, 9 years old at the time, saying “It doesn’t really seem that different here!” Oh Addy, bless your heart. 😉  We wandered aimlessly through the store, jet-lagged and overwhelmed. Three-year old Seth fell asleep in the grocery cart. We knew we needed diapers…and maybe TP? Why did we not make a list??? The kids were being super loud and all other children in sight were silent…we were stressed and didn’t know what any of the labels on the food meant…

I remember the chaos of figuring out money at the checkout and Jed vowing never to go the store again with all 4 kids. I’m pretty sure that at that time we felt like 4 kids was waaaaaay too many. Little did we know what the future held! Oy.

We got home from the store with as much as we could carry and, after unpacking the bags, realized we still had no idea what to cook for dinner. I think we ended up eating a lot of oatmeal in those early days. Ha! We learned much through trial and error, and still do. But it’s actually quite encouraging to think back and realize how stupid we were then! Hehe.

Now, five years later, we can fondly look back at those beginnings and praise God for ALL the amazing things he has done. When we arrived in Ukraine the dreams we had in our heart were not even legal. There was no legal mechanism for the deinstitutionalization of adults. We had no idea that two weeks after we arrived a revolution would begin. And as Ukraine endeavors to move toward the EU, our dream of deinstitutionalization is now a mandate. What are the odds? God is crazy good like that.

God had so many beautiful gifts waiting for us in Ukraine. Four of those gifts are currently downstairs drinking tea. 🙂 We had no idea when we first visited Romaniv that we were meeting 4 of our sons. Oh, and if you would have told me 5 years ago that we would have another baby, and that she would be born here in Ukraine, well, I probably would have spit out my coffee. Woooooooah, that was a doozy of a surprise. But, I love how God knows exactly what we need and when we need it. Our Evie blesses our hearts and brings us joy and healing every single day.

It’s funny to imagine that most of our team members were teenagers when we first moved to Ukraine. Kids! I absolutely love the team He is building here. I’m thankful that our guys are surrounded daily by people who don’t just tolerate them, but love them, champion them, and challenge them.

The days are long and often hard, but the years are quick. The greatest gift that God has given to me in these past 5 years is the gift of learning to lay myself down. Daily I’m confronted with my own weakness and my own brokenness. As we serve the broken hearts, broken minds, broken bodies here in our home, I’m confronted with my selfishness and general ickiness of heart. I thank God that He is moving the hearts of our family from charity to compassion. He is changing us all, from the inside out.

So, here’s to 5 more years of saying YES to the next thing. Thank you to each of you who have prayed for us, encouraged us, supported us. We could never walk this journey alone. Thank you for joining us in YES!

BeLOVE[d]

Photo highlights:

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My Littles, our first week in Ukraine

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Our first Christmas

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Boris and me, back in the day

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2014

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Christmas #2!

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Vladik’s Day of Freedom! 2015

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The day we got the keys to the Wide Awake Homestead! 2016

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A biiiiiiiig work in progress

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Wide Awake Homestead! 2017

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Boris’ Day of Freedom! 2017

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Welcome to the world Evie Joy 2018

 

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Ruslan and Anton’s Day of Freedom! 2018

‘s

 

Deinstitutionalization is no Joke.

It’s been about a month since I last wrote here. We’ve been a family of 11 for about 6 weeks now and finding time to come up for air these days is quite the challenge. 🙂 The past 6 weeks have contained some of the highest highs and the lowest lows I have ever experienced. Alllllllll the feels. All of ’em. Deinstitutionalization is no joke.

The more we know our guys, the more we grieve over the many wasted years, the many abuses and the neglect. And the more we know them the deeper we grieve for the ones left behind.

Ruslan, Anton, Boris- they are not children. They are men, each with more than 20 years spent wasting away, locked away, hidden away. The tragedy of it makes my heart ache. They have spent their whole lives living in fear, treated like animals, when all along they were worth so much more.

Sometimes I look at them and I see them at face value: men who spent their lives in a mental institution. They have B.O. They don’t close the door when they use the bathroom. They don’t wash their hands without a reminder EVERY TIME. Anton spits when he is angry and has been aggressive at times. Boris still hits himself waaaaaaay too much. They don’t sleep well (which means we don’t sleep well). They have major anxiety about just about everything. They are food-obsessed. Ruslan asks the same questions approximately 258 times per day. They wipe their noses on their pillows. Anton will wander off and has no awareness of cars or strangers. Boris will wet himself as a way of manipulating us or the situation. Ruslan has a tennis ball that he obsessively searches for in the night- just to make sure it’s still there.

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And on and on. So much brokenness. So many tears (cried by me, because they never cry,  they only laugh when they should cry).

Last week, at an especially hard moment, I looked at Jed and asked “How can we ever expect anyone to want to do this work with us? It’s just.so.hard.” And then Jed calmly reminded me that God loves our guys more than we ever could and this is HIS work. Any time we try to pick up the weight of this and carry it by ourselves we collapse under the weight of it. We have to daily, sometimes hourly, hand the weight of this work back over to Jesus.

Yes, the more we know them the more we grieve.

But, also, the more we know them the more we love them.

Ruslan sings himself to sleep every night. He sings about whatever is on his mind and it’s hilarious. He sings about the friends who will come over the next day, or about a girl he thinks is pretty 🙂 or about Jesus. And Anton!  Guys, Anton is talking. Like a lot! When he was in the institution I only ever really heard him say one word. If you asked him who loved him he would answer “God”. Now he talks so much. He talks in bed, on the toilet, in the bath, at the table. Mostly he talks to himself, but when you ask him a question he will often answer, and a lot times we can understand him!  It’s absolutely incredible to watch him explode with language. We hoped for that, but I’m not sure we really expected it to happen! Boris is growing and changing all the time. He understands English and I pretty much only speak to him in English now. He is so smart! Watching the three of them during worship at church is good for the soul. They all love music and each dance in their own way. It’s so funny and cute and soul-filling.

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When we lay ourselves down and choose to view our guys through Jesus’ eyes, with eyes of compassion, we can look past the effects of a life of trauma and see the little boy inside who just wants to know he is safe.

Our sweet Anton can get quite stressed in his new life. He spent the last 20+ years sitting on a bench, so it makes sense that he would get overwhelmed. Now we can see the signs: red cheeks and neck and lots of talking. He can get a bit aggressive when he is overwhelmed and that really scared me. My mind started racing “What have we done???” Then one day we realized that Anton is a 30 year old sized two year old. He really is!  He is developmentally stuck at about age 2 or 3- he’s just a big dude, so looks can be deceiving. Now we know when he has a tantrum we just need to treat him at his developmental age and all will be well, eventually.  Our sweet buddy, we love him so much. Now if he’d just sleep a little more…

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The kids are still doing well. Vlad has been reverting into some old behaviors, so that’s tricky, but I guess was to be expected. Yesterday we went to lunch and the three older guys stayed at home with Kenny and one of our interns. We asked the kids each how they are doing, what are some of the joys and struggles of having our new additions home. By and large, table manners were the biggest complaint (ha!) and hearing Anton talk was the biggest joy. I was happy with those answers. We can work on table manners!

The days are full, and often hard, but we also have a lot of moments of laughter. Most of all, we have love. So, we’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other. 🙂

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