In Loving Memory

Two weeks ago we heard the news, but it’s taken me a while to write about it. I’m not sure if I’ll find the right words tonight, but I’ll try, because their lives deserve to be honored. They should be known and celebrated by as many people as possible, because they were valuable and wonderful and their lives mattered.

I’m so sad to share that we have lost two of our friends. Vitya and Vova, two of our dear friends from Romaniv, have died and are now with Jesus. We are just so sad. On one hand, we are thankful that they suffer no longer. We know they are now free and they have no pain, no tears, no fear. But on the other hand we mourn so deeply for what they had to endure here on earth. We mourn that they never knew the love of a family and we weep that we didn’t get them out in time. Lots of emotions- a different one each moment. I guess we all remember anew just how important this work really is.

I’d love to share about our boys, if you’d like to know them better. I want to honor their memories by sharing with as many people as I can, just how wonderful they were.


Let’s start with Vitya. 🙂 I didn’t know Vitya quite as well as I knew Vova. We spent less time together over the years because Vitya didn’t move to the Isolation Hall until the last couple years of his life, and the Isolation Hall is where our team spends the majority of our time.

Before he was moved to the Isolation Hall, Vitya was in the same group as our Anton. He was nonverbal, but he could most definitely communicate! He was really very smart. I think anyone who visited Romaniv with us will remember Vitya. He was always ready with a handshake or a hug. When he smiled his eyes would close soooooo tightly! Vitya loved to dance and when we did our weekly dance class, back in the day, he was in absolute heaven. He had big emotions and was either very happy, or very sad, but his face showed it all. Vitya loved to pray. Any time we were going to have snack, or anytime a class ended, Vitya made certain that we stopped to pray. I will always remember that about him.

A couple of years ago Vitya was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, and as his symptoms progressed he was moved to the Isolation Hall. He would fall often and just didn’t understand how to keep himself safe. We really saw him decline before quarantine. It is good and right that he is suffering no longer. But oh, we loved our Vitya and will miss his smiling face and tight hugs. I really can’t imagine Romaniv without him. He was a star and our team will never, ever forget him.

And now on to our precious Vova. Deep sigh.

I can’t help but cry as I write this. It’s heartbreaking to know that our Vova is gone. He is with Jesus, and I’m so so happy that he is free and safe and loved. We all feel that joy. But Vova’s death is a tremendous loss to our team. We planned that he would be the first to move into the second side of the duplex. We dreamed of his future as a part of our big Wide Awake Family. We imagined how he would grow and change and thrive. We wondered how he would transition and if he would maybe ever speak. We fully intended to set him free here on earth, but it will never be. He left us before we could show him that love and our heart break because of it.

I remember the first time Jed and I ever saw Vova. It was when we visited Romaniv in the spring of 2012. We were in Ukraine for the first time, scouting it out and listening for how God would have us respond to this great need, this great injustice. We visited Romaniv with Mission to Ukraine and knew at once that those boys were our people. That first visit was a bit overwhelming, but Jed and I both remembered Vova. He stood out to us because he was in such terrible condition. I’ll be honest that my first emotion upon seeing him, was fear. He was self-harming and blood was running down the side of his face. He was groaning and rocking, fiercely avoiding all human contact. He was just existing, cast away by society. His days consisted of rocking, and searching for string to swirl between his fingers.

I remember his sounds and I remember my fear. But that was not the Vova we eventually came to know. That was just a shell of a man. Our Vova had a deep laugh and an infectious smile. If you could get Vova to smile, then your day was made. Our Vova was curious. He didn’t always love to be touched and he didn’t always love to interact, but I think I can safely say that by the end of his life he had learned that some humans could be loving and good and safe. I pray that he knew he was loved by us. I know that I know that Vova knew he was loved by God. I just have to trust God’s faithfulness on that one. He promised to be a father to the fatherless, so I trust that Vova felt and knew that love. To be honest, that’s a leap of faith because Vova died from something preventable and treatable. He lived a life of abuse and neglect and in a way, he never even got to begin living. I find myself asking God a lot of questions, but in the end I choose to trust that he was near to Vova in ways we couldn’t see.

Our team visited and loved Vova for 6 years, and during 4 of those years the interns were also working closely with him on developing functional skills. It seems to us that out of all the boys in the Isolation he is one of the ones who benefited the most from that time of relationship. He really did change over time. It’s beautiful to look back through pictures and see the change in him.

The loss of Vova was a big shock to our team and we mourn him because he was loved. We will miss our friend. We are honored and thankful that we were able to know him and be witnesses to his life. As we start to bring more boys into the duplex we will remember our friend and our great love for him. His life mattered. You were loved, our Vova. You mattered to us. I’m sorry we couldn’t get to you fast enough. We will never forget you.

I’ll leave you with Vova’s laugh. This is how we want to remember our friend. Happy, curious, and gentle. Precious, and of immense value.

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The View From a Distance

You know how it is when you get so close to something that you can’t really see it clearly? What’s that saying? “Can’t see the forest for the trees”. Yeah, that’s me. I get so involved in the details of our day to day work, that it’s hard to pick my head up and see the big picture of what God is doing. I get bogged down in diapers and feeding people and the team schedule and documents, and can easily forget what we are actually aiming for in Ukraine. I mean, of course our work is our ministry is our life- all wrapped up in one, so I’m always “doing the stuff”, but sometimes I can kind of miss the heart of it when the details overwhelm.

It really is necessary though, to pick my head up every so often and remember why we are doing what we are doing. It’s important to pull back a bit and recognize the bigger picture of what God is doing. A good way to do that is to leave our life for a few weeks and watch the work happen from a distance. 🙂 We aren’t in Ukraine right now and we don’t have much control over what happens there while we are gone. We get to sit back and watch our team do their thing from a distance. The only glimpses we get of our Anton and Ruslan are videos and pics from the team- and that bit of distance, well, it does wonders for the heart.

From a distance I can see more clearly how far our boys have come. Man, I’m so proud of them! I see them safe and loved and I see a team that is working so hard to help them in any way they can. I see a group of people committed to changing their country and I see their dedication to do this thing right. I see them building something amazing. I see how God has provided everything we’ve needed right on time, and my faith is built up again as I remember that He will continue to be faithful in the days ahead. We have some very pressing needs coming up soon, so this increase in faith is much needed. (And, it has to be said that I definitely have not arrived. I still lose sleep over those pressing needs…but I’m deciding to trust Jesus in those wee morning hours instead of losing more sleep)

From a distance the rough patches in my heart begin to soften again as I rest and regain perspective. If you have been close to this work at all then you know that my relationship with our Ruslan has been a difficult one. We know that we know that God asked us to take Ruslan out of the institution. We don’t question that. But, it has not been an easy road for me at all. Ruslan struggles with his relationship with women- not in an unsafe way, but still in a very real way, and his feelings for me are a jumbled up mess. We realized after he had lived with us for over a year that it would be much better for him to live with only men, or with a much older woman. That played a part in the decision for him to move from our home last February. That, and then his increased need for independence and anxiety living with a large family. It just made a whole lot of sense on a lot of levels for him to move to an apartment.

Even after Ruslan moved out of our home, I still struggled with my feelings toward him. It was just so hard for me to live with him, and my heart felt let down, guilty, and ashamed of how difficult it was. I felt shame for a long time that I was “unable” to live with Ruslan any longer. I know there was no reason to feel shame and guilt, but those feelings were/are still there. I had many months of questioning God and asking him why he asked us to choose Ruslan when he knew we would not be able to keep him in our home, and when he knew how hard it would be for me. It’s been a journey. But, getting just a bit of distance has really helped my heart.

Earlier this week I was writing an update to Ruslan’s prayer team and I compiled a video of him, showcasing his love for music. In one part of the videos he is singing his favorite worship song and just going for it. He is worshiping with his whole heart and when I watched it my heart just broke. I remembered again where he came from and my heart softened again as I thought of all the terror and abuse he has endured in his life. I felt just so darn thankful that God asked us to take him from that horrible place. I can’t imagine him there!! He belongs with us. He is ours. Yes, living with him was the most difficult time of my life. Yes, I still don’t understand fully God’s purposes in it. Yes, I still have some places in my heart that need healing, but 100 times YES I am thankful that our guy is free. My heart needed that view from a distance.

When I look at our work in Ukraine from a distance I get so excited about what God is doing. Guys, it is amazing. It is freedom work. It is justice work. It is life-saving work. I’m just so pumped to be a part of it. It’s good to feel that again. 🙂

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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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What’s Up at Romaniv?

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about Romaniv in this space! Sadly, that’s because it’s been so long since we’ve been able to regularly spend time there with our boys.

Every year, usually sometime during January and February, Romaniv shuts itself off to visitors. They call it “Quarantine”. They were doing quarantine long before it became a worldwide “thing”. 😉 It makes sense that they would do that each year. Jan/Feb is usually the peak of flu season and they want to protect the boys from people coming in with all the winter germs. So, this year, before COVID was even a thought in Ukraine, Romaniv was already in quarantine.

Then…COVID.

Romaniv was quarantined for many many months. Finally in the summer they told us we could come, but we didn’t feel good about it. We really wanted to make sure we didn’t unnecessarily expose the boys to the virus, and we just felt it wasn’t time. We decided to wait.

Then came the fall, and the realization that waiting is not going to do much good. As much as we hate to admit it, COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, and life must go on. Yes, going to visit could expose the boys to the virus, but not going is not a viable option either. Our boys need to see their friends. They need to be held and loved and safe for a few hours. There are risks to their health if we go, and risks to their mental/emotional health if we stay away. After much prayerful consideration, we felt the green light to begin visiting again.

For three weeks we tried to arrange a meeting with the staff so that we could begin visits, and by the time they were ready to meet, their region had a spike in COVID cases and they closed for another quarantine. NOOO!

All that to say, we still haven’t been able to visit. But, we are waiting (not so) patiently, and as soon as quarantine is lifted, we’ll be there.

One big development that happened in the late summer is that all the boys at Romaniv under the age of 18 were transferred out, to a different institution in Teteriv, and several new adults were transferred in to Romaniv. Those changes came about so the institution could be renamed and reclassified. It has always been called “Romaniv Children’s Home”, even though there were very few actual children there. Out of more than 80 boys, only 5 were legal minors at the time of the proposed name change. Once those 5 were moved out, the institution could be renamed and reclassified. So, “technically” it’s not an orphanage anymore, but we all know that changes nothing. It is still a dark place full of precious souls who desperately need to know the love of family, so a name change makes no difference to us.

We have yet to learn if the move to Teteriv has been beneficial or detrimental to the 5 young ones who were transferred. It’s hard to imagine things could be much worse than they were at Romaniv, although we know that any change is stressful for our boys- even if it’s good change. We don’t have any relationship with the administration there, so we have not attempted a visit yet. Also, all the orphanages are currently quarantined. Sasha, the boy who we hope will be first to live in the duplex was among the 5 that were transferred. Soon Jed will have legal guardianship of him, and then he will have a legal right to visit him at Teteriv. We are hopeful that will help open doors for us to see the other 4 of our boys who were transferred along with Sasha. That reminds me that I need to write a post about Sasha! I’ll do it next week. 🙂

So, while the doors to Romaniv are closed to us, we will keep on keepin’ on here. Our team will keep loving our boys who are already free, and our builders will keep working hard to create a place of beauty for the ones who will soon know freedom.

Would you please join us in praying for our boys at Romaniv and at Teteriv? Pray that God would be so very near to them and that he would bring peace to their hearts. Pray for their safety and health, and that the COVID situation will improve in Ukraine, so that it will be safe for us to visit them again soon.

I promise to keep you updated whenever there is an update to give!

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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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