Back to Romaniv- Finally!

Yesterday I finally returned to Romaniv. It had been at least 7 months since I was there last and it felt like a bit of a homecoming, to be honest. Grant and I were talking about it on the way home. He said it felt strange that he felt so comfortable there. I mean, we all know that Romaniv isn’t a “comfy” place to be, but I know what he meant. It’s a comfortable place for us because it’s exactly the right place for us to be in this time and space. Romaniv, the boys there, and other people like them, stuck in institutions out in the middle of nowhere are the reason we are here. God plucked us out of our cozy American lives and plopped us down here in Ukraine, at this time, for those boys and others like them. Knowing you are in the exact place where you are meant to be is a wonderful feeling, even if that place is terrible and smelly and unjust and sad. There’s just a comfort in knowing “This is my place. These are my people.”

When Jed and I first moved to Ukraine almost 9 years ago, we knew nothing. We had no language, only a couple of acquaintances, and everything was completely foreign. Banking, shopping, transportation, communication, school, church…we knew nothing about any of it. I felt like our apartment was a little American island. Every time I exited the building I was entering another universe, and I was destined to fail in that new universe. I made mistakes all.the.time. I still do, but they’re less of a big deal these days, or maybe I’m just used to it by now ūüėā. I would get heart palpitations just thinking about having to approach a stranger. My perfectionistic tendency to only speak when I was confident I was saying something correctly made me a silent bystander instead of an active member of society. The only places I felt like myself was at home and then with our boys at Romaniv. Sigh, “These are my people.”

Our boys don’t have impossible expectations of us that we’ll never be able to meet. I imagine their thoughts, “Just be with me. Sit with me and hold my hand.”

Our boys don’t care if we make mistakes with the language. “Call me by my name and tell me you love me.”

Our boys don’t hold a grudge if we’ve been gone from them for seven months. “You came back! I was waiting for you!”

Our boys love us just because we are. Our relationships have been built over years and years of just being together. Not accomplishing anything that the world values, but just sitting together, singing together, being present with each other. The friendship our boys offer us is a massive gift and one I am truly thankful for today.

The Dim Hidnosti team is returning to our rhythm of spending Thursdays with our boys and I’m so glad. They need us and we need them. They ground us. They remind us of our purpose here and of what’s truly important. Lucky us, to have friends like them.

Vitya, Sasha, and Kolya (photo by Grant ‚ėļÔłŹ)

If you are new to this community you might now know much about our boys at Romaniv. Romaniv is the institution where all of the boys in our family used to live. I have written about it a lot over the years here on the blog. I’m planning to do a podcast episode about Romaniv, so if you have questions about the place, the boys there, or our work there go ahead and ask! I’ll do my best to answer.

BeLOVE[d]

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A Week in Photos: March 8th

Oh my goooooodness! What an awesome week we had! It was go go go and packed with amazingness.

Jed was in America for 12 days and just got home last Thursday. He had an awesome time of connecting with supporters and churches. He went with the purpose of building a Wide Awake Medical Advisory Team and made lots of great contacts toward that end. It will be exciting to see what comes of it. ¬†We realize that we are at the far limits of our own personal knowledge for how to best help the boys at Romaniv. ¬†It’s time to pull in the big guns. The people Jed met with were so gracious and excited to help. Our Boys are loved by so many!

These past few days we had an extra special treat. You see Wide Awake gets to partner with some pretty special people, and two of them visited this past week. Suzy and Lois visited from Hands of Hope Adoption and Orphan Care and we had a super great time. We got to talk about how we can best work together and how we, along with Mission to Ukraine, can best join forces to care for our Boys. It was incredible!!! We didn’t want them to leave! ¬†Talk about kindred spirits… I’ll share more about that later. Now for the pics!

On Tuesday we celebrated Valera’s 30th birthday! He was over the moon excited!

That pink box was his only birthday wish ūüôā

Suzy, Lois, and Romaniv Directors. All four, so precious to us

Baking, baking, baking in preparation for a BIG party for Romaniv nannies!

Four handsome MEN- all ready for their special performances

Addy and Ez came along to help with the party. They were so happy to see their Romaniv buddies!!!

Sweet nannies. We love them.

Stasik welcoming everyone to the special party!

Hands of Hope gave each nanny their own multicooker! They are all the rage here and cost almost a full month’s salary! The nannies were just a tad bit excited.

Meanwhile, the boys were busy being adorable…

Maxim’s first selfie ūüôā

Our Friday afternoon team is back in action!

All in all it was a fabulous week. Good things are happening left and right. We are so blessed to partner with MTU and Hands of Hope.

On another note, our fam is battling some sickness and just all around exhaustion, so we would appreciate your prayer. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Ain’t nobody got time for that! ūüėČ

Till next time! Say yes to Jesus this week, okay?

A Christmas Wish: Meet Boris and Vladik

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

We are having a cozy day at home, just the six of us. ¬†We’re cuddling in, eating yummy food, playing with toys,sipping coffee. ¬†It’s perfect.

Today, on this glorious day, I have just one Christmas wish.  Today I have a wish that all of our Boys at Romaniv would be truly seen.  I have a wish that they would be seen by many as the beautiful souls that they are.

When I first met our Boys all I could see was their outward appearance.  I saw the filth, the snot, the vomit, the disabilities, the deformities.  I smelled the stench.  My ears were full of the awkward noises.  I knew God had called us to give our lives to these Boys, so I prayed that He would help me to see/smell/hear past all that.

And He did!

That was then. ¬†Now, when I see our Boys I see Boris, Slavik, Yaroslav, Misha, Valera, Orhan, Irakli, Ivan, Dima, Andrei, Seriozha, Vova, Zhenya, Vitya, Vladik, Ilya, and Danya. ¬†I see friends. ¬†I see my babies. ¬†I see my treasures. ¬†When I hear the awkward noises they mean something to me. ¬†They are cries of joy or yells of anger or first babbles or moments of sadness and pain. ¬†They are not inappropriate noises now. ¬†They are communication. ¬†They are voices I love. ¬†I’m not gonna lie, I still smell the stench ūüôā ¬†Hehe…I’m only human…that’s for stinkin’ sure. ¬†(pun intended)

My Christmas wish is that today you, and many many more will see our Boys as individuals worthy of dignity and love.  I know that if people will really look- past the differences and into the eyes, they will see.  They will see our Boys as they were meant to be seen; as children of God.

And if you really see, then you will never be the same. I’m changed forever for having known them.

So, will you take a Christmas moment and meet my friends? ¬†You won’t be sorry. ¬†ūüôā

 

 

The Most Important Post

November is a good month.¬† We have two family birthdays, it’s Thanksgiving, the holiday season begins, the weather is cozy, and it’s National Adoption Month!¬† Did you know?¬† Have you heard?¬† There is a whole month designated for sharing about the plight of orphans and the blessing of adoption.¬† Yep, that sounds just about perfect to me.

We’ve been sitting on some important information for a few months now, considering how, when, and where we would share our hearts.¬† Well, now is the time and here is the place.¬† After all, it is National Adoption Month!

With a bit of fear and trembling I’m going to share, and then I’m going to ask you to prayerfully respond.¬† There are many different great responses, and your response will likely be different than mine.¬† For the sake of our Boys, every response is important.

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The work we do, and Mission to Ukraine has done for many years at Romaniv is important and necessary.¬† It is life-altering for our Boys.¬† Boys who were once strangers that flinched at touch and cowered from any human interaction are now dear loved ones who come scooting and crawling and hobbling as soon as they hear our voices.¬† One boy who used to avoid eye contact at all cost now seeks out our gaze and will sit forehead to forehead with Jed as the guitar is played- just looking into Jed’s eyes. No words, just a look.¬† It is enough for us to see that God is doing miracles.

And yet.

No work we do could ever be more beneficial than a family.

No treatment could ever be as effective as the love of a family.

No weighted vest could be more comforting than a mother’s arms.

No helmet could offer better protection than a father’s embrace.¬†

This work we do is a stopgap.¬† It is the next best thing possible in this situation.¬† But it is not a family, and it is not nearly enough.¬† There is no future for our Boys here.¬† Even if our dreams come true and we build group homes where they can be loved and cared for, it still won’t hold a candle to a life spent as part of a loving family.¬† There are nannies at Romaniv that do care for the Boys deeply, but they face an impossible task.¬† How can 2 nannies care for more than 20 boys with severe disabilities and do an even satisfactory job?

Most of the boys and men at Romaniv are not legally free to be adopted.  Either their parents still maintain their parental rights, or the boys are over the age of 18 which prevents them from being adopted.  To those boys and men we commit to doing whatever we possibly can to love them, care for them, and give them a future worth living until they day they are made whole in heaven.

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Some of our Boys, though, ARE available for international adoption.¬† We haven’t shared this with you before for several reasons that might be hard to understand.¬† There are many layers to this.¬† We feel protective of our Boys and the work that is being done; we want to avoid any exploitation; we have a relationship to maintain with the orphanage directors that requires vigilant care.¬† Nothing about this is simple, so we tread lightly with steps full of prayer.¬† And yet, one of our Boys is not thriving.¬† He is wasting away before our eyes and we can’t stand by and watch without acting.¬† He is ill and will never thrive in an institutional setting.¬† He needs the best medical care.¬† He needs a nutrition plan.¬† He needs therapy of all kind.¬† Most of all he needs a mommy and daddy to love him as their son- to believe in him, to fight for him and shower him with affection.¬† We are compelled to act and we can’t hold off any longer.¬† Time is of the essence.

So I’m asking that you see our Boys.¬† I’m asking that you stop and see them for the treasures they are.¬† See their immense value.¬† See their precious beauty.¬† Consider their lives as weighty as your own and ask the Lord how you should respond to this knowledge that some of them are waiting for families.¬† If you follow Jesus you are called to care for the orphan in some way.¬† Even if you don’t believe in Jesus I bet you can agree that this is a justice issue that can not be ignored.

“Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
¬†¬†¬†¬†plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17

Maybe you are supposed to pray.¬† A million times thank you!¬† Prayer is important and essential.¬† Any of the progress that’s been made has only come through the power of the Holy Spirit.¬† Our Boys need prayer!

Maybe you are supposed to give financially to help improve the quality of life for our Boys.¬† Yes!¬† Thank you so very much!¬† None of this would even be happening if we didn’t have faithful financial supporters on the team.

Maybe you are supposed to adopt.¬† Please don’t dismiss this response.¬† I am confident that some of you who read this are called to respond through adoption.¬† Children were made for families!¬† Children were not made for institutions.¬† One hour spent at Romaniv will prove that point.¬† I must warn you though that any romanticism concerning the adoption of one of our Boys ends with the fuzzy feelings you may be feeling as you read this post.¬† It will not be romantic.¬† It will be a hard road and much faith will be required.¬† But- it will be a road worth walking.¬† I am confident of that.¬† Orphans are very important to our God and He has gone to great lengths to prove His love for these particular Boys.¬† He will not allow the world to forget them now, and He’s not about to forget them when they step out of Romaniv’s gates.

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I was with these Boys yesterday.¬† I held them in my arms.¬† I kissed their cheeks.¬† I held their hands so they wouldn’t harm themselves.¬† They are real people.¬† They were created with purpose and God has good plans for them.¬† I can’t even imagine one of my four children living like our Boys.¬† I can’t imagine my Ezra, nearly 9 years old but the size of a toddler, sitting day after day rocking back and forth in his bed.¬† I can’t imagine him sitting and sitting and waiting and waiting for his life to begin.¬† I can’t imagine not going to him and taking him out of that place.¬† Our Boys are as real as Ezra and they are as deserving of love as he.¬† They were created with just as much purpose and intentionality.¬† They were created in the image of God and God does not make mistakes.

There you have it.  Now you know, and I now I humbly ask you to respond.  I ask you to stop and pray and ask the Lord what He would have you to do.  Please pray that adoptive families   would step out with boldness and faith.  Any serious inquiries can be emailed to kjohnson@wideawakeinternational.org and I would be happy to talk with you more.  If you have questions about what adopting an institutionalized child looks like in real life I can connect you with adoptive parents who have walked that path.

Please share this post and give our Boys a voice this month.  Thank you!

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8

 

 

(God’s) Timing is Everything

So yesterday was basically amazing.

We had the extreme honor and pleasure of meeting with a woman in Kyiv who has worked for twenty years to provide rights for, and secure the rights of people with disabilities.  She and her team have worked tirelessly to rewrite laws and create legislation and lobby for the ones we love.  This incredible woman was fighting for our Boys before we even had a clue they existed.  This incredible woman deserves a standing ovation.

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As a mother of an adult son with disabilities she recognized the holes in the social system of Ukraine.  She saw how her own son would fall between those cracks.  She knew the value of his life and decided to do something about it.

As Ukraine attempts to move toward European Standards of Care for institutionalized children and adults it has become obvious that the current model of care can not continue “as is”. ¬†Major overhauls must happen. ¬†Major change must come. ¬†And it will have to be MAJOR.

Before we moved here we told people that the whole social system here in Ukraine would have to change in order for the dreams God has given us to come about. ¬†We dream of community living for people of all abilities where they are not isolated, but are active members of society. ¬†We dream of homes where children are not confined to their beds, but they are truly living and thriving, surrounded by loving support for all their days. ¬†Those dreams are legally impossible with the current system. ¬†BUT, change is coming. ¬†We don’t know when (but we do know it will be soon), we don’t now how, but now we know the people who have been dreaming this dream long before we arrived.

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Timing is everything. ¬†The harvest is so ripe. ¬†How can we honor those who have gone before us? How can we thank them enough for their tireless, unrecognized efforts? ¬†It’s truly humbling and so encouraging! ¬†I mean, think about this: we knew at some point we would have to hire a legal team to dig in to, and fight to change the laws here concerning people with disabilities. ¬†Then yesterday we learned that there are people here already doing that- and with much success!

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There is much, much work to be done, and many battles yet to be fought, but we are not alone. We are a teeny-tiny piece of a great big puzzle here in Ukraine.  There are others who care, and it is personal to them.  We met one of them yesterday.

I’m a concrete thinker. ¬†I like to know what to do next. ¬†All these policies and plans and multi-year projects are nearly impossible for me to wrap my brain around. ¬†But, in our meeting we were given a solid next step to work toward. ¬†We learned that it is important to register Wide Awake International as an NGO here in Ukraine. ¬†That will be to our benefit once the big changes start to take place. ¬†So, we’ll get working on that right away.

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In the meantime we’ll keep in touch with our new contact in Kyiv, and faithfully serve the Boys God has put right in front of us. ¬†It’s more and more obvious as time goes by that this is the exact place we are supposed to be at this exact time in history. ¬†Because of that we can rest. ¬†Even though Ukraine is at war and the task before us seems insurmountable, we can be confident that God is truly in control. ¬†Yay for that!!!! ¬†Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. ¬†You are making a difference in many lives!

The photos are from last week at Romaniv. ¬†Little Ilya was cracking us up with his absolute love for music. ¬†It really helps him to regulate. ¬†He even tried to climb inside the guitar! ¬†Don’t miss him on Jed’s lap in the pics. ¬†Hilarious and awesome. ¬†