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 😂. 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 ☺️)

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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Three More Loves

Yesterday we received some FANTASTIC news!

Three more of our precious boys were confirmed AVAILABLE for adoption!!!!

I can’t even wait to introduce them to you.  Please help us find their families!

So without further ado…

*The boys have been given alias names to protect their identity*

Meet Ben!

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Do you recognize this little munchkin?  Yes!  He is one of our “Littles”!  Both of our Littles are officially available for adoption!  Ben is the littlest of the littles and needs a family urgently.  He is failing to thrive, and truthfully he will never thrive in an institutional environment (actually, I don’t know of anyone who could).  His health is very fragile and he just can’t seem to gain weight.

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The Littles together, shortly after their transfer to the institution

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Ben is 5 years old and he came to the  institution in July of 2014.  We quickly saw that he would not live long if something didn’t change. There are just not enough staff to manage all the other boys in the Isolation Hall AND to give Ben the careful attention he needs. He started withering away soon after his arrival.  He must be fed slowly because he refluxes so badly, and the nannies just didn’t have the time he required.  We hired a nanny to care for the two Littles in a room just for them. A great ministry here in town hired another nanny to alternate days with our nanny, so now every day of the week, from 7am-7pm the Little ones have great care from nannies who truly love them.  Those nannies have literally saved their lives! (Not an exaggeration)  We are so incredibly thankful for them.

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Ben is no longer losing weight, but he still doesn’t gain.  He is nonverbal and we have never seen him smile.  BUT in the past month or two there has been one major improvement!  Ben now cries when his nanny leaves his room!  When she comes back in and calls his name, he turns to her and is almost instantly quiet.  He also cries when he wants to be held. These are miraculous developments!  He can sit up on his own, bear weight and stand while holding on to the crib railing, and he can take steps when holding on to someone’s finger. This little guy is teeeeeny tiny.  Oh how he needs a mama to scoop him up and cuddle him as long as his little heart desires.  Would you consider Ben?

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Meet Isaiah!

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Isaiah is pure sunshine.  He is also 5 years old, and this boy’s smile lights up the room!  He is the other of our “Littles” and shares a room with Ben. Isaiah has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal.  He is learning to hold his head up and has gotten much stronger over the past few months.  He has never had any kind of therapy, so just imagine all the potential hidden in there!

Isaiah loves his special nannies and reserves his best smiles and laughs for them.  It’s actually really beautiful to see how they have bonded.  What a gift.

This amazing boy will bring such joy to a family.  He giggles and smiles so easily, but he will never reach his potential in an institution.  Of course he will require a lot of time and attention, therapy and doctor’s appointments, but oh man it will be worth it.  He is just amazing.  Please help us find a family for Isaiah!

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Addy and Isaiah, back in July. Our kids adore Isaiah!

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Meet Aaron!

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Aaron is 11 and he came to the institution at the age of 7.  We just have to smile when we think of Aaron because he keeps those nannies hopping! He is absolutely exploding with energy. He’s really unsteady on his feet so he’s constantly roaming the halls half-running/half-falling. When he has the opportunity he will literally try to climb up your body! Ha!  Aaron loves touch and he craves physical contact. Sometimes we can get a glorious moment of quiet when Aaron will just let us hold him and wrap our arms around him. He really does love that and it does wonders for his brain development. It’s just a matter of getting him still enough to realize he likes it. 🙂
Aaron loves any kind of sensory play, like feeling the dirt outside and holding his hand under a running faucet. He likes to sit in a wheelchair and be pushed around, even though he doesn’t need a wheelchair! The best thing we can do for Aaron is take him on walks. He likes to be outside so sometimes we just get him outside and follow wherever he leads. Aaron doesn’t have any words, but when he gets excited he gives his signature shriek to let us know how he feels.

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It’s hard for me to write about Aaron because I want to be completely honest, yet I am desperate for him to have a family. I want to tell you that Aaron needs a family that can provide him with plenty of love, plenty of time, plenty of patience, and plenty of structure.  Right now he gets no attention and he has no sensory input at all.  He is constantly striving to meet his sensory needs in an impossible environment.  This puts him in a hyper-arousal state where he wanders from place to place climbing and reaching and falling and shrieking.  We have no doubt that he will absolutely blossom with a family.  Our peaceful moments with him give us that hope.  I just want to tell you honestly that right at this moment an adoptive family will have quite a road ahead of them.   BUT Aaron is worth it.  He is as worth it as my own sons.

Please, please share our boy.  We are praying that his family sees him quickly, and that nothing holds them back from their baby.

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A rare moment of rest on Maks’ lap 🙂

There you have it!  And don’t forget about our other sweeties who are also available!  Two of them will become unadoptable at the end of this year, so time is of the essence.

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Jonathan

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Micah- ages out in November!

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Stephen

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Alex- ages out in December!

I can’t share the details, but Alex urgently needs a family.  We have until December to find him a family (already not a lot of time), but due to other circumstances we are praying for a family to step up even sooner.  Several people have inquired about him, but no one has taken any steps toward him.

Thank you so much for praying for, loving, supporting, and sharing our Boys.  They have no voice. They have no choices. We MUST be their voice. They have been hidden away for far too long.  This is their year!

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 🙂  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.  🙂

 

 

Swiss Shock and Awe

Welcome December! How did that happen? November was like two seconds long. I was planning to do a Thanksgiving post, but then we lost electricity for 5 days, and then we had Thanksgiving, and then the next day Addy and left for Switzerland!

 

I have a lot to be thankful for. Even more so after this weekend. Oh God, why are you so good to us??? Wow.

I might have told you before about our Switzerland connection, but just in case I didn't, or you forgot, I'll sum it up real quick like.

 

Many moons ago, in my former American life, I loved a little boy in Ukraine. My friends and I desperately wanted to find this little boy a family because he resided in an institution much like Romaniv and we knew he needed out. A few friends and I decided we would organize a day dedicated to this precious boy (who now lives with a wonderful family in Texas!!!) and try to get as many people fundraising for him on one day as we could. Adoption is expensive and many times if the money obstacle is removed, it makes adoption more possible.

Well, as we were fundraising in Oregon a woman in Switzerland, Sandra, contacted me by email and told me that she too was fundraising for the very same boy! She desperately prayed that he would find a family, and our friendship grew as we advocated for our sweet boy.

 

Once we knew we were moving to Ukraine, Sandra chimed in and said if we ever made it over to Switzerland we should share at her church in Lucerne. We highly doubted we would make it to Switzerland, but thought the gesture was nice. Well, God knew better. It turned out that last January we needed to go to Switzerland to get our Ukrainian visas and we got to visit Sandra, her family, and her church.

 

The International Church of Lucerne embraced right from the get-go. They fell in love with our Boys and God broke their hearts. They began to support us in prayer and with some finances. I can not express to you how warm and loving is this awesome community of believers. They are the real deal and I can't believe we get the honor to partner with them.

Jed went to Switzerland in September for a family wedding and got to visit our friends in Lucerne. He told them of our need for a van to transport volunteers to and from Romaniv, and right there on the spot they decided to do a Thanksgiving fundraiser to buy a van for Wide Awake. Awesome.

 

So, this past weekend was the fundraiser and holy moly, I guess I set my expectations just a wee bit too low. God blew my itty bitty expectations out of the water. What a generous, loving, beautiful community we found in the International Church of Lucerne. In one weekend they donated thousands of Swiss Francs. THOUSANDS. Those thousands, in addition to gifts from their body given to Jed in September will buy us a van. Need met in an instant.

Blown away, humbled, joyful, tearful, THANKFUL.

Jed kinda kicked me out the door by sending me on this trip to Switzerland. He knew I needed a breather and a time of refreshment for my spirit. I felt nervous, and unsure, but excited to go. I brought Addy with me, and thought if nothing else it would be a special time for the two of us together.

It was that, and so much more.

Many of you have donated and donated and donated to this cause. Many people have given thousands of dollars to help improve the lives of our Boys. Many people gave before we moved, and many more people have given since. We are thankful for every single cent, and for every single bit of love that goes along with the cents. THANK YOU!! Because of the distance, all that communicating and giving is done online. Yay for internet! This was different though, because this was the first time I had seen a group of people, in the flesh, get behind this cause and get behind our Boys like this since we moved to Ukraine. It's different now that our Boys aren't just an idea or a passion. They are our friends and our loved ones. When I share about them now it's with a knowing that comes from hours spent together. Watching strangers work hard to prepare and then pull off an event like this just for our Boys, after really knowing our Boys is a whole new ballgame.

 

I just sat there, watching pies being auctioned off for my Boys and tears filled my eyes. How is God so good? How is it that He cares so much about our Boys and about us that He put it in the hearts of people thousands of miles away to give so generously and selflessly?

I wish so bad I could tell our Boys how much they are loved from afar. As I sat in that room on Friday night I wondered what each of the Boys would think and feel if they were surrounded by as much love as I was that night. I felt so honored, so loved- to overflowing. My spirit didn't see that coming. 🙂

 

To the International Church of Lucerne- your love and care for our family and our Boys is absolutely amazing. You tell us that you love and you care, and we believe it. Not just because of the money (which of course we couldn't appreciate more!) but because of your warm hearts and open arms. Your love is evident on your faces and we are just so thankful that God has brought our lives together. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for every bit of generosity poured out last weekend and in the months since we met. You have made a difference.

 

So, there's my Thanksgiving post. I'm not sure I've ever had a Thanksgiving where it hit home more. Praise God, it's time to go van shopping!! Yeehaw!

 

PS: Addy and I also got to spend some very special time with family. Brett and Rachel just got married and it was such a joy to be with them. Serious balm for my soul. Brett and Rachel, we love you and are so proud of you. Addy and I loved and savored every single minute with you. Ukraine is waiting for you!!! 😉

 

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