Stories of Despair and Hope

Sighing, I picked up the list of poor children we were going to visit on the weekend. Listed were forty-seven children in twenty-one families. Yet the only thing I knew about them was the age marked beside their names.

Background:
Although the focus of Richard’s ministry is dentistry, my ministry in the country of Ukraine seems to be distributing humanitarian aid—mostly clothing—and gifts to widows, orphans and underprivileged children. Many friends, Smile Alliance International and several churches send boxes on a fairly regular basis. The sorting, organizing and hauling around of boxes is a lot of work but we definitely enjoy the smiles and joy on the faces of the recipients.

God has a strange sense of humor. When we sold our things and moved here from America I envisioned a new start—a home finally free of clutter and stuff. I would at last have the time and energy to be organized. Things would be neat and tidy. Right! God generously provided a house for us to live in after six months of living in an apartment building. Humbly I thanked Him for His provision. He bestowed on us this blessing and we dedicated it to Him and His work. That’s when the boxes began to arrive.I often laugh when I am in the midst of unpacking and sorting. During this time every free surface in our living quarters holds a stack of socks, shirts, pants, gift items, or some other thing. Sometimes I summon the troops to help but often I forge ahead alone. It is during this time I can pray for those who will be receiving each item. I can ask God for direction, guidance as to whom He has sent each thing. And it’s amazing what transpires.

I could tell story after story about this. But for now I want to share stories of some special gifts that touched my heart. Background information is necessary so you can see the scope of things and God’s love working through each person who has generously donated funds, time, and goods. We really believe that He cares about details, influences people to send various items and funds, and touches people hearts with a desire to help.

Our Visits
I picked up the gallon size Ziplock bags that have become my second favorite ministry tool. Slowly I began filling each of them with a toothbrush, comb, piece of candy, mini book filled with Russian Bible verses (sent by an anonymous donor), a slip of paper outlining the Gospel message with an invitation to accept Jesus, and other basic items.

Pastor Dima, a missionary to one of our neighboring villages, had asked us if we had some small gifts we could give to children they were going to visit. We told him we could do that but asked if we could go along when they visited the families. They were happy to have us join them and the date was set. The village social worker had provided lists of the neediest families. Dima had worked with some of them before but many were new to him.

The previous week I had assembled 110 plastic shoe boxes (my very favorite ministry tool) filled with gifts for Mostysche Orphanage and Sunshine Center for Street Children. The providing church in Ellensburg, Washington had generously included extra things in their twenty large boxes so I had enough to start filling my plastic bags. Then I added items from my reserves upstairs. The final step was to put in some age-sensitive items, something each child might need. I prayed for God to help me put just the right items in each bag.

I had kept in reserve a few of the brand new sleepers, jeans, and shirts for toddlers sent by a church in Cle Elum. So the bags for the 3 through 5 year-olds were easy to fill. Two different retired couples in Oregon had lovingly hand-knitted hats, mittens, socks and sweaters. These too were added to the packages. The older boys were a challenge but winter scarves, gloves and wallets purchased with donated ministry funds helped complete their bags. A box from my friend in Oklahoma provided some items for the older girls. But I was unsure what to put in the last of the baby and small toddler gifts. Then MEEST, the shipping company, called and brought four very large boxes from a church in Canada. Sent the middle of November, the boxes had somehow lost their way and arrived “just the day I needed them.” Now, the babies were very well taken care of. Grandma Rosa project blankets purchased and put together by friends in Washington State were put in large plastic bags for the children 12 and under. Then the zip lock bags for each individual child were added, each large bag was closed and the family name written on the outside. We were ready at last to begin visiting the homes.

Dima’s church bathed our day in prayer. I was profoundly glad about that when we encountered vicious, large dogs as we entered several of the yards. Although going door to door is not my forte, our advantage was that we were laden with gifts. Another plus was Dima’s previous work in this village—getting to know the people—showing them love and acceptance. Most of the homes we visited this time were ones he had been in before. Next week will be another story.

Each home told its own story. Some were relatively neat, others cluttered and messy. Most had foldout beds in the kitchens and living rooms. Some were really dark. Most were not very warm. Several had sick children or adults. Children and adults with sad eyes and downcast faces were the norm. All had a need for God’s love and joy. Dima, Vadim and Lada are recovered drug addicts who are now in ministry. They put their hearts into sharing the message of a better life and they were living proof that it can happen. Our friend, Tanya, interpreted for us. People listened. Vadim played the guitar and they sang songs for the children, others for the adults. Lada, a lovely lady who was addicted to drugs for fifteen years, has a passion for sharing how God can change hearts and lives. She invited and encouraged each person to ask God to help them and to come into their lives. I shared that we lived in Ukraine now because we felt God had sent us here to proclaim his love. I told them that God had given us many gifts, the best His Son, Jesus, and friends in America had sent presents to them to remind them of this love. When they cuddle with their blankets and enjoy their gifts, I asked them to remember how much God loves them. I then asked them if Richard could take their pictures to send to my mother who had the idea for the blankets, and to those who sent the gifts. I am going to get copies made for them.

Three Stories
I saw joy on most of the faces of the kids as they received their presents. Many quietly took them away for opening. I could tell something about each child, but I will limit this to three profound stories.

A symbol of God’s love
Dima jumped out of the van and started to open the gate at a house he had not visited before. This set the watchdog to barking angrily—this works in place of a doorbell. A thin lady dressed in warm clothing (including a hat on her head) came to the gate. Her expressionless face led to speculation as to whether we would be invited in or not. But she grudgingly beckoned toward the house as she stood guard in front of the dog house. The standard Ukrainian house is different than those in America. The door often leads into an entry room—sometimes with chairs—or a kitchen. At this home, the 17 year old son led us through a small dark kitchen which also had a bed in it, through a hallway with two more beds, and into a room lighted by sun through the windows. We sat on the bed there and some stools that were brought in. The lady stood leaning against the door, arms folded tight across her chest, listening to Dima. Her three boys came in. The eldest, Valeriy, had quit school and now repaired cars.. The two smaller ones, Dima 6 and Olexi 11 were talkative and friendly. Vadim asked the question about what they wanted to do when they grew up (this was the only place this question was asked.) Olexi’s desire was to be a policeman but Dima dreamed of being a “footballist”. In America we would say “soccer star”. We discovered that Luda, the mother, had cancer which had returned after a five year remission. She was barely holding herself together.

Eagerly I opened the bag we had prepared ahead for this family. While packing them, I had asked God to help me select the right blanket for each child. In my heart I knew what I would find—sure enough—one of the blankets was purple and covered with soccer balls. (There were only a couple of these blankets in the box I had unpacked.) When my turn came to give out the gifts, I looked at Dima. Smiling with tears in my eyes I told him that God loved him very, very much. I told him I knew this because God had me put this blanket in the bag just for him. God knew his desires. He knew his heart and he cared. I was rejoicing inside.

Lada began telling about our need for God and then Vadim broke in and said he felt we were supposed to pray for the mom—for her cancer—for her health. He asked her if we could lay our hands on her shoulders as we prayed and she consented. She stood very stiff but as they prayed she relaxed. It was as if a very large burden had been lifted from her shoulders. And then she smiled. I’ll never forget that smile. It transformed her face.As we climbed into the van, she was there—smiling. I had told her I would continue to pray for her. I am. And I feel a need to go back. Just to be there for her, if she needs me. We will see if that becomes a possibility.Despair
My friend’s four year old granddaughter had picked out a special blanket to send to a little girl. Yvie prayed for the girl. She told Mimi that she loved the little girl. They sent the blanket. I found it at the top of a box and chose if for a four year old on my list. Halfway through our day, I told Dima that I would really like to see if we could deliver it since I knew Yvie was waiting to hear about the little girl that would receive it. Dima knew the mom. Her latest boyfriend had just gone to jail. We found the boarding house where she lived. The outside door was open and several small children sat on the table and the stairway. One had a dress and nothing else on—not even socks. This was Natasha, sister of the four year old, Ira. There were socks and warm pajamas in the bag I had prepared for her. We went up the filthy, cluttered stairway to the room where the mother and her four children lived. It was tiny with a double bed at one end and bunk beds on each side. There were stuffed animals nailed to the wall above the bed. The two little girls, Ira 4 and Natasha, along with a boy about 5 and a baby 7 months old were on the bed where the mother lay beneath a blanket. She said she had a headache. She was lethargic. In the past she had attended Dima’s church and now they tried to talk to her about her life.. She told them she had no desire to change. She was going to live the way she wanted.

Richard had gone to the van to get some things for the little boy since we only had things for the girls—fortunately I had thought to put extra things in just in case this happened. I heard a man’s voice in the kitchen and footsteps on the stairs. The man was swearing. I asked Dima to go meet Richard and as he left the room, the man stopped at the top of the stairs and started swearing at us. He told us to get out, that when people visited bad things happened. (We found out he didn’t even live in this place.) It was obvious he was swearing even though I don’t understand the language. I started praying for all our safety. The man descended the stairs after Dima and continued to yell at him. Richard came in—Dima told him Richard was American and couldn’t understand him. The man stopped yelling. They came up to where we were. We quickly gave the presents to the children. I told them that God loves them. I told Ira that Yvie had sent her the blanket and that she loved her. We left. I felt very sad. I know that before long those children will probably end up in an orphanage. They may have a safer, better life there. Tanya, our interpreter, said she had never seen such a place. It was an eye-opener for her. I think we all felt a measure of grief and knew that we need to pray for this mother and her children.

A Need to Understand
After the boarding house incident, we decided to visit one last place and then continue our visitations at another time. As we entered the final home, we went through a room with dirt floors and into the kitchen. The grandmother welcomed us into her living room which contained a large bed. It was neat and clean. Our list said Yura was 10 and his sister Nastya 9. They looked much smaller and younger to me. But it’s often difficult to tell. I wished I’d asked them. They knew Dima and go to his Sunday school when he can pick them up. (His car has not been running so they haven’t been able to go recently).

The friendly grandfather came in while we sang some songs. Lada began telling Grandma Olga that God could help her. Grandma took over the conversation. The kids live with them because their mom is a prostitute and has disappeared from their lives. She told us that she had her children baptized and she felt that was the worse thing she had ever done. I don’t know why. She told them a lot that didn’t get translated. Finally, I had Richard tell a bit about how God had brought us to Ukraine to share His love with people and we gave the kids their gifts, then we prayed with the family.

Before we left, the others engaged in conversation with the kids and Grandpa while Grandma tried to talk to me. I grabbed Tanya to find out what she was telling me. She told me she thought she was cursed—her life—her daughter being a prostitute. I usually don’t know what to say in circumstances like these but I immediately said, “No. It is not a curse. A loving God does not curse people’s lives. It’s a matter of poor choices. God loves you very much. He loves you with His whole heart. He cares for you.”

I don’t know where the words came from but I firmly believe them. She said she was so much older than me but I told her she had only three years on me. She’s had a very difficult life. As we got ready to leave, I hugged her. She just kept hugging me. I want to go back. I liked her. I’d like to get to know her, find out what makes her go on, see if I can do something to encourage her. I wonder what God’s plan is in this. I pray daily for her as well.

What’s Next?
During our visits we tried to evaluate how we could help people. At the first home, the 2 year old had on a pair of worn, summer sandals. Our latest box shipment contained many toddler shoes. Tanya wrote down the need and we plan to take them some shoes. There were other needs as well. But I think the biggest need is something that each of you can help us with. Please remember these families in your prayers. These are just a handful in the village down the road from where we live. But the needs are everywhere. In Ukraine, Africa, China, America. Pray for those in need. Be aware of where you can help. Ask for God’s guidance.

And last of all, thank you, each one of you who has provided the goods, the funding, and the prayers so our ministry can continue. Thank you for your hearts for the children of Ukraine. Thank you for your encouragement, for your emails, your calls, and for your interest. You are as much a part of this ministry as we are. We are just privileged to be here and to see some of the results.May you be blessed each day and recognize those blessings,
Vicki and Richard

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