Camp - Day 7

What an unbelievable last least for this camp and this trip.  It has been a marvelous day of teaching: great teaching and experiencing God's word together, worship, and of course tears.  Tears of joy and hope and tears of sorrow as we must now part ways.  What a precious group of kids and teenagers.  They have showered me with love and affection all day, and allowed me to shower them with the same.

Today started out with an original plan of me needing to drive all the way to the airport and back (2.5 hour round trip) to pick up my lost baggage finally.  The items in this bag were not critical, but will be useful in the future - many Russian Children’s Bibles for new believers.  This would have taken me out of the morning's lesson drama and out of the small group time with my group of guys.  Praise God, He worked it out last minute that the local Ukrainian administrator of the ministry was allowed to come with my passport only to pick on the bag on my behalf.  This allowed me to stay behind and assist the team again in drama and teaching, of which I was very thankful.  I did not want my last day to be “wasted” on a trip to the airport for anything - no matter what the importance of its contents!

The drama team has been a wonderful group of girls to get to know and I appreciate their hard work, dedication to the monthly orphanage outreaches, and to serving the Lord in this camp and with these younger children.  I have played several roles in the daily dramas with them, sometimes 2 or 3 different things each day.  They were patient with me and patiently and graciously endured my need for cues (tug the robe, blink twice very obviously, or smack my leg) when it was time to move from one set of gestures to the next in coordination with the storyline.  It has been awesome to bond with each one of them in a special way as we have worked together to provide illustrations of the gospel and discipleship.

As the day unfolded, we moved to small groups and then lunch.  After a quick bite, back to the dorm area.  I originally wasn't going to come back, but I'm so thankful that the Lord prompted me to return (I was just going to wait for them to come back in an hour and go to the beach with them - taking some time to just catch my breath).  Well, coming back here was marvelous.  The kids just poured into and out of the room.  I somehow got roped into a gorilla impression and the kids were rolling.  I had to do it at least 4 or 5 more times at various points in the afternoon to entertain those that had previously missed out on the performance.  It was fun, and all were laughing and enjoying one another’s company.  Nastia’s caretaker (and some other children too - but she is the one that has captured my heart) was eager to take pictures with me even and show me pictures of her artwork from her phone.  She is very talented and I was thankful to have made this relational connection with her.  She has been sitting in on all the sessions, listening to the Word and observing all that is going on.  Maybe she has received the Lord too, or maybe not yet - but has just warmed up to us because of the genuine love for the kids that they see in us.  Either way, it was a blessing, and I pray she does come to faith of course.

Alesia spent the day telling me that she was sad that I was leaving, and would be crying the next day.  I empathized with her and showed her as much love as I have to offer, but also needed to share it with other too.  Poor thing, very sad - she is not very confident (coming from a school for “slow minded” children - but she is indeed just fine, able to memorize scripture with the rest of them), and she doesn't seem to have many friends - a little awkward in social environments to some degree and very clingy to me.  Today she was almost constantly by my side.  I felt so bad for her that I was probably one of the only positive father figures she has ever seen, and she clung to it desperately.  I wanted to give this to her (and I did as much as possible - maybe too much), but her clinginess too made it difficult to interact and approach other children or allow them to approach me.  I did, though, end up getting very close with others and interacting with them personally as well.  Nastia and Alesia basically became jealous of one another and were competing for my attention almost all day.  I don't like the favoritism in me, but admit that I felt a stronger connection with Nastia and more desire to encourage her.  Then there was Vika and Zhenia (I think), best friends, a little older, also orphans and they just today began to connect with me on a fairly deep level.  They were so kind and just begging (inwardly) for love and attention and approval.  I offered as much today as I could - every time I saw them.  It became common for a quick hug or hand squeeze every time we passed by each other.

Ok Ok...what else.  After playing on the beach a while, there was time to speak with Vanya - a young man on staff from Kiev.  He runs all the tech stuff and plays a part in the dramas at times.  Great guy and very hard worker, staying up late to translate lessons or prepare music and keep the program operational.  He and I grabbed a cup of coffee at a restaurant around the corner (like an outdoor bar near the beach really), and spent a few minutes talking.  I got to ask him all kinds of things about orphans and their current situation in society.  Here is what I learned from him, as far as I understand and recall (some details may of course be misinterpreted or misunderstood - I'm not a machine, but tried to pay careful attention):

The kids are officially to be released from the orphanage at age 16.  However, if they want to continue in school and earn their 9th grade education in order to go to technical school - they are permitted to stay until age 18 - always.  If they want to leave or do not want to get the education however, then they are permitted to go at age 16 and do what they want.  One of the reasons it is so difficult for them to progress past age 16, and then on past 18 into grades 10-12 (which is available to all kids and the government will subsidize them monthly so they can go to school), is because they are fully controlled in the orphanage with no freedom or responsibility.  They are not required to pass their grades, rather the teachers don't want to bother with them or think that they are not capable of earning passing grades - so everyone gets at least a 70% or better and moves on, regardless of capability.  Once they reach an age where they have freedom, they are not equipped with time management skills or an understanding that their performance matters.  They feel that they will always receive the handouts from the government and that they will always do good enough to just pass by, rather than working hard to do well.  This produced laziness and an inability to handle the accountability that is suddenly expected of them and they would rather use their freedom to go and party in the clubs and with drinking.     

If the kids do get an education and do stick with the technical school or go on to university where they can get a free education by the government, they will indeed be able to get a job and integrate into society.  The stigma is only with them while under age 16 or 18 - after that, no one cares whether they are orphans or not, they are adults with personal accountability now.  The issue is with the teaching in the orphanage - whether or not the teachers invest and convey to them a work ethic or not.  Unfortunately, most don't get this work ethic and end up on the streets because of a lack of education (which is offered to them and available if they would but apply themselves).  Also unfortunately, the teachers do not encourage them to apply themselves or to work hard - they just let them skate by.  If and orphan does make it through technical school or university they are able to do just fine - society does not turn their back on them.  The stigma seems to be with thinking that they are lazy and not intelligent, when in reality it is the educational system that is producing unmotivated and unaccountable people who have never been required to do more than receive a handout from the government.  This does not produce a responsible hard working adult, which is how they wind up in their situations of prostitution, drug addiction, crime, and suicide.       

I am not saying it is a good story, but it does actually make me feel better about the opportunities that are available if they are taught properly to work hard and apply themselves to their fullest potential. This seems to be the root issue, education - not so much social stigma anymore.  This is certainly an element in the lack of education - stemming from the USSR days of communism.
back to the days story....

Today is Anna’s birthday and I called to wish her so.  I got the voicemail and so left a message for her (hope it encouraged you sweetheart).  Afterwards 7 or 8 kids/teens were around and we decided to call back so they could sing to her.  The melody is the same and they know the words - so we called back and they all joined together in wishing her a happy birthday - what an awesome treat and very kind of them to reach out to my family from the other side of the world, whom they are very very familiar with at this point through all the pictures i have with me.  (I hope it came through and that it was very encouraging to you sweetheart - Happy Birthday!)

During the evening lesson review time, I was asked to come up and give my testimony via “interview” with Greg.  It is amazing how much I can identify with these kiddos and my heart so empathizes with them one some level.  I told of how my father also abandoned my mom and I due to abusiveness.  I told of how we moved to NC when 12, brother and sister, and some of my experience moving to a new place.  I told of how I came to know the Lord at an early age in a situation very similar to the one they were currently experiencing and how that was the beginning of my walk with God, going on to relate some of the struggle with the flesh that still persists and the ups and downs of walking with Christ and following my own way at times.  They found out that I am thankful for the fatherly correction that He faithfully delivers to his children and that He had indeed corrected me more than once, but that it is always a joy to be corrected by and put back into proper relationship with Him.  I was asked what has impressed or impacted me the most and hope that my words were encouraging to them.  They seemed to be hanging on every word as I spoke of their growth in the Lord.  At the end of my brief testimony, they applauded (the Lord gets the glory here - it is really another story about Him and the miracle of life in me) and began spa-see-bo, spa-see-bo (thank you) chanting.  It morphed into and english we-love-you, we-love-you chant that brought tears of joy and tears of sadness.

After the evening movie (The Fourth Wise Man), we returned to the dorm area and spent an hour or so with many good byes and many laughs with some tears.  So many hugs and so many pictures from everyone's cameras - it was a great time of joy in the Lord.  The tall boy in my small group picture - Sasha - really surprised me.  A large group of children and teens were in one room preparing giant thank you cards for us with best wishes and signatures from many of them.  They brought me in to receive this gift from them.  It was overwhelming to again receive their love and attention, I shed more tears as I told them that it was not the sea that brought me here, nor was it the sunshine or even the culture and region - but that it was them - it was each of them that motivated me to be here, that the love of God in me had born a love of them in my heart before I even left the US.  It came to full fruition as I spent the week with them, and I was so glad to have the change to serve and teach them.  Sasha, he showed me where he had signed the card and had wanted to write much more, but ran out of room.  He welled up with tears and just said to me “I don't want you to go”  Ohh it broke my heart.  I prayed with him on the spot.  It was amazing - the whole room of celebration and laughter quieted down as they realized we were praying.  I prayed scripture of blessing, comfort, and peace for him and gave him a hug goodnight and farewell.  Then, picked him up for the picture you see below to return us all to celebration mode!

After that, email and Facebook information was given to those with access (not all here are orphans, and even some of them have access in their schools) and some began to write me sweet notes and bring them back to my room - from Vika, Alesia, Nastia, Iulia...truly God's grace has bound us as brothers and sisters, fathers and children, and put a love for one another in our hearts that only He can produce.  It has been a beautiful evening and I am so thankful to God, and humbled before God, for these experiences and demonstrations of His Word.  Thankful for obvious reasons of joy; humbled because of the awesome responsibility of stewarding it well - not forgetting, not growing cold or indifferent, and continuing to live for His pleasure and His purposes.

Now it is time for bed - well, it has been for 2 hours now as I have poured this out for you tonight while still fresh in my mind and heart.  It is 1AM and I must rise at 4:20AM in order to take the ~1 hour trip to the airport.  As the sun rises, we will be at the airport again - almost transported from one world to another it seems in my thinking right now.

Love to all, looking forward to seeing you all Monday night.


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