Every evening during the trip before we all went to bed, the group would meet together for a little while to talk and pray about the day. We always had plenty to talk about. However, Ashley always had a “Question of the Day” for us to answer (and I think we all really looked forward to this time of the day). Every evening had a different question, which typically matched that day’s tears or laughs or both.
Friday was by far the most emotional day for most people–it was the last day of camp and we had to say goodbye to all the kids and then we visited the institution for adults with disabilities, which is nothing short of something from a horror movie. So, fitting for the day, Friday night had the most emotional question. The question that night was, “Five years from now, what from this trip will still make you cry?”
So, I am going to answer this question for you. I realize there are no words which can accurately describe some of the things I saw on this trip, but I hope you will be patient with me.
- The Kids at Camp–The kids at camp were absolutely amazing! I don’t think there is anyway for you to meet these kids and not instantly fall in love with them. There are a couple of things about these kids that will continue to break my heart. The first is the fact that these kids are largely forgotten and discriminated against within their community. They are told they will never be able to do anything good with their lives. Second, while some of these kids don’t have parents, others were simply abandoned. Third, even for a poor eastern European city, these kids lived in horrific conditions. Between the large amount of broken glass on the ground, the bathrooms, the water (which has a very high metallic content), and the fact that, if it weren’t for Maxim and his amazing team, these kids would have nothing to do all day, it is hard for your heart to not break. Finally–the one thing I had to continually push from my mind and choose to not think about–the statistics say many of these kids will end up in prostitution, pregnant at age 15 or 16, or working for the mafia, simply because they have no where to go, and, thus, are easy prey. However (and this is a big however), God is working in Krivoy Rog and among the orphanages and dorms for teens, the kids who live at these places, and the staff who work there. It is easy to get stuck on the bleakness of the situation and miss the good that is happening through Leann, Amanda, Maxim, and his incredible, amazing, miraculous, fabulous team (Alyona, Katia, Misha, and many more).
- The Baby Orphanage–When I visited the baby orphanage, I wasn’t able to go inside, which is probably a good thing. Kids are brought outside to play on the playground a couple of times a day, and so I just played with the kids who were outside. The group I played with had kids who were probably ages 2-3. While I would have taken every single one of them home with me if I could, there were a few who really stood out to me. Out of that few, two made me cry. The first was a little girl who was obviously quite bright. I played with her for quite a while. Anytime I would walk away, she would start yelling, “Mama! Mama!” (NB: The kids there call all women “mama” or “aunt”–she didn’t think I was her mom or anything like that). She just wanted to hold on to every second of attention she could get from someone. The other was a little girl who had some developmental issues. She had an abnormal amount of bruising on her body. She also desperately needed glasses to the point of you could tell that if someone came close to her too quickly, her eyes were going out of focus. I really did cry later on thinking about how she needed something so simple, but would probably never get it.
- The Institution for Adults with Disabilities: The institution really was something out of a nightmare. While we were there, we went into a building for people who were bedridden. I went into one of the first rooms, which had a person (I thought the person was a man, but someone else thought a woman–it was hard to tell because their head was shaved and their body was very emaciated) whose body was twisted in ways I can’t even begin to described. The legs pointed in the wrong directions, the arms were not fully functional, and it was obvious they had not been moved in some time. Flies would land on his body, and he was unable to swat them away. Also, he may not have had all of his skull–I’m pretty sure at least part of his skull was missing from the top of his head and he only had skin covering his brain. I prayed for him and then just sat with him for about twenty minutes or so, feeding him a banana bite by bite (which took a while because he had no teeth) and just being with him. He couldn’t speak, but he was obviously aware of what was going on. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to have to live that way–it’s hard enough to imagine having to live a life stuck in bed when you have people who actually care you exist, as opposed to being abandoned in a hell-hole. In case you are wondering, the conditions are not any better for those who are mobile–some are allowed to wander the grounds, but others are kept in a cage during the day. Yes, you read that correctly, a cage (the cage they are kept in was recently improved–it now has a ceiling and a bathroom).
I know my descriptions don’t even come close to capturing what we saw. However, there are a few things I hope you will glean. The first is conditions are terrible, but there are few angels who are working tirelessly to make improvements. Second, I am EXTREMELY grateful for my upbringing. Third, I want to go back.