Sunday, August 19, 2012

Our God-Wild Summer

Many of you know that we hosted Ilya, a 13 year old Ukrainian orphan child in our home this summer. It was a fantastic experience, and I wrote about it periodically as it was happening over the summer (here and here). But here is the full-ish story. Ben and I gave this report of our experience to our church body this morning as part of our church's Ukraine celebration.


Back in the spring, on one of those days when the routine of life as usual had gotten the better of us, Ben and I had a serious conversation about whether or not we were still going to God with the question, "What else?" In the last few years, we had reached a point of stability in our family life and careers, and we were very pleased with the place where God had so clearly brought us. But during that conversation, we realized that we had gotten pretty comfortable.

And so, together, we prayed and told God that we wanted whatever He had for us. We wanted more of Him. More willingness to leave our routines, more understanding of the Spirit and how it was moving around us, more faith to do the things God asked us to do.

Then, very shortly after that night, Brad Lantis came up front in church and talked about an opportunity to host teenagers from Ukraine for the summer. Ben immediately felt drawn to the possibility, and in faith, he spoke up just as we got into the car that afternoon. It seemed interesting to me, and even though I hadn't had the same guttural reaction as Ben when I heard about it, in faith I told him that we should get more information. So we did. Thus opened a wormhole and in we fell.

We went through all of the steps. One tiny step of faith followed by another. We filled out paperwork, raised almost $2500 in a couple of days, allowed a social worker in to check out our family. And in the meantime, we had been matched with a beautiful 11 year old girl. We were ecstatic! She would be a perfect match for our two little girls. Faith seemed really easy and exciting in that moment.

Then came our first of many challenges.

Our adorable 11 year old girl was no longer able to come. When we heard, we were crushed. We had already told our girls and our neighbors and family and showed her picture around. Then more news: all of the girls were taken. Did we want a 13 year old boy instead?

It made absolutely no sense. A family with 1 and 5 year old girls taking in a 13 year old boy? Who would he hang out with? What would we do with him? Surely he wouldn't be interested in princesses and coloring. And what about safety concerns for our girls. I mean, we knew nothing about him!

Faith suddenly didn't make sense. It got harder.

We spent a lot of time bringing our concerns to God. Asking him the whys and what-ifs. And we heard him tell us that we should keep moving forward.

In faith.

So we did. And we began to get excited.

Then interesting things began to happen. Things like me suddenly becoming the church youth director where I would have the privilege of hanging out with teenagers all summer. Things like Ben's job finding a way to give him two weeks of vacation in the middle of July when Ilya was going to be here. Things like our air conditioning and car breaking down on the same day. Things like the 11 remaining orphans finding host families in a matter of hours.

And it just made me wonder if it wasn't faith making things shudder.

Then Ilya finally arrived and it was everything we thought it would be--exciting, fun, awkward, difficult, incredibly rewarding and touching and eye-opening and wonderful. He loved our girls. They loved him. There was more than enough to do and people to befriend him. There were misunderstandings but plenty of grace. It was going well.

And then we found out about his sisters.

One night not long after Ilya arrived he came out of his bedroom and was teary eyed. We asked what was wrong and he told us that he had 2 sisters in America who he wanted to talk to and see while he was here. He wanted to see them so very badly. They had been adopted by an American family 4 years ago, and he had had very little contact with them since. But he had no address, no phone number, and he didn't know their American first or last names. We were starting with nothing. But we promised we would do our best to help him make it happen. We were relying, at that point, completely on faith that God had brought him to us, that God was intimately involved in our situation, that God would have to show up for this to work out.

It took almost two weeks for us to find them. We and Mary Beth from Homes of Hope spent hours doing detective work on the Internet, and we hit dead ends so many times. But, finally, we found a correct phone number, Mary Beth made contact, and we scheduled a time to talk to them.

He spoke with them while Ben and I and 11 teenagers were at Myrtle Beach attending a camp whose theme was "find yourself in family." The irony of bringing a couple of Ukrainian orphans with us to a conference about finding your true identity in God's family was not lost on us. We saw God break through that week, in everyone. And Ilya got to talk to his sisters. It was thrilling.

And then this:

We found out that Ilya's sisters, who live in St. Louis, were going to camp in Kentucky a week later. And as it would happen, we were scheduled to be in Kentucky on the exact day they were scheduled to leave camp. In fact, we would be driving within miies of them on the same day at the same time on our way home from visiting family in Ohio.

Tell me. What are the odds of that?

So without doing much, without going out of our way or manipulating circumstances at all, Ilya was able to have a reunion with his sisters. The God of the universe is the God of orphans, and he is a God who cares about and works in the details. This is one of the few times in my life when I can say that my mustard seed faith proved resilient and grew a towering tree.

I haven't even scratched the surface here, quite honestly. I want to tell you all of the ways in which our family and neighbors and friends were blessed by the experience of blessing. Of the ways in which having the Ukrainian kids around this summer fundamentally changed some of our youth, not to mention grew and changed the very heart of our youth group. And I know that so many of you came to love these kids too--you let them play with your kids and come into your homes and I want you to know that stepping out in faith like this, all of us together, as a body, is doing something.

And now that he is gone, we miss him. It is so tempting for us--who fell in love with him--to question the experience. To ask God why he would bring such a precious one as Ilya here only to take him right back. It hurts. And it is so much harder knowing that he does not go back to a loving family like he deserves, but to a poor, state-run institution. His future is uncertain and he will face so many obstacles in the next few years that it is even hard to think about.

But I have learned this, if nothing else. God knows him. God knows him deeply. God knew that he would be in a certain state on a certain highway on a certain day and time, and God arranged it so that his sisters would be there too. And if God knew that and looked after it, He knows all the other things there are to know also. What his future holds. What he needs. How to take care of him.

And so our job, coming off of a wonderful and full summer, is this: to have faith that God is faithful. To look back and remember all of the things He did, all of the ways He was true, and have faith that His work on behalf of Ilya--whether for an adoptive family or for his own life and salvation--is in God's hands. The God of action, the God of details, the God of infinite concern.

And as we as a church body experience this Ukraine service together and come to God asking, "What are you doing here among us?", let us be people of faith. Let us be people who are willing to say yes. People who believe God is at work. People who allow the creator God to enter our lives, turn them inside out, do things that make no sense. And let us have faith that He will move. Let us believe it because it has already begun.

If you are interested in learning more about orphan hosting or want to know how you can support such a worthy cause as advocating for orphaned children around the world, a great first step is to visit There is another round of hosting happening in December, and they are currently looking for American host families. Check it out! Definitely one of the most fun things our family has ever done!

If you have other questions, feel free to leave a note in the comments section and I will do my best to point you in the right direction!!


Emily Wierenga said...

i love your eyes of faith, open to see and to believe. a beautiful, well-told story, friend.

Anonymous said...

Bless you, Kristin! You will never know on this earth the far-reaching impact your love will have in the life of this child and others!