June 11, 2012 by Andy Whisenant
That’s the first thing my buddy Stasch asked our team when we met him. Who’s Stasch, you’re wondering? Well Stasch is just one of the hundreds of orphans we got to meet during out trip to Ukraine last week. Strangers from all over the southeast became a unique family for about two weeks as we walked the streets of this beautiful country and had our hearts broken and healed at the same time.
We worked with a group called HopeHouse International, who works with Ukrainian families to adopt Ukrainian kids while using volunteer teams to share the love of Christ with the kids who haven’t been so fortunate to have found an adoptive family. I was so glad that I got to experience the emotional roller coaster of the week with so many incredible people, especially my good friend Brandon Dragan.
Our mission was very simple…love kids well. That’s it. No ulterior motive. No gotchas. Just being with those kids and telling them that they are loved, they have value, and they have a purpose in life. Because, honestly, they’re never told any of those things. Ever. They’re told that if they don’t behave, they won’t be loved anymore.
Yeah. That really happens.
Back to Stasch. We found out that Stasch had been left at the orphanage by his mom just three days before we got there. He still couldn’t understand why he was there and why we couldn’t take him home. When we told him we didn’t know where he lived, he said that he would show us the way. He begged and pleaded with us to take him home. [Insert the sound effect of my heart breaking into a million pieces.]
I stayed with Stasch the whole time we were at the orphanage. We got our picture taken together and tried our hand (somewhat unsuccessfully) at some volleyball. We went to see our face painters and got some balloon animals from our clown team.
All the while, Stasch barely said a word. And he definitely never smiled. He couldn’t understand his new reality. Neither could I.
If you get to know me at all, you’ll quickly realize that I’m an eternal optimist. Sometimes annoyingly so. But what we saw this past week challenged that. Big time. Especially when I met Stasch.
I was tempted to lose all hope. Why has Stasch’s story taken this turn? Why can’t he have a home with loving parents who tell him about how his eternal value and worth? Why does it have to be this way?
Why is it that of the orphans in Ukraine, 70% will become homeless, 20% will have criminal records, and 10% will commit suicide by the time they age out of the orphanage system at 17 or 18? Why will one in ten kids we met believe that the life they know is not worth living because they don’t seen any light at the end of the tunnel? Could Stasch be that one in ten?
I don’t say all of this to bum you out. Really. And I don’t say all of this to put you on a guilt trip. I promise. I don’t say all of this because I have it all figured out. Far from it. I say all of this because I’m still wrestling with the magnitude of injustice. That and the reality of true hope despite the injustice.
I choose to believe that God knows every tear that rolls down Stasch’s face. I choose to believe that this current circumstance is not what will ultimately define Stasch. He has infinite value in the eyes of his Creator. The story doesn’t have to end here.
It’s just that now that I’ve seen injustice in person and seen the ramifications of kids not being cared for, I feel responsible now. I
can’t won’t live the same way. Not after what we saw. Not after Stasch. I have no idea what that means down the road, but I know I just can’t forget that place. I can’t get Stasch’s face out of my mind and I don’t think I want to either.
I wish I could explain the incredible hope and injustice our team was able to see together. I wish I could adequately share about what happened. My buddy Brandon blogged about our experiences over on the HopeHouse blog so that might give you a better idea of what we saw. Even though he’s a really good writer, I don’t think words do that experience justice. I guess you’ll just have to go with me next year to find out for yourself
Ukraine reminded me that life is heartbreaking, beautiful, and full of hope. That and the fact that one little boy’s story can change your own story in such an incredible way.