“Will You Take Me Home?”: Heartbreaking and Hopeful Moments from Ukraine

6

June 11, 2012 by Andy Whisenant

“Will you take me home? I’ll show the way? Will you please just take me home?”

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.

Maybe I’m just crazy, but I still choose to believe in hope. I choose to believe in a God who brings justice to the orphan. I choose to believe in a God who protects the orphan.

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.

6 thoughts on ““Will You Take Me Home?”: Heartbreaking and Hopeful Moments from Ukraine

  1. Lexi MacKinnon says:

    So great you got to love on orphans there… I bet they were so blessed!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for sharing and thank you for taking the gospel to these precious children!

  3. Tim Petree says:

    Andy, I’m proud of you. I remember when you were younger than Stasch, and we’d work the Saturday morning backyard Bible clubs in Hermitage. Your story of Stasch reminds me of a little boy named Marcus who wanted to go home with me. Keep overflowing with Living Water, my friend. Keep hoping. Keep loving. Keep sharing. While the memories of these young children will impact the rest of your life, the Gospel you share will impact eternity for them!

  4. Yvonne Hamilton says:

    I love you Andy Whisenant! So happy for you and your team’s safe return. My heart breaks for you and Kate. I know you must feel “homesick” for the sweet children your met. Love and praises for your faithfulness.

  5. Donna Miller says:

    Andy, I know your mom through LifeWay. I went to Moldova (near Ukraine) on a mission trip 2 years in a row and would go back every year if I could. I know exactly what you went through and experienced. My church goes and works with orphans every year. It’s so sad to meet these sweet, sweet kids who have just been thrown away. Your sweet Stasch is just one of SO many similar stories. I met kids that had waited years on the relative to return that “dropped them off.” It is so difficult to comprehend why they live like that and we live like we do. I have an uncle that did a lot of mission work in Russia. Before I ever went he said, “Remember when you’re over there that you can’t bring them all home. God put them there for a reason and He put you here for a reason. Help them better themselves and their country where they are and show them love.” As hard as that is to hear and as much as I still want to go over there and bring a few kids home, I am amazed at the change my church has made in Moldova. It is visible in the areas we’ve worked in. (Check out Justice & Mercy International’s website. Our church started this organization to offer sponsorships of the kids we meet and they have since branched out into other countries.) Knowing your mom, I know you have a good heart. Know that just by meeting you, you have impacted their lives and they have forever changed yours. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Moldova and all the kids I met there. Go back as much as you can. They love to see Americans return. They know we’re the only people in their lives that offer them love unconditionally — until they learn about Jesus. Regrettably, Stasch will probably be waiting for you to return next year. If he’s there, you’ll never forget the look in his eyes and the hug you’ll get when you get to see him again. It’s truly the unconditional love of Jesus expressed through these kids.

  6. [...] crazy places and having epic adventures. I dream about ways to create better stories for kids like Stasch. I dream about being a part of a church that is radically changing the [...]

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