The Blog has been silent for the past couple of weeks due to a packed schedule of home visits with our specialists and other activities with the families and orphans we have been serving. Now that we are three days from departing Ukraine we have time to collect a couple of thoughts.
We were blessed to have Eileene Payne and Brad Franklin join us for three weeks of ministry. Eileene has been a special education teacher for 27 years, primarily focused on children from 0 to 6 years of age. Brad is a special education teacher for high school students and completed his Masters in Special Education last year. With their collective experience covering a broad age group and with the specialized training each has received God clearly brought this team together to serve the disabled population of Chernigov.
Eileene Payne, Eli Reimer, Brad Franklin, and Vlada Boute meeting with families at the seminar on “Disability and the Christian Faith”.
Over 21 days our Team was able to meet with over 20 families to give them counsel and encouragement on ways to effectively aid their child’s development. In the mix of those 20 visits were several trips for our regularly scheduled work in the orphanages. Even with the packed schedule they were able to spend valuable time building relationships with their hosts. Each of their hosts are part of the church and very gracious friends. Their unique hosting experiences were part of the cultural immersion that we and they hoped would aid in their understanding of life in Ukraine and, indeed, it was very helpful.
As our Team was meeting with these families we were so blessed to see the resource that Brad and Eileene were. At times what they shared with the families, though remedial, was like a new day dawning with their eyes opened to see that regardless of lack of resources outside their home they could help their child significantly themselves. But more striking was the light shining in the dark corners of people’s hearts. On a few occasions the conversations would turn towards family or parenting or the like, and the doors were thrown open to share how the gospel is to shape our lives. Often Brad and Eileene were able to emphasize that we can’t put our hope in doctors, therapy, or treatments but in God alone. Granted, sometimes these words seemed to fall limply on cold hearts, but we know that God is faithful and will cultivate these sown seeds as He sees fit.
The last family the Team visited in Chernigov was one we had never met and came through contact with one of our neighbors in the apartment complex we live in. Hopelessness would characterize the disposition of the mother of the sweet child with disabilities. Over two years after disability touched their family she cannot find acceptance of her child’s multiple and severe challenges. Her heart is cold and deeply pained. The grandmother, also living in the home, was somewhat less melancholy but broken. They have withdrawn from life in many ways and almost hide their child away. It is understood by those still somewhat in contact with them that they are not to ask about the child. Isolation.
Due to the severity of their child’s disability there is little that can be done to make any significant developmental progress. The Team discussed a few different concepts to help utilize present abilities. But how do you tell an already hopeless family that they really can’t expect much progress for their child when they desperately want that and it means everything to them? After a spell the grandmother spoke up and rather despairingly said, “Isn’t there anything you can do to help this child?”. Brad and Eileene were truthful and forthright with her that, “No, but you can improve the quality of the child’s life.”. As the air of their hope was sucked out of the sweltering room Tamara, Brad, Eileene, and Vlada were praying for how to bring true Hope into the room. Over the next several minutes they were able to share the gospel with this mother and grandmother. Light shining in darkness.
We pray earnestly that these words will not return void and that their hearts would ponder Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin-disabled lives and that the Spirit’s torturous chiseling of their hard hearts would be accomplished by God’s matchless grace being poured out on them and washing away the shards of doubt, fear, and self that they would be made new creations in Christ. Since that time they were invited to church for our last Sunday in Ukraine (yesterday) and they said they would come. They didn’t show up but the fact that they responded and showed interest in being further connected is HUGE in our book. Pray that the efforts of the church to continue to reach them will be fruitful.
That is a brief snapshot of the last four weeks. It is hard to detail the many other blessings and challenges that have made up a months worth of ministry. Praise God for bringing us Brad and Eileene to serve with their unique giftedness and skill set, they were used powerfully.
We want you to know that God has faithfully ministered to the disabled in Chernigov, Nyezhin, and Zomhlai through the gospel and for His infinite glory. Thank you for praying with us, for us, and for the gospel to be proclaimed.
In Christ Alone,
Justin and Tamara