As we sit here at JFK, awaiting our last flight of the day which will finally take us home, we find ourselves grateful for the little things...things that a week ago, we wouldn't have remembered to give thanks for...the ability to read the signs around us, understanding conversations that are floating across the air, the anticipation of sleeping in a large bed with comfortable pillows, driving on smooth roads. Yet even as we are giddy with excitement at hugging our children at the airport, we have left a large part of our heart back in a vast country of rugged farmland and beautiful, historic cities. A country that a week ago we knew very little about and had some fear and apprehension about the reception we might meet. But now we find we have fallen in love with Ukraine and its people. Our hearts break with them as they face an uncertain future. We had been cautioned that Americans were not well liked and we should be very careful, however, we encountered warm, kind people who did their best to assist these two inexperienced, ill-prepared Americans maneuver through the mysteries of a new culture.
Our trip back to Pishana on Wednesday was more difficult than we anticipated. Our taxi driver picked us up at 5am. The first three hours of the trip were on a fairly decent highway. Each time we have traveled this highway in the last week we are struck by the feeling of entering a time machine and traveling back in time 100 years as soon as you leave the bustling metropolis of Kiev. When you leave the city, all that you see along this highway are miles and miles of farmland and small villages. The last hour of the trip requires us to leave the highway and travel on a country road, a road that is so full of potholes that I find myself looking at my watch every five minutes to see if the hour of torture on this road is nearly over. Finally, when I thought I couldn't endure another second of being thrown back and forth we pulled into the city of Balta. Here we met up with Svetlana, the facilitator who works in this area, and Marina, our translator for the day. Svetlana informed us (through Marina) that we would be meeting with the Director of Social Services and she would travel with us to Pishana to observe our interaction with Igor. However, the director had been called away briefly to deal with a problem in another local orphanage and we would need to wait for her. Svetlana and Marina climbed into the car with us and Sasha (our driver) took us around the corner to the notary to drop off some documents to be notarized for our visit to Pishana. This would take about an hour so we suggested to Svetlana and Marina that we go to the restaurant we had discovered on Saturday for coffee. We were thankful that God had led us to this restaurant earlier as the only restaurant Svetlana knew of did not open until noon. Yesterday was by far the coldest, grayest day we have experienced during our visit so we were thankful to find a warm place to sit. We decided to go ahead and order food as we didn't know when we'd next get a chance to eat. I'm so glad we did...it turned out that we had neither lunch nor dinner yesterday. After an hour and a half we returned to the notary to sign the documents that had been prepared and then headed to the Department of Social Services to pick up the director.
Svetlana went inside while the rest of us waited in the car for what we thought would be 5 minutes. 5 minutes turned into 15...turned into 30...60...2 hours! At one point Jim and I got out of the car to stretch our legs and pace back and forth in the cold drizzling rain. Finally, we heard word from Svetlana, that the director was fearful to allow us to have this visit because of the circumstances in Lugansk. We were the first couple trying to move forward without official documents and she was fearful to allow us to procede. I felt an oppressive weight on my chest as I was reminded once again of the intense battle we were facing and began to pray urgently that God would move the director's heart and allow us to visit. Finally, after 3 hours of waiting, she sent out another representative to travel with us to Pishana. The 6 of us squeezed into Sasha's car and we made the 30 minute drive to the orphanage. We were greeted by many of the sweet, smiling boys we had enjoyed playing with on Saturday. As we headed in to look for Igor and meet with the director of his school, I wondered how much he had been told of this visit. I think he knew something about it, for he was a bit subdued and business like when I greeted him. We were ushered into the director's office where we spent about 45 minutes meeting with her and several other representatives (not sure who they all were). Most of the conversation flowed back and forth between Igor's director, Svetlana, and the Social Services representative. Marina would translate for us here and there. We had been warned by Alex, that we might receive a cool reception from the Pishana director, so we were so grateful to hear her kind words about us and about Igor. She informed the social worker that we had hosted Igor and he had been very happy with us. She said we have kept in communication with him and told of our recent visit to the school. She praised Igor highly, as the most well-behaved, kind-hearted child they had received from Lugansk. At one point they brought in a doctor who informed us that Igor was in good health. Much of the conversation after that we did not understand. About half way through the meeting, they brought Igor in and since there were no chairs left in the small office he sat on my lap. The social worker and director asked him many questions, questions about our family, our interaction with him, why did he want to be adopted by us? He told them he loved us very much and I was his "natural" mother. That brought a chuckle from all of them. They asked if he had any relatives or if anyone had ever come to visit him when he lived in Lugansk. He told them no...no relatives...no one had ever visited him. Then they asked us a number of questions...why did we want to adopt when we already had 4 children? Did we realize how difficult this would be? I hope our responses were adequate. We were aware that it would be difficult but parenting is always challenging. We felt blessed by God and wanted to share those blessings. We tried to explain our own adoption by God and how that motivates us. We talked of our love for Igor and how deeply our children loved him and wanted him to be their brother. Finally, the director brought the meeting to a close. We asked Marina if Igor was going to sign a document saying he wanted to be adopted by us. Apparently, because of the uniqueness of our situation, this could not be done that day, but they assured us it would occur in a few days and we did not need to be present. We were told later by Marina that the meeting had been very positive and the social worker observed positive interaction between Igor and us. We were told we could stay as long as we wanted to visit with Igor. However, by now it was nearing 4pm and we had a long trip back to Kiev and an early flight so our visit with him was brief. We headed upstairs to a large open room with a couch and pulled out some snacks to share. (Igor had skipped lunch also in order to be at the meeting with us) We were surrounded almost immediately, by the same group of boys that greeted us on our arrival. It was interesting to us that it was all boys who hung out with us. I felt a little like Wendy from Peter Pan with the lost boys. I looked around the room at all their sweet faces, some of them on the brink of manhood, and my heart broke for them. Who would be a mama and papa to these boys? Who would come to rescue them and give them a future? We had fun playing spoons together and then all too soon it was time to climb back in the taxi to drive back to Balta and then on to Kiev.
We hugged Igor and assured him that we would be back as soon as we could. Svetlana had done a very good job of explaining to Igor that our situation was unique because he is from Lugansk and this could take awhile. He seemed to understand. We all prayed together...surrounded by this group of boys. Then they all trailed after us as we headed out to the car. This time the tears were fewer because there was hope a return visit, a visit we hope will allow us to bring this boy home forever.
On this long journey home we have had time to reflect on all God has done for us this week. When we left home 9 days ago, we had no idea what we would face. We didn't know how God would accomplish granting us a referral when no contact was made with the Irmino director. We knew He had given us the opportunity to meet with the SDA and we were surrendered to whatever plans He had. We are overwhelmed at God's goodness to us! He has shown Himself strong in our lives. A mighty warrior who fights our battles. All we could do was pray and submit to Him and He fought for us. He provided abundantly for our needs and moved mountains out of the way. Even yesterday we learned from Alex, a ruling had just been made on Tuesday in Odessa to allow the directors of the orphanages that have taken in Lugansk children to act as their legal guardians and make decisions for them. If this ruling had not been made, the Pishana director would not have the authority to give approval of Igor's adoption. This happened the day before our meeting....God's timing never ceases to amaze us!
We can never say thank you enough to all of you who have been praying with us through this journey. Many of you we have never even met! Keep it up! The battle is not over yet. Many more obstacles must be overcome. The next challenge is to get another official copy of Igor's birth certificate made so that we can request a court date. On Monday morning, the morning of our 2nd (or was it 3rd?) SDA appointment, my daily bible reading was in I Samuel 16-17, the story of David facing Goliath. David's words to Saul as he prepared to face Goliath resonated with me. He told him "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of the Philistine." David trusted in God's deliverance based on His previous work in David's life. We have seen God act as a Mighty Warrior in our life and we can trust Him with the next battle.