Little Drops

Sometimes I feel so small. Like nothing we could ever do could make any difference. Like we’re just a tiny little drop trying to change the color of the ocean. And even if we make the biggest splash possible for a little drop, not much actually changes.

But my heart was lifted today. We met a bunch of other little drops the same color as us, all marching along valiantly.

We’re not alone. And even if we only change the color of a handful of drops, those drops will go out and keep up the fight, even after the original drops fly to heaven.

Join hands, together we can change the world for the better.

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A Russian Orphan Testimony

Note: Kostia wrote this just after high school, a few months after we became friends. We were sharing our stories, and I cherish his young, rough grammar. 🙂 

On October 22, 1988, I was born in Russia, about a train ride away from Moscow (probably 200 miles away).

My first memories were in an orphanage. I remember we had one meal a day (lunch) and it was packed with food. The food I remembered the most there was tomato products. The food was like the stuff you would find in a church pot luck. No hamburgers (sniff) or hotdogs. Mostly food like mashed potatoes, bread, corn, you know, old people food!!

429915_122278191235373_1959725180_nI remember while I was in Russia that there used to be a person who used to visit me almost every week. She was a tall, dark haired lady who took me to her house sometimes over the weekend. This was considered special treatment because nobody there did that. I think maybe that it was my mom. I don’t know, though. (NOTE: we have since found out that this wasn’t his mom, but an orphanage worker who had taken a special liking to him. They are now friends on FaceBook). 

The things that happened in Russia were not so good. If you were bad, they would put this weird plant on you that would make you itch all over. I remember that clearly. Of course, they would spank you mercilessly. Sometimes they would strap you in bed so you couldn’t move. That is why when I was little, I always rocked. I rocked in the van, when I was sitting down, and sleeping. I don’t do that anymore, but sometimes to help me sleep, I still do.

I remember at the orphanage that I had one set of clothes. It was a button up collared T-shirt, slacks and I don’t remember if I had shoes. I remember my best friend. He had a green parka and was a little chunky. I don’t know how I remembered him, but he and I always hanged out.

But one day, while I was in the sandbox, I heard a big loud noise. After that, life went from bad to worse. I was sent to a weird hospital where they would put shots in me.

I remember the hospital quite well. We used to sleep in this big room and people would come play with us. Every once in awhile I would get a lot of shots for some reason. I think the reason for was because of my ear and my blood.

My special person who I think was my mom would still come but only to visit me. I couldn’t go home with her.

One day though, that was the last time I would see her. I cried and cried because even though I probably didn’t know exactly what she was saying, I got the point.

After what to me seemed like an awful long time at the hospital, I remember going on a train. I later found out that I was getting adopted. Julia and I were the first ones in that orphanage to get adopted. Before then, kids were not allowed to get adopted. I only remember the train ride. I remember that room that we slept in. There was a bed that I would sleep with my head on one side and Julia would have her head on the other. My feet would be by her head and her’s by mine. My caretaker would sleep on her chair.

I don’t remember much after that but people tell me that when I got off the plane, I cried. Then a person who knew Russian held me and started to talk to me in Russian and I felt a lot better. I do remember going to a family reunion at Minnesota and then heading off to California. My new family was planning on moving to Portland, Oregon, from California.

Again, I don’t remember much in this time period. I remember that we moved to an apartment in Oregon before we moved to Lake Oswego. Things were not going so well in the family. About this time I felt left out because I was new in the family and I could not relate to anybody. I was very shy and had no friends. I was treated, if you want to say, more like a pet and less as a human. I was just there to look at.

Also, I guess I was something my family wasn’t expecting.

matstuff 004There is a long blank spot now. The next memory is when I started to go to school. I loved school. I loved school so much, too much. I didn’t make many friends and I would spend my time in the library reading. When I got home I would make models with legos and build things. I was a very quiet person and this was something my family worried about. I started to see doctors to try and find out “what was wrong with me.” About my third grade year I got into computers. At the library I would work on the computers, mostly typing and working with random programs.

At home things weren’t good. My mom and I didn’t have the best relationship. She wanted me to be more “outgoing” and she did things that would not be the best for a 8-10 year old boy.

My dad was gone a lot and he was my stronghold. Things were a little crazy now because my sister was going through a phase in her life and wasn’t always there for me. She started to act, can I say teenageish?

I felt abandoned and hopeless.

I didn’t really have a foundation on God, and when you don’t have that, you tend to act how people think about you and how they feel about you. That’s how I acted.

I always knew about God but didn’t fully understand who He was until this next part. One trip, my family took me to Hope House to visit and I wanted to go so bad that I wanted to go now instead of for a summer school. One big reason was because there were horses there. I really liked horses back then.

matt_bicycleI went to Hope House and life started to take an interesting turn. I started to be more social just because I lived with a whole bunch of people and that’s kind of how you survive there. I was still very non-social and it was hard to talk to people. I had an awesome counselor named Jan. I was turning into a “man” now, and I had to switch counselors, which wasn’t the best for me. Jan soon left and worked somewhere else. She was the only person I could tell what was going on.

Things were doing okay. I was starting to have a “normal” life. Do normal boy things and get into a little trouble. I was the kind of person that really never got into trouble. The only truly real trouble I would get into I would accidentally get into. It would be with other people or something that I really didn’t fully understand. I was always used for examples for the older boys of how they should act. GULP!

Well, this is the scary part of my life. I started to hear audible voices that weren’t there and see things. It was very scary. I don’t remember really how it all started but I think it was because I was lonely and longed for something to fill in that area. It started off slow, and nice. I would “see” this guy and we would talk. I would hear him and he would “comfort” me. Then one night it all changed. I was still a quiet person at this point and I was sleeping on my top bunk. I saw this figure with a weird head, horned and small peeking at me from the bed. I screamed, jumped off the bunk bed and started to run, and run and run. I don’t remember much, but people said that I would not stop screaming and shaking uncontrollably. This was only the first of a long time of torment.

The so-called “friend” was now a person that took control of me. Sometimes he would threaten me or my family to not tell what was happening and keep it to myself. I didn’t understand what really was going on but now I think it was evil. Strange things started to happen often and finally I got sent to a hospital to “treat” it. I didn’t really like that place. It was horrible, I would get these shots because the meds that they were putting me on were making my body do weird things. Little did they know that this was more than a physical or mental issue but a spiritual issue. I finally lied my way out of the hospital saying that I was fine and I didn’t hear the voices. That was the time where I started to keep things in. I didn’t have too much problems with the voices and seeing things because to an extent I was doing what they wanted me to do. I was going farther from God and ruining my life by being “secret.”

1098332_10200444433462426_186796677_nFinally though, it happened. I couldn’t take it anymore. By this time I would be having horrible dreams. I would not be able to walk alone, etc. I finally told Christ Coury, who is the only person who I could really trust at that time. If I didn’t have that way out, I probably would not be here today. I was asked to go back to the hospital for them to “try” to fix the problem.

There, they “diagnosed” the problem as schizophrenia, which a lot of people get confused by. Most people think schizo is when a person has two personalities. This is schizo but it’s the rarest kind. Schizophrenia is an illness in your brain that messes with your visual, seeing, etc. part. People would see things that aren’t there, hear things, and random things like thinking somebody talking about them to thinking somebody’s going to kill them.

This seemed strange to me because my only symptoms were seeing things and hearing things. Also, in a schizophrenia person, it would be very random, something from the past or just brief clips of things like a dream or such. Not in my situation. I had full conversations, it answered back, and most if it had nothing to do with the past. When I found out all of this, I realized this might just be a spiritual battle. I heard that you could cast out demons but never really tried it.

That night about five years okay, I tried it. I didn’t just say it and didn’t believe it, I really wanted them out. I asked Jesus to help me because we don’t have any power unless through Him. That night, sitting on that bed, it happened.

When the things came back, it was worse, almost the worst it had ever been. But then I rebuked them with all I had and with Jesus’ help. All of a sudden, it was quiet. It felt like the quiet when a long war had ended. All was peace when I said, “Jesus, help me!!!!!!” I felt this strange peace and that was the point where I truly became a follower of Christ. I got released from the hospital and went back to Hope House.

People at once began to see a change in me. I was afraid of people’s reactions, though, and didn’t really express my faith out loud. I didn’t pray out loud or sing out loud. I started my career as a “Lone Christian.” Did the voices ever go away? No, not really. They would come back and I would rebuke and rebuke until they felt like they weren’t welcome. But from time to time, I still experience them, and it still scares me, but I got Christ whose got POWER!

About my freshman year (high school) I started to program. I made some games and programs. I also loved to draw during my middle school years. When I was a sophomore, I started doing animation. I wanted to make Christian games. I wanted to spread the Word through games. In my Junior year, I started to do movie editing, special effects, and things I’m doing today. My dream job was movie editing because you don’t have to wake up early, you get paid a whole lot, and it’s not as stressful.

But then I realized that it would be harder to witness about Christ as an editor. I am now wanting to become a Director. This was not my first choice because it’s stressful! Believe me! But I feel led to do this and I want to, sort of, and you know that feeling when you’re walking on the right path? That’s how I feel. I started to write Christmas plays my sophomore year because we were going to do this really lame play. My first play was Christmas in the Bahamas. It was pretty good! I was Bad Santa! Then I wrote Have A Madagascar Christmas, which was a major hit! And this last year, The Christmas Rap! Mrs. Dario and I have been having a competition to see whose was the best plays and I’m sorry to say the last three years, I destroyed the middle school class! I say that with all humility! HA HA HA! Nah, it’s a thing we joke around about. 🙂

Let’s see here! I’ve really changed I think in the last 3 years and 5 years of my life. Through Christ I have been a social person, likeable, (to an extent, Mercy? Have I?!?!), and able to share about my life and accept help. God has done amazing things in my life! Wow!! Then it happened. I started to go to VCC. Normally this should be a good thing, but some people at Hope House didn’t like it. At VCC, I started growing very quickly, being challenged and able to open up to people more and more. I became really more social and started seeing the person God wants me to be.

Mercy is a person I have found I can trust and “spill the beans” to. She has helped me out in ways nobody else can. I’ve started to see trust as a two-sided thing. All of my life I was being helped by other people, yet they weren’t sharing things with me. In Mercy’s case, we help each other out. It’s awesome and I’ve seen how brothers and sisters in Christ really do help in our everyday struggles. Yup, she is awesome!

Also, my relationship with my family is awesome! My mom and I are doing great, we’re getting less and less intimidated by each other. We talk about our beliefs and what God has done and also back each other up. She is awesome and my whole family is awesome! God is SWEET!!!!

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RAD and Adoption (My closest friend can’t attach)

So my best friend was diagnosed with RAD as a kid. He was adopted from Russia at 6, didn’t bond with his family, and went to a children’s home at 10. Some years later, I met him and we accidentally became best friends. Somebody cautioned me about him because of his RAD diagnosis and I laughed in their face.

We are extremely attached to each other. There is a mutual loyalty I’ve never had with anyone. When we were young, I told him about things only God had heard, things I would NEVER tell anyone else. He was my closest friend, my only friend, really. He was smart. He was unbelievably compassionate. But he was understandably cautious and, when hurt, he closed off.

But I accepted him for who he was. I’d never been best friends with anyone. I knew he did things differently from me. When I’d hurt him, he would stop sharing his feelings. But we never gave up. I was too invested in the relationship to give up, so he never gave up, either. I accepted his silences when they happened. I gave him time. But I was always there when he needed me again. And he always needed me again.

So, if you think your kid has RAD, here’s my advice: kids who’ve had people walk out on them understandably find it harder to trust (or easily quit trusting). But if you’re always there for them and keep trying, no matter what, you could be the first one to stick around and show them adults aren’t all flakes. And they will test you, too. They will see if you’re for real.

Also, having a kid is like marriage: you learn stuff about people when you live with them. If you can compromise, communicate, and learn about the other and their preferences, you will grow together. If you don’t, you will grow apart.

Expecting Death? Have a Broken Bone Instead!

“It just wasn’t what I was expecting! I wanted to see The Hobbit, not Lord of the Rings revised by a dumb writer!”

I was really excited for the first “Hobbit” movie. My expectations were high, along with every other Lord of the Rings fan. But when I left the theater, I wanted to start a picket line against it. I HATED it with a vengeance. THIS IS NOT THE HOBBIT!!! I WANT THE REAL THING!!!

After my rant lowered his expectations, one of my friends went to see it (out of obligation). He was okay with it. He was expecting an extremely poor movie, and it was mediocre, so he wasn’t ranting and raving.

The difference? Our expectations going into it. My expectations were really high. And I was punched down. His expectations were really low, they pretty much could ONLY go up.

Expectations can break relationships. I know a couple who, when they were first married, had a terrible time of it. The wife said she cried pretty much every day. She was expecting her new husband to change and not take as many risks. So when he didn’t change, she was disappointed.

When I first got married, I had no idea what it would be like. I knew who I was marrying. I had known him for years. So I definitely knew who he was. But I’d never been married before. Plus, we were getting married, then jumping into a life neither of us knew anything about. That’s what saved me from tears or disappointment.

“I don’t think I was what they were expecting.” This came from a young adoptee I was talking to awhile ago. After a few years of caring for him, his family had sent him away. He didn’t get along with one of his new parents. They had tried really hard to figure out “what was wrong with him” and had finally given up and parted because of “irreconcilable differences.”

The short answer was, there wasn’t really anything wrong with him. He just wasn’t like their other child. He was independent, introverted, adjusting to life in an entirely new culture, learning a new language, and had never had a family before. Of course he was different! But he wasn’t what they were expecting.

If you’re adopting or getting married or going through any major change, I wouldn’t advise setting expectations for your new life. Maybe this is pessimistic. But it has saved me a lot of times.

Regardless of what preparation you do, a whole new life or a whole new member of the family is a HUGE change. It will affect you in ways you never thought it would, in both happy and hard ways. Let them teach you. Both new spouses and new children have a history, feelings, and expectations they take for granted. Finding these expectations are one of the goals of marriage counseling and should be (I don’t know if it is) for adoption and foster training. But no amount of counseling can prepare you completely.

Missions and Messy Lives

Ultimately, missions are about people. And people are messy. Sometimes I feel like saying, “Just let me build a building or teach a class.” I don’t like to get involved in messy lives for the rest of my life. But to help is to get involved, and those who get really involved, let things get messy, and open themselves to relationship, love, and hurt are the ones that are most effective.

This brings to mind the difference between institutional, ineffective orphan homes and ones that actually help kids. In institutional care, the cheapest help is hired to get the job done. They don’t care, and even if they do, they are worked so hard the compassion bleeds out. But under the direction of someone who is actually invested in the lives of the children, a system that encourages authentic relationship and family-like commitment can be built. These are the type of staff who will, for the rest of their lives, remain in contact with the young souls they connected with. These are people who love and have their heart broken and love again, regardless of death or rejection or just the general emotional messiness.

Breath.

So, to all of you caregivers or workers who love as Jesus did: you make a world of difference, even if you can’t see it. Keep loving. Keep shining. In a dark world, every bit of light counts.

Castle On a Cloud (Les Miserables) (Heaven Parody)

So this one is easy to convert. In the story, Cosette is longing for a heavenly home, one where she isn’t abused or worked. If you change a few words, it’s easily a song about heaven. I guess I love songs about heaven.

I know a castle on a cloud.
I’m gonna go there when I sleep.
Aren’t any floors for me to sweep.
Not in the castle in the clouds.

There is a room that’s full of toys,
There are a hundred boys and girls!
And nobody cries or shouts too loud,
Not in the Castle in the clouds.

There is a man all dressed up in white,
Holds me and sings a lullaby,
He lights the world and life to us.
He says “My dear, I love you very much.”

I know a place where no one’s lost.
I know a place where no one cries.
Crying at all is not allowed.
Not in the Castle in the clouds.

 

Check out my other parodies here.

 

Control (Valentin’s Story, Part II)

He knew life could be easier. He knew if he let her go, it would be easier. She could have a better life. But the thought tore at his heart. She was the only one he had left. She was a part of him.
So he ran. He carried her. He cared for her, in sickness and in health. He used his wits. He kept them alive.
Even when it was cold.
He woke her up.
He watched her as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes silently and looked blearily out onto the alley. She wasn’t looking at anything in particular. She just looked. She knew he would take care of her.
The problem was, she was a pretty, sweet little girl. He was a scrawny, hard-looking boy. Nobody wanted street boys. She would be adopted, most likely. He would not. Once they surrendered, he could no longer control what happened.
On the street, he could.
It had been years since their aunt had let them go. Vaguely, Valentin wondered if she ever worried about them or queried anyone.
Anna was older now. She got up and walked on her own, stretched, understood their plight. She endured it silently, always trusting that her big brother would do what was right.
She looked like their mother, whom she would never remember.
She had nightmares a lot. She woke up screaming. Sometimes she remembered them, sometimes she didn’t. It was unspoken between them. Valentin had them, too.
The most common one, every time, was that he was laying on a hospital bed. Pain wracked his stomach and lower belly, and when he looked down, he was strapped to the bed. He couldn’t move. Every time, it threw him into a panic. When he looked up, Anna, bored, was wandering off. He didn’t know where she was going. He couldn’t call her back. His voice didn’t carry far enough. He wrenched himself around and against the straps. Somewhere in his head, he knew it was a dream. He knew if he just tried hard enough, he could control it.
But he never quite found the control he was looking for. It remained out of his grasp, under the power of everyone except him.
He wasn’t scared for himself. If it was just himself, he wouldn’t have to worry about staying alive. He could do whatever he wanted and not worry what happened next.
But he had to protect and provide for her. And it would be hard to do if he was dead. So he had to stay alive.

Note: this is fiction based on stories I’ve heard from orphans or former orphans. This is written simply to give perspective on adoption. When a family adopts, they combine their experiences, their wounds, their personality, and their expectations with the life of a young person with his or her own experiences, wounds, personality, and expectations. It’s a miracle that it ever works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Children aren’t blank slates, especially adopted ones. 

Let Them Try (Valentin’s Story, Part 1)

It was cold.
It was always too cold. But Anna slept still.
Maybe that was a bad thing. Maybe they needed to get up and move around.
But the nightmares were too bad, it was rare she slept like this. So he let her.
The silence was creeping up and down his spine like a shiver. But that was okay. The prickles of worry hadn’t left him for many years now. It kept them alive. And when he had felt them start to ease, something had always alerted them. Police, an angry shopkeeper, mean drunk men, a pack of stray dogs.
He had first felt it at a place that should have been the end of their troubles. An old aunt had offered to take them in after much discussion among the adults. They had arrived on her doorstep, alone, one cold September day, after a long train ride. No one had cared enough to accompany them. She had opened the door. Her expression was worried and harassed. She was chewing her bottom lip. She kept looking furtively back into the apartment.
“I can only take your sister.” she had blurted out.
Valentin had stared at her in disbelief. “Where will I go?” The feeling of worry and fear settled into his stomach and made his cheeks grow hot.
“The police will find a place.”
Their aunt was trying to herd Anna inside the door. Although barely able to walk, she somehow understood what was going on. She started to protest and the big woman lost her grip on the girl. Anna came back to Valentin’s side. He looked down at her and made the first decision of his life.
“We will go together.”
His aunt stared at him. “I can’t take you, Valentin.”
“Then we will find a place somewhere else.”
A voice called out from inside the apartment. “Let them try.”
His aunt quivered at the voice, fear coming into her eyes. But when she turned back to the children, they were already clattering down the stairs.
They had emerged from the shadows of the building. Valentin was infused with a dizzying sense of freedom and responsibility. He felt like a trapped animal suddenly given his freedom among thorns and hunters.
And the feeling of worry had settled permanently in his stomach.

To be Continued…

Note: this is fiction based on stories I’ve heard from orphans or former orphans. This is written simply to give perspective on adoption. When a family adopts, they combine their experiences, their wounds, their personality, and their expectations with the life of a young person with his or her own experiences, wounds, personality, and expectations. It’s a miracle that it ever works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Children aren’t blank slates, especially adopted ones. 

Child Beggars (Mindless Charity Hurts)

IMGP6125Child beggars are tough. There is no real welfare system in India. The government isn’t the smoothest operator and frankly, there is still enough prejudice and not enough compassion. These kids tug at you and put out their little hands. Sometimes they’re gaunt and have blank-looking eyes. Sometimes they just look like normal kids in rags running around. Whatever they look like, those young eyes and little hands tug and guilt you so it’s almost impossible to pass them by.

But sometimes, as hard as it is, giving these kids money isn’t always the best thing for them.

Families with children oftentimes know that school is the key to getting out of cyclical poverty. But, when you’re trying to find enough food for the day, the fact that this will go on indefinitely is not something you can think about. And, along with the cost of education, kids are a viable source of income through begging. Think about it: would you be more likely to give to a middle-aged man begging or a helpless little 8-year-old girl?

In best case, these kids really do need the money and either buy food themselves or their families use it for food or education. In worst case, the child (and maybe his or her family) could be part of a gang of beggars built specifically to get money, regardless of what they do to the kids (or the adults) in the process. This is where beggars get the reputation for being thieves and liars. From the few that are thieves and liars.

I’ve seen young street kids smoking. These are kids as young as 10. They were running through the streets in Kathmandu, and we would get tapped and look down to see a young boy pleading for money. But we didn’t give it because we had seen them earlier passing around cigarettes. They weren’t going to school. They didn’t have families. They would grow up living day-to-day and not caring, as long as they could eat and smoke.

IMGP6441And, for all these reasons and with all these stories, that’s why I can’t give money. I do give food. That’s the safest bet, if not hauling them home or to the nearest charity or church. I can’t give nothing. Regardless of what they’re doing with their lives or the cycle of poverty that they’re in, God still loves them and cares that they’re in pain. Sometimes they really just can’t help it and there’s nothing they can do. Sometimes it’s just a hard patch. And most of the time, there’s no real way we can know for sure. But if they need to eat, you can give them food. That way, you know it’s at least accomplishing the immediate task.

You can usually tell who is real by how they react when you do give them food. One raggedy little girl came begging from us once, and we gave her the soda and chips we had gotten for a snack. You should have seen her face. It was Christmas morning for her. She literally jumped with joy, gave us a huge smile, and ran off. This has happened quite a few times. Children begging at traffic lights. We gave them what we had: chips. They shrieked with joy and ran off to enjoy their bounty. Little boy on a bus, I gave him the ice cream that was melting from the hot hot sun. A huge smile came across his face.

In contrast, once we gave a begging woman with a baby a protein bar. She looked at it, disappointed. She gave it to the baby she was holding and held out her hand again. She wanted money. One guy we offered food to flat-out refused. He shook his head, his eyes turning from pleading to annoyance, and held out his hand again.

SCH3So, what can we do to help? Money sometimes hurts more than helps, when it’s going to the wrong causes or when it sets up a child as an indispensable source of income (which rules out school). Food is a better bet, even though it takes more thought and intention (making sure you pack snacks whenever you go out is tough to remember sometimes). Investigate charities that work to get children off the streets (make sure they’re transparent about their finances and make sure more money goes to the kids than to admin costs). Sponsor a child. Invest in education or trade schools for human trafficking victims. Go to a third-world country and teach English for a year. Buy a woman training and a sewing machine so she can make her own living.

Think about what you’re doing. If you feel the guilt, good for you. It shows you have a heart. But think about it, do your research, make sure this is the best way to use your money. A dollar in the right hands can change a life. A hundred dollars in the wrong hands can create corruption and feed habits of abuse and neglect.

On that cheery note, we’re going to the grocery store! Oh! We made a video awhile back, telling a little story and what can happen when somebody cares. 🙂

Our parent organization, India Christian Ministries, is a very well-run, transparent, professional, thoughtful charity that’s doing some awesome, innovative orphan care, ministry, and millions of other things. Check them out here.