In the summer of 2005, as the Lord would have it, I was on a Ukrainian boat with my man, our two oldest children and forty other team members, traveling down the Dnieper River in Ukraine. Our route of passage offered us the opportunity to visit remote orphanages that rarely received much needed attention from missionaries. After spending so much time in this beautiful country the previous year during the adoption, we desperately wanted our two older children to visit the place their siblings were born.
The quaint cabins on the boat were clean and comfortable with crisp bedding. I found myself thankful that the twin beds were so close together so I could reach across and hold my man’s hand when needed. The open window caused the leopard print curtains to blow gently above our heads and allowed the sounds of splashing water to lure us into sleep each night as the boat journeyed to the next port and the freedom to visit another orphanage.
When Ukraine gained their independence in 1991 from the USSR, parents took their children to government ran orphanages so they would be assured of a meal. There we were thirteen years later; the small villages still showed the remnants of communism, jobs were scarce, and the vodka was plentiful.
However, the people of Ukraine took great pride in their meager belongings. I watched older women sweep the street with handmade brooms crafted from sticks. Every inch of yard space was overflowing with gardens to provide food. Most arose early, often dressing in the same clothes day after day, to work for an hourly wage. The memories of Stalin and the harsh hand of the USSR lingered on their minds. The older folks shared stories of how they had “controlled” the people. Water and electricity could be shut off at any given time. Provision was given only for the necessities of life. Individuals owned nothing. It became easy to see why freedom was so important and not to be taken for granted.
The needs within the orphanages were great. We were there for one purpose—to love the children. My heart wasn’t prepared for the daily greeting of hundreds who came running to receive a hug and the simple pleasure of a sticker placed on their arm. Face painting became beautiful art and the chicken dance brought much needed laughter. Stories of Jesus were communicated with translators. A smile seemed worthy of a thousand words.
Of course, many pictures were taken and journals filled daily about our encounters; however, there wasn’t a way to capture the smells that continue to crowd my mind today. Baths were rarely taken. Bathrooms were often a hole in the ground; toilet paper wasn’t considered a necessity. Fresh cooked cabbage and potatoes made up the daily meal. The orphanage directors said that they did the best they could with what they had been given.
The non-profit we traveled with chose to visit institutions with older children; at the age of seventeen, they were released. With great urgency, we came to share the message of the gospel before they were out on their own. Traffickers awaited at the gates luring the girls with lies of a good job. Daunting statistics revealed one in ten committed suicide.
Three hours was usually the allotted amount of time at two orphanages per day. At night the team reconvened to discuss the events of the day. Generally, one question was always asked. “Do you really feel we can make a difference in such a short amount of time?”
Paul told the Corinthians in 1Corinthians 3:6-7 “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth.”
We were seed planters. We told young and old about Jesus through song and skits. Each child received a bible with a picture of the team, so they could remember us and reflect on the message given. We don’t know who the Apollo’s were that watered the seed after us, but ultimately it was in God’s hands. We had to TRUST Him. After all, He sent His son Jesus so that not one would perish.
After that first mission trip, I was asked to recruit and organize those trips for eight years. Each time we returned, it seemed our heart grew more deeply in love with the many Yuri’s, Sergio’s and Vika’s. We often saw the same children year after year.
That brings me to today. I will be honest, I have cried off and on since Putin launched his evil upon these sweet people. Thirty years after gaining their independence, they are having to fight to keep it. We all have watched as thousands run with their children to escape, fathers having to say their goodbyes to loved ones as they stay to fight. I have cheered and prayed for Valensky as he refused to leave.
My mind has played over and over the many encounters I had with each person during the years we were there. Do you want to know my greatest burden?
“Lord, did I plant enough seeds?”
I know I have to trust Him, but I also know we are all called to share the gospel to the ends of the earth.
I wish I could go back with a greater urgency and cry out, Do not fear, the Lord God is with you! Most of all, I want to say,
“All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved…”
Lord, I simply pray that what is intended for evil, You will use for good. Let Your Light shine in the darkness because we know the darkness cannot comprehend it. May the name of Jesus be shouted from the mountains and valleys, in the streets, at the borders and in the bunkers, over all the earth may they call out to the name of Jesus. We thank you Father and trust in your perfect plan. Amen
Over all the earth…
Though I’m physically not in the Ukraine today, my heart is. However, my commission and yours is the same. We are to share the good news. Is there someone that you need to ask…
“Do you know Jesus?”
I love your heart, Rhonda…always wanting more for His Kingdom. Love you, my friend.
As do you!❤️ Love you more! Let’s talk soon!
I love you Rhonda! Just like you my heart is in the Ukraine as well. This photo just leaped out at me. The twin girls that Darren and I wanted to adopt are in this photo. We couldn’t adopt them because they were given back to their family. Bittersweet but a blessing got them, which is what matters! Thank you for this post!
Oh gosh Jenny…indeed it is bittersweet. Think how old they are now! All we can do is pray. The stories from Yuri and how hard is is working to get the HopeHouse families to safety brings me to my knees. ❤️
Amen ❤️ I am sure there is fruit being produced from the seeds planted over the years. Sometimes hope and God’s promises is all we have to cling to especially during trying times. I am sure they remember the Christ-like love shown to them while you all were there. When there was a two year period I could not go back to Ecuador due to the political upheaval and pandemic, I wondered the same. When three of us returned in January of 2021, we got to spend much-needed quality time with so many. To see evidence of some of their growth, during so much uncertainty, it was definitely God moving in a mighty way! It reminded me of planting a garden and all of the details, hard work, storms that change the course of growth and all- but to see the fruit produced from some of the seeds planted really over-flowed my heart. While our circumstances may not be what we envisioned, God’s love and promises remain. I try to remind myself, this is temporary so share Jesus with all I can and do things with eternal value because eternity is forever. Thank you for sharing a great read and reminder for us all, as always.
Sister, you have so much wisdom and faith to be your age! I just love you to pieces!
That was so beautiful Rhonda. And yes I ask myself what am I doing for the kingdom that is eternal. This is heartbreaking. God bless you and your family
So good to hear from you Kathy! It’s certainly a question we all need to ask ourselves. Give my love to Dave❤️
You have touched my heart and many others thank you!
Thank you Lisa! Go is faithful. Pray for this beloved country.
My heart just breaks, seeing all the carnage that Putin has done to this country and it’s people. Praying for everyone. Praying Gods protection over them.
Mine too Elaine! I don’t want to watch the news, yet I want to know what’s happening. All we can do is pray❤️
Beautifully written from the truest, kindest heart. Every seed you’ve planted will reap an abundant harvest!! Our Lord is known for multiplying even small portions 😉 Thank you for a beautifully written prayer we can pray for the people of Ukraine everyday! ❤️
Amen and amen! Thank you Lexy❤️ Love you!
My heart is breaking as well, friend, as you know, we adopted our only daughter from Kiev in 1993. I always wanted to go back and see the place where she was born, but that will probably not happen now. How precious are the seeds that you planted, Rhonda! And seeds of the gospel are the best seeds!! You gave, and now we have to trust Jesus to give the increase and to stop the evil. I just love you and love your heart especially.
Lisa, I can’t remember how old your daughter was when you adopted. Our daughter, not so much Luke, wanted to return and find her mother. It’s hard to let all that go, but everything has changed now. Thank you for your kind words❤️
Sweet Rhonda, Thank you so much for posting this blog‼️ The Ukraine is so on my
mind and heart also😟… 🙏✝️ I didn’t realize that you and Troy had just started going in 2005 … It was 2007 when I joined the group that you took that year- I was at Peoples Church and I was single when I heard the announcement about Hope-house, one Sunday morning! God just whispered to me a definite, “ Go, Dawn”… then everything just fell in place… it was amazing how all the $ came in for me to go!! I didn’t know Anyone in the group!! But when we came back, I felt bonded to the whole group- even the youth that went❣️ Preparing and serving the children in the orphanages we visited, changed the way I look at life here! It touched me in so many ways!!!😍 All those littles ones are grown now and it grieves my heart what they may be going through!! But I know, and you should not ever doubt, that yours and Troy’s work all those years planted many, many seeds that grew in the hearts of all those children!! God bless you both🥰 So glad I’ve gotten to know you as a friend☺️…In Christ’s most precious love, Dawn
Yes we all bonded in many ways just as the Lord planned. I’m sure you are like me, the images of all that we saw and everyone we met, are weighing so heavy on my heart. I love you my friend❤️
Love to you and your family, Rhonda. From here in Vinnitsa.
My joy to encourage people here and to love them.
Brian, When I told my mother that you had traveled over, she said, “That man is doing the Lords work!” Amen to that! We are praying for you all!
So thankful you introduced me to this incredible ministry. It was a trip that I will never forget. My prayer is the same – you just were able to put it so eloquently! Love you Rhonda!
Nancy,There isn’t any way to express what those trips meant to all of us. Gods perfect plan to draw us near to His heart! Love you!