A thankful Grammy’s heart

So many things to be ever-so-thankful for…and among these, the safe arrival of baby Elza last week. Jeanne and Kolya spent Monday day and night at Johns Hopkins where Elza joined the family on the OUTSIDE early Tuesday afternoon. THANKFUL that Jeanne and Kolya were both able to snuggle their little gift before she was attached to too many monitors. Knowing her heart condition could have preempted these early moments made them even more special.

Jim and I arrived in Baltimore on Tuesday morning — chauffeured by sweet friend Jill Fears and accompanied by two of her daughters. They helped us clear out the fridge at the Kotiash abode and pack bags with food for our stay. Jill introduced us to the Believe in Tomorrow children’s home that is situated directly across the street from the hospital. We learned that Elza qualified to have her family stay at the home, and we learned that there was indeed space for our arrival. SO THANKFUL for this place. Each patient qualifies for one room and each room can hold 6 people: two beds plus cots if needed. Jim, the boys and I learned our way around during the first day or two, and then when Jeanne was discharged, Kolya was able to join our room.  The boys were THRILLED to see Tato and Mama…Milan exclaimed, “My beautiful mama is here!” Though the farewells can be sad, the boys DO know that their parents are nearby and are trying to spend much time with them. AND they have met Elza via skype. THANKFUL for technology!!

Pre ElzaJim and I did get a few minutes with Jeanne while Kolya, Jill, Tori and Katie Jo entertained the boys at the hospital on Tuesday. It turns out that the little ones cannot even be in the family waiting area on Jeanne’s floor — no one under 18 is permitted during the flu season. Jim clicked this photo just ten minutes before Elza was born! THANKFUL that we could switch places with Kolya in time!

That evening we were blessed by a home-cooked meal at the children’s home. Volunteers from all over Baltimore and environs volunteer to provide dinner MOST nights. In fact, we’ve been here a week and have only fixed our own dinner on Sunday night. The boys sometimes need a supplement — not too excited about a new place and new food — but the adults are eating way more than I ever expected!

And the staff here has gone overboard in helping us with the little ones — even providing chocolate milk! (Turns out that the boys aren’t nearly so enamored with chocolate milk as I thought they might be…what does grammy know?!).Chocolate milk I took some pictures to assure Jeanne and Kolya that the boys were actually eating. The staff made sure the boys had a doughnut (HUGE) for dessert, and the boys spent their time worrying that the volunteers in the kitchen needed a doughnut, too! So sweet.


After cleaning up our table to Milan’s rendition learned in Sunday school: “Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do your part. Clean up! Clean up! Everybody do your part.” I think the volunteers are going to teach this song to all of their friends.

After baths and putting on warm pajamas, we all crowded onto the boys’ bed to watch a movie and fade out.


All in all, a good first day for everyone.

Thankful for all the prayers!


Tetyana Demiyanova and Project Hopeful

Give thanksSo thankful for Tetyana Demiyanova! She has accepted a new position in our ministry — Family Consultant. She works directly with the parents, grandparents, and caregivers of those children who are hospitalized in the HIV/AIDS unit at Okmatdet, the national children’s hospital. She has not only accepted the position, but she is flourishing! Everyone loves her…the children, the parents, and the staff.

She has already created a flyer with valuable information for new patients’ families. Complete with a map of the hospital grounds, closest metro, restaurants, grocery stores, ATMs, hair salons…things you want to know but you don’t know who to ask.

Tanya is also in the process of compiling frequently asked questions to then put together a handbook for families with newly-diagnosed children. So often, it seems, parents are given too much technical/medical information…and all at once. We pray that this handbook will be a resource that will also point them to other resources when they’re ready for details!

We are thrilled to partner with Project Hopeful in this endeavor…and, in particular, with Traci Heim. While Traci was in-country adopting — AGAIN! — she visited the hospital with us. She observed as a new child was being admitted and innocently asked the question, “Who reaches out to the parents?” When Tanya heard the question, she couldn’t forget it. And she realized that SHE could be the answer to the question.

The rest is history. Well, since September. And Traci will be arriving in Kyiv in time for World AIDS Day. Tanya is organizing lots of visits to various sites so that Traci will have a better picture of just what it means to be HIV+ in Ukraine. The stigma is overwhelming. There is MUCH to be done. But we are on the way!!

HIV/AIDS patients

Give thanksSo thankful for the open door we have at the national children’s hospital in Kyiv, particularly the unit where the HIV/AIDS children are treated.

For years we have been visiting weekly — Jim teaches medical English to interested doctors there and I simply break up the children’s boring hospital stay with some silliness, some stickers, BINGO, crafts, Jesus Storybook Bible gifts, and whatever else we find to do. On warm enough days we play outside…warning: these boys kick a mean futbol! Chalk is always fun whether we’re outlining their shadows or creating a hopscotch board or a long and winding street for their cars. The youngest ones are just happy to be held. Occasionally we are privileged to witness a child’s first steps!

I am also thankful for those loyal volunteers who join me there. It’s great to see God’s people committing TIME to the least of these. And the smiles and hugs we get in return are absolutely priceless.

Teaching the untaught

Today “Anna” (not her real name) finishes her second semester ever at school. She is 10 years old and has lived almost half of her life as an inpatient at Okmatdet, the national children’s hospital here in Kyiv. Her mother died, her father is nowhere to be found, and her aunt cannot transport her to the hospital three times a week for dialysis…so she simply lives at the hospital. Yes, the government DOES supply teachers to instruct the children in the dialysis unit, but they are not willing to teach Anna. Why, you ask? Anna not only has failing kidneys caused by tuberculosis but she also is HIV+. And the teachers are afraid of her.

Mind-boggling, isn’t it? If anyone should know the truth about HIV/AIDS, you would think it would be the hospital staff! And you would HOPE that they would pass on that truth to volunteers. But that is simply not the case.

Jim and I visit this hospital every week, Jim teaches medical English to the staff and I simply play with the children. It turns out that this combination is making an impact…not only are we interested in the children but we also care for the staff! We don’t have deep pockets, but we DO have time and find ourselves modeling compassion as we deal with real-life situations at the hospital. And it has not gone unnoticed.

DSCN3296The staff trusts us and they trust our recommendations. When we approached the head doctor about the situation involving no education for these inpatients, she was totally open to our recommendation of a private teacher. We have started small — one student with one teacher once a week. Sveta is our teacher — a mom who herself has adopted a special needs child in Ukraine and knows firsthand the challenges that come from being institutionalized, whether an orphanage or a hospital! She home-schooled her daughter until she was able to attend the neighborhood school. She has designed a program for Okmatdet that takes into account that some ‘students’ will be there for only a few short weeks, some for months, and some for years. We love that Sveta is teaching much more than simply ‘book learnin,’ including how to express emotions appropriately (using words rather than just pouting) and she brings a Christian perspective to the world around Anna. The parents and care-givers are begging her to teach the other children as well. Such an opportunity!

We all were thrilled to hear that Anna had become a Believer over the holidays — lots of visitors flood the hospitals during Christmas/New Year’s break — and one took the time to quietly pray with Anna. We planted seeds over the years, Sveta watered them, and someone else harvested. God’s ways are perfect.

Yesterday Sveta came by to report on Anna’s progress. To quote Sveta:

We have got four great achievements in January:

1. Anna is very excited about doing math. She is super at addition and subtraction from 1 to 10. She also is very good at problem solving. She had a big problem with numbers, she even could not remember how to write them 5 months ago. God is really great!!! All glory to Him!!

2. Anna’s and my backs would be shown on TV and people could see how it is important for such children to have lessons at hospital.

3. Anna’s aunt came and saw a little of our lesson. She was very excited and looked at Anna’s achievements and signed her school day book.

4.Anna finished one more book World Around Me.

These are huge steps in the life of a little girl who spends so much time sitting bored in her hospital room or in the dialysis unit. She is often tired and extremely thin. But she is so very excited to learn new things. We are so thankful for Sveta and her first student!

We are challenging schools, teachers, parent-teacher groups and others to consider partnering with us in the project to educate these hospitalized HIV+ patients. Once we replace Sveta’s current salary she will be going full-time with us. How exciting is that? We also have dreams of another angel working with the upper school patients…we have someone in mind, but we would need to also replace her current salary. We pray that groups will be willing to raise funds to take care of just one month a year, every year. That cost ranges from $500 to $900 a month (depending on one or two teachers) and also includes all the supplies needed to teach the various ages. We can do this, but not alone.

Are YOU willing to organize a group to take financial responsibility for one month a year? We have already heard from one school in Alabama and also a parent group from a private school who will be making a donation each year in honor of the teachers!

Two months down, ten to go.

Hospital time

Visiting hospitalized children in the HIV+ section of the national children’s hospital in Kyiv. Such a delight! We never know for sure who will be there, but we have come to know many of the children over the years.

DSCN3981This week was a special treat because friends joined us. Jim’s medical English class was on Christmas break so he was able to join the fun. Wayne Dickinson and his daughter Taylor are visiting other friends of ours (the Malones) just outside of Kyiv. He first joined us at the hospital when he and his wife were adopting a precious little one. Wayne and Taylor along with Blake and Hannah Malone met us at our flat and we traveled to the hospital together.

We were extra thankful that Wayne had his guitar with him. One of the little boys has very poor eyesight and so he cannot join us for some of our games. When I asked him if he wanted to play the guitar, he grinned, nodded and I took him the hand to Wayne. Wayne spent one-on-one time making music while the rest of us played holiday bingo.

DSCN3982And then everyone joined in for pin the carrot nose on the snowman. Lots of laughter as the dizzy participants strayed far from the snowman before being led a bit closer. Jim nearly left the room on his turn, and stuck the carrot on Blake at one point. Howls of laughter, of course.

Another family also joined us there…the Bergstroms. They visited these children several times during the summer, but then school began and their afternoons were no longer free. Thankful for Christmas break so that they could visit once again. They packaged candy for each of the patients and also provided various colors of fingernail polish for the girls. Ellie and Adeline (and Hannah and Taylor) applied the chosen colors much to the delight of the young girls. Aiden left the painting to the girls but he played an awesome game of bingo!

DSCN3986Even dad Chris entertained the troops by reading Russian poems to them. The giggles were priceless as they corrected his accent…they thought he was quite understandable, by the way.

So appreciative of friends who will spend their afternoons breaking up the monotony of another day in the hospital for these patients. They will long remember you…

Make new friends

We are so privileged to meet some fabulous people simply because we’re in Kyiv. Among our favorite people are those who are here adopting: as I’ve posted many a time…these couples are our heroes. They maneuver an ever-changing adoption landscape here, and survive the wildest of emotional roller coasters. And then head home to live out one of the most glorious adventures ever…raising their family!

Sometimes, though, these couples spend many days right here in Kyiv with time on their hands. Sightseeing. Souvenir shopping. Food sampling. Hanging out with other adopting couples. All fun, all exciting, but they want to do more.

And we are most thrilled to have them escort us to different hospitals and bring joy to the patients.

Jana Daley visited two hospitals with us — one with both of her daughters and one with her youngest daughter. They made friendship bracelets from threads as well as from duct tape (who knew?!) and snuggled with the teeniest young ones, even giving them bottles. This week they’re returning with fingernail polish — can’t wait to see those smiles on the patients’ faces!

Thank you, girls! It may not have seemed like a lot, but, trust me, you will be remembered at the hospital! Your servant’s hearts burst forth in your beautiful smiles to the children and your sweet approach to them. May God continue to bless you as you so selflessly bless others.