My wife, Carrie, has a heart for children. In September or October 2016, she discovered Host Ukraine, a non-profit company that arranges for adoptable orphans to travel from the Ukraine to the United States and there spend either 10 weeks in the summer, or 4 weeks in the winter.
The cost is $3000, although scholarships are often available. The year she discovered it; they had a boy with cerebral palsy who had a $2600 scholarship because they didn’t believe they could get him hosted.
God hasn’t blessed me with great resources, but too often selfishness manifests itself with what He gives. I neither desired to give the kid she picked a chance, nor promised any of our funds for that endeavor.
Without my assistance or blessing, she tried but was $100 short, and the hosting company wouldn’t budge on that final $100. Even the flea market failed to generate the needed revenue, although whenever we dedicate a yard sale or flea market for a worthy cause it is a phenomenal success. Someone else ended up hosting the child she picked, and I understand they adopted him, so God worked it out for the best despite my hard heart.
Before the following summer hosting started, we ended up in foreclosure and had to move out. Our homeless, transient state was no place to bring a child into, and we remained in that state for the next year and a half, but by the graces of employers and friends, we had a roof over our heads.
Living in the office at work, while researching a different topic, I read an Ellen White quote that broke my heart.
“As far as lies in your power, make a home for the homeless. Let everyone stand ready to act a part in helping forward this work. The Lord said to Peter: ‘Feed My lambs.’ This command is to us, and by opening our homes for the orphans we aid in its fulfillment. Let not Jesus be disappointed in you” (AH 170.1).
With tears in my eyes, I begged my wife to forgive my opposition.
Our homeless transience did not last long. In late 2018, God put us in a big house, and because we were blessed with such a place, we started looking for someone that we could bless. We looked at adopting U.S. kids, but the local social services ignored our calls and the adoption agencies didn’t seem interested. At every turn we found a closed door, so, we had this big house with room to spread out, but no one to bless. By this point Carrie had given up on hosting, and I began to wonder if I misunderstood God’s purpose.
In late May 2019, after the deadline had passed, Host Ukraine posted that they needed 9 families for the 10-week summer hosting season, and for the first time were in danger of not finding homes for all the orphans they had available. Their page had pictures of these kids, and my kids quickly picked a young man named Roman whom they liked, while Carrie started praying that God would provide homes for those kids. He asked her, “What about your home?”
“Lord, we can’t afford it,” she argued.
“Go ask that person for the money.” Carrie felt very awkward, but she obeyed, and went and asked, and they promised a portion of the required funds.
“Go ask that person.” Working up the nerve, she went and asked the next person He directed her to, and another portion was promised.
Again, He directed her to another person, and they too contributed. Within hours the entire sum for the cost of hosting ($3000) plus money for the background check, the study materials we were required to read, and extra to get clothing for the child we picked to join our family for the summer was in place. The next three weeks were a whirlwind of study and preparation before my wife and children were off to the airport to pick up the new addition to our family.
The first couple weeks were a honeymoon period where Roman helped around the house, kept his room clean, and was generally agreeable. During this time, my wife kept trying to get me to engage. “He’s such a good kid.”
I’m the cautious type, so I kept waiting for the real personality to come out. It did. He cheated at soccer first, and then at Uno and Parcheesi. I stopped playing games with him as an expression of my disappointment in that behavior. Then he learned I am trained in mixed martial arts (military hand to hand combat), so for about two weeks straight he just wanted to “box dad”.
I was constantly alert for sneak attacks as he tried various ways to overpower me. He also fought my boys, who I haven’t taught to fight, and my daughter, who I have taught to defend herself. When sister hurt him every time he attacked her and mom sided with her, he stopped being civil to mom, and the long string of abuse, threats, fighting, ugly character traits all manifested themselves from Roman.
I don’t understand all the things that go through the mind of a damaged child, and the language barrier complicated communication with him. He couldn’t understand my words, and often Google Translate came up with some confusing variations to what we were trying to say. As I pondered on these things, God began impressing my heart, “This is how you treat me.”
I was shocked. “Lord, how do I treat you like this?”
What followed seemed to form out of my subconscious, fully formed thoughts but without an audible speaking. You see, I am an orphan, not literally, but spiritually. “You are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father you will do” (John 8:44).
God said this to me in 2014 as I read the character of Satan and found that it was my own. For years I claimed to be a Christian, but these were hollow words for I walked after all the lusts of Satan. Yet Scripture says,
“For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:14,15).
Though I surrendered my life to God back then, my walk since is a series of fits and starts, pressing forward and going back. Over and over He extends His love to me, and I profess to love Him, but I turn around and stab Him in the back, spit in His face, threaten Him, hurt His children. I am deliberately disobedient at times; I often prefer the things of this world to what He is offering. Over and over I treat Him like my orphan son was treating me. Yet still He extends love to me. He loves me even more than I love that obstinate orphan, keeps trying over and over to turn my heart toward Him, to get me to see where the path I am following is taking me. He is offering me life, a place in His family, a hope and a future, just like I am offering this orphan boy. Yet just like this orphan boy, I am abusing His love, pretending I can’t understand Him, mistreating Him.
“The Lord calls on every member of the church to do your duty to these orphans. Do not, however, work for them merely from the standpoint of duty, but because you love them, and Christ died to save them. Christ has purchased these souls that need your care, and He expects you to love them as He has loved you in your sins and waywardness” (The Review and Herald, June 27, 1893).
Our souls were sorely tried by the abuse heaped upon us, yet each time it seemed too much, God sent intervention. At a free medical clinic Roman started one of his fits, and someone there got a local pastor who is from the Ukraine. Hearing his own language calmed Roman down, and we exchanged information, and the pastor invited us to one of his two churches. We heard stories about this church, but desperation caused us to end up there the following Sabbath. I know not if attending did any good, for the rock music and dancing on stage appealed to our worldly orphan while Christ focused services did not, and it caused him to ask questions about why dad and sister sat out the music, and why we attended boring churches.
After the “divine service”, we went to the pastor’s house for fellowship, and they served food from the Ukraine, and talked about why we did some of the things we do, which helped immensely later. I am grateful to him for opening his home to us, for serving familiar food to our host child, and for helping with translation of things that get lost on the digital translators. It truly helped us get through the mid host hump.
Each time God sent intervention, it helped for a day or two, and then Roman would revert to his previous abusive behavior.
Carrie started pressing to get him out of our house, yet God kept sending someone who reminded her that, “God placed him in your home.” The combat continued.
The 1,000 Yard Stare
As I brushed my teeth one evening, I studied her face in the mirror, and recognized that look soldiers get when they have endured too much combat, that 1000-yard stare. Several times we contacted the hosting organization for help, always to be told we were one of the best matches, and he was a really good kid, and we just needed to take him out for ice cream or something, and I’m thinking, “We need to swat his hind ended,” but we weren’t allowed.
The day after the 1000-yard stare, about noon my wife called me with steel in her voice. “I’m done. Get him out of my house.”
So, we got ahold of the representative, and told her, “Get him out of our house.” Turns out they don’t have a plan for that. The information they gave us before said that if it became too much, the hosting agency would remove him from the house and place him with another family, but we would have to pay the costs to take him there. At this point, I didn’t care.
Whatever it cost, my wife was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and I didn’t want to lose her. When it became obvious that they weren’t going to remove him, I went to my boss and laid it out. Either I had to quit to go work from home and take care of him, or I had to bring him to work with me. So, they gave permission that he could come into work with me. For three weeks, he spent the day with me. By the time we took him to the airport, he had wormed his way into my heart, and I sent a part of me off to the Ukraine.
The bird taking Roman away flew the 27th of August.
The following morning, I hit my knees, and for the first time, plead with God for the soul of another and really meant it. Scripture says, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Laying down this mortal life for one’s friend is a little thing.
Jesus Christ Gave Himself For Me And You
Laying down eternal life is the love Christ showed for us, for on the cross He could not see past the portal of the tomb. He died the second death for us, felt the complete separation from His Father. He only had faith in the promise that He would rise again. Likewise, we do not truly love until we are willing to trade our place in His kingdom that another might be saved, nor could we ever be fit for His kingdom until we love this much. I didn’t know love like this until I pleaded with God to save his soul, to trade mine for his, if that is what it took.
“Pure religion and undefiled before the Father is this: ‘To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.’ Good deeds are the fruit that Christ requires us to bear: kind words, deeds of benevolence, of tender regard for the poor, the needy, the afflicted. When hearts sympathize with hearts burdened with discouragement and grief, when the hand dispenses to the needy, when the naked are clothed, the stranger made welcome to a seat in your parlor and a place in your heart, angels are coming very near, and an answering strain is responded to in heaven. Every act of justice, mercy, and benevolence makes melody in heaven. The Father from His throne beholds those who do these acts of mercy, and numbers them with His most precious treasures. “And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels.” Every merciful act to the needy, the suffering, is regarded as though done to Jesus. When you succor the poor, sympathize with the afflicted and oppressed, and befriend the orphan, you bring yourselves into a closer relationship to Jesus” (CSA 60.3).
“There is a wide field before all who will work for the Master in caring for these friendless children and youth, placing them in a position favorable for the formation of a right character, that they may become children of God. There are unpromising children that need to be tenderly sought for; many that would otherwise grow up in ignorance, and drift into associations that lead to vice and crime, may be brought into favorable surroundings, and under Christlike, tender watchcare may be saved to Christ…. This work for others will require effort and self-denial and sacrifice; but what is the little sacrifice that we can make, in comparison with God’s great gift of His only begotten Son? God has granted us the privilege of becoming laborers together with Him” (The Review and Herald, June 27, 1893).
Russell Wickham seeks the Lord with all his heart (Jeremiah 29:12).