Monday, October 19, 2015

Like Bricks Around Me

The words lie like bricks around me.  Heavy. Scattered. Patternless. 

I've been sorting through these bricks for months, searching for the right way to stack them.  But every time I've tried, I haven't been able to get past the foundation.

They hid it well, this institution for severely disabled boys and men.  They set it far out in the country, down a long lane where few would wander.  

I traveled there back in May. It made me feel brave-- getting up early, tackling the foreign subway, transferring to a foreign bus. The whole trek took three hours in all. I only panicked once, when I stepped off the bus and couldn't find the ministry team right away.

I was there to meet my dear friend Kim and her husband Jed. They had lovingly invited me to come see their boys, to witness the ministry the Lord has carved out for them in that isolated place. We share a kindred spirit. About six years before, God began the process of breaking their hearts for the boys in this place. In a tiny way, God used the words in this blog to open their eyes. Since then we have walked side-by-side in our love and concern for the Lost Boys in that country.

We drove out of town, down back roads and then that long lane. My heart started pounding. Having spent six weeks at a similar place, I knew some of the sights, sounds and smells that would meet me at the end of that lane. So I was grieving before I even arrived. But I was also rejoicing at the chance to go in and love on these poor boys.

I didn't see any high fences or locked gates. Either I missed them, or they weren't needed so far out.

I couldn't help but compare this place to the only other one of its kind I know. Aaron's institution had both high fences and locked gates. But then, Aaron's sat at the edge of a rural village. This one sat in the middle of nowhere.

Kim had so much to show and tell me. I had thousands of questions. But time slowed down, and words disappeared, when we walked down the sidewalk toward those boys.

The words lie like bricks around me.  Heavy. Scattered. Patternless.  How can I piece them together?

Here's a brick I can use: cattle yards. I lived on a dairy farm for a few years. As I walked down that sidewalk, I couldn't help being reminded of cattle yards.

Cattle yards are for cows, not boys.  Boys are made to run free in the grass. Boys are made to roll down hills, climb over rocks and wade in creeks. The Creator didn't design boys to be corralled in cattle yards.

They reached their arms through the fences for a touch, a handshake. Pushing to get a good spot. Some hanging over the fence, others peeking between the bars. I walked along the fence, touching every one I could. A hand on a head. A stroke on the cheek.  A squeeze on an arm. Boys. Men. Beautiful-- but also broken, bruised, battered and filthy. Desperate for love. Desperate to run.

So many of them! Two cattle yards side-by-side. Men and older boys in one, younger boys in the other. Sixty human beings in all, corralled like cattle.

No real grass.  No toys. Nothing to climb on. Nothing to do. Only an open shed at the back lined with benches.

There's another brick I can use: the bench. The place where you spend all your time when the coach won't let you in the game.

My camera hung limp from my shoulder. I was not there to take pictures. I was there to love. To touch.  To be Christ to these desperately needy boys, if only for a few hours. I was there to see, so I could share and maybe open a few eyes. Open a few hearts.

I passed candy through the rails. A simple, pitiful attempt to do something, anything, to relieve the agony of boredom for the boys inside.

I could have spent my whole visit at that fence. I wanted to open the gates and go inside.  Be with them in their yard.  Despite their grime, scars and shaven heads-- each one so precious. So desperately needy.

But my time at the fence was short. Another ministry team was there to minister to those boys. I was there for something else. In a building nearby, 24 other boys were calling.  I walked away from that fence grieving. No, the Creator definitely didn't design boys to be locked in cattle yards.

The words lie like bricks around me.  Heavy. Scattered. Patternless.

I've spent months struggling to piece them together.

We went from the fences to a low building where many enter, but few ever leave. The first thing that hit me was the stench. I must confess I had to take a moment, to breathe carefully until I could handle the sickening smell.

We stepped into a long corridor lined with bedrooms on both sides. The walls were plain and bare. No pictures, no murals-- nothing to indicate that 24 boys lived here, other than the boys themselves.

The boys who could walk swirled around us, wanting to be touched, hugged, noticed. Some  could talk, but most just made noises and laughed wildly.

Some lay waiting in their beds, shivering with excitement-- knowing that soon hands would come, untie them and carry them out. Others just sat quietly, sitting in corners, under windowsills or tied in their chairs-- patient in the knowledge that they would not be forgotten.

Just as boys aren't made for cattle yards, so boys aren't made to be locked in an isolation ward day after day, week after week, year after year. Boys aren't designed to lie in their waste, tied to their beds. Boys aren't created to sit in a world without toys and games, books and blocks. Boys are designed to take risks-- to slide down banisters, jump from porch steps, race around the house.

These boys never leave the building.

They have nothing but the bare necessities.  Their bedrooms contain only beds. No pictures, no toys, nothing else-- just beds. Those who can walk have nowhere but the hallway to pace up and down day after day. The windows are their television, their place to sit and watch the world pass them by.

Two to three times a week, for a few hours, the ministry team gives them a reprieve from the utter monotony and horror of their days. For a few hours each week, they are treated like sons of the King of Kings. For a few hours each week, these boys in this building are called out by name:

But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob,
And He who formed you, O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by your name;
You are Mine.

Until Kim and Jed came, no one knew the names of all the boys. Many were nameless bodies to be fed, clothed and cleaned. No one knew the names of the 84 boys in that institution.

There's another brick I can use-- the shocking fact that no one even knew their names.

 Serozha, Misha, Zhenya, Vitya, Dima, Ilya, Vova, Yaroslav, Vladik, and so many more.

They were waiting for us, and their glee was evident. I helped gather them, untie them, lead them into the dining room.  Each one I met, Kim named for me.  Misha, Danya, Vanya, Valera.  She told me all about them. Every single one had a story. Every one different and unique.

We squeezed the boys into the dining room.  Some in their wheelchairs, some carried and some hobbling on their own. Their excitement filling up the room. Filthy, scarred, bruised, battered boys, many of them wet and some foul-smelling.  Those who needed changing were lovingly carried out and taken care of by Jed.

We washed their hands. With washcloths, we carefully and lovingly scrubbed the filth from their hands.

.... Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist.  After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him....

It was the most meaningful foot hand washing I have ever witnessed.

Next, we broke bread bananas with them. The symbolism was not lost on me. These forgotten ones out in the middle of nowhere, sharing a simple meal in the name of the King. It was a Lord's Supper I will never forget.

The room was a cacophony of sounds, songs and shouts of glee.

 An accordion player from the ministry team played worship music, plus traditional songs in their language.

 It was crazy, wild and beautiful. The boys clapped and sang and danced and smiled.

My job: to love on a boy, or two or three. Just to love them.

Hold them. Talk to them.

They are boys. Boys with names and personalities and longings and fears.

Each one uniquely different.

And once you look in their eyes-- deep into their eyes-- they are impossible to forget. 

And very easy to love.

Not all of them came out of their bedrooms. Two little ones were tucked away in their own special room.

I knew who they were, and longed to see them.  Two little boys who had come to this isolation ward a year earlier, both near death.

Thanks to the kindness of donors, a caretaker and special food were provided just for them.  They were both brought back from the brink and though not thriving as they would in a family, they are doing better. They are tucked away in their special room to keep them safe.

Two precious little boys.

 One bubbling with laughter, the other so serious and quiet.

Tiny babes.

Ben and Isaiah

The words lie like bricks around me.  Heavy. Scattered. Patternless.

We stayed but a few hours. It went by too fast.  I was longing to go back before I even left the building.

Before we left, we said goodbye to one precious soul who lives there no longer.

One of the 24 was recently freed. Never to be locked inside that building ever again.

At the end of September, Vladik Johnson-- son to Jed and Kim-- stepped on U.S. soil for the first time.

Jed and Kim just adopted Vladik. Today he is in the States, doing what little boys are made to do....

Run free, Vladik! Run free, and may God bless you.

The bricks are finally laid. It's taken me five months to write this post. Each word heavy and hard.

Boys are not made to be caged and isolated. Yet these boys are. Every single day of their lives.

But six of them have chances for families.
Six boys from this institution are available for adoption. Six more boys have chances to do what Vladik is now doing.
And a few weeks ago, a donor stepped up to offer $5,000 in matching grants.

MICAH - 500.00 matching grant - AGING OUT IN NOVEMBER
ALEX - 500.00 matching grant - AGING OUT IN DECEMBER
AARON - 1,000.00 matching grant
STEPHAN - 1,000.00 matching grant
ISAIAHU - 1,000.00 matching grant
BEN - 1,000.00 matching grant
I don't have prizes, and I don't have games.  Our newest son is facing surgery soon, and all of our energy will be focused on him.

So I'm asking everyone who reads this: if you have anything to spare, then please sow a little into these boys' accounts. What better use for money than to rescue one of these poor boys?
When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am.  Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.


  1. Up in the middle of the night with orphans on my heart...then found this. Weeping. Words are heavy on my heart, too. As usual...God has used you as a voice for the voiceless. Thank you. Praying hard...

  2. Thank you for your advocacy, and especially for the "speaking" photos of these boys.

    Bible Orphan Ministry also serves this institution, and has helped provide individual caregivers, donated clothing, food, and most of all, Christ-like love for these (almost) forgotten ones. It is good to see several ministries becoming involved with this place in various ways: helping the boys where they are as well as adoption advocacy. Both are sorely needed in this place...

    Thanks for helping raise awareness and for loving these boys...

    Susan in Kentucky
    Cousin to 2 from U.

  3. Orphans on my mind now...praying for Vladik adjustments as well as for the 60 back in the kraine...and the volunteers and leaders.

  4. Thank you dear friend for finally being able to put the words together for this. We all need to hear and know and pray and act! We ALL do! Love you!

  5. Does anyone know how to share the blog? I see the fb "like" button but this blog could get more exposure if the blog were able to be shared in a fb post. Or maybe I am just not seeing it :) ??

    1. I just found at the "Wide awake" family has a Facebook page for the Lost Boys with links to your blog. :)


Loving words from kind people make our hearts glad!