We took care climbing the crumbling, ice-covered stairs into the Stalin-era high rise apartment buildings.
A nurse from Mission to Ukraine carried a blue folder of information. A team member carried a bag of essential groceries.
The rest of us carried hearts heavy and unsure of what we might see behind the bland concrete walls and rusted-out window frames, interrupted only occasionally by sashes painted azure blue and leprechaun green. Once happy colors to me, they will be forever reminders of what decades of war and communist oppression does to the soul of a land.
“Home visits,” is the official name of this evening’s journey, where we visited the homes of young mothers whose babies were saved from abortion, and mothers caring for handicapped children, all through Mission to Ukraine’s Lifesaver’s and rehabilitation programming.
The stairwells of the apartments are barely–if at all–lit. Shadowy figures lean against corners in the hallways. They watch as our steps punch through the thick, oily darkness, up seven flights of stairs.
We must use a flashlight to find Alina’s door at the end of one of these halls. The door creaks open to reveal a kitchen shared by four other families. Young, unwed, and pregnant, the father of Alina’s baby took her to the hospital under the guise of making sure she and her baby were healthy. When he pulled up to an abortion clinic, she literally ran for her–and Victoria’s–life. She found help from Mission to Ukraine, and you can see that Victoria is a happy, beautiful baby girl. As one of our pastors prayed over her, declaring and thanking God for the special purpose of Victoria and Alina’s lives, Alina broke down into sobs, thanking us for caring for and praying for her.
Next, we visited Dima. The twelve-year-old boy nuzzled close to his mama’s neck as his sister lovingly patted his back. We prayed over each of them, sang them a Christmas carol (as this is their holiday season), and hugged and kissed them all. As we left, they, too, wept–even as we did–with thanks. Dima attends Misson to Ukraine summer camps, providing he and his mama with a welcome respite from the daily and difficult repetition of their lives.
Finally, we visited little Sergei and his brother and Mama. When Sergei was three, he was hit by a car so hard, it launched his precious body across the street, where he landed head-first against a curb. He was in a coma for many days, and the doctors many times encouraged her to allow them to turn off his life support.
“He would be a vegetable,” they told her. He would never walk, talk, or even think again.
An orthodox priest prayed over him at the hospital, and instructed her to not turn off the life support, because in three days he would awaken. And awaken, he did.
Sergei’s mother cannot work, and like a large percentage of Urkaine families, his father is rarely, if ever, seen. They live in a government apartment in a Stalin-era complex, the three of them in 12 square feet of space. They share a kitchen with five other families. (Notice the burners are on in the shared kitchen, for warmth.) As we visited, Sergei played Spider Jack and Angry Birds on our iPhones, picking up on the steps to do so in seconds.
And as we said good-bye, he launched himself into my arms, as tight or tighter than any of my sons ever have.
This, my friends, is how love wins.
This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.
A boy, left for dead, but alive.
A baby, life once on the brink, laughing.
And Dima, body contracted, but so, so loved.
Psalm 44:3 (NIV)
It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them.
Proverbs 15:30 (NIV)
Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart,
and good news gives health to the bones.