Finding My Ukraine

Finding My Ukraine

Posted on September 02, 2017


In Middle School, I started having random interactions with disabled kids who I didn’t know. Everywhere I went, I was getting smiles and hugs all the time and I loved it. From that time on, I knew I wanted to work with kids with disabilities for the rest of my life. During my junior year of high school, I started feeling a call to full-time missions. I went on my first trip with Merge High School Ministry to Chicago, working in a Boys and Girls Club, and various soup kitchens and homeless shelters. The summer after my senior year, I had the opportunity to go on my last Marge trip to Kenya, where I fell in love with the idea of international missions. Moving into the Young Adults ministry, I had no intentions of going on a short-term trip because all I wanted was to return to Kenya, but I was no longer in Merge so I didn’t have that opportunity. Little did I know, not having that option was one of the best things that could have happened to me.
I was approached by Pastor Barry Rodriguez in the winter of my Freshman year of college (fun fact: I’m currently studying special education) and he asked me if I was signed up to go to Ukraine the following summer to which I responded, “Absolutely not.” He told me it was a trip focused on kids with disabilities and their families, and because I am so stubborn, I was still uninterested. He decided he’d try asking one last time and thank God he did. He showed me one of the promo/informational videos that Brian Raves made for Mission to Ukraine (MTU). Two minutes later, I got on the Grace website and began applying for the trip Those wonderful people and that country stole my heart before I even got there.

Soon after, I began fundraising for my trip. And, can you believe it, I surpassed my fundraising goal months before we even left! It was evident I was supposed to go. Barry was leading this trip, so it made it special that the person that talked me into going was also with me on the trip. (He also had spoken at the winter retreat my senior year when I felt God speak to me and tell me I need to take my passion full time and adopt a child with a disability). For some reason, the night before we were to leave, I immediately changed my mind. I did not want to go to Ukraine or anywhere else. All I wanted to do was stay home. But with this coming up the night before we left, it was a little too late to back out. When I got to the airport, my mom handed me a huge stack of envelopes, filled with letters from friends and family all over the country. People I hadn’t seen in years, telling me how proud of me they were, and how they knew this was exactly where God wanted me. It meant so much to me that even when I had no confidence in myself, there were people were back home rooting for me…little did I know, I would be more than okay.

Within hours of arrival, I already felt at home and immediately adored every single person I met. We went to the MTU headquarters in Zhytomyr and from the minute I got off the bus, I knew that place was different. There was nothing special about the outside of the building that gave me that feeling. In fact, it looked just like every other place on that street. Somehow, I just knew. They obviously don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but the meal we were greeted with that night felt just like a Thanksgiving feast. There were so many people crammed around a table covered in so much food I didn’t know what to do with myself. I saw God in the midst of everything that week and didn’t ever want to leave. On our last day, we visited the Romaniv orphanage for boys with disabilities. I absolutely fell in love with the boys and decided that was the orphanage I wanted to someday adopt from (how cool that Barry was there for that decision too after his impact on me at the winter retreat to want to adopt!). The friendships I formed that week are some of the most cherished friendships I have to this day, and my camper still weighs on my heart daily because I miss him so much. I have never in my life been as joyful as I was those weeks at camp (until I found out I was going back this summer, and again when I found out I would get to move there).

This time around, fundraising was rough. Money just wasn’t coming like it had the last few years, and I began to think I wasn’t supposed to go (my oh my how wrong I was about that). Eventually, it came and I was able to go. Again before leaving, I began to feel nervous and not want to go. I knew once I got there that I would be okay, so again I chose to go. (Sidenote on this trip: Brian Raves was our leader (read more about his experience here) and he made the video that Barry showed me to convince me to go… this all really came full circle getting to go with him!) Getting there this time was even more exciting than the first time because I had friends I was dying to see. I was greeted with so many hugs and hellos, I couldn’t have been happier. (This is kind of a theme with me whenever I talk about Ukraine.). Getting to spend the week with my favorite friends and the most precious children on the entire planet made me again realize that God has put a desire in my heart to pursue full-time missions by serving kids with disabilities. I was hesitant to tell people in fear that their response would be, “you’re just excited, it’ll wear off” or “that’s crazy, you need to think about that some more.” And honestly, I have gotten those a number of times. Every time my response is the same: “yeah probably not. I’m for sure moving.”

Obviously, if this was going to happen, I would need people to be on my side. I reached out to Steve Boles, the Executive Director of MTU, asking if he had any volunteer work I could do stateside to serve MTU because I was having such a hard time being here and not there. Steve responded by asking if I would like to join him for lunch to chat about different opportunities. I’ll admit, I was nervous. What if he didn’t want me to be a part of it? And even if he did, what if he didn’t have the same vision as I did for myself moving after graduation? Well spoiler alert, he was on board with my vision and desire to move! So here I am, the girl that didn’t even want to go EITHER year and now I'm moving there! I am so passionate about MTU and the way they are not only changing the lives of the children and families they serve but also caring for struggling mothers on the crisis pregnancy side of the organization. I can't wait to finish my degree and move to Ukraine to fulfill this dream of mine that God put on my heart. I'm sure I will miss things from back home, but I honestly would pick up everything and move right now if I could. This is my passion and I am so thankful and blessed to be able to pursue it! 

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