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# 16 : Conor Shares His Heart

My name is Conor Steeves. I was born on Christmas Eve in Odessa, Ukraine. I am 12 years old.  I was taken to the Orphanage when I was 5 years old. I did not like the Orphanage. The older boys are mean to the younger boys. They beat them. I asked God to please get a family for me that would take all three of us. I have an older sister and younger brother. I waited for nearly 6 years in the Orphanage for God to answer my prayer.

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This picture of when I first met my Mom and Dad. – my sister used mom’s camera to take

I am going to talk about family. I got adopted by Rob and Sharon Steeves on January 23rd 2017. I am happy that my mom and dad are thinking of adopting children from the Ukraine again. I think adopting is important because when I was in the orphanage I wanted to have a family and so did others. I got a family but they didn’t.

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My first Christmas with Mom and Dad was in Ukraine. They got me a skateboard. I always wanted one.

So I am asking you to donate to help then adopt again or adopt other children who want to have a family. After I started school in Canada and made friends in my new school, one of my friends parents heard what happened to me and my brother and my sister and now they are adopting from the Ukraine themselves. This makes me very happy.

In the orphanages children dream about getting adopted. Just think if you have no family, no one to love you or care for you but God. You would like to get adopted . . . that would be your dream.  The boys and girls of the orphanage have little chance for a good future. Sad. What can you do to prevent this from happening. Just think about it.

My life is so different now! Before I got adopted I felt that we were not loved or cared for. But we were loved and cared for by God – but we didn’t know that then (because we had not heard about His love). NOT knowing made a difference.  The most hardest thing was that other children in the school in the Ukraine was they had family, they had a mom and dad and I didn’t. I was made fun of because I not have a family . . .  I was called dirty,  a loser. I  was not allowed to participate in school concerts because I didn’t have parents. I was not a person!

Now in Canada, I  have mom and dad. I feel so happy and loved because I know that I am loved.

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At home in Canada – Manitoba winters. Me and my Dad.

My parents love us. It is hard to find someone to adopt more than one orphan, especially an older orphan. I am so thankful that my mom and dad came to Ukraine to get us.  I am very proud of them for doing this.  Because I got a really good mom and dad I want to share them with other orphans.  My mom and dad love children and are adopting again. This is a very good thing. Now some more children will have a chance to have a mom and dad too. Please help them to do this. from Conor.

# 15 : ‘Gotcha Day!’

January 23rd, 2017. It’s official! The children are ours! The court document will be  ready to be picked up on the 25th. A farewell party was planned for the evening of January 24th. It would be pizza from Mama Mia’s with pop to drink.  Everyone was excited that evening but there was mixed emotions as it was to be the last night Niamh, Conor and Declan would be able see friends that they had made in the orphanage in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi.

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Farewell Pizza and Pop at the Orphanage

Conor was laying on the stairs, waiting for us,  when we arrived at the orphanage that evening. He first took my hand and then Sharon’s and said “I love you Papa”, I love you Mama.” This was very special.  Conor continued to demonstrate his generous heart as he refused to sit at the table but helped Sharon and I distribute food and drinks to all the hungry mouths. He ate on his feet with a plate in hand with us.

After the meal Niamh, Conor and Declan gave each of their group workers a gift and then it was time to cleanup followed by a few final group photos. Tomorrow they would leave with a few precious belongings . . . those did not include the clothes on their back . . . those were the property of the orphanage! It was time for a final good bye to those at the orphanage!

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Saying Goodbye to the Director of the Orphanage.

Now what had been a waiting game, became a virtual race to get birth certificates from Odessa, Passport Photographs and passport applications made and return to Kyiv.  We were delayed in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi at the Notary and were not able to pick the children at the orphanage until almost noon on January 25th.

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Leaving the orphanage for Odessa and on to Kyiv

We had not been allowed to bring the children out of the orphanage to fit them for clothes so there was a lot of ‘guess work’ in getting the correct sizes for both clothing and footwear. Sharon was a much better ‘guesser‘ than me. Maybe that’s something to do with her being a mom already. The children had to leave everything they had been wearing that day in the Orphanage Director’s office and change into their new clothes. Following the court hearing many trips to the markets were made bringing items of clothing to the orphanage for the children to try on.  Frequent exchanges were made at the various shops until we had successfully acquired just enough to get them home.

Niamh was so thin and underweight that the clothes which fit her waist were far too short for her legs!  We finally found 2 pairs of jeans that could be tightened in enough to keep her warm and decent. We brought one pair for her to try on a few evenings before we left and once she tried them, she refused to take them off again. Even the orphanage workers could not persuade her. Bar us holding her down and forcibly removing them (which we wouldn’t even have remotely considered doing anyway) there was nothing we could do! We just didn’t want them to get lost in the orphanages’ clothing as we already seen numerous items vanish that we had brought to the orphanage for the children. It had taken us considerable time to find something adequate for Niamh. It was only afterwards we realized that these were probably the first new clothes she had ever owned in her short 12 years and she wanted to wear them to school!  Niamh was very careful and the jeans were with her, neatly folded, on the day we came to get our children. Conor was easiest to find clothes that fit. Declan was about 2 years smaller in size than his age.

The children left the orphanage with only a handful of items. Declan still recalls not being allowed by orphanage staff to take the first Christmas present we bought him. The workers told him to leave the toy; he was getting new parents who would buy him lots of toys.

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Declan with the present he left behind for the children still at the Orphanage

Now it was off to Odessa to pick up birth certificates and apply for passports, so we could get the Canadian Visas for the children and return home. It became apparent once it Odessa there was some conflicting data on the court papers and birth certificates – “Oh Lord I thought not another delay!”

Yana reassured us that she would stay behind to sort out the apparent discrepancy as we continued to Kyiv with the children. It was the difference of one letter in the spelling of Conor’s name. We should still expect the arrival of the children’s passports in Kyiv by the middle of the following week.

It was dark by the time we left Odessa for Kyiv, a nearly 6 hour drive. The weather was deteriorating with another cold front settling over us from the north.  Arrangements had been made for accommodation again in downtown Kyiv.  Yura, our driver had great difficulty finding our apartment and actually solicited the help of 2 other taxi drivers before we finally arrived at #9 Mykhailivs’kyi Ln.  A series of one way streets turned the search into a maze.

We reached Kyiv in early hours of Jan 26th 2017. The 3 photos in the upper left were taken from our 5th floor apartment windows. The pigeons served to be great entertainment for the children. This flock fed regularly just down the street from our apartment less than 1/2 a block and were probably the best fed pigeons in the city during our stay!

Now all we had to do was wait for passports and visas for our children. Clearly a time to connect, spend time together and truly become a family. No work routine or schedules to adhere to.  Communication continued to be a challenge and we relied heavily on iTranslate as the little Russian we spoke was nowhere near enough to communicate everything that needed to be said by both sides. The single most important challenge was safety. The children had a tendency just to run off to play if they felt like it. We explained that as we are in a very big city, not everyone can be trusted. When outdoors, we must stay together.

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Declan enjoying a play-structure in the park in Kyiv.

We made frequent walks once or twice a day past Saint Michael’s Golden-Domed Cathedral to Volodymyr Hill, a huge park on the southwest banks of the Dnieper River.

Niamh especially was thrilled with feeding the pigeons and her patience paid off.  On more than one occasion, she caught one in her hands. The smile on her face was priceless as she tried to stuff one into Sharon’s bag to take home to Canada!

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Niamh, ‘The Bird Whisperer’.

She was not at all happy when we explained that was not possible! The smile quickly disappeared replaced by a huge frown! The promise of chickens at home somewhat soothed her. During these days the children received their first experience of returning thanks to the Lord for a meal and daily devotions. In spite of the fact that very little of our English was understood, they were remarkably attentive and would ask questions through iTranslate. They willingly pitched in to help with meal prep and cleanup. What a joy!

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Niamh wanted to help us make supper in our 5th Floor apartment in Kyiv.

We were in daily contact with Inna who was working on the English translation of all the documents for Canadian immigration as we waited for the courier of the children’s passports from Odessa to Kyiv. The expected arrival date was Wednesday February 1st. 2017. We received no word all day but Inna sent Sharon a text the morning of February 2nd to say the passports had arrived so we could expect to go to the Canadian Embassy likely Monday, with another 5-7 days wait for the Visa’s. I was getting exceedingly anxious as I had already received a start date extension of 1 month for my new position – this didn’t look good.

Sharon had originally been quite adamant that after the court hearing that I could return home to begin work if needed, and she would be able to navigate with the three children home on her own. It had been a prayer request that I had circulated that we be able to travel home together. I could simply not imagine her alone for 2 weeks in Kyiv, trying to amuse the children and then trying bring them through 3 international airports and manage all the luggage too (even though my wife is a very capable person) . . . no that was not sensible or wise.  Our days in Kyiv solidified even in Sharon’s mind that yes, we had to bring the children home as couple for both safety and sanity. We prayed earnestly that the Lord would provide; either an accelerated schedule or an even more understanding employer!
Prior to our arrival we had been introduced to Music Ministry Kyiv and the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra. The Director, Wes Janzen, turned out to be married to a distant cousin of mine through the Steeves’ family tree. We had attended church services with them when we first arrived in Kyiv and upon our return from Odessa and we had enjoyed getting to know them better. We were thrilled to have fellow Canadians that we could connect with. We felt a real bond with them both and were so thankful to have them as family!

Our much-loved cousins, Wes and Kim Janzen who lived in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Sharon and I shared with them our dilemma regarding a timely departure. They asked if we could send them the details of our situation by email, because it turned out they were very close friends with the Canadian Ambassador in Kyiv. Sharon supplied the information and within a few hours we received an email from the Ambassador indicating we were being directed to the Head of Immigration at the Embassy with appointment for Friday February 3rd 2017 at 2:00 pm, remember our facilitator had indicated a Monday appointment at the earliest.

Since our return to Kyiv we had been hunting for an internet café to complete some immigration forms that our facilitator had indicated we needed to complete prior to our Embassy appointment. We were having no success with the computers or otherwise – how we wished we had brought a laptop!

Kim Janzen had been given a business card from the Embassy in Kyiv during the previous week when she and Wes attended a ceremony in Kyiv during which Canada donated several ambulances to the Ukraine. I don’t remember all the details but you can read about it in the Winnipeg Free Press article here (simply click on the preceding “Winnipeg Free Press” and you will be directed automatically to the original article of February 1, 2017). The business card had the direct phone number to the Head of Immigration and Kim gave it to Sharon, and Sharon made the call. Such relief when Sharon called, the lady in the Canadian Embassy told Sharon that since we were meeting directly with her we did not need to complete these forms beforehand. She would complete them at the office during our appointment. She stated during the course of the phone call that she already knew who we were and when we would be coming to see her.

We were maybe 15 minutes early for our Embassy appointment that Friday and had to stand outside in the snow as the security man would not let us in through the gates despite us showing him our Canadian passports. Declan sang to us outside the Canadian Embassy as we waited.  It was so beautiful! What a gifted and talented little son we have!

Outside the Canadian Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine.

The Embassy appointment went amazing. We left the children’s passports there to have the visas attached and were assured we could pick them up Monday afternoon – not even 1 full business day after application.
When we informed Inna that we had been to the Embassy and that the visas would ready early Monday afternoon with flights to be booked out of Kyiv either Tuesday or Wednesday morning – she was shocked, “I have not completed all the translation.” she told us. I have to admit to my shame, I was a bit abrupt with her, as Inna was a fantastic facilitator and help. “Well, I guess you better get to it because we are going home,”  I had retorted.  After 10 and a half weeks can you blame me? Don’t answer! I do not think she had ever encountered clientele with heavenly contacts working within the city. From her response she had always been able to simply establish her own timelines.

The Lord is faithful, I would home in time to meet my work deadline and still be able assist Sharon with the travel home with our new children. Sharon would NOT have to go alone. At Katie’s recommendation (from adoption airfare.com) flights were booked the afternoon of February 6th, 2017 once we had Visas in hand. We would be departing Boryspil International Airport 8:00 am Wednesday February 8th 2017. This accelerated departure required extra leg work on my part as our facilitator was forced to delegate some jobs to me to complete – which was fine by me, I was delighted to do whatever I could to expedite the process. God is good!!

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Selfie at Boryspiel Airport – we are coming home!

It was a bit of a challenge getting through the check-in at Boryspiel Airport in Kyiv, scary even. I thought at one point we might even get arrested! The girl at the check in counter called a security man over to look at our documents. I probably was the only one that could tell Sharon was getting a little irritated with him as she showed him the visas clearly attached to the children’s passports which replaced the older separate piece of paper visa that she had when she came to Canada. He kept holding out his hand and demanding “Visas, Papers” of her. Finally for no reason other than maybe the determined look in my wife’s eye, he seemed to accept that our papers were in order and walked away, not before taking a photo with his phone of the computer screen. Not sure why?

Now to get our bags loaded in the cargo-hold. A funny thing that happened was when the girl at check-in told Sharon her carry-on was too heavy: over the 9 kgs allowed on the plane. Sharon removed the big bundle of Adoption papers with the court order that Inna said she must carry at all times in case we got stopped with the children. The girl weighed her hand luggage again: all good this time. Then Sharon put the file back in her hand luggage and the girl gave her a sticker for her “Ukrainian Airlines: approved cabin baggage” and we continued through to our gate to await our departure from Kyiv to Paris, France on the next leg of our journey.

Navigating airport security proved to be an ongoing growing challenge especially as the children began to tire. Niamh and Conor seemed to grasp the importance of staying together but Declan’s curiosity frequently got the better of him. He was constantly wanting to venture off to explore, strolling about with him helped but he did not like to always be holding our hands during these strolls.  Two and half hours to Paris with a short lay-over and then our Trans-Atlantic flight to Toronto, Canada. Our Air France flight, though comfortable and secure, was not making me feel at home. The kids loved the movies and hardly slept at all – I dosed a little – so anxious to be home. Words cannot express the joy I felt when we touched down in Toronto – I was ecstatic and when we landed I even said to Sharon, “I feel like kissing the ground.”  The six-hour lay-over flew by as we completed  immigration paper work – the Citizenship Canada staff were amazing, helping us entertain the children as we had to patiently sit and wait and fill out papers.

It was in Toronto that Declan really tested us.  Having left immigration, cleared customs and went through security again, we headed toward our gate with about an hour wait to board our flight to Winnipeg. As we approached the seating area of our designated Gate I scanned our family, Sharon, Niamh, Conor . . .  “Where is Declan?” I gasped. Everyone was in a state of panic, only seconds earlier he was walking beside Sharon as we had slowed our pace at the seating zone. I quickly scanned the crowd milling about the gate and directed Sharon, Niamh and Conor to sit with the luggage as I caught a glimpse of the little gaffer about 150 feet ahead of us. I could not count the number of times he had attempted this type of solo excursion on our trip but he had never managed to succeed like this – a sign I guess of our exhaustion or the fact that we had relaxed as we were now back in Canada.  “O Lord,” I thought, “How can I teach him the importance of staying together?” I deliberately made my way towards him, carefully watching him and the people close by. I came to about 10 feet from him and then stopped and watched him, he was completely oblivious to my presence. He had stopped walking and began looking around suddenly realizing he was very much alone.  As you read, you may think I was being cruel as I watched him not making my presence known. Suddenly he started to call “Mama, Papa . . .  Mama, Papa” in desperation he burst into tears, he was literally spinning around looking everywhere for a familiar face.  I bolted those last few feet and dropped to my knees calling, “Declan, papa is right here” with my arms open wide . . . he threw his little arms around my neck sobbing, and buried his head in my shoulder.  I picked him up and carried him back to others, holding him close and telling him over and over that he was safe and how much I loved him. I quietly reminded him that this is why it is important that we stay together. I am not sure how much of the English he understood at that point and I am sure that was contributing to his wandering attempts. He stayed very close to us for the rest of the journey. This experience still brings tears to my eyes when I reflect and I can almost feel myself tear-up again as I write.

We boarded our WestJet flight for Winnipeg arriving in Winnipeg at almost 1:00 am exhausted and elated. We descended the escalator to be met and welcomed home by an entourage of family and friends. Gathered our luggage and 1 hour drive through snowy Manitoba from Winnipeg and we were HOME . . . THANK YOU LORD! WE MADE IT!! I hope you can feel the relief we felt!

And now our work begins!

# 14 : The Countdown continues…10..9..8..etc…

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Some of the Orphanage children who helped us build Snowmen!

Day 42. From my Journal. Wednesday January 11th 2017 and also Day 0 of 10 days. We both had a good nights sleep. We are still waiting to hear back from Rob’s new Client Services Manager about an extended start date for him. He will not make the original January 13th one as we are now at the 11th. I felt prompted to text Kaylene and she said she would pray. It’s snowing at present here and -1 degree.

We had a super visit with the children today. I’m so glad yesterday is over, they seem  much more relaxed. Today we built 3 large snowmen at the Orphanage. Our children loved doing this and I don’t think they had ever done this before. All the children who were out playing at this time joined in and they all had so much fun when I gave them chores, like searching for leaves for eyebrows and stones or fir cones for buttons. We used some old tyres that were lying around to make a tummy divider and a neck for the snowmen and decorated them with scarves and hats at the end. I had to stop the children at one point and redirect them, as they were pulling the branches from a spruce tree by the fence, to make arms for the snowmen. It’s so easy for things to get out of hand:). I think the Orphanage workers who were out with the groups probably think Rob and I are totally crazy but I don’t care. We are doing this for the children and they had so much fun with it. The workers just stood and watched us.

    Building Snowmen with the children and their friends. It was so much fun for all of us!
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We had so much fun building these Snowmen with our children and their friends.

Day 43. From my Journal. Thursday January 12th 2017 and Day 1 of 10 days. Yesterday Rob heard back from his new boss in Canada. He has a revised start date of February 13th 2017. This is such an answer to prayer! Praise You Jesus! Once again You are faithful! I am so thankful!  I had initially offered Rob to bring the children home alone by myself if he had to go early but after the last couple of weeks, I see that it would have been a major undertaking. In fact it really would have been like ‘Home Alone!’ We went to the markets and I found 7 Hryvnia (Greev’na) just laying on the street! Bought a tape measure for 10 Hryvnia so we can measure the children for more clothes. Inna called to offer her assistance in anything we need and to say hi. Rob and I ate supper at the Fiesta tonight as the roads are very slippery.

Day 44. From my Journal. Friday January 13th 2017 and Day 2 of 10 Days. Neither of us slept really well last night. Teneille texted to say it’s  -45 in Manitoba! Concerned for our family and others out on the roads. Peter texted so I was glad to hear from him. Tracey also texted. I settle better when I know they are safe indoors. We brought clothes to the Orphanage for the children. They all fitted except for one sweater for Declan. Niamh refused to give back her jeans. She wants to keep them for school. We went for pizza and were actually able to FaceTime with Teneille, Micah, Grace and Hope. It was great! Micah has made us 2 pictures of our house and him there on a sleepover! So precious! 

Day 45. From my Journal. Saturday January 14th 2017 and Day 3 of 10 Days. We both had a reasonable sleep in our little single beds! We went to the Orphanage at 10:30 this am. as they are celebrating Orthodox Christmas! I’ve never seen SO many celebrations of Christmas here! Our children are not taking part this time.

The many celebrations of Christmas here in Ukraine.

This morning I had asked The Lord for a quiet time of just connecting with our kids and once again He answered my request! Both visits today were the quietest and most peaceful we have had with our children up until now. They played ball with us and chess and mainly just wanted to cuddle, especially Conor. We walked back from the Orphanage and saw the others at the park singing. I took some pictures of them. Later in the day we had a sandwich in our room and then to sleep.

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Some of the Orphanage children singing in the park.

Day 46. From my Journal, Sunday January 15th 2017 and Day 4 of 10 Days. We both slept well last night. Up this morning and had a shower. So thankful for water and heat and a bed to sleep in: even though it’s a tiny single bed and the mattress is very thin. Rob and I cuddled for a few minutes on my bed. That physical contact each day is so  important.  We went to the Orphanage and had a good visit with the children. They wanted to play ball and we let them. Declan’s friend came to play too. I am not feeling so well today. Hope I’m not getting another cold! I’m very tired!

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In the Park that morning during the celebrations.

Day 47. From my Journal. Monday January 16th 2017 and Day 5 of 10 Days. Today marks the ‘half way’ point in the cooling off period. So far no appeals have been filed with the court. I’m thankful for that. This morning we went to the markets to look for some more clothes for our children but they were closed. We bought a few things in little shops. Hope we have enough now and that it all fits. We just need two sets of clothes and maybe a couple of other things so that when one is soiled they have something to change into, just until we get home and then I can do more shopping for them.

Stopped at Bdzhilka again for breakfast. This time I enjoyed some kind of a bread twist with meat in it. It was very tasty. I’m so glad to have found proper ketchup in the supermarket! What passes for ketchup here in restaurants is a brownish color and doesn’t taste of much. It was a bit of a guess buying it as the writing on the packaging is in Russian and I know pictures don’t always match what’s in there but we now have a squeeze bag that I can fit in my backpack and bring out as needed. In Victory Park there is another restaurant called The Fairy Tale. We had lunch there. This is the first time we have been here for food, as initially I thought it was just a bar by the beer smell as we walked past, but it’s not. Rob and I both had ‘hot dogs’ Ukrainian style. A bread roll with the middle hollowed out and then toasted and a barbecued smokie inside. They were very good and very cheap!

Day 48. From my Journal. Tuesday January 17th 2017 and Day 6 of 10. We both slept well despite me once again feeling that I am getting another cold. I’m sure all the different germs we are exposed to at the Orphanage and other places don’t help. I wash my hands as soon as I come back in our room after every visit to the Orphanage or trip in town and the water is always visibly dirty! One of Niamh’s group friend’s little brother spent the evening playing with us and our children yesterday and he had such a runny nose! He’s very cute and it breaks my heart to see such beautiful children without parents. Tomorrow we will be here 7 weeks. It’s going to be difficult to settle back in Canada. Our routines are nothing like at home. We sleep in single beds here and I’m not really cooking except to make sandwiches.

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Back again from the markets. We are almost done our shopping and thankful for iTranslate. Some ladies in a shoe booth gave us an amazing deal once they heard we were adopting and buying the shoes for the children. She asked if we were going to take the children back to Canada. I think she has a soft heart for orphans. She even asked our names and told us hers: Alexandria.

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Stopping at the Markets to buy treats for the children

We had breakfast at The Fairy Tale in the park, some kind of fried French toast that was dipped in egg and had cheese curds inside-delicious! We tried ordering something else too which we thought was schnitzel but turned out to be fried eggs with slaw in a sweet vinegar dressing but it was really tasty. We are finding some really good food here just as we are almost about to leave. I had been craving familiar foods recently and I tried ordering in a restaurant we found one day when out walking that prided itself in servingAmericans Food’. I ordered Bacons, Egg and Toasts-American Style’ from that particular menu, thinking it would be like at home and when I got it, the eggs were barely cooked with the whites still clear and runny. The ‘toasts’ were two tiny triangular pieces of black bread and the ‘bacons‘ was maybe a teaspoon of crumbled ham on top of the eggs. I ate it but I was so disappointed! The Fairy Tale is not like that, the food here is cheap and tasty! Inna called to say Yana has a copy of the court decree but she is unwell at present so we haven’t seen her.

Breakfast at The Fairy Tale Café in Victory Park.

At our visit this evening Conor was very anxious as to when he is coming with us. He was just in tears! He sat the whole visit just cuddled up to Rob. He didn’t play or anything, just cuddled! What has his life been like before? I don’t really know. I think he’s afraid we will not take him. That maybe all the waiting is just an excuse for us to get out of this? Even though it is expensive to call Kyiv, we got Inna on the phone and had her talk to the children and explain in a way that makes sense to them. We want them to know that we are waiting on things out of our control.

Niamh took some things out of Robs pockets when he wasn’t looking and thinks its funny. This concerns me as she can’t do this at home. We need to find a way to explain boundaries to them. In the Orphanage all the property is communal. After we came back to the Fiesta, we texted our adult children in Canada to visit. We miss them!

Day 49. From my Journal. Wednesday January 18th 2017 and Day 7 of 10 Days. ‘No good thing does He withhold from them whose walk is blameless’ I am praying for wisdom in how to handle the children and the behaviours we are seeing on a daily basis. And also for how we will integrate with our adult children at home. We are unprepared in many ways but I need to remember that He is faithful and God sees us as blameless in His Son! We went this morning to see Declan when the others were in school and did a puzzle with him. Then went back for 4:00 pm. I get the impression that maybe one or two of the workers are fed up with us coming to the orphanage twice a day. There was a female who we had never seen before at the orphanage this evening. She came into the room where we were with the children. We had been told we could meet with the children there by the Orphanage Director. This woman just took over. She turned on a cd player very loudly and did some ‘dancing’ and stretches. Not sure who she was but she was quite rude and ignored us completely,  setting up her things in our way and making it impossible to play with the children. This is probably the first rude person we have met here. To date, we have found the Ukrainian people we have met here to be very gracious and generous. Regardless, we had a good visit with the children, just had to go outside so we could have some quiet. Then back to the hotel and bed.

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Playing with the children in the snow. We had a lot of fun!

Day 50. From my Journal, Thursday January 19th 2017 and Day 8 of 10 Days. Not sure how they count the days here? Inna said they begin counting the day after court. By my adding that would be Day 1 but she says the 10 days is not up until Saturday. No matter, just a different way of counting I guess. We were up and ready to go out by 08:30 this morning. Walked through the Markets to get a gift for granddaughter Mila’s birthday. I find myself looking at the women I meet and wondering if any of them are family to my children? This is probably silly on my part but I can’t help but wonder. We went to the Orphanage later too. Niamh had a cell phone again and was listening to loud music. I tried not to let it bother me. It’s not the music, I don’t care about that: it’s that she may be vulnerable to predators through the internet. I want to protect my daughter! Back to the Fiesta. Hopefully we will have a good sleep.

Day 51. From my Journal. Friday January 20th 2017 and Day 9 of 10 Days. We slept fairly well despite noisy neighbours in the room next door. This is one of the disadvantages of a hotel room rather than an apartment: we never know from one day to the next who is going to be sleeping in the room next door. We toured the Markets to get some last-minute items. Don’t need much. The visit to the Orphanage went well. The kids like to rough-house with their Dad. I smiled as I sat and watched them play and thought how nice it was to see. He may be the first man in their lives to be reliable. The first man they feel comfortable enough to trust. Then back to the restaurant for a salad and to bed. I don’t feel at all well and my nose is running again. I’m so fed up feeling like this! At home I’m hardly ever sick!

Day 52. From my Journal. Saturday January 21st 2017 and Day 10 of 10 Days. We made it! The cooling off period is over! No appeals were filed and court is not open today. Inna says the courts will not issue the decree on the weekend so it will be Monday now before anything is done. This is ok! Jesus You are faithful! We are a family for real! Went to the Orphanage later and we played outside on the swings.

The back of the Orphanage is in even worse shape than the front! There are pieces of rusty tin and old tyres that the children play around. This is dangerous! The mom and nurse in me sees cuts and falls but so far they seem to be ok so maybe they know how to be careful. I have another bad cold 😦 The visit at the Orphanage was ok but there was a lot of rough-housing at the start between Conor and his friends. Rob stayed to play with them and Niamh and I went out to the swings with Declan.

The roof is missing ridge tiles and the pathway cracked and broken.

We still had fun playing outdoors.

Day 53. From my Journal. Sunday January 22nd 2017. We slept well and had breakfast in the park. Then Rob and I walked to the Akkerman Fortress. We had such a beautiful walk and time together. This is going to be one of the last few times where it’s just to be the two of us for a while. In a couple of days we will be a family of five. There was a film crew from England and the US there and they were talking about ‘shooting scenes’ and what would work best for different shots. I tried to listen to see if I could hear the name of the movie but they didn’t say it. Hopefully we can find it when we are back in Canada. That would be cool! We met the cutest little cat that followed us all over the Fortress. He reminded me of ‘Fish,‘ our cat at home, my ‘first friend’ in Steinbach. We tried our hand at bows and arrows. Rob was a way better shot than me.

Then we walked back to town and got Yura to bring us to the Orphanage for 4:00 pm. We had a very nice visit with our children and their friends. Then back to the Fiesta and relaxed for the evening. My mother called us from Ireland and sang ‘One Day At a Time’ over the phone to us : so beautiful!

Day 54. From my Journal. Monday January 23rd 2017. Slept well again-thankfully! Quiet time and then breakfast in the park. Yana is here in Bilhorod, but we haven’t seen her yet. We want to get another suitcase for the extra things we have and then go to the Orphanage. Tonight we are having a farewell party for our children and their friends. We need to order the pizza and buy the pop. Hope it all goes well. It will be difficult to leave Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. In a short time ‘here’ has become our home. I am looking forward to going home to Canada though but part of my heart will always stay here I think, especially at the Orphanage with the children who we have grown to love.

Familiar brands for the Farewell Party this evening.

Tomorrow we pick up our children and visit the Orphanage for the last time, At least for now.

Rob will tell you about the party and our last evening at the Orphanage in the next post.

# 13 : Court… then the Countdown Begins……

Day 36. From my Journal. Thursday January 5th 2017. Today Teneille sent us a video clip of Micah, Grace and Hope. Micah was singing ‘Jesus loves me’ and it was so beautiful and it makes me miss them immensely! Why do some things have to hurt so much?’ I love our beautiful grandchildren and I can’t wait to hold them again! Thankfully Rob and I slept much better last night. We both feel so much improved today. I am so thankful!

Today Rob asked me ‘How come you brought stuff for 1 girl and 2 boys?’  The only answer I have is that The Lord prompted me to.  I have no other answer.  I had ‘felt‘ for some time that it was going to be a girl and two boys but I couldn’t say how I knew that?  Feelings are not always reliable. That’s what I brought to the Ukraine: 1 girl blanket and 2 boy blankets and one girl gift and two boy gifts. There is no other way for me to have known as Ukraine is very specific about adoptive parents not knowing anything about their potential children until their SDA appointment. We didn’t have any idea who we were getting until that first meeting with the SDA official on December 5th 2016.

Praise Jesus! My sinus infection is better! Three days ago I felt like I needed 4 root canals but today my bite is back to normal and I have no pain! This is a miracle again!

Practicing for another Christmas performance.

We had such  a good visit with the children today. They are practicing now for Ukrainian Christmas and we are invited for Monday 9th January to see them perform. They are singing and carrying a banner with the Madonna and Child. They are all involved this time. Niamh had a little hissy fit with the lady who is teaching the singing today. Not sure why? Some disagreement over her part perhaps? She sat with a face like thunder but then she wanted to go outdoors after practice. She played on the swings until 5:30 pm!

Day 37. From my Journal. Friday, January 6th 2017. This morning Teneille sent us another adorable video from Micah, Grace and Hope saying ‘Hello Grandma and Grandpa and children’ and introducing themselves. They pulled silly faces. It was so cute! Then we got a text from Michael saying he had an accident and broke his hand! He’s in the ER. A truck engine slipped of a hoist and fell on it! He sent pictures! (for our readers, I won’t post those) It’s a really nasty wound. It was good to hear from him but the mom in me wishes I could be there for him right now.

Today it is blowing a blizzard! We made it as far as the coffee shop but we were unable to make it to the Orphanage. The roads are just too bad! Yura brought us from the coffee shop back to the hotel but he said the roads are not ploughed here and they will only get worse. He also said they will all be closed an hour from now! We spent the rest of the day in our room after getting a few groceries to keep us going on case we get snowed in. Very stormy! It was a difficult day and fear overcame us at times. Still waiting on some paperwork to be approved. Finally go an email late in the day to say they would be issuing a confirmation letter soon. ‘Praise Your Name Jesus’!

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On the way to the coffee shop.

Day 38. From my Journal. Saturday January 7th 2017.  We woke up to a white and very windy landscape! Don’t know if we can make it to the Orphanage today either. We set off walking later in the morning but had to turn back: it’s just too cold! I’m inside now while Rob is getting a few things at the little store down the street that we can just eat cold later, without heating up.

Later this evening we were able to get Yura to take us to the Orphanage but the roads were awful! Our children were outside playing and we didn’t stay long. We are glad to get back to the hotel though. The weather is getting worse! Thank the Lord for a warm room! I hope all the children will be warm and safe tonight.

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Walking in the snow across town. See how the warm air coming up from the underground sewers melts the snow in places. It doesn’t smell too good walking past sometimes.

Day 39. From my Journal. Sunday January 8th 2017. We had breakfast in our room again as it’s snowing. Big, soft, white flakes falling slowly outside our window. We are watching ‘Fine Living’ on our little tv. Somewhat difficult as it’s all dubbed in Russian. Rob has a headache and I jokingly diagnose it as caffeine withdrawal. We haven’t been able to go for coffee now for two days. We finally brave the weather and walk to the Bdzhilka for coffee and a tart but really just to get out of our 9′ x 13′ roomNo headache now! The streets are snow-covered and not cleared. So thankful we are able to get around! The fresh air is good for us.  Inna called to say court is confirmed for January 10th at 2:00 pm! Yana is to come here just before that. It will be good to see her again.

The children put on another Christmas pageant.

Day 40. From my Journal. Monday January 9th 2017. We went to the Orphanage for Ukrainian Christmas pageant this morning. It was very good! The costumes were lovely and the children did very well.  Again the only ones to watch them were Rob and myself. We went back for 4:00 pm and played mostly outside in the snow.

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Playing in the snow!

Then Rob and I walked across town for pizza. Inna called to tell us what to expect at court tomorrow. Also to tell us the Orphanage already got their donation and were hoping to do some renovations right away. Waiting now on Yana to come. Also got texts from Marlene and Kaylene as well as our kids in Canada wishing us well for tomorrow.

Day 41. From my Journal. Tuesday January 10th 2017. Today we have court. We decided to fast from food before the hearing. I did allow myself some black tea as I am still recovering from the infection and don’t want a relapse. Anyway, it’s not a legalistic thing where we can’t eat, it’s a choice not to at present, so we can pray about the day ahead. Read from Psalm 91 this morning. ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty, I will say to the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my strength, my God in whom I trust’ and also ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you in all your ways!’ That’s where we are dwelling. I can’t think of a safer and more secure place to be right now! Thank you God that You are my strength. So often I feel I have none of my own but then I remember that You say that Your strength is made perfect in my weakness. At 11:30 am we had still not heard from Yana. Getting a little anxious! Emailed Inna and then Yana called.

Myself and Rob all dressed up to go to Court for the Adoption Hearing.

We got a taxi to the courthouse at 1:30 pm and waited inside for the children to arrive. Only Niamh and Conor came as Declan is still not in school and he didn’t have to be here apparently. I am disappointed as I would have liked for him to have been here for pictures. I want to make memories for him too but I didn’t know he wouldn’t be required to attend and it’s too late to go and get him. I wish this had been discussed with us in advance. Never assume anything I guess. Present is the judge, the Orphanage lawyer, Yana, a court stenographer who writes with pen in a book, a representative from the Office of Children’s Services and two jurors (one male and one female). The whole proceedings took just less than an hour. They asked both Niamh and Conor if they wanted to be adopted by us and they both said ‘yes’ they did. The representative from Children’s Services talked to the judge about the children’s family situation before the Orphanage and how no one has shown any interest in adopting them or even coming to see them since entering the Orphanage. It’s all very sad. I wish that the children hadn’t been in court to hear some of what was discussed. I wanted to hold them to protect them but they seem stoic and maybe it’s okay that they know. I think we sometimes unnecessarily shelter our children from the hard things in life. Yana continually translated for us as things went along. At the end they asked Rob, myself and the children to wait outside the courtroom for a few minutes while they deliberated, then asked us to come back inside again. Rob asked Yana later if the hearings are normally this fast? Yana said it was fast as ‘we are nice people’ but I think she was just teasing us as she was laughing as she said it.

Outside the courtroom door where our lives would change forever. Waiting on the children.

Before court started, the children wanted to play with Rob and myself in the hallway. Rob was a little unsure as he felt that they may get too rowdy. I felt it was ok as long as things didn’t get too carried away. They can get noisy! It really worked in our favour as the representative from the Office of Children’s Services remarked on the good relationship she observed between us and the children when she spoke during the court hearing. She said she noticed how well the children played with us and how they referred to us as ‘Mama’ and “Papa’ and how she thought after reading all the information, and talking to the Director at the Orphanage and the Orphanage lawyer about how our visits were going, that it was really in the best interest of the children to be adopted by us. Conor sat between Rob and myself and held our hands tightly throughout the whole court proceedings.

Outside the Courthouse after the Adoption hearing. The children are wanting hugs from their new Mom and Dad.

Finally it was over and now we wait the regulation 10 days ‘cooling off period’. (currently this has been increased to 30 days but when we were there it was still 10 days) This is to ensure that there are no appeals against our adoption, and that no family member would suddenly decide that they wanted to adopt these children instead. The children are excited to be adopted by us, and I know from what the Orphanage Director has said, that they have not had any visits from any relations in the last few years. We are hopeful but not complacent. I have read of cases where a family member files an appeal because they don’t want anyone else to have the children and even if they are not in in a position to parent, it can tie things up for a while as the court case gets dragged out.

After court Rob and I with the children and Yana, went to Mama Mia’s for wood-fired pizza to celebrate. The kids ate really well and were very happy and animated. I think they are glad that today is over too. I know they have been worried and stressed about the ‘sudpronounced ‘suit’ (Russian for ‘Court’) as they have mentioned it several times over the last few days. After supper we got a taxi and dropped the children back at the Orphanage. The Director was waiting and congratulated us on a successful hearing, shaking both our hands. Then back to our hotel room to text all our children and our friends in Canada and then finally to sleep! So thankful and so tired!

# 12 : Goats, Grapes, Chickens and maybe the Odd Fish!

This is not really a proper blog post. This is just a compilation of pictures that we took while walking about on the streets. These just didn’t fit anywhere else and I wanted to show you some of the interesting things we saw while in Ukraine. As we walked around the Markets and streets we saw things that we would never see at home.

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Food for sale on the street

Even though to us this may be considered unsanitary, the walnuts I bought on the street were the freshest and tastiest, I’ve ever eaten.

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This was a cart selling coffee and tea and cookies on the street. This time we didn’t order! Nor the next time either!
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The fish were still alive and moving!
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Vendors selling food on the street. We often saw people going through the garbage bins to find empty pop bottles to fill with milk or juice. Hope they washed them first!
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The road to the Orphanage, see the open sewer that smelled really bad! We walked this road twice a day to get to our children.
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Our snowmen are melting at the Orphanage. I love the light in this picture!
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A man paying for food he had bought of a street vendor.

There were ladies selling home-made pickles in big jars at the next vendor. Rob wanted just to buy a single pickle. They tried to sell him the big jar but we had no way to store it or carry it. It caused them a great deal of laughter when he offered 5 hryvnia for a single pickle. This was way more than it was worth. That was about 25 cents in our money. He said it was delicious!

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See the skinned goat and bags of garlic.
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Selling Tea and dates.

Some of the more interesting things we saw in the markets!

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What would have happened if someone had knocked an egg from the bottom? This was in the crowded markets in January. I don’t think this lady was super impressed with me taking her picture!

‘There’s something about a soldier’. He was a little ‘cold’ and didn’t respond to my affection!

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On the streets in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. The streets were so uneven that after dark, it was easy to trip and fall!

Inside the Supermarket. The sugar was loose in these big gray bins and there were sparrows flying around inside the store!

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A hand painted wall in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. I wonder how long it took to paint!

I loved this old house. It would have looked so good restored as it overlooked the river. In the second picture see anything strange? The electrical post is just ‘floating’ above the ground. The picture doesn’t do it justice as you can’t see how it’s just hanging there.

The hoar-frost that painted the pine needles with diamonds!

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There were at least 12 workers that we counted clearing the snow outside the Office of Children’s Services.

At a tiny museum in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

Even in the Ukraine, Canada is never far from our minds.

 

# 11 : We Meet Two Angels!

Day 32. From my Journal. Sunday January 1st 2017. The Lord has been looking after our safety. We had somewhere to eat this morning. All the places in town are closed today it seems, except for Bdzhika Coffee Shop. This morning we met a man from Lithuania at the hotel. Not sure what he is doing here in Ukraine but he told us his car was broken into in broad daylight in the street and all his belongings were stolen. Thank You Jesus for Your protection!

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‘It was then that I carried you!’……Footprints

Day 33. From my Journal. Monday January 2nd 2017. Slept somewhat poorly. Our next door roommate kept yelling out at intervals on and off through-out the night, Just yelling! He was so loud! Today I feel extremely discouraged. ‘God, why are You not taking away the pain in my teeth? It’s been three full days now!My faith is under attack. Do You even hear me!’ Do You care God?’ My whole jaw feels like it’s being broken apart in a vice! My bite is off and I feel like I need about 4 root canals at the same time! Rob went out to a pharmacy the evening before last and bought me painkillers that actually need a prescription at home! Using iTranslate he was able to tell the pharmacist what he needed. The medication helps but I have to take 2 of them every 4 -6 hours to get any relief and by 6 hours, the pain is almost unbearable again. They are only treating the effects, not the cause. My jaw throbs with every heartbeat!

We stopped at the Bdzhilka Coffee Shop to get something to drink so I can take my painkillers and also to ask the girls there if they know of a good dentist. I find even the thought of taking these type of pills difficult as I rarely take any medications at home and I certainly don’t like taking something as strong as these unless I need them, which I do at present. Rob asked about a dentist on iTranslate and then Victoria answered on her tablet and between them they figured something out. I am a little concerned about having dental care so far from home, but the pain is so bad at present, I’d let anyone look at my teeth if I thought they could fix the pain! Victoria brought out a business card to our table and gave it to us but it’s in Russian and I can’t read it.

She left us, then came back out of the kitchen after a minute. She had put on her coat and told us both to come with her; she was going to take us to see the hospital dentist. We followed her down streets and over broken pavement to a building that looked like it was straight out of the 1960’s Soviet Union. We went into the dark interior and down a corridor with cracked and worn tiles on the floor. Victoria stopped at a heavy wooden door, knocked once and went inside, not before indicating to us to sit on the wooden bench by the door. We could hear her talking, then she came out again and I was shown into the dental surgery. Then  Victoria left us there and went back to her coffee shop.

Some of the roads we walked to get to the hospital. Victoria with her sister Ola and myself. We went back and thanked her and told her that Jesus had put her in our lives and how thankful we were for her!

Everything was basic and old fashioned in the extreme!  Plain old metal chair with no padding or cushion. Dental drill with three pulleys and belts and the dentist, a large middle-aged woman in a spotless white starched coat. All the dental instruments were just sitting there on a little table in a large chipped white enamel basin with a blue rim. Rob told me later that he took one horrified look and hoped I didn’t have to have any work done here as he wasn’t sure of the sterility of instruments or even if they were cleaned between patients! No sign of an autoclave.

The dentist didn’t speak a single word of English so I explained to her using iTranslate and some Russian what the problem was. I told her I had just taken 2 codeine tablets so the pain had diminished somewhat but as soon as the medication wore off it would return in full force. She nodded and indicated for me to sit in the chair and lifted an instrument from the bowl on the small table. She proceeded to tap my teeth with it. I thought I was going to jump out of the chair at one point! I considered telling her to just pull out all the teeth on the right side of my mouth as I didn’t know which tooth was the problem and they all hurt so much! I thought she could probably do it right now without any freezing as the pain couldn’t get much worse! After a few more scrapes and taps, she told me in Russian that I had no cavities. I already knew that! I’d had a dental cleaning and examination just  before leaving for the Ukraine. She gave some orders to a woman sitting at a small wooden desk at the back of the surgery. I heard the word Amoxicillin and a couple more I didn’t recognise. Then the second woman there gave me two small pieces of paper with hand written instructions on them. They looked like post-it notes!

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My prescription for Antibiotics

Then the dentist indicated that the visit was over. Rob offered to pay her but when he tried, she pushed the money back at him, waving it away. She did accept a big hug from this grateful Canadian and it was the first time she smiled, her stern face transforming as she hugged me back! We eventually found a pharmacy in that part of town, and after filling the prescription for Amoxicillin, Septra DS and Claritin, (which cost us a total of $8 Canadian). Rob and I just stood on the street and wept and prayed, hugging each other. God hadn’t forsaken me or Rob!  He sent us these 2 angels just when we needed them to show us how much He loves us!

This is just outside the hospital where Victoria took me to see the dentist. We went back so I could get a photograph of it. See how I’m smiling now that the pain has gone!

We walked back to the coffee shop to get some hot tea so I can take my medications. I hope the antibiotics start to work really soon. It’s hard to enjoy interacting with the children when it hurts so much! Walking about outdoors is also difficult as the cold makes the pain worse. The dentist has indicated that I have a bad sinus infection causing inflammation and pain to the nerves in my teeth and jaw. This is probably related to the several colds I’ve had over the last couple of weeks. Well at least now I know what I’m dealing with.

The Bdzhilka Coffee Shop.

Day 3. From my Journal. Tuesday January 3rd 2017. My pain is so much improved today. This is only after 3 doses of antibiotics! So thankful! Rob and I both had a horrible nights sleep last night though. This was related to our noisy neighbour of the previous night bringing some girls back to his room and they partied until 0245 am! I am so not impressed! Rob and I decided to walk across town and have pizza for breakfast this morning just because we can! $7 for an extra large pizza and this includes a bottle of water for me and a Pepsi for him! Yum! I feel I can eat again today and I’m starving! I have barely been able to eat for the last 4 days as the very act of chewing hurt so much! This journey has taught me so much about myself, my failings and what I like and don’t like about myself and my spouse.

We are hoping to call Inna when we go to the Orphanage today. The children are getting very anxious about all the delays. Still waiting to have the Court appointment. Debbie is praying and has recruited some prayer warriors in Alberta. We need people to come before the Throne! It’s not over yet!  We had a really good visit with the children this evening. The second coat we brought for Declan is still too big! Another trip to the markets is needed to exchange it!  Our phone ran out of money and thankfully Yura was able to help us. He put 40 Hryvnia (Greev’na) on it, about $2. We called Inna and we have the approval from SDA to adopt! Praise the Lord for that! Now off to supper!

On the way for Pizza! I can’t wait!

Day 35. From my Journal .Wednesday January 4th 2017. A couple days ago Rob had suggested that we needed a little change in routine and had made arrangements with Yura (our driver) to take us to the coast of the Black Sea.  It was only about a 30 minute drive south of Bilhorod Dnistrovskyi. So today Rob and I went to Zatoka Beach (Ukrainian version of a Black Sea resort) with Yura, our driver, (slash bodyguard)! We had decided that we needed to take at least the morning off just to do something for us. It cost us $20 Canadian for the whole morning and was so worth it!

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The ‘Crazy Canadians’ who go to the beach in January!

So glad we were able to do this on such a beautiful day! I love seeing and smelling the sea: but it does makes me miss Ireland! Our faithful Yura drove us about 1/2 hour to reach Zatoka. He parked his van and took us to the cutest little coffee shop right across from the beach. We had something there to warm up and then walked along the promenade and onto the sand. Yura really took our safety seriously as he never let us out of his sight. We would walk off a bit and there he would be, peeping around the corner to make sure we were ok!

Rob having a coffee to warm up and in the second picture Yura (our driver/bodyguard for the 8 weeks we were in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi) and Rob.

I’m sure Yura is getting used to us crazy Canadians who want to go to the beach in the middle of winter! We were the only people on the beach and it was such a beautiful day! The temperature was only about -4. Maybe for locals that was a little cold but to us, who are often used to Manitoba winters where temperatures drop to -35 and more in January, it felt like a summer day! Rob walked down to the water’s edge where a wave soaked his shoes in seconds. I played it safer and didn’t go quite so close.

Rob and I enjoying the Black Sea at Zatoka Beach.

On the way home Yura took us along a sand road, more of a dirt track really and showed us the wild olive trees that surrounded us. He had installed a translation app on his phone and asked us would we like to visit the Shabo winery as it is famous for wine making in that region. We saw many fields filled with grape vines but in winter they are all dormant. We toured the winery and bought two bottles of ice wine to take home to Canada. We don’t ever plan on drinking them but to have them to remind us of the beautiful day we enjoyed at Zatoka Beach.

On return to Bilhorod-Dnistroskyi, Yura took us around to the edge of town to show us his home in a run down apartment block. We also saw the school he attended and where his parents live. Our dear Yura is such a sweet man! We learn he lives with his wife and daughter in a tiny apartment and that he has always made his living driving his van. When people like us come, that is steady income for him for a few weeks. When we add up what we give him on a daily basis it works out to about $4 dollars in our money. For that he takes us to the Orphanage in the evening and collects us again. When he’s not driving us, he taxis other people around the area. Rob gave him a tip (another $20) on that day he took us to the beach and we bought him a bottle of wine too at the winery.  He was so grateful, he went all red and just smiled a huge smile!

The apartment where Yura’s parents live & the site of an underground church we visited with Yura.

When we returned from our excursion, we went to the markets and exchanged Declan’s coat once again for an even smaller size. Yura collected us later for our evening visit to go the Orphanage to see the children. Declan tried his coat. Finally it fits on the third attempt! He’s so small! The visit with the children went well and we left, feeling that the day had been amazing all around! So blessed by the different scenery and all that we enjoyed today! We have just so much to be thankful for! Blessed beyond measure! Thank You Jesus!….. end of Journal entry….

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‘It was then that I carried you’…. Footprints

 

# 10 : Spending our Christmas in Ukraine.

Day 16. From my Journal, Friday December 16th 2016. We started the day with prayer. I can’t believe we have been in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi for over a week already! It’s gone fast! This morning we walked to the supermarket and then to the Orphanage to see Declan. He did a 142 piece jigsaw puzzle by himself-twice! That’s amazing I think. He really wants to show us what he can do. His English is coming on so well. He repeats after us all the time.

Yura drove us back there at 4:00 pm and we had a really good visit with all the kids. Their friends join us all the time now. We don’t mind, and after the first day, the workers don’t try to take them away any more. They are all such sweet children! We played tag in the yard outdoors before going inside.

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Posing for a picture between games!

Yana came back on the train this evening. More errors in the paperwork but now the documents should be ready for Monday. Here’s hoping! The kids love playing with Rob! He is such an amazing dad!  Rob told me that now he has some idea of what His Heavenly Father must have felt when he, as a little boy, knelt beside his bed, and asked Jesus into his heart. By comparing how he himself felt when the children asked if they could call him ‘Papa’ on that first day!

Day 17. From my Journal. Saturday December 17th 2016. I couldn’t sleep, so during the night I stood by our bedroom door and used my phone. It’s the only place I can get wi-fi. The floor is very cold on my feet and it’s drafty here but if I sit in the chair that’s beside the door, I lose the signal. At 0311 am local time, I got a text from my friend Kaylene in Manitoba. She writes: while still in Asia, the family who are currently staying in your house had been concerned about accommodation when they returned to Canada. After family prayer,  the mom asked her little daughter ‘Did God give you a picture?’ ‘Yes‘ Gemma responded, ‘He showed me a Christmas House’. Kaylene said that when they arrived at our place for the first time, Gemma said ‘This is the house that I saw’! This is beautiful I think, how our loving Father takes care of our needs regardless of where we are in His world!

My role as a ‘Movie Extra’ continues as today Rob told our driver, Yura, that we need to exchange more dollars into Hryvnia (Greev’na). Yura took us in his van to the crowded markets, slowed down and a stranger got into the front seat beside him. All I could think of at the time was that he was what I would describe as ‘a shady looking character’ with dark glasses and a large leather shoulder bag. This person, whose name we never learned, pulled a wad of cash from his bag and took our dollars. Then Yura drove around the block to drop him off again and he disappeared into the crowd. This whole transaction took maybe a minute and a half. No names, no signatures, no receipts and off we went again, back to the hotel.

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Selfie at the hotel.

Day 18. From my Journal. Sunday December 18th 2016. ‘When it seems undone, it’s already won and glory to the King of Kings even now’! Conor was very difficult yesterday evening. We had been playing chess with the children when he pulled the chess pieces away and wouldn’t give them back. He huffed and stomped off to his room during our visit. Rob went after him and tried to reason with him to no avail. He refused to look at Rob or talk to him. We called Yana and she says this happens in over 95% of cases and not to worry about it. Today we will try again.

Back from the Orphanage at 6:40 pm. What a turnaround! We had such a good visit with Conor this evening! ‘Lord, I guess You were trying to teach me from what I wrote at the start of the page from yesterday’. Niamh is getting a cold and feeling sick so she stayed in her group room so we only had the boys in our visit tonight. Conor asked if he could tidy out our backpack and he neatly arranged all the books, puzzles etc. He responded so positively to our thanks, went to his room and got his books, he has two, and asked if he could bring them to Canada. He was amazingly polite and well-mannered, and even asked for things in English!

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Niamh was an ‘Angel’ in the Christmas play!

Day 19. Day 19 From my Journal . Monday December 19th 2016. Today is Saint Nicholas’ Day, something like our Christmas. We went to the Orphanage early after getting some gifts for our children at the store. All the children were taking part in a play. They did very well! The singing was beautiful! The staff and children have put considerable effort into this production. I’m so proud of them all! Declan was all dressed up in traditional costume for his role in the play. He looked so cute in his little outfit! The Mayor of Bilhorod was there, as were news reporters, taking  pictures of her and filming her. I couldn’t help but feel this was a bit of a publicity stunt but I hope I’m wrong.

Later at the hotel, Yana called us from Kyiv to tell us Yura would be picking us up in 15 minutes time to go to the Office of Children’s Services to sign the conclusion of the Social Worker’s Report. I have never seen things done like this! Yura took us into the office to see the Director, and we signed our names in a big ledger in pen. Then Yura was given our completed file: Not in a secure envelope or anything, just a brown duo-tang to take to the train station in Odessa to hand it over to one of the conductors and then Yana or Inna would be at the train station in Kyiv the next morning to meet the train and collect it!

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Our Three Beautiful Angels!

We went back in the evening to the Orphanage to see the second performance of the day. The children have put so much effort into this and no one but Rob and I were there to see them! That’s so sad! Niamh constantly sought our eyes for approval, as did Declan. Conor was not taking part this time. They all appreciated their gifts. So glad we bought things that they like.

Some of the Orphanage children in costume for the play. See Declan is in the middle of the second picture.

‘The Seduction of Comfort’. Rob and I talked about that again at supper, about what that looks like in reality. We are still working through that. This is so challenging to us in our North American thinking. We have seen so much here in our short time, that makes us not want to take things at home for granted or to think that we are any more deserving than others. We don’t want to become complacent. There is also the aspect of stepping out of our comfort zones. Radical! With God’s help, we are getting there!

Day 20. From my Journal. Tuesday December 20th 2016. Off to the Orphanage early again this morning. I am so enjoying our walks and talks! At least we are getting lots of exercise! Stopped again at our regular coffee shop for breakfast. We had such a good visit with Declan today! He kissed both our hands several times and had fun showing off his ‘Mama’ and ‘Papa’ to his friends! He seems so proud of us. I guess he’s somewhat of a ‘minor celebrity’ in the Orphanage at present, now that he has a mom and dad coming every day to visit.

Day 21. From my Journal. Wednesday 21st December 2016. Inna called this am to say there had been another error in the paperwork, this time by the social worker here and that the SDA will not accept the documents until it is corrected. The spelling of our names causes problems as do the new names the children have chosen for their new lives. We also signed papers for the Court today and they will be filed tomorrow.

Day 22. From my Journal. Thursday 22nd December 2016. Good visit with the kids today. Now I am sick-again! My throat hurts a lot. I’m very tired!.

Day 24. From my Journal. Saturday 24th December 2016. Today started off poorly. Rob and I are so sick. Right now we seem to be picking up every virus around! I sound like a two pack a day smoker! Today we did another ‘Bourne Identity’ stunt. Once again we needed to change some dollars in local currency to pay the hotel. We texted Yana, who called Yura, who in turn, came to our room. Rob handed over the $500 USD he wanted to exchange and Yura will bring back the exchanged money at 4:00 pm when he picks us up for our evening visit with our children. I know Rob is not at all comfortable with this arrangement but we have no option but to trust. So far Yura has proved himself faithful and honest. Inna also called to say our documents were submitted to the SDA office yesterday. Guess the file made it safely to Kyiv! It will be January 3rd, she says, before we hear anything. Praying for approval and an early court date. Tomorrow is Christmas and we miss our family in Canada.

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Our beautiful son turns 11

Went to the Orphanage this evening to celebrate Conor’s Birthday. He turned 11. We stood around in a circle and held hands and sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. He told us after the song that he loved us! Maybe no one has ever sang that to him before or given him a gift or made him feel like he matters? Has he ever felt loved? These are questions I don’t have the answer to. Declan was very funny tonight. He huffed when he saw he only got a little car and he pouted, but in a funny way. It’s more of a seeking-attention thing. Already we are learning to know the differences in his behaviour. He eats bananas like they are going out of style! Got a cool email from Andrea, the mom staying in our house. She sent Christmas wishes and told us of something she had read about God this morning. She writes ‘of God as self giving, pouring out love’ and I thought, she goes on, ‘on what that kind of love looks like: it’s waiting in a small room in Ukraine! How generous of her!

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In the little room in Ukraine where we spent nearly 8 weeks!  (we spent another 2 and a half weeks in Kyiv)

Day 25. From my Journal. Sunday 25th December 2016. Today is Christmas Day! Rob and I are alone in our room, in our two little single beds, coughing and spluttering, but feeling better than yesterday! So thankful! We sent texts to all our kids in Canada and received back very positive responses. We miss them! I miss them all so much it hurts! So glad we can connect through text! Rob is going to read the Christmas Story for us and then we are going to go for a walk to have breakfast. I hope there is somewhere open here on Christmas Day, otherwise we won’t have anything to eat!

Day 26. From my Journal. Monday December 26th 2016. We are both feeling very poorly today! Our colds are back and we are sore from coughing. Very frustrating. My nose is running like a tap! Yesterday our Christmas dinner ended up being a kebab and coffee. It was good! Most times when we get a sandwich here it has so much bread and not very much meat. I’m finding all the bread a bit much. Its so dense and heavy and not at all light and fluffy! We found a restaurant under renovations that was still open. Inna called to say we have a possible court date of January 10th! Trusting the Lord that this date works. It’s still a ways off! There is a blizzard currently in Manitoba and I worry about our children out on the roads. Thankfully I heard from Peter and that settled me somewhat. He was just heading to bed. That’s where I am right now also.

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Our little room in the Fiesta Hotel. Home for almost 8 weeks! You can just see the table in the right corner of the picture where we would sit to write. The beds look bigger than they were! In reality they were just a little wider than my medium sized suitcase!

Day 28. From my Journal. Wednesday December 28th 2016. I can’t believe this year is almost over! We are feeling better today. Yesterday Inna helped us buy some medicine over the phone at a pharmacy. We had called her and she talked to the pharmacist who got us what we needed. We both slept better too and that helps our bodies heal. I think the fact I’m not sleeping well at night and the mattress is so thin and uncomfortable is not helping us recover. Our bodies are already under stress with all that is happening.

Today we went twice to the Orphanage. They had another Christmas program in the morning. This evening was not a very good visit. Somewhere Niamh had got hold of a cell phone, perhaps from one of the workers. She spent our whole visit texting on it and not interacting with us at all. Then in the middle of our visit, the phone rang and she took off like a bullet out of a gun! She didn’t return and she looked very guilty when she left so I couldn’t help but think that she may have ‘taken’ the phone without the owner’s permission!’

Day 29. From my Journal. Thursday December 29th 2016. We decided to go somewhere different for breakfast this morning-mix it up a bit. We prayed as we walked, for patience, for wisdom and for insight: on how to reach the children. We prayed for our relationship and for total dependence on Jesus. We ended up eating in the  Bdzhilka Coffee Shop (The Honey Bee). We both had coffee and Rob got a chicken sandwich and me a sort of puff pastry with a savoury meat filling. Rob said it looked good and thought about adding one to his order. He asked the waitress what was in it and could she bring him one? She told him it was made with Ground Pigeon Livers! Rob suddenly decided he didn’t want one after all. His face was a picture! I just laughed at him as it was delicious!

The Bdzhilka Coffee Shop where we got to know and love the staff. Above Ola, Victoria, myself and Tanya

Day 30. From my Journal. Friday December 30th 2016. We finished our Christmas shopping today. We went again to the Bdzhilka Coffee Shop today for breakfast. We were greeted with so much warmth! The staff wanted to take pictures with us. I got to sing ‘Silent Night’ this morning, standing there in that little coffee shop in Ukraine. It was such a blessing to be asked to do this as I love to sing. I don’t know how it happened but the girls asked me and I thought this is about Jesus and how He loves them. People clapped and smiled and I’m sure some thought I was just a crazy foreigner but I didn’t care. Rob said that’s one of the things he admires in me: my spontaneity!

Shopping for fruit and nuts in the market.

We went to the Orphanage again this evening. We played ball with all the children and the cleaner there this evening told me she loved me and what a great thing we were doing for these children! This is such a compliment! We really want to be parents to them but the people here see it as a good thing too, to be giving them a chance of a new life. Declan got very exasperated with Conor and went to stand beside Rob, with quite a fierce look on his face. ‘My Papa’ he shouted at Conor! Very cute!

Day 31. From my Journal. Saturday December 31st, 2016. Today is New Years Eve! It is a beautiful sunny day! It’s cold but the sky is a clear, bright blue. Once again we went to the Bdzhilka Coffee Shop this morning for breakfast. A Pigeon Liver Pie for me and a Hot Dog in pastry for Rob. Lattes and a chocolate, marshmallow cream tart for me. We walked around for a bit afterwards, through the markets, then on to the Orthodox Church, over streets not walked before, and then back to the hotel. Glad I had my scarf to cover my head or I wouldn’t have been able to enter the church!

We went to the Orphanage again this evening. Today our Declan turns 6! We also have gifts for the other children. It was such a positive visit! They were delighted with their gifts! I have never seen anyone get so excited over getting a coat! Conor loved his skate board and Niamh her ear-rings, even though we had to go into a tiny jewelery store with two security guards with guns strapped in holsters on their hips, to get them for her. This overt security bothers me. What are we not seeing?

Back for supper. The only place open was the Bdzhilka Coffee Shop. Everywhere else was closed. We seem to be making a habit of coming here but it’s so cheap when we convert into our money. About .65 cents for a speciality coffee compared with maybe $4 in Canada and about $5 for us both to have breakfast. When we arrived back at the Fiesta, one of the cleaners gave us a small bottle of Champagne and a hug and kiss to celebrate the New Year and Ukraine’s Christmas which seems to be celebrated on many days including December 31st. We have already had our 3rd Christmas celebration at the Orphanage! I am very tired. I have a toothache now to add to my cold! I’m so fed up being sick! Took a Naproxen and off to bed. When I wake up it will be 2017! …………….  Lord, Only You know what this year ahead will hold for us. You are so faithful and will continue to be so. Continue to guide and direct us Jesus!’ …end of Journal entry and End of 2016.

# 9 : Immigration Medicals and So Much More!

We spent many days in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi as we got to know our children better and waited on the Court appointment that would legally make these beautiful and precious children ours.

The children love Bananas! They are such a treat for them!

Day 11 Sunday December 11th 2016. From my journal : We probably had the best visit today since meeting the children. We played outside with them and the kids really enjoyed it. Lots of running around with their friends too! We are leaving for Kyiv tonight after midnight for Immigration Medical appointments tomorrow morning.

Day 12 Monday December 12th 2016: From my journal: Today I question my ability to do this! We left the Fiesta Hotel in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi at 0015 this morning with a driver we had never met. Rob and I stood on the sidewalk outside the hotel. It was dark: there are no street lights. We waited, as we thought, for Yura our regular driver. When he didn’t appear, we looked down the street and saw another van sitting at the sidewalk. We walked over and sure enough it was our driver. He was very nice but didn’t speak any English. I asked him in Russian if he was taking us to the orphanage. He answered with vigorous nodding of his head and saying over and over ‘Da, da malen’kiye’.Which is Russian for ‘Yes, yes, the little children.’

I joked with Rob that the longer I stay here, the more I feel like an extra in ‘The Bourne Identity’. All the getting into strange vehicles in Eastern Europe with people we don’t know and being whisked away in the middle of the night to who knows where. We sped in the dark, over roads full of potholes to the Orphanage to pick up the children.

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Just outside where we were staying where we got the taxi to take us to Kyiv

At the Orphanage, the children were anxiously waiting with a female worker who was to accompany us too. The van is large with 4 rows of seats. I sit in the very back with Niamh, Rob is in front of me with the boys. The next seat has bags and other belongings on it and the driver and worker are in the front. The only English speakers are Rob and myself. The female worker is cheerful, talks lots, and makes lots of positive gestures to us.

No one worries too much about germs here I see, as she opens a container of water and fills an enamel cup that she takes from her bag. Then she takes a drink and passes the cup to the driver and he drinks and passes it back to us. Rob politely declines (knowing him, I can just imagine what is going through his mind). Rob passes the cup to the boys first and then to me to give Niamh a drink. I drink from the communal cup after her so if there are any germs I get them all as I am the last to drink after everyone else.

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A cold and foggy Kyiv where we had to go for Immigration Medicals for the children

We arrive to a foggy, cold Kyiv at 0630 am in the morning of the 13th. It’s too early to meet Inna and we wait in the van until 08:00 am. This is not an easy task with little children. Eight am is when we are to meet Inna. A well slept and extremely cheerful Inna arrives at last and we all go in. After a trip to the toilet, the children pile their plates high with food and I am thankful they are able to eat everything they have taken. I am a little upset that they don’t know how to sit quietly but no one including the worker and Inna, who are enjoying visiting, seem to care that they are running around all over the restaurant. The children are not paying any attention to either Rob or myself.

The appointment at the Immigration Medical Clinic was without doubt, the worst medical appointment that I have ever been to! I have never experienced so much disorganization in a medical facility. We were stopped inside the door by a security man who was the television stereotype of an ex KGB officer! This thought is quite possibly related to my previous one regarding the movie I mentioned earlier. Dark gray expensive suit, black crew neck shirt, pointy dark leather shoes and a buzz cut! He ordered us, not asked us (through Inna, in Russian) to leave our coats downstairs. Then we had to walk upstairs again to register.

The place was very crowded and the corridors just crammed full of people. Declan had drank so much water on route throughout the night, that he constantly needed to pee. A cleaner would not let us use the toilet on the floor we were on so we had to keep taking him to the toilet on the floor below. Then we would lose our seats as others would take them and we would end up having to stand. Finally after urine tests on the three children that took us all to the bottom floor once again (Declan had no trouble with this) and a chest x-ray on Niamh on the main floor, all that remained was to be seen by the doctor. Rob’s wallet was now $750.00 USD, (about $1000 Canadian), lighter before we climbed the stairs to see the doctor on the top floor. It was by now late evening.

The doctor examined the children one at a time but what amazed me was the fact that people kept opening the door and coming into the exam room from waiting in the hallway to ask questions of the doctor and no one seemed to mind. If that was at home, they would be ordered out as the doctor was already seeing a patient in a state of undress.

The doctor was older, female and very abrupt in her manner. She sounded like she was barking orders in Russian at everyone including the children. The children were visibly nervous. One form from the Canadian Embassy had an error in Niamh’s date of birth and that caused a bit of a kerfuffle so Inna had to email the Embassy to have a corrected one sent over.

    The Streets of Kyiv, showing one of the entrances to The Metrograd, Kyiv’s underground shopping mall.

Finally it was over and we left the clinic. So glad that these medicals are completed. This was exhausting! The doctor didn’t tell me anything I think I didn’t already know. She asked the older two children lots of questions about their past before the orphanage. The answers they gave her, from what they could remember, were about the only things that I hadn’t already heard about their pasts from Yana and Inna. No blood work was done so this part of things still remains an unknown. I can’t help but feel that this has all been a huge waste of time and money.

We stopped again to eat supper at the resturaunt we were at this morning. The orphanage worker, the driver, Inna, the three children and Rob and myself. I cringed when I saw the worker pile the children’s plates high with food that I knew they would never eat. No one was listening to me as she kept on smiling and nodding and ignoring my feeble protests. At the end, Rob was expected to pay for it all and for me that was the final straw. As I expected, the children were exhausted and could barely eat anything. Any of the food that could be taken away, was packed into paper bags by the worker for the journey home. A lot couldn’t be packed, and the soups, dips and salads had to be discarded. As long as what was taken gets eaten, I guess I just have a problem with waste.

Leaving the city in the dark again that evening, I just sat in the back seat of the van and cried and cried. Conor seemed to sense my mood and climbed into the back seat with me and just held onto me really tightly. He fell asleep like this, with our arms wrapped  around each other. Rob and I had been awake now for close on 37 hours! On the journey back, the worker gave Niamh her cell phone to play around with and Niamh proudly shows me pictures of herself that she has posted on some social media site. They are awful! They sensualize her in a way that is totally inappropriate for a 12-year-old girl. I feel so helpless! Why can’t I make them understand my heart? My tears flow unabated.

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Kyiv

During my tearful ride back to Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi, God continued to break down the remaining hard places in my heart, my selfishness, my pride, my own strength and  abilities, my pride in my beautiful home, not that I’m not supposed to have a nice home but that I use it for Him. ‘Grace has already won the war’. These children don’t know anything about Jesus, about who He is or how much He loves them.

Suddenly I feel like my life is like this little brick hut with a shingle roof and God started to pull off those shingles, one at a time and flick them away. I could see His hands as He removed them. Then the wind caught them and they were gone. The shingles are all the negatives in my life. ‘The seduction of comfort’ was a phrase that kept coming to my mind. One shingle represented pride, and the next one selfishness and so on until they were all gone and all that remained was me bowing in total submission before Him. I was now completely vulnerable before Him. ‘Grace has already won the war’.

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One of the staircases in the Orphanage. Decorated for Christmas

After we dropped off the children and the worker, the driver took us back to the hotel. Rob gave me a Tylenol Cold and Flu pill with a glass of red wine on our return to our room to help me sleep, but by then I was already cried out and totally exhausted and I had a sore throat. I continue to be blessed by such a Godly husband. He knows me very well. He has wisdom beyond himself…..end of journal entry…..

Day 13. Tuesday December 13th 2016. From my journal:  10:40 am. I slept! Today is a new day! I still feel very fragile. I miss home and I miss my family. I still feel that I have bitten off more than I can chew for right now but today as Rob and I prayed, he helped me realize that I have poured my heart into this for over a year and it’s catching up to me now, plus I’m physically exhausted and I have yet another bad cold which doesn’t help. Rob prayed against the spiritual darkness here, the star signs and astrology that seem so important to people. In the restaurant last evening, the worker, through Inna interpreting, got all excited when she heard my birthday was in July. Her’s is too and her star sign is the same she told me. She shook my hand and was even more friendly after hearing that.

Today we are not going to the orphanage at 11:00 but at 4:00 pm. This was arranged yesterday morning. I’m still ‘emotionally incontinent’ today. I still cry at the drop of a hat. I’m still broken and vulnerable. I’m scared that Niamh, Conor and Declan won’t love me. That I won’t be able to love them like I want to and I should. Rob reminds me that love is a choice. The feelings will come! He tells me I need to stop beating myself up.

On the streets in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi

Today was a whirlwind of emotions. I was crying this morning as were out walking and Rob asked me what was bothering me. I told him I missed our kids back home. Some of my ’emotional incontinence’ continues. My throat continues to be painful. We sent a blanket text to our kids in Canada tonight. David, Teneille, Jody and Peter responded right away. The others later as they could. I miss them all so much…..end of journal entry….

Day 14. Wednesday December 14th 2016. From my journal…Just got back from the orphanage after playing with Declan. He is so smart! We were teaching him the colors in English and he was able to repeat them. He even remembered how to say ‘yellow‘ when he put the pieces back in the box! Today is a far better day! We both had a good sleep last night. We prayed on the walk to the orphanage. The day before we were both so close to throwing in the towel and heading home! We both need to give ourselves time and permission to love these children. I am so glad I got to text our adult children back at home and got replies back from them. Rob and I prayed that we would see our children here through the eyes of Jesus today.

We are back from our evening visit and that went much better too. Way better than I had hoped for. Niamh really seems to want to spend time with Rob and I. She is so intelligent! We went through the photo book and named all the family members so the children would become familiar with their adult siblings. She tried to remember the names of everyone! The pronunciation is difficult for them as their mother tongue is Russian and many of the sounds in English are not there in Russian. I feel so much more hopeful today about this.

This is the little coffee shop where we had breakfast each morning on our 3 mile walk to the Orphanage. Usually a ham and cheese roll, heated to melt the cheese, a bag of chips to share and a coffee and bottle of water each. The tap water here is not safe to drink and we had no way of making anything to eat where we stayed, not even coffee.

Today was the ‘Day of bad meals’ here. No coffee (we could have had beer, but didn’t) in the little coffee shop where we usually stop at for breakfast on the way to the Orphanage, and only cold rolls this am as the girl working there today didn’t know how to heat up the ham and cheese rolls we usually order. Tough, tasteless and stringy rabbit this evening, I am thankful for Rob. He bought me a bag of chips and a banana!

The documents for our adoption will be at the lawyers either today or tomorrow. The kids really seem to want to come to Canada. Niamh really brightened when Papa told her she would soon be baking cookies with Mama. Conor stated that he would be helping Papa cut down trees and split wood! He flexed his arm and showed us his ‘muscles‘. We shall see!….end of journal entry….

# 8 : Tyras, MauroKastron, Akkerman, Belgorod-Dnestrovkiy, Bilhorod-Dnistrovs’kyi

No, this is not the itinerary for a tour of the Odessa Oblast, along the Black Sea.  These are actually the more common names given to Bilhorod-Dnistrov’skyi (Ukrainian for the ‘White city on the Dniester’) where our children were living in an Orphanage. It was first called Tyras since it was first established in the 6th century BC by the Greeks. It has been continuously occupied since that time though the ruins of Tyras are barely visible below Akkerman fortress. This historic centre would be our home until January 25th 2017,  Twelve days after I was scheduled to start my new position in Primary Health Care with Southern Health.

The Fortress of Akkerman and ancient historic site, we made several visits.  The top photo shows the estuary in mid January after freeze up.  The lower photos show the estuary in the first week of December.

On the 9th December 2016, the night after we first met the children, Yana requested that we join her for supper in the Fiesta restaurant. The day had been full and incredibly rewarding. It felt like we literally were walking in the clouds and a celebration supper sounded like it would be appropriate. As the supper came to an end, Yana mentioned something about catching the train from Odessa and returning to Kyiv in the morning. I was a little puzzled and finally found the courage to seek clarification, “What do mean a ticket back to Kyiv?” I asked  “we just got here” Yana smiled at my ignorance. “Oh, not you and Sharon,” she said, “You are staying here. But I need to return to Kyiv.”

“What!” My heart sank and I looked at Sharon and she was looking back with an equal amount surprise or shall I say horror. “You’re not staying here with us?” I managed, “We don’t speak enough Russian or Ukrainian to be here alone and we don’t know anyone else here.” “Your driver will be available for you and you can always call me,” Yana replied, sounding like it was all sorted.  Wow, I surely hadn’t expected or understood that we would be abandoned here by our facilitator, at least that is how it felt. Wow, Lord we will surely need you now! As I had time to ponder the situation, we could not have expected her to stay while we simply got acquainted with our children, nor could we have afforded it.

Filled with eager anticipation and a little uneasiness we made our first solo trek to the orphanage from the Fiesta Hotel. The morning was fresh but extremely mild compared to anything I had ever experienced in early December. Bilhorod still had not received any snow!  We chatted nonstop as we casually retraced the streets traveled by our driver the day before. I have always prided myself in having a very good sense of direction even in unfamiliar surroundings and, over the years Sharon has grown to rely on it. On this, our first morning trek from the Fiesta Hotel to the orphanage . . . I got us hopelessly and totally lost! It was my day for eating humble pie on that morning of December 9th.  I ended up guiding Sharon 6 or 7 city blocks, right past the orphanage and was completely disoriented. So much for assuring our driver we were able to walk to the orphanage for our morning visit.  A phone call of desperation went out to Yana. She got a hold of Yura and somehow they understood where we were. Yura found us, and delivered us to the orphanage about 20 minutes late for that first day.  I was very concerned as to what this would communicate to the staff and little Mykola soon to be Declan.  IT NEVER HAPPENED AGAIN!

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Heading to the Orphanage for our first morning visit with Declan. We walked about another 4 blocks before I realized this was not right. When I took this photo we were already about 1/2 a block past the Orphanage!

Our days developed a routine: breakfast at a coffee shop, heated ham and cheese on a bun, 1 Americano coffee; black, and 1 Americano coffee with 1 milk. Then continue to the orphanage and occasionally stop at Bilhorod’s version of Home Depot (Home Goods Store, Metra) to snoop!

Then on to Bilhorod’s version of Real Canadian Super Store (Tavriav) to pick up some healthy treats for the children.  Initially it was a guessing game, not knowing what they would like or not like.  Fruit was very popular. Banana’s, apples, oranges were the favorites, with a juice box and occasional chocolate chip cookie. We easily averaged 6-7 km of walking a day, as from the Fiesta hotel to the orphanage was a full 2+ kilometers one way!

I remember being very cautious on our first arrivals as we attempted to become oriented with the orphanage and acquainted with the staff.  It was no time until the moment the

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Orphanage children catching a glimpse of us and momentarily off and running to announce mama and papa are here!

orphanage children caught sight of us that we were greeted with smiles, hugs and chattered to in Russian, and then with a few hand gestures off they would run, excitedly calling to our children that their “Papa” and “Mama” were here.

While the weather was relatively mild our visits were spent outdoors . . . and did I ever get a physical work out! I am not sure how Sharon was nearly always exempt but as soon as some initial food had been consumed play began: tag, hide and seek, rides on a merry-go-round, pushes on the swing. I do not remember a single visit that I did not break into a sweat from rigorous play.  Communication was a challenge as iTranslate would not work for us at the Orphanage as we didn’t have wi-fi access and most the time were out of range of the group rooms with wi-fi.

Examples of the Orphanage antics with Papa

By December 10th we had discovered the “Open Market” with its vast selection of produce, fresh meats – goat, unlimited fish, textiles, hardware, virtually everything that you could imagine. Morning shopping at Tavriav and then down to the “Open Market” for lunch treats for the next day for the children. We found that the market had a much better selection of fresh fruit and healthy treats. Tavriav was where we purchased cookies, juice boxes and toilet paper (which always had to be carried as none was provided anywhere!). The “Open Market” became a genuine reprieve for the long afternoons, even with our limited Russian, the bartering was fun and the shop keepers enjoyed the interaction.

The central market of Bilhorod.  Each vendor was allotted not more than 10′ X 10′ space to market their wares!

After only a few days in the Ukraine I realized that I was going to have some problems with my bionics . . . hearing aids. I had brought enough batteries for about 10 weeks which was far more than I should have needed, but as soon as we arrived in Kyiv I was going through a set of batteries every 3-4 days compared with 8-10 days at home. Not sure why? Initially I had hoped it was just faulty batteries and that the next set would be better, but not so.  Sharon and I began to make battery hunting a priority in our afternoon market walks. Several days passed with no sign of those pathetic little things anywhere. We tried asking with iTranslate in variety of shops but would get a blank look and shake of the head. Batteries were added to our daily prayer list!
On one of afternoon trips to the “Open Market” we walked to the northwest limit of the market and along Izmail’ska Street. We rounded the corner and headed southeast down Moskovska Street. It was a sunny but very chilly day. We walked past a shop selling computers. I said to Sharon that I wondered if they would have batteries . . . like most computer shops in Canada carry hearing aid batteries right . . . NOT.  I have no idea other than the Lord was prompting and leading. We cautiously stepped in. The shop was dimly lit and as our eyes adjusted, we saw it would not have been more than 8′ X 16′. One wall was lined with computer monitors and behind the door that we entered was a desk with a man in his late thirties maybe early forties. I tried iTranslate, then showed the shop keeper one of my batteries. He asked me in English what it was for . . .  can you imagine the excitement we felt … We had just met Vitali, the first of three English speakers we would  encounter during our stay in Bilhorod Dnistrovskyi!  That alone was an answer to prayer and a rich source of encouragement.  He quickly turned to a younger man at the far end of the shop who could not have been much more than out of high school.  I had originally mistaken him for another potential customer.  The shop keeper gave some instructions and turned to Sharon and I. “Come with me.” Just as we were about to leave another customer entered with a question. He briefly listened then directed him to the younger man and we left the building together.

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Mukolayivska Street in front of the open market. Can you see the babe in the centre of the photo who I was paparazzi-ing?

Initially I was thrilled, as he led us down a narrow alley back into the “Open Market.” He was talking and walking rapidly. We learned that he had a sister in Toronto, that he was from Bulgaria and hoping to one day get to Canada himself. His visa application had always been denied so far.  Conversation dwindled as we walked down the narrow walkways between the shops and I started questioning the wisdom of following this perfect stranger at such a fast pace into this congested area.  Sharon and I had walked these narrow allies many times ourselves. But now I had visions of being taken into some shop and being robbed . . . . given the security warnings both Yana and Inna had given us.  Suddenly he stopped at what appeared to be a mini “Radio Shack” booth or so it appeared by the products on display. Our guide handed my battery to the shop keeper and turned to me, asking how many did I want.  Unbelievable! I don’t remember how many I purchased at that time but I was so thankful.  I offered to pay our new friend for his trouble but he would not hear of it, pushing the notes I offered back at me.  He shook our hands and wished us the very best and hurried back to his shop. I was so touched that tears filled my eyes . . . he gave up about 30-45 minutes of his time to a perfect stranger and maybe even lost a sale in his absence. Who in Canada would do the same? God is good and faithful. Because of our extended stay in Bilhorod-Dnistrov’skyi, I visited this booth several more times.  Needless to say the shop keeper was reaching for batteries as soon as he saw me! The strange thing about this encounter was that Sharon and I had actually passed this electronic booth multiple times before being escorted there but it was one that we had never thought to ask about batteries. The day we found the batteries was actually Christmas Day!  What a gift!

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Christmas Tree in the city park across the street from the Fiesta Hotel.

# 7 : Meeting the Children!

The entry from my Journal December 8th 2016 at 7 pm.

Only today we arrived in Odessa. We traveled all night, through the snow to a bright and sunny morning! No snow, but frosty and clear. Our driver took us from the train station to the town of Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. I had never heard of this place until a couple of days ago. For now it was the home of our new family! Rob looked it up on the internet when we had wifi and found out that apparently it’s a very old city and was also called Akkerman in years gone by. It’s a port city on the banks of the Dniester Liman River leading to the Black Sea and an hour and a half south and then west of Odessa. It dates from the 6th century where a settlement named Tyras was founded. This later became Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi.

On arrival, we saw the ‘older child’ orphanage first as we had to drop off a boy and his worker there who had been on the same train as us and were returning from a medical appointment in Kyiv. There are two orphanages in this town. A ‘baby orphanage’ and a ‘older child orphanage’ we learn.

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Glimpses of the Black Sea as we drive.

Last night on the train I couldn’t sleep for ages and I felt unsettled about all that is happening so fast so I recited the 23rd Psalm from memory. Never before did I realize how the Psalmist must have felt! ‘You lead me in green, gentle pastures, You walk with me beside calm waters. You restore my soul. You make me a delicious meal right in front of my enemies. I am so blessed by You that I can hardly hold it in!, Your love to me and Your undeserved kindness to me will be with me every day until I die. I will live with You forever Lord. I know this is not any translation that I know but this is what I said.

After Yana found us a place to stay, we met the Director of Children’s Services at 2:30 pm and then she came with us to the Orphanage to meet our children.

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The Office of Children’s Services in Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi. Odessa Oblast Region.

Our first glimpses of the Orphanage is that it’s very old, and somewhat run-down and ‘worn’. Ridge tiles are missing from the roof. The glass in the windows have cracks and the concrete path leading to the front door is cracked and broken. The whole place looks like it needs some major TLC. It looks dirty. Yana rang the door bell and we waited. The door was opened and we were shown into a tiled entryway with many little pairs of boots all lined up neatly on a rack.

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View through the fence of the Orphanage where our children were living.

We met the Orphanage Director, then sat with her in her office, along with the Director of Children’s Services and Yana, our translator. There we were asked even more questions, translated for us by Yana and then the Orphanage Director opened the door and called in the children.

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The playground where our children would play.

What amazingly beautiful children! The littlest one is only 5. He’s adorable!. He immediately climbed up on my knee and called me ‘Mama’. The other boy is 10. He seems quiet and mature with dark eyes. The director is a strong woman but she seems fair. The children respect her but I think they might love her too. She is gentle with them. She talked to them and asked them if they wanted to be adopted by us and live in Canada. They all responded ‘Yes’! with nods of their heads too. Niamh said she wanted to go today- right away- and was visibly disappointed when she was told that it wouldn’t be for few weeks yet. She likes to take pictures and enjoyed holding my camera. The littlest one cried ‘Wow’ when he saw the toy car we had brought him. They all got a stuffed toy too. Declan chose the dog, Niamh the bear with the white sweater and Conor the fluffy bear.

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First Meeting with our Children at the Orphanage

First Hugs! Niamh took these Pictures with my Camera

We are invited by the Orphanage Director to visit the Orphanage again tomorrow at 11:00 am to play with Declan for 1.5 hours and then come back from 4:00-6:00 pm to see all three of them together. The Orphanage Director told us, through Yana, that Conor will be staying at this orphanage while we are here. This is to make visiting easier so we can see all the children together. He currently lives at a different orphanage from his sister and little bother. It must be difficult for siblings to be separated like this. ‘Lord, You are so faithful! Make us worthy of these three precious children that You have given Rob and I. Protect them from anything raised against them by Your blood Jesus’! dsc_0629 (1)

The boys look more Mediterranean than Eastern European, with beautiful dark eyes, something I wasn’t expecting. For some reason I thought they would all be blond like the girl in my vision. We all experienced a funny moment when the 10-year-old asked the Director of the Orphanage something, she said it to Yana and Yana said ‘They want to call your parents’. Rob and I looked at each other. ‘Our parents? I asked ‘Why?‘ ‘My mother lives in Ireland and Rob’s parents are in Alberta in Canada?’. Everyone looked puzzled for a moment and then they started to laugh. ‘No‘ Yana went on, ‘The children want to know if they can call you their parents?’ Wow! We had just met these children like 5 minutes ago and already they want to trust us!

end of journal entry…

Journal Entry for Friday December 9th 2016

We went to visit Declan in the orphanage this morning by himself from 11-12:30. Initially we sat with him for a few minutes in the Director’s office and then she had a worker show us down a corridor and into a bedroom with two little beds and a small table. We thought this was his bedroom but find out it’s not, that he sleeps in a group room upstairs with about 20 other children. This is where they put the children who are sick. He has a cold.

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Declan and Dad doing puzzles

On the way to the orphanage this morning, we stopped at a store and bought some puzzles for him to put together. They really are obsessed by security here! At the store, Rob was made put his backpack into a locker. They wanted to take my camera bag too but I refused to give it to the store security man as I have our passports and all our documents in there. Finally when he saw I wasn’t going to budge on this, he let me in thought he did follow me around the store. Rob teased me as he always does ‘Don’t mess with an Irish lady!’

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The first store we went into to buy jigsaw puzzles for Declan

Declan is a very clever little boy! He can put puzzles together very quickly. He seems smart for his age. Thankful! So glad we bought these for him!.

One thing I did notice though. Every time I went to take his picture, he would jump up out of his seat and stand up straight with his arms by his sides and he wouldn’t smile. In fact the only time he smiled was when we were holding him. He is such a beautiful and precious little boy!

At 12:30 the workers rang the bell calling the children for lunch and we left, walking all the 3 miles back to the Fiesta. We met up with Yana who took us in the car with Yura, to the Notary to sign more papers and then we were back to the orphanage again by 4:00 to see all the children together. They all seemed much more relaxed than yesterday. I guess we are too. The children really seemed to have enjoyed the visit. We played some games and looked at the picture book. The don’t speak a word of English so we were thankful Yana was still with us for a few minutes. My Russian is basic and not at all enough to have a meaningful conversation with them. Yana spent the remainder of the visit with the office staff while we were with the children…..end of journal entry…..

Playing with, and getting to know our children!

Day 10. Saturday December 10th 2016.  From my Journal: Today Rob and I got our first glimpse of what it will be like parenting these children. We got to the orphanage just before 11:00 am. All the children seemed pleased to see us. Declan immediately tested our limits by going on the trampoline in the big room where we meet with the children. The workers had told us earlier that no one is allowed on the trampoline so I told him that in Russian and took him off. He wasn’t happy. He huffed, pouted and complained. Funny how complaining sounds the same in any language! He wouldn’t talk to us. In fact he refused to look at us, even when we packed up our bags and left. We were a little concerned but expected this sooner or later. Just had hoped it would be later as it’s only been two days since we met him.

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Niamh looking ‘Angelic’. Today we find out otherwise 🙂

Niamh also decided today was a good day to test us out too. Somewhere she had got hold of a firecracker and she let it off like a gunshot out of the orphanage window. We thought the staff might think we had something to do with this and tell us to leave. This is not what I want them to think of us as prospective parents and it is not acceptable behavior: she just thought it was funny and laughed!. Rob had her and Conor sit with him while he explained the orphanage rules for when we are visiting. Don’t know how much they understood. It was very discouraging! Rob and I spent some time in prayer alone about this after we left. We have so much to learn as parents to these children. They are good kids but have just been hurt by so many people in their past. Guess they don’t trust easy and they want to see what we are made of.

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Playing with and getting to know the children.

We walked back to town and wandered through the markets and then walked down to the old Fortress of Akkerman. So much history and it is such a beautiful day! The fortress dates back to the 6th century. Also saw the Ruins of Tyras beside the fortress. We need breaks this this to help us recharge our emotional reserves.

Then back to the hotel to meet our driver who took us to the orphanage for 4:00 pm. This evening was a totally different visit! Declan came running to meet us with his arms out calling ‘Papa’ “Mama’. He spent so much time just connecting tonight and wanted us to spend time with him. Tonight Conor was the challenge! Way too much energy in that kid and nowhere to expend it! He was totally wild! This is not going to be an easy road!

This evening Niamh introduced us to her best friend at the orphanage. This was important for her to be able to do this, and for us to include her friends in our visit. We didn’t mind at all. The workers came and tried to take her away but we told them it was fine, she could stay. We want to get to know our children’s friends too. They are her ‘family’ and because of that, ours too.

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‘Family’

Tomorrow night we leave for Kyiv by car for Immigration medical appointments for the children….end of journal entry….