Yesterday someone anonymously donated the cost of Emerson's airfare to us. Once again I am humbled by the generosity that has been shown to us by family, friends and strangers. "Thank you" seems so frail, so empty an expression of the overwhelming gratitude that has followed us on this journey.
There are many other anonymous ones in this world. We are very fortunate. Our daughter is being cared for by people that love her, watched over by a woman who surely must be an angel undercover ... but not all children in this world are so lucky. So many of them live anonymously, die anonymously; the saddest part is that they don't have to. To echo Julie's post, think deeply on the plight of this world's orphans, think what gifts you keep that you can share with them - a thought, a prayer, a word, a dollar, a home. We all have something to give and most importantly, like our nameless donor, while many of these children may be unknown, they need not remain unacknowledged.
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On the third day in Puhachiv, the mission team was able to travel to the village cemetery. As we piled into the orphanage’s ambulance car and waited to leave, I didn’t feel anything out of the ordinary. In the past, I have been to many cemeteries, funerals and panakhidas with my father, and it just seemed that this would be like any other visit I’ve made with my dad.
Well, I was wrong. This was unlike any experience I’ve ever had with my dad by my side.
When we arrived at the cemetery, I realized that it had a different feel to it. The cemetery was in the middle of the forest, so the trees surrounding us made it feel as if we were in a building. The tombstones themselves were different, as Bishop Daniel had explained earlier on the trip. Bishop Daniel had pointed out the Soviet influence on the tombstone’s design: A characteristic cutout shape, a simple plaque bearing the name of the deceased and no display of crosses.
After entering the cemetery grounds through a small wooden gate, we walked to the section of the cemetery where children from the orphanage are buried. I found that there weren’t as many graves in this section as I had expected.
Then, Bishop Daniel began the panakhyda for the departed children buried there. As our humble group of young adults sang the responses for the service, I attentively listened to the words we were saying, as if I was hearing them for the first time. These responses that I have sung at home, alongside my dad, seemed to take on a different meaning. Here I was in a foreign country without my father or mother, and I was singing for these children who did not have a father or mother present in their lives or at their funerals. These children did not have a father or mother to take care of them, love them, sing to them, or even cry for them when they were called to be with our Lord.
After the service, Bishop Daniel asked that we spend a few moments in prayer for the children that we have never met. As I walked between the tombstones of children who rarely reached 10 or 15 years of age, I noticed that the graves were not well kept. There were weeds and grasses growing over the area, and this small thing made me realize, again, how these children didn’t have a father or mother there to care for them.
This simple thing made me think about how my mother takes care of our garden at home. She may be busy carrying in groceries from the store with her hands full, yet she will stop for a minute to pull out a few weeds from the flowerbeds. I found this a simple concept, but at the same time a difficult idea to grasp that my mother can put such love into small and seemingly insignificant things, such as flowers, when there are people out in the world who do not put similar love and care into something as extremely important as a child of God. So upon seeing these unkempt graves with grasses and weeds growing all over, it reinforced the realization that these children have left this world without having received a love similar to that which the flowers in our garden have received from my mother.
For whatever reason, though I may not understand it, these children’s parents are not present in their lives. As a result, I feel that it has become my duty to fill in the missing pieces of this puzzle and not just share, but give all my love to these beautiful children. So as I stood there, for those few moments, doing as Bishop Daniel had asked us, and connecting with children that I never had met, I knelt down and began to pull out those weeds. The more weeds that I pulled out, the more that I wanted to rid the grave sites of the brush covering up these innocent children. I wanted to remove all the weeds and grasses that were covering them up and hiding them away. With each tug and pull of the weeds, the tears in my eyes would stream out more, so I tried to wipe them away and continue weeding. I was unsuccessful in wiping the tears off my face because in attempting to wipe them away, I felt that I was wiping the kids away, so I just let the tears come out. I needed to cry.
As I stood there, in the cemetery of Puhachiv, I prayed, I weeded and I cried as I thought about the children. The thing is, there was this one thought that kept coming back to me, and it was that these children had been alone. Maybe they were in a room with 20 other girls each day—sitting, eating, and sleeping together—but they were still left, in some ways, very alone, so I stood there and cried. Fr. Stephen came over to console me; then, Bishop Daniel tried. Eventually, I finished my weeding. I pulled weeds out of a few of the grave sites, but I also pulled out of myself emotions that I never had experienced. I was then surprised to find that everyone on the mission team had been patiently waiting for me in the ambulance, and I had been standing there in the cemetery for a long time. I had been standing there weeding, loving, crying and praying.
I prayed for those children that I never had met, and I began to pour out my love to them, hoping and praying that they are with the Lord. For if these children are with our Lord, they are being filled with the love that He gives all of us, and it is this love from God that we are called to share with these children, even though they probably give more to us in return.I pray that you keep these children in your prayers, in your thoughts, and in your hearts because there isn’t a day that goes by where they aren’t in mine.
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