His blanket is still bunched up on the floor where he left it.
The children’s Bible is open to the last story that we read together. There are fruit-snack wrappers squirreled away under his bed; a stray blue flip-flop rests on the porch– it has been there for days. Under his bed there are little matchbox cars, and a tin full of pennies and rocks. There’s a shirt in the laundry basket that never made it into his suitcase; a dinosaur robot that somehow got lost in the shed. His soccer ball is hiding in the bushes, but I can see it from the kitchen window.
I don’t think I expected these little things to mean anything to me, but somehow they do. They’re the traces of Vovchik that he has left for us to find. As if in leaving us he wanted us to remember him.
Vovchik came into our lives on a crisp winter night, and left on a balmy summer day. I still remember the stack of photographs on the kitchen table that night, my fingers distractedly flipping through them. It didn’t really matter which one we chose; we’d pray for any boy or girl that needed it. But something about his dark eyes drew us back to him.
“We’ll pray for this one,” we said. And we took his picture, never imagining that in a few short months this little boy with the cuts on his cheek would come to spend his summer with us. Sometimes we’d talk about him, wondering if the little cuts and bruises on his face were signs that he was an abused child, or whether he was simply a troublemaker (neither, we’d come to find out: he was just your average, clumsy ten year old boy).
Every night, we’d pray for a home—for a family—for him. Never imagining that he would come home to us later that summer. Never dreaming that we would be the ones to apply band-aids to his cuts, or kisses to his cheeks.
Vova spent two months with us. Two months of swimming and running and biking (all to be repeated each and every day). He sat between us in church, unsure of when to stand, sit or kneel, but finally getting the hang of it before it was time for him to leave. He tried pizza for the first time (not a fan, we discovered), and Chinese food. We let him grow out his closely cropped hair, and taught him how to scratch Kissa the cat behind the ears. At night, we’d sit on the couch with the children’s Bible between us, examining the pictures and telling him about Jesus, Moses, Lazarus, and Mary. The house felt different with him there, smaller and warmer and full of the energy that only a child can bring into a family.
“I don’t want to get up,” he told me on one of his last mornings with us, still in bed, the covers pulled up to his chin. “I’m going to leave soon, and I don’t want to go.” He’d never been so open about his feelings before. I sat down on the edge of the bed, unsure of what to say. Feeling the lump in my throat but trying hard to smile; trying hard to chase away his tears as well as my own.
This was perhaps the hardest part—saying goodbye to Vovchik and being unable to tell him what he so wanted to hear: that he could stay, that we would be his forever family. But God has other plans, and while we were praying for a family for Vova, steps were already beginning to be made to secure a new home for him.
We loved having Vova stay with us. But more importantly, we loved the fact that God was able to use us to show love to him. The goodbyes are never easy, and sending a child out of the safety of your home and back into the unknown can be terrifying… but knowing that for one summer a child was loved, cared for, and attended to, gives me great hope. As more families open their hearts and their homes to these little ones, the more I see God’s hands sifting through the moments of our lives. I’m not sure what sort of summer we would have had if Vova had not come into our lives. I’m not sure what sort of summer he would have had. But God took three people, and joined their lives for two months. In fact, I’m sure this will not be the last time our paths will cross.
Orphans were never part of God’s perfect plan—that’s the world’s fallen nature coming into play. But God can take the saddest, most cruel aspect of life on earth and use it for His glory. And I firmly believe that God can and will use us to bring His glory to the lost of the world. But we have to be willing to do the hard, the heartbreaking, and the downright difficult.
Vova’s photograph still hangs on our fridge. It’s a different photo from the one that we obtained that winter night. In this one he’s smiling. There are no cuts, no bruises on his cheeks. In this picture he’s just your average, clumsy ten year old boy with a cute crooked tooth. In this picture he’s not just an orphan from a distant country, but a boy with likes and dislikes, hopes, dreams, and a single desire: to be welcomed into a family that he can call his own. We’re not sure if Vova will eventually be adopted, we can only pray… but we do know one thing: that over this past summer, Vovchik had the chance to meet members of God’s family. And we hope and pray that someday, he too will join that family.
(If you are interested in learning more about orphan hosting, please contact Irina St.Ours at email@example.com, or Lena at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit Circle of Friends.)