That night, I wanted to cry. I walked back from the communal shower room smelling of sulfur and soap scum. Too drained to care that I was getting into a 1 ½ ft wide cot, I pulled up the thin covers as far as they would go. I put in my iPod, tuning out my five roommates. I journaled. “Making expectations for this trip was a mistake- This place has broken every one of them.” The memories of getting to the airport earlier that day seemed so far away. The truth is, they were. 6,284 miles away, to be exact. My destroyed sense of time confused my memories of the 12 and two hour plane rides, literally running through the airport in Munich with 24 other kids, and the bus ride from Kiev to Bucha, Ukraine.
I had found out only a few months before that I would be headed to an orphanage in late March for a Missions trip half way across the world. All I knew were the rumors of Ukrainian food (the aptly named “fatty sausage”) and that I would be spending a week down the hall from 15 attention-starved Ukrainian children. Kids of all ages resided at this orphanage, which was attached to a public high school. Our tasks for the week included buying at handing out new shoes for the kids, speaking in the school’s English classes, and showing the kids love by simply being with them.
By the time I woke up the next morning, the slightest level of comfort began to sink in. I was here for a reason. I had a purpose, my friends around me, and my time to give. After brushing my teeth with a two-gallon water bottle (water’s not safe, and trust me. It’s not as easy as it sounds,) I walked down to the orphanage cafeteria. I conquered my first Ukrainian meal… with the help of a few others. Our group leader let it be known that the food we had every day was a special occasion for the kids staying at the orphanage- to leave food on the plate was an insult we Americans were not familiar with. Nonetheless, they boys of the group played their part and finished what they could of the pink, round sausages and lukewarm mashed potatoes.
Walking anywhere in the orphanage, a grin could be expected from a little boy half my height; or an unexpected hug from a little girl with curly hair. By the second day, the inner athletes in all of us dragged us outside for a little game of “football”, only to have our butts kicked from the teenagers. Friendships were formed. Nicknames made. Crude sign language became the primary source of communication, especially when our translators weren’t around. Singing with guitars was a close second; we quickly learned the truth of music as a common language. When we weren’t getting our butts kicked in sports, we experienced first hand the culture of Eastern Europe. Their economy had inflated their currency- for one dollar, I could buy an entire dinner… or a freshly baked loaf of bread, a jar of Nutella, and a carton of grape juice, I quickly learned. When it came to sharing with the kids, Ukrainian candy held no interest. It was all about “special” American candy we thought nothing of and had brough gallons of.
I would strongly encourage ANYONE with an opportunity to go on an out of country mission trip to take advantage of it. If carefully researched, it can be a life changing and completely surreal experience never to be forgotten. This trip was just as beneficial to the orphans as it was to the visiting Americans, who gained priceless experiences.
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