This blog is part two of two. You can check out the first part here.
At Sunshine, it’s the small, undramatic details that speak worth and life and happiness into each child’s life. Our cook Marina makes healthy and insanely delicious meals for the children with a tireless sweetness—traditional Ukrainian food (I could swim in Marina’s borscht with sour cream, though I am still really confused as to why all of their dairy products come in a bag). The kids have good clothes and shoes—usually second-hand, but deliberately on par with what their friends at school are wearing. Self-confidence is so important when your self-worth has been in question since birth. Constant love and attention from caregivers (referred to as uncles and aunts here), insured medical care, trips to Kiev for art lessons, swimming trips, a relevant and loving church family, daily prayer for each other and the center, a steady stream of foreign volunteers often staying months at a time—all deliberate choices to bless and keep these children.
The Sunshine orphans have issues—deep and dark ones—but the needs here are always met deliberately and approached from more than a superficial or even spiritual standpoint. There is of course prayer and faith and reliance on God, but there is also education and accountability behind every decision. Head director and founder Marek Wnuk says the biggest problem in this area of work is lack of education—people feel a call but don’t prepare themselves to do the work practically. They go into missions to work with these kids, having zero understanding of psychology, abuse or trauma. They can’t meet the need, and the kids are not truly helped. It ends in Band-Aids and burnout. Talking to Marek has challenged me in ways I never knew I needed to be challenged.
There is great apathy in going into mission work unprepared, surviving on steam and zeal alone. There is apathy in allowing our attraction to drama any say in our service to the broken—why else would we need melodramatic, soundtracked, half-hour infomercials to get us involved? Why did I spend 25 years ignoring social orphans? Apathy. Laziness. They’re the same thing.
Sunshine faces serious financial crisis because of the Church’s apathy. When its main focus was taking children directly off the streets of Kiev, the center had wide support. But despite the fact that most of Kiev’s street children are now in orphanages and centers like Sunshine, in desperate need of steady funding, the idea of sending money to a street kid has been too glamorous for the Church to let go of. Regular social orphans aren’t “in,” so donations to Sunshine have dropped. It makes one wonder—is our giving ever really about them? Is Christ’s command to serve the orphan fulfilled in a onetime conscience-appeasing gift of leftover cash? I’m as guilty as anyone.
In the end, our greatest apathy is toward our own selfishness—my selfishness in wanting a pretty message, the Church’s selfishness in dramatic giving, the selfishness of the short-term when these children have to live in the long.
The words of James 1:27 do breathe now that I see the Sunshine kids’ faces between the lines. Now that I’ve seen the need, without camera angles or spokesmen or violins, the sense of purpose and anointing and mission is much more real. It’s raw. It’s realistic. I have more responsibility. Orphans aren’t in the back of my mind anymore.
God wasn’t kidding when He said orphans are His heart. I think there is eternal weight in taking Him seriously on James 1:27. I don’t think we have a choice. It’s like “go make disciples” or “love thy neighbor”—they are not requests, they are commands.
I am only beginning to understand the depth of my own selfishness, only scratching the surface of my lazy love for the surface of things. I point the finger at myself, and beg God to speak through my admitted frailty. If you’ve felt your heart soften or ache for even one second as you’ve read this blog, I challenge you to be deliberate, to get on your knees before the God who is anything but apathetic toward you, orphaned by sin and human skin, but unconditionally loved and joyfully adopted. I dare you to actually hear what He is already saying to you. Don’t overthink your purpose. I challenge you to reject the temptation to simply read James 1:27, to reject the temptation to send good wishes, good energy or a guilt offering.
Reject the temptation to see orphans through your own experience, and get into theirs. God will connect you with the seemingly small details, move past your clichés and shatter your heart for those much more broken. We don’t have to worry about our purpose when we already know His.