And the King will answer them,
‘Truly, I say to you,
as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,
you did it to me.’
Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel:
Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.
Who are you, O great mountain?
Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.
And he shall bring forward the top stone amid shouts of
‘Grace, grace to it!’”
As I begin this post, I feel very small. Small and hopeful.
There’s a mountain that needs to come down, and it won’t be by might or by power. It will be by God’s Spirit working through His people.
And friends? You can help.
When Jacob’s brain injury plunged us into the world of the disabled, we were definitely out of our element — aliens in a foreign land filled with doctors and therapists and wheelchairs and feeding tubes. Heaped on top of our broken hearts and shattered dreams, the challenges regarding Jacob’s basic care felt impossible.
But as we adjusted to our new normal, we discovered resources were available. We had to search them out, but they were there. Life’s patterns drastically changed, but our community surrounded us, our friends prayed for us, and the services we needed were often just a phone call away.
That’s not true everywhere.
Last October I received a message from a dear friend (and hero) of mine, Catherine Burns. She, her husband Dan, and their children served as missionaries in Kazakhstan for twenty years. Here’s what she wrote:
I have a sincere, from the bottom of my heart, proposition for you. As you know, we have been very involved in ministry to special needs teens/young adults in Kazakhstan. We continue that connection even though we have moved back to the States. Next summer, we are planning to send a team from the US to work alongside our Kazakh national partners at their summer camp for special needs teens. We were thinking about providing training/encouragement for their volunteers, ministering to the moms of the teens, and helping out with their camp.
In order to minister effectively to the moms (many live in very painful/extraordinarily difficult circumstances) we would love to have some team members who have walked through the fire and come through with a message of hope. Your name was the very first that popped into my mind. I think God could use you mightily in these women’s lives. I have no idea if such a trip would be a possibility for you, but I definitely wanted to run it by you and see if that was a God prompt or not!
Basically, she was asking me to travel with their team to Kazakhstan this June, and to share our story (through a translator) with moms of special needs teens and young adults, thereby encouraging them in their task of care giving.
That might not sound too terribly daunting, if it weren’t for a few facts Catherine provided about these women’s lives:
- Special needs people in Kazakhstan are shut away and not an active part of society, often considered cursed.
- Many are abandoned at birth and institutionalized.
- There are not many (any?) opportunities available for those who live at home.
- If the parents do keep the child, the father generally leaves the family and the mother is left caring full-time for him/her.
- As government pension is quite low and the mother is unable to work, the family is barely able to survive.
- Most parents are fairly isolated and beaten down by their circumstances.
- Due to the influence of communist atheism, very few (if any) of these women know Christ.
George and I held Catherine’s request before the Lord for three and a half months before we felt confident God was leading me to go. And I truly do believe He is, but that doesn’t prevent my feeling desperately weak and unqualified for the task. And that’s okay. God continues to teach me that He meant what He said about using the foolish to shame the wise and the weak to confound the strong. He uses people who know they can’t, because they’re quick to cast themselves on the only One who can.
And believe me, I’m well aware that in my own strength, I can’t.
After I agreed to go, Catherine sent additional information about the ministry. Here’s what she wrote about the woman who started it:
Zhanna was distressed at the plight of special needs teens in Kazakhstan. Over ten years ago, she started doing home visits with a few teens. She then recruited volunteers and started gathering the special teens together once a month for Saturday youth meetings. She then founded a non-profit organization called “A Friend At All Times.” (As her husband is Young Life staff, she is also connected with Young Life Capernaum. As a matter of fact, I believe she is now the area director for the former Soviet Union.) Soon, she added in craft days, life-skill development days, and other special events (going bowling, to the movies, or for coffee together – raising community awareness and helping the kids have normal teen experiences). And then, she started a yearly summer camp for the teens (many now young adults). As you might imagine, these events are life highlights for these kids who ‘don’t get out much’ – they definitely look forward to summer camp all year long. When Zhanna and I were talking last year about how we might be able to support and help them expand their ministry, she thought about the parents.
And that’s where I come in. I’m deeply humbled to be part of this and awestruck by the compassion and faithfulness of these dear believers, serving “the least” under circumstances far more difficult than any I’ve had to endure. Anyone who’s read our story or followed this blog for any length of time knows I have tremendous respect for the disabled and their role in society. I truly believe they are uniquely set apart by God for His glory, and whatever we do for them, we do for Jesus.
And that’s where you (potentially) come in.
A Friend at All Times expects between 35 and 40 campers, and each will require a personal volunteer camp buddy. The cost for a camper to attend camp is $250, totally funded by donations. The cost for each mom to attend the simultaneous event planned for them is $200, also funded by donations. Neither A Friend at All Times nor its parent organization, Kazakhstan Young Life, has the funds to cover all the expenses. They receive some money from YL International, and Dan and Catherine’s church in Tennessee generously supports the effort, but the needs are still great. As Catherine put it, “Every year there is a prayerful panic — ‘Will there be enough money for camp?'” And this year’s camp will be their biggest ever.
So I told them I would post this request here in my little corner of the bloggerhood, inviting individuals, organizations, churches — anyone interested — to sponsor (or help sponsor) a camper or a mom. (Will you help me spread the word?) In the days ahead I’ll be sharing more about the summer camp and the beautiful souls who attend it. Catherine has been sending me photos and short interviews, and I promise they will melt your heart.
As you meet these precious young people, I pray God will speak very specifically to your heart, whether it’s to pray, to donate, or to share their stories and this opportunity with your online community, your church, or other people He brings to your mind. Please believe me when I say I would never lay a burden on you that isn’t directly from the Lord. I know there are countless ministries worthy of any given person’s limited funds, but I also know the Body of Christ is vast and generous, and God moves on hearts when and where He chooses. Perhaps this is for you?
And, friends, thank you in advance for praying with me as I prepare to share Christ’s redeeming love and God’s beautiful purposes with these precious women who have walked weary and alone far too long. The emotional, spiritual, and financial needs may look like a huge mountain to me, but God through His people can make them a plain, leveling them to the very ground with shouts of grace.
May He grant it, to the glory of His name.
* * *
Come back tomorrow to meet a few of the campers
and learn more about this amazing ministry!
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section.
Info for interested donors:
Donations can be made by check or credit card.
Please send checks (any amount appreciated!) to:
Include a separate note indicating the gift is for
“Camp Scholarship, A Friend at All Times, Kazakhstan Young Life”
This category is not available for online giving at Orphanos,
but you can give by credit card at the phone number provided above.
Your gifts are tax deductible.
(With all my heart.)
all photos in this post by Catherine Burns