A UKRAINIAN LOVE STORY

Story by Jeannie Stone

Alex and Rebecca Cawyer couldn’t believe their eyes when they saw their American home for the first time. The siblings were equally impressed that their new family owned a car, but what made new adoptive mom Jennifer blink back tears was when Alex, 7, and little sister Rebecca, 41⁄2, saw their toys.

“They had never had their own toys,” Jennifer said. “In fact, the toys we took over there had to be left at the orphanage.”

“Over there” was the Ukraine where the children have lived with their adoptive family, Lloyd and Jennifer Cawyer and their children Renee, 10, and Steven, 12, since November.

The Cawyers, active members of West Side Church of Christ in Russellville, have long supported the church’s commitment in the Ukraine, and Lloyd, an operator for ANO, had participated on four mission trips before meeting up with an interpreter who had worked with orphans there.

“Jennifer and I discussed the possibility of opening our home to Russian children,” Lloyd said, “but it just wasn’t the right time.”

All that changed, however, when the church showed a video featuring the orphanages in Eastern Europe. It shared startling statistics.

“We learned that only 27 percent of those kids will get a job when they graduate from the state- run orphanages, but the rest of them will become prostitutes and get into crime,” Lloyd said. Furthermore, the video stated that only 25 percent of all orphans were adopted. “Most people want babies,” he said.

The Lord pressed on their hearts to start looking for an older child to adopt, Lloyd said. The couple began a campaign of prayer and research and decided to work with the Christian World Adoption Agency, and after months of paperwork, background checks, tests and home studies, they were cleared to adopt. By then, the couple knew they were interested in more than one child.

“When we went over there we were told it would be very difficult to adopt siblings,” Lloyd said, “but the next morning, the interpreter knocked on our hotel door in Kiev and told us the government had just received portfolios on a brother and sister who had been placed in separate orphanages because their mother had abandoned them.

After traveling to the two different orphanages to visit the children, who appeared to be in good health, Jennifer and Lloyd knew the Lord had chosen the two for their family.

“Kiev is rich and full of fancy houses and cars,” Lloyd said, “but since the Soviet Union dissolved, there’s a lot of corruption. Now pornography and prostitution are rampant, and mobs are very active.”

Poverty is reality for most common people.

“A miner makes $100 a month, and families can’t live on that. The minister I work with there said the only thing being sold right now is food and basic necessities. It’s surprising, however, to see that most people carry cell phones,” Lloyd said.

Many of the children in the orphanages display unhealthy behaviors.

“One of the more common habits children show is food hording,” Lloyd said. “I saw a two year old hiding food in his diaper when I was there. Sometimes the children resort to the hording because if they get punished, they might be denied food. Other times, it’s sheer hunger motivating them.”

Mental problems are also prevalent.

“Depression is common, and a lot of that is centered on abandonment issues,” Lloyds said “such as being resistant to new relationships.”

“We saw a little hording of toys,” Jennifer said, “and when they went in a grocery store for the first time they were overwhelmed. They just didn’t know what to do.”

“There were just so many new things,” Lloyd said. “Initially, everything was just so special. They were excited we had a car; they were excited they each had a bed; they were excited over all the toys; they were excited to discover movies, and Rebecca loves the dog and cat to death.”

“And stuffed animals,” Renee, 10, added. “And they barely had clothes. They are lucky.”

“It’s a proven fact that the longer the children stay in the orphanages, the more delayed physically, mentally and emotionally they become,” Lloyd said. Rebecca, who was treated for tuberculosis for a year in a hospital, suffered a more profound delay. She is a student at MiChild Enrichment Center and Pediatric Services.

“We had Alex 10 days before we got Rebecca,” Jennifer said. “They hadn’t been together for two or three years. They were in different orphanages three hours apart. Alex remembers her as a baby, but Rebecca has no recollection of him.”

The Cawyers were advised that the transition to a different language would be easier than they thought.

“They were right,” Lloyd said. “They don’t seem to have too much trouble expressing themselves.”

Alex remembers how to read Russian, and the Cawyers have already located a teenager (an exchange student) who visits once a week to keep his language skills intact.

“Rebecca’s already losing the spoken language,” Jennifer said.

When asked about her favorite American things, Rebecca sweetly responds, “Macaroni and cheese, flowers, and Ashley is my cat.”

Alex, a first grader at Dwight Elementary School, loves his lime green bike he received for Christmas. His favorite foods are hot dogs, sausage (kielbasa) and chicken noodle soup, in that order.

They Cawyer children look like any other family on the block playing in the front yard. Renee and Rebecca wear identical purple horse shirts.

“Alex is a daredevil,” Jennifer said. “He’s very active. When we went to visit Lloyd’s parents in Texas, he was 20 or 30 feet up a tree in just a few minutes.”

Jennifer remembers when they picked up Alex at the orphanage.

“It was night, probably 30 degrees, and he was stripped of his clothes and turned out without so much as a goodbye. We had to dress him outside as quick as we could.”

“Kids in the orphanages really learn independence at an early age,” Lloyd said.

“And how to take care of each other,” Jennifer said. “If one gets hurt, the other holds him.”

It seems Alex and Rebecca aren’t going to have to practice that independence for a long time. For the rest of their lives, they belong to a family.

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