Autism Awareness Month: Called to Serve

As we mentioned in previous posts, April is Autism Awareness Month. This isn’t motherhood related, but I thought I would share a little about the time I spent at a special needs orphanage back home in Kazakhstan.
My brother started volunteering at the orphanage my last year of high school. I started going with him after a few times of him coming home in tears telling us about what he was experiencing. These were tears of pain but also of complete love for God and his people.

Kazakhstan has come very far since the fall of the Soviet Union, but it is still very behind in some areas.
People with special needs are “uncommon.” Many of our friends did not even know about this orphanage. There are very few programs for special needs children or adults, so tmost are abandoned in institutions.
I was afraid to visit this special needs orphanage. I had no idea what to expect. But my brother was in love with these children and I had to see why.

I walked onto the playground with our group of volunteers and was immediately surrounded by faces. At first I wasn’t sure what to do. I hadn’t been in this kind of setting before, and I didn’t know how to help these children that seemed to have so little. But I couldn’t stand off to the side and watch simply because I was uncomfortable. Watching does nothing for these kids. We are called to serve.

Luke 14:12-14

He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

So I stood there looking into these faces all around me and I was overcome with God’s love. These children are masterpieces, painted with innocence and hope.
God opened my eyes to see them how he does; to see past the brokenness, past the emptiness. To see the beauty he created with his own hands.

Aizat has autism.

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He catches bugs and ties strings around them. He makes dragonfly kites. He takes care of the younger kids in his group. He is so special.20130406-001405.jpg

Arslan has autism.

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He is a special part of my family. We all love him. When we met, he had a lost, sad look on his face but as we spent more time with him, he began to open up. Soon he was smiling whenever we saw him. He would run towards us full of joy.

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These are just a few faces of autism and special needs. I could go on and on with photos and stories. When I started visiting these kids, i thought i was blessing them. I thought i was changing their lives. The truth is they blessed me in so many ways. They taught me how to love as Jesus loves each of us, and gave me a much deeper understanding of Autism and special needs.20130406-124614.jpg

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These orphans are sent to the Mental Hospital when they turn 18. It has been heartbreaking to see them there, especially those who cannot take care of themselves because they are neglected even more in the hospital.

There is a great organization called “A Friend at All Times” that ministers to special needs teens/adults living at home in Almaty. Right now they are asking for prayer and financial support for a summer camp for 35-40 young adults and their mothers. Jeanne Damoff has written some beautiful posts about this here, with information on how to donate. You can read about some of the “kids” who will benefit from your support and be sure to check out the rest of her blog for more posts!

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There are many ways to raise autism awareness or get involved with organizations in your own city. If you’re in the Richmond area check out Dominion School for Autism. They have many events to raise funds and awareness and you can volunteer at their schools as well.

– Grace

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