MOORE, Okla. (BP)–On the first of Chris Malone’s 14 mission trips to Ukraine, the people of that country stole his heart — and he didn’t want to go home.
On one of his next trips, Malone had an opportunity to visit several orphanages, one of them for special needs children — and his life changed forever.
Malone, minister of music at First Baptist Church in Moore, Okla., discovered that, in Ukraine, children with special needs are moved to a mental institution once they reach the age of 5 or 6. Few of them survive the first year there.
“When I found out what happens to these kids, all I could do was weep,” Malone admitted. “I sat in the kitchen of a friend in Vishneve and cried like a baby. I couldn’t even speak.”
Traveling home from that trip, Malone said he had a “vision” of his future life.
“It was of our family having a private home for Ukrainian orphans with special needs, specifically Down syndrome,” Malone said. “I assumed this would be in Ukraine.”
Malone made plans for his wife, Mary, to go to Ukraine with him so they could stake out a place to live and meet with people about what kind of ministry they could have there.
“We really felt God’s call to Ukraine,” Malone said. “We just didn’t know the hows.”
At the time, the Malones were parents of five children. The youngest, Eli, now 5, has Down syndrome.
“I will never forget that first trip to the orphanage and seeing kids like my son waiting to die,” Mary Malone said.
Parents in Ukraine don’t take disabled children home from the hospital, Mary Malone said. While disabled children in the United States are more accepted, receive therapy and have a support system, in Ukraine they are shut away.
The Malones moved forward with plans to relocate to Ukraine.
“Then one day,” Malone recalled, “God said, ‘Stop and wait on me.’ At the same time, Mary and I began to have strong desires to have more children. However, we became discouraged when we discovered some medical problems prevented that.”
When the couple traveled to Ukraine in July 2008, they knew they were going to do something with special needs kids.
“It’s expensive, but God showed us we weren’t going to have to do it ourselves,” Malone said. “He provided contacts and a free place to stay. When we returned home, we had our answer. God wanted us to adopt.”
The Malones immediately started the adoption process: home studies, paper work and fund raising. They needed $30,000 — and God provided.
“I went in to work several times and found money on my desk,” Malone said. “And once Mary was handed a sack with 10 $100 bills.”
Two children were recommended to the Malones by Reece’s Rainbow, an international Down syndrome adoption agency based in Maryland. These children were at the age to be transferred to a mental institution.
When the Malones got to Ukraine in February of this year, Micah, 5, was already in the mental institution with 80 other children.
“We can’t describe the stench, the screaming and moaning,” Mary Malone said. “There wasn’t enough food, and Micah was out of control.”
No wonder. Deformed, immobile and helpless boys had been abandoned by the world. They are given no education, no trips off orphanage property, no physical touch except as punishment.
It was not a good visit, the Malones said, yet they knew they could not leave Micah in that place. They knew God wanted them to have him.
When they met their other son, Matthew, 6, they were told he was deeply mentally delayed.
“When he reached over and gave me a long, hard hug around the neck, I was breathless,” Malone said. “He is not deeply mentally delayed; he speaks some, is almost walking and uses a spoon to feed himself.”
Now the Malones are parents to three Down syndrome sons — ages 5, 5 1/2 and 6. They acknowledge they have challenging moments, but say that without them, there would be a void in their lives.
It’s good for Eli to see the other two boys doing things, Mary Malone said.
“Eli has opened up in different ways,” she said. “He desires our attention more since he sees Matthew and Micah wanting our attention.
“Matthew and Micah have blossomed and have shed many of their ‘institutional’ behaviors,” she added. “They have opened their hearts to all of us in ways we didn’t think could happen so quickly.”
The children were dealing with orphanage issues, not just the challenges of Down syndrome.
“They never had the physical touch or the love of a mom and dad,” she said.
The Malones said their four older children — Blake, 15, Hannah, 14, Bethany, 9, and Seth, 7 — are accepting of the new family members and feel this is what God wanted the family to do.
“They told us we should adopt a kid that really needs us,” Mary Malone said. “We can’t put a price tag on what this has done for our children. I have loved watching my children develop a heart for orphans. They talk about how they could see us adopting again. Blake has reminded me several times that we have room in our van for three more.”
The whole process also has been good for their church.
“They’ve watched us value these children and seen God do amazing things,” Malone said. “We hope the church will not only be accepting but will see the injustice of the system and do something about it.”
Without the church body, they could not have done what they have done.
“The members gave financially and have supported us, not only with prayer, but with physical things since we’ve been home,” Mary Malone said.
Hundreds of children like theirs are ready to be adopted, she added.
“We can’t get over what we saw, knowing these children are in need,” she said. “God is sometimes going to ask us to do things we’re incapable of doing. But He’s only asking for our availability. When we look at these boys and see them blossoming, we have to thank God for leading us to them.”
“It’s so amazing that people so insignificant in the scheme of the universe are so significant to God,” Malone added. “And these children, who the world has forgotten about, have had the eyes of the Father on them. And from the day we were born, God has had us on a path to bring these boys into our family. That’s amazing.”
Dana Williamson is the associate editor of the Baptist Messenger (baptistmessenger.com), newsjournal of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. For information on adopting Down Syndrome children, go to reecesrainbow.com or e-mail the Malones at [email protected].