by Jim La Rose
This article was originally published in the January 2018 edition of ITMI Monthly.
Confusion, fear, uncertainty swirled inside little Kamil’s four-year-old heart and mind. Why was this happening? Where was he going? How long would he be gone?
In hindsight, it was best that Kamil didn’t know the answers to these questions.
Kamil and his sister were removed from their family home and taken to a Polish dom dziecka or “children’s home.”
A dom dziecka is not an orphanage, since most dom dziecka kids still have at least one living parent.
But, because the parents have been deemed unwilling, unable, or unfit to provide proper care, the Polish court has removed these kids from their family homes and placed them in state-run facilities that might best be defined as “institutionalized foster homes.” As such, these children are wards of the state and known as “social orphans.”
The dom dziecka where Jim La Rose visits weekly.
Despite good intentions, a dom dziecka cannot replace a loving family. An article published in 2007 states:
90% of adults who were raised in the dom dziecka system struggle in many areas in life.
60% of Poland’s homeless were raised in a dom dziecka.
more than 90% of dom dziecka children have difficulties establishing healthy adult relationships.
It should be emphasized that the administration and staff at Kamil’s dom dziecka work hard and truly care about the children, but there are just too many kids and too few resources, which creates the opportunity for an outside volunteer.
I (Jim) have volunteered at Kamil’s dom dziecka for over 14 years. As far as I know, I am one of the only ones in my area who does this, although there are many opportunities.
My official roles have varied, but the one constant has been to build relationships with kids who are tragically slipping through the cracks of Polish society. Kamil is an example of this.
Note to the reader: The following is specific to Kamil, but Kamil’s story is not, by any means, an isolated case. In fact, his experience is very representative of the many children who currently live in Polish dom dzieckas.
Kamil and his sister lived in a dom dziecka for 4 years. They were then placed with a foster family, but 2 years later, this foster care ended. Kamil and his sister were returned to the dom dziecka system, this time to the dom dziecka where I volunteer. (Try to imagine the hardened, self-survival instinct that fragile young children develop when uprooted over and over.)
Kamil still has a relationship with his mom, but, he stiffens and looks away when speaking about his father. Kamil once told me, “My dad is bad!!” Kamil’s voice then trailed off as he added one more sentence…. but it would break Kamil’s confidence to print the heart-breaking content of his trailed-off comment.
To help Kamil’s perspective, I once very tenderly told Kamil that our Heavenly Father works hard to bring good things out of bad situations.
I didn’t try to minimize the awful things that Kamil has experienced, but I did ask Kamil who he had met because he lives at the dom dziecka. He thought for a moment, and then smiled as he answered, “You, Jim.”
I assured Kamil that knowing him was a huge blessing back to me, too.
Kamil and Jim at Jim's home.
Even so, Kamil desperately wants to live with his mom. He fumes in anger that the court has thus far refused to let this happen. And understandably so.
Living at dom dzieckas has created a hole in Kamil’s life: he lacks that one caring adult who is uniquely committed to him. (Again, try to imagine a child’s life without the presence of an older, protective guardian... day after day after day.)
In Kamil’s case, though, the Lord has seemingly provided something that most dom dziecka kids do not have…. that being an adult who IS uniquely committed to him.
That’s the role I believe the Lord is offering me in Kamil’s life.
Kamil is now 12 years old. As the Lord’s representative in Kamil’s life, I have two main goals.
- To help Kamil establish and nurture a personal relationship with his Heavenly Father through faith in Jesus Christ.
- To replace as many missing “family” experiences as possible.
Kamil and I began our special connection in the spring of 2017.
Last summer, Kamil accompanied me to our church’s kids’ camp. Kamil heard the gospel message, and in the privacy of his own heart, asked Jesus to be his Savior.
Kamil and other campers last summer.
After camp, Kamil spent a week at my place. The first rule in my home for visiting teenagers is “Never Be Hungry.” Kamil freely opened the refrigerator or cupboards many times every day.
Some of his favorites, which he wouldn’t normally have at the dom dziecka, were kiwis, hamburgers, Asian egg rolls, strawberries, corn-on-the-cob, Sloppy Joes, and cold cereal and milk. Kamil also loved using my kitchen blender to make fruit-flavored milkshakes.
Kamil and I made our week together an in-city “family” vacation. We went to a trampoline park, spent three afternoons at our local water park, and made four trips to Kamil’s’ favorite, the go-karts.
Kamil preparing to drive the go-karts.
We bought a basketball and spent hours playing sports together. Kamil helped with household chores, like mowing my lawn, and, because I am a teacher at heart, Kamil also had specially prepared English lessons.
With school soon approaching, Kamil and I spent a day school shopping. After purchasing new clothes, a school backpack, and two pairs of good shoes, Kamil was proudly and confidently ready for the first day of school.
It was a wonderful week together.
To obtain permission for continued weekends together, the dom dziecka director wrote a letter to the Polish court asking that Kamil be allowed to visit me any time that Kamil wasn’t in school. Within 24 hours, we had the judge’s “Yes” answer.
This was truly the Lord’s miracle hand at work!! (Read the full story here.)
Since August, Kamil has averaged two weekends a month with me, and he now refers to my place as “our” home.
Kamil and I pray together before he goes to bed. When Kamil is with me on Sundays, he and I attend church together. He especially likes the praise and worship music. While driving in the car together, Kamil freely sings along as I attempt to sing praise songs in my painfully limited Polish.
A dom dziecka caretaker told me Kamil’s behavior has dramatically improved. Kamil’s school grades are better, and Kamil’s English teacher especially noted a “sudden improvement” in Kamil’s English language skills.
Kamil has a very generous heart, but he’s rarely had the chance to buy Christmas presents for other people. Kamil told me that two years ago he was able to save 2 Polish zloty (about 55¢). He bought one chocolate bar, wrapped it up, and gave it to his family for Christmas.
It was the only gift he could afford.
This past December, wanting to bring some “family normalcy” to Kamil’s life, I offered him the option to buy Christmas gifts for anyone of his choice. We set a budget for each gift, and went Christmas shopping together.
He made very thoughtful choices.
He was so excited as he carefully wrapped each present. It was truly heart-warming to see the child-like delight on Kamil’s face as he surprised 12 different people with his personally-selected Christmas gifts.
Whole-life redemption is a step-by-step process, but the Lord is truly restoring Kamil’s lost childhood, building a positive future for Kamil, and most importantly, Kamil’s name is now written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Yet, there is still much more to be done.
Please pray the Lord uses me as His hands and heart as He brings to completion the good work begun not only in Kamil’s life, but also in the lives of other Polish children in this sphere of ministry.
Support Jim Learning Polish
Jim mostly blesses these needy Poles from his own income. For one year, in order to become independent in his Polish language skills, Jim is stepping back from his supplemental income sources. Jim is not financially desperate, but things are much tighter than usual. Any assistance would be appreciated.
About the Author
Jim LaRose uses his gifts as a teacher to minister to children in Poland. He volunteers at a local polish foster home, where he has built relationships that were lifelines for children who had otherwise fallen through the cracks. You can also find him ministering as a Sunday-school teacher, Christian school teacher and summer camp counselor. He also helps equip other Christian teachers and children’s workers.