BILLINGSLEY, USA -- The children run around in new pajamas, learning the English words for butter, cheese and tea, writing on a dry-erase board and some playing "futbol."
They are Ukrainian orphans, ages 6 to 15, and energized on just an hour or two of sleep. But it's a new day in a new country with new hopes, dreams and wishes.
The 10 children -- four boys and six girls -- came to central Alabama from orphanages in the Kiev region of Ukraine. They arrived about 5 a.m. Friday and by 10 a.m. were already learning to say "hello," "dog" and, in 55-degree weather, "hot."
It has taken three years for the trip to become a reality for the Millbrook-based Bridges of Faith International. The organization, which has done mission work in Ukraine since 1995, sponsored the trip for the 10 Ukrainian orphans at a total cost of $65,000 -- which paid for travel, legal costs and all documentation.
The money was collected door to door, and from church to church.
"Many of the kids have not seen a functioning family," said the Rev. Tom Benz with Bridges of Faith. "We want them to become Christians, yes, but we need them to find families.
"We are not an adoption agency," Benz stressed. "Our task is to bring kids here and let families meet them. If families are interested, an adoption facilitator takes over the business side."
The children will stay at BridgeStone Prayer and Retreat Center, a ministry of Bridges of Faith International, until they fly back to the Ukraine on Jan. 16.
Families interested in meeting the children -- families from Kentucky, Alabama and California have been in contact with Benz -- will have that opportunity.
There is Sasha Bidyak, 12, who, through translator Valery Dashevky, said he very much wants to have a mother and father.
"All the children, they do," Bidyak said. "And I do not."
Bidyak has lived in an orphanage since he was 8 years old, after both his parents died from being "hard drinkers. Especially my mom, she was a harder drinker."
In Bidyak's room at the Centerpoint building -- the 12-bedroom, four-bath retreat center (funded solely through Centerpoint Church in Prattville) -- hang his life's belongings: a jacket, hat, backpack and one change of clothes.
Most of the children arrived in the United States with only one bag -- whether it was a backpack or a plastic sack. Some didn't have a change of clothes. Toiletry items were donated to them and placed in their rooms.
Around the main living and dining area, packs of Goldfish crackers sit on a table. One pack is open and almost full. A bowl holds four green apples. One apple is partially eaten and had been placed back in the bowl. Raisin bread sits on a plate.
"Often, kids in Ukrainian orphanages are abandoned," Benz said. "I see in the eyes of these children potential to be wonderful if just given the chance. Every time we are (in Ukraine), I can't cope with the ways their lives would turn out."
That includes the lives of Irina and Olga Przhepolska, ages 10 and 15.
They don't know where their father lives, and their Polish mother died a year ago from kidney problems. The girls don't discuss being adopted, Dashevky said, but even if the group of 10 doesn't talk about it, they know that is why they are in America.
"There's not the same interest in adoption in Ukraine," Benz said. "Here, there are people on a waiting list to adopt children. In Eastern Europe, kids are ready and available."
"Here, we give them a great camp experience, teach them English, share Christ and incubate adoption. These kids, especially at school age, the chance for adoption plummets. That's why we bring them here ... we call them the forgotten kids."
What Bridges of Faith wants to do, Benz said, is develop a broader sense of support for bringing the orphans to Alabama. While it took three years to get the first group flown over, he wants to do this four to six times each year.
Still, he said one of the most heartbreaking things is when one is packing up and the others tell (Dashevky), "Will you find a family for me?"
"We hope that every single one emphatically experiences God and also finds a 'forever home' with a great family," Benz said.