"He Understands Me"
When Yuri John was in junior high school, in his home country of Ukraine, his parents died within one year of each other. And when his uncle didn't want him anymore, he sent Yuri to an orphanage—alone and scared.
Half a world away, in the state of Illinois, Joseph Common was living in a hotel with his father and brother. His dad got in trouble, so he moved in with his aunt. When that didn't work out, he found himself living in a group home with foster parents.
Two strangers, living worlds apart, trying to understand why God was letting these things happen.
"My parents were alcoholics. They died from drinking too much," says Yuri. "I was so mad at God. I kept asking him, 'What are you trying to do with my life? My parents are dead. And instead of giving me a good life you throw me into an orphanage? Why?'"
Yuri decided he didn't believe in God—until the Christian caretakers of his orphanage told him about the love of Jesus.
"They told me God had a plan for all of us. I thought maybe God had a plan for me too. So, I accepted Jesus into my heart."
Soon after, Yuri, then 16, was adopted by an American family and moved to the Chicago suburbs. He didn't know English, but he did know Jesus. He started attending youth group at the family's church. And that's where, one year later, the loving hand of God brought the two strangers together.
"I met Yuri on Project Serve, a two-week missions trip with our youth group where we worked on a church in Alabama," remembers Joseph, who was then 17. "I was a brand-new Christian. When Yuri gave his testimony, he talked about living in an orphanage. I thought, He went through all that stuff, too? So I decided to talk to him."
And that was just the beginning of what has turned into a solid friendship, founded on faith in God and trust for one another.
"Most people don't understand what you're going through unless they've been through it themselves," Yuri said. "Joseph has been through the same things I have and because of that, he understands me."
And because of that understanding, Joseph became an answer to one of Yuri's lonely prayers.
"When I was at the orphanage, I prayed for four years that God would give me a family to take care of me—Christian parents that weren't alcoholics. I also prayed for a Christian friend. Now I'm in America, and he's given me a family who loves me and a friend in Joseph. I got everything I asked for!"
The two friends play a lot of video games and watch their share of movies. But they also volunteer at a local nursing home once a week, where their singing is something the residents love to hear.
Joseph, now a freshman at Judson College, plans to get a teaching certificate and wants to eventually enter the mission field.
But because of his move from the Ukraine, Yuri still has two years of high school. He knows he will miss Joseph. And that's why he's determined to keep in touch with him.
"It's going to be hard because we are really close friends. But I will write and do my best to visit," says Yuri. "I'm not scared that our friendship won't last because it is really strong. I'm just afraid that I'm going to miss him a lot. I have a lot of friends, just none like Joseph.