From Here to There - Part IV

Recently I was asked how I could justify working in Russia, a country that is in such opposition to ours. No doubt relations between the two nations have chilled of late. Headlines trumpet the adversity, and yes, I pay attention to all of that. And at the same time, I remained committed to press on with my ministry to Russian Orphans.

I’m an American, born on U.S. soil, raised in our U.S. culture, and educated in U.S. schools. In the upcoming Winter Olympics taking place in Russia, I’ll be cheering USA for anyone wearing the Stars and Stripes! At the same time, I love Russia and her people. Over the past three weeks, I’ve shared with you some of the stories of why I started working in Russia. You’ve read about Staas, the orphanage director Yelena, staff members Jenya and Katya and many others. But I haven’t told you about Lida, Leena, Tanya, Denis, Misha and Edik.

There are many, many success stories among the orphans I know. Katya, Natasha, Zhenya, and Sveta are working as full-time staff helping other orphans. Vanya, a successful businessman, provided a community center for his small town. Vova came from a special needs orphanage and is studying at the Repin Academy in St Petersburg, the most prestigious art academy in Russia. I know several Russian orphans with healthy families of their own, plus many more serving others in their communities.

I’m encouraged by the facts. Among the orphans with whom we’ve worked, delinquent behavior is at 6%. Nationally, it’s almost 40%. In the regions where we work, 17% of our orphans attend a college or university. Nationally, it’s 4%.

Of course there are many good reasons for continuing to work in Russia. Even if the respective governments are unfriendly, the people need not be! Selfishly, I receive so much from Russians. Every time I go on a trip to Russia, an orphan or a staff member shyly tells me they pray for me. I continue to receive so much more than I can ever give!

Over and over again, Russian staff members and American volunteers do the unexpected, go beyond what orphans could ever hope or expect. Staff members sacrificially provide the daily work so necessary to bless orphans. Volunteers go to Russia to be a blessing; and can’t believe how much they are blessed in return. I continue to work in Russia simply to be an encourager for those who have invested so much of their lives!

Earlier I mentioned Lida, Leena, Tanya, Denis, Misha and Edik. Those are the names that spur me on. I knew each of them – and all are gone. Most all of them experienced a violent and tragic death. One fell into prostitution, another was robbed and murdered, another one I loved died from poor decisions about alcohol. Those are the faces I see, lives that suffered private pains, lost dreams that were dashed – all whose lives were seemingly lost.

My answer about working in a country hostile to ours: Whatever you or I are doing, whether it is our job, our family, our friends – we are called to be a faithful presence. We don’t have the option of avoiding difficult times. It’s what we do – to be faithful to what we believe in and never give up.

Russia is a challenging country in which to work. I like challenges. More importantly, I love orphans and Russians!