In it for the long run

When I first became involved with Orphan's Tree I wondered about their emphasis on finding group and individuals who would commit to supporting the programs for the long term. The first of my two trips to Russia to work with orphans happened in 2004–just a few weeks after graduating high school– and though I did not know it yet, that experience would not blossom into a long term commitment to working with orphans in Russia, not right away at least.

Having tea and lunch with new friends at the Kostroma dacha.

After my first experience in Russia through Children's Hopechest, my church did not have the support to continue sending teams or make a longer commitment to their programs. I sadly lost contact with the kids I worked with in Russia, and it would be many years later before I would be able to hear from them again. But even though I had no idea if I would ever continue working with orphans or not, I still cherish every moment of that first experience.

 I have traveled to Russia twice now, the latest being this past September to visit the dachas and ministry centers in Vladimir, Kostroma and Ivanovo. Each trip is laced with some of the fondest memories of life, but I believe the greatest and most lasting difference between my two experiences in Russia is what happened after I came home, because it was this second trip that really taught me the value of maintaining a lasting commitment to those we work with.

 Unlike that first trip, most of my friendships made in Russia this past fall have grown even stronger since returning home. Partly thanks to the rise of social media and the internet, which make staying in contact with those across the world immensely easier, I am blessed to be able to talk to some of my friends from Russia nearly every day, something I wouldn't have been able to imagine back in 2004. Nowadays Google Translate is a homepage and one of my most visited websites. Today some of my best friends live 5,000 miles away and do not even speak the same language as me. I can only hope these friends value my friendship half as much as I do theirs. Even several orphan grads, who I either met in passing or only briefly interviewed, found me online after I returned home and have somehow grown to become close friends from a world away.

First meeting Paulina at the Ivanovo MC in September.  Paulina had been pen pals for years with one of my American friends after meeting him during our first trip to Russia in 2004.

 It was not until recently I truly saw the importance of why those who travel to Russia to work with orphans are so strongly encouraged to maintain long term support for a program. There are multiple reasons to be sure, but I would argue the most important is for the loving relationships we inevitably develop that will continue to benefit us all for a lifetime. For myself, the lasting impact of the relationships made in Russia has been so much more than any goal I hoped to achieve prior to traveling there. My most recent trip rarely went as planned, but when I think of all incredible friends I made, I simply cannot help but praise God for every moment that led me to them.