Leading the Way
Sometimes in life God will use the most subtle, unexpected ways to paint a clear picture he wants you to see. This was the case during my first visit to Kostroma recently, and my first encounter with Orphan Tree's servant leadership program. The first evening in Kostroma passed quickly in a flurry of introductions and interviews. Orphans involved in various programs, and ministry center staff alike, sat down to talk to me about their involvement in Orphan's Tree. It was early evening when I sat down with Mikhail Makhov, who directs the Kostroma dacha and leads the Kostroma Ministry Center's servant leadership program. Since I would be visiting the dacha with him in a couple days, we mainly discussed the leadership program.
The seven-year-old program was started to engage some of the most active, driven, and outgoing kids involved with the ministry center. It began when a graduate desired to return to orphanages in the area and speak to current orphans. The graduate ended up recruiting a group of seven other graduates to join in the venture. The idea became such a success that it evolved into a regular program in which more than 30 motivated graduates have mentored younger orphans over the years by speaking on a monthly basis about a variety of topics and creating long term friendships with the kids they mentor.
Mikhail explained that the program is a mutually beneficial experience for the“leaders” as well as those that they mentor. The leaders themselves have the opportunity to develop their speaking and communication skills while still helping to teach others.
“Each of the kids [in the Leadership Program] has many achievements and wonderful qualities,” Mikhail said. “This program really helps them grow as leaders and people, while giving back to other kids.”
As I learned about this unique program from Mikhail, I had no idea the next person I spoke to would offer such a shining example of what the Leadership Program embodies. While in Kostroma I came down very sick for much of the time I spent there, and even on this first night, I found myself suffering from a splitting headache so painful it became hard to even think. During some of my interviews that evening I found it hard to concentrate enough to think of the questions I should have asked. At this point, when the pain in my head was the most unbearable, I felt like there was no way I'd be able to think of what to ask my next interviewee.
That's when I met 26-year-old Natasha L, a six year veteran of the servant leadership program. Confident, outgoing, and charismatic, Natasha perfectly personified the qualities Mikhail had described minutes earlier that are looked for in the servant leaders. I've since described my conversation with Natasha as “the easiest interview I have ever done.” To put it in perspective, the interview lasted about 45 minutes, and I asked only one question. I don't even remember what that question was. After I voiced the question Natasha took off with a smile, fondly delving into her time as a servant leader and seemingly anticipating everything I may ask next before I asked it.
“Honestly speaking, I love to talk and communicate,” Natasha said of her visits to orphanages. “I always know what I will speak of, and it is important to show kids they have the opportunities to succeed and branch out.”
Natasha described the importance of spending some time alone with the kids away from their teachers so they may be more willing to open up and talk, and how Mikhail will try to ensure that happens most places they visit. She explained how important it is to her that she discuss problems the orphans may face after graduating and help them confront their fears of life outside the the orphanage.
Natasha recalled her own past in an orphanage and how she didn't have the same opportunity to receive support from graduates while growing up, and how she sometimes doesn't know how she survived life following graduation. Because of her own experiences, Natasha believes the leadership program is important to not only to advise orphans to break out of their small social circles once they graduate, but recognize the differences between positive and negative influences once they are on their own so each of the kids can make smart life decisions.
I learned first hand that Natasha's confidence and ability to communicate with ease were perfect traits to diffuse the tension of others, and her passion for helping other kids made her a perfect example of how the servant leadership program strives to share God's love with current orphans. For Natasha, she is simply grateful to be able to provide opportunities these kids would not otherwise have.
“What is most important to me is seeing the changes for better in each of these orphanages. No matter how many people there are in the bedroom everyone still needs moral support,” she said.