So Far, Yet So Near
The sky is blue, the snow dirty. Tall old buildings consist mostly of one-room flats, which people call home. Old ladies walking down sidewalks carrying bags of groceries. Warm hats and boots everywhere. The smell of diesel in traffic. Heat blasting on a full sauna setting. An exchange rate of 30 rubles to 1 dollar. The Russian language spoken all around me, bringing along with it the realization that I cannot read a sign or communicate a word without the help of a translator. What was I doing in this distinctive country, far away from my friends, family and the comforts of home?
My fascination and love for Russia began in 1994, and now, 20 years later, I was again visiting this unique country with rich traditions and history. My love and admiration for the strength of Russian people had not changed, but I did sense some differences. The Russian economy is certainly better than it was on my last visit. The citizens who were so poor, materialistically speaking, are well dressed and healthier this time. By no means are they living as extravagantly and excessively as we do in the U.S. Everything there is much simpler, smaller and less wasteful. They live in tiny spaces with very little material wealth, but that’s not what they talk about as much now. This time their words reflect their emotional and spiritual wounds. Their government has been hard on them. They have not walked an easy post-communism road. Some of them are angry with the direction their country is heading. The hurts are deep, and the needs are great.
Following the collapse of communism, Russia’s orphan population grew from an estimated 400,000 orphans in 1992 to 860,000 in 2001. The target audience of Orphan’s Tree outreach are those orphans who have aged out of orphanages, and the numbers today reflect similar dramatic increases. Throughout Scripture, there is a clear call for God’s people to care for the outcast, the poor, the widow and the orphan. The mission of Orphan’s Tree is to help orphans who have aged out of orphanages transition from their institutional dependence, enabling them to become independent, contributing members of their society.
During this most recent trip, I had the pleasure of eating dinner in the home of a young family. The mother of the family, Luba, grew up in Sharia orphanage in the Kostroma region. Her sweet young family has three boys, ages 10, 5 and 2. The middle son has leukemia and goes to Moscow several times a year to receive treatment there. I knew that I would be sad that night, seeing these young children while terribly missing my own children back at home. I knew that it would be hard to see a young child fighting for his life with less than ideal medical services. What I didn’t know would be the joy that would fill this home on that night, while anger filled my heart. Never one time did this young mother complain about how painful her life had been. How she had been abandoned and rejected and placed in an orphanage. How all she wanted was a normal, typical family life as an adult, only to have a child struggle with cancer. I felt like screaming, “THIS IS NOT FAIR!” I was mourning for Luba’s mom who could not raise her own daughter. I was mad at a system that keeps the rich richer and the poor poorer while not giving their citizens the same right to medical services that our country offers. I was angry with a corrupt bureaucracy and politics that victimize the most vulnerable ones. While my four beautiful children were at home being loved and cared for by their father and so many others who love them, I was angry at the injustice of it all. And yet this struggling mom never stopped smiling. There was no bitterness, no resentment and no questioning her life. This is the road laid out before her, and each day she puts one foot in front of the other in that tiny apartment with her family. Who am I to complain?
Our goals were accomplished on this trip, and tasks were completed. However, this trip was the start of something new in me. A new passion was birthed, a new calling embraced, a new generation of people to support, serve and walk alongside. I was uncomfortable at times, but my view of God was expanded in this immense country. Russia may be far away from my home, but it is never far away from my heart.