I often think of my first experience visiting orphans in Russia and the events leading to it, not because of any fanfare or interesting story behind my decision to go, but because of my reluctance. It was such a scary prospect as a senior in high school to step so far out of my comfortable life, and I fought it most of the way. I basically had to be dragged onto the plane by my mentor and friends. It is funny, looking back eight years later, how the most memorable and important experiences of our lives tend to be the ones we resist the most. When we know that God is calling us to do something we can count on two things: That our calling will be important, but it will be intimidating. We seem to have this innate desire to make sure every detail is planned to perfection and every road safe to travel before stepping out onto it, though in reality, few of them are. Even if we know something great is in store, taking that first leap can be the most daunting decision in the world.
It was one of Children's HopeChest's summer camps for orphans in Ivanovo. I joined a group of 14 others from my church then spent the months leading to our departure and the entire flight to Russia wishing I hadn't. And then it took all of one day to realize that camp was exactly where I was meant to be. After the first day with the group of ten kids, whom I would spend most of my time with throughout the camp, I knew how special they were, and how my life would never quite be the same because of them.
Eight years later I am still learning how truly special the friends I met at the camp are. We talk often of the positive impact we have on the lives of those we work with, but the impact they have on our lives can be just as great. Several orphans (and translators for that matter) have become close friends who I am blessed to be able to talk to almost daily. Those relationships have led to dozens more friendships, made recently when I returned to Russia to visit a few of the orphans.
The first time I met George Steiner I was in the midst of preparing for my second trip to Russia. George was visiting family in Oregon, not far from where I lived, and graciously agreed to meet and talk about my plans to return to Russia. When I told him of my reluctance to join the team my church was sending to Russia, George smiled knowingly and said “It seems anyone who has done missions work has a story of resisting when first called.” I knew then that I wasn't alone in my misgivings.
It is no easy thing, to take that leap out of the safety and familiarity of our daily lives and follow God's calling. But it is a decision I doubt anyone will ever regret. It changes us in ways we may never fully understand. I don't know exactly what impact I've had on the lives of the orphans I worked with in my two journeys to Russia, but I have seen the many ways they've touched my life and can only pray I impacted them a fraction as much as each of them have me.