Winter trip to Russia

This team barely came together at the last minute.  We had no idea from where the funds would come.  Six of us came from four different churches, two different states.  But God had a plan. We started off the week with worship at a Russian Protestant church.  While we all have our worship style preferences, there’s nothing like worshipping with fellow believers, halfway around the world, in different languages.   It’s a little picture—just a taste-- of what heaven will be like.

We spent the week at the Ivanovo Ministry Center, relishing in the fruit of relationships that God has allowed us to have with these students for years.  Even now that they are young men and women and out of the orphanages, they came, knowing we would be there.  We took every opportunity to hear about their lives, share their joys and their struggles:  infants and toddlers, job searches, rough relationships, new challenges, triumphs, vices.  And then we shared our own stories, hoping to teach and give new perspective, and sometimes spare them the mistakes we’ve made.   We shared our faith and hope in the One who is worthy of such things, and encouraged them to do the same.

Encouraging student involvement at the center is important to the survival of these young folks.  The center and its staff will be there long after we’ve gone home, and so we tried to learn as much as we could about how to help through them.  It was inspiring to our own hearts and ministries at home to hear the hopes, dreams and plans that the staff have for those who frequent the center; truly they are God-given partners in this ministry, and we cherish them as brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as personal friends.

God offered us more opportunities to share faith with translators, students and staff, give and receive gifts, cook and share meals together, engage in conversation, take a fieldtrip to Kostroma together, to work, to play, to learn about each others’ faith and lives.  We saw new relationships form between the church’s drama ministry and the center, and Orphan’s Tree.  We rejoiced over the chance we had to celebrate old relationships as we spent the whole afternoon with our younger friends from the orphanage, and we mourned over the news of the tragic and untimely death of one of them.

And so we’ve learned.  More about the life and challenges of an orphan once they’ve left the orphanage.  More about what kind of support they need and how we can pray and act on their behalf.  More about the Orthodox faith, and what we share with it.  More about how much more there is to do.

We know it makes a difference.  They continue to come, expecting hugs.  They want to see pictures of our families.  They ask about Americans who have visited in the past by name.  They write letters for us to take home to others.  The young men talk of their goals of “a good job” and “a healthy family” when the male life expectancy is 58 years old, due largely to alcohol and unhealthy lifestyles.  Young mothers, usually intensely protective of their little ones, allow us to play with and hold them.  They are interested in the world outside Russia – of travel, and different languages and cultures.  They trust.  They seek support.  They ask questions of faith.

And we are changed, too.  We leave Russia, not considering this is the end of the trip, but what the next trip will look like.  We’ve experienced highs and lows mentally, physically, emotionally, and certainly spiritually – all in a period of 10 days.  God is working in us as He calls us -- and translators, and students and staff members, and all the people we meet along the way.  Surely God works in mysterious ways.

But we can be sure that these ways are good, and that He’s far from done.

(impressions by Lise Sentell)