I went to Russia at 5 months pregnant. Who does that? That’s the question I got before I left, while I was there and once I got back. Recently, I found myself asking the same question, and I can’t believe I actually did it.
But when I really stop and think about it, it’s not a surprise at all. Last year, the trip ruined me. I came home forever changed because of the people I met and the lives I was so privileged to touch. Those kids stormed into my heart and set up camp last year. How could I not go back?
Last year, my purpose for the trip was to meet Nastya, the little girl we sponsor through Children’s HopeChest. I had sponsored kids before through other organizations, but we sent our check every month and that was that. This was an opportunity to actually meet this little person and get to know her. It was an opportunity to actually become a part of her life.
What I hadn’t expected was the bond I would form not only with Nastya, but a dozen or so other kids at the orphanage. These kids are so hungry for love, and so desperate for someone to know them and remember them that bonds formed quickly and deeply. I’d fallen in love with them and knew my life was forever changed.
Still, I left the orphanage last year wondering if I’d made any real difference for them. I only spent six days there, and they were still orphans, after all. They’d been abandoned, abused, and neglected most of their lives. And their future didn’t look that rosy either, not with society saying that they’re unworthy, unlovable and unwanted. How could six measly days change anything in their world?
This year, I saw just what a difference six days can make. Because we’ve consistently sent a team to spend six days with these kids every single year, they’ve come to trust us, and that’s a big deal for a kid who’s been let down his or her whole life. It doesn’t matter that our team changes members or that we do different activities every year—what matters is that we are there consistently, every year, telling them they’re important and loved and that they matter. What matters is that we remember them.
Because I told these kids they were important to me, it suddenly made them feel like they were important in the world. Little comments I made about how tall they’d gotten or how much their hair had grown acknowledged their existence. Nowhere else can they see themselves through the passage of time, except through our eyes, and the photos we leave behind of them.
I knew I’d been changed when I came home last year, but I didn’t entirely realize what had happened until I went back. When I gave up my PTO at work, left my husband and child for ten days, used savings for an expensive trip—I’d sacrificed. And because of that sacrifice, my reality shifted.
Lindsay Evans is a senior editor at Hallmark Cards, Inc. and lives in Lee’s Summit, MO with her husband and two boys. She blogs frequently about her life surrounded by boys, and when she gets a chance, writes a poem or two at her blog. She’s planning her next trip to Russia for November 2013.