Throughout our trip, Kendyl, Russia’s Community Partnership Manager, and I continued to pray for God moments. For us to be able to see Him in the big, as well as the small, happenings during our travels. It’s easy to take moments for granted that are for our protection–moments where He is present and we are too preoccupied to notice.
God is always there. He was present during our conversations with an older orphanage director who has taken in children when no one else would. He was there when a child heard from their sponsor and their face lit up the entire room. He was present when we went to a restaurant and the young lady serving us was one of our graduates who immediately recognized our Regional Manager. I see Him in the eyes of our activity organizers who are energetic and enthusiastic about their job. They make our youth feel safe and comfortable. The softness and smiles of our staff’s eyes, is a small glimpse into to the heart of God.
In Russia, we work with the most vulnerable– the most scared and unsure. During one of our orphanage visits, I asked the director if she could share the most common questions and concerns they hear from the older kids before they graduate. This opened up a discussion about how they prepare them for life outside the orphanage, but it also continued a theme we are all too familiar with in our work.
The orphans in Russia need to know that someone supports them. That someone will advocate for them and be their champion. That someone will fight for them after they lose their biggest support system–the orphanage. This is what our Ministry Centers in Russia do. They provide that support system for these youth. It is a safe place to talk to someone, to have someone help them navigate the system that has let them down again and again. To help them attain their legal rights now that they are recognized as adults in Russia.
After visiting Slobodskoy Orphanage in the Kirov Region, Kendyl, Olga (Kirov Regional Manager), Sveta (Kirov Sponsorship Coordinator) and I were strolling along the “Alexander Green Riverwalk” to take in the scenery of the Vyatka River. It’s always good to take time out of the normal business of meetings and official visits to just chat and connect with each other in fellowship.
Normally we would all be walking quickly because we always have somewhere to be, but on this night we intentionally slowed down. After walking for about 30 minutes, we decided we needed one more picture of the four of us together. Sveta turned around and asked two young men if they could take a photo of the group when she realized that one of the men, Andrei, was a graduate from Slobodskoy Orphanage. It was a moment that only God could have orchestrated.
Andrei and and his friend were on their way to a concert in the park. We all continued to walk together around the park and chat. We asked each other questions and genuinely opened up to get to know each other.
Andrei graduated from Slobodskoy Orphanage in 2011, which is a Type 8 orphanage. He shared that he remembers all the times that Doug, his sponsor, would visit him at the orphanage-even after graduating-along with his brother, Dima. Andrei and Dima were placed in separate orphanages as children because they were different ages, but Andrei was incorrectly placed in a Type 8 orphanage. Type 8 orphanages are institutions for handicapped children with either mental and/or physical delays which can range from being flat-footed, cross-eyed, having a speech impediments, to being paralyzed.
The children of Type 8 orphanages have a physical label on their government identification card for being a “Type 8” which attaches a permanent social stigma that he or she is incapable of contributing to society, thus must attend specific technical schools and maintain entry-level jobs that do not offer opportunities for advancement.
Andrei shared that he completed Technical School #18 a few years ago. Even though Andrei passed all the classes, he was limited to only learning about construction. Teenagers who “graduate” from a Type 8 orphanage at age 16 are assigned to a technical school in his/her region to learn a trade. The trade can be construction, cooking, sewing, painting, for example. All of which are basic skills that place the teens on narrow paths of employment without much opportunity to advance. Andrey is committed to furthering his education and to have all the opportunities that the world has to offer.
He fought the local government to remove the Type 8 label from his identification with Dima by his side. In 2015, Andrei had his label formally removed and since then has been attending night classes and is learning English so that he can apply for better jobs that he is more than talented, gifted and capable of excelling in.
Andrei was so personal and warm and really enjoyed talking with us. He carried himself with confidence and had hope in his eyes. It’s been restored. The label on him has been removed. The stigma is gone. He is not defined by a label given to him by those who just see him as another problem. He knows his value and worth and has people around him to support him.
While walking we noticed his friend, who happens to be a photographer, capturing all of our moments during our walk. He captured us walking…but this time with a different purpose. Connection. Hope. Transformation. Once again, God showed up. During our time with Andrei, we all noticed a rainbow off in the distance. God’s promises are true and never end. Thank you, God, for showing us a different way to walk today.
The encounter with Andrei and the Children’s HopeChest Kirov staff was one that God planned for a purpose, just as He has promised a mighty plan for Andrei’s future filled with unlimited opportunities.