Sipping tea with our Russian friends last summer at the Kovalyovo Orphanage, was spontaneously interrupted with chaos and excitement over an anticipated guest!
Let me back up a little…
Last June, Rachel, International Program Director for Russia, and I took a trip to Russia. It was my first trip to Russia and I was immediately impacted by the beautiful places and joyful people that greeted us everywhere we went. During this time we visited all of our Ministry Centers and 10 of our partnered orphanages.
The Kovalyovo Orphanage is located half an hour from the city of Kostroma, and was opened by an adventurous man named Father Andre. Because Father Andre has a heart for adventure and athleticism, the two areas of priority for the orphaned boys are spirituality and athletics. Father Andre has friends who rock climbed, so they trained the boys to hike and eventually traverse mountains all over the world, such as the Caucasus. Five boys were even chosen to climb the Caucasus and a movie was made about their experience!
Rachel, Yana (Kostroma Sponsorship Coordinator), Irina (Kostroma Regional Director) and I were having tea with a family unit at Kovalyovo, when the orphanage director entered and stated that the boys were going to watch a movie about an astronaut. Chaos ensued as all the ladies began explaining that actually a “real” astronaut was about to arrive and show the boys a video about his time in space as well as share his testimony!
Everyone jumped up, left the tea and pastries in the dust, and bolted to the large common room. Boys ran around trying to find the others before the astronaut arrived. We were all seated in the common room and welcomed Lieutenant Colonel Sergey Ryzhikov to Kovalyovo.
Cosmonaut Sergey shared his testimony of how God will bless your biggest dreams as an encouragement to the boys to work hard and never give up despite difficult life circumstances. He showed a video documenting how he became the 121st cosmonaut, which spanned from press media tours, zero-gravity training, scuba diving, and much more.
Sergey even shared printed photos that he took from outer space with the boys!
The impact of Sergey’s testimony on the children will be forever impactful. Sergey shared that in 2006, he was facing many personal struggles for which he said that nothing he did seemed to make a difference. Left with nowhere else to turn, Sergey went to church which he described as “entering into a completely new world” with the presence of God. Shortly after, he visited a friend in the hospital who asked him a life changing question- did he want to become a cosmonaut?
That year, Sergey was selected to join an international space mission for Russia alongside the USA. Cosmonauts are allowed to bring one kilo worth of personal belongings. Not knowing what to bring, he asked a fellow astronaut who had been to space multiple times what he brings, and his friend shared that he brings a Bible. While in space from October 2016-April 2017, Sergey posted a photo of his Bible, and an icon of Seraphim of Sarov, to social media. Stirring up controversy on openly sharing his faith as a prominent social figure in Russia has not held him back from boldly proclaiming his faith to the world nor to the orphaned young boys at the small orphanage of Kovalyovo.
In 1961, following his trip to space, iconic cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin stated, “I looked and looked but I didn’t see God.” For decades following Gagarin’s expedition, space travel was widely perceived in Russia as proof of God’s nonexistence. When Sergey took a trip to space and proclaimed his faith he made international headlines. His six months in space and his trip to Kovalyovo Orphanage are a testament to how God works in powerful and celestial ways, and his visit was an encouragement that the boys held close to their hearts.