As books are read or movies and TV shows are watched, some struggle within the temptation to skip straight to the end and see how it turns out. But in the midst of that temptation is missing out on all of the adventure, intrigue, lessons learned, relationships formed and character developed.
It takes time, commitment and resources to stay loyal to a story until the end and the same goes while standing on the front end of a commitment to partnership with a community.
As partners with Children’s HopeChest in Russia, our commitment started in 2001.
Over the years, we have known many friends from a young age who turn into teenagers and then age out of the orphanage. Our hearts overflow with joy while talking with the older teens and telling them, “You have grown into a great young man/woman, and we are so proud of you.” Remembering their adventures when they were younger and teasing them is one of my favorite conversations. As Russian orphans, they do not have many people around them to remember and champion them. Our stubborn loyalty manifests in walking with them for as long as possible into their adult lives while they learn a trade or earn a degree that will keep their own kids from finding themselves in an orphanage.
Many years ago, I discovered that the Hebrew translation of ‘mercy’ in Micah 6:8 had nothing to do with ‘grace’ and everything to do with ‘a loyal, kind, compassionate, covenant relationship.’ That verse quickly became my rally cry for our partnership and the ‘why’ for time, resources and energy spent on sponsorship, travel, and funds to provide tutors for students when education will provide a better future.
Micah 6:8 became so ingrained in my heart and soul that it is hard to separate it back out again. It is also why I am so proud of a young man named Denis, who I have known since he was eight years old. In a culture where orphans have little possibility to graduate from high school, the commitment and support of his orphanage director had created the opportunity for Denis to graduate from high school this June. It also allows him the chance to go to university next fall and major in photography.
Each year as we would visit, there would be times when we wouldn’t see him, because of different medical issues he has had over the last ten years. But there would also be years that we would be mesmerized by the gifts and talents that God has created him to use. Denis is a phenomenal artist. Absolutely phenomenal. A common discussion between us when I am taking a photo is the story that gets told through a photo. Next time we are in person together, I cannot wait to hear what he has been learning and talk about the stories he is telling with his photography. He and I can also talk superheroes for hours. The only thing we actively do longer than we talk about superheroes is play basketball in the gym. He also has an insane wit. Just this year during our visit, he quickly jumped into a story we were creating as a group to be the villain. When asked what made him a villain, he quickly replied, “I was traumatized by hobbits as a child.”
However, my absolute favorite thing about him is how he has always looked after the younger kids, especially if they are new to the orphanage. Even as a 17-year-old, he defied normal ‘older teen’ protocols and was playing soccer in the gym with kids half his size. His kindness and ability to be a big brother to other kids should readily inspire others.
Denis is only one individual of countless that we have had the honor of walking with during our partnership in Russia, and each of those lives hold incredible Kingdom value as we continually work to right the wrong done in the lives of children and families. God’s heart is for justice, for all to know their worth within compassionate, consistent love and to see His Kingdom come to life in the relationships we have with each other. Our partnership provides so many entry points to actively be living the words Jesus spoke. Everyone can participate, from a toddler who can draw to an older person who feels they cannot travel and visit. But our long-term commitment is only possible, because we have taken every opportunity God has placed in front of us throughout the years to love and support our friends. There is a Kingdom purity created when we discover that it is no longer Russians and Americans, but one undivided community.
As I reflect on the end of Denis’ school year, I cannot help but think back to the little guy I first met in 2008. What I have seen flourish in him over those years is an insanely smart, incredibly artistic, superhero-and-sports-lovin’ teen whom I am honored to have in my life. Yet, had I not invested these years in our friendship, I would have missed out on so much. It is not so much about the impact he has had on my life, or the impact I might have made on his. It is all about how we actively use our lives to honor and worship our God who looks within that relationship with a pride in seeing His people respect and deeply love in dignifying ways.
There are few things more God-honoring than investing in the life of another, whether it is in an international community or your own neighborhood.
When it comes to the story of Denis’ life, I am so glad that I never wanted to skip to the end and instead chose to live in the good and bad moments that came within his story. The loyalty, consistency and support to his home is not responsible for his success, but it has brought some very significant friendships that will continue to be present in his life. And one day, when we write his memoirs or there is a movie about his life, I will want to watch every second with love and pride for my friend, without skipping to the end.
G E T I N V O L V E D