Garber Church’s partnership with Children’s HopeChest in the Kostroma region of Russia started in 2003. We answered God’s call and began a “Journey of the Heart” mission which has continued for 16 years, sending 19 teams to Makariev and Kovalyovo orphanages. Our partner visits have been multifaceted, alternating our visits’ purposes with growing relationships, serving those who God has called us to love, making physical improvements to the facilities in which they live, and improving their physical well-being through vision care.
Over the years it is obvious to see how our ministry in Russia has impacted the lives of those we serve. Our relationships have grown significantly. This is made possible through Garber’s commitment to send a team each year. Between visits, the kids reminisce with their friends who are still living at the orphanage and share their memories with those who have not yet experienced a visit from their American friends.
The anticipation builds until we arrive, and it’s like we never left. One year, we observed the windows filled with faces watching and waiting for us to arrive.
While there, we fill our days playing our favorite “quarter game,” doing activities together, talking, and laughing. We take photos and print the picture for them to save and treasure until the following year. From time to time, we might see a Christmas card or photograph from a previous year proudly displayed on a shelf in their bedroom. After the children graduate and start living on their own, our teams always make an effort to see them again while in Kostroma.
This year we invited the graduates to join us for bowling. Bowling is a great activity to connect one-on-one, because very little translation is necessary. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with them again and find out what they are doing with their lives. Although it can be a difficult time in their lives, due to working and making ends meet on their own, most took the valuable time from their schedule to see us again. They are grateful for our continued presence in their lives. Garber’s “Journey of the Heart” mission is a bond of friendship and love that spans time and will not be forgotten.
The condition of the Makariev facility on our first exploration trip was rough. It was clear from the beginning that improvements to the facilities were essential for the success of our ministry and to make a nurturing impact. God has blessed Garber with the resources to provide improvements to the Makariev facility that would transform it from an institution to a home. Initially we worked to clean up the trash and plant flowers to brighten the yard, paint walls, and fix up some of the rooms. A later team built an outside playset for their recreation and enjoyment. Another year, we purchased a plot of land so they could grow fresh vegetables to supplement their diet. We supplied them with a rototiller to make planting the land easier. Last year we replaced their fence and porch. In 2019, we helped with the installation of raised flower beds. The fruit of our joined labor has changed the feelings of embarrassment and shame to that of comfort and pride for the kids who live there. On one of our trips, friends from the community and school were invited to come to the orphanage and take part in a special activity. And on occasion, it is not uncommon (with permission) to invite a school friend over afterschool to hang out.
Due to the passion of two optometrists, and what God has laid on their hearts, Garber is able to dedicate our service every other year to provide vision care to all of our orphaned children, caregivers, and community members. It has been a vital component to our ministry and impacted the success of all we support in the Kostroma region. When poor vision or other eye disorders are detected early, and remedied with glasses or further care, there is an increased likelihood that the child can do well in school. Subsequently, the chances for that child to attend and succeed in some form of higher education is greater. Our continued presence throughout their childhood and into adulthood affords us the opportunities to see the impact all of our visits have made over time.
Garber looks forward to furthering God’s ministry in Russia. Every visit, we focus our eyes on Jesus to continue growing relationships with those God has called us to love. It is God’s plan for us to make an impact in the lives of the children, so that they may know His love firsthand as they grow into adults.