Over the last 24 hours, the Slobodskoy travelers have been acclimating ourselves to the “normal” routine of being home, yet we continue to find ourselves returning the orphanage in our thoughts and our discussions. Everyone we encounter wants to hear about the trip, see pictures of the kids and learn more about “what’s next” for the group and the ministry. We are considering the best way to share the information and plans with a broader group; rest assured that any updates and ideas will be posted on this blog in the coming days.
Within our group, many emails have floated around with different people’s thoughts, perspectives and reflections from the trip. One such note from Robert Naylor seems to have captured the essence of what the group is feeling and dealing with right now. With his permission, I am sharing it with you all. Thanks, Robert, for putting into words what so many of us are feeling right now.
As Shay Hall encouraged us one night after a long day, “This is a sprint.” I’m not sure how many more days I personally could have kept up the pace or participated in so many activities, but if our flight back had been canceled and the hotel could have accommodated us for another week, I was ready to go another round (and still am). The emotional and spiritual impact was profound and seemed to touch everyone in so many ways. The leadership and compassion shown by each person in our group, our Russian friends included, restored my faith that God is at work in everything, and that “[We] can do everything through Him who gives [us] strength” (Ph. 4-13). I knew most of our U.S. contingent through casual interactions within the walls of our church, and did not know any of our new Russian friends, but I returned home with a deep respect and admiration for each person, their talents, and their selfless concern for others. Our youth became adults and the adults became youthful. I saw a side of each person that I had not seen before (except at home), the vulnerable one where you open up your heart and show unconditional love, and it was one of the two things that really put the trip into perspective for me.
The other thing that put the trip into perspective for me should not have come as a surprise, but it did. I was not prepared to receive more than I gave, from children without material possessions, without families as we know them, oblivious to our social status or wealth, and with no stipulations. Love is universal, so there was no misunderstanding the smiles, hugs, high fives, fist bumps, arms around each other, holding hands, wide-eyed stares longing to be returned, waves, laughter, silhouettes in the lighted windows as we drove away each night, and children-lined hallways when we returned each morning. We sang songs, played games, worked on crafts, threw footballs, kicked soccer balls, played basketball, slung Frisbees, spiked volleyballs, jumped rope, danced, and sat around talking and asking questions about families, communities, our countries, our favorite things and our dreams. The orphans were showing us the letters we had written them and carrying around the pictures that we had sent them. Children were asking about their sponsors back in the USA, “Do you know______? Can you tell me about them?” If they knew one word in English, it was how to pronounce their sponsor’s name. A part of me, the fatherly one, wants to step in and make everything “better” for each kid, now thinking of them as my own children. But that’s not practical and maybe not the right thing.
Leaving was not the hardest part of the trip – not knowing exactly what to do next is. Every one of the children needs to know that someone (or a family) loves them unconditionally and cares about them constantly. These children need to also feel loved from outside the walls of the orphanage. They need to feel loved as part of a traditional family. Thank God they have such wonderful caregivers who provide for them as a large family within the orphanage, but the day will come when they will leave the orphanage and it’s a big world out there. I pray that we can find a way to be their “American” family and have a close relationship with them for the rest of their lives. When they leave the orphanage is when they may need us, and their faith, the most.
So this was a big step for Mission 1:27. Some profound comments were made at the close of our visit that “the world just got a lot smaller” and “a bridge was built between Chapel Hill and Slobodskoi”. We all agreed to gather back in Chapel Hill on a regular basis and keep the passion alive, and we also agreed that we would stay in touch with our new friends from Russia who translated and interpreted and seamlessly bridged the language and cultural barriers for us. We promised the children at the orphanage that we would write to them more often, and they also promised us that they would write us more often. The children asked us to send more pictures. We need more involvement, more sponsors, more financial support, more ideas. We will all ease back into our busy lives with our families, careers, and hobbies, but it will be important to keep the group focused and moving forward. I don’t know what that means, but it may include regularly planned get-togethers, writing more letters, promotion within and outside the church, personalizing our experience to the other sponsors (telling them about our experiences with the children they sponsor), planning and facilitating future trips, listening to the leadership at the orphanage and assisting them with their specific needs, and working with Children’s HopeChest and Fund Nadezhda to help them succeed. We were all changed by the trip, and I don’t think we can turn back now.