After arriving in Kirov, we had a few minutes to check into our hotel (the first night in a bed after two nights of a plane and train) and take a quick shower (after two days of wearing and sleeping in the same clothes) before our meetings. Ah, just what the doctor ordered.
It was at that moment that we were reminded that our hotel was not going to have hot water. Yep, our first shower in two days was going to be with ice-cold water! Apparently, over the spring and summer months, the city of Kirov turns off the hot water in certain city blocks to help clean the distribution pipes and system. Well, this is the week on our block!! That was not going to deter us so the three men went to our room to (very quickly) shower and clean up. Actually, it was not as bad as it sounds…it was definitely as COLD as it sounds, but when in Russia, you just go with the flow. We took our showers in record time and felt VERY refreshed leading to our meetings. Breakfast was at our favorite place in Kirov (the “chicken and fries” restaurant) with fried eggs, tomato and cucumber salad, fried eggs and strudel (with ice cream). The perfect way to warm up, as the temperature in Kirov was about 40 degrees when we got there.
Our series of meetings this week are in support of the four key areas of Children’s HopeChest’s areas of focus. In short, CHC hopes to have the following pieces in place in EVERY region where they work in Russia:
- Sponsorship of local orphanages
- Support of graduate programs
- A vibrant ministry (life skills) center for transitioning orphans
- A micro-business opportunity (ies) to support the training, staffing and growth of the region
To date, the other four regions in Russia where CHC works (not including Kirov) have the first three areas present, with a growing interest in the fourth area. The life skills/ministry centers are a critical component of the equation. They really serve as a safe haven for the children as they deal with the harsh realities of living on their own. We all know the statistics and the odds are against these kids; the ministry centers helps the odds a little and provides safety, training and hope for kids who need it so much.
Kirov is the newest and largest region that was opened by CHC, so it is not as far along as the others, with only area #1 and #2 (a little) underway. The idea of a ministry center in Kirov is critical to the success of the region and the group has been planning for and praying for support in this area.
This work must be done with the support and involvement of the Department of Education for the Region. So, our first meeting was scheduled with the Head of the Department of Education for the Kirov Region. Sort of like meeting with the North Carolina Dept of Education. All of the orphanages and children who are ward of the region fall under this group. The success of the other ministry centers makes this a compelling offering for the Department, but it still requires connections and a Director who understands the need and supports it.
During our meeting, we learned some interesting statistics:
- CHC currently has sponsorship of nine (9) of the seventeen (17) eligible orphanages in the region. As a percentage, that is the highest in Russia! But there’s still work to do and we discussed how we might get other orphanages and sponsor churches involved.
- There are about 7,000 orphans in the region, with about 1300 represented in the 17 eligible orphanages/boarding schools. That leaves about 5,700 who are in foster care, baby houses, preschool orphanages or under some other care of the Region.
- Kirov (city) has about 600K residents with over 1.5 MM in the entire regional footprint.
- Unemployment in Kirov is unofficially about 7% but over 115 orphans graduate tech school last year and do not have jobs.
The purpose of the meeting was to (a) sign the agreement to continue the relationship between CHC/Nadezdha Fund and the Kirov Region and (b) discuss the need for and possibility of a ministry center in Kirov for graduating orphans. In short, both objectives were met. The contract was signed and the Director and his Deputy agreed wholeheartedly in the need for a ministry center in Kirov! They were so excited that they actually had picked out a building that they might be able to offer to support the effort. It was determined that the building was too big for the needs (even future) of the center, but they were committed to exploring other options in the next 30-45 days to keep the ball moving. Very fast for anywhere, including Russia! It was an exciting way to start the trip given that a roadblock here would severely dampen the chances of a ministry center ever getting built. Lots of prayers were answered with their strong commitment to the concept.
CHC will be starting the process of putting together the budget, staffing and program development efforts to support this concept. Those churches partnering with orphanages in the Kirov Region (of which CUMC is one of nine) will get the chance to input into this plan and offer whatever support we can in terms of leadership, ideas, and resources. I hope that the Mission 1:27 leadership team and supporters will seek God’s wisdom in how we can and should support the effort.
The rest of day was spent touring a support center run by the Region which focuses on potential foster care and adoptive Russian parents (very cool location with the same commitment as CHC to stop the cycle of orphans) and debriefing from our meeting. Everyone was very jazzed about the progress and we sent our travelers off to the train station with a bounce in their step and a thankful eye towards God for all His work.
That left Ernie and me in Kirov for the night as we head to Slobodskoy in the morning. For the previous travelers, we had planned to connect with Koss and his girlfriend, Vera. Koss was sick and we thought he might have to cancel – but he toughed it out and he and Vera joined us for a delightful dinner. Koss is the same lovable, funny, smart and huggable guy that we remember and Vera is that as well…and more. She is an absolute treat and a perfect fit for Koss. She has been working on her English and we spent the entire night talking in English and giving her a chance to practice. Here is a couple of shots to whet your appetite:
We enjoyed three hours together of talking, laughing, eating crepes and ice cream and walking around Kirov. There is no one happier than Koss – except for maybe Vera! You just feel happy hanging around them. In any event, Koss sends his love to the entire group (yes, even Tom!) and looks forward to future Facebooking and seeing more folks in October and April.
Not sure how this report will read – it is getting VERY late and I have an early wake up call. But hopefully you get a sense of what we are trying to accomplish here and how important today’s session was. I will not have internet access for a few days, probably until early Friday am Russia time (late night on Thursday). Here is what we have in store for us over the next two days:
- Wed – Early morning van to Slobodskoy with (Norma’s) Nataliya for a day with the kids and Galina (lots of activities in store). All the gory details will be shared from this day, so be prepared.
- Thu – Full day with the kids at the orphanage again until my 8:00 p.m. train to Vladimir for more meetings
Looking forward to hugging those kids tomorrow – and giving each of them a hug from each of you…travelers, sponsors and supporters alike. Thank you so much for your love, support and passion for these kids.