A True Homecoming and a Place to Belong – from Craig W.

(Caveat – this was written on Monday night, 10/25.  It is now Tuesday night in Russia but we just now have access to the internet. We will post a few posts tonight but are not sure when the next ones will be posted. Thanks for understanding. All is just as incredible as it was 24 hours ago – with a lot more stories.  But let us begin…)

With so many family members and friends expecting a blog post from our travel team, we wanted to send a quick update from Russia. We apologize in advance if this is short and sweet – the weariness is taking over a little and sleep is on the docket. Thanks for understanding.

We have been traveling for the better part of 48 hours and have just arrived at the hotel after our first visit to see the children. The travel part was smooth and without drama – flights were on time, weather was beautiful and we arrived in Moscow without incident. Quite the contrast from our first visit when we had to rush to make our international flight, causing us to never truly get into a travel rhythm.  With a smaller group and no delays, we found ourselves in a relaxed (albeit weary) state of mind upon touchdown in the Russian Federation.

Our short stop in Moscow was quite interesting, both for the newcomers and those who were returning. We once again visited the Christ the Redeemer Cathedral, which is the national church of Russia and the home to the Patriarch of Russian Orthodoxy. It is always fascinating to see others worship and we were touched by the passion and commitment of those at church on this particular Sunday.

After our traditional lunch at Sbarro (just like in the U.S. – but both does it taste good after 24 hours without real food), we were able to tour some cathedrals within the Kremlin. That was quite a treat as the previous travelers had not done that on our first visit…as a matter of fact, one of our translators had not been inside the Kremlin either! We learned a lot about the history of the country and the czars that ruled. We also learned valuable lessons about what we could touch and where we could stand, thanks to some friendly church security and Russian policemen. This is the first of many stories that will carry over (and be embellished) as the trip continues.

Maintaining our good travel karma, the train ride that evening was equally benign. We enjoyed a gourmet buffet in cabin 5, complete with bread, cheese, salami, oranges and cookies galore! We left full of food and fellowship as we retreated to our cabins for the evening’s rest. Everyone seemed to sleep fairly well, although the guys who are 5’6” fit better in the cabin than the 6’5” dudes. That score will be settled on the basketball court at some point. We arrived in Kirov to a beautiful sunrise, not a cloud in the sky and the crisp autumn air of Central Russia.

But the crisp air quickly turned into a warm embrace as we encountered some familiar faces – our interpreters. We had been with the amazing Sveta since Moscow. Her smiling face and calm demeanor makes her such a peaceful and gracious hostess. At the train station, we were greeted by “DJ Jazzy” Koss, one of the hippest interpreters this side of Kotelnich. Our breakfast restaurant (serving fruit salad with yogurt AND chocolate shavings, followed by crepes!) was where we were reunited with Misha, our dear friend and one of the disciplers at the orphanage. Misha is part of the family and our hearts were warmed with his mere presence. From there, in followed (Norma’s) Nataliya, Yana, Yulia and Katya – all intrepreters that we had on our spring trip and amazing women who are committed to the children in Slobodskoy and throughout Russia (many are disciplers at other orphanages).  At our hotel, we finally met with Masha, the new co-discipler in Slobodskoy and our final interpreter. A Slobodksoy resident, she has a sweet spirit and loving heart that the kids (especially the girls) with gravitate towards. What a wonderful addition to our Mission 1:27 family! It was such a pleasure and joy to be with these folks as we drove from Kirov to Slobodskoy, reigniting old friendships and creating new ones.

Why am I writing so much about our interpreters? Isn’t this trip about the kids?  It is about the kids…but it’s also about what God is doing through every encounter in Russia. For through these interpreters, we are learning about life and what God has called them to do. God has used this group to help us better understand the kids, Russian culture and the opportunity we have to serve Him through our presence and love. They have ministered to us in ways they don’t realize; it’s difficult to put into words our gratitude and love for these individuals. Everywhere we look, God is present on this trip and that became evident in our first engagement with this group. We are so thankful for them and their gifts!

So the big moment had come – the arrival at the orphanage. As we drove up, we saw the familiar façade of the school and dormitory. But unlike last time where there was snow on the ground and one lone child watching us arrive, the scene was warm and welcoming. Maybe it was the weather or the lack of snow on the ground. But I’d like to think it was because we felt that we were coming home to place that was familiar and welcoming.

We were greeted this time by a smiling Galina and a gaggle of kids coming back to their rooms from the schoolhouse. This was a true homecoming for some and a new place to belong for others. The returning travelers were hugged as loved ones who had been away for a long period of time, while the new visitors were given a more traditional Russian nod and handshake. It won’t take long for the newbies to become old friends and treated as such.

The kids look quite good – healthy and active. Many of the young kids have lost some of that “baby face” and are beginning to look older and more mature. Yet there’s still that innocence; the innocence that makes you worry about them outside of the orphanage and pulls on your heart strings to love on them while they are here and help prepare them for the world outside this place we now call home.

There is so much to share but candidly, it is quite late and getting tougher to convey the activities and emotions on paper. We are hoping to get some of the newer folks to offer a blog post in the hopes that they can capture the essence of their feelings and perceptions as they first step foot on orphanage property.

For our families, we know that you are trading emails and phone calls as you get updates from those of us who have connected. Know that we are well and taking care of each other. The next few days are busy and intense. We will do our best to continue to blog but our access to the internet is almost non-existent and we only can post thanks to the ingenuity of Misha. We are all capturing our thoughts in a variety of forms and we will share these sentiments as time and technology allow.

I really this posting was neither short nor sweet as expected – perhaps more of a factual travelogue of our journey so far. Bear with us as we balance the need to update those who want details with trying to accurately capture the stories, feelings and emotions tied up in this journey to love our neighbors in Russia.

Finally, many of you have asked for prayer requests from the group. Here are a few requests:

  • For the continued health, energy and focus of the team, especially in the face of limited sleep and less than warm showers
  • For our ability to see God in our midst – whether in the form of a small child standing alone in the corner…or a staff member offering a loving embrace of an orphan…or an interpreter trying to convey our thoughts and words in Russian. We want to see the face of Jesus in all that we do here. And we don’t want to miss it when we have the opportunity.
  • For our families that are at home – that they would have peace knowing of our well-being, strength to handle their daily duties while we are away and confidence that their love for these kids is present, whether they are here in person or not.

We are praying for all of you and appreciate your love and support. More to come…

With thankful hearts,

Mission 1:27 Travel Team

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5 thoughts on “A True Homecoming and a Place to Belong – from Craig W.

  1. Thanks, Craig, for your wonderful blog. Although I have only seen pictures and heard your stories, I feel familiar with the children, staff, and others involved and am eager to know how things are going. Sounds like you’re on track and having a blessed time! Will honor your prayer requests and send love to all who are givers or recipients of God’s grace on this journey. Your proud mother (Oh, a happy, happy birthday to you tomorrow! What a way to spend your natal anniversary!)

  2. I am so glad the travel portion of the trip was uneventful. I am sure it was great to see our friends in Russia again! Can’t wait to hear more stories.

  3. Glad to hear you are all well. We have been looking for an update daily and were so excited to see this today. We think of you all every day and keep you in our prayers each night. I know for some the experience is brand new and for others it is a homecoming but what a blessing for all of you to see those children who we think of so often. Enjoy the moments each and everyone, they will become memories that you hold on to when you return and what keep us going for the next trip. All our love and prayers to the travelers and our friends in the orphanage.

  4. It is so great to “hear” the blog again and (for me this time) to witness God’s work in Slobodskoy from afar. This journey is no different than those in the Bible where people of faith traveled long distances and took risk on faith that what they were doing was a true calling to serve others. I wish I was with all of you but I am also grateful that this journey includes many who did not go earlier this year and that they are witnessing it with only a few returnees – it seems ideal. We are all praying for your health, safety, hearts, stamina, and joy with the kids, caregivers and translators. This is a thing of beauty.

    With much love,
    Robert

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