Yep, I am writing this from the finest dining establishment in the United States – Panera Bread. I clearly have found my comfort food as this is my third trip to God’s Kitchen since I have been back in the country – which, of course, has been only four days!
I’ve even varied things a bit and visited three different locales: downtown Franklin Street, Southpoint Mall and now, Grand Rapids, Michigan. No matter the location, you know what you are going to get: fresh food, hot soup, free wi-fi and the awesomeness of half Diet Pepsi/half Cherry Pepsi. This may not be heaven on earth…but it is one of those “thin places” we all seek. 🙂
So, inspired by a “You Pick 2” and some precious time alone on the road, I offer a few random post-trip thoughts:
- The second trip to Russia (I guess in my case, the third trip) is very different from the first trip. Not better, not worse – only different. You notice things you didn’t notice the first trip. You have conversations you did not have during the initial visit. And you see God in places you never saw Him before. Sure, I saw Jesus in the faces of those precious children as they hugged, loved and cared for us. But I also saw God through:
- A late night train conversation with a great friend, learning more about each other and realizing how much we have in common.
- Walking alongside a river in Kirov during an evening snowfall, marveling at His Majesty and the beauty of nature.
- Watching a 20-year old translator hug and comfort a crying 14-year old orphan, using the sense of touch when no words could have worked.
- Having another 14-year old girl read me the poems her father wrote in his youth and that he passed onto her before his death…and seeing the joy rather than sadness on her face as she recited them to me.
- A huge jar of homemade pickles given to me by a caregiver – and then a smaller jar given the next day after I had shared the first jar with everyone.
That’s right – I saw God in a jar of pickles this trip. Funny but so true. He was there in everything we did. And He is still there as I type. How thankful I am that He showed His presence in such obvious and wonderful ways.
- It was equally fun and rewarding to experience the trip through the eyes of the first time travelers. I remember so vividly my feelings on the initial visit and could see the first timers processing their own reactions to the trip. It was a little like watching one of your kids open their gifts on Christmas – they slowly start to take off the wrapping paper, peek inside, recognize what they have and suddenly the paper is violently ripped off so that they can enjoy their new present. To the bystander, it’s such a joyful experience to watch someone enjoy their “gift” as much as you did. On future trips, this seasoned group of travelers will be given the gift of watching others experience God in this way. It’s the gift that keeps on giving!
- I am so thankful for those people whom God has called to help these children. I am not just talking about the travelers but every single person who has a passion for and commitment to these kids. I am talking about:
- Those who pray for these kids
- Those who donate time, money or supplies for the effort
- Those who write letters
- Those who make scarves and pillowcases and…
- Those who sponsor children
- Those who stay home so others can go
- Those who read this blog
- Those who love God and want to help, but don’t know how
Thank God for each of you, for your talents and gifts and for your love of these children. This is truly a community effort that extends beyond geographies and neighborhoods.
- My heart still aches for the upcoming graduates – not because of what they are experiencing now, but of the challenges they will face in the future. We learned a lot more this trip about the life of an orphan grad, in particular a “Type 8” orphan as this group is classified. It’s a topic for a longer and future blog post but a topic that’s critical if we are to provide holistic and sustainable support for these young adults. For now, please pray for them – for their safety, for their decisions and for God’s guidance in their lives. And pray for Mission 1:27 as we try to discern God’s plan for how we can continue to help these precious ones once they leave Slobodskoy.
Maybe that’s the best way to end this post. We’re trying to understand what God has in store next. So many questions, so many options, so much potential. God – what do we do next?!?!
So we pray those familiar words, “Thy Will Be Done.” Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else.
On Our Knees,