It’s 11:30pm on Monday night. We had another very busy day, equally as meaningful as yesterday, but more focused and comfortable after getting a good night’s sleep in the little hotel by the lumberyard. Some things make strong impressions in our minds that ultimately shape our views of the world, and much of what else we experience is often compared to those. There are many on this journey, but they began last year when we first visited Slobodskoy. There is a familiar warmness and comfort that is hard to explain, like coming home to a house with a familiar smell and a mother’s warm embrace.
Sveta is making sure we are prepared to de-board the train. We all share a complete sense of security as we follow her through one travel adventure after another, with very little concern on our part but I’m sure a heightened maternal instinct on hers. Our overnight train pulls into Kirov this Sunday morning, and as the brakes squeal and we fight to keep our balance, there in the cold bite of the wind stands Koss, all by himself with the familiar fur-lined leather hood and lanky tall figure. It was sunny but still early, and we all cried out his name with an immediate sense of excitement among us. Koss is a discipler for another orphanage, but also a good friend of Misha, one of the two disciplers at the Slobodskoy orphanage. Koss became part of our family last year and feels the same pull about this journey. Our bus was waiting at the edge of the platform and Koss corralled us in that direction.
We agreed it seemed like yesterday when we last visited, although it had been a year for most of us. We exchanged warm embraces with Kos and boarded the bus for the small restaurant in Kirov that we dearly love. The restaurant was just as we left it last year, and we were swept into another celebration as we entered and were greeted warmly by the gracious owner and her assistant. The restaurant was opened just for us and we filled it to comfortable capacity as laughter and loud conversation enveloped the room. We were on our way home again. Misha arrived minutes later to more hardy welcomes and familiar embraces, as did the seven interpreters, many of whom were with us last year and wanted to be part of our journey again. If we were an army, Misha would be a four-star General, and his direction for us and the children at the orphanage is invaluable. With a scrumptious breakfast and coffee lifting our spirits, we were prepared for the difficult but beautifully destined finale that can only come from grace.
The bus made its final turn an hour later and the two World War II vintage buildings were framed in the distance by the blue sky and scattered grey clouds. It was bitter cold and the children were waiting for us in the cafeteria. Unlike last year, there was very little trepidation by the children, the caregivers or the travelers, and another celebration swept us all into a moving mass of hugs and smiles. I felt a sense of calm in this stormy world that these children live in.
There was no bravado, and I might have noticed for the first time the humility of our leaders. It was powerful and emotional. Standing on the fringes and allowing the spirit to fill our cups, they lowered themselves so others may rise up. It was not sacrifice, but the power of humility. Caring so much about others that they become insignificant, they are leading us by example and becoming models for all of us to follow. They led us through Russia and are leading us through our days at the orphanage. And yes, the humble leaders include the children themselves. They all are teaching us so much about life and love that we have forgotten or never learned. And I pray that we can give them something in return, if only to give our friendship, love, prayers and hope.
God bless each and every one of them.