Author: Craig W. just returned from his fourth trip to Russia. He traveled this time with his two teenage daughters who were making their second trip to Slobodskoy.
For those of us who have traveled with Mission 1:27 before, there’s a routine that has developed that brings a certain level of comfort and familiarity to the experience. There aren’t as many unknowns, bringing a predictable element to the trip. For example, we know what to expect with the travel. And for me, I know that comes with waking up early EST the first few mornings home as my internal clock re-adjusts (thus today’s early morning blog post since I have been awake since 3:30 am!).
The comfort level we now have with our journey brings a certain level of calmness. We know what to expect from the food, which is why there’s always a little peanut butter around in case we need a little sustenance. We have a feel for the orphanage and how to get around (including where the bathrooms are!), eliminating any anxiety on the physical grounds. We know the kids and their tendencies, allowing us to engage with them in more personal ways. We know the personalities of the staff and the caregivers, bringing our relationship to new levels of connection.
But for all the comfort and predictable elements, each trip brings its unique experiences and perspective. And this trip was no different.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me on this trip was the experience of seeing my own kids – and many of their friends – in a new light. These were no longer little children who needed to be by our sides every moment, but young adults who were forging their own relationships, experiences and paths in Russia.
On our first trip last year, the whole experience was new to all of us and we did everything we could just to keep our heads above water and process everything. At times, it was overwhelming for sure. It was quite meaningful in every aspect, but it was difficult to process it all on an individual and family level until we got back to the States.
But one year later, with some of that uncertainty gone on this trip, the parents and adults were able – at least at times – to be spectators as our children created their own experiences. What a unique chance to watch from afar, and then have an opportunity to interact in real-time with them to understand our kids’ feelings and experiences.
So often, we send our kids to summer camp or mission trips and then have to rely on their stories and updates to help recreate the experience. The question of “So, how did it go?” usually results in the obligatory, “It was alright…I guess.” Getting details can be difficult. Since we are getting the story after the fact, it oftentimes lacks the desired emotion and perspective that we want to hear. It’s still great to get the stories from them – and I am all for kids getting experiences away from their parents – but this trip offers a unique opportunity that I had not fully appreciated on the first trip.
In many ways, I felt like this trip was part youth mission trip, part family mission trip. The kids would all eat together, go off and play with some of the Russian kids together, and generally had all the fun and craziness that I expect occurs on youth mission trips and summer camps. They planned activities for the whole orphanage to enjoy. They created their own skits. They had intense conversations with Russian peers that offered the wisdom and perspective of someone twice their age. The smiles were genuine and the experiences were real.
And then, in the quiet moments of the day or at night, we could sit back and talk about what happened. We did this as a group, but also as individual families. The answers to our questions were filled with more color, more emotion and more passion. And because we were experiencing the same thing as they were, we were able to contribute and participate in ways that are not possible when the child has this experience alone. I realize that not everyone can take their kids on a trip like this…and I am that much more grateful for the blessings that allow me to have this opportunity.
And this experience was not just limited to interaction with our own kids. There were ten incredible youth on this trip, ranging in age from 12 – 18 years. Put that many teenagers in a room (or a plane or train car or bus) and who knows what you will get?!?! But there was no drama, no issues and no complaints. That in and of itself might make this trip unique! But it was so much more than that.
I can truly say that I became good friends with all of them on this trip. It was truly an amazing group who were fun to be around and taught me a lot. Based on this shared experience, the conversations we will have in the future will be different. I will take a keener interest in their activities, have a better appreciation for their challenges and will be watching their growth as individuals and children of God. They are going to be great adults, parents and friends.
I knew how much I would enjoy the other adults on the trip…I just underestimated the impact our youth would have on this trip and my experience.
We wrote a blog post earlier about Mitch Arnold, the young man in Wisconsin who donated all the soccer equipment to the orphans. We entitled the post “Hope for the Future.” But I wish I had saved that title for this posting. For my interaction with all of our young adults has indeed given me great hope for the future, both here and all over the world. Thanks be to God!