I signed up for this trip initially for one reason—this would be the only chance to see Vlad, the boy we have sponsored for over three years, before he was allowed to graduate from the orphanage and go to tech school. Since Mission 1:27 began, my wife and I have been corresponding with Vlad. I actually selected Vlad when it came time to select the kids we would sponsor. However, I have not been as passionate about keeping in touch with Vlad as my wife has. In fact, I don’t know if it’s just that keeping up with Vlad was something that I didn’t know how to do or if it was something that I saw my wife, Elizabeth, do, and do so very well that I felt anything I could do would be inadequate by comparison. Either way, I let Elizabeth take the lead. And she has done a fantastic job. She has dutifully been writing to Vlad, letting him know what is going on in her life and mine, how special he is and how we hope for the best for him. I have been supportive, but not especially active, in nurturing a relationship with Vlad. I think I initially decided to come on the trip out of the guilt that I felt for not keeping in better contact with Vlad and for not sharing as much as Elizabeth. Only later did I realize how much God is involved and in control.
Vlad is one of those kids cut from a different cloth, or as Misha, the discipler, put it, “rolled from a different dough.” When contrasted with the other kids at the orphanage, he looks at things differently. He interacts with others differently. He carries himself differently. He strikes me as one of those quietly brilliant individuals who, because they are reserved with others, are typically overlooked the first time. Spending any time with him is a gift, particularly because, just when it feels as though there is a connection being made, he retreats back into himself. I don’t know if I am just projecting here, but in many ways he reminds me of myself when I was his age. I always felt like the “odd man out,” never interested in falling in line or just “going with the flow.” In particular, I was not social with others in my peer group. So to have selected someone as our pen pal who possibly experiences the same social pressures or anxieties I did when I was 14 seems to me something truly divine.
I say divine not just because of how it helps me to relate to him, but also because I look back on my childhood, my life since, and can’t help but be aware of how similar we are but how different his life will be from mine. Even though he is obviously brilliant, he bears the label of slow, having been raised in an orphanage of other level 8 kids. In reality, he is far from that. His home life situation has forced him into a living arrangement that is far from ideal and, if not for the very capable and loving staff, would not provide adequate stimulation and nourishment for his talents. He would wither on the vine in this environment but for the staff and, possibly, Mission 1:27.
Yesterday, we met for the first time. I was at the orphanage for two hours in the afternoon before I actually saw him. He peeked in on me from around corners out of my sight, unbeknownst to me, several times before he made himself available to me. This was not unexpected behavior from the boy who hid the first time we were to Skype, so I was prepared to give him time. When he was ready, he called me into his bedroom. He showed me a picture of him and his mom when he was eight. It was stunning that he shared that with me. It is really one of his only possessions at the orphanage, and obviously a very personal treasure.
Today he wanted to spend some one on one time with each other. Apparently, he had been searching for me all throughout the orphanage as I was whisked away by other children, who wanted to play with my iPad and Galena, who needed help with moving some furniture. When he found me and called me into his room with Sveta, the iPad proved to be too much of a temptation. He quickly asked for it and called up one of the racing games. As would be the case for Vlad, he got bored with the racing game and asked for more strategy games. I was so disappointed to come up empty handed. The vegetables vs zombies strategy game that he truly enjoyed was on another’s iPad. So, we turned to Harbor Master, a dynamic boat management game. We played it for a while, and then he skipped out to recollect himself. In retrospect, I think the interaction with me was different than he was expecting. I was happy to have connected, but I felt deflated that I wasn’t better prepared for his needs.
The third time we connected was about ten minutes later. We talked about what his plans were after leaving the orphanage. He really has become bored with the orphanage. I can understand that. He is in another dimension and on another plane from the kids who are living here now. Even his teachers and librarian remark that he is one of three kids in the orphanage who react to more intellectual stimulation. He is looking forward to life on his own. I can’t blame him. I think my focus with my time with him has shifted. Instead of reinforcing the concept that he is a special kid and special to God and special to us, I will try to just let him know that we are here for him. I will try to give him the insight and optimism that my parents shared with me, that there is opportunity for shy, quietly brilliant individuals. He has the right to feel as though he is the master of his destiny.
What is God trying to tell me by my being here? It is something that I have struggled with since the moment I committed. “Ok, I am going,” I would tell myself. Why? I knew it had to be about more than simple guilt.
Connecting with Vlad is certainly one answer to that question. But I have a feeling there is much more I am supposed to be doing. During our commissioning, I felt overwhelmingly that my sole role during this trip was to be the vehicle through which God could show His love to these children. I hope I am living up to His expectations. This has just been the second day at the orphanage. I pray that He gives me clarity as I endeavor to show His love in the ways these incredible kids—all of them, regardless of their interests, talents, and differences—need to see it.