Today is our last day here in Slobodskoy and it is always wonderful and painful all mixed in one. Strong emotions that overwhelm us all morning long up until the minute the bus pulls away. There are many moments of pure joy and connection yet there are still many more of great sadness and pain. We arrive this morning as usual to all of the hugs, “hellos”, kisses and touches. We eat breakfast in the “canteen”, it is just the travelers, as the kids have class this morning, but we will see them in a little bit at the annual talent show. Every once in a while a couple of eyes peak around the corner to catch sight of us and this makes me happy because I know they are not ready for good-bye either, but together we will get through these last few hours.
This trip has been different then the others. We are truly a part of this family now, I treat the kids with all of the love and kindness I give to Maddie and Max, but I also speak to them like they are Maddie or Max. “Follow the rules, stay focused in school, get good grades, don’t smoke and be respectful”. Before this year, I think I believed that my job here was to just smile, laugh and play with the kids but not to acknowledge that their life was difficult or hard, to make sure that for this week they forgot about all of that.
Now, as we have been here three times I think our roles have evolved and we are here to make sure the kids experience joy, but we are also here to be a part of their everyday lives, to recognize that their lives are not easy, they are hard, and they have been given a tough spot on this earth and they will have to work really hard to have even the most basic life outside of the orphanage one day. We are a very real and present part of these kids lives, we write, we Skype and the very blessed of us visit. We are a part of their home now and they are a part of our family.
The capacity for kindness and to love here is amazing, and on this last day when I feel so tired and wonder if I can give any more, I ask myself “how I can possibly push through the next hour of good byes”, then someone grabs my hand. I look down to the see Uliana, a nine year old girl with crossed eyes and the most amazing smile, her face fills my heart and she asks me for a picture together and that is all I need, I am full of love and grateful to her for her kindness. How can it be that this precious child with so little in life can make me feel so loved, it is through her eyes and that beautiful smile I can see God and I see him over and over when I look into these children’s eyes, who with one simple glance or touch fill me up and give me the strength to continue on and give all I can on this one last day.
For me this place over five thousand miles away from home is where I come to be filled up, it is where I know God, to feel, receive and love, to spend time with him and to pray with him. In each of these children I see God’s work, the miracle of a child cast out by most of society and yet he is here in this cold, remote place where not many would choose to come.
His presence is so strong that once a year I am called by him to this orphanage to meet him at the door of this building and to give and receive his love to these orphans and by these orphans. How can I possibly be ready to go, but I must be and as we head back down the hall we have walked a 100 times this week my heart, mind and body are filled with Gods grace and love as I am hugged by these beautiful children who have no idea of the incredible gift that they have given to me.
My life was and is forever changed by these children, because of them my faith is deeper, my life is fuller and I thank God for the gift of their kindness. I think of a line from a movie this week, “We kind of fixed each other”. Many may think we travel here to help these children but really they help everyone one of us in their own special and unique way. Thank you to all of the bright, beautiful faces in this orphanage, God bless each and every one of you.