Here I am on Monday April 9, sitting in my comfortable den in Chapel Hill, reflecting on the past week in Slobodskoy. I am taking the day off from work and everyday chores to regain my legs after our 20-hour journey home. What a blessing to be able to make the transition back in to my “regular” life with some time of reflection.
My daughter, Julia, and I took the journey together. She is a senior in high school and will be off to college in August. This is Julia’s fourth trip to Russia and third to the orphanage, so she is a veteran traveler with many friends at the orphanage. This was my second visit, full of emotion as Julia transitions to another stage in her life and as we spend the week with the beautiful children of Slobodskoy.
When I tell people we are going to a Russian orphanage, they generally assume that the children are very young and that we are working on some sort of building project. Two misunderstandings I have to dispel. There are really only a few very young children at the orphanage. Most are in grades 5 – 9, with a few in second and tenth grades. Many of these kids have lived in orphanages for years, some are hardened from the experience but most are very sensitive, loving children open to developing a relationship.
We don’t travel to Slobodskoy to work on a building project or to buy things for them, although our Mission 1:27 funds certainly pay for many things that the government would not otherwise support at the orphanage. We travel to Russia to develop a relationship with the children, to share our love with them, to show them how healthy family relationships work and to encourage them to make a difference with their lives. The money that we send is extremely important and a critical part of our mission. But the letters that we send and the visits encourage the children more than any tangible thing that we can give them.
Let me tell you about Group 3 that Julia and I spent most of our time with during the week. Each day we ate meals with Group 3 and spent Family Time with them, playing games, talking, loving. (We are able to have such an intimate relationship with them because we have a translator for every 2 travelers, so we can have one-on-one conversation with the children any time). 12 children make up our group, all in grades 6 and 7. Let me tell you a little about them.
Sergey is a beautiful boy, who mostly wants to be hugged. Alyosha, loves to learn English words. We point to objects, naming them in English, and he carefully writes each word in the Cyrillic alphabet so he could study them later. Dima is shy, but loves to play dominos. Stas is athletic and very loving. Zhenya, how can I explain him? He is full of energy, life and emotions. Yura, is artistic and has a flair for the dramatic. Ruslan, is smart and eager. Nastya, is as tough as the boys and likes to watch me when we have dinner. Vova has sparkling eyes and many questions. Masha sings beautifully and loves fashion. Sasha is quiet and handsome. Petya and Kirill are the newest in the group. Petya came when a large group transferred from another orphanage. He draws beautifully and has a huge smile, and couldn’t stop crying when we left. Kirill has only been at the orphanage for 3 months. He is so cute, with a twinkle in his eyes.
And so you see, these children are much like our own, each a unique and wonderful gift from God. I don’t know why they were chosen to lead this life, but I know that God has a plan and I feel certain that Mission 1:27 was meant to be a part of it. Each of us, whether we are orphans, caregivers, translators, sponsors or travelers, are changing our lives while we spend time together.