Today we hosted an appreciation Tea Party for the staff here at the orphanage in Slobodskoy. It easily turned into one of the most surreal and powerful experiences along this journey. It was planned to be a simple, warm thank you to the wonderful people who put in countless hours raising and nurturing the children here.
The five of us folks from Mission 1:27 had just spent the morning teaching classes to the children. We “taught” the same subject to four classes one after another. Now none of us are teachers and we all found it challenging and exhausting. As Jennifer M. said, there were many moments when our nuggets of wisdom were met with the sound of crickets, crickets, crickets. This instilled in us a tremendous amount of respect for the teachers who risk facing this every day.
Soon after that humbling experience, we stood in a room sipping green tea with the staff. To our right was a row of our newfound heroes, about a dozen teachers. And to our left were three guests we had met earlier at Tech School 18. These young men had spent the majority of their lives in the orphanage and for years had been taught by these very teachers.
What happened next made me take a reality check. Was I really watching this happen? And being a part of it? In the middle of Russia?
Andrei spoke first and his words were aimed toward the women standing 10 feet in front of him. His delivery was steady, confident and poised. His words were full of praise, admiration and love. He eloquently spoke of his accomplishments since his graduation. He had earned not one but two trade majors. He had developed his talent and skills in photography. And most remarkable, he had succeeded in having his Type 8 classification removed, the stigmatizing label shared by all the orphans at Slobodskoy.
Then Andrei turned towards those of us representing Mission 1:27 and Doug and Katherine K., his sponsors. “You gave me hope that if I worked hard and made good decisions, I could have a good life, a better life, with a family, with a good job and with a future. You did that for me. Spasibo.”
The faces of his former teachers beamed. Eyes moistened throughout the room. For me, time stopped and I felt so blessed to be here.
Afterwards I was speaking to one of the other graduates, also named Andrei. We were talking about his friend from Mission 1:27, Tom H. I said I thought Tom was a great guy. His response? “Tom is a great guy. In fact, he is a great man. He is the greatest man in my life.”
Inspiration and love was being heard loudly by all, over the crickets, crickets, crickets.