“Behold, I am making all things new.”
I am struck by the amount of change that I am noticing through the first 72 hours of this trip to Russia. Although I have taken many trips to this beautiful country, it’s the first time I’ve been back in two years – so it’s not surprising that some things would feel a little different. Yet almost every aspect of this trip has been jarring on some level.
The startling differences started with our journey to Russia. For the first time in forever, we had no travel drama. The weather was beautiful. The planes were on time. We actually had a long layover at JFK, which allowed for a wonderful meal of salad and fresh greens before boarding our transatlantic plane. Okay, the kids still had burgers and shakes, so I guess not everything changes!
And the plane – oh, what a plane! In the past, we have flown older jets with minimal amenities. One large TV screen at the front of the plane, dilapidated seats, etc. This 767 jet had all the bells and whistles – individual screens, USB power outlets and 300+ movies to choose from. What a nice change of pace from past trips – and a harbinger on things to come on this particular journey.
The Physical Space
From the outside, the orphanage building looks the same. However, the inside has been transformed through the collective talents of the kids and local artists. Murals are painted on the walls of the general rooms, depicting beautiful landscapes of the Russian countryside and Vyatka-land. The windows are adorned by drapes made by the girls. In many ways, the experience was like walking into a new building.
Not only are there differences in the physical space, but there are also changes in how that space is now used. For instance, there is a new regulation that no one outside of authorized orphanage personnel can eat inside the cafeteria. That means no meals with the kids as we have done on almost every previous trip. We are going to have to be innovative as we abide by this new rule – for instance, dinner last night was held in the family room of the dormitory rather than the cafeteria.
This is a huge change for us, and something that has created a challenge for logistics. Yet Galina, Chris and Kate (our trip leaders) have been creative in their problem solving to ensure we (a) still get that special time with the kids and (b) still get the sustenance we need to keep going on long days! This is a change we had not anticipated but one that will shape the experience in new and exciting ways.
The biggest change of all has been seen in the faces of the orphans who we have come to visit.
We started our time together with some recent graduates at the Kirov Ministry Center in Tech School 18. We saw some familiar faces, most notably Natasha, Natasha, Nastya and Yura, as well as meeting some new friends. It was humbling to see these young men and women who we first met as young children in Slobodskoy five years ago. The peach fuzz is gone – and yet the smiles and love remain. They’ve made new friends and are learning to live on their own. They are maturing before our eyes, and more eager and curious as ever to what life holds for them. This is especially encouraging as there are 35 more young adults who are scheduled to graduate Slobodskoy orphanage this spring.
With the graduation of the older kids, there is now a whole new crop of children at the orphanage. Fresh faces eager to learn about us, about our culture and to forge a new friendship with complete strangers. We are starting anew to forge trust and rapport with these kids – with a vision for what’s possible having just seen the graduates in Kirov.
Creating Something New
As I reflect on these changes, I realize that there’s one thing that has changed more than anything … me. I am not the same person who traveled here for the first time in 2010. God has used this experience, the kids, this staff and my fellow travelers to shape me, mold me, make me a new creation. Each trip continues to change me in ways that can’t be articulated, but are significant and felt deep in my core.
Tonight during our devotional time, we sang the following:
“I lean not on my own understanding
My life is in the hands of the maker of heaven
I give it all to you, God
Trusting that you will make some beautiful out of me”
Throughout this trip, that is my prayer as I wait to see how God will continue to make all things new.