It seems only fitting that we arrive here, Slobodksoy, Russia, on the holiest of holidays, Easter. I acknowledge that it is not by accident that we arrive to the orphanage on Easter Sunday. This is where one part of our journey ends and the other begins…
Yes, we left Newark, New Jersey on Friday, and three planes, one train and a bus ride later (all totaling about 48 hours) we arrive in Slobodskoy, Russia. I can honestly that we were all beyond exhausted and desperately in need of showers, but we were oddly energized upon arrival in this snow covered town. For those of us who have made this journey before I am certain it was the excitement of what we knew was coming but for the new travelers, and we have five of them, where did they find their enthusiasm? I am in awe of them, one adult and four teenagers with no idea of what lies ahead. I know for each one this time will mean something different and yet I also know it will be life changing for them all. No words can explain the incredible range of emotions that will flow through all of us the next 4 days, but I know that God will be right there with every step we take and every single feeling we are about to experience.
And so it begins…as the bus pulls up to the orphanage the scene is familiar (to those of us who have been before) snow covered sidewalks, dreary skies and sweet tiny faces peering through the windows of the old worn out building. We are all one team, new and old travelers arriving together sharing the experience through 12 sets of eyes. What happens over the next few hours and coming days will touch each of us in a different way, but we all come with the same open heart to share our love with these beautiful children who live in this far off country, within the walls of an orphanage, they call home.
As we move inside the orphanage we are greeted by Galina, the director, our friend and our partner for the last 7 years. Hugs for all and as always her enthusiasm is contagious. We are lead upstairs and greeted with a round of applause from the children that Galina has orchestrated in typical fashion to make us feel like stars in her show!
Tradition continues with “opening remarks” by Galina and Russian bread with salt passed by a graduating student. Our team sings two songs “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”, lead by Suzanne Hultman and “Riptide”, lead by Ian Chavis. It should be noted that this is Ian’s first trip and at 14 plays his ukulele with incredible ease and directs us like a “rock star”!
We present each child with a gift, a pair of athletic shoes and socks, a project that Maddie Smith has been working on for the last 3 years and with the help of many was able to make her dream a reality today. The exchange of shoes is a beautiful moment, that immediately breaks the ice for all. It is not lost on me how blessed I am to here, to witness such love between two very different groups of people, from two very different realities. It is in moments like this that I feel God ‘s love working through all of us present in this space on Easter Sunday.
What comes next…well, that is yet to be determined. Because no amount of planning, preparing and praying can ever get you ready for what God has in store for us in Slobodskoy. My heart is filled with excitement as the sun comes (as I am writing at 5:00 am, my personal clock is off) up and we wake ready to share our love in Russia.