Hello from Slobodksoy, Russia! What an amazing journey it has been getting to my fourth trip to this beloved place that has transformed me into the twenty-year-old writing this blog post, who took a week off a college to complete a project I started three years ago.
I first came to Russia in 2010, just an 8th grader at a time with my mom and families from Christ United Methodist Church who I call my dearest friends. However, come 2016 I am now a sophomore at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee who is the twelfth member of the trip and have taken part in welcoming five new travelers and four new male youth (which is a huge deal considering the female dominance present in past trips). Nevertheless, coming on this trip was full of nerves and the feeling of intrusion.
The spring trip is traditionally for parents and their youth, youth meaning middle and high school aged kids, while I decided that I was not quite done yet with the kids in Russia. I joined the trip with the purpose of completing a shoe project I started in 2013. “Sending Shoes to Slobodkskoy” was my way of thanking the children for opening my eyes to the pure joy that life has to offer and for teaching me how to love unconditionally. However, once again my breath was taken away walking into the orphanage building on Sunday. I thought I was going to finally come back to the orphanage to wrap up this journey, however, serving these children is not over, it is only just beginning.
Sitting on the hotel floor, completely exhausted, listening to Suzanne lead a devotional and asking the group where have we seen the risen Christ thus far on the trip made me realize that six years ago these orphans in Slobodskoy, Russia flipped my world upside down. If someone would have said I would have traveled to Russia four times, missed a week of school in college, and raised enough money to donate a pair of brand new athletic shoes to an entire orphanage I would have laughed in their face. If I knew six years ago that I would have seen first hand God’s work today when Natasha, who graduated from the orphanage in 2015, run into Craig Wood’s arms, I never would have missed a trip. If I knew how proud it would make me to watch Max Smith share God’s love with these precious children and watch him step up and take on Galina at every meal I would have doubted every word. Or that I would have heard Hank Hultman tell his little brother, Timothy, that he was proud of him for how much love he was showing, which brought me to tears, I never would have imagined that moment.
My forth trip is unusual in every sense, from seeing my mom completely “go with the flow” to Craig being brought to tears by the impact that our church members have had here in Russia, to endless games of 4-sqaure and UNO. Sitting in my bed, trying to compose a blog post and explain my thoughts about this trip is a challenge because I am speechless after tonight. Hearing where fellow travelers and translators have seen the risen Christ makes me see that God’s presence is not only here with us during this trip but He is working wonders in these children day in and day out.
So, to my fellow travelers, thank you for welcoming me into your group and allowing me to complete my project, three years late, but nevertheless just as remarkable to watch unfold on Sunday evening. Slobodskoy will forever have a place in my heart and today celebrating the graduate students who have been here since the start of Mission 1:27 thank you for letting us show you that you have something to dream of and graduating from the orphanage is a time for celebration not fear of entering the next stage of your life. Thank you to the sponsors and avid writers because today I saw that the work you all do is working. These kids have hope because of you and a purpose greater then graduating from the orphanage because of your endless love and support.
And thank you 8th grade self for stepping outside your comfort zone and trusting the good works of God.