We have arrived!
We made it, after many, many hours of travel the team has arrived safely in Russia and are in Slobodskoy with the kids at the orphanage! Travel here is never easy but arrival is oh so sweet. We are eight strong this year, Suzanne Hultman and her two boys, Hank and Timothy, Ruth Chavis and Ian, Patsy Smith and Max and Nick Jonckowski (CUMC youth pastor). This is a great team and we are excited for the week ahead!
We arrived late Monday afternoon to a quiet orphanage, the new new director, Svetlana, met us at the front door with a smile and a bit of of nervousness. She has stepped into a big pair of shoes (those who have visited in the past know Galina and know of her enormous presence) and seems to be wearing them well. She is kind, sweet, thoughtful, caring and leads with a certain quiet but strong presence. We like her and it is easy to see that the transition has started off well for both her and her staff. Svetlana tells us the kids are waiting and eager to get the week started.
We meet them in the cafeteria, 33 kids ready to present us with our traditional opening ceremony of bread and a short program about Slobodksoy, the orphanage and most importantly who the kids are and what they have been up to at the orphanage lately, some new children and a few new staff are introduced as well. After the brief slide show and introductions on their part, it is our turn. In the past we have arrived with some strong presentations and also a few not so strong, today we did well! Suzanne led us in two songs, “Home on the Range” and “Wagon Wheel” (a last minute change to our line up but I think it was perfect) we sing (and sway) with bandanas around our necks and although no one really knows what we are singing, they smile and clap (and laugh) right along with us. When we are done Suzanne graciously explains the meaning behind our “southern” song choices and then along with our team of boys we pass out a bandana to each kid and some staff.
Name tags are next, another annual tradition and an easy ice breaker for the new travelers and kids at the orphanage to start to get to know one another. Old friendships begin to emerge and new ones begin to form. Nick of course is an instant hit and as I sit at a table with him, I know God has brought him here with us intentionally, he is quickly comfortable in this space and making even the “coolest” of boys laugh. It is going to be a great week!
We then head out to see the kids in their living space or as they call it here their “family groups”. There are four groups (about 8 children per group) and with each stop we hear a little about the kids who live in the rooms and their individual roles and strengths as a part of their “family”. Everyone has a place and every space is neat and tidy and the kids are proud of their living quarters and the work they put in to keep them just right. As we finish up our tour the kids start to get a little more comfortable with our presence and begin to share pieces of themselves with our team. A few small hand made gifts are shared with some of the travelers and you can feel the love beginning to grow.
I am always in awe of how easily the kids share and how much of themselves they give, even “the least of these” have an abundance of love to share with us. It is why I travel to Slobodksoy, Russia, this place so far away, where I see God in the eyes of these beautiful children who have been given up by their parents, left in the care of the state, who give and receive love so generously, that you easily forget anything and everything else that came before this moment. We are in the presence of something special here and we will be full of love, stories and incredible memories when we leave. But tonight I will sleep with a full heart, I am home here and with my “family group”. I am so very lucky to be this journey with my son, these great travels, translators and the children of Slobodskoy.