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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Russian Orphanage Visit

James 1:27
27 Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble...

On Monday January 7 we visited a Russian Children's home, or orphanage. The orphanage is about 60 kilometers outside the city limits in a small village named Smolino. We drove out to Smolino on the M7 Moscow highway which was an experience in itself. Russian road trips can be daunting as the highways are not in good condition and the snow and ice just adds to the need to drive defensively. Despite the snow, the fog, and smoke from some very large fire we made the trip in both directions without incident.

We made contact with this orphanage through our language teacher Sveta Kuzmentzeva. Her husband, Sergei, is a really wonderful guy. He works a a branch manager for the local CitiBank branch in Nizhny Novgorod. It is traditional for Russian businesses to give money or gifts to orphanages or other charitable organizations during the holidays. Sergei looked for an orphanage who had few outside sponsors and needed help. His bank made a donation of food and other items to the orphanage.

Sergei knew that we had clothing, hats mittens and scarves that had been sent to us by Northern New England churches, so he asked us if we could share these items with the orphanage and visit them. Of course, we were happy to do so and the two worship leaders of Cornerstone church decide to visit also and share some music with the kids.

The orphanage is located in an older, but serviceable school building which has been reconfigured to serve as a children's home. The building was spotlessly clean and was warm also. It was well kept up and the furnishings were in pretty good condition. Orphanages in Russia are under sever budgetary constraints and they often lack many of the items they need. This orphanage was doing a great job on a very limited budget.

Some of the kids

The best thing we saw about the orphanage was the staff. The directors and staff obviously loved and cared for the kids in this orphanage. It was evident every time to spoke about, spoke to and interacted with the children. Orphanage work is difficult and the pay is very low. In Russia you do this kind of work because you want to, not because it is a good job with a decent salary. The kids in this orphanage are blessed to have these people working as staff.

This orphanage was called a "correctional" orphanage, which means it gets all the problem children that other orphanages don't want. Most of the children are developmentally disabled or have other problems. The kids receive a basic education and some training in trade skills such as sewing or woodworking. The directors shared their frustration over the fact that the children are only able to live in the orphanage until they are 16 years old. After that they are returned home or are on their own. Many then go on to live lives of poverty or abuse as they have few job skills and are not able to cope with life on their own. The staff dreams of having another residential home were these kids can live until they are 18-21 and perhaps gains some more work and social skills. State funding is not enough to allow for this.

We didn't visit the orphanage with the idea of doing any evangelism or gospel outreach. The directors were up front about their beliefs and that some of them were Orthodox Christians. We were surprised when they said that we could share our faith with the kids. So in the future we may be able to do some simple presentations of the gospel and perhaps give the kids some Christian books to read.

We spent some time with the kids just letting them ask us questions. We received a lot of questions about America, and about our kids and our pets. One question however brought tears to our eyes. A little boy very innocently asked "Would you like to adopt someone?" Well, how to answer that? We told him that we had tried to adapt a young girl when we lived in Russia in the 1990s and that the government stopped the adoption, so we had decided that we probably should not seek to adopt a Russian child. The staff agreed that the government sometimes makes it difficult for foreigners to adopt children. In my heart though, I (Mike) could easily be persuaded to take a couple of the kids. Unfortunately the realities of missionary finances makes this very difficult, if not impossible. This is not a complaint, just the reality of the situation.

Dorm room for the children

In the future we hope to visit on a limited, but regular schedule and we may bring some of the drug rehab guys along in order for them to play soccer and do other sports programs with the kids.

If anyone who reads this would be interested we could use to following items to bless the orphanage. There are about 70 kids in the orphanage. They range from about 7 years old to 16 years old and about 75% are boys.

  • Underwear and socks - young boys and girls, and young teens.
  • Simple make-up and jewelry for the girls entering their teem years - this would greatly help them feel good about themselves.
  • Combs, hair brushes etc.

All of the above items are available to purchase here and we could do so if we had the finances. That would save any shipping charges from the United States. Please send us an email if you are interested in helping.

The children dancing and singing

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