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Sunday, February 05, 2012

Love, Sadness, Joy, Heartbreak, Questions

Last evening we were teaching a marriage seminar in the city of Dzerzhinsk. This is the city that our family lived in from mid 1994 - early 1996. During that time we met many people and made many friends.

One time, while Karen and I had taken a trip by train to Moscow, a little girl knocked on our apartment door, and asked our teenaged children if she could stay overnight. She lived with her grandfather, who was often drunk and would lock her out. Her mother was off drinking in the village, and her father had disappeared years before. The kids said yes, so she stayed.

We arrived home very early in the morning, getting to our apartment about 6:00 AM and were surprised to see this little urchin sleeping on our sofa. At breakfast the kids told us the story how she had been locked out of her home and had no place to sleep. Lena stayed with us most of that day and late in the evening it became clear that she wanted to stay overnight again. What to do?

We decided to let her, not knowing where this would lead. One night stretched into a week and then longer. Her family, whom we had never met, didn't seem to miss her. We began to buy clothing for her and she just became a part of our family and the pack of young people who hung out at our home.

That fall we received a visit from the local school authorities. They told us that they were aware that we had this young girl living with us and they wanted to know what our intentions were. We told them that because she apparently needed a home we were simply providing for her. They then asked us if we were taking responsibility for her and would we provide for her needs. We thought that was obvious since we were already doing so. We were told that since Lena had begun living with us she had become markedly happier and a better student. They then asked if we would possibly be interested in adopting this young girl. We said we would be open to the idea.

As the weeks stretched into months we came to consider Lena as a part of our family. She began to call us Momma and Papa. She was happy and adjusting well even though the structure of our family cramped her independence somewhat. Up until the time she came to live with us she had pretty much grown up on the street.

During that time we contacted our mission board (different from the one we serve with now). They gave us permission to pursue adoption, but then within two months under a change of leadership they reversed the decision! We were told, "You were not sent to Russia to adopt children, but to preach the Gospel." We were told that we had lost our vision and purpose. After going back and forth for several weeks we were told that they were withdrawing their support and we were told we must return to America!

During the time that this was happening the local officials were trying to have Lena freed legally for adoption but it was at this point a family member intervened and said no. They were not opposed to Lena living with us (especially since we provided for all her needs), but they opposed the adoption.

As time began to run out we could see that we would indeed be forced to return to America and that we would not be able to keep Lena. It was heartbreaking for us. The time came when we had to tell this little girl that we were leaving, and that she could not come with us! She would have to return to a terrible home situation, possible abuse and no care at all. The injustice of the situation was terrible for us to bear and knowing we had to abandon this young child whom we had come to love was like ripping our hearts out of our chests. How do you tell a child who loves you and trusts you, "We are leaving. We can take the cat and dog, but you have to stay behind."

Returning home we lost touch with Lena because of the chaos in Russia during those years and the lack of internet and other forms of communication. We wondered what her fate would be. We did not imagine that it would be good. We hoped she would stay in the church, but we knew the chances were not good.

Five years later in 2001 we were able to make a trip to visit Russia. During that trip we saw Lena. She was now 18 and a young mother. She had gotten pregnant and married her boyfriend, a young man who had been in and out of prison several times. It was both a happy and sad reunion. Lena was her same outward self, happy and funny. Inside however we could see the sadness in her life. We all knew that the past was behind us and things were different. We were not her parents, and we were there only for a short time. The time together was awkward at best. We returned home, happy to have seen Lena, but not happy with the way things turned out.

In 2004 we returned to Russia to live and within a short time Lena made contact with us. She was now separated from her husband and a struggling young single mother. Her friends were not a good influence. We spent the day together, but it was awkward once again.
We lost track of her completely over the next few years. We knew she lived in Dzerzhinsk, but our lives were on different tracks. We worried that like many young Russian people, she would end up addicted to drugs and suffer the consequences.

Yesterday, while I was teaching, she came into the hall and sat down next to Karen. I was so focused upon my teaching that I saw her but didn't recognize this smiling young woman sitting next to my wife. At the conclusion of my presentation, as I was walking to my seat I realized, "It's Lena!"

We hugged and kissed and hugged some more. She was pleased to hear me speak some Russian and I was surprised to hear her speak English. In many ways she has not changed at all. She still is the outwardly happy, bubbly young girl that we met so many years ago. She works, lives on her own and seems to be surviving. Her daughter is now 11 years old and because of family issues she is in a custody fight with her mother-in-law. She told us that she had used drugs for 3-4 years but now she is drug free. We asked if we could help her in any way and she declined, saying she is doing well.

The same awkwardness in the relationship is still there. We were her momma and papa, but we are not. How do we relate to one another? Life marches on, things change, relationships change and sometimes life is just not easy.

We will always love this young woman. We still struggle with anger over the injustice that separated us. We wish that things could have been different. We ask God, "WHY?" There are no answers. Just questions.


Anonymous said...

A sad but interesting and somehow inspiring story.

Chris Hall said...

Indeed it is a sad story, with an underlying theme of 'what if'. But we have to trust in God and let our 'what if' evolve into a 'what if we had never been a part of her life?'.

Rob and Stephanie Kectic said...

Thanks for share this Mike and Karen, what are confluence of emotions you must have felt and are feeling.

Gabe said...

Your willingness to adopt Lena is a perfect example of the gospel in action, and it's sad that the missionary board didn't see it that way. Well done, good and faithful servants. Thank you for sharing your heart and this story.

Rob and Stephanie Kectic said...

Take 2

Thanks for sharing this Mike and Karen, what a confluence of emotions you must have felt and are feeling. (this is what happens when you try this kind of stuff from a cell phone) blessings to you both

Steven Ganz said...

Seems we always want to remove all the giants out of our children's lives for them. Even those to whom we serve we desire the same thing. But we cannot, because it is by those very giants that our children learn that God is faithful and He indeed is their savior. Lena's story is not over. It is in His hands.