Many of you who read our blog know about our recent reunion with our Russian daughter, Lena. Lena was one of many children and teens who spent their time in our home, hanging around us and our teen-age children when we lived in Dzerzhinsk, Russia from July 1994- February 1996. Indeed half of our small church was made up of children and teens.
Russia was tumultuous during those years. The former Soviet Union had collapsed, the economy was in a shambles, and the older generation did not know what to think or believe anymore. Many families fell apart under the stress of those years. Russia's already high alcoholism rate jumped even higher as many men lost their jobs or worked for months without being paid. As a result of these stresses many young people were growing up in homes that provided less than optimal care for them. We attracted these kids because we had beautiful daughters and a cool American son with a video game machine, and because we provided a small semblance of normalcy and/or acceptance for them. We feed them, loved them, disciplined them at times and showed them another way of life. Our home provided a temporary refuge for many of these young kids. For us it was often chaotic and noisy, but we (usually) loved having a houseful of kids around.
Just yesterday, Lena gave us these four photographs from those years. In the photo above is our oldest daughter Jessica with three of the girls who came to our home and to our church.
The smallest and youngest girl in the photo above would often visit us on her own. It has been so many years since we have seen her that we have forgotten her name. We think it was Nadia. She would come by our apartment after school and ring the bell. When we opened the door she would just be standing there, never say much, but just come on in. She often just sat quietly on the sofa or in a chair. If our old Commodore 128 computer was free she would play a game. Late in the evening often as late as 10:00 PM she would leave for home, almost always by herself. We never met her parents and we had no idea what her home-life was like. She always had an aura of sadness about her. I am guessing that if we had offered her a home, she would have just moved in with us and her parents would never had said anything.
I have thought of her often over the years. She would be about 25 now. Is she alive? Is she OK? Did she fall into the trap of drug abuse which so many kids in that generation succumbed to? Unfortunately when we were forced to leave Russia we left her behind as well as dozens of kids whose lives we had touched and had brought some joy into.
I look back on those years with bittersweet memories. I am happy that we did what we did, but in many ways I wish that we could have done more. I struggle against anger when I think about being forced to leave by our mission board who said we had "lost our vision" because we were more interested in people as individuals than in church politics. We made many mistakes during those years, but one thing we did right was to love people as people. I pray that the seeds of the Gospel of Jesus Christ which we planted in so many lives, will bear fruit in those same lives.
If you read this and look at these photos, please pray for the young people in them who are the adults of Russia today.
By the way, if you are a Russian reading this and you find the title offensive, I apologize. We mean no disrespect to you or your country. We love Russia and we love the Russian people.
One of the boys in this photo later died from a drug overdose
We think one of these boys is in prison for murder.