This is my tiny matroyshka doll I carry with me wherever I go. I call her my “little piece of Russia.” I carry her with me as a reminder that wherever I go, a little piece of Russia goes with me.
September of 2014, I made my first trip to Russia (hopefully with more to come) with an organization called Orphan’s Tree. I traveled with an amazing team of people to work at a ministry center in Kostroma with the staff and orphans who participate in this center. Many of the students who participate are kids who have transitioned out of the orphanage and into technical schools. They are the kids who lived in an orphanage in hopes of being adopted, but never had that privilege. Working with the older orphans was a wonderful opportunity to express that they have not been forgotten. Often when we think of the word “orphan” my guess is that most people will picture a younger child. Most children who are adopted are adopted when they are younger, and for children past the age of seven years old, their chances of adoption become quite small.
The Kostroma Ministry Center (KMC) provides many opportunities for these kids to feel loved, welcomed, and remembered. They provide a place where kids can come to wash laundry (some tech schools do not have facilities to do wash in), shower, cook, provide classes, and fellowship. The Ministry Center is a place where the students have a place of belonging and they become part of a family.
During my time at the Ministry Center I taught sessions on grief and loss, and anger management with the students. I tried to teach in a way that normalized that everyone in life experiences some type of grief and loss. It may be the loss of a dream, a hope, or the death of a friend or loved one, but we all will experience grief. I shared that there is no one way to express grief, but some ways we express it are more appropriate than others, and we talked about healthy ways to grieve.
In my session on anger management the students participated in role playing different emotions of anger. We talked about appropriate ways to deal with anger, and normalized that anger is something we all experience in our lives, even Jesus experienced anger. I shared that we all have a choice of what we do with our anger, we can chose to take control over it, or we can chose to let it take control over us, but the choice is ours.
The ministry that takes place at the KMC would not be possible if it wasn’t for the staff that are there each day. They demonstrate love, compassion, and kindness to these students who have been cast off by their own society. Many people are afraid of orphans, but the staff demonstrate that they too are people and not cast aways. Because of the level of care and compassion the staff shows on a daily basis, I was able to teach a session on compassion fatigue and self care. Drawing on the things in life that are “life giving” to each of them so that they can sustain the love and level of care they show each of the students that enters at the Ministry Center. We discussed that when our own “cups” become empty, we have nothing left to give, so in order to continue giving, we must find ways to “fill our cups.”
I met some amazing students while I was in Russia, and I was struck by the way these kids can love when they never experienced the love of a parent. I’m in awe at the fact that the only reason we are able to love is because God first loved us. It’s because of God’s love, that someone was able to demonstrate love. These kids may not have had a parent in their lives to model that love, but some of them have had people come into their lives who have loved them, and taught them that they are lovable. There are many kids who are still waiting to experience that type of love. Love comes in many forms, but for me the biggest love we can show to orphans is that they are not forgotten, and they are loved.
God placed Russia on my heart many years ago, and it wasn’t until recently that He made it possible for me to go. God may place a desire in our hearts that cannot be fulfilled instantly because it takes time to grow and be nourished so that when the desire can be fulfilled it is done to it’s fullest. Maybe traveling to Russia in not a possibility for everyone, but we can still participate in the work that God has begun there. We can be creative in the ways we support the orphans in Russia, both young and old, and we can pray for the students and staff who work with them. Prayer has the ability to move mountains, and I believe that when we go to God in prayer, He will respond. Let us stand together in the gap and prayer for those students that they will experience God’s love in a way that they may never have experience it before.