I remember the day I submitted my paperwork to go on this trip. What am I thinking? Why would I want to go to the other side of the world, especially with a group of people I do not know? What am I getting myself into? Is it even safe to go on this trip alone?
Over the weeks of waiting and planning there were many times I wondered if I had made a mistake. I wondered if I should back out of the trip. I wondered if there was a different plan. Even as the trip approached and plans were uncertain for the trip and opportunities were opening up at home where doors had seemed closed but I had really hoped to be involved, I questioned, not God, but myself and my wisdom. I did not want to lay out plans and ask the Lord to bless them, but I wanted to follow His lead.
All through this trip I had watched, listened, and taken things in, wondering why I was here. A large part of this trip was to cast vision for churches to connect with ministries and orphanages. Being fairly new in my church I am not aware of how I would even make the leaders aware of the needs here, let alone get them to start a partnership with a new ministry to help those half way around the world. So why was I here?
Until Tuesday, October 9th, I had never entered the doors of an orphanage. The first orphanage I ever visited is in Nolinsk, Russia. It is a location for 7-16 year old children, located in a village of about 11,000 people, and was founded in 1668. The orphanage has been around for many years, and houses about 40 children. I had images of orphanages from stories and pictures of other locations. I thought I knew what to expect. A couple from my team had spoken of the orphanage their church had supported for the last ten years. It had recently closed, scattering the children to various other orphanages after problems including abuse had been discovered. The conditions have been tragic there.
We entered Nolinsk with caution, not knowing what to expect. What we found was an old but lovely and well cared for building. The children were housed in rooms with 3 to 6 children per room, and there were additional rooms for athletics, gatherings, a library, housing coats and shoes, and meals. We toured the building, occasionally seeing a few of the children, but mostly just looking at the facility.
As I watched the children, I began to notice that while they looked healthy and well cared for, they were someone reserved. I had been warned that Russian’s withhold their emotions and are not very demonstrative, so I wondered if it was a cultural issue.
That wondering changed as I looked in the faces of the children, really looked, and I caught their eyes.
Something changed when they knew I had actually seen them.
Something more changed the moment I reached out my hand and was able to lightly touch the shoulder of a young lady. She looked toward her leader, wondering if it was okay to respond, but I could tell how much she wanted to engage with me.
As the day went on I was given the opportunity to share with the orphans in a few different contexts, coming to know their names, hear about their studies and extra activities, and participate with them in a few of the activities.
I began to fall in love with these young people. The picture in my head of orphans were young children, under 10, without parents. Many of these children were teenagers. These were the kids I knew how to relate to, and loved.
Not being a parent, I had always from trips and activities with children because I didn’t know much about how to relate to them, but I know teenagers, and love being with them.
I sat in one room, sharing with some of the children through the assistance of Kos, a tall thin Russian man who served as my interpreter. Each sentence had to be repeated back and forth since we did not speak each other’s language, but I quickly found that there was a language these kids knew that I could speak.
As I shared with these children, I asked their ages. Two of the children shared that they were 15. I looked at them with love, but also with fear. This young man and young lady were petite and gentle in spirit. They spoke to me with respect and grace, but also with a certain lack of confidence. Within a year or at most two, these two young people, who were still children in many ways, were going to be sent away from this orphanage and expected to live much like an adult.
I highly doubted they were ready.
My heart went out to them. How could I help? What could I do?
It has been days since I was at that orphanage and still my heart goes out to them.
I looked at the young lady’s face and wondered what her life had been like. She had been at that orphanage with her younger sister for three years, but what happened before then? Were they in a family, or in a different orphanage? Had she already experienced loss, pain, trauma, maybe even abuse? I wondered what her future holds, and if she will be safe or if she will experience something like the sex trafficking we came here to learn about and stand up against.
Before we left, I was able to share with her a little and to give her a big hug. As I held her in my arms I gave her my heart, and it is my prayer that what she found was hope. Hope, not in an American who came from half way around the world to love her for a day, but hope in a caring and compassionate Father who brings even the most unlikely, those asking why they are there, to be His vessels of love.
I remembered back to what the director in Moldova had said when I asked, “What have you seen that makes the most difference to these girls?”
We left the warm weather of mid-fall in Moldova to a dreary gray and cold day in Moscow. Winter has already hinted at its arrival, but no snow has fallen yet. As we arrived and started to move through the city, I immediately sensed the changes in culture between these two countries that had both been a part of the U.S.S.R. at one time.
Chisinau (Kishinaw), the capital of Moldova was a city of 723,000-795000 people. It ha approximately the same latitude as Seattle. Contrastingly, Moscow is a bustling city of 11.5 million people. It is the 6th largest city in the world, and the most northern mega-city. There was a stark change between the poorest country in Europe to a city that holds more billionaires than any other place on earth.
Although both countries have clear signs of their roots dating back to the age of Communist rule and a different government structure, we saw much older and deeper roots in Moscow. There were many police and military officers throughout the city. At one point we jumped off the subway train too soon only to find we were at the stop for the KGB offices. And the structures were large, plain, and powerful, a sign of Stalin’s influence that still exists throughout society.
We had enough time to go to Red Square, the city landmark that might be the most well known across the world. As we wondered through the square I began to love the sights of the architecture and history that are not present in the Pacific Northwest. I wondered though why the stone square was referred to as Red Square. Was it due to the massive Kremlin wall that was red stone? Was it due to the various red buildings that also neighbored the square? Was it due to a history that I was unaware of, possible one that contained a bloody event which had at one time stained the square? Carefully I asked our three Russian guides, leaders of Children’s HopeChest in Russia, which is also called Nadezhda Fund (Hope Fund).
I was told that the word for red is very similar sounding to the word for beautiful.
And it was beautiful.
It was also imposing.
At dinner time that evening we left the city of Moscow to head north to the Kirov region. I was told on several occasions that this is “real Russia”. Kirov, formerly known as Vyatka, is about the same latitude as Anchorage. It was founded in 1181, and was the administrative center along the Trans-Siberian Highway. Kirov region was the defensive center where many of the ICBM missiles were stored and chemical weapons were made. It was a place of exile, where many were removed from mainstream society, and sent to this region. In fact the region was closed to everyone, including Russians until 1993. There were some unscrupulous people sent to the area, but many were people that rebelled against communist rule such as authors, poets, musicians, artists, engineers, architects, and some other professionals. This created a rich culture in the region, one that still exists today.
Our purpose for coming wasn’t for the culture though, it was to see the orphans, and to learn about their plight.
There are a number of orphanages in the region. They are split into three different age groups: birth to 2-3, 2 or 3 until about 6, and 7 to 16+. We visited those that were for the older children because we were most interested in learning about what happens as there is less chance of being adopted and how the risks grow when they graduate.
There are many days of risk and fear in an orphan’s life, but the day of most risk is the day they graduate from the orphanage. I learned that some orphanages ask the children to turn in their coat and all their belongings, things given to them by the orphanage, and then they are turned away with nothing but the clothes on their back. Thankfully there are some structures in place where they can continue on to school and have housing, but further education is not a viable choice for every student.
About 15% of the children commit suicide in the first few months after graduation, some even before they graduate because they know what lies ahead. Many others end up in human trafficking or crime. These are the statistics Children’s HopeChest is trying to change. Through partnerships where a church sponsors an orphanage and each of the children in the orphanage, more resources are poured in the location and relationships are built that help tremendously.
I didn’t get to experience much of “real Russia” outside of the orphanages, tech schools, and ministry center we visited, but I saw the needs in the culture, the people, and especially in the children. They longed for love, connection, and recognition. About 90% of the orphans are not true orphans without a relative to take care of them, but instead are social orphans whose family is absent or unable/unwilling to be present every day to care for the child and provide them with a safe, loving, and secure environment in which to grow. I heard of one story where a young man’s older sister tried to pull the family back together and get him to live at home, but he choose to return to the orphanage because he knew it was at least a warm and safe environment that was not inconsistent and abusive. The orphanages provide a safety net for the children who have absent parents or provide protection from abuse.
Orphanages are not without their problems, but it provides a place where some of the children who would not otherwise stand a chance in a world that was not ready to treat them with the best of love and care.
As I sit here reflecting on the last three days my heart is jumbled up. I am filled with hope and promise, while also knowing of the great needs and problems all around me. I am struck by how little I can do to help, but am also aware that I can do something, anything, to help.
We came on this trip to learn about and address the needs of human trafficking.
To many people I know, that phrase refers to sex trafficking and sexual exploitation, but that is not the only issue. There are huge numbers of people who are trafficked for their labor, forced to work off a debt they can never repay. Many of them having to live where they work, and not knowing any other part of life.
Back home in Portland, Oregon, I have become networked and involved with trafficking, although I have realized this week that I am not doing enough.
One of the questions I get from a lot of people is …
How can this happen? What causes it?
Y., at the age of 8 was first raped by her father. By the age of 12, her mother was selling her to other men. Imagine the betrayal and confusion that causes in a young child. The people God has placed in her life to raise and protect her are hurting her and turning her over to others for abuse. They are not protecting her, encouraging her, empowering her, guiding her, and teaching her to be a beautiful and self confident young lady. Instead, because of all she experienced, she become angry and aggressive, fighting for her life. She was trafficked an abused for a number of years before being rescued and brought to a shelter for help and hope.
After about nine months at the shelter, Y decided to leave to be with her boyfriend. She left her belongs and departed. Those at the shelter allowed her to leave, knowing that she needed the freedom to make her own decisions. A few months later, Y showed up at the center again. Obviously a few months pregnant, she came seeking her belongings, wondering if they had even kept them. Not only were her belongings still there, but she was greeted with welcome smiles and open hearts. She asked if she could return to the shelter. Not only was the door opened to her, but she was welcomed in with such love and grace that it began to change her heart.
After all the abuse Y had experienced, she had asked shelter staff where God was when she was abused and why he didn’t stop it. They didn’t have answers to that, but they taught her about Him and about His love, grace, and care.
People began to see a difference.
Since returning to the shelter, Y has become a mother, a leader, and a Christian. Her life has been transformed and changed. She knows that she is supported and loved.
I asked the director of the ministry what he has seen that makes the most difference in the girls lives.
His answer was simple….
Have you ever been somewhere you didn’t want to be? Someplace you wished you could leave?
I think most of us have, and usually in a short time we are able to leave. We leave, got to a place where we are comfortable, feel safe, or enjoy the situation. There are however many in this world who do not have that freedom.
Imagine living in a place where 70% of the country would like to leave. In fact, over the last 10 years 50% of the workforce has left the country to find work abroad, most of them illegally. What remains in the country is mostly funded from those who work abroad.
Today, we saw some of the poverty that exists firsthand. We visited two lovely families in their homes. Seeing how they lived without water, with little ability to heat their homes, and one home had no electricity at all which also meant no refrigeration or laundry. Both families had infants in the home plus older children.
Would these families leave if they could?
Moldova is a country with a lot of problems including poverty, alcoholism, political and governmental changes and control, and a high rate of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. They have the third fastest internet connection in the world, which had led to other problems, such as possibly being a lead supplier of child pornography.
This afternoon and evening we visited with survivors of human trafficking and those who work with them. These ladies have experience both slave labor and sexual exploitation. One of them we figure was affected by these tragedies for more than 15 years, being taken from her own country and forced to do what others demanded of her.
As I have shared with those who are serving these people who are affected by poverty, depression, abuse, and tragedy I have wondered what kept them here to serve. They work very hard, and are positive and hospitable people.
There is only one answer, their love for God. They have learned, even in their own brokenness, that there is a Love far greater than what they can offer. It has changed them, and it causes them to pour out what they have for others.
I hope that the love I hold for others is as apparent and real, and that it will impact lives to this same level.
What do you give to someone who has all they need?
My thoughts at that time were about finding a Christmas gift for my dad, someone who was hard to buy for. He did not have many interests outside of work and time with family, and I, being the person I am, wanted to get him something with meaning.
What do you give to someone who has the ability to get or purchase all want and need?
Is there anything I could give that would be meaningful?
Those questions have changed my life.
Not because of finding a Christmas gift for my dad, but because the questions were about to transform my life and relationship with God.
I love God, and I want to share with Him. Because I love Him, I want to give something to Him or serve Him. I can love and serve people by doing kind acts, purchasing them gifts, or doing and saying special things.
How do I demonstrate to God that I love Him?
What can I give to Him that is meaningful? After all, He is the creator of the universe and all it holds!
As I wrestled through my thinking that day I came up with one key turning point … If I truly love someone, I start loving what they love.
So started my journey of learning to love what God loved. First, I had to figure out what he loved most. It didn’t take long to realize that what He is most passionate about and loves the most is us!
This began a journey of learning what it means to love God and love others with all I am, a journey of giving my life away.
Today, that journey has led to a trip to the other side of the world. A trip where I will be working with ladies who have experienced great loss, pain, and trauma due to human trafficking. A trip where I am committed to learn about making a difference against injustice and standing up for what is right.
On the plane ride, I have been reading Christine Caine’s new book, Undaunted. Christine and her husband have started an organization called A21 that is rescuing girls, and hopes to provide a place of safety and recovery for them. Christine shares of a time when she met a group of survivors, and they asked.
Why are you here?
Why didn’t you come sooner?
Those questions are what will be on my heart and mind tomorrow as we have the opportunity to meet some of these ladies.
Will they trust me? Why haven’t I done more to help them?
There is no time like the present to start.
For today, the only answer I have is that I am here now and I want to do my best to give God what he wants most, for me to love on these ladies and others I meet with all I have available.
Sometimes we trip, stumble and fall in life. It happens. We make mistakes, and sometimes we have to live with the consequences. We tend to think of consequences as negative ramifications; however, there is a way to change toward a better future. We may have done a face plant, but we do not have to live with sand or mud on our face, a scarlet letter on our chest, DUI plastered on our forehead, convict proclaimed across our chest, or failure written on our heart.
What if we failed forward?
What if our failures propelled us toward something different? Something that was positive, hopeful, and promising? What if our failures caused us to examine ourselves and make changes? What if our failures moved us toward people and community instead of away from it? What if our failures helped us to learn responsibility, humility, and grace? What if our failures helped us to become a better person, a person who makes a positive difference in the lives of those around us?
Do you know Mike Tyson’s story? He failed. His past is one of poor decisions and behavior. They were not small things done in the privacy of his home or life, but they became nationally publicized actions of wrong behavior in his career (biting an opponent), his personal life (rape and abuse), and his finances. At one time, he was a leader, a role model, and a very famous person. Then a series of mistakes led him spiraling down, down, down, until he hit a very low point in life.
That is not where Mike’s story ends though. Mike held on, and although it took time to show to others, Mike fell forward. Through time, hard work, and a great deal of humility, Mike has started a new life while taking responsibility for his past. He is not running and hiding from what was, but he is believing in what is and what can be.
Mike and I have something in common. Mike’s story may be known to others, while my story is more personal, but the bottom line is we both failed.
There is no easy way through it. Mike’s failure not only hurt him, but it hurt others too. In my story, I was hurt by others and I allowed that hurt to grow inside of me. That hurt led to fear, brokenness, and insecurity. It led to doubts, questions, and lack of trust. It kept me from believing that God could make a difference. My issues did not just hurt me, but they hurt others. I disagreed with and was somewhat rebellious toward someone I truly cared about and respected, damaging that relationship and those of others around us. Even worse, though, I disagreed with and disrespected God.
Besides failure, Mike and I have something else in common. We have chosen to take responsibility for our past, and to allow our failures to motivate us to move toward a different future. There are days I wish I had a story like Mike’s, a story of a moral failure. My story led to being removed from my church with a charge that I was unsubmissive and did not belong in the Body of Christ. Failure can lead to shame, and there is tremendous shame when even in your greatest need you are turned away from the Body of Christ.
I changed, repented, and have overcome the issues from my past; however, I still am walking through the ramifications of putting my life back together. Mike is on that journey too. It is a hard journey, with many, many obstacles, but there is one thing that is helping us, God. Second chances are not always offered by men and women, but God has promised us that if we repent, turn from our past, and believe in him, then we will be forgiven.
I have never met anyone famous. I don’t know if I even want to since there are so many expectations tied to such a meeting.
I think it would be different if I were to meet Mike. He is not just someone famous; you see I know we have something in common. We both sinned. We both have had our lives changed by God and because of that, we are different people. We were given a chance for new life, a life that matters.
I don’t know for certain what Mike believes. Some say he is a Christian. I have heard him testify of his belief in God. What I do know is that Mike has a past, yet he also has a future. He is trying to be a different man, and I would be honored to spend eternity with him as my brother.
We all fall at times, but when we fall forward onto our knees, confessing our sin, repenting of our past, and finding freedom and forgiveness through Christ, we find a very different future.
I have learned that I will fail, but from now on, I will fail….forward. We are never beyond second chances.
This post is a part of the Never Beyond poster series led by People of the Second Chance. This series is asking us to ponder and rethink who we consider beyond a second chance. Please check them out at their website, or on Facebook.
When we meet someone new, one of the first things we share about ourselves is our name. Each week at my church we stand and greet each other saying our name and listening to the names of those seated around us.
Our name is part of our identity. It is something that travels with us through life. Some people change their name, become known by a nickname, or choose to be known by their middle name instead of their first name, yet we all have names.
We also all have a purpose. If we talk with others in a social setting for more than just a few moments one of the very common questions is what do you do for living. Are you a teacher, a manager, a pastor, support staff, a sales person, a paper pusher, or a stay at home parent. There is something (maybe multiple things) that we spend the majority of our time doing. These shape us, but are they who we are?
I am in the process of looking for a new job.
In that process, a lot of time is spent thinking about and talking to others about what you do for a living, what you enjoy doing, what type of a job you want, and what you were designed to do.
What do I do for a living? I am a project manager.
The answer to what I am designed to do is very different. What I am designed to do is revealed in how I do my job as a project manager.
I am an obstacle mover, an equipper, a motivator.
I turn ideas into reality.
I see problems as opportunities.
I help others do the best they can do.
I open doors, empower miracles, and move mountains.
I create, dream, lead, launch, drive, remove, confront, move, comfort, guide, point, give, support, and release.
We are created by God, and he has designed us with a purpose. We have been designed to do something. The first thing each of us is created to do is glorify God. We do that through different means, but each of us can bring him glory.
I am learning that when we live out what we are designed to do, that is what brings God the most glory.
In my day job, I am a project manager. In other roles through volunteer and ministry work, I am still an obstacle mover, equipper, and motivator. I thrive when I help others do the best they can do. I work to open doors, empower miracles in others lives, and move mountains. I live a life of action where I create, dream, lead, launch, drive, remove, confront, move, comfort, guide, point, give, support, and release.
It looks different in my different roles, but I am designed to love, launch, and lead others.
What are you designed to do? Are you living it out in your job, your home, your family, your friendships, your service, your relationships, your life?