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October 13, 2012

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 looked in their eyes, and engaged in true eye contact with them, they responded unlike any other children I have met. They desperately wanted to be seen, known, and loved.

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?”


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