On Monday Ivan (pronounced Eevan) took us to one of the orphanages he works in outside of Smolensk. There are 30 orphanages in total in the Smolensk region, and all of them are located in the outlying villages. This was part of the plan – to keep the children from escaping and also to keep them from the city. This is the Duhovschchina orphanage, about 15 minutes from Smolensk (and yes – that is a statue of Lenin). It houses around 70 children. Evan regularly visits here with his team to give bible lessons and to try and help trouble teens from getting into drugs and alcohol when they leave. They run a great program at Christmas (so great kids from the district come), sharing the gospel message and giving gifts to the orphans – each one personally packed by the staff that has something special for that particular child.
But that’s not all he does. He also goes in there to repair and renovate – mostly bathrooms and toilets because they are in such shocking condition. But he also replaces floors, doors, beds, desks – whatever he can to help improve life there. It’s labour intensive work. One bathroom can take up to 20 days. Ivan said the brothers in the church often come to help, after work and in weekends – even on their holidays. As you might imagine, Ivan is highly respected by the director and the staff. Christianity has a good name here. Praise God – what a testimony.
Walking through that place can bring a man to tears. Some rooms are in such terrible condition. And yet there is joy. The staff love those kids and soon get them smiling and singing with songs and games in between teaching. Richard bought some small gifts and tossed them at a group of kids singing. They beamed. They’re like any other kids in the world – just in need of some love.
At the end Nadeshda took us into their staff room. They had prepared a special little meal for us (one of many we are offered on our journey; after a couple of days doing this you learn a little trick – never eat too much in one setting. You might be offered another meal an hour later). My photo isn’t that great, but you’ll get the picture. She was telling us about how frustrating it is to run the place. The government gives them so little, and then they come and do inspections and fine them for not being up to scratch. I told her people in the West are told that these orphanages are going to be shut down. She shook her head vigorously. “Net – how is this possible?”
That’s not the only time I’ve heard that here. There are over 1 million orphans in Russia. 50,000 are added each year. It’s a problem that isn’t going away in a hurry. This is an invaluable ministry. And it’s the workers who really make it – individuals like Ivan, whose love for Jesus and people flows out of his life. We should do all we can to support them.
I was reminded afresh today: gospel-saturated people who are active in gospel-empowered deeds give the spoken gospel more power.