Christmas @ Orphanage

Not long after we moved into our apartment, I noticed that this building, which is on our street, less than 100 meters from us, is an orphanage. I knew from my research that you don’t just walk into these places. You need a relationship or some good reason to be there. But I would pray often about it, with a certainty in my spirit that God had put us nearby to be a blessing there. I also knew that he would have to lead in terms of how and when to get in the door.

It was clearly too early to do anything other than pray all during the summer and fall. There was too much going on with our own transition to add to our plate another ministry, even if it was so appealing. Here was our hope for doing something as a family! But God gave me a peace that it would work out in the right time.

By November, something was stirring, and I began looking for people who might have a relationship with the director. Luba, the director of the Harbor, had none. Through asking people, I found a director of another orphan ministry who had had a relationship at one point. That turned out to be a dead end too. She no longer had any contact there, and considered the director to me a hard nut to crack. My last hope was with a lady I met who does volunteer work in orphanages all over the city. If she couldn’t help me, I decided it was time to get brave and waltz in on a wing and a prayer. By now it was early January.

Enessa didn’t have any relationship there either, but what she did have was even better. “Listen. Today is Russian Christmas, and things get rolling again tomorrow after winter break. We have a Christmas presentation ready to go with gifts waiting to be given to kids, but we don’t know where we can go with it. Go over there and tell them you are with a group that would like to offer them a Christmas presentation with gifts, cartoons, and games for the kids. Make sure they know we won’t be preaching. They hate that, but they are open right now for this kind of thing. Get over there tomorrow ASAP, and we (I didn’t even know who “we” were) will be praying for you.”

What more did I need? I went over and looked all over the imposing structure for the entrance and rang the bell. The vachta (receptionist/watch lady/chief housekeeper who hangs out in her own little apartment with a sliding window to the world) let me in. I asked to see the director and explained my purpose. She was less than enthusiastic about my glad tidings. “What kind of group are you with? What kind of sect do you represent? Just who are you?”

“We’re just volunteers, not representing any group. Christians. No sect.” She grumbled protest at the likelihood of my telling the truth, but called the director anyway. “Thank you, Jesus, for step one,” I mumbled to myself. “Wait out on the couch. She’ll be down directly.” Step two – an audience.

The director, who looks as type cast for the role as anybody could – mid 60’s, conservative in dress and demeanor, roundish, and serious as a heartbeat, came in soon with an interpreter. It turns out the orphanage, and the public school it adjoins, specializes in intensive English. More hope! The interpreter soon saw she was not needed, and I got down to business with the director. I repeated our desire to perform, hoping she would not ask too many questions about this group that I had never met. In less than a minute, it seemed, Enessa’s talking points had been just what I needed. She started to smile and agreed to our offer.
“When?”
“Whenever you wish.”
“How about tomorrow?”
“Uh, sure.”
“Can I call you tonight with a time?”
“That will be fine,” I said, sounding confident.

I called Enessa, who was elated. Then our phone went out, and I didn’t get a hold of the director again until 11am the next morning. “Let’s do 4:00.”

I was astounded that this mysterious team could be available with so little notice, but Enessa and three others showed up with a van full of props, multi-media devices, and gifts. One of them I knew as a staff member at the Harbor. The other two were Enessa’s sister and brother-in-law, an American, who had just moved to the city to plant a church. They came in, set up like they had been doing this for years, and the kids started to file in (pictured).

The presentation was really well done. They managed the kids well, kept their attention, had fun with them, and delivered a clear message of the real meaning of Christmas for the kids and all the staff.

I sat by this kid, who was unusually friendly and stole my heart, making small chat with me and showing me his gifts. This won’t be the last time I see him.

Afterwards, the director was even more friendly and smiling. She and some other important person share more about the English concentration they have. They made it clear that they were more than happy to have any more contact with us, particularly as it related to offering English help to the kids. She offered me her direct phone number, and I told her I want her to meet Diana, being an English teacher herself, which excited her greatly.

I’d call that an open door.

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