The following is a transcript of the message I gave to my home church in Georgia just before we left to return to Russia last month. It represents an important development in my thinking about why we are hear – not merely to minister to the orphans, but to the orphan spirit that drives it and so much else of what is wrong in Russia.
I want to try to make our ministry as plain and simple to you today as I possibly can, because on the surface we are involved in a number of different activities. Some people think we are just involved in ministry to orphans. This is actually not true. What we are doing is asking God to use us to reverse the orphan spirit which is so pervasive in Russia. What, you ask, is an orphan spirit? I’m glad you asked, and here is my working definition: An orphan spirit is type of a spirit of fear that comes from not knowing and trusting in the Father’s protection, provision, and direction.
What does this look like in Russia? Let me give you a few quotes from some research conducted back in the 1990’s to help Christian workers from the West understand the Russian soul:
“Though the third millennium is on our threshold, our country still remains a teenager, compared to the countries of the West; and adolescent whose childhood and adolescence were devoid of most things essential for normal development and who stepped into his adulthood, messy, bloody, and distorted, inadequately prepared for his vital functions there.”
“…many Russians approach life like adults who were abandoned or abused as children.”
“Russians seem to experience shame (rather than guilt) as a core issue…. It’s not just that I have failed or done something wrong in my life. I, myself, my whole being is irreparably flawed. I am hopelessly defective.”
“On the whole, Russians surveyed in all age groups have shown that they look at God as an abstract concept. He appears unknowable, enigmatic, and mysterious. Most Russians tend to see him as remote and unwilling to intervene in the terrible events that have happened to them. His involvement is more that of a Celestial Judge who dispenses rewards and punishments to those below. They are like children who have been beaten and cover when approaching the master or parent, not knowing when the next blow will fall.”
[from: An Introduction to the Russian Soul. Ennis and Rinehart]
It’s a spirit that affects all of us to some extent, but those with no biological fathers, and, worse, those with bad biological fathers, whether through abuse or neglect, are particularly susceptible. Some have questioned our patriotism, since I have been critical of the direction this country is taking. But I want to say to you that it doesn’t take long living in most any other country, but especially one like Russia, to see that the blessings that the United States enjoys because of its Christian roots is undeniable. On the whole, we take care of the fatherless in this country. In fact, there are essentially no orphanages here, because of the societal value we place on taking care of our children, and so we have foster homes instead. Not that we don’t have our share of problems with our system, but compared to other societies, we care.
In Russia, on the other hand, they don’t adopt, and they don’t even take kids into their homes in any significant numbers. It’s just not a cultural value, which means that the biblical value of caring for the “stranger, the widow, and the fatherless” has not penetrated their thinking.
And why should we be surprised? Only .9% of Russians are considered to have an evangelical faith, so even though they all got religion in the 1990’s when the Soviet Union fell, in most cases it only went skin deep. Compare that to 7% of evangelicals in the US. At first blush that may not seem like a huge difference, and it certainly is far from our glory days after the Great Awakenings of the 18th and 19thcenturies, but it only takes a 2% minority to change the course of the entire population.
So one of our key verses for our ministry is from Malachi: “He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers; or else I will come and strike the land with a curse.” The way I read that verse, the attitude of a father is so foundational to a society, that the land itself suffers when that relationship is broken. Moreover, God so cares for the ones ignored by their fathers, that He holds society responsible for it.
The number of real orphans are as high or higher in Russia than at any time wince WW2. Annually, 130,000 children become orphans, 90% of whom are not true orphans without parents, but social orphans – rejected or taken away from their parents for various reasons.
If we think about it, the real issue is not that these children don’t have parents to raise them. What’s more important than a parent? The answer is, a parent’s love. It’s the lack of love that comes from not having parents that damages these kids. So these kids learn an orphan spirit, because they are rejected. What comes with that spirit? A fear that they will not be protected, provided for, or guided in life. And the system puts out 10,000 “graduates” per year. Leaving high school 8500 of these fall into drug dealing, prostitution, other crimes, and homelessness. 500 commit suicide. That’s a 90% failure rate that the orphanages have in preparing these kids for life.
Now think about those issues from the perspective of the orphan. What is their thought process?
I have to be a criminal because no one loves me enough to provide for me.
I sell my body because no one values me for who I am.
I have to kill myself because no one thinks I am worthy of their time, care, or investment.
The system that generates such a result is from the pit of Hell and must be fought by every godly means possible. What that should look like deserves its own message, but my focus today is on the lie that these kids believe about who they are as a result of this rejection by society. For we know that there is One who loves them with a perfect, perpetual, and purposeful love. Receiving that love is so powerful, that it can literally wipe away the most damaging aspects of not having a parent who provides those values.
This is why ministry to orphans has any meaning at all. For if all we are about is feeding their physical needs while ignoring the cry of the heart to know the One to Whom they belong, then we are only prolonging the pain. (This one truth alone is enough to negate Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.) All our service to these dear ones must be an expression of the Father’s love seeking to adopt those who are lost into His family. Jesus said that “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father,” and our ministry is no less significant: we are to show the Father’s love in everything we do.
I want Diana to come up now to tell one story of a child she has spent a lot of time with to overcome his own sense of rejection as a orphan.
And so the Harbor is a ministry we work with to serve some of these kids coming out of the system so that they can be spared the fate of the 90% of graduates nationwide by giving them a home, people serving in place of parents who model the father’s love, and show them that they have a hope and a future because they are His children.
My training of the staff at the Harbor is meant to fight the orphan spirit, both in the residents, and in the staff themselves. A true father is not interested in right behavior. Vadim is a great commander. He knows how to get those kids in line, and he does it with the love of Christ. But he doesn’t know how to reach the hearts of the kids. What separates a commander from a father is the heart of the shepherd. Since Russia is plagued generally with an orphan spirit,
a spirit of fear that comes from not knowing and trusting in the Father’s protection, provision, and direction, and
it affects even Christians. So my focus in working with the staff is helping them move from raising young adults with the right behavior to shepherding their hearts with the Father’s love, which means getting a true revelation of that love themselves.
Yuri is a young man we met through the Harbor who never knew his father. His mother completely neglected him, and he ended up for a season begging on the streets and at the train station before ending up in an orphanage. He comes to us to see a real family in action, warts in all, and God has given me access to his heart to help father him to become a good husband and father one day. He observes us carefully, and he asks good questions, especially in the context of his own relationships, so that he can learn and grow. Everyone needs a mentor like this. Think back on those who took the most personal interest in you, who really invested themselves in you. Weren’t they among the most important people in your life? Mentoring is virtually unheard of in Russia, though, because of fatherlessness, both spiritual and literal.
Likewise, my work in the community with pastors and other leaders (and potential leaders) is not about teaching them what they need to know to lead, or even teaching them how good leaders act, but rather teaching them what it means to have the heart of a leader, which is the heart of a father. For I believe that all organizations and all government ultimately derive their mandate from that of the family. Steward and shepherd the resources and the people in your care (it’s not one or the other) and God will provide the increase. This, too, is a huge subject worthy of attention.
At the church we attend, the leadership has given me the opportunity to speak into the life of the congregation, and my questions are always about how we care for and invest in the members so that they can connect with God’s heart for them and their calling in Christ. Whether I’m asking about how we follow up with visitors or how we train small group leaders, I’m always driving at the need to father people over a lifetime so that they grow continually and never fall through the cracks as spiritual orphans.
Leaders need fathering as much as do the rank and file. Our work with the leaders of the school our boys attend is a tremendously rewarding part of our ministry, because they are so hungry to be fed and nurtured in their ability to shepherd the kids in their care. I want Diana to come back and talk about Tanya, who is so thirsty for such attention that she has asked Diana to mentor her in any way and any direction that Diana chooses.
An orphan spirit can infect a person for life unless you come to Father God for a heart change. Drunkenness is a national epidemic that I believe is directly a reflection of an orphan spirit, and our kids got an early and harsh education in the reality of what alcohol can do to a person. One elderly man who lives in the house next door to us, named Valery, is someone we have had to see suffer the demonic effects of alcohol time and time again. And because the kids are outside so much, they have developed a relationship with him, and a burden for him. I want Lydia to come up now and share about how she has been given the Father’s heart for Valery.
[Lydia] – shared her experience with our neighbor Valery, and beautifully tied it in to the theme of the orphan spirit.
St. Frances says to preach the Gospel all the time, and sometimes use words. I hope you can picture Lydia hand in hand with Valery. She, who should be the daughter figure, can nonetheless represent the heart of God the Father to this man, but she prays often for an opportunity one day to share that love using words too.
Where do we want to go in the next season? We have some wonderful opportunities at our door: helping other ministries serve orphans, doing some direct work with orphans, training leaders in the city and across Russia who need to learn to lead with a father’s heart, and helping to train counselors to break the orphan spirit off of Russians. What will tie them all together is our commitment to learn how to serve more and more as a family, and to raise up fathers of fathers of fathers willing to let God use them to change a nation.