Today we visited a most unusual community, artificially created around a theme. If that weren’t unusual enough here, the theme is even more so: foster care. Some rich Russians actually got together with a heart to do the right thing, and created a foundation, and this community is the result.
There are currently 10 families living in 5 duplexes along one street, all of whom have taken in at least 2 foster children. My friend and colleague Yan, who heads up a national prison ministry here, invited the family to go with his family to visit one of these families. To see some footage of the Hope Children’s Village, you can see a TV report about it here. I regret not having had our camera with us. It was an hour by metro, then another hour by car to get there.
We were greeted by Yulia, the sweetest little 5 year old imaginable, especially considering that she had been in two other foster families and rejected by both. Immediately behind her were oodles of more children, and then mother Natasha. Talk about your dictionary definition of amazing; Natasha is it. She only started moving in the direction of foster care AFTER having 4 kids of her own, and AFTER her husband completely abandoned the family, including any form of child support.
Ironically, her three foster kids are either older or younger than the other four. Vanya, the 18 month old, is the most amazing story. Born to alcoholic parents, who had already become regular suppliers for the state orphanage system, Vanya came along a full three months premature. As such, he was actually considered a miscarriage, and the mother did not even have to sign any papers to relinquish him to the state. She and the hospital just left him to die.
A week later, having not died (!), the baby became a person legally (behold the power of the state to regulate life), and so all of a sudden had to be cared for. His medical issues were legion (Cerebral Palsy, or some such issue, fluid on the brain, a tumor on the skull, etc.), however, and so by even the time a few months later when Natasha took him, well-meaning staff told her it was pointless to take in a child that was soon to die anyway. The one issue he did not have, which the doctor said she had never seen in such cases, was Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Natasha took Vanya from the hospital straight to her church before coming home, where they prayed fervently for the child. And the result: Vanya is essentially 100% healed and normal.
How does she survive? The home was provided by the foundation for as long as she has foster children. It was furnished by church members and others whom God touched. She receives about $330 a month support from the state (essentially welfare) for her own kids, and each of the three foster kids bring in barely $200. Somehow, she makes it on less than $1000 a month.
The program, though private, is not Christian. Five of the 10 families are, however. This is most significant, considering a general population of less than 1% Christian. These 5 all gather weekly for prayer and mutual support. Some other friends of ours, Nadia and Yan, helped them organize this summer a mini camping experience as a Christian outreach to the other families. It was a powerful success with all the kids, and in helping build relationships among the children and the adults. It was amazing for me to learn that in a community of 10 families where they all had something as significant in common as this, they didn’t even talk with each other before the camp. (But why should I be too surprised? I barely have been able to get to know my own neighbors after three years here.)
The event almost didn’t take place, thanks to the fearless leadership of a certain member of that noble class of warriors, known as a bureaucrat. I forget the details that Nadia told me, but they worked it out at the last minute. But this Orthodox hero of the faith would not give up her pursuit of keeping Russia clean of infidels. She invited an Orthodox priest to come to a parent meeting and asked him to put these sectarians in their place. His response? He rebuked the bureaucrat for her concerns, said it would be a travesty to stop what the families are trying to do, and told her they are following in the same historic Christian faith as she supposedly does.
The group is now in partnership with this man of radical faith. They are also looking for someone to come be a pastor to the community. Any takers? The size of the community is set to double soon with the opening of several new homes being built.
P.S. Some ideas for short term teams:
1. Come help organize another, and possibly longer, summer camp for the kids.
2. Take the kids on field trips to the city or elsewhere. Public transportation for Natasha’s family to the city (she can’t afford a car) is about $50 round trip, not to mention whatever the event costs are.
3. Organize events, seminars, etc. for the parents or whole families.
4. The shared playground is very sparse and overrun with weeds. Someone, pleas, build them a real playground.
5. A friend of Natasha’s drew her up a wonderful plan for landscaping her yard, to include fruit trees and a garden for the kids. It awaits labor and money. No doubt others have similar needs, but Natasha’s are acute since there is no man to do it.
More on the broader issues of foster care in this post.