I have written several times about our relationship with Yuri, but I thought it would be helpful to summarize our history here in one place for you.
Yuri was in the English class I taught at the Harbor (a residential ministry for orphan graduates) when we first moved here in 2007, and he was so strong compared to the rest of the class, that he made it near impossible to teach to the various levels. After a few months, we thought of a solution: send him over to our house for personal tutoring. To this day Yuri still speaks English with us much of the time, but our times quickly became much more than tutoring.
Yuri ate with us, played with the boys (rather awkwardly at first!), just hung out, and showed me a different side of the guy that was apparently a lot of trouble for the Harbor. In this context, I could see that he was a young man hungry to learn and grow, and so I started to mentor him. What was even more impressive was the topic he chose to be mentored on: becoming a godly husband. And that is exactly what we talked about most every week for over two years, using a study I wrote for husbands based on Ephesians 5 as a basis. As Yuri explained it, “I have no model for a father or husband in my life, so I need to learn what that looks like.”
Not only does he learn from our conversations and my material, but he is an astute observer. He notices how we live, how we interact with one another, hears our tone of voice, and witnesses our love for each other, how we discipline the kids, and the occasional marital spat. And the questions! He wants to understand it all, and he seems to really appreciate having someone to help him process all the thoughts, questions, and doubts in his busy brain.
Before coming to the Harbor, Yuri had lived at the only Christian orphanage in St. Petersburg. Before that, he had been in and out of home with his mother, who largely ignored him. He spend several months at one point living on the streets and begging for food at the train station.
When we met Yuri he was living at a dorm while in school, but the remains of his childhood home became available to him soon, and he started dreaming of fixing it up for him and his sister. I went with him one day to help him fix it up. We peeled of about 8 layers of wall paper, and I found myself wondering how he would make it work, there was so much to do. The three-room wooden structure was half of a duplex that had been abandoned for 10 years due to a fire. Now it had no electricity, water, or heat.
Through a gracious gift, our daughter Lydia decided to give him the money to fix up his wood stove, which he did. But rather than things getting better from there, they got worse. The neighbors complained of the smoke, the authorities forbad him from using it, and he abandoned the place in despair, soon disappearing from our lives too.
Lydia’s gentle and frequent prodding through Facebook eventually brought him back after several months, and things looked up for a while. He had a job and a new plan to fix up his home. After several more months of work, he found that the bureaucrats who could decide the fate of his lost utilities were not going to budge on what they claimed was a back-debt and fees for all those ten years of $3000 ($4000 if you want them to speed things up, if you know what I mean). Then come the repairs themselves. Yuri abandoned hope again – and us – for a long time.
When he finally showed up again, I had to press him on this pattern, and he confessed that he is ashamed to be around “successful” people when he is such a failure himself. The good news is that Yuri is still coming now in the midst of a personal housing, job, and financial crisis that he can’t figure out how to resolve. He told me recently that he appreciates my helping him sort through his confusion and think and pray through options.
Although Yuri still feels like a “bad example” of a Christian in his mind, he is an influence on his friends. I told him all this investment in him was not just for his sake. So recently he even told me he’s ready to disciple one of his friends if I can help him explain the gospel to the guy.
That’s moving in the right direction, if you ask me.