Last year 15-year-old Natasha's mother died a violent death. Sadly, her father refused to accept the responsibility of raising his daughter and his six-year-old son. Natasha has had a difficult adjustment to life in an orphanage, running away several times before resigning herself to her lot. In May she learned that authorities who had promised that her brother Dima could join her in her orphanage when he turned seven, instead had permitted him to be adopted in the West without her knowledge, a violation of Russian law. Despite the loss of everyone she holds dear, Natasha somehow manages a ready and winning smile. What can be done to at least put Natasha in touch with her brother and assist her in her dream of becoming a nurse?
Seryozha is 14, going on 30. On his own at age 12, he lived on the streets of Moscow for two years before being picked up by the militia and being sent to an orphanage. A bright youngster, he has better command of Bible stories learned from short-term missionaries than most children born in Christian homes. Seryozha, remarkably, has a winsome, gentle side to his personality, despite rough-hewn street smarts, a heavy smoker's cough, and a penchant for alcohol. Could foster care, or a family-style transition center for older orphans, or effective job training, or Christian summer camps with meaningful follow-up help spare Seryozha a life of crime and imprisonment, the fate of most male orphanage graduates?
Natasha and Seryozha help me personalize numbing statistics: an estimated 600,000 Russian orphans and 1.2 million street kids, not to mention children in crisis in Ukraine and other former Soviet republics. Dr. Susan Hillis of the U.S. Communicable Disease Center in Atlanta recently projected that as many as half a million additional Russian children could be orphaned in the next decade as a result of parents dying of AIDS.
Natasha and Seryozha deserve God's best and the Lord's saving grace--as do all orphans and street children in the former Soviet Union. But how can God's best and His grace become a reality for these unfortunates? Today, many Western ministries and many Russian and Ukrainian Christians are working with orphans and street children like Natasha and Seryozha--in the spirit of John 14:18 quoted above--but often without knowing who else is trying to help, or who has useful advice about running summer camp programs, or post-orphanage transition centers, or orphanage discipleship programs, etc.
On 14 July 1999 over 40 people gathered in Moscow to form "To Russian Children With Love," an umbrella organization that seeks to encourage greater cooperation and a sharing of information among Christians ministering to children at risk. Natalia Loginova of Moscow's Word of Christ Church agreed to serve as director of this new effort. Among its goals, "To Russian Children With Love" hopes to encourage more Western church and parachurch ministries to partner with various indigenous Russian initiatives on behalf of orphans and street children.
Mrs. Loginova, herself a long-time volunteer in orphanage ministry, will participate in the upcoming National Summit for Children At Risk, scheduled for 9-11 November 2000, in Atlanta, GA. The driving force behind this gathering is the desire to see a much greater Christian effort in response to Russian children at risk and a more efficient use of resources through greater networking and collaborative ventures. Other speakers will include Baroness Caroline Cox (British House of Lords), Commissioner Kay Rader (Salvation Army), Phillis Kilbourn (Rainbows of Hope), George Steiner (Children's HopeChest), Susan Hillis (Communicable Disease Center), and Barbara Johnson (International Aid). I would implore each reader to consider attending the Atlanta Summit or encouraging someone in your circle of workers or friends to attend.
Editor's Note: For further information, contact the CoMission for Children at Risk, 1827 Powers Ferry Rd., Building 15, Suite 300, Atlanta, GA 30339; tel: 770-916-9029; fax: 770-916-9742; e-mail: email@example.com; Web site: www.comissionforchildren.com. For in-depth analysis of conditions for children at risk see Kathleen Hunt, Abandoned to the State: Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1998), which may be downloaded from http://www.hrw.org/reports98/russia2. For photos and testimonies from a Children's HopeChest summer camp for Russian orphans in June-July 2000 led by East-West Church & Ministry Report editors Mark Elliott and Sharyl Corrado, consult: http://www.samford.edu/groups/global/orphans.html.
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