East-West Church & Ministry Report
Vol. 9, No. 2, Spring 2001, Covering the Former Soviet Union and Central and Eastern Europe

Bless the Children

Kay F. Rader

The Biblical Mandate
Children at risk in Russia and the former Soviet Union are coming over the hill. Do we see them? They cry to us. They are running to us with hope in their hearts that we will hear their cries, that our arms will be open for them, that we are eager to touch their lives in blessing. Children in crisis draw from us a new commitment to see to it that they receive the blessing they deserve. Edward T. Bradley, in his contribution to the book, Children in Crisis: A New Commitment, says, "Throughout the Old and New Testaments we see God the Father and Jesus pleading on behalf of the fatherless and others who are powerless, helpless, and utterly dependent upon Him--or upon His people. His compassion compels and commands us to care for them, to have His heart for them, and to share in the responsibility of that care." This is what we want--to more effectively and efficiently care for, to have God's heart for, and to share in the responsibility for the 1.2 million children at risk in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

The Old Testament law makes clear God's intentions.

The New Testament model is seen most clearly in the story of Jesus blessing the children recorded in the Gospels of Matthew (18:2) and Mark (10:13-16). What kind of person is able to bless the children at risk in Russia? In the materials I have read and through my own travels in Russia and the former Soviet Union, I have observed that the blessings sought and so desperately needed by these children cover a vast range of needs.

A Desperate Need for Blessings
The blessing they need may simply mean (1) having someone find them a mother; (2) trying to make a difference "one life at a time"; (3) being willing to do what can be done within a system, in spite of the system; (4) perhaps finding a safe haven and giving respect to the little people of these countries, whether they are healthy or ill, with or without mental capacity, with or without parents; or (5) perhaps seeing them as part of the ends, not as a means to an end. Blessing to thousands of these children at risk means (6) using drugs when appropriate, and not as punishment; (7) fostering them within the context of a real family; (8) adopting even the mentally retarded; (9) establishing homes for abandoned children; (10) supporting parents to keep them from abandoning their children; (11) supporting the UN Rights of the Child; and (12) giving accurate psychological diagnosis instead of arbitrary classifications, which orphans often carry like an albatross around their necks for a lifetime. Blessing is (13) stopping brutal behavior; (14) running a school or an orphanage; or (15) taking in as many orphans as one's house will hold, remembering that "God stretched the oil for the widow" (2 Kings 4). Blessing is (16) giving love to children at risk, often for the first time in their lives.

What kind of person is able to bless the children? In Voice of the Voiceless, Baroness Caroline Cox describes one such person as "lively, with sparkling eyes and the zeal and determination to make things happen." We may not all have lively, sparkling eyes, but we all can resolve to make something happen for children at risk roaming the streets, living in railroad stations and sewers, and the 650,000 living in government-run orphanages in Russia.

"Remember the Children"
Charles Dickens writes in The Old Curiosity Shop, "I love these little people; and it is not a slight thing when they, who are so fresh from God, love us." We resonate with this, because we too love children. The wonder is that they, so fresh from God, care for the likes of us. Children at risk need someone there for them, someone acting on their behalf. Etched into the wall of the entranceway in London's Children's Hospital are the words "Remember the children, the dear precious children, remember the children, each girl and each boy." When I visited Rwanda in 1994, the word in Kinyarwanda was "tu-zi-ri-ka-na a-ba-na." In Georgian Kartuli, I understand, it is "da-makh-so-vre-ba shvi-te-bi." Whatever the language, it means the same: "Remember the children."

Salvation Army Work
The Salvation Army is an organization of 130-plus years. In 1912 our founder, William Booth, gave his final public address. Though blind, he used the metaphor of a militant, saying, "While women weep as they do now, I'll fight; while little children go hungry, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is one poor lost girl upon the streets, I'll fight. I'll fight to the very end!"

Having spent nearly 40 years as a Salvation Army officer myself, having served in three countries and having visited 75 of the 107 countries where the Army ministers, I have been privileged to observe, up close and personal, Booth's international army of fighting soldiers. A recent E-mail report suggests that every Salvation Army corps in the former Soviet Union could tell its story of ministry to children at risk. Outreach includes orphanages, children's hospitals, caring for street children, feeding and clothing them, involving them in programs, getting them into camps, trying to make a difference, and doing what can be done with the means available.

Reaching the Poorest of the Poor
In 1993 my husband and I made the first of many visits to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Soon after our arrival we found ourselves in a Moscow train station alongside a woman named Ivy Nash as she reached out to the poorest of the poor. She took us to the safe haven the Army had created for street urchins in a three-room apartment on one of the typical dark back alleys of Moscow. But once inside, it was a paradise for kids. There, after eating a nutritious hot meal, they could lie down on clean beds and sleep the sleep of children without worrying.

In St. Petersburg we met Jeff and Sandi Ryan, young lieutenants from Canada, both fluent in Russian even though they had been there only two years. As soon as they arrived in St. Petersburg, Jeff and Sandi began working with one of the hospitals that was caring for children with AIDS. Today the AIDS wing of this hospital has been refurbished by funds provided by the Salvation Army in Norway. Two Russian Salvationists still work with the children, helping care for them. Ten years later Jeff and Sandi were in south Russia in Rostov-on-Don, where they conducted feeding programs for people who lived at the town dump. Many of the children are now attending the Salvation Army church services. A day program seeks to help children with cerebral palsy develop to their full potential. Two teams of volunteers spend time with little patients facing long-term treatment for cancer--playing games, doing crafts, reading, or simply sitting beside their beds. Oh yes, Jeff and Sandi adopted a Russian child who is HIV positive.

"These Are My Children"
As one who knows the Republic of Georgia well, Salvation Army officer Sherry McWhorter writes, "It is absolutely impossible for me to go anywhere without seeking out the orphans, the homeless and thrown-away kids, the truly orphaned, the lonely, and the lost." Says Sherry, "These are the children of my soul. People who know my family have urged me not to take in any more kids. Well, it is too late for that! Now I have 90, from little blonde Russians to dark Abkhazians. It hurts to be taken away from your family and your home. It hurts to be sick and alone. It is frightening to see friends and playmates die in the bed beside yours. But now someone cares. Someone is here with warm sweaters and coats. These are my children."

The Kyiv Orphan Shelter
For three years the Salvation Army has been ministering to some 150 homeless children in the Kyiv Orphan Shelter. When we tried to organize Sunday school for them, it was discovered that even the 12- to 13-year-olds were unable to read. They did not even know their colors, letters, or numbers. The Corps officers organized a preschool class for 20 children to prepare them to enter the first grade, hiring two teachers. Providing supplementary food and vitamins, they continue to work with these children. In September 1998, eight of the children successfully entered the first grade class in a neighborhood school. They went off dressed in proper clothing, wearing proper shoes, with notebooks and all the things necessary to start studying. By the end of September, teachers reported that the knowledge of the eight shelter children was greater than most of the others from normal home environments, proving that they were not and never had been mentally deficient.

In 1999 my husband and I were privileged to see how this program had expanded and was now recognized by Ukraine's State Education Department with a full-time program director and a psychologist to follow the mental and psychological development of the children. In March 2000 a class was started to enable students to join fifth-, sixth-, or seventh-grade classes in the neighborhood school. With part-time teachers on staff for sports and socialization activities, it is going very well. The mayor, the president's wife, and the head of the Education Department have visited the shelter many times.

Worthless or Extraordinary?
The registration brochure for the National Summit for Children at Risk says it well: "Help a Child...Impact a Nation." Last year my daughter was working on a master's degree at the University of Kentucky, doing some student teaching along with her studies. One of the girls at Kentucky's Jessamine County High School had a W carved on her arm. She told my daughter it stood for "Worthless," "because that's what my mother calls me every day." Friends, that represents a curse in the life of this girl. Conversely, there is a little two-year-old living now in the U.S. in Georgia, a Russian girl adopted one year ago. When asked, "Are you an ordinary girl?," she replies, "No, I'm an extraordinary girl!" That is a blessing.

Nigerian poet, novelist, and short-story writer Ben Okri writes, "Children betray nations. Or they redeem them. They reveal them.  They show what is good; what is true; what is pure; what to strive for." That is the purpose of the National Summit for Children at Risk, to show the world what is good, true, pure, what to strive for, and what God desires for nations and for families. Following the example of the Lord Jesus, may we together discover better and more effective ways to open our arms wide, beckoning the many children at risk to come. May we scoop them up, put our hands upon them, and bless them fervently in Jesus' name. 

Kay F. Rader is a Commissioner in the Salvation Army and former World President of Women's Organizations. Her husband, Paul, former Salvation Army General, is now president of Asbury College, Wilmore, KY.

Kay F. Rader, "Bless the Children," East-West Church & Ministry Report 9 (Spring 2001), 3-5.

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2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report
ISSN 1069-5664

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