I am simply one who has been called by God to do something I enjoy a lot: serve people I love. In late 1994 I left the International Bible Society and made the decision that I would start Children's HopeChest with the help of Katya Celinina and Jenya Polonskaya [Haps]. My heart was deeply moved by the needs of kids coming out of orphanages in transition to independent living. There was no theoretical model out there for us to follow. So we have tried over the last six years to develop a model that we are comfortable replicating in other regions.
First, it is terribly important to understand God's heart of compassion. Throughout Scripture, over and over, God's love and care for people, especially those hurting, lonely, and at risk, is very evident. And as He is in us, so we are to be an extension of His compassion for a hurting world. Children's HopeChest works in two arenas: orphanage care and orphanage graduate care.
In times of transition, without question, the elderly and the children suffer the most. In 1992 I was in Moscow when one of the first reports was published indicating that there were approximately 400,000 kids living in institutions. This was shocking to people both in and outside Russia. Everyone knew there were orphanages, but no one had any idea of the numbers. Unfortunately, today that number is over 600,000, an increase of 50 percent over the last eight years. Sixty-five percent of orphanage graduates will end up in prostitution or petty crime. That is the burden that led to the founding of Children's HopeChest. Regardless of where institutionalized orphans are raised--whether in Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, or the U.S.--they are ill prepared for independent living. To me the most stunning statistic of all is that within the first two years after leaving an orphanage, 15 percent of Russian orphans commit suicide. It is the ultimate indicator of hopelessness, taking one's own life.
One of the bridges to longer-term service in Russia is the provision of basic necessities that are desperately needed. The distribution of humanitarian aid involves many obstacles: getting products into the country, weight limitations, bringing in supplies with volunteers, and changing customs restrictions. Once in the country, having a distribution plan and executing it effectively can be challenging. Regardless of all this, the aid is greatly appreciated by all concerned. With the help of Duane Zook from Josh McDowell Ministries, we have been providing humanitarian aid in containers, the first one having been delivered in January 1995. While this is not our ultimate goal, it does provide much needed help and is certainly a wonderful bridge builder.
I have especially enjoyed involving Russians in outreach. There are a lot of potential volunteers who have hearts for children. Some simply need to become aware of the situation. Once caring Russians see the needs and meet the kids, they will do what they can with the limited resources they have. At a conference headed by Natalia Loginova, of To Russian Children With Love, I have been blessed and greatly encouraged listening to testimonies of Russians with almost no resources who are absolutely committed to serving orphans with God's love. I enjoy taking Russians to an orphanage for the first time. I can guarantee the response: "These kids are so normal." It is wonderful when they have an opportunity to have their eyes opened to see the needs and to respond accordingly. Natasha is a Moscow surgeon who visited five or six orphanages with us for three or four days. Since then she has gathered an incredible amount of humanitarian aid for them.
Pastor John Smith from western Pennsylvania is my mentor. Before I began this ministry he told me that 80 percent of ministry is "being there". How can we know someone's hurts if we are not there? How can we respond if we are not listening to their hurts? We have tried to be consistent with our outreach, but I think we are just beginning to understand the importance of being there. We are in the process of putting an office and ministry center in Vladimir and we are opening a ministry center in Kostroma.
Many stories circulate in Russia about American Christians who come to town, hold evangelistic rallies, take pictures, and leave. Unfortunately, many ministries that came to Russia in 1991 and 1992 are no longer there. Some departed for good reasons, but others simply did not commit to stay through difficult days. We need to be people committed to following through on our promises. Trust-building is never ending.
For Children's HopeChest one of the most thrilling developments over the last six years has been partnering. We have partnered on numerous projects with Buckner Adoption and Maternity Services. It has not been without challenges, but we both believe that more kids have been blessed and both organizations are stronger as a result of our linking arms. If we are working in an area where there is a local church, it is important to discover whether there might be common goals with that church. The Wesleyan Church in Vladimir, for example, has key volunteers in our coffee house outreach. In addition, several orphanage graduates worship at the Wesleyan Church. And a local Orthodox congregation in Vladimir is very involved in our coffee house project as well.
Fund Raising with Integrity
We need God's blessing in all areas of ministry, including resource development. My background is major donor development, but frankly, I do not consider myself a professional. My philosophy is pretty simple: fundraising is a lot like evangelism. It is our job to share the gospel and it is the Holy Spirit's job to move on people's hearts. We have to be careful not to build up unrealistic expectations. I remind our staff frequently that we need to under-promise and over-deliver. We need to be careful not to exaggerate with our donors as well. When I look at a video that we produce, I ask, "Are we exploiting others to generate funds?" I believe it says a lot about us and our values when we care enough to protect the dignity of those we serve.
George Steiner is president of Children's HopeChest, Palmer Lake, CO.
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© 2001 East-West Church and Ministry Report