A picture essay in 4 parts of the 2010 initiative to bless the children of 5 Children's Homes in Irkutsk, Russia with a wonderful, special Christmas and the knowledge of God's love. Join us next
A picture essay in 4 parts of the 2010 initiative to bless the children of 5 Children's Homes in Irkutsk, Russia with a wonderful, special Christmas and the knowledge of God's love. Join us next Christmas?
The PIR Children’s Feasts 2010Part I – Newsletter and Preparation
Some of the letters to Santa given to me by the children
My prayer is that these children will know the fullness of Your joy…
This year (Christmas 2010) the PIR Christmas Parties in Siberia took on a different dimension. Not having been out in Russia since last December, I climbed on a plane to Russia on the 15th December with the intention of fulfilling a promise made to the children at last year’s parties – the promise to return next year.A child does not understand when you tell him or her that you don’t know whether you will be back for them next time or not. They feel it when you are there one moment and not there the next. Of prime importance to them is the need for faithful, regular, loving care which will always be there for them.So after last year, I knew I needed to return…And I am glad I did.
Christmas Cards in English made by the children in thanks…
miracles can be found in the realisation that we are loved…What you’ll see in the next few slides are pictures of some of the things that happened over the short 18 days I was in Irkutsk this Christmas. I pray that you will be blessed by what you see and touched by the plight of these children.
Some BackgroundI have not forgotten you as orphans…In 2008 I went to Irkutsk to study the Russian Language at the State Linguistic University there. While there God placed it on my heart to investigate the plight of orphans in Russia. I had previously read some horrific articles in the late 80’s about the horrific circumstances in the homes. What I found pleasantly surprised me and yet broke my heart.
The situation in the homes was financially much better. Orphans and children from broken homes are cared for with clothing, schooling, food and even the chance of university educations (if they are still without parental support) and living quarters while they study. However the financial provision for these children belies the fact that there are huge problems in Russian Society, and the Russian family unit is in crisis.In Irkutsk alone the divorce rate is 86%. That means 1 in 10 marriages have a chance of surviving. Drugs (in particular heroin) and alcohol play their part in creating this situation. Poverty and hopelessness add to the situation. But most of all, people have no idea of what real selfless LOVE is. And how could they know… most of them have never experienced the love of the Father, of a loving God willing to give His own Son for those He loves.
And the children are the victims of this selfish streak in society. The government rewards families financially for having a second, third or fourth child, yet in the villages (in particular) where there are no jobs, people have five or six children, just so that they will qualify for additional financial grants, which are then spent on alcohol and the like, and the children are handed in to the children’s homes to take care of.Most painful of all is the realisation that most of these children will stay in children’s homes for much of their childhood. They will not know the warmth of a parent’s reassuring hug. They will not know the faithfulness of a parent’s love through all circumstances. They will never be shown the values we take so for granted: faith, grace, love, hope, mercy, forgiveness. Most of them will receive enough to meet their physical needs but few will be shown how to heal their emotional brokenness and change the patterns of their own family. Few will know Spiritual Wholeness through Christ unless we act faithfully.
The Children’s HomesSuch as you do for the least of these, you do for Me…So much has changed in the Children’s Homes in Irkutsk. Our main contact, Valentina, no longer works for the homes, and the homes are now run by the Regional Homes Director. Nekrasova Street home is now only for children of 3-8 years, and two other homes (Bezbokova Street and Leningradskaya Street) specifically house older children.When I arrived, the new director of the Nekrasova Street Home had been told of me, and was keen for us to help her home, and provided me with a list of children at the home immediately.
I realised that there were only younger children housed at the home and queried what had happened to all the older children. She told me that they were housed at different homes across the city and so I asked to meet with the regional director of all the homes.I met with her and asked her for details of some of the older kids. She handed me a list of children at all her children’s homes (and their Christmas Wishes). I looked at the list and said that it was unthinkable for us to only give presents to the children at Nekrasova Street, so we would give gifts to all the children. She asked if I was sure as it involved another 60 children, and I said leave it with us.So in one small moment we went from helping 3 children’s homes, to helping 5 children’s homes; from helping 98 children to helping approximately 150 kids.
The Children’s Home’s Policy…unless you become as one of these little ones, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven…This year we got to spend some time with the directors of the children’s homes and (because I now understand a lot more Russian) to understand what had changed and why it had changed.
Some of the key changes in the way children are dealt with in children’s homes in Irkutsk are as follows:- The homes have split the children into age groups so as to better cater for their educational needs. The younger children stay at the Nekrasova Street Home because there is an excellent Junior School in the centre of town, whereas the older kids were moved to other homes in areas where there are good Middle and Secondary Schools.- The homes recognise that they do not have “problem children” but rather “problem parents.” Most of the children in the homes have parents (Russia is not presently in any large war, so there is no real reason for high death rates amongst adults) but their parents fall into a few groups: - They are drug addicts or alcoholics - They are serving jail terms, or - They cannot afford to keep their children for a number of possible reasonsIn addition, there are other pressures on society which make the parents give up their children, but in many cases, the parents themselves are immature and lack the sense of responsibility to take care of their children.
The homes goal is to reunite the children with their families as soon as possible. The directors clearly indicated that the years of children spending all their childhood in the children’s homes are over. The goal is to work with social workers, psychologists and other state departments to rehabilitate parents and thus to rehabilitate families, preferably within a period of no longer than 18 months.However, the homes do not offer much (at all) in the way of spiritual guidance. Their value systems are based on secular systems, and Christianity, in particular Protestantism does not even touch their frames of reference. They see no need for Christian values, for faith, hope, true love, joy, mercy, grace. Rather, Protestant Churches are seen as a threat to the welfare of the children and thus not really allowed to interact with these children at all. It is simply through our history of generosity to the homes that they allow us into the homes each year.
The Church and the Children’s PartiesEven so let your light shine before men; that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heavenWhen I first arrived in Irkutsk, the church had been through a tough time. They had lost a pastor, had to combine with another church and find new premises. They met weekly in the basement of a building amongst the sewerage pipes from the apartments above. The leadership were trying to find their way and were hardly ready to partnership with me in developing this project.
But if a project is of God, I believe God will find a way to get it done. That year(2008) a number of individuals from the church helped us to bless 2 children’s homes, the next year a brother’s council was appointed in the church, yet the church was still not in a position to take on the project as its own. I went ahead anyway and most of the church congregation got involved as individuals. This year I arrived and the brother’s council at first were frustrated that I had arrived and that I would be adding to their schedule of events at short notice, even though I had communicated and written letters all year long. I thought that once again I would need to proceed with the parties independently. God had led me to do this project, so I could not cancel it because the church was busy… but then God surprised me.
The leadership of the church met, and decided to support the projects. They called me into a meeting and asked what I needed in order to make these projects a success. I don’t know if you can imagine my surprise and the greatness of this turnaround. After three years, God had opened the hearts of the church to get actively involved in this ministry.Not only that, but they asked that we discuss plans for next year (which I had hardly thought of, at that stage). The night before I had wondered about the opportunity of bringing a team of people to Siberia to minister to the church and to the children, in Christmas 2011. The church agreed that this would be a great opportunity and they agreed to support the team in Siberia in December 2011.How blessed am I!!!!
The Parties This year we were able to hold parties at 5 Children’s Homes in Siberia:- NekrasovaStreet Children’s Party- BezbokovaStreet Children’s Party- LeningradskayaStreet Children’s Party- UrikVillage Children’s Party- SludyankaVillage Children’s PartyOver 150 children were given a present of their own choosing as well as a small parcel of sweets and fruit. We were not able to spend a lot of time with each home but we were able to spend around 2 to 3 hours with the children from each home, telling them about why we celebrate Christmas, and what the real meaning of Christmas is. In addition, we were able to spend some time singing with the kids, and of course, opening presents with them.In addition to the personal presents for each child, we gave three of the homes big sets of plastic building blocks and 2 of the homes large play-houses for indoor entertainment during these cold winter months.
ShoppingWith only a week to shop for all the items for 5 homes, we found ourselves in a bit of a time-crunch. But as usual, God seems to know what we need, when its most needed. In the last year a new shopping Centre (Jem Mall) had opened in Irkutsk with a HUGE Children’s Outlet (Appropriately called DETI – Russian for “children”) offering almost every toy you can imagine, so we were able to purchase most of the things we need in one long shopping session at one store, and get a huge discount too.We also bought a range of “Reserve” Presents just in case there was an extra child or two in the homes. Fact was that the numbers in the homes changed daily and we landed up having to change our plans and adjust the lists of presents every evening. For example Urik Village Children’s Home had 40 children on their list, yet in the week before we arrived, 9 went to hospital for various illnesses, a further 8 went home as their parents were released from jail before Christmas, and a further 14 new children entered the home… so we had to rearrange our whole list for the home and buy extra presents for those we had not planned for. …and God provided exactly the amount we needed to be able to ensure that every child and every home was blessed.
Wrapping The church held a Christmas Service on the 26th December and Sergei Aleev preached on the gift given to us in the person of Jesus. We then each gave a present to someone else in the congregation and after a light lunch everyone settled in to wrap presents. I was nervous as the leadership had indicatred that another church met at 4pm in the church venue so we would probably only be able to wrap presents until 4pm and have to try and convince everyone to return after 6pm if there were still presents to wrap… I need not have worried. The church were so keen to get wrapping that they cut short their lunch and started wrapping presents at 13.30 and with some help from some wonderful student friends and friends from the church in Angarsk, it was all hands on deck, and all 150+ presents were finished by 15.50. We had enough time to clean up the church and leave everything in good order for the next church service to start at 4pm.