My first trip to the Voronezh region in Russia was in 1998. Much has changed in these past 12 years, and yet much has remained the same.
Those early years, right after the fall of the Soviet Union were different. Foreign speakers were stared at. It was not just the way we dressed, how loud we spoke, or how much we laughed. The Russians we encountered always remarked about how much we smile.
I often use an unequal rope trick to speak about being different. They already see just how different I look, but as I keep hearing over and over, year after year - it is the smile they notice. We do that a lot by their standard.
Our expression of happiness.
I used to think it was a cultural thing. But I have come to see it is one of the fruits of the spirit; joy. Most foreigners who were initially coming to the Eastern Bloc were connected to the vine - we were His branches. We stretched across oceans of atheism and into land parched for the Word of God.
Our teams would drive hours across sparsely populated farmland, back into remote and far removed regions where institutions housed the unwanted, neglected, and orphaned of the broken Communist regime.
Even then, my story telling was a key element of the program. I took great delight in selecting children and transforming them from students to trees, flowers, bees, queens and kings. One day, during the program I had a classroom filled with children between 4-6. A tiny little blonde boy made for a perfect king. He was so small his tiny feet and legs barely reached the edge of the chair. He held his scepter proudly and with great authority. It made for a perfect picture.
In January 2007 (my last trip) our team was at a different orphanage, just as remote, but familiar. A young boy of 11 was following Care EE around the halls of the orphanage. I paused and took a close look at him. "Tsar(king in Russian)?" I asked. A big grin broke out across his face as he replied, "Yes, I am your King."
In the photo album I brought chronicling 12 years of ministry here, both photographs were there. One of a tiny tot holding a crown and scepter, and one a young lad 9 years later happy to be recognized.
Our last day of programs, Lori, Ann and Robert returned to Boguchar (his orphanage) to present a day training seminar on attachment disorder. One of the young men now living at Hope House with Ann and Robert is from that orphanage. We showed him the photos and he told us who the boy was in hopes they could find him.
When they returned, late in the evening they brought the good report and had photos to prove it. The king was found! Now a young man of 15 holding perhaps one of the few photos he has of his childhood. Evidence of the King's reign!
The train is rocking back and forth headed down the tracks towards home. It is past midnight and our arrival into Moscow is a short 6 hours away. The young men of Hope House followed us to the train station to see us on our way and help with boarding the "passing" train (it only stops 5 minutes). It was a good thing, the frenetic activity in trying to board held back the tears - just long enough to wave and wonder...
when will I see them again.
It is still
The King and I
On the way back
With a tear soaked smile