Yesterday we traveled from Vladimir to Ivanovo to visit the Ministry Center (MC). This has already been a challenging year for our ministry in Ivanovo. We were informed in late February that government officials would no longer allow our programs to be run in the orphanages and that the sponsors of each of the children would be prohibited from the traditional visits and letter writing. We are deeply disappointed by these turn of events.
The pain experienced by both our child sponsors as well as the kids in the orphanages cannot be overstated. In one phone conversation that I had with a sponsoring mother from Virginia she related that she felt the same pain as when she lost her mother to an untimely accident. A few churches expedited visits to their orphanage in advance of the May 1st deadline to bring supplies and to say their goodbyes. It is indeed a deep wound.
The HopeChest MC in Ivanovo consists of 4 apartment flats located in a large complex just outside of the main city. These flats were renovated and turned into a single complex. The facility looks great and the staff was well prepared and excited to spend some time with us. They run a number of programs through this center including fitness, counseling, cooking, computer training, discipleship and art.
Soon after spending some time having tea with the staff the boys started to arrive. There is an equal mix of kids who have come out of the orphanages as well as kids who were from boarding schools for special needs. Today was a good day to be in the center because it was one of the three days per week that the activities director (suitably named ‘Coach’) leads weight lifting classes. It was apparent that some of these boys had worked very hard as they were in great shape and took pride in showing me their exercise routine. The facility is first class and Coach is deeply committed to see the boys succeed.
I sat down, talked and ate with the boys for nearly two hours. My typical experience in working with orphans and vulnerable children is that it takes some time for them to warm up and engage. Not the case with these young men. They were quick to engage in conversation and emphatically impressed how important the center was to them. Adjectives such as ‘love’ and ‘safe’ were frequently used. Some travel up to 45 minutes, 3 times per week to spend a few hours in the programs. I did not have to ‘read between the lines’ to determine how critical these programs are to their stability as they look for steady footing while transitioning into adulthood.
By the way, all of these kids are good a ping pong. I thought I could hang with them but my record is 0-8 across two ministry centers.
What is critical for HopeChest and the kids is that we package the programs so that churches, which had traditionally sponsored orphanages, will now engage in the MC. It is critical for these children and it is critical in order to keep the MC viable. This trip was very valuable in terms of working with staff to develop programs that our churches can effectively engage in the care of the orphan. I will be in contact with all Ivanovo sponsoring churches in the coming weeks.
By the way, if you are ever able to make it to the center, insist that Sergei fix you his Russian pancakes. They were awesome.
As a side-note, the staff was asking what kind of programs would be effective in attracting girls in the Young Mothers Program to come to the center more frequently. I am going to challenge all of my wife’s Creative Memories addicts to plan a scrapbooking retreat for young mother’s in Ivanovo!