Warner Bros. new horror movie, Orphan, proclaims that it must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own. I'm not an adoptive parent, but let me tell you about how an orphan changed my life.
On a trip to Kostroma a few years ago with Children's HopeChest, I visited Sudai orphanage. Sudai is a village, remote and poor. The overwhelming number of children at the orphanage were living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Many of them had shaved heads from a recent outbreak of lice.
Nikolai, the director, met us in the snow upon arrival. He was an old man, especially by Russian standards. He had a large presence, and a large stature. He told me that if I want to be strong like a Russian I would rub snow on my bare chest. I watched as he demonstrated. Politely thanking him for his advice, I decided to be strong like an American and keep my coat buttoned.
One of the older boys in the orphanage took us on a tour - room after room of bunk beads. Hallways that smelled like sweat and urine. All of the kids were in school. The building was empty, except that in one room a teenage girl sat at a wooden desk pushed up to the wall. Lena, one of our translators, and I decided to begin talking to her.
I learned her name, Nastia. I learned that she had died her hair red that morning; her fingers were still stained. I learned that she stayed home sick from school that day, but that she like historia and biologia and matematika. We talked about music and football (soccer to us Americans). But this whole time she was looking down at the desk, scratching at it with a dart. She had not looked up. I had not seen her eyes.
She finally admitted to me, of her own volition, that she was sorry, but she had trouble looking adults, and in particular, men, in the eyes? What had been done to her!? What inhuman offense had so closed her off - forced her to live a poor and remote life in a poor and remote village!?
I told her that that was fine and we continued to talk. Forty-five minutes into our conversation, though, I told her that now that we were friends, we should know what color eyes the other one has.
She looked up for a brief moment. Then back to the dart and the table, the scratching and the dye-stained hands.
This was a glimmer of hope. A slight ray of light to show me that there was life here. The first thing we learned about the Spirit of God is that where there is darkness, void, emptiness, the Spirit is hovering and covering, speaking life and light. So I began to not look at the darkness in Nastia's life, but the life of God reviving and restoring her. I began to pray that here eyes would be opened to hope and inheritance and power - three things that orphans don't have.
Julie and I spent a lot of time with Nastia during our brief visit to her village. Every time we saw her, her smile was wider and her eyes were brighter.
I'll never forget red-headed Nastia. She changed my life. She taught me that even in the dark places of our lives and of this world, God's Spirit is breathing life and light.
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