Thank you for your prayers concerning my health. I am happy to tell you
that I am well and my strength is back. As I struggled to get back to
normal, I was drawn to God for help and He led me to the Word. Needless
to say, I took comfort in Christ's words, "My grace is sufficient for
thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness."
I am quite comfortable with being home now, and I am beginning to understand the role that God is asking me to play concerning my dear friends in Khabarovsk. As I prayed about this letter, I continually thought of the orphans I was hearing about from all who wrote me from Russia. This month, I would like to tell you about the ministry of my teammate, friend, and sister-in-Christ, Jan Spurgeon.
Jan joined our Khabarovsk team in September, 1997 and God has called her to extend her ministry to the Russian people. Jan spent much of her time working with children's ministries and is now responding to a clear call to "share with the children of the streets and the orphanages."
During the Christmas season, Jan was blessed to be a part of the celebration at the street house, a ministry for street children, and on December 28th she was a invited to a New Year celebration at one of the larger orphanages in the city. There are 120 children here between the ages of three to seven. As Jan presented the children with candy, fruit and hugs, her heart was broken to see so many beautiful children who were either abandoned or orphaned. Some had parents who were in prison and some were abandoned as infants. Some came from hospitals where there was no one to hold them and love them and these children didn't know how to respond to touch or love.
Some of you know that Jack Stevenson, our team shepherd, has an orphan ministry in Khabarovsk. He works with a Russian educator named Nina who has helped open doors to orphanages and schools. Nina purchases clothing and shoes for orphans , using funds sent by Americans whose hearts have been touched with the needs of the children. She also makes arrangements for American missionaries to visit and help the children. Jan works with Nina, too, and as she visits the many orphanages, God is leading her to pray for additional needs. The orphanages are part of the school system in Khabarovsk, and supported by the government. Needless to say, because of the economic crisis in Russia, the government cannot supply the needs of the orphaned children. When I was in Khabarovsk, the children had enough to eat. The food was adequate and the children were clean and relatively healthy. Now, there isn't enough to eat and the teachers and care-givers cannot provide the basic needs for these children.
Jan tells us that there are 34 orphanages in the Khabarovsk region. Eight of them are located in the city and many others in villages surrounding Khabarovsk. The criteria used to place the children varies depending upon the circumstances of the region where the orphanage is located. Some house young children from 3 - 8 years while others include children between the ages of 3 -17. There are orphanages for special health problems such as sight or speech. some have heart, nervous, liver, kidney, or stomach problems. Others are handicapped mentally or physically.
The research that Jan has done reveals at least 448 legal orphans in the seven orphanages in which she is involved. There are about 231 who are not legal orphans, but who will continue to live away from home because their parents are unable to care for them for many reasons. Many have been abandoned. All of the homes for children are struggling to supply basic needs such as food, clothing, and medicines. This is the mission to which Jan has been called.
The orphanages are not equal, but vary according to the economic status of the region in which it is located. Jan asks us to walk with her through one of the poorer orphanages in the city:
"We enter a large, 40 year-old building and see that there have not been any repairs for a long time. There are 167 children living here ranging from 7 - 16 years old. All of the children have some sort of mental deficiency. Only 5 children have known parents; 55 have no parents, and 107 do not know where their parents are. The children attend school and live in the same building. They leave here with about 9 years of education. For nine years, this is their world.
The building is cold and drafty. Bathrooms have broken toilets, leaky ceilings, holes in the floor from missing tiles. Bedrooms have six small worn beds, broken down wardrobes, and no other furniture. The wooden floors are cold and worn without carpet which is so important for warmth in this part of the world as shoes are not worn inside. Overhead lights are unsafe with only a few working florescent bulbs. Because of the cold, the children are unable to use the large gymnasium. In the dining room the tables and chairs are old and in need of repair. There is not enough money for all the meals and so they have had to stop serving the afternoon meal. Children are hungry. Broken steps lead to a dimly lit basement where pipes coming out of the wall serve as showers. The old ventilation system is not working and so moisture hangs in the air. The moisture causes the paint to hang from the cracked walls and ceiling."
"Our goal is to offer aid to Russian children in orphanages and other children organizations. We wish to help meet the needs that are not currently being met elsewhere. This help could include clothing, food, medical needs, building repairs, time with the children, or anything else that may be needed.
We hope to do this through a joint effort of both Russian and American support. We will develop a team headed by both a Russian and an American representative. Our goal is to develop a team comprised primarily of Russians so this work can continue if the American representatives should have to leave the country for any reason. The representatives will meet with directors to determine the need and then find a way to meet those needs.
We will accomplish this ministry through contact with Russian business people as well as various other volunteers. Supplemental financial support for this work has already begun through personal donations from America.
We will maintain regular contact with directors and oversee all projects in which we become involved."
Jan works closely with Pastor Ura and attends church there each week. I have written about Ura's vision which includes working with orphans and Jan is also involved in the ministries of Ura's church. Ura has been working with the infants and also with an orphanage located in a Ninian village located several hours from the city. The Ninians are native Russians, (the same heritage as our native Americans). The orphanage in the village houses 150 children (some Ninian and some Russian) between the ages of 7 and 18. Ninety are legal orphans and over 50% have health problems. Seven are invalids since birth. These children go to school with children of the village. Jan visited this orphanage with Ura and has included these children with those she is called to help. Orphanages this far from the city government of Khabarovsk receive little help and the village people have too little to help. I will write more about Ura's involvement with this orphanage in my next letter.
Jan has also visited the infant orphanage with Lena, our Russian friend who came to America with me to visit when I came home in July. Lena is a teacher of English and she also works to help Americans adopt Russian children by being their translator for the process. It was Lena who first discovered the infant orphanage in the hospital far from the central part of the city. She asked me to come with her to visit the children and I invited Ura to come along. As a result of that visit, Ura was led to include the babies as part of his vision. This is where the two young girls (Olga and Lena) from his congregation work daily, holding and helping with the babies.
"Just wanted you to know I finally made a trip to the infant hospital with Lena on Friday. It was sad; 25 babies there. I guess though that the conditions are better now than when you visited there before. Pastor Ura got permission to make a video of the orphans and he was able to have it presented on local TV. Help from Russians came as a result of this and they now have newer beds for all babies. (When I visited, some babies were in large wash tubs). I learned that no one is helping with medicine or food except us, so keep the help and prayers coming.
The nurses were upset while we were there. It seems they ran out of formula because of the March 8 holiday and so they fed the babies Semolina. This caused digestive problems and there was no medicine for them on hand. It just so happened that Lena bought the medicine they needed with money you sent and so we arrived with it in hand. Praise the Lord! They were very grateful. They gave us a list of the needs; formula, vitamins, and medicine. Lena and I will prioritize the list and go shopping with money you sent from American Christians."
And so, the Lord is guiding the work with orphans in Khabarovsk. As Ura, Lena, and Jan are led to minister to the children, God is bringing them together to share visions and resources. The mystery of connecting you and I with the needs of these children is evidence of God's miraculous will. The burden he puts on our hearts to respond with prayer and support connects with the passion of Ura, Lena, and Jan to reach out to the children all around them. What a privilege to be a part of God's perfect plan.
Jan has established a special account at the Mission Society to be used for orphans in Russia. Fishburn Church will forward your gifts to this account which will be wired to Jan in Khabarovsk. I will e-mail Jan each month as we send our gifts and give her the details of how the money is to be distributed. As you are led to support the ministry in Khabarovsk, be sure to send a note or write information on the check to specify where the gift should go. I know that God will lead you and that He has a specific use for each cent He urges us to send. I will give Jan all the information she needs and she will personally deliver the gifts to the ministry God places on your heart.
There is no competition between the ministries of those I write you about. All are called by God to minister to the needs of the hungry, poor, and weak. They realize that God is providing them ways to work together to accomplish His purpose. Praise God.
Fishburn Church will continue to accept your gifts and pass them on to those in Khabarovsk. Make the check payable to Fishburn U.M.C. and identify the ministry you wish it to support.
The address is:
Fishburn United Methodist Church
Attention: Charlene Reitz
1215 Fishburn Rd.
Hershey, PA 17033
It is so exciting to share the message of God's work in Khabarovsk with
you. Perhaps some of you would like me to come to your church or group to
answer questions or tell others about this mission. If so, please contact
me at my church or you can call me or e-mail. My phone is:
I know you will keep the Russian people in your prayers. Thank you for your continued prayers and support. I continually thank God for your love.
In His Love,