Much has happened since I last wrote and the most disturbing is the tragedy in Kosovo. Many wonder how our missionaries and friends are viewing this horrific event and I can tell you what little I know. Jan and Ari, the missionaries in Khabarovsk write that all is relatively calm in Khabarovsk. Ari reported a small demonstration in Khabarovsk which was quickly disbursed. Our Russian friends share our sadness as they hear of the suffering of the civilians in Kosovo and in Serbia. Those of us who have lived in Russia recognize the connection between the Serbian people and Russian people and they also know that the Serbian population is not aware of all their leaders are doing. Those of us who have come to know and love our Russian brothers and sisters know that the common citizens of Russia continually pray for world peace as we do in America. Jan and Ari do not feel any hostility from the people of Khabarovsk and they continue to work for Christ and strive to do as Jesus would do each day. They ask that we continually pray for the leadership of Russia and believe that Russia may be the only country that may be able to reach Milosevic in this crisis.
Next, I want to thank you for the tremendous response our church has received in response to the needs of the orphans of Khabarovsk and to Pastor Ura's vision. The gifts have been sent through the Mission Society to Jan Spurgeon, my teammate and missionary friend. She will directly distribute the gifts exactly as you asked. I am excited to tell you that more than $3000 has been sent to date and it is nearly divided between Ura's vision and the orphans. Praise God for this outpouring of love!
I would like to use the rest of this letter to introduce you to my Russian friend, Lena Kosik. Some of you met Lena last summer when she and her son, Stas came to America with me. I have written about Lena in many letters during my time in Khabarovsk, and now I would like to put it all together to give you a picture of one of God's servants as she works among her people.
Lena was one of the dear Russian friends who met the plane when I first arrived in Khabarovsk, Russia in January of 1997. I quickly learned that Lena's heart was with the needy children of her city. Lena translated for the team as they ministered to orphans in School 42. Each Sunday afternoon, I joined the Tarvers and Sue Fuller to bring the joy of Christ to about thirty children in this school. When the Tarvers and Sue left for America, Lena and I continued to visit the children and soon, Lena began to share her love and her faith openly with the directors and the children each week. She made arrangements to distribute Bibles with the children and helped to keep the communication open between the officials and missionaries.
Orphanages were re-organized and the children of School 42 were disbursed in several places and Lena found that most of them were together in School 8 and through her efforts we began a weekly program with the children there. School 8 was a larger facility and our team was able to bring the Good News of Christ to the more than 80 students there. Lena's quiet respect for others continued to be invaluable in the delicate negotiations necessary to keep doors open for the ministry to the children.
Lena is a teacher of English and her husband is an oncologist. Teachers and doctors are not receiving regular pay in Russia because of the economic situation there but both continue to work because of the needs of the people. Lena was given the opportunity to become a translator for American couples who come to Khabarovsk to adopt Russian children. As a result of this responsibility she became aware of a heartbreaking situation that was getting no attention from missionaries or from the city authorities. Lena visited a hospital far from the center of the city where infant orphans lived. There are no facilities to care for infant orphans and so the children live in the hospital until they are two or three years old. The hospital was in desperate need of funds and care givers. Lena knew that she must make as many people aware of this situation as she could. She came to the team with the plea that we visit and see the needs ourselves.
She identified some immediate needs including medicines and I was able to give her money to shop for the medicines needed. This money had been sent to me by dear friends who had read of the needs of children from my newsletters. Before we made the visit to the hospital, I told Lena that I felt that God was asking me to invite Pastor Ura to go with us. And so, loaded down with disposable diapers and medicines, we made the first visit to the hospital.
My teammate, Candace went along and although we were prepared for the worst, our hearts were broken by what we saw and experienced. Children as old as two had never been outside because there was not enough help. Children lived in cribs and because there was no money for diapers and no washing machine in the hospital, the beds and babies were wet. Many cried and reached for us, but some were too quiet as though they sensed that life was hopeless. We knew that we God was leading us to help these tiny souls.
Pastor Ura was so moved that he had trouble reacting to the children. These children became part of his vision and his congregation continues to send two young girls from the church to help care for the children each day. He thanked Lena for making him aware of the desperate need.
Soon after Lena returned to Russia in August, I began to hear from her by e-mail and I would like to share the situation as it exists in her words.
October 22, 1998 - I went to the hospital to bring diapers and some medicine today. The head doctor was very glad and excited to see me. She told me the economic situation became worse. The babies are being fed now only 3 times a day instead of the usual 6 times. Sometimes there is no fresh milk. The milk is made from old dry milk. The babies haven't gotten butter for three weeks. (melted butter is given with dry milk for the fat needs)
I know the doctor was speaking the truth because the same situation is now happening in Nicholi's hospital. I bought food with our money for his patients because the hospital didn't have food for two days. We are thinking now about organizing a family fund to give humanitarian aid to his hospital. Nicholi is having the paper work done now. Please pray for this.
My heart has no peace. The babies are growing since I saw them last, but they are too thin. Nothing has changed in their lives. Only more poverty and no way out.
November 29, 1998 - We are fine. Nicholi is working hard at the hospital. Two days a week he spends all night at the hospital and still isn't paid every month. He got $100 for August in November. I teach students in my home. They keep me busy except Sunday. I am using my own method of teaching English and it works! This extra money helps.
I still visit the hospital and bring medicine for the babies. It is very cold to ride in the unheated train. The doctor told me that the babies do not get enough food and vitamins. I have used the money you sent with me and am using some of my own money but it isn't enough. Maybe there are people in America who will be interested in helping. I hate to ask, they have done so much.
December 25, 1998 - Merry Christmas to you and a Happy New Year! How are you doing? We are fair. It isn't easy to adjust to prices for food that are still growing. Some people are taking advantage of the situation. A kilo of butter costs 63 rubles ($3.15). This is terrible!
My family will come to meet the New Year. It will be the first celebration in our new apartment. So, we will celebrate our "move" too. It is a Russian tradition when someone moves to a different apartment to celebrate.
I have fewer students because of the flu. Many people are sick. Stas has been sick a month and can't recover. We can't find vitamins for him now and everything is so expensive. We are happy that Stas was in America during the summer. The forests around the city have been burning all summer and into the fall. When we flew back we could not see the city for the smoke. The carbonic acid was !0% higher than normal. Now there are more cases of pneumonia as the complication after the flu.
February 2, 1999 - Ari, Tanya and I visited the hospital to bring some sheets and some fabric that Russians still use to wrap babies. The head doctor wasn't there to give us permission to see the babies and so I am going to do that next week. Maybe you know that some other people have started to help too. That is great. Stas is better. Thank you for the vitamins.
February 8, 1999 - Jan is interested in visiting the babies too. I'm going to bring medicine to the hospital this week.
February 14, 1999 - I'm fine but a little tired after two busy days. I was asked to interpret for an American family who came to Khabarovsk for adoption and will spend two weeks with them. I am so helpless seeing the children. Sometimes the idea to adopt a baby keeps in my mind for a long time but my family income is hardly enough to take care of one child.
Yesterday I was crying when I saw a family reunion. A brother and sister were brought up in different orphanages and haven't seen each other before. I admire and bow my head before these wonderful Americans who are not afraid of adopting sick children.
Joan sent me some money to use for my needs. I think she won't mind if I spend this money to buy medicine for the children.
February 26, 1999 - Excuse me for not answering you so soon. The adoption agency is keeping me busy all days but soon I think my work will be over and I will be involved in teaching my students and taking care more of my family.
The American adoption agency gave me $100 to spend on babies and then I'll use what you sent. The more people know about the babies the more help they will get. After a TV program that Ura's church made about the hospital, the babies have more clothes to wear, but the food they get is still very poor. The babies don't get vegetables and fruit, meat, protein or vitamins.
One American family adopted a girl of 18 months. I was very depressed seeing that baby. She is not interested in people at all. She was seldom spoken with and she doesn't respond when someone calls her. She can hardly stand. There are 28 babies there who have the same problems. Who is responsible for that? Sometimes I have a desire to scream, "People, what are you doing? Why should these babies suffer? What can I do? How can I help?" I am still trying to find answers for these very complicated questions.
March 13, 1999 - Thank you very much for the work you are doing for babies. I am very thankful to God who made us meet in Khabarovsk. God gave me a very essential gift in my life - the ability to help the babies and I am going to do that as much as I can. I will try to help some orphans to find families too. It is very hard for Russia now and who suffers more than the orphans?
The conditions at the baby hospital are not changing for the better. I learned that only 10% of the orphans succeed in their lives. Many have mental problems not because they are sick, but because of all that has happened to them. Many orphans repeat the fate of their parents in Russia. They leave the orphanage as young adults and usually have to return to their parents who don't expect to see them. They do not have skills necessary for adult life and do not know how to take care of themselves.
Yesterday I was at the hospital with Jan and witnessed the authorities talking with the doctors about an accident that happened to them. Very small babies were fed semolina because there was no porridge. They had abdominal disfunction and diarrhea. Their condition is very serious. The doctors will be in trouble if the children die, but what can they do if there isn't any food? The sad thing is that nobody here is helping these babies. Ura's church and we are the only ones visiting them. The doctors here are working hard and haven't been paid for five months. There is nothing they can do except keep on coming because the babies need them. They cannot complain because they might lose the only job they have.
Jan told me that some more money will come from Americans who read your newsletter. Is it O.K. for me to buy baby food with some of the money you send? I have been buying medicine and the food is important too.
April 13, 1999 - Excuse me for not writing. Something was wrong with my e-mail. How is your family? How was your Easter? My family had a nice time together. My mother-in-law planted some seeds and we had these plants decorating the table along with Easter eggs. The weather in Khabarovsk is very different. It still snows sometimes. How is the weather in Hershey?
In March I was working for the Adoption Agency again for several days. I still tell the families about the babies. One family from Tulsa is willing to help. Jan met these families and we had lunch together with them one day.
I am working on my interpreter certificate. It means I can do more translations for court hearings for adoptions. Please pray for this.
The babies at the hospital are doing better. They are gaining weight. The doctors are very excited, of course. They have more peace in their hearts now. Jan tells them that God helps them. She explains that it is not her money but that different people from the churches are trying to help the babies. Tomorrow we are going to talk with a mother whose baby was hospitalized in that hospital. The family was starving. The seven month old baby was fed with only rice. We are interested in helping that baby and his mother but the doctor tells us that there are many families like this and we can't help everyone.
April 16 - Poor conditions at the hospital are easy to explain - crisis in the country and the financial dependence from the city. The city has no money in its funds to support the hospital. There is no money at the hospital to buy even soap. The hospital is located in the industrial area where more poor people live now. Most of the factories are not running now and if people are working they are not paid for several months.
The doctors at the polyclinics in Russia are in charge of certain areas in each town. If a child gets sick, the parents call the polyclinic and the doctor visits the child and examines him at home. His visits are free. He is paid by the state. I was depressed hearing a story about the doctors who call the hospitals asking for help. Some families have no money to buy bread.
I would like to thank people for sending money. The babies now get good formula, vitamins, and medicine. When the babies adjust to the good food and if we have enough money in the future we will try to buy baby food (meat) for some older babies. Some of them need it for their growing.
Everything is very expensive now. One dollar equals 24 rubles now. The babies need 34 boxes of infomile (formula) per month. Some babies need special formula for they are allergic to milk. We need to buy 20 boxes of this per month. There are 24 babies here now and we spend almost $200 just for formula per month. Medicine is more expensive. One bottle of baby vitamins costs more than $6. The babies also need good lotion for rash. Most of the babies' skin is covered with rash. Each bottle costs about $2. We don't buy diapers now, the food and medicine is more important.
Excuse me for this letter that seems to look like a bookkeeper's report about our expenses. I think people need to know about the costs of baby formula and other things. Russians care about the needs of the children but now in Russia it is impossible for most of the families to raise two children. Middle-class families make about $120 per month. Most of the money is spend on buying basic food.There is nothing left to give. With love, Lena
And now you know the heart of my friend Lena and the tremendous part she is playing in the lives of the babies of the hospital orphanage. There are other Americans helping with some of the other 33 orphanages of the Khabarovsk area and so I ask Jan and Lena to use the money we send for orphans for the babies first and then in any orphanage where there is the greatest need. I know you will continue to pray for this ministry and support it as God directs you. Please continue to keep the missionaries and Lena in your prayers too.
Again, if you are led to support this ministry, please make your checks payable to Fishburn U.M.C. and tell us how you want the money used. The address is listed below.
I am happy to continue to tell the story of God's work in Khabarovsk, Russia and will be happy to come to your area to visit and/or speak with any church or group. You can write me at the church's address, telephone me at(717)534-1087 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In His Love,