"Final Bell" for Russian orphans: where will I go, what will I do?

After fun on the playground, children posed for this photo

(Note: each year at time for "final bell" in Russian schools, I remember Katia. "Help for Children" is now helping graduates from Luga orphanage who go to St. Petersburg for technical school.)

The Final Bell

The “final bell”: a bittersweet day for Russian orphans

The “final bell”. “Final bell” is how Russians label their last day of school and graduation day. The final bell often rings in somber, worrisome tones for the orphans of Russia. Most of us think of graduation as a joyous occasion: the beginning of a journey into the future to live out childhood dreams.

For orphans, the final bell begins the world’s most cruel surprise party. Orphans have lived all or most of their lives in an institution: following strict schedules, making no decisions, being told what to do and how to do it, learning no life skills. Then…final bell. They graduate and are thrown into the world, like birds who are set free but have never learned to fly. Easy prey for the villains of the world. Nine out of 10 face a future of drugs, alcohol, prison, prostitution, or suicide.

I will never forget that day on a muddy playground in northeast Russia, three weeks before final bell. We were visiting one of the internat orphanage schools where our Russian church team has been ministering to children for several years. We enjoyed a lunch of soup and bread with the children, and migrated outside to the still-recovering-from-winter playground. It was a bright and warm spring day, a rarity for early May in this part of Russia. Skies cloudless. Gentle breeze. Coat-quickly-coming-off weather. Within minutes, the playground was alive with running, laughing, tagging, yelling, and games. Children showing off on the one piece of antiquated playground equipment. A soccer ball being kicked back and forth on the gray-brown field.

We sat with a group of the older children on a broken-down bench at one side of the playground. As we watched the amazing show of energy and life, I wanted to freeze-frame the afternoon. It was like a patch of timeless joy in lives headed to an almost certain dead-end. I wanted to keep these children from ever having to hear the final bell.

“Final bell…it’s only three weeks away,” I thought to myself. “I wonder if any of the children sitting with us are graduating.”

I turned and asked: “Are any of you graduating this year?”

Katia smiled and then raised her hand: “Yes….”

“Congratulations Katia! Where will you be living when you leave the school?” (I knew that many of the children who graduate from this internat have to move at least three hours away.)

Katia’s smile melted. She looked down, staring at the stubble of spring grass pushing up through the patch of mud between her feet. Silence. She continued to stare at the ground. The children who sat with us waited politely. Quietness. We waited. And waited.

Finally Katia had to answer: “I don’t know….”

At that point, I should have been wise enough to change the subject, but I really wanted to know what she would be studying in vo-tech school, which is supposed to be the next grade for internat graduates.

So I asked, “What will you be doing when you graduate?”

Katia continued to stare into the ground… arms folded… bent over in a stomach-ache-kind-of position. Her entire posture and countenance said that she wanted to cry, but she held back the tears with the toughness she had acquired from her lifetime within the gray walls of the orphanage.

Again, a long wait until she decided on her answer that came slowly in an apologetic voice: “I don’t know.”

I held back the tears that I wanted to shed with Katia. Quickly, we changed the subject back to the playground, the impromptu soccer match, the beauty of the day, and the excitement and joy of being together and sharing our love with the children that we had grown to know and love.

Unfortunately, Katia’s dilemma is normal. The majority of orphans who graduate from the internat schools of Russia have no hopes and dreams for their future. If there is anything worse than living in an orphanage, it’s living in an internat orphanage. Children whose parents have any kind of social problem are likely to end up in the internat school, where they are routinely diagnosed as slow learners and children with problems. Based on our ministry to children in the internat orphanages, these schools are full of beautiful, talented, kind, and smart children who will never have a chance to develop what God has placed within them. Those who go on to vocation school often have to relocate to a far away community. They usually give up after a month of two in strange and lonely surroundings. They drop out, somehow get back to their town and familiar faces, and try to find their way in an unfamiliar world. Many will live on the streets; some find shelter with other children their age. Most will somehow find enough money for cheap vodka or grain alcohol. They seek temporary solace in the arms of another. Babies are conceived. Babies are born and are given up to the orphanage baby houses. The vicious cycle continues.

When we first started working with Russian orphans, we thought what orphans need is clothing, showers, computers, games, fruit, and ice cream. Time and experience has taught us the only solid answer for orphans is to get them into families. We still minister to children where they are in the orphanages, but we focus on encouraging foster homes, transitional homes, and adoption.

Much prayer is needed. Only God can make the changes necessary to set the orphanage children of Russia into families.

When we think about Katia, we rejoice in knowing that, through our faithful volunteers at the church nearby, she has heard the good news of Jesus Christ. Not just once but on many occasions. Someday the real final bell will sound for Katia and all of us. We pray that on that day Katia will finally know where she is going and what she will be doing: living forever in God’s big family.

Ken Dockery, co-founder, Big Family Mission 

Russian orphans ask: What are these things called “Valentines”?

Several families in the USA and other countries volunteered to send valentines to the children at orphanages in Russia and India.
Mail going to Russia often takes longer than it is supposed to, but finally the valentines reached their destination!
Natasha and “Help for Children” distributed the cards to children at Jukki and Luga orphanages.  The valentines created a lot of excitement among the children!
   Natasha writes: “We want to thank everyone who has spent time and sent Valentines to our children in Jukki and Luga! It usually takes long time for the envelopes to arrive to us from U.S., so we have just been able to bring the Valentines to the children - they were arriving every other day! 
   “Although the day of 14 of February was long ago, it is never too late to say the good words to the children in need, to let them know that they are loved and not forgotten!
    “I didn't expect that those cards will cause such interest of children! It was so special for them to receive the Valentines.  They were sharing, showing each other the cards, I have translated them all. We do not have such cards in Russia. We had made a game with the sets of such Valentines (they went in boxes with cartoons heroes).
   “Every child was taking a card and we said that the words that are written there are just for him personally - such words as "loved", “you are the best friend", "I am missing you" encouraged every child, and such words as “you are cool", "funny", and “fashionable" brought a lot of laughter.
   “Our children had such fun sharing and playing that game, they asked us to distribute the cards with the wishes again and again! Thank you, everyone, who brought a lot of laughter and love into the orphanage!”

   Our thanks to everyone who took the time to send a valentine to an orphan in Russia or India to let that child know that they are special and are very much loved by their heavenly Father!  We introduced this project on Facebook… so if you have not found and liked “Big Family Mission” on Facebook, we are here:

   Learn how you can help Natasha and her team minister to Russian orphans here:  Adopt a Russian Orphanage.

Meet 11 Russian orphans who want to learn more about Jesus Christ!

This summer, 11 orphans from Luga Orphanage (about four hours south of St. Petersburg) will have the opportunity to spend two weeks at a summer church camp at New Generation Church in Gatchina. 

These fun-filled weeks will encourage the kids to take their relationship with God to a whole new level. According to Natasha Kirillova, head of the Help for Children ministry in St. Petersburg, the orphans at Luga are already expressing a personal interest in getting to know God. They continue to ask a lot of questions about Christianity, and some have begun to read the Bible regularly and to pray.
If sending orphans to a summer camp sounds easy enough, think again. There are new regulations that often make paperwork a time-consuming challenge, and then there is the challenge of funding.
In order to attend summer camp in Gatchina, these precious children need to find sponsors to cover their expenses. "Children are looking forward for that opportunity," says Natasha, "and will be happy and grateful to every sponsor."
The cost for each child to spend two weeks at the Christian camp is about $200. These gifts are considered as more than simply generous donations. They are investments, both in the lives of the Russian orphans and in the kingdom of God.

Meet all of the 11 children who are hoping to go to the summer church camp here:  Summer church camp.

If you prefer to read about the children in Russian language, please click here:  Summer church camp (Russian version).

To make a donation to help these children attend summer church camp, just click on the GIVE button to go to our secure donation page.

You may donate online using credit or debit card or direct deduction from checking... or contribute via mail.

Three day symposium: child welfare, adoption, orphan care

Just three more days to register without a late registration fee...
The 37th Annual Child Welfare Symposium, conducted by the Joint Council on International Children's Services will be held in New York City on May 20-22, 2013 at The Conference Center, 130 E. 59th Street, NY, NY 10022.
Every year, the Symposium brings together 200 professionals in the area of child welfare, adoption, and orphan care for three days of information gathering, idea sharing, and networking. 
All those with an interest in ensuring that children live, grow, and flourish in a permanent, safe, and loving family are invited to attend.
Workshops at the 2012 Symposium covered topics such as post-adoption nutrition, the future of international adoption, and the changing media landscape with regard to permanency solutions for children. This year, workshops will discuss the needs of children in Haiti, India, Ethiopia and China, as well as financial organizational empowerment, medical and nutritional issues, orphan care issues, and intercountry curricula. More information on these workshops can be found here.
Last year, speakers included Rita Soronen, Executive Director of the Dave Thomas Foundation, Kathleen Strottman, Executive Director of the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute and Ambassador Susan Jacob from the U.S. Department of State. 
A complete list of 2013 speakers is available on our Speakers page.This year's Symposium has new speakers and new sessions covering topics such as financial organizational empowerment, orphan care, and intercountry adoption. 
The Symposium will also feature country caucus discussions on the needs of children without family care specifically in Haiti, India, Ethiopia, and China.

Top 10 Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew

Live Webinar sponsored by Joint Council on International Children's Services and Adoption Learning Partners

May 14, 2013
7:00PM Central 
Q&A: 8:00PM

Adopted people and adoptive parents don’t always look at adoption the same way. Many of the issues adoptees struggle with may be difficult for parents to understand and come to terms with. And it’s ever changing. A parent’s and a child’s adoption experiences change over time, based on life events, ability to understand the circumstances, and new facts as they become available or are discovered.

Understanding your child’s feelings about adoption is essential, so how do you gain some insight?

We’ve gathered a panel of adopted people, to discuss:
  • What they wish their parents had known
  • Their feelings about loss, shame and anger and their love for their parents
  • What feelings they shared with their parents and what they kept to themselves 
For more information and to register, visit Adoption Learning Partners website here.