Help for Children & Grace Center: blessing God’s special children in Russia

“We see that if we give children in need the whole world, but their soul will not be saved, it will not do any good for them.” …Natasha Kirillova

By Marla Summers, Big Family Mission Volunteer
Help for Children operates in the St. Petersburg area of Russia with the goal of preventing social orphan hood, while nurturing the mothers and children already affected by it. A social orphan is defined as a child who has at least one living parent, but is forced to live in an institution because the parent or parents have lost or given up their right to care for the child. This epidemic is largely fueled by the alcoholism and drug abuse.

Girls at Jukki Orphanage Home
Help for Children reaches out to children in government-funded orphanages such as those at Gatchina, Jukki, Luga, and Tomlachevo, and takes a preventive stance at Grace Center.  Grace Center is dedicated to supporting young and hurting mothers who want to keep their children out of the orphanage system.

Since its beginnings in 1994, Grace Center, located in St. Petersburg, has been reaching young Russian mothers with a success rate of 96% of prevented abandonment of children among its focus group, graduates from government-run orphanages.

Grace Center provides an apartment in which up to four families (mother and child or children) can stay without expense. According to Natasha Kirillova, Help for Children ministry leader, each mother living at Grace Center “gets the knowledge of life in the family, learns to take care of her child, and gets encouragement in how to overcome the future difficulties.”

Train up young mothers and introduce them to God

The facility is partially supported by the local church, Novodevichj Covenant. The vision of Grace Center is to train up these young women and introduce them to a relationship with God, where, as said by Natasha, they will “learn to ask for strength and help when we are not near.” All graduates of Grace Center are have successfully begun their work and studies, equipping them and their children for a brighter future.

Uliana with her daughter
Uliana was one of the women nearest to the hearts of those working at Grace Center. According to Big Family Mission (partner of Help for Children) leader Ken Dockery, “We first met Uliana when she was nine years old and an orphan at the Kommunar Internat School.” At age sixteen, the young woman became pregnant and dropped out of the Jukki orphanage school. Thanks to a dedicated Big Family sponsor who had been supporting her and praying for her over the years, Uliana was able to stay at Grace Center and, thanks to the volunteers, decided not to have an abortion. Now she has a baby girl named Alina.  Alina’s father married Uliana, and she participates in the program for young mothers at Grace Center.

Along with working to meet the physical needs of mothers such as Uliana, Grace Center provides women with the tools they need to raise their children to be grounded in the gospel. As well as offering personal counseling to pregnant mothers, joint meetings are held to support families and graduates of the Grace program. While each family has a very individual “plan of assistance” says Natasha, they also attend seminars together with topics ranging from child development to motherhood. The families are regularly visited, for according to Natasha, this helps the ministry to get a look into their lives and “attract sponsors for the material support of the family, if necessary.”

Reaching out to orphans in government-run orphanages

Lessons of family values and Christian morality are not limited to the ministry at Grace. Through Natasha Kirillova, Help for Children also reaches out to children living in government-run orphanages at Luga, Jukki, Gatchina, and Tomlachevo. While Grace Center assists mothers and prevents their children from ending up at such orphanages, a huge focus of Big Family Mission is reaching children that have already entered the system. Lessons are given during visits with the children on topics selected monthly such as “Purity”, “Kindness”, and “What Is a Family?”, lessons which fall upon the eager ears of orphans who need to hear them the most.
Luga children during visit to ostrich farm
The Christian volunteers also spend time with the children outside the confining walls of the orphanage.  “It’s important to arrange trips and visit children at the orphanage so our children will not feel forgotten,” said Natasha. Upon discovering an Ostrich farm not far from Luga that the children had never visited, volunteers arranged a trip. What delighted the children most were not the ostriches, but the domestic ducks and geese they had never witnessed before in their lives. “When we asked the Luga children what would be interesting for them to do during the summer, they all wanted to have a picnic,” recalls Natasha.  So after the tour had ended, they all went over to a lake to eat, swim, and play games.
“When it was time for the children to go back to their orphanage,” said Natasha, “they said, ‘Thank you for arranging this day for us. It’s so boring for us to stay at the orphanage!”
The volunteers who had continually sacrificed their time for the children promised they would return, knowing that their efforts were truly bringing joy to these young lives.

Providing a refuge during the critical summer months

Girls learning how to cook at Bolshevo
Most orphans have few opportunities to travel outside their institutions during the summer is often a tough time for Russian orphans. The ones that aren’t fortunate enough to spend the months with relatives often end up in government-run camps unsupervised and experiencing drugs and alcohol. In contrast, Help for Children has been working to brighten up the lives of the through a summer camp in Bolshevo about 40 miles from St. Petersburg, described by Natasha as a “wonderful opportunity for the children we help support.  The children are supervised and taught valuable lessons in cooking, cleaning, gardening, and ending their days with swimming and playing in the fresh air. Many of the children lack the stability created by the activity and fellowship fostered at Bolshevo.”
Along with the children, the mothers from Grace Center also enjoy the stay at Bolshevo. The women who are unable to stay the full three months are able to keep working and be able to provide their children with economical and supervised summer camp. The ones that do stay are blessed with personal and group counseling along with practical lessons such as cooking. Those who desire can also go through the course of smoking rehabilitation. The ministry of Help for Children has allowed the children and mothers alike to be able to “experience the light and love of Christ in these summer camps,” according to Natasha.

Finding themselves by serving others

Luga children and volunteers at church camp
Oftentimes children in orphanages or at Grace Center don’t believe that anyone needs their help. Together with organizations in Luga and St. Petersburg, hospitals, nursing homes, and animal shelters, Help for Children has arranged for orphan children to get involved in helping others. This project is viewed as important, for the ministry in Russia has shown time and time again that serving someone else is the best way to prevent future dependence. Help for Children encourages the children to not only experience the “light and love of Christ” but to live it out and share it with others. They discussed with the volunteers what Christian love and kindness looked like, and they loved this idea of helping their neighbor. When the mothers at Grace Center were met with similar discussion, according to Natasha, “All of them shared that they didn't experience much kindness towards them in their life. We discussed what will be the right answer in that case, and prayed that God will give us all possibility to forgive.”
Through the years of the partnership between Help for Children and Big Family Mission, the ultimate focus of the ministry is the saving of souls. Each project has the goal of bringing individual hearts closer to the Lord. At Help for Children, the full weight of this responsibility is felt and volunteers strive to plant “seeds of faith” in the hearts and lives of the children and orphanage graduates. As the few Christians that their focus group will likely ever encounter, this ministry is at the forefront of the mission for Russia and approaches the orphan situation in a unique way.

This beautiful ministry built through sacrifice, dedication, and generous sponsorship all boils down to one clear mission. Natasha put it this way: “We see that if we give children in need the whole world, but their soul will not be saved, it will not do any good for them.” 

How can you help Natasha and her team?  Learn more here:  Help for Children.