Whenever we park at the front gates of an orphanage and barrel out of the doors ready to do God’s work, the average Ukrainian observing this scene must be confused. We either look like the rejects from the latest round of circus auditions or a bunch of escapees from the local asylum.
Picture, if you will, emerging from a perfectly good bus the following: a ragtag troupe of clowns with painted faces, frizzy and colorful hair, and enough balloons to supply a political convention; about ten folks dressed as bees (yes, you read that correctly), complete with antennae, wings, and stingers, including the queen who sports a shimmering sequined number that could qualify for third place in a Mardi Gras parade; another half dozen wearing sunglasses, t-shirts, red neckties, and stern looks, resembling Secret Service agents who forgot the day’s dress code.
Add to that a street party now cluttered with balls and nets, suitcases full of relief supplies, boxes full of Bibles, musical instruments, sound equipment, face paint, beads and strings, and Polaroid cameras… I mean, if Monty Hall were still hosting “Let’s Make a Deal,” we would make a killing.
But all of this seeming silliness has a purpose — to engage, in a variety of ways, with these precious children at the orphanages. Yesterday, Tuesday, we visited two, one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
In an earlier post, I mentioned that I would talk more about the “stations” we have for these children, ranging in age from pre-kindergarten through the older teenagers. One such is photography.
Rarely, in today’s America, will you find someone without a digital camera or camera phone at arm’s reach. The technology is almost as ubiquitous as air. But this is an orphanage in a country that is barely post-Soviet. Modern conveniences and luxuries are relative. In short, some of these children may not have a photograph of themselves beaming that smile that can melt even the hardest heart.
So our photo team scouts a location that has some aesthetic beauty – a flower bed, for example. We want to avoid any background that smacks of an institution, like a stone wall or a foreboding fence. Once the site is selected, our MPC volunteers set up an assembly line of sorts, ready for the first wave of kids.
Excited children are hard to control. The task multiplies when they understand that they will receive a photograph of themselves. You have to see it to believe it. Trust me – very few, if any, have to be coaxed or coached into smiling. When the shutter button is pressed and a digital print emerges, for a brief moment, a look of despair creeps across their little faces … the photo is all white. Once they learn that the photo slowly emerges on the paper, they shake it — shake it like a Polaroid picture — with eyes as wide as a child bounding down the steps on Christmas morning. Once the picture magically materializes, we help the child fit it into a small frame.
The older, “cooler” teens are not immune from this phenomenon. Often they choose to have their picture made with a friend or a sibling. But the looks on their faces shine with equal exuberance, temporarily penetrating some of their harder facades.
Again, as the week progresses, I’ll share more about the other stations and activities.
You should know, though, that our work is not simply a “fly in, fly out” operation. True, we only stay at any given orphanage a few hours. Cynics may scoff and ask what good have we done when the child must still return to the same conditions as when we arrived. True, we cannot wave a magic wand and cure the ills that placed the child in this situation. However, we can do two things. First, we introduce them to the One who can work a change in their lives. Every stop we talk of Jesus Christ, share the good news, and pray with them. For instance, at the first orphanage we visited, around 25 children prayed the sinner’s prayer and sought forgiveness for their sins.
And this is where the second thing we do becomes mission critical. We are not alone when we visit these orphans. Local church pastors and laity may accompany us. In their names, we make a gift to the orphanage – for example, one of yesterday’s homes received a brand new, industrial sized refrigerator, a major need for them. In doing so, though, the pastor is now linked with the director and an inroad is constructed. Now that congregation has more access to return to that orphanage and continue sharing Christ’s compassion and, hopefully, continue discipleship of these children.
One final note about Tuesday – we once again delivered a concert during the evening. Do not set your sights on a church, though. We were back in the bar on the ship. Really. We were asked to perform for the other passengers as we cruised toward the mouth of the Dnieper River.
We could not have shoehorned another person into that place. Even the wait staff came and stood in the back of the room. I had no idea that many people were aboard the boat. I wanted to stop and count life jackets and available life boats. (If we had started singing “Nearer My God to Thee,” I believe I would have just eased on out the back door.)
Now to be perfectly honest, we should have charged at the door, had a raffle, sold autographed T-shirts and CDs, auctioned off a dinner serenade by Mark… something. How this oversight slipped by our marketing people, I simply don’t know! 🙂
The audience spoke multiple languages, and everything Mark said was then interpreted into Spanish and German with precision and then into some reasonable facsimile of what he said by a cheeky French interpreter who wanted to hit the road with us.
Our concert repertoire was as eclectic as we are. Picture Broadway ballads alongside soulful chart toppers interspersed with high energy funk. Somewhere Ed Sullivan had to be smiling.
We ended the night, though, with a traditional selection of numbers we have sung in church, albeit one in Russian. And nobody left. People seemed to want an encore. Most of us just wanted a shower.
But one of the most powerful parts of a trip like this – you never know when and where someone catches a glimpse of the light that shines through you.
Yours in Christ,