Questions about which kids found families are hallmarks of the end of a Lighthouse Project trip. While patience is a virtue I still need to cultivate, I’ve found trips like these might take a few months to completely sort themselves out. That said, some families were definitive enough that I am quite confident these children have found their forever families in Tulsa: Alexei, Denis, Ekaterina, Vladislav, Larisa, Eduard, and Sergei. Anton M. and Ivan have families seriously considering them, fomenting realistic hope within that I might move their names one sentence forward, soon. Three other children have families giving them some level of consideration, and two returned to Russia without any prospects of a family.
The January kids were still en route to Russia when I began anticipating my next trip, yet I confess more shock than elation at being asked last week to do a March program in Grand Rapids so close on the heels of Tulsa. Since I live there I could not argue that Grand Rapids was inconvenient, but the drain of my incessant efforts to stoke interest in January kids who might die if I failed has not, even now, subsided. Leaving on a Lighthouse sabbatical tempted, a larger tease than I would have expected. It would not have been for long; even in my three short visits to Russian orphanages I sensed an emotional permafrost that mocks the Siberian tundra. Nonetheless, it took a final appeal to the immediacy of that need by my friend Hope, the Lighthouse Project director, to extract a yes to coordinating a trip sooner than I would have chosen.
My favorite child from Tulsa was a freckled, blonde-haired nine-year-old who enchanted me, proclaiming his love of homework and English classes, and topping it off with a Russian-accented English rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” While I work until the wee hours of the morning on behalf of every child entrusted to me, I especially liked Vladimir. Occasionally there are kids so winning I cannot understand why no one picks them; I have settled on the explanation that it is God’s will and timing, and that their family must either be somewhere else or they don’t yet know there is a Russian child searching for them. For one of these reasons, Vladimir did not meet his family in Tulsa. A few years ago, the Russian government started compensating families for providing foster care to orphans. Foster care has become more popular in poorer regions than the rest of Russia as government payouts for care have increased. While I would not paint all Russian foster families with a broad brush, does it take a cynic to wonder if there’s a connection, and why only families in poor regions want to foster? And is it a coincidence that once kids reach the age of sixteen, when government payouts cease, many foster families suddenly lose interest in the kids and turn them out to the streets? The Lighthouse kids’ region is quite impoverished and Vladimir’s orphanage, my own kids’ orphanage “alma mater,” is a hotbed for foster care. A child of his age would most certainly be picked by a foster family before I could do the next available trip in June. By consenting to do a March trip, perhaps I can save the boy who stole my heart with his song from a lifetime without a family who loves him.
Also scheduled to travel is fifteen-year-old Katya. Only nine months from her sixteenth birthday, Katya will be unable to enter the United States on an orphan’s immigrant visa once she reaches that milestone. At the stroke of sixteen, hope of adoption is fruitless, leaving little to anticipate beyond an unspeakable future of degradation and a brutishly shortened life expectancy. A trip delayed until June would be three months closer to a sixteenth birthday promising to be anything but sweet. Maybe by taking action just a few months earlier we can rob the Russian streets of a charming girl who still has the audacity to dream of life as a chef rather than life as a prostitute.
The clock doesn’t stop for Vladimir or Katya. I must be as relentless.