Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tears of Joy

Back in Russia: Day 4

Sunday morning we visit a church I attended twice during my own adoption journey in 2006; back then, they met in an old theater school. Members said the church had changed locations seven times in the previous two years; thus, I was surprised during our November trip to find that, over three years later, the church was still meeting in the same place. Alas, the morning our group attended, an announcement was made the congregation was moving come the new year. This January morning, we take the trolleybus to the new building, staging a photo shoot much of the way. Later, the best pictures I took all trip are evidence that the grime-laden windows filter the morning light exquisitely, turning our trolleybus into a dream photo studio.

This church facility is more comfortable than the old. Picture windows on the side grant a remarkable, if sinfully distracting, view of the Kremlin bell tower and St. Basil’s Cathedral in the distance. Asked to introduce ourselves when the service begins, I look at Faith, who points back to me. With her extroversion, I consider her more qualified, but when Elaine needles me, too, I give my name, say I’m from Grand Rapids, and add that our group is sightseeing with Russian orphans this weekend.

The building houses a café, thankfully closed, since we’ve promised the kids McDonald’s. Faith holds McDonald’s in low esteem, even more so in Russia, because it’s unhealthy and so safely American. Promising the kids was probably sufficient, but the café’s closure cements our case. On our walk out, Angelina runs with Jamie, grinning, in the first unbridled emotion I see from her. Needing a good photo for her next trip, I have them reenact the run twice, though it only works once before she discerns my treachery.

At McDonald’s, I order for the unhosted kids, while the families order for the others. In one of the most flagrant injustices of the trip, the hosted kids get large fries, fancy sandwiches, and ice cream, while the hostless eat cheeseburgers and small fries. They’re polite if they notice, and while I ache to rectify the inequity, the lines are interminable, and the kids depart soon for their orphanages. Each child adores McDonald’s, and leaves skipping.

Back at the hotel, Faith assigns her charges an essay on their time in Moscow. When all are done, we gather in the common room, where Faith reads us the offerings. Alexander does best, conscientiously detailing each day’s activities. All the essays before his were given by their authors to their new families; after Faith reads Alexander’s, she realizes he has no one. She asks him who should have it, then suggests me. “Be-cky,” he whispers compliantly, as my heart breaks. By now, the kids must know I work for the trip, and am not a family seeking a child. Evgeniy, a good student with a better attitude, surprises me with his lackluster effort, eliminating an ending where others profess appreciation and love of their host families. Sensing he’s still alone, he protects himself to avoid embarrassment. Knowing the work he usually does, and would like to do here, my heart breaks anew (I LOVE This Kid, 12/8/09).

On the return from McDonald’s, sixteen-year-old Maxim accompanies Faith. Many orphans his age already smoke and drink, he says. He asks them why, since they’ll only repeat the mistakes of their parents, which sentenced their children to orphanage existence originally. They’re foolish, he opines. As Faith recounts this exchange to the group, she beams in support of his choices and maturity.

After the essays, families ask kids about orphanage life, school, and who helps with homework. I ask if classmates tease them about being orphans; all say yes, save Nadia, whose demure self-assurance garners friends who affirm her. When the kids ply us with questions, they center on whether or not we like them and want to see them again. Faith suggests we hug every child; we’re not done before the kids with families are crying, which most adults mirror. At these goodbyes, I feel guilty standing dry-eyed. The end of a Lighthouse trip ends a gargantuan workload, and I waver between an unseemly relief and empathy for parents and children who must part. Making my hugging rounds, I spot Faith sobbing in the doorway. Having never seen her cry, it shakes me. I overhear her telling a family how moved she is that Maxim, Daria, and Elizavetta, the forgotten, but hopeful, sibling group, have a family after nine years, and how after all this time in that environment, Maxim seems unaffected by the negative influences surrounding him. This emotion, from one who has witnessed everything, touches me more deeply than anything else this trip, and ends my deliberation on whether or not to cry (Forgotten, But Hopeful, 11/24/09).

When Dima arrives in his minivan to take Faith, the kids, and their chaperone to the train station, fourteen people, most with puffy faces and traveling heavier than when they arrived, cram in. It takes some jockeying, but eventually everything fits and the van creeps away. Families braving the 4° F temperature blow kisses and wave until the vehicle rounds the corner, leaving sight. Walking back into the hotel, I rejoice knowing that the next time seven, or eight, of these children see families from our little band, they’ll be going home, forever.

But Angelina, Evgeniy, and Alexander are incomplete without parents to love and guide them. They need more work, and another chance, which with hopeful heart and the Lord’s help, I’ll give them. Somewhere, families unknowingly await these three. How anxious I am to finish this work.

How relieved I will be when I am truly done.