Wednesday, April 21, 2010


Monday morning, my inner night owl awakens with a grudge, as I gradually become aware of a din in the hall. I hear the word “explosion”, remembering with a start the Coca Cola I forgot in the freezer overnight. Rolling out of bed and slinking from my room to clean up the mess, I overhear a most alarming exchange between the receptionist and a host. Retreating, I go online to find a suicide bomber attacked the metro one-half mile from our hotel twenty minutes ago; at least fourteen people at our station are dead, and scores more injured. I grieve the senseless loss of life in a tragedy that feels more real by its proximity, knowing leaving that station was almost the last thing I did Sunday night. Suddenly, I panic, realizing Faith isn’t here. She planned to come early for gift distribution before our trek to Red Square. I can’t find my phone, and I’m frantic to call her, now. My terror, real, is short-lived, as I bolt out my door to find her arriving. I hug her tightly, overjoyed she’s alright. Delayed visiting with family on Skype, she left her flat later than intended. Arriving at our station to find mind-numbing carnage, she’d missed the explosion by fifteen minutes. The scene left her shaken, and quick to obey the barked command, “Leave the station now!” Outside, ambulances queued to transport the injured, as helicopters hovered overhead.

Hope, the Lighthouse Project director, is drifting off to sleep in the States when she hears the news on the radio. Having lived in Moscow many years, it’s a second home, with many Muscovites dear friends. I e-mail her immediately to confirm our safety, but she is so distraught she calls Faith anyway to be sure.

While the devastation sinks our plans, we don’t burden the kids with the news. After breakfast, Faith shepherds them aside, where she reads from a treatise on Moscow’s history. Meanwhile, the hosts and I organize piles of clothes, toys, school supplies, and treats. The tendency is to spoil orphans, and each of us is caught red-handed. Based on my own kids’ experiences, I have cynically warned families to avoid presents with sentimental value. Older children might retain some items, but younger children, or those at less-endowed orphanages, will likely keep nothing, the gifts becoming communal property, at best.

When Faith finishes her lesson, the kids bound into the common room to tell us about their orphanages, schools, chores, meals, and classwork. Elena, fifteen, on her first trip after a quintet of attempts to find a host, calls her orphanage more spacious than others. She beams describing the beautiful curtains the teachers sewed, and raves about the food, singling out the omelets for accolades. (Hopeless?, 10/6/09)  Anastasia, twelve, is less effusive in praise of her orphanage, one for delayed kids and not as welcoming as Elena’s. She attends school in the orphanage, and claims the food doesn’t matter. I expect compelling blog fodder when Faith queries them about their dreams, but impatient eyes are on the gifts. The conversation stalls when Erik, four, dreams of owning a cow, promptly countered by Artem, five, and his dream of a horse. Faith adjourns with, “They deserve some presents. Can I announce them?”

Four kids go hostless, brought in hope I’ll learn enough to promote them more winsomely next time. I gift these kids. Vladimir, ten, politely accepts, but I wonder if Sasha, a three-trip veteran from Vladimir’s orphanage, has divulged that gifts from the coordinator is a harbinger of no forever family. The other kids are young enough that the significance of gifts from me is lost on them. Artem, five and HIV-positive, is overjoyed with his haul. The cherubic tyke thanks me with an angelic “Spaciba!” and heaves the bag to his shoulder. He is so little that he lists perilously; even so, it is with effort that the chaperone cajoles him to release the bag; I have never seen a child so pleased by a windfall. Yuliana, like Artem five and HIV-positive, plows through the crowd, resolutely dragging her bag behind her to her room, where she can sort the treasures.

After the kids have seen their gifts, we leave on foot. MuMu is on the lunch menu, after which we visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Walls inscribed with names of Russia’s war dead line gold-ceilinged halls. The cavernous interior is illumined by candles and perfumed with their wax, but the church is new enough that its bold frescoes are untamed by soot. Devout babushkas in blue frocks and head scarves use paintbrushes to sweep wax drippings from brass candelabras. Some in our band light candles and pray, while I seek out a spot on the wall, made sacred my first trip, when darling Denis, ten, stumbled through a prayer in Old Russian unfamiliar to him. Faith gently guided him through the foreign words, clasping her hand to her heart as he whispered with a poignant passion. His family waits in the hotel with us now, leaving tomorrow on the train for their court appearance to complete his adoption. When I think of Denis, breathing life into an ancient devotion in this place, but now giddy in an orphanage asking incessant questions about the arrival date of his family, I meditate on God’s acceptance of what He calls “true religion”: care of widows and orphans.

An ornamented bridge joins the Moscow River’s banks behind the church. From it we revel in a spectacular view of the Kremlin, snapping pictures of myriad combinations of people. Behind us is a 315-foot tall statue depicting Peter the Great, the tsar who dragged a reluctant Russia westward culturally and the father of the Russian navy, at the helm of a ship. An almost-universally loathed part of the Moscow skyline, the statue is doubly incongruous here: the navy was never associated with the Moscow River, and Peter moved his capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg, his new eponymous city, in 1712. Wagging tongues claim the Russian-made behemoth was Christopher Columbus, but rejected by several American cities, remained here, undergoing metamorphosis into Russia’s greatest tsar.

On the route back, we patronize a small convenience store near the hotel. Two cats lounge on the windowsills, watching ice cream coolers with feline detachment. The store has three rooms; the overlap in merchandise between the rooms perplexes until one in our group gets a dressing down, Russian style, leaving room three, for room two, with unpaid merchandise. Only then does it become apparent that each room is a separate store run by an independent proprietor.

The hotel dashes my plans to blog tonight with the malfunction of the wireless connection. As reels of the morning’s events play out silently and endlessly on the television before me, I spend the next five hours in the common room, discussing adoption, travel, and children with host families, the parents-to-be of Denis and Lima, and Inna’s mom, who calls her October adoption of the fifteen-year-old “the best thing I ever did.”  (Lima, 1/16/09 and Struggling, 2/2/09)

When our little group left America, we left in faith. Hundreds of Lighthouse’s adoptive families, harkening to God’s call, have made the journey to Moscow in faith. Hundreds of Lighthouse children, with the courage to leave the known, and venture into the unknown for the promise of a better life, have made this same trip in faith. The Lighthouse Project has been guided by faith from its inception: We came in faith before, we’re here in faith now, and the good Lord willing, we’ll return in June with the same faith, and our friend Faith.

It’s always been by faith. Nothing’s changing now.