Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Evil into Good

Sasha found pleasure in little things.

The 14-year-old bully thought no one was looking, so he punched Sasha hard in the side of the head unprovoked.  The smaller boy, just 11, was surprised and dazed, but never retaliated. The rest of the evening, clearly rattled, Sasha shadowed any available adult; as the two oldest boys on the trip, he and the bully roomed alone.  I told chaperone Tatiana, whereupon she pulled Sasha into her room to stay with the younger children, much relieving the poor boy.  The next afternoon the bully would return to his own orphanage, but until then, we watched him like hawks.

Sasha was irresistible, the kid everyone liked. Kind, earnest, intelligent, curious, positive, and persistent, he was mesmerized by plastic birds which balanced perfectly on their hooked beaks, and he carried them everywhere.   At first, content just to balance them on his finger, he later solemnly demonstrated how they balanced as effectively on his nose or a Pixy Stix. 

Sasha balances his birds on Pixy Stix
I gave him after he spoke with me.
He got his birds the day we gave out gifts, after he’d answered our questions about his four younger siblings.  He proclaimed how he loved his brothers and sisters; then Tatiana mentioned he’d beseeched Father Frost for gifts for them last New Year’s. For Luba, 5, whose name is Russian for “love,” Sasha requested a dress worthy of a princess; for his brother Dima, 8, he asked candy.  Most noteworthy of all, he asked nothing for himself.  Father Frost rewarded the boy’s kind heart with two model cars, one of which Sasha slipped into Dima’s hands.  Inspired by this anecdote, host dad John piped up, extolling the sweetness he’d seen Sasha lavish on Petr, 5, the most trying member of our band.  Tatiana’s teenage daughter, who’d spent much time with her mother’s orphans, was with us, and heard the praise. Though she spoke at no other time, she bubbled now, judging Sasha a “remarkable person” who “differs from other children.”  

One afternoon while the kids swam, Tatiana sat down with me to talk.  She beamed when she spoke of Sasha, a very good and caring boy. His biological parents never enrolled him in school at seven as required, so when he arrived at the orphanage just over a year ago, he’d had no education beyond what he’d garnered living virtually alone with his siblings.  As the eldest, Sasha assumed responsibility for cooking, cleaning, laundering clothes, and caring for the younger children.  When a social worker discovered the little family in a wretched state, all were taken to an orphanage, where at last Sasha learned to read and write. 

Sasha back at the orphanage with three of his four siblings:
(L to R) Elena, 7; Luba, 5; Sasha, 11; and Dima, 8
Alexei, 2, is in a baby house in another town.

Tatiana called Dima active and physically on-target, a boy who likes loud games.  Industrious Elena, 7, much resembles Sasha, liking to care for younger children and play house.  Little Luba, 5, likes singing, dancing, and drawing.  Though delayed when she entered the orphanage, she has flourished there, which made me shudder to think what “home” must have been like.  Baby Alexei, 2, lives apart in the baby house, far from his siblings.

Sasha told me he sees his siblings often, though a year has passed since he’s visited Alexei.  Not answering when I asked if he knew why he lived in an orphanage, he just shook his head no. While he likes it there, he really wants a “good and kind” family. His dreams are incremental: to serve in the army, then to attend university, then to get married to someone he has not yet chosen.  When I wondered what he would change about the world, a question which stumped some older children, he reckoned he’d turn evil into good.  Knowing his sad past, and witnessing the thoughtfulness he so willingly displayed, I thought he was changing the world already.

Click to tweet below, and help Sasha and his siblings find their way home.

I promised Luba, Elena, and Dima a kiss to
 get them to smile for this adorable photo!

At the end of the week when we dropped the kids off at their orphanage, Sasha stayed only a few minutes before he was whisked back to his summer camp.  His younger siblings remained behind, so Sasha entrusted several trinkets from his bag of gifts to them.  I interviewed Dima, Elena, and Luba individually in a room depressingly crammed with 14 little beds.  My gentlest queries brought Luba close to tears, so I called Dima and Elena in to sit beside her.

Luba, 5, took this photo of Dima, Elena, and me.

Asking them to show me their beds finally broke the ice with Luba.  The three leapt to their feet, proudly showing something that felt like theirs, as Dima boasted his was most comfortable.  Teaming up to hide behind a headboard, they bounced up with a roar when I pretended not to see them.   Luba jumped on her bed, then skipped for me.  I taught them “bye-bye” before quizzing them on their English knowledge, which they found hilarious. I asked them to smile together for a photo, but they were laughing too hard.  Only when I promised each a kiss did I get my smiles; I was charmed by how grand a reward they thought the offer.  When I volunteered the use of my camera in exchange for their kiss on my cheek, the non-photographers rushed to pose next to me.  Reviewing the resultant photos later, I chuckled to find the five-year-old had taken the most respectable photo. 

When the clock demanded we catch our train to Moscow, it pained me to leave such a joyful group. As I waved goodbye, the kids merrily charged at me for one last hug and kiss. I never saw baby Alexei, and I departed wishing he could grow up with his siblings.

Being a fivesome will handicap the children in our quest to find them adoptive parents. So for now, this darling quintet is headed by a big-hearted eleven-year-old. And when he returns from camp, he’ll surely show Dima, Elena, and Luba how to balance the birds he got from American friends. Then he’ll wait in hope for a good and kind family to share with them all.

Sasha relaxing in the van on our
way back to his orphanage.
If you would like to meet Sasha and his siblings, travel with us to Russia this November 9-16! And now, when you travel to Russia with the Russian Orphan Lighthouse Project, you can bring a friend along with you for free! You and your friend will explore the sights of Moscow, encourage adoptable orphans, and visit an orphanage to deliver donated humanitarian aid like bikes and toys. As always, you'll also enjoy a scenic trek by train through the Russian countryside, experience Russian-style hospitality at a retreat set up perfectly for our visits, and ponder the fascinating mysteries of post-Soviet culture. And if the jaunt’s not already sweet enough, now you’ll make a difference, times two! For more information call Becky at (616) 245-3216, or e-mail


  1. I sure wish we could afford to go and bring back this beautiful group with us. Praying they find a family soon that will keep them all together.

    Thanks for sharing your adventure with them.

    God's Blessings

    1. Thank you for your prayers, Vickie! My time with them was certainly a highlight of the trip for me.

      I very much appreciate your comments.

  2. Mike and Christie, you should see them in person!

  3. I would love to go to help with the orphanage. How do you get set up to do this? What is the cost? Is it affordable?

    1. Amanda, Kailey, and Emma: We'd love to have you go with us! To travel, you need a passport valid through June 2013, an application, online background check, three simple letters of references, and to sign three agreements. All could reasonably be done in an afternoon. Total cost to travel during the winter (the most economical time) would be about $2,000 or so, depending on where you'd be flying from. For more exact details, please call me; I can be reached at (616) 245-3216 between 1:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. EDT Monday through Saturday. I hope to speak with you soon!

  4. The story of Sasha and his siblings has touched my heart! I am a mother of 5 daughters. I want a large family and children are a blessing from God. If it were God's plan for us to adopt Sasha and his siblings, I would do it in a heartbeat. I am praying about it. Of course, God would need to speak to my husbands heart as well as provide the resources. But I know that God is capable of doing that....and more. I would love to get more info about traveling to the orphanage and the costs. Are only adults allowed to go? How long is the visit to the orphanage? How much would adopting 5 children cost? I really don't have any idea. Thanks for the info! Sasha and his siblings are in my prayers!
    God Bless,
    Tara Small

    1. Tara, thank you for your comment and your prayers!

      We do have families bring their children occasionally, though that requires serious consideration on the parents' part if their kids are ready for such a journey. The orphanage visits are likely to be 1-2 hours each, though many factors, hard to predict now, go into that. I cannot comment on cost here beyond saying this adoption would be pricey; if you'd like specifics you can e-mail me at, or call me at (616) 245-3216 between 1:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. EST Monday through Saturday. I'd be delighted to speak with you!


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