‘What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men …… That is what love looks like.’ - St. Augustine

Thursday, October 06, 2011

I Don't Know Where To Begin...

Two weeks in Russia and I'm unable to form a coherent sentence about the experience. Two weeks in Russia and I feel more inept at making a difference than I did before I left. Two weeks in Russia and I am back to feeling like I don't even know where to begin in helping these children.

When I was there for three months in the fall and winter, I think I acclimated enough to the environment that I honestly didn't feel very sad when I visited the orphanage. In fact, I felt elated! I was so happy to be there and I didn't think twice about what was to come...I just enjoyed the moment. Well, six months away has had its effect. I was painfully aware what little difference the 450 lbs of goods we brought were going to make. Yes, they loved what we brought...LOVED. And yes, these things will make their lives more bearable in a way, but what they need I cannot give them without tremendous help from God and many people.

They need families.

It felt a little more 'Lord of the Flies' this visit, because school was out and caretakers seemed to be scarce. The kids were spending much more time outside (good) but with little or no supervision (bad.) The 15 children in the little group have a very loving caretaker who gives them much love and attention, but the older kids....they are all alone.

Kids wandering in and out, not knowing what to do with themselves. Older teens boys smoking at the edge of the main entrance and swearing under their breath when I walked by. Older boys wrapping their arms around teen girls and trying to lure them away from the younger ones. Younger boys and girls fighting over some insignificant toy we brought, a yo-yo. It just felt very sad.

Of course there were moments of pure jubilation...watching Bridget get her hair done by a bevy of little ones in the grass outside, amidst giggles and great concentration. There was Vanya and his little sister Polina digging what appeared to be the proverbial hole to China. Two sticks, one in each hand, and a slow, persistent pecking at the dirt. They were riveted, and so consumed with the task at hand , they barely notice all the activity going on around them. There was Kirill, ultra-concerned about my hydration for some reason...constantly asking me if I wanted more from the water bottle I had given him. There was Galya and Genya clinging to Kim, and Valya clinging to me. There was the spontaneous card game at the little outdoor table. There was the constant request for photos...
'Kitty! Photo! Photo pazhousta!' And just the leisurely lying in the grass with a dozen -odd children, looking up at the sky, laughing, talking.

I want to live there. I want to live there so badly I felt nauseous thinking about them today. The distance made me feel sick. I found out I can purchase a fairly sturdy house in the village for under $2,000. Do you know how badly I want to fly back and just buy the first thing available, only so I can feel that part of my heart is really, truly, there for good?

These kids are dying. I don't mean to be morbid. But the truth needs to be told. It might look all sweet and bucolic in the photos, but what happens in real life has nothing sweet about it. Just last month, one of the older boys hanged himself in the orphanage. I didn't find out till I had left. My D actually found him. When Nastia told me that Nadezhda had shared this with her, I was shocked and asked angrily, 'WHY didn't you tell me right away?" Her response, 'Oh, mom, it happens all the time there...it's nothing new...'

And in fact, it is so common, no child there even mentioned it. D never brought it up at all, though the Director said it really upset him. Just as bad, we learned how several girls from Nastia's former group are now prostitutes. I knew the statistics all these years, but to know who these girls are is another story. Again, I feel like vomiting. Katya, one of the girls from Nastia's group, came to visit and filled us in on all the horrid things the caretakers don't tell us. Like the girl from Nastia's group who sold her baby this winter for 500 rubles to a man who was, shall we say, not looking to adopt. I had actually read the story online in the local news, but didn't recognize the girl's name. She is in prison now.

When Katya talked about these things, she laughed. That is what my Nastia did when she first came home and shared traumatic stories with me. She laughed. Its a coping mechanism, but its still chilling to hear a young person discuss a rape or an assault and laugh. I'll never get used to that.

What do we do? What do we do for these children? How do we get them out when the entire structure of their government fights against getting them out? How to you change a system and a mindset that has been entrenched for over sixty years? I don't know the answer, but I'm not going to stop trying to find out. I'm praying, I'm researching, and I asked a HELL of alot of questions while I was there. I got some great answers, and some came from people who really DO want to see change happen there. They just don't know how to get it started.

The hardest part for me is always coming home...especially to the area I live in, which is very privileged. I feel sad and guilty and dirty when I see the excess here at home. I don't know how to wrap my head around it. I want to head right back to Siberia. I'm not saying I'm anti-capitalist (in case my brother ever reads this) but I am saying that a great many Americans have their head in the sand. Poverty is not born of laziness. These people are our brothers and sisters, and they have so little and we have soooo much. Such a small sacrifice it would take to make their lives more livable. I've seen it first hand. So very little on our part to make their stomachs full, their bodies clothed and a solid roof over their head.

The director berated me for bringing some of the girls brand new clothes. Her rational was that they didn't need nice things, and I was wasting money. My rational in buying some new things is that these children are sons and daughters of God, like me. They deserve beautiful things even more than I. They deserve to feel as special as any American child. If one new dress brings them joy, I'm bringing it.

G in her new dress, picked out JUST for her:)

Anyway, I'm rambling. I will likely ramble for many days while I try to make sense of my thoughts. Feel free to comment. Your comments keep me coming back here even when I'd prefer to stay silent. Keep these kids in your prayers. If I know ONE thing, it's that prayer works. Keep them coming. They need them more than you could possibly know.


  1. Having been there, India, and China I totally understand how you feel about the HUGE separation between what Americans THINK they need to what they REALLY need. We have adopted four so far and we would love to adopt more. What hurts so much is that there are so many capable and willing people that want to do it but are mired in bureaucratic loop holes and cosmic adoption costs. You would think the Russian government would be glad to see this kids have parents! We would love to adopt Rosa and her brother ... we have the perfect family for them. After four adoptions we are working to get our finances back to where they need to be. I see NFL football players arguing over million dollar salaries and I get disgusted. What I could do with 1% percent of that in p-town would blow you away!

  2. You are not alone and I'd like to go with you to Siberia and share some yoga and dance with the kids!

  3. i pray for you so frequently. and for this entry's very reason. and i pray for these children. doug and i are going through a LOT right now, and i wish we could adopt one of the kids. i know geoff would be a great "big brother"...

    for those like you who do adopt, i'm proud to know you and support you where i can, however i can.

    hold on hope honey.

  4. Oh Keri, it just makes me so sad! What these children witness! Nothing like that should happen!!!! I truly wish I was in a position (health wise) to adopt again. I think about the children alot! Some faces really touch me and I would love for Klaire to have a sister or brother. I guess if there is any other way to help you out with your mission, please contact me!!! I would really like to help in other ways. Thank you for all you do!

  5. You and all these children are in my prayers. I couldn't comment, but finally figured out why...and signed up for Google Chrome, now I can, so I am so sorry I couldn't leave a comment when you were so down and asking for comments. I was praying for you.

  6. Anonymous11:53 AM

    It is good to read you have arrived home safely. The stories of the kids left behind are always sobering and heart wrenching. I personally do not think it is about Being privledged or not. It is about awareness and we need to tap into the people that can support and fund projects and non profits. I am a supporter and friend of Dr. Jane Aronson. who founded WWO (World Wide Orpahns). This organization does just what you speak of. It sends (Orphan Rangers) a peace corp type recuit into countries to help educate care takers about takign care of the children especially those with medical needs, It also raises lots of funds to start schools, libraries, play centers for the kids as well as vocational training. This is an example how one person can make a difference. She has recently given up her medical practise ( my daughter was one of her patients) to dedicate all her time to her non profit.
    Some of her contributors are very wealthy and this gives the opportunity for them to donate large sums of money and she has lots of people like me who give what they can. My daughter forwent birthday gifts one year and asked for donations for Dr. Jane and raised 843.00 dollars. She would never have gotten $843 worth of presents so it just goes to show when people are aware they often are very generous.
    Keri, I only know you through this very impersonal forum but it often seems you are angry at how people choose to live their lives, The fact is the there are lots of people who give and care and sacrifice for those in need. My passion is also the plight of orphans world wide. It is a global problem. Keep fighting the good fight


  7. I have read your blog all year. I am one of those people who wants to do something to help, to make some kind of little difference to these kids, but has no idea how. I'm a grad student right now so I'm tied down geographically and financially. Someday, when you have your house near the orphanage, do you think you will be able to have volunteers come stay with you and help out at the orphanage? Just to give the kids some love and attention? That is something I would love to do someday. Also, your mention of the dress made me think of a group that had contacted my work about taking dresses to kids in the countries we work with; they are actually at a lack of places to send all the dresses that they receive and/or people to take them -- maybe you could get in touch with them and send or take a big batch for the orphanage girls? They are at http://www.littledressesforafrica.org/blog/ and also here http://www.nancysnotions.com/jump.do?itemID=5&itemType=LANDING&page=creative

  8. Ann, it's interesting to me that after reading my post about the state of things in the orphanage, you chose to focus on a perceived point I never made. You said "I personally do not think it is about Being privledged [sic] or not."

    When I spoke of privilege, I was clear that it was coming home to such excess that hurt me. First, this is an extremely common experience for anyone travelling to impoverished areas. Ask any Peace Corps volunteer. Secondly, I do live in a very privileged area. Just look up my hometown on google and you'll see that, by local standards, I am actually living at the poverty level myself -- and I feel pretty wealthy, having all I need. But it IS a privileged area and it DOES hurt to come back and see the relative abundance here compared to the abject poverty of southern Siberia. Strangely enough, the few times I have gotten comments here and on FB by people not liking my comments about the wealthy and privileged, it turns out the poster is (gasp) wealthy themselves. I tend to think it is subconscious guilt talking.

    Lastly, you say I seem angry at how people choose to live their lives. You are wrong, I am actually very particular in my anger. I'm not angry at "people" but at so many of the rich & super-rich I know who keep their heads in the sand rather than risk seeing the suffering of others. They are so scared of moving out of their comfort zone, they are terrified of looking real poverty in the face. It's very easy to pretend it's not there.

    Am I angry that we have a culture of excess and super wealth where less than .01 percent of our American population controls most of the country's wealth? Yes. That American CEOs make, on average 185 TIMES more than the employees that work for them? Yes. That the distribution of wealth in this country has economists everywhere worried about the future of the bottom 90% of us that make under $35,000 a year? Yes. Excuse me for being angry at the inequity. Excuse me for being full of rage because I just watched 1oo children eat an apple and a small cup of condensed milk for dinner and came home to a place where eating out every night at nice restaurants is the norm. Angry? HELL yes. But was that the crux of my post? Nope. You seem to be bothered by my anger. Usually that means I've hit a nerve.

  9. Your post just breaks my heart and I knew it to be true before you even posted about it. It saddens me greatly to see how these children live and what they have to look forward to. When we were in Arkhangelsk in March I noticed a poster in the orphanage that said in Russian, "Parents, where are you?" It just broke my heart to see that.

    I had been checking your blog every day, multiple times per day! I sent two ziplox baggies to you to take to the children and I can recall as I was buying stuff to fill them how what I wanted to fit in the baggie I couldn't. Very sad. I will keep praying, and will help in any way I can. Having just brought home a 3 year old from Russia we are not financially in a position to adopt again soon, but I do feel that another child, one a little older, and a girl is something in our future.

  10. i've stood in that same siberian dirt on a hot summer day and looked into the eyes of these precious children. i will forever be changed. God met me there and was present in a way i had never experienced.

    i remember the sick feeling of coming home to our abundance.

    my stomach hurts whenever people post photos of these kids.

    thank God He interrupted our lives and gave us the honor and privilege of bringing two of "them" home.

    may He never let me forget. thank you so much for this post. even tho you can't really find words adequte to express the experience, what you wrote said so very much.

  11. Leaving Tuesday to bring one home from Ukraine. It is all I can do right now.

  12. Keri, you don't seem angry to me. Just confused and dismayed. And, who wouldn't be?

    I wish I could join you. Well, perhaps someday we can. Some are called to changing BIG things, and maybe others are only called to change individual lives, even in little ways.

    Orphanages can seem sad, but I do see that there are more "protections" in a way. They experimented in Russia with foster care and found that so many of the children were returned, despite the monetary compensation (for which others were kept). I noticed a boy who aged out, but was still up for being hosted by New Horizons this year, had been taken as a foster child, kept without a bed of his own, or any new clothing - and by the time they discovered how he was living, it was too late for him. I guess I've seen too much of fostercare in this country, too.

    And then, Russian children with parents are given much more "wander around" time than we'd allow in this country. When I queried the lack of supervision I saw at Sergei's orphanage the caregiver looked at me as though I were crazy, "They won't run away!" she exclaimed. We were clearly on different wavelengths.

    So, what a gift to give children creative,valuable things to do with some of their time (contrarian that I am I think American kids are over-scheduled).

    Anyway, sorry for the rambling. I'm so glad you are there giving them love.

  13. Kerri,

    Thank you for your posts I have been checking and checking your blog. First I have to say youlook so wonderful with D! Is it me or does he have similarities with Dasha? Am I imagining this?

    The poverty there is amazing and the way people live their entire lives there is amazing. In St Pete in October in our daughters baby home they asked us to buy some some medicine. The poor doctor was hanging out in the entry hall waiting for us to come in. The Dr spoke to our translator and she came back to us. The Dr had asked for us to buy some medicine for them since the kids were getting sick. Of course we agreed instantly ( we had also brought a ton of donations). They wanted $27 in medicine. There are over 100 babies in that home. We said please buy more, keep it for later. Buy much more and they wouldn't. SO sad that they couldn't buy $27 and wouldn't take more. The horrific poverty we saw in our oldest sons hospital was unimaginable and I will never forget it. My third son is from a great home in St Pete and it is amazing how good the care was and how much he is effected by his time in the home. Our youngest, our daughter of 6 months is from the home mentioned above and we were given NO access to the home besides one small room. We have no idea where she was living or how she was living. We can really see the effects of the home on her (of course)but we have no clue what was really going on. At least with the other two we know the truth but with our daughter since we don't know she won't know.

    I love your passion and I truly enjoy reading your blog and life story. Please keep the unfiltered posts coming.


  14. Sarah,I agree! D looks so much like Dasha, or vice versa! Its incredible!

  15. Keri, will you please send me the name of the first little girl so I can pray for her?

    I'm the very privileged mama of an orphanage survivor. and it is a LOT to survive. I've visited the rural orphanages and seen the despair and the apathy. I am hoping that once my little girl is stronger and more healed that God will send us another little sparrow.

    For now, I pray. I weep for "my" girls who are turning 16 this year and aging out. I pray for them all.

  16. Keri, is there any way someone can open up a house for people that age out of the orphanage to live in? I just have this vision of a communal living situation, where the kids that live there have a safe place that is a roof over their heads.

    If these kids are aging out of the system and can't leave Russia, there has to be a way to create a safe haven for them there, no?

  17. Keri,
    This post made me CRY! I just got back from Russia (with Nanette) and I can't think of anything but those children. It breaks my heart and is just so maddening! Yes, they need FAMILIES! I want to live their so badly too! My husband and I have had many conversations about just packing up and becoming long-term missionaries. Oh I could go on forever! I am glad I found your blog! I look forward to following along and seeing how God uses you in the lives of these beautiful children!

    One question - do you speak Russian? If so, what did you use to learn?


  18. Kim! So happy to meet a kindred spirit! Yes, I speak Russian. I used the 'adopt a 12 year old from Russia' method....haha. But seriously, I learned out of pure necessity because I wanted to communicate with my daughter's sister, Anya, and she couldnt speak English. I learned by listening to my daughter and talking to any Russian speaking person I could find and 7 trips to Russia in 6 years. And living there for 3 months helped a GREAT deal. Every time I go there my Russian improves. I also got Rosetta Stone for Christmas this year, and although I haven't used it much yet, I would HIGHLY recommend it!

  19. Anonymous3:03 PM

    I would give anything to adopt one of them. Two of them. I too would LOVE to live there. Keri your heart is a blessing to me. Your posts always make me remember why we adopted and why I need to keep fighting for the least of these.

    Love you.

  20. Anonymous3:10 PM

    Okay, now I can't stop crying. Can you sneak one of those beauties into your suitcase for me? I would so LOVE to have another Russian treasures.

  21. I have adopted five children, but they make it harder and more expensive each time. I would love another child but just can't go through the process again. But if someone can pack one of these sweet children in a carry on and smuggle him/her to me....

  22. I can relate. I did a mission in russia, and also adopted an older child in 2001. Their faces still haunt me. I would love to live there ans somehow make a difference as well. It seems so hard. It is heartbreaking, devastaing, heartwrenching, and unbelievable what goes on there. Part of me is still there, and i will have to go back someday. I felt the same way upon my return. I didn't go shopping for months. I still hardly ever step foot in a mall. I want so much for those children to be protected, and they are not. God help them.

  23. Very moved by visiting you blog.

    God bless from the Holy Land

    Sam Martin

  24. I just continue to pray for you all and hope that doors will open up for these children.


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