‘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

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Funny Little Tale to Tell

Well, it wasn't funny while it was happening!

This is Vanya. On the right.

He lives at orphanage number 5 and is 16 years old. he'll be leaving the orphanage in June. He has known no other life.

So, Vanya has an inactive 'Russian Facebook' page. I mean, he created it last year, but I have never seen him on it. ever. Well, today when I logged on, I saw that he was logged on too! I quickly messaged him and we started talking about anything and everything that was happening at the orphanage. Like, did he know why the former Director was fired? No, he did not. Did he know the name of the New Director that started this week? Yes, he did. Did he think she was nice? He didn't have enough time to decide that yet, he said.

Vanya trying out Nastia's laptop when we were there in June.

As we talked, I posted photos of him on his Facebook wall. He got really excited. (Photos are a luxury for these kids.) As I posted them, he quickly typed a running commentary on each one. But as I read one response, I started to get sick to my stomach. With my limited Russian, it sounded like he said that the other guy in the photo was dead. Then he added that three others had died too, and it was due to some kind of smoke inhalation. I was freaking out.

I called Nastia up from the laundry room to read it.

 'Tell me what this says to you...' 

She replied, 'Umm, something about people dying from smoke inhalation.'

I panicked. I moved my conversation with Vanya off his wall and into a private message. I typed furiously: Who died? How did they die? When did it happen?
Vanya ,center, with Sergey, Sidozha and other boys from the orphanage. June 2011.

There is a long pause while I wait for his response. And then a series of 'smile' icons appears. Then I read his next message, 'No, they didn't die.Yet' 

What was he trying to  say? I was still so confused.

And then he typed another series of smile icons and then the words  'but they WILL. From too much smoking.'

Then it all came barreling back to me. In June I had given these same boys hell for smoking so much. Everytime we walked outside, there they were - cigarettes dangling out of their mouths. I had explained then, in my limited Russian vocabulary, that they would all shorten their lives by smoking. A lot. They were ruining their lungs, they were gambling with a host of diseases, and they would lose. Not to mention the cost of a smoking habit. I asked them how on earth they could even afford such a habit. They just laughed and laughed at me, and tried to give me a cigarette. In the end, I just warned them to keep cigarettes away from D, or there would be hell to pay when I came back.

Vanya, being the prankster that he is, was trying to be funny. He didn't realize that with my limited Russian skills that the humor and sarcasm would not translate for me. When he said these boys were dead, I took that at face value. It had knocked the wind out of me.
Vanya and some of the other kids trying out Kim's computer.

Anyway, he had a really good laugh at my expense, and I was able to find it funny too...once my heart moved back into my chest. It was great to talk to him, remind him that I still think about all of them, and that I pray for them. He was pretty impressed that I rattled off the names of everyone in the photos I sent him. And, even though this boy is exacerbating and troublemaking, and full of bravado when he is surrounded by the other kids --here online he was not. He must have written 'thank you!' a dozen times for each photo I posted. And then, before I signed off, he thanked me for taking the time to talk to him.

These are the things that give me hope. This kid is considered a lost cause by the staff. In the insanity of running that place, none of them has the time to stop and take notice that there is a heart in there. That this kid has potential. They see only the troublemaker.

But just extend a welcoming hand, show them that they matter in even the very smallest way, and sometimes there is a window into them. Sometimes gratitude. Sometimes you get a glimpse of what they really are under all that protective armor. Pretty amazing.

I want to give each one of them a leg up.I want the kids like Vanya to know they are not forgotten. We all deserve to know we matter. Especially the 'least of these'. Even the 'troublemakers' and the mischievous ones who cause my heart to jump out of my chest once in awhile. They all matter, and we can show them so easily. Don't you agree?


  1. Oh, Keri. He is the one I spent the most time with while there. We spent hours together (with just a couple other teens who stuck with us) I thought we had made a connection, we had a wonderful and (I thought) sincere conversation. We even had a handshake promise. And THEN we joined the rest of you outside. I was angered at the incident outside the store that upset us so badly. Returning home and watching videos - seeing him in the background being rude - frankly it all made me 'tune him out'. He had written his name for me. I told him I would write to him. I never did. Keri, I NEVER WROTE. I allowed his outward behavior to harden my heart. THANK YOU for the reminder that his heart beats inside his chest. That regardless of how he acts out, he is just a kid. A teen - but not like the teens here. He deserves for me to fulfill my promise to him. I will write to him THIS WEEK. Because he matters, and I want him to feel it. This was a wonderful Christmas gift to me. Can you perhaps connect us on Facebook?

  2. wholeheartedly.

  3. That is the greatest story! Love teenaged boys and their sense of humor!


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