Angels along the Way

Written by Julie Cramer

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared” (Exod. 23:20).

Imagine leaving home at the age of 15—knowing that you might live only 15 more years.

Much like the Hebrews we read about in the Book of Exodus, teenagers across Russia must set out for an unknown destination. Aging out of the orphan care system at 15, the teens are so ill-prepared for life on their own that few celebrate beyond their thirtieth birthday.

During the first year away from the orphanage, more than half the teens become involved in prostitution or crime, 30 percent get hooked on drugs or alcohol, and 10 percent take their own lives.

Their futures spread out before them as stark and startling as any Russian winter.

Yet life for these “orphan graduates” is changing in St. Petersburg. A new caseworker, Marina Perlina —who holds a degree specifically in orphan psychology—is part of Orphan Outreach’s efforts to help Russian teenagers transition from life in the orphanage to life on their own.

Lena Vasilieva, director of Orphan Graduate programs, described Marina’s work as “first aid” for the teens. “She is the bridge between the new free adult life and the orphanage of their past. Those graduates still need someone to look after them and help them make good choices and finish their education,” she said. “Motivation to study and strength to fight difficulties in life are the major problems for them. They do not know how to organize their time, home, or budget. They do not know how to get a job or how to keep one.”

The newly acquired caseworker is also the result of Orphan Outreach’s partnership with Orphan’s Tree (orphanstree.org), which helps to support her. Marina mentors 16 orphan graduates who are studying in St. Petersburg.


Field of treasures

While Marina, the orphan graduate caseworker is new, Orphan Outreach’s evangelistic ministry began in 2005 in Loopukhinka. Two employees, Yana Kuzminova and Ira Martynova, spend time with both the orphans and the caregivers. Last year a team from Grand Parkway Church, in Richmond, Texas, visited the orphanage and has since lent their support of the evangelistic outreach by providing assistance for Yana and Ira.

The orphanage grounds flourish with trees and flowers. A three-story building holds administrative offices and living quarters for an average of 70 children. The cafeteria, library, and gym are in another building on the property. During the summers, the children grow vegetables in a community garden.

The main goals of the evangelistic outreach to orphans at Loopukhinka are to tell them about Jesus, and, as Olga Vlasenko, Orphan Outreach’s Russia director, said, “To tell them about love and to show them love. I can tell you for sure that children who go to Bible class are changed.”

“Children in the orphanage are busy with many other activities and classes, but when Ira and Yana come to the orphanage, they become animated as they reunite,” Olga said. “Children kiss and hug them. It is a demonstration of love that kids so need.”

Olga admitted that she initially feared working in orphanages. “I had no practice. How could I tell them about love if most of them were abused? How could I tell them about obedience if most of their parents were alcoholics, in prison, or not able to take care for them? The first time I went to the hospital, the babies had no diapers, baby oil, or stuff like that. Many of them didn’t even have the strength to cry. Many of them needed their diapers or clothing changed and the hospital didn’t have [the supplies] or someone to do it. That time God tested my faith because I was ready to run away from this hell on the earth. I was depressed and had no wish to spend time with orphans. But now it is field of treasures. Jesus showed it to me. And the more we stay in this field, the more treasures we can find.”

Today she thanks God for her work with Orphan Outreach. “It is big privilege for me to do [God’s] ministry with such a strong team! It is big joy for both of us to be as one body of Christ and bring joy for those who don’t have it. Our Lord doesn’t have nationality.”

The evangelistic team has encountered challenges in their efforts to minister to orphans and orphan graduates. Some of the conflicts have included theological differences with Orthodox believers as well as skepticism from orphanage directors. “We never know what kind of challenge we will meet the next day,” Olga said. “But if God gave a special time for the ministry we do, He will continue to protect us. Therefore we are thankful to God for this present blessed time, and wish to use it as much as possible.”


Someone to pray

“Orphans are like other kids,” Olga added. “They like new things and new people [with whom] to build new relationships. It would be nice to tell to kids about some problems you have too. Kids used to think that Americans have no problems and a lucky life. Tell them how Jesus helps you through [difficult situations] and why it is important to believe in Him. Children know Bible stories well, but what is most important for them is to get an application of the Bible in their own life. They like very much if somebody tells them, ‘I will pray for you,’ because nobody prays for them.”

If you would like to bring hope to a teen about to face life on his or her own, Orphan Outreach needs your prayers, your financial contributions, your time.
Orphan Outreach is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt organization
Orphan Outreach • 2001 West Plano Parkway, Suite 3700 • Plano, TX 75075 • 972.941.4440