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Sasha's Heart for His Own
by Julie Cramer
Posted on Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Sasha Elichev understands orphans firsthand because he is one. Born in a small town on St. Petersburg’s outskirts, Sasha was the middle child—sandwiched by an older brother and a younger sister.

“We lived in a communal flat, which basically was a small room for all five of us. In 1991 we moved to a nice big four-room apartment. My mom was working as a street cleaner and my father was a metal turner. Things were OK for us children,” Sasha said. 

Only one thing frightened him and his siblings—when their father drank, he beat their mother. 

“One day my mom took us to church and we joined the Sunday school. Things changed, but my dad was still drinking. One day he drank something that made him mentally sick. After some time, he was sent to a mental hospital,” Sasha said. “He came back home acting normal, but the next day, on Sunday morning, he committed suicide. That was a shock. I was 9 years old. I couldn’t believe it.”

Relatives blamed Sasha’s mother for turning away from their Russian Orthodox beliefs. 

“It was a hard time for us. People were wondering how we were going to make it,” he said. “God has been very faithful to us. He has given us everything we needed. But more than anything, He gave us Himself. He became our Father.”

Found in translation

A hard-working student, Sasha excelled in English and began to dream of becoming a translator. He entered university and studied topics such as grammar, phonetics, and linguistics for five years. During his first year, a friend of his recommended he help translate for an American mission team. He met several Orphan Outreach staffers that summer, but he doubts they remember.

After the summer’s work ended, he returned to university, and bumped into another American team doing street dramas. He befriended one of the team members, Sam, who taught him about street children in St. Petersburg. Sasha started working with the children in between studying and exams.

“It was very scary to go to them the first time, but the kids already knew Sam,” he said. “They were dirty and high from sniffing glue. We gave them food; we talked; we prayed for them. Later I found out that many of those kids were orphans. They either ran away from the orphanage or graduated from it. They were hungry, cold, sick, and they didn’t know where to go. They lived in empty buildings. I felt compassion towards those kids. I found out about them more, and we became good friends with some of them. They were not as scary as I first had thought. Everyone had his or her story.”

Sasha’s street ministry led him to accept an offer following graduation at an orphanage and crisis center called Restoration House. He lived with the children and worked to earn their trust.

“Every day we read the Bible; we prayed; we worked around the house; we worked in the garden. We encouraged their strengths and abilities rather than their weaknesses. It was a great experience, but also a tough one,” Sasha said. “The kids were always trying to hurt the staff or act out so that we would reject them. It was a long process to gain their trust. I worked there for almost five years.”

Marriage, a move, and burn out caused Sasha to resign from his post at the crisis center. He had worked for five years straight, taking two weeks off every summer to translate for Orphan Outreach teams. “It felt like a vacation!” he said. “I enjoyed working with them. I could use my talents as a translator, and I could play guitar and sing and talk to the older kids, which I really enjoy!”

Yet when the OO teams flew home, Sasha’s search for employment stalled. He could not find a job anywhere. Sasha took whatever jobs he could find to support his family, and resigned his dream of working with orphans. 

Then one day the phone rang. Amy Norton wanted to know if he would join Orphan Outreach full-time. 

“I guess it wasn’t me who chose to work for Orphan Outreach,” Sasha said. “It was God who didn’t give up on me.”

“We had been praying for a Christian male who would help work with our male orphan graduates and also with pastors in the local churches,” Amy said. “I hired him immediately. He had helped lead our teams in the past and had always gone above and beyond to serve. We felt it was the Lord’s timing that we met with Sasha right when he was transitioning from his previous job.”  

A father to the fatherless

“My motivation is winning the lost for Christ,” Sasha said. “God Himself has entrusted me with this calling to help orphans. It’s so amazing that I can feel that I’m used by God! Now it’s so difficult for me to imagine myself doing anything else except ministry. I find contentment and joy when I see changes in the lives of the young people.”

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“He has already made such an impact on our young graduates,” Amy said. “He provides them with much needed spiritual and emotional support as they go through difficult circumstances in their lives like finding jobs, attending school, and developing their relationship with the Lord. He has been a huge blessing to our ministry.”

“I believe that kids are everywhere the same,” Sasha—who became a father to daughter Esther in 2014—said. “They all need love, support, and trust. You can give them as much stuff as you can, but what they truly need is a person who really cares about them and who won’t give up on them. That’s why it’s important to have trained, skilled mentors who would also plant the seeds of the gospel into their hearts.”

Sasha is that mentor, helping graduates with paperwork, accompanying them to doctor appointments or meetings with government benefits officials, and calling them to keep tabs on their studies. He helps them to lead Bible studies in the very orphanages in which they grew up.

“The kids that are already in the program have a lot of skills and abilities for independent life. Most of them have a place to stay (it can be a dormitory, their own flat, or a room given by the government), and they study and are doing very good. But they still have common challenges. Usually they are not comfortable talking to officials; they have problems keeping a budget; they tend to give up too quickly; and they really don’t think about tomorrow. They live only for today,” he said. “They just need you to be there. This is God’s calling on my life.”

Click here to learn more about our orphan graduate program in Russia, or to help a young person today.

 


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