They Saw What They Saw
Posted on Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Orphan Outreach interns return home changed, and charged for their next challenge
I saw what I saw and I can't forget it
I heard what I heard and I can't go back
I know what I know and I can't deny it
Something on the road
Cut me to the soul
Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face, a memory
Your hope, a fire
Your courage asks me
What I'm afraid of
And what I know of love
—“I Saw What I Saw,” Sara Groves
St. Petersburg, Russia
The one place on her internship itinerary that jangled Carly Johnson's nerves before leaving for St. Petersburg, Russia, was the one that surprised her the most.
“Living, teaching, learning, and playing in Tihkvin orphanage was the greatest joy I have every experienced,” she said. “In planning for the trips, this was the location that I was most nervous about. All the preparations we made were tentative because we were unsure exactly what we were walking into. Yet unlike the other orphanages we saw, this place was full of hope and ambition and invitation. While I loved every place and every day, Tihkvin was like coming home."
Stateside, Carly's home is the Dallas-Fort-Worth metro. A sophomore at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, Texas, this future nurse first traveled to Russia in 2012 with Orphan Outreach. Seeing God displace distress with hope enlivened her heart to “worldwide mission work.”
“I have seen the impact of short-term missions, and more specifically Orphan Outreach's influence. I believe in their purpose and ministry, and I would love to partner with them in ministering to Russia,” she said.
Even so, Carly came face-to-face with her own limitations. The team had to abbreviate their stay at the Nikolsky orphanage from one week to two days. The first day went off without a hitch, but the second day was a different story. Several boys were in isolation—punishment for arriving home the prior night drunk.
“I left feeling discouraged and ineffective. It hurt me to realize that I could only give one good day to these kids, and that was not enough to impact their choices or their attitudes,” she confessed. The experience, however, grew her faith. “God is bigger than me. He used the confusion and chaos for His purpose and glory. His plan and pursuit for every child is so much greater than my small contribution and effort, and He is at work in Russia with or without me.”
And God is at work in her.
“All of these things have changed,” she said. “My big, perfect, merciful, loving God is necessary for my existence, unlike any time before. I know that God is very much at work in the beautiful culture and struggling state of Russia. I see that Jesus loves every orphan more than I can possibly understand, and that He is pursuing each child every day. My world grew with every person I met, but it shrunk with every plane I boarded. I no longer see this earth as a big unfathomable project, but as reachable, unique individuals that Jesus is constantly chasing. And I am honored to be an unworthy part of His huge plan.”
St. Petersburg, Russia
A sophomore at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, Caroline Reed, a Georgia native, never imagined that she would sit with her peers in St. Petersburg, Russia, talking about school stress. As part of her internship, Caroline worked with “orphan graduates,” who have aged out of the state -run child welfare system. As she sat in on several weekly meetings with the graduates, reading the Bible and listening to their struggles, Caroline came to understand the importance of the program, and was surprised by her ability to minister to people her own age.
Three years prior to her internship with Orphan Outreach, Caroline had served in an orphanage in Simferopal, Ukraine.
“While I was there, something clicked. My heart broke for the children who craved love and attention, and I fell in love with the culture. I felt fully alive and aware of the Lord's ability to be a light amidst a dark world,” she said. “When I came across the Orphan Outreach website and saw that one of the two internships was in Russia and focused on loving orphans, I just about lost it! I applied because I wanted to deeply love orphans in Russia; I wanted to challenge myself; and I wanted to learn about the ins and outs of an organization dedicated to serving orphans.”
The lessons she did learn through the experience she said she would be processing for a long time after her return. She believes God is calling her to be present in each moment—to realize that he has a purpose for her in her current circumstances. While she longs to return to Russia, Caroline discovered a group home within walking distance of Furman, where she plans to volunteer—something prior to the internship she said she never would have considered.
From ministering to her peers, to unearthing a hidden talent for public speaking, to having her eyes opened to injustice going on in the world, Caroline said she grapples with how to respond. She prays for an open mind to what may be in store, and for the strong ties she forged with teammates and the children will continue. Mostly, she prays that God would reap all the glory.
La Paz, Honduras
Sickness in the first week and an initial language barrier could have sidelined Kristin Ambrose, an education graduate from Clemson University in South Carolina. But instead, she bounced back from her illness, gradually learned the language, and ultimately bridged the culture gap with a water balloon fight.
“It helped to bring down the walls that were between us,” she said of her fellow interns and the children at San Jose Orphanage, which is located near the Honduran capital, Tegucigalpa. “It was a turning point. The kids really connected with me, and it was so cute how they opened up.”
One child, Jonathan, became especially attached to Kristin, though measures by typical expressions of affection such as hugs, one might misread Jontahan's emotions. He was rough and tumble in his play, and his version of saying 'I love you' was to put paint on Kristin's arms—then offered to help wash it off when he feared she may be upset.
“He touched my heart,” she said. “Jonathan has a disorder because his mother was on drugs [during her pregnancy]. When you stop and pay attention to what the children are saying, you can begin to understand the differences. It was wonderful to realize that Jonathan just loves differently.”
For years Kristin had kicked around the idea of traveling on a mission trip; however, the time never felt quite right. This past summer, she felt ready to answer God's call and serve overseas.
“I have always loved Hispanic culture and feel led to help in a Hispanic country,” she said. “You think you'll be flexible [when you get there], but no matter what, you find expectations that you have to give up. God works in big ways, but more often, he works in the small and quiet. Day-to-day life with Jesus is not often big and glamorous,” she said of what God taught her through the internship. “It's real hard work, and messy. It's sweet moments that you might miss if you are always looking for mountaintop emotions.”
La Paz, Honduras
A California girl in her junior year at Baylor University, majoring in psychology, Kerry Lloyd-Jones waited a full year to apply for an internship with Orphan Outreach. In the interim, she beefed up her Spanish skills.
“The fact that I still wanted to do it a year later shows that this was not just something I decided on a whim last year, but it is something worth pursuing. I have always wanted to work with orphaned children. I have a heart for kids, especially those who are hurting,” she said. “It was an amazing experience, and I am glad I got to go! Meeting the kids and getting to know them individually was such a blessing.”
While she thought she may experience what she called a “camp high,” Kerry instead found God at work I the everyday lives of the children, and the rhythms of her work felt like “normal life.” And as is true in normal life, children can be difficult to reign in, as was the case with the boys Kerry encountered. Their behavior highlighted a lesson she said she needed—to accept that she is not in control. Instead, she focused her attention on loving the children well with the time she had in country.
“One morning I went out to a hammock to read the Bible,” she said. “Milton come out and joined me. He loves to read. He opened up the Bible and read out loud to me for 30 minutes. I got to ask him questions about what he thought the story was about. Several other kids came out and joined us. I got to have conversations about growing closer to the Lord with several older kids that morning.” In her newly honed Spanish, that experience ranked more than maravilloso—and well worth the long-awaited stamp in her passport.