Monday, August 29, 2011


Two more weeks to register for HOPE AT HOME 2011 at the Early Bird Price! Come enjoy the encouragement and refreshing you need to parent your adoptive/foster family. Get help in how to address the tough questions your children ask about their past, how to help your child hear from God, raising children with special needs, being a single adoptive mother, fathering your adopted child, and more. 

"Susan (Hillis) and I are heading to a town on the border of Finland called Vyborg. But to tell you the truth, I just wish I could come home," I say to my husband Stephen over the long distance phone line. My first trip to Russia had overwhelmed me in every way and what I wanted most after being exposed for the first time to the little faces that represented such great need, individually and globally, was to be back home with my three girls and husband. "There are two children there that the Director of Education wants us to meet." And so begins a wonderful story of God at work in the lives of ordinary people. You may have read some of this story from the perspective of our children. You can do that by reading "Adopted Children's Perspectives" and "Biological Children's Perspectives." But as with all good stories, there is was more going on beneath the surface!

We thought I had travelled to Russia with my dear friend Susan Hillis so that we could discern God's will for us in adoption. We knew He had called us at that point, but we were unsure how to proceed-- we recently had almost adopted a brother and sister who at the last minute had been removed from the orphanage. As is always the case with our amazing God, His plans were far greater than what we understood. Yet when Susan and I travelled to Vyborg, I ended up meeting Kristina and Pasha, who not long after became Templetons. As soon as it became clear that we would adopt from the orphanage just outside Vyborg, Stephen immediately typed in the words, "Vyborg, Christian" in his computer search engine (these were pre google days!) and up came "Vyborg Christian Center." He decided then to go ahead and contact these people, just to see where it would lead. Here is the email:

We got an immediate response from a wonderful woman who has since become as family to us. I asked Judy to share:
Hello. My name is Judy Grout.  My husband , Richard and I have been working in Vyborg, Russia, for a eighteen years.  He is director of the Vyborg Christian Center, an interdenominational Christian organization which serves in several different areas--evangelism, Bible and literature distribution, and help for the needy.

We first became acquainted with the State Orphanage in Vyborg when we went to the director and asked if we could teach a Bible class in the orphanage, as we had done in other institutions. She firmly gave us a negative answer, saying that it was against the Russian law.  But a few months later we received an email from the Templetons, saying that they were planning to adopt  from this orphanage and asking if we could visit their children .  This opened a door for us to have a ministry there.  I began teaching English classes to prepare these children for adoption.  Others in the orphanage attended these classes and others were also adopted.  Then the Lord provided (through a local  factory owner) a meeting room near the orphanage where we could have Bible classes which the director allowed the children to attend.

Eleven children from this orphanage have been adopted by Christian families in America, and we have met all these families before or at the time of the adoption. We feel that it has been a great privilege to minister to these children even before they met their new families. These Christian families have also had a profound influence on the director of the State children’s home, who in her last years there as director became very appreciative of the work we were doing with the children in our Bible classes.  The songs they sang about God touched her heart.

One of the families from Atlanta to travel
to Vyborg and adopt
Judy and Richard visiting two of the children
adopted by a family in Orlando
As Susan and I drove away from the orphanage, I was filled with mixed emotions. On one hand I felt incredible joy at having met these two amazing children who I felt God calling us to adopt - I had met my son and daughter. Yet as I looked out the back window, I saw a line of other children standing at the orphanage gates, waving forlornly as we pulled away. I couldn't help wonder what would happen to them, whether they would find loving families or end up on the streets after their time in the orphanage was up. A heavy weight filled my heart as I realized I couldn't adopt all of them, couldn't give all of them the love and care that they deserved. But the beautiful thing is that God can, and has.

We feel God has given us a great privilege to see some of His "behind the scenes of adoption" work through our friendship with the Grouts. Judy and Richard not only became a connector for the children who were being adopted, they also developed a truly amazing and fruitful ministry to the ones who did not get adopted. Judy shares,

All  of the children had friends who were never adopted, and we tried to continue to be friends with them even after they left the orphanage. Many continue coming to visit us, we try to celebrate their birthdays, and we have even helped some to get started in local colleges.  Several years ago we started a “homecoming dinner” on Friday evenings for these youth who had no home to go to.  This has evolved into a youth meeting that includes many  others now, but there are usually some orphans present.  These children have become like our extended family and we hope to be here for them as a witness to the power of God to guide their lives so that their children will never need to live in an orphanage.

Many of you may be aware that the statistics on children who age-out of the orphanages are very bad. Most end up on the streets, in jail, addicted to drugs, or dead. Because of the prayers and ministry through Judy, a ministry primarily of love and relationship, the young people who were in our children's groups have completely flipped those statistics around. 

Just a few months ago we travelled back to Vyborg and attended one of Judy's parties. It was very moving to see a room literally filled with young people who have moved away from the orphanage, but who were living relatively good lives. Some of them are married, quite a few have children of their own already. Our daughter Kristina's best friend, Natasha (in the photo below on the right) has a baby out of wedlock. But this baby is a son in his mother's arms. He is not in an orphanage. Judy, along with others, is helping Natasha learn how to be the mommy she never had. One of the girls, has taken art classes and works in a store. Another young man, Sasha, is working as a mechanic. And Ruslan, who was in the first English class Judy taught in the orphanage is living in Sweden with a family and studying to be a nurse. 

Our Kristina (center) with two of her friends from the orphanage on a visit in 2009
Richard takes Ruslan to the ferry that will take him to
Sweden where he begins his studies

Julia and Lena with their 2 year olds
It is clear to me that this is the case because they are shown on-going love and have true relationship with this woman of God. She knows their names. She knows their birthdays. She knows who they are. And they know they are known. They know they are prayed for. They know they are loved. Sadly, this love has not come to them through adoption into a family, but look what the Lord has done!

April, 2011 at the Vyborg Christian Center
Kalinina Reunion Party
Many of these children have received letters from pen pals that Judy has given them. All have been prayed for by name over the years. Many have become Christians. She has photo albums with pictures of them through the years. Sitting at that table, I was so struck by the life-giving ministry of someone like Judy who did not adopt, but who visited, loved and KNEW these children. This is a powerful work. All of us who have stood outside of an orphanage or courtroom, arms wide open to receive our children, know the cutting grief and sadness from leaving so many behind. 
Lana Grace, Ksusha and Alex Hillis running from the orphanage
into the arms of their parents
Many times children stand at the gates as their friends drive
away to homes they can only dream of
With one email, a door that was shut tight swung open wide. A Soviet-style director went from the forbidding of Christian ministry to the open encouragement of Bible clubs, children's art programs, church attendance, and permission to spend the night with Christian families. God's hands are never tied, and our prayers are effective, changing lives for eternity. We never know what beautiful layers of God's purposes lie beneath the surface of our obedient responses to His voice. I encourage us today to pray for the children left behind, the ones who didn't get adopted. Pray in faith. Call forth people like Judy and Richard Grout. Support those whose ministry is to the orphan. And believe for the statistics to be reversed!

No comments:

Post a Comment