By Natalie Nohr
As I boarded the first plane of many, I braced my heart for the emotional warfare that I felt sure was waiting in Russia. While preparing to leave I was told again and again, “That will be a heartbreaking experience,” and, “I’m sure that will be very emotional for you.”
I was scared. The past two months of the semester had drained me. In my journal I wrote, “I have nothing left to give. I am empty, Father. I don’t have anything to pour into these kids’ hearts. Please fill me so I can fill them.”
Our God is good – He did. Eventually the very thing I had feared was what my heart longed for most; to be broken for the orphans I loved.
Each morning we took an hour-long trek to the orphanage: a ten minute walk to the bus stop, a thirty minute bus ride, then a fifteen minute walk to the doorstep of the children’s home. We’d bounce and hop out of our slushy, muddy boots, slide off our coats and climb the stairs in slippers to our children. The halls were warm; bright light shone through the filmy curtains. Often there was cabbage cooking somewhere in the building.
My ministry partners and I could always hear the eight three year-olds we were working with before we could see them.
A day with our lively gang involved a lesson – adjusted for their five minute attention spans – crafts, playtime and “walks.” These “walks” meant an hour or more of pulling the children on sleds or chasing them on frozen drifts of snow that surrounded their playground. It was anything but a leisurely walk.
One afternoon we taught them to sing “Jesus Loves Me.” It was the one thing I saw them truly latch onto; they were engaged, excited and eager to try the hand motions.
In Russian, the words are shifted just a little to make them rhyme.
Иисус любит, да меня (Jesus loves me yes he does)
Это точно знаю я (This I know for sure)
Малышей к себе зовет (He calls the children to him)
И на ручки их берёт (And takes them into his arms)
The night before our last day with the children, I sat in our team meeting feeling, of all feelings, guilt. I was guilty—ashamed even—that I didn’t feel heartbroken and torn in two for these kids that we would soon leave. “Why,” I wondered, “do I not feel like the rest of my team? Why do I not feel as everyone told me I would?” I spent most of that debrief meeting praying, wondering, “I don’t understand. Did I not give my all? Did I not love them enough?”
This question echoed in my thoughts as we said goodbye to our children the next day, and as little Kolya cried, ”He knows you won’t be back,” Katia, my interpreter, said. It rang in my ears as I hugged him, with tears in my own eyes, and the only words I could utter were “Иисус любит (Jesus loves you)” because Jesus loves him far beyond how I ever physically could, because the Lord is there in that orphanage whether I am or not. It whispered in the back of my mind as we spent a day in Moscow, then boarded a plane to go home.
My team leader’s words to me from our last debrief battled my doubts, saying, “I know that it was hard for you to get here, but know that your time was not wasted.”
And He says, “I am not done yet. You may never know. ”
So that is what I have clung to since I’ve returned – not knowing. I do not know what will happen to the mustard seeds we planted in the hearts of orphans down the icy streets during Spring break. I know that I loved those eight orphans with a power that was not my own, I know that I am often called to take heart and have faith beyond my own understanding – now is no exception – and I know that my Lord has a much grander scheme and plan than I.
He is not done yet. He asked for my all – and I laid it at His feet.
All He asks is that we obey with open hands and open hearts, for He is faithful and true to finish what He has begun.
Maybe He is asking you to join Him. Maybe He wants to use you to continue to the good work.
Follow Him to the fields that are ready to be planted. He is waiting for you – go with him to where He beckons. Even if it is unknown, even in the midst of your doubts, worries and fears. Even if you do not understand what you see and feel, go, follow and wait.
Natalie Nohr recently traveled to Russia with The Boaz Project on a team from Taylor University