June 4, 2018

What an Orphan Taught Me: Mercy Edition

April with Olya


Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:36

I couldn’t believe God had miraculously reunited us!

Olya and I had spent many hours together when she was growing up in the orphanage. From my first time in her orphanage, she stayed right by me, as if attached at the hip. And every time I returned, it was the same routine: If I went outside to check on the groups there, she came with me. If I were inside, helping a group with a craft, she made one and gave it to me.

Each year, I would return, and Olya would be a little taller and little more mature. But still she stayed by my side, savoring each moment of individual attention.

It broke my heart, but I wasn’t able to visit her region of Russia the year Olya graduated from the orphanage system, and I assumed I’d never see her again.

As state-run institutions, the orphanages are not permitted to give us any forwarding information on the children who leave. So I had no way to find her in the city of nearly 600,000.

But I found myself back in her region, preparing to hold a VBS in the orphanage where she once resided. It was our first full day in country. The team and I had gone to church and were headed across the square in the city’s center toward lunch when a team member said she thought Aksanna, Olya’s sister, had just past us!

I turned in the direction of the passing pedestrians and called out, “Aksanna!”

And right away, a young woman turned around, looking for the person who’d called her name. I began waving my arms wildly so she’d find us. She squinted, unsure of who we were we until she got closer. As she realized it was us, a huge smile spread across her face, and she ran to greet us with hugs. She then waved to the young man who was with her (another graduate we knew from the same orphanage), inviting him to join us.

After exchanging a few pleasantries, I asked about Olya. Aksanna pulled out her phone and called her, speaking rapid fire. Moments later, Olya came running up the street, and we embraced and giggled. I couldn’t believe God had reunited us!

After chatting for a few moments, I invited the trio to join our team for lunch.

Once at the blini café, the others staked out a large booth while Olya and I went to place the order. While we stoodin line, She said to me (in Russian, of course), “I wore your sweater for a long time.”

When she could see that what she was saying didn’t register with me, she said, “Sweater…sweater..”

It wasn’t that I didn’t understand her words.  I just couldn’t remember what she was talking about.  My mind did furious cartwheels, searching all its files for any memory of a sweater.  Then it hit me.

The last day of the last VBS Olya attended at her orphanage, I was torn up about leaving her.  Though language rarely flowed smoothly between us, she had been content for most of the week to sit silently at my side, holding my hand.  Occasionally, she would show me a photo or participate in a craft.  But it was apparent she really just wanted to be near me.  That morning, she had been cold in the orphanage building and had goosebumps.

I took my sweater off and wrapped it around her shoulders.  She smiled broadly, showing her teeth which were much prettier than most of her children’s home compatriots’.  Then she slid her arms into the sleeves.

When it was time to go that afternoon and we were forced to say goodbye, we both had tears in our eyes.  She began to take the sweater off to hand it to me.  I put my hand up, as to refuse it.  I helped her put it back on and tapped her shoulder to tell her she was to keep it.

Clearly, I had forgotten all about that sweater.  Sadly, it was one of too many stuffed into my closet.

When Olya could tell that at last I understood what she was talking about, she continued, “I wore that sweater nearly all the time for so long.  It was my favorite.  But one day, I saw a girl who lived on the street.  She was shivering with cold.  I didn’t want to give her the sweater, but I understood that she should not be cold.  So I gave it to her.”

Olya had not been shown much mercy in her life. She’d been abandoned by both of her parents. She hadn’t really fit in at the orphanage. Classmates treated her like an outcast. But when faced with the needs of another, Olya chose to show mercy, offering what was precious to her to a stranger. At this point, I didn’t know that Olya was teaching Bible classes to children who still resided in the orphanage or that she was sneaking children out to go to church with her on Sundays, but I was confident that she had become a woman of peace, an ambassador of mercy.

This month, as you remember The Boaz Project in your prayers, please ask God:

  • To raise up many more children like Olya who take God’s Word and love to heart and share them with others.
  • To offer peace and resources to villages near our work in Kenya. Entire communities were swept away by floods overnight, killing families and leaving others destitute.
  • For team members to travel with our December team to Russia, purchasing and delivering gifts for children in numerous orphanages.
  • To protect our partners in India following some heated elections in the state where most of our Indian work takes place. Extreme persecution of Christians is anticipated.


  1. Dr. Sharon Valente says:

    May the Lord bless and look over Olya and all of the orphanage graduates.

  2. Cathy Bedel says:

    Beautiful, just beautiful! God bless every one of you!

  3. Deborah Wolowec says:

    Such a beautiful story! Will be keeping the precious Russian orphans in my prayers.

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Because God knew that abandoned children would need help to survive, He tells us to actively meet the needs of orphans in James 1:27.

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What does an orphan mission trip include?

  • Hotel accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Application support and fees for your Visa
  • In-country language assistance
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  • Ministry curriculum and supplies
  • Cross-cultural training and preparation
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Orphan Advocate Training Certification Levels

Level 1

Learn about the mission and vision of The Boaz Project through activities such as watching an Encounter webinar, exploring our website, and following us on social media. You will also have the opportunity to meet and interact with your Orphan Advocate Training Coach, who will help you as you go through the levels.

Level 2

Gain more insight into the realities of the orphan crisis through reading "The Orphan’s Abba" and visiting The Boaz Project YouTube page. You will also meet The Boaz Project staff.

Level 3

Grow in your understanding of the orphan crisis, meet some houseparents by reading their stories, and create your own "Pick 2" with options like watching a movie and completing a creative project utilizing your unique skill set.

Level 4

Enhance your knowledge of healthy attachments for orphans, watch a webinar about Eastern Europe’s institutional orphanage system, and visit the Boaz office virtually or in person.

Level 5

Utilize all of the knowledge you have gained throughout training to develop methods based on your personal experience to share the mission and vision of The Boaz Project with others. Read a portion of our first level Houseparent Trauma Training and use your unique skills to impact orphans with a special project. Completing Level 5 gives you the option to apply to become an OAT Coach and/or a Regional Coordinator for The Boaz Project.


Do I have to live near Greenwood, Indiana to complete the training?

No! This certification is intentionally created to allow opportunities for anyone in any location to fully participate.

How much of a time commitment is it?

This is completely up to you. The entire process is self-directed. There are no deadlines, and you may take as much or as little time as you need to complete each course.

Can I do this training with my spouse? Or a friend?

Yes! Going through the training with a spouse or friend can provide accountability and motivation. As you progress, you may be able to accomplish more together!

How much will it cost?

All Orphan Advocate Training courses are free to join! While you may choose to spend money while completing some projects, there are only minimal costs involved (such as a book or a few supplies) depending on which course you choose to do.

Is there an age requirement to become a Certified Orphan Advocate Trainee?

This would be answered on a case-by-case basis. This would also be open to middle schoolers or high schoolers looking to complete volunteer hours (i.e. National Honor Society) or build college applications. We always encourage young people to be involved if they feel led by God to do so!

What if I don’t have any social media accounts?

We will adjust your requirements to accommodate you and provide different opportunities to engage.

If I complete the five-level Orphan Advocate Training Certification, can I put it on my resume or LinkedIn profile?

Yes! When you complete each level, you will receive a certification that you can use to enhance your professional profile and to show involvement in community service.

Will I be able to get a signed letter to verify my volunteer hours?

We are sorry that we cannot verify volunteer hours that are done outside of the office or an event due to the fact that these hours are not supervised. However, we can write about the quality of work that was done, your commitment level, and the training courses achieved. We can also say that your self-reported, unsupervised hours fit into the typical number of hours that are usual for that course.

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If you think you would like to begin Orphan Advocate Training, please complete the form below, and you’ll be assigned an OAT Coach. Once your coach reviews your information, he/she will send you an email with your next steps!

Who do I contact if I have any other questions?

Please complete the form below or contact OAT@boazproject.org with any questions.

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