Zoya’s Hug   Leave a comment

I have been blessed to be able to go to Russia three times on missions trips with the same organization.  We visited orphanages and old folks homes outside the big city of Perm, which is about 1,000 miles east and a little north of Moscow, in western Russia.  All three trips were unique and wonderful experiences, and if I were to tell you all about it I could blog every day for a year and still not be done.

This is the true story of Zoya.  When we went to Zoya’s orphanage it was in a town about 2 hours from where we were staying.  As is the usual practice with this organization I was with, we met up with the local Pastor and talked to him about his ministry and work in the area.  Some Pastors we met with had never been to the orphanage(s) in their towns, and others had been once or twice, and sometimes (not often) we met Pastors who had regular visits scheduled and even people from the church giving Sunday School at the orphanage.

There is strong opposition to Christianity in Russia from the Orthodox Church, so sometimes it is hard to do any real ministry except on a one-on-one basis.  That combined with the general Russian attitude of “Oh – the government looks after the orphans” and what you have are towns with 5-8,000 people in them, two orphanages, and no one from the town ever visits the orphans.  Not the Christians, not the Russian Orthodox church, not the Muslims – no one.

But I digress.  In that town there were two orphanages, and unusually they were close together.  We went to the first, and when we were done many of the kids ran ahead of us (5 minutes or so) to the next so they could see us all over again.  We did our “program” if you want to call it that.  When we were done singing and telling stories and giving a simple gospel message, our regular practice was to give every single person a hug.  Men and women workers, helpers, and every single child.  I could tell you story after story of the healing, awesome power of a simple hug given sincerely and firmly without reservation.  Grown men and women breaking down and sobbing.  The hardest child melting. 

At any rate, sometimes when we did this one child would ‘latch’ onto one of us.  It varied as to whom would get a child that was just drawn to them, but that child would hang around and keep their eyes on you and just not want to let you go.  Sometimes this would be a very emotional thing for the child (and the adult of course), with the child crying and clinging to you.  Those were very hard to deal with, as eventually it was time to go and you had to peel the child’s arms off you and leave.

When we did our ‘program’ at the second orphanage I noticed a little girl sitting in the front row, watching me and smiling at me.  She had reddish-brown hair, straight and fine.  She looked to be about 10 years old, but it was sometimes hard to tell with the orphans as they did not get good nutrition and were often smaller and skinnier than they would have been somewhere else.  She had soft brown freckles on her face and a very nice smile.

When it was time to give our hugs all the kids joined in enthusiastically and the Americans all made sure, as was our usual practice, that everyone in the room got at least one hug.  I suddenly found myself being hugged by this girl.  And she didn’t let go.  She didn’t sob or cling – she just stood there and hugged me firmly, resting her head on my chest.  And she wanted me to keep my arms around her.

Her friends were running around, posing for pictures, laughing, playing with the balloon animals we had made them.  Zoya and I just stood there in the middle of all that and we hugged.  Members of my group came by to check on us and I assured them we were just fine.  I knew enough Russian to ask her name and to tell her that Jesus loved her and that she was a beautiful girl.  I had one of my team take a picture of us.

The orphanage workers don’t like it when the kids cry or are not happy.  They want the Americans to see that the children are happy and well taken care of.  There is always the hope one of the kids will be adopted by one of us, or that we will go back and bring more Americans with us.  At one point an orphanage worker came up to us and berated Zoya.  I don’t know what was said because it was in rapid Russian, but it was quite obviously a severe scolding, and Zoya shrank against me.  I just turned my head and ignored the worker, pretending she wasn’t there.  When she left Zoya and I went back to just standing there and hugging.  I gave her a squeeze and rubbed her back and she squeezed me back.  I was praying for her, enjoying the feel of this little girls arms around me.  I felt very much that she was just looking for comfort and human contact, and for some reason she chose me for that.

Another worker came by later and scolded her again, and a couple of her friends stopped by and tried to get her to run and play, but Zoya just wanted to hug me.  So we stood there a long time in a firm embrace, and I loved every second of it.  Eventually, it was time to go and we went arm in arm down the stairs and out to the bus.   The kids were running and yelling and jumping and shouting, and Zoya and I walked up to the foot of the bus and I gave her one more squeeze and kissed her.  She stepped back and smiled and waved at me, and I got on the bus, and we left. 

The next trip I went on we went to that same city, but they had closed the orphanages and the Pastor did not know what happened to Zoya.  I do believe I will see her in heaven, though, and we will be able to hug again.  Until that day, I will keep telling the story of Zoya.

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Posted October 23, 2010 by Maureen in Memories, Uncategorized

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