Court was supposed to be on October 24th. That was the day originally scheduled to make Alosha, Sasha and Lena a permanent part of our family. Instead I was caught up in what seemed a surreal drama, only it was all too real. For me. And for 21 orphaned children. October 24th was the day the orphanage at Shotova closed its doors and transferred the children in its care to an orphanage in Severodonestsk. As I reflect upon it, certain moments stand out to me.
As I walk into the orphanage that morning, children who are usually reserved, run to me and embrace me. It is more than a welcome hug. It is a plea for security. For comfort. For hope.
The scene is chaotic as we wait 2 hours for the bus. But there is consistency to it. Then, interrupting the chaos, is a loud bang, shouting, concerned looks. A 15 year old boy has tried to kick down a door. Attempts are made to restrain him but it is not needed. He leans into the wall, buries his face in his hands and cries. Alarm turns into comfort as guardians place their hands on his shoulders, rub his back, try to tell him that everything will be okay.
A young boy has been allowed to live with his family. I have never seen him at the orphanage with his sister. For just this move, he has been brought back. He paces like a caged animal. Going first to one locked door and then another trying to escape. He tries to sit down, but within seconds he jumps up and runs down the hall, pounding on yet another door. His eyes dart back and forth, his mind trying to formulate a plan. A plan that never comes to fruition.
I see guardians crying. I realize that in spite of its shortcomings, Shotova was a place where these children were loved. I feel sadness for these women who are losing their jobs. Women who have never done anything but care for these children. Women who will soon be left inside an empty, cold building.
I sit next to boy with a quivering chin. I put my arm around him and give him a squeeze. “I am going to try to bring you to Alabama next summer for hosting,” I tell him. He reaches into the pocket of his hoody and pulls out 5 photographs. “This is my sister,” he says. And my cousin. And my grandmother. You can only see her leg in the picture.
A boy walks up to the new Director. His brother was supposed to be moving but they had not been able to find him. He was with their family. The boy asks “Can I come back here to see my family?” “If an adult comes and fills out the proper legal documents, then yes,” the Director replies. Tears fall. He walks away and spends the rest of his time at Shotova sitting on the arm of a sofa, face buried, weeping for the family he was losing again.
That night, at the new orphanage, I stand in a circle with 6 boys. A 16 year old boy lays his head on my shoulder. Words are not needed. It is enough that there is shoulder to lean on.
Upon greeting one boy, I hug him. He buries his face into my coat and weeps. I can feel the pain that shakes his whole body. This is the same boy I have promised to try to host. A boy with no hope for a family. A boy who sees his friends being adopted. A boy who wants to be loved like Sasha, and Kostya, and others whose Mamas have promised to come. I have told Sasha and Lena: I will return in one month. You can manage this for one month. Be patient. What can you say to one who must be patient for many months? Many years? One who tends to act like those around him expect him to act?
These children are not in a bad orphanage. It seems to be a very good orphanage, in fact. Structured, well-kept, supervised, safe. Their grief comes, rather, from a lack of control over their own lives. Another loss. Another glaring reminder that I AM AN ORPHAN. Everyone knows why they are there. They feel inferior, perhaps are even considered inferior. Phones have been taken. Doors are locked. They can’t even communicate with each other unless they are in the same class. The most endearing aspect of Shotova, to me, was the sense of community among the children. They genuinely seemed to care for another. And now they feel isolated from even their own siblings.
I know why we did not have court on October 24th. Who would have held Vova? Whose shoulder would Kostya have laid his head on? Who would have said to Spartak: It is going to be okay? God left my children in Shotova. God has sent them to Severodonetsk. God sent Natalya and Laci in His perfect timing to stand with me. We can’t do much. But we can show these children that they are not alone. Not forgotten. If nothing else, for a few days, we can be consistent faces. A reminder that they are loved; not just by us, but by many in America who have reached out and not forgotten. I pray for open doors in these few days to remind them that God is in control. That they can trust Him. That they can pray and he will hear.