In 1993, when we participated in the first BelPres Impact Trip to Russia, we certainly did not have a vision of what God had in store. Now, after our eleventh visit we can say that we truly have seen what God can accomplish when people put their trust and faith in Him.
In Koltushi, a small village east of St. Petersburg, there is a Cultural Center that was founded in 1999 by lay leader Dr. Sergei Medvedev. At the Center, a community of faith has created an amazing outreach for St. John of Kronstadt Orthodox Church. This program, like a Y or Boy’s and Girl’s Club, brings together the children of the community for classes and activities during the week. They study history, drawing, art, needlework, nature, and drama, and on the weekend they do bike excursions and visit important sites around St. Petersburg. Many of the parents participate in these activities by teaching classes, chaperoning the bus trips, or in other ways. In addition, parents can bring their child for speech therapy, and the Center also offers early childhood activities for preschoolers.
Many times the children will start to come with a friend and soon their parent is helping with a class, preparing a snack for the children or participating on a weekend excursion. God is at work drawing these families into the life of the church.
At the Children’s Hospice in St. Petersburg God is also working. A young seminarian named Alexander Tkachenko came to Seattle for a Clinical Pastoral Education program during the summer of 1994. Following his ordination, he responded to pleas for assistance from parents for their children with cancer and other life-limiting illnesses. Father Tkachenko initiated palliative care in 2004 for these children with a visiting nurse and doctor. By 2010, he had received land from the city, funding for a care facility, and vehicles that could bring children to the Hospice when they needed more medical attention.
During our visits, we have visited children in their homes with Father Alexander, talked with young teens at an oncology facility and watched the “clown doctors” bring fun and joy to children suffering from illness. We’ve seen parents comfort and guide one another through difficult times.
Over these twenty-some years we have marveled at what faith and perseverance can accomplish. We are grateful to be a part of these ministries as they build Christian community in two very different ways and bring Christ’s love to families.