Russia (MNN) — When you read I Corinthians 13, you quickly realize what's valued in Scripture. Love. When looking at faith, hope, and love Paul says the greatest of these is love.
Love is what drives most short-term mission trips. Loving a child in an orphanage in Russia in 1995 changed a boy's life forever. At a time when some Christians question the benefit of short-term missions, the story we're about to tell you will cement the need for sending Christians to help abroad.
In 1995, Amy Norton who works with a child advocacy organization in Texas took a trip to St. Petersburg, Russia to lead a team of Americans to reach out to children in orphanages in the region. Norton, now an adoptive mother, visited Baby Home #16. There she met a little one-year-old boy named Ivan (Vanya) A. Shikutkin. He was hydrocephalic (fluid on the brain) and was in a room for children who were not expected to survive.
A year later, Amy introduced Mike Douris–who also worked for the same organization–to Ivan, who had survived another year with no treatment. Norton inquired about surgery for the little boy with an extremely large head, caused by blockage in the ducts of the brain that regulates cerebrospinal fluid. With no way to regulate the fluid, the head swells. Untreated, many children don't survive. Norton was told by the baby home staff that surgery would not be successful.
A few other teams took photos of the boy with the large head, wondering how this boy could survive without surgery.
Over the next few years Norton, who now is the projects manager at Orphan Outreach, would see Vanya. She didn't give up. In 1999, Norton found him in orphanage #40, an orphanage for children with vision challenges. It was there that she asked the question again, "can Vanya get the surgery he needs?"
In 2000, at the age of six, Vanya had surgery to place a shunt in his brain, which regulates the brain fluid. That surgery almost immediately reduced the size of his head and in his words, "gave me a chance not only to exist, but to live like everyone else. [Amy's] associates and supporters raised money for surgery. I began to develop normally."
Vanya never forgot Amy's kindness. He describes the relationship this way. When he saw her (at age five), he noticed, "Her long dark hair on her shoulders. She smiled a big smile at me. So I ran to her. She sat down, put her arms around me. She was one of the guiding stars in this cruel world."
That impression stuck with him. Vanya was taken into a foster home when he turned eight, but he never forgot about Norton. He kept a photo of the two of them on his desktop on his computer, hoping someday to meet Norton.
When Vanya turned 18, his desire to meet Norton grew. He wanted to thank her personally for what she did for him. Vanya says he decided to write a letter to the Russian television show called, "Wait For Me." Vanya says, "He waited every week with the hope of a new message. Breathlessly (I) watched the show Wait for Me," with the hope the producers had found something
His desire to find her was contagious. He received help from a girl by the name of Tatiana. She began searching U.S. base Web sites and even contacted the U.S. Embassy to try to find Norton. Then, in March, 2013, Tatiana had found two Web sites (one of which was Mission Network News) with Norton's name. Norton, who's now working with Orphan Outreach in Plano, TX, received a Facebook message from one Ivan (Vanya) A. Shikutkin.
This is a story about the kind of impact you can have on a child on a short-term mission trip. Norton loved a Russian orphaned child with a medical need for a few hours 14 years ago. In the process, the child got the help he needed, felt loved, and now as a young adult, he wanted to say, "Thank you."
This week that happened. On a sunny day along the Niva River, Ivan and Norton were reunited for the first time since 2001.
After seeing Norton again Ivan said, "I am feeling the best. It's beautiful. I can't believe it. My dream came true today."
Norton's question? "How does he remember me from so long ago? I wasn't with him that long. I was only with him for an hour or so in the orphanage. It just goes to show you can have an impact."
The love Amy showed Ivan inspired him to learn English. The purpose? To be able find Norton. The relationship that has developed since created spiritual questions. "Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose in life?" he told the team.
Ivan discovered a local evangelical church, and those questions have been answered. He says, "Her love opened my heart to God. I started to understand better." Now, Ivan wants to study Scripture more and wants to be baptized.
If you'd like to have an impact like this, join Orphan Outreach in a mission trip. You can find a trip that suits you, or you can create one for your church or small group. Click here for details.