Millions of orphans and new visa laws make for hard work

By January 20, 2009

Russia (MNN) — The growth rate of HIV/AIDS in Russia has now increased beyond the rate in most African countries. The problem appears mainly to be due to the extreme number of Russian orphans living on the streets.

"There are roughly 3 to 4 million children living on the streets in Russia right now," says Charlie Chastain with The Mission Society. "They're very vulnerable to the sex trade industry and to drug use on the streets. What happens is they share needles, and they have unprotected sex. AIDS and HIV are actually growing faster now in Russia than even in most places in Africa."

Although the epidemic has clearly risen out of control, many Russians seem to be fairly unaware. Chastain and his wife, Miki, have lived in Russia on a short-term basis since 2001, working to provide for orphans as they can and raising awareness of such problems within the country.

"We have seen that when Russians get involved with this, and they participate in the lives of their countrymen, we can kind of take a ‘hands off' approach."

Chastain hopes that one day Russia will not need missionaries to come into the country to build relationships with children and provide for them physically. His prayer is that the local church will take over this role. "Missions is all about getting the indigenous people involved in their community and involved in the Kingdom in their own country," says Chastain. His family as well as other missionaries have therefore been working closely with local churches to help even a few orphanages at a time.

The need for local Russian advocacy has increased since the change of visa laws in Russia. Foreigners with a one-year work visa (including missionaries) can now only stay in the country for intervals of 90 days. This law (very like the United States' visa law) may hinder the ability of missionaries to build lasting relationships in the country. However, Chastain says this seeming setback has actually created new opportunities for Christian missionaries in the country.

"We've seen some amazing things come out of this 90-day rule. It's actually opened up doors in neighboring countries that had just as much need. So [missionaries will] spend 90 days in another country, and they'll spend 90 days back. As long as they keep those Russian relationships up and transfer most of the day-to-day operations to Russian believers, things continue to get better."

Chastain asks that you pray for the ministry and its success. He also notes that "donors have been a little bit hesitant to open up to helping Russia" lately, and the ministry is in continual need of support.

If you can help the Chastain family or The Mission Society, click here.

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