Russia (MNN) – Every year after Christmas in the United States, a team from SOAR International gets on a plane and flies off to Russia where they celebrate Christmas a second time. But this time, they’re celebrating through their Stuff a Stocking program.
Joanna Mangione of SOAR spoke to us about their recent trip to Russia for Stuff a Stocking. The team arrived in Ryazan just hours before the new year.
“We rung in the year with the church there. Actually, the tradition is that the church prays that last hour into midnight. So we got to do that with the church.”
That week, the team helped their church contact in Ryazan run a day camp for children in the church and the local community.
“It was a three-day long camp program that we did alongside the church [with] crafts and games and Bible stories and Bible lessons and English lessons. And it was basically a whole day program for the kids for three days in honor of the Christmas season.”
Over the next few days, they began distributing the stockings. These stockings contain necessities like gloves and shampoo, as well as toys and a Bible. In total, the team was able to distribute the gifts to four different children’s homes and a bedridden home in Ryazan. On January 7th, they celebrated Christmas with the church according to the Orthodox calendar.
After Ryazan, they were off to St. Petersburg.
A surprise in St. Petersburg
Mangione says, “The church there is doing some amazing work with rehabilitating men and women. And we’ve known them for quite some time– have been doing this project with them for many, many years, and just last summer helped them with their summer camp. So it was really fun to get to see them again.”
Here, they participated in eight distributions. Many of these locations were children’s homes and transition homes, but Mangione says their outreach is growing beyond that.
“We went to even a few detention centers. We went to a sports school for kids who are brought into that opportunity. And then, we were incredibly surprised to get to actually get to do a small distribution inside a police station which even surprised our Russian brothers and sisters.
“We arrived and initially, we were under the impression it was a detention center. And when we arrived we realized it was the police station and we would be doing the distribution and the Gospel presentation for the children of policemen.”
Mangione says they were quite surprised and a little wary. But because they had been invited in, they went on with the distribution.
“It was actually a wonderful time. It was a couple of families who came into a room that they set aside and we were able to present the Gospel. We gave them their gifts, handed out Bibles. Both the parents and the children were there.”
The team praises God for his protection during this unexpected visit.
As it turns out, the policewoman who invited them to this particular distribution has been making a way for Stuff a Stocking to grow in this area.
“She loves the project so much that she has been the one to help open the doors into some of these transit homes and detention centers that we might, just on our own, might not have gotten into without her influence and invitation, and paving the way there for us.”
And so, Mangione says, “God definitely worked this January and is working in Russia and through that policewoman. We are so blessed that we got the opportunity to work with the church together in getting to bring gifts and getting to bring the Bible, and getting to bring the Gospel to the kids, and the adults for that matter, that we got to meet while there.”
It’s never a bad time to give to the Stuff A Stocking project, or to start sewing stockings for next year. For more information, click here.
Also, stay tuned for a look at SOAR International’s next project, Baskets of Hope. This project centers around Easter, the largest religious holiday in Russia.