Orphan workers: foreign agents in Russia

By July 5, 2013

Russia (MNN) — Some Russian national orphan workers are considered foreign agents in Russia. It’s something that can hurt work with in the country, but so far it isn’t.

Russia Country Director for Orphan Outreach Lena Vasilieva says a new law gave them that title. “Any non-governmental organization that is getting funding from abroad is called a foreign agent.”

Why? Anti-American sentiment is high in the political ranks. Vasilieva says, “Anything that comes from the United States is taboo. And, the protestant church is also consider to be coming from abroad. So, volunteers from protestant churches aren’t very welcomed.”

So far it’s not interfering with their programs. Vasilieva says Orphan Outreach has staff who visits the orphanages with church and other volunteers to share the Gospel, do Bible studies, crafts and worship. She says orphanage staff miraculously allow it. “Even though they are threatened, they could lose their jobs, their positions, they could be fined, they still say, ‘please come and teach out kids about God, because we see that that changes them more than anything else.”

That can also make it difficult for American volunteers to help. Vasilieva says, “Because of our good relationships, those doors haven’t been closed.”

Lena Vasilieva listens to a graduate at a recent meeting in Russia.

Lena Vasilieva listens to a graduate at a recent meeting in Russia.

Reaching orphaned children is difficult, especially older kids. She says it’s important to share the Gospel, but it’s equally as important to help them physically. “But, whenever you actually help them with their needs, that actually draws their attention. When you ask a specific child, ‘what do you need?’ That really speaks to them.”

It can mean anything from a child in an orphanage with a specific need, or helping an orphan who has aged out of the system who has no idea how to live outside the orphanage. Vasilieva says, “If it’s an orphan graduate who says, ‘I don’t have any food for tomorrow’ we can go and buy groceries.” They buy it, help them learn to cook, and have meal conversations.

It works the same way with the orphanage directors. “And, when they see that you’re willing to help and you’re helping them, they say, ‘oh, you are not only talking, you’re willing to do something.’ That’s when they open their doors to you.”

It’s challenging. She says, “We never know when the doors are going to be closed.”

But for now, Orphan Outreach continues to work well with directors in western Russian.

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