In the bleak mid-winter, hundreds of young Next Generation Christians, churches and ministry partners went to the streets, orphanages, hospitals and run-down apartments to shine the light of Christ into the dark despair of sickness, neglect and poverty.
Here are some stories of hope and joy from Russian Ministries’ Project Hope: The Great Gift Exchange.
• Church leaders and young Next Generation Christian leaders went to an orphanage in the town of Ostrogozhsk on Christmas day to distribute gift boxes and share the good news of Jesus’ birth. Alexander Shmakov, pastor of the church there, described the children as “social orphans,” children whose parents are unable or unwilling to care for them.
“It was wonderful to see how happy they were, showing their gifts to each other and their teachers,” recalled Pastor Alexander.
Then he noticed one boy who hadn’t rushed to open all of his presents. The only thing that caught the boy’s attention was the Bible that had been included in each box. He quickly assured Alexander that he was interested in the other gifts, but he liked to read.
“I told him that this was a book about God and asked him if he knew anything about Him,” said Alexander. The boy replied the he knew a little about God. Alexander and the young boy sat down and had a long conversation about Jesus.
“I also told him that he would learn more about Jesus if he reads this book,” said Alexander.
The pastor later learned that this young boy was only seven years old. His father is in prison, and his mother went to Moscow to work and appears to have forgotten all about her son.
• Anna spent her Christmas holidays as a counselor at a winter camp METRO Ministries organized in Moscow for orphans and street kids. Russian Ministries provided gift boxes for the campers.
Nastya and her sister recently arrived at the Internat (a state-run orphanage and boarding school). As other children went home for the New Year’s holiday, Nastya knew that her mother, a drug addict, would not be coming for her and her sister.
Withdrawn, and struggling with learning problems, Nastya slowly warmed up to the games, Bible lessons and other activities. As Anna spent time with Nastya, the young girl revealed her troubled family life.
One day Nastya told Anna, “I am very happy I am here at the camp, and not at home.” Nastya had never experienced such love and care as she had at camp.
Since the camp, the counselors have returned to the orphanage, and Anna was pleased that Nastya was reading the Bible every day and praying.
“I am sure that God called me to this camp because of Nastya,” Anna says. “I know that this camp was a great gift to her from God.”
• In the cities of Ryazan and Ryazhsk, young Next Generation Christian leaders have been planting new churches as well as reaching out to nearby orphanages and hospitals. Altogether, 140 gift boxes were given away to needy children in orphanages and at a hospital where children have cerebral palsy.
This team of Next Generation Christians has been involved with one particular orphanage in Ryazhsk for three years now. Diana, a teenager, lives at the orphanage. Her mother is an alcoholic, and Diana has never known her father.
Right before the Christmas holidays, Diana sunk into a depression and wanted to commit suicide. When the young Christians heard about Diana’s condition, they gently talked to her about the new life, acceptance and forgiveness that Christ offers. Soon Diana’s outlook changed, and she looks forward to every meeting and event the team of Christians has at the orphanage.