My Journey by Rae Hussey – Chapter 5

Communist countries are not usually places of trust. Over many decades, communists have been trained to report those who are thought to be doing wrong. Under Stalin, children were encouraged to, and rewarded for, reporting their parents for anti-communist activities. Neighbours were rewarded for reporting neighbours for anti-communist activities. Many thousands of people found themselves transported to gulags in Siberia for activities that were figments of someone else’s imagination. Or worse – complete fabrications.

Belarusian children

Because it was illegal for us to share the gospel with children under fifteen, we were very careful in our planning for the camp. We knew we would need to have the program and activities all sorted before approaching the director. We included craft, sport, indoor board games, team competitions and a morals component in the proposed program. The last was to be Bible-based, and we felt we needed to be completely honest about that.

We realised it was also illegal for the director to allow us to share the gospel. Her job would be in jeopardy if local authorities were made aware of the nature of our sharing. This meant that any one of the staff of the orphanage could report us, and cause trouble for us, but more importantly, for the director. We prayed, and had many others supporting us in prayer as we planned our visit to make the request.

Allow me to digress. Once when we visited the orphanage, staff members were sorting a load of clothing that had arrived from a European country. Olga, the director, was part of the team working, and she was furious. Furious about a gift? Yes, furious. She held up some of the clothes for us to see, and what we saw looked like rags. There is a school of thought that says, “Any clothing is better than no clothing.” “Any food is better than no food.” I am still not totally sure I agree with that train of thought. Olga’s concern was how the children would be made to feel if they were given clothing that looked like rags. “Our children are more valuable than this gift infers,” was her thought. I agree. In the eyes of the Lord we are all equal, and I believe we all deserve the same treatment. If we would not dress our own children in those clothes, or feed our own children that food, then we shouldn’t give it to others is my belief. The clothing the ladies from Australia sent to us was always immaculate. A lot of it was new, but even the second-hand clothing looked new. It was clean and in good repair. Sometimes things were wrinkled during travel, but we ironed even that before we took it to the orphanage. Did it matter? Yes, I believe it did. Remember Jesus’ words, “When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me.” Children were very happy to wear the Australian gifts, and the staff was impressed that we would provide gifts good enough for our own children to wear. There was a side benefit. Our gifts built trust, and a realisation that we did care for the orphans. In fact, we loved them.

We made a special appointment to talk with the director about our proposed camp. We shared the program in detail, and answered many, many questions. At her request, we repeated the presentation for the deputy directors. Everyone was impressed. We were taking a step of faith. We really didn’t have the finances to provide all we were offering, and weren’t yet sure we could find enough Belarusians to help us for a week, but we did believe the plan was from the Lord.

Rae & children

We left with permission to run the camp. Many children go to families or friends for school holidays. Strange, but true. We did not expect all of the children to be at the camp, but were preparing for around forty. We shared our plans with a few Belarusian friends, and they shared with their friends. Very quickly we had a great team of local Christians to help us, and a team of Australians prepared to give their Christmas holidays, and their own finances, to travel to Belarus to work in an orphanage.

Over the next couple of months we met regularly with the Belarusian team, preparing every aspect of the camp. We spent time with volunteers, preparing craft activities, making teaching resources, writing programs including drama presentations and the morals program and shopping for games and sporting equipment, art supplies and prizes.

Eventually the Aussie team arrived. We had hired vans to get ourselves plus all of the equipment to the orphanage and on Boxing Day, we loaded up and took off. Travel was slow and dangerous because of the ice and snow on the country roads, but finally we arrived at the front door of the orphanage. Excited children and teenagers greeted us loudly, and willingly unloaded the vans for us. Staff members helped us to prepare rooms and set up for the different activities. All was ready for the big day tomorrow.

The team used two dormitories in an empty wing of the orphanage as a base. Our beds were very narrow, wire based and extremely uncomfortable. Our bathrooms were cold and uninviting. No matter where we went in that large, concrete monolith, we froze. But we were excited. This was a miracle of the Lord’s doing, and it was marvellous in our eyes. From very early on the first morning, a group of children called us from the end of our corridor. They weren’t allowed to enter our wing, but they could certainly stand at the entrance and call, and that they did – morning, noon and night. They were so excited to have visitors, and an all-consuming program to enjoy and we were equally thrilled to be there with them.

Orphanage Holiday Program

Orphanage Holiday Program

During the week of camp the team built relationships with the orphans, some of which last to this day. We were able to share the good news of Jesus, and some children made decisions to follow Him. Others were curious, and yet others were doubtful. That’s okay in my eyes. What I wanted to do was offer a choice. It seems to me that the most important thing we can do is share the good news. We cannot make people accept it. We cannot force people to follow it. We can only share. The Lord is responsible for drawing people to Himself and we knew He had done that in the lives of several of these children. They are adults now, and still following the Lord.

The staff watched us suspiciously. Their thoughts were usually, “What are those people getting out of this? Why do the foreigners come across the world to be here?”  There is very little opportunity to share with adults, but some visited our activities and listened attentively.  They were often intrigued with the craft activities, and sometimes wanted to join the groups. We didn’t allow that, as the adults then took over, and the children were ignored. We came up with a plan. After the holidays, some of us would visit the orphanage on a regular basis to conduct the same activities for the staff. They were very pleased, and turned up in good numbers each time we ran an after-school activity in the following months.

There’s often a conundrum in working with children in orphanages. Foreign aid arrives at times, but it is always for the orphans only. Staff members frequently have children of their own, usually struggling and under privileged. Wages are low, and especially in country towns, there is little opportunity for adults to better themselves. So, adults often look at orphans through jealous eyes. They are tempted to steal from orphans, and from the orphanage itself, to provide extra for their own children. Our philosophy was always to share with the staff as well and the orphans, so we made efforts to learn about their families, and to take little gifts for them.

At the end of our week, we had delivered the program we had promised. Our finances had stretched miraculously to meet every need. We had more than enough team members to reach into the lives of children, teens and adults, and to share “Life” with them. We had reached out in love, and had been warmly accepted by all involved in the camp. The door was open to us for future activities, and we knew it had been a work of the Lord.

Orphanage directors are often called to Minsk, the capital, for meetings where they share news with each other. Our ‘fame’ spread, and very soon we were welcome in almost any orphanage we approached. We found that doors opened, and we were allowed to share with children, because of our reputation in one country town.

I tried to remember, and looked back through diaries, to find the number of orphanages where we eventually had input.  According to my poor memory, we visited, or were instrumental in others visiting, at least twenty establishments. This was the result of a joint effort between Belarusian and Australian friends, who supported us in so many ways. I am so grateful for those who were part of our work, whether they lived in Belarus or Australia. No one is able to work alone, especially when overseas, and I was always very conscious of the team standing behind me. They have generously given to the lives of others. Eternity will show the results.