Brick by Brick

One of our projects in Thailand was to build a wall that would demarcate the new dorms for local students.  Promise Lutheran Church in Chiang Mai is working with local people to accommodate students who cannot afford housing.The Christians in Chiang Mai have a vision for housing low-income students and allowing them to attend school, even when financial hurdles are crippling. To that end, the ATW II team was able to donate enough resources to start this project, and we were also able to participate in the building of the first wall.

As we were the first foreign team to visit this site, we experienced the fact that 37 volunteers are not always the most efficient means for accomplishing a building project.

However, the local church leaders and students were so thankful for our time that we were spending with them.

They considered our friendship a blessing, and the work that we accomplished alongside each other was a symbol of this new relationship. As we left that place for the second and final time, we thought about our time with people and how it is often more important than any wall we can build.

Trench Digging and Friendship Building

ATW II trench digging

Our time in Vietnam included working with the local commune leaders on a drainage system near the local health clinic.  In the village of Phu Tho, the local government leaders were very welcoming and excited for us to work alongside them for this project.  Students mixed cement and placed it where the trench was being built.  Other students dumped dirt into the stagnant water, slowly soaking the water up and eliminating the mosquito-filled pond.

ATW II trench digging

At first, our project seemed mundane, even self-defeating.  What happens when the drainage trench clogs?  Why are we moving this dirt by hand when a tractor could accomplish the task in five minutes?  We began to see, however, that our service project had less to do with the project and more to do with the people.  We were able to work alongside them and to show them that we cared about them.  We were able to tell them about ourselves and why we had come thousands of miles to mix cement with them.  It was an amazing time to realize that we have not come to accomplish projects, but to love the people that we meet.

Jose and the Giant

By Brock Powell, senior

[Brock had a medical emergency and left the trip in Kenya to return home for care.  Please keep him in your prayers as he recovers.  He is greatly missed by the rest of the team.]

Brock and Jose in Buenos Aires

I distantly remember weeping into my own elbow pit as a rambling Swedish woman discusses the thrills of her blog-able life. Rambling of her love for travel, as we drive away from Los Angelito Vieja, she asked me my opinions of Argentina so far. The first response for every new question was to be a guttural growl, followed by the smashing of a window as I tuck and roll out of it in a ferocious Mr. Hyde madness.

I was not in the mood for a new friendship, as mere minutes before I had just departed from one of the most important friends I have ever had the great pleasure of knowing.

It was between soggy silent sobbing I began to recall how this leather seat tantrum came about.

As usual, my mind leaps to blame my Grandparents and their advice. Grandma “Peaches” is incredibly sweet but slightly off her rocker, which is why she remains in such a high place in my heart. Every morning after a homemade breakfast of garlic eggs, garlic toast and a fruit bowl with a confusing garlic aftertaste she would hold my shoulder and share some advice: “Make a friend, and be a friend.” This garlic-soaked proverb haunted me well into adulthood.

In the evenings I would discuss my high school days over garlic pork roast, and my Papa Bruce would speak of the Lord’s hand in my daily activities. He explained many of my encounters as “divine appointments.” In current memory most of my previous experiences with these supernatural meetings were limited to purchasing of a car or finding Concordia University. Never had these two pieces of advice collided so nicely. This was until my first visit to Los Angelito Villa in Buenos Aires.

I was with a group of a few over twenty, led by Ms. Lily of L.I.F.E. Argentina. L.I.F.E. spent time in at least five of the villas in Buenos Aires, teaching and playing with at-risk youth.  Los Angelito was my second villa to experience. The first one resulted in my own near hospitalization as I was dog-piled and beaten endlessly by boys wielding an inflatable mace.

Los Angelito looked smaller, but there seemed to be just as many children. With much hesitation and little instruction on what to do—other than restrain the kids from rioting—I took to the sidewalk: chalk doodles for all.

Within minutes piggyback rides became my specialty. Some children held tightly to my shoulders, fearing for their well-being, while others pierced into my side with the gentle demeanor of Buffalo Bill halting a bronco.

This was when one of my passengers did not ask me to go faster or slower, yet enjoyed the piggyback ride for itself. He had a fine little haircut, a big smile with teeth too big for a nine-year-old, and eyes that never missed their destination. I called him the “little gentleman,” but he kept reminded me with a giggling whisper his name was Jose.

Our friendship was confirmed on the eve of my first visit when Jose took my hand and led me down a long alley of stone homes. We turned in past a whining dog and ducked under a moist clothesline. I was quickly greeted by a small woman with a dirty apron. She looked just like Jose, which was with good cause considering she was his mother. She told me of her illness that led her and her two children to live in this one room as refugees from Paraguay. Jose had no father, a sick mother, a sweet sister and a tiny roof over his head. Yet his smile seemed permanent.

The next day my visit to Los Angelito was substituted with a visit to the Buenos Aires Zoo. It was truly a special day for some children of the villas, where only the chosen could go to participate in a monthly “Zoo Day” camera competition. I agreed to help keep the villas kids out of the cages, but did so with a little bitterness in my tone. Jose was still in Los Angelito, though his older sister Sylvia would be in attendance. It just wasn’t quite the same.

The bus arrived, puttering, and spat out the eager passengers on the sidewalks. We waited at a side gate, as Ms. Lily told the American volunteers to keep silent, and, “Do not speak English while near the fence.” I stood for more instructions as I felt a tug on my khakis. “The little gentleman!” I murmured through a hushed voice.

Lily smiled and nodded, giving Jose and I permission to spend the day together, with the additional bonus of no camera competition to worry about.

Still, this situation made me nervous, for I am a terrible Spanish speaker. I roll my r’s and spit my vowels. Which for the listener this often made me seem inebriated, and in some ways I appreciate that assumption which offered at least a plausible theory for a few of my endless quirks.

Jose and I spent hours walking through dusty paths and forests of rusty cages. We would swap our languages’ names for the animals we saw, and invent our own language to describe them–animal noises.

Near the end of the day, I had taught Jose how to say “Look,” an incredibly powerful verb. Everything that interested him he would share with my eyes, and with only one word spoken I was able to see exactly what made him bare his big-teeth. To this day he is the only kid I know who was most excited about going to the zoo to see the cows.

My visits to Los Angelito became more exhilarating. Jose and I would begin the afternoons reading “Horton Hears a Who” in Spanish. Over the days, my small acting lessons to him grew longer. The games became more inventive. If he asked to get down from a piggyback ride, he’d have to survive being thrown in the air before he would be set down. The whole process caused us both to giggle.

The day of my final visit to Los Angelito still stirs a pain within me. I wanted to prepare the perfect gifts for my little gentleman. What do you give a nine-year-old who has nothing? I decided on a few books, a firm handshake and a silent promise to see him again someday, some how.

With tears streaming down flushed cheeks, I watched Jose walking into Los Angelito one last time through the rear view mirror of our puttering bus.

Admittedly it was not a place I had imagined making an acquaintance. Charity can be a way that we avoid our reality, but when one of these needy hands pushes through to your heart, the connection is unbreakable.

To make an unexpected friend while blindly standing in middle of “divine appointment” makes me realize that the Little Gentleman has been a messenger of God’s unending care. How appropriate to find his friendship in Los Angelito, the village of Angels.

Bound for the Promised Land

by Aaron Bird, sophomore

Aaron and Professor Lee wade in the Dead Sea while waiting for their ride.

It is a strange feeling to have your flip-flops nearly lifted off your feet from the buoyancy of salt water.  Already buoyant by themselves, the flip-flops are aided by the salt to throw your feet off the floor of the sea. At times like this I know that God has a sense of humor and snickers at our feeble attempts to resist this anti-gravity. Only with undivided concentration and a little luck was I spared the splashing result that comes from wading in the Dead Sea.

I found myself pushing on this salty phenomenon during a warm late morning two weeks ago on the virgin voyage of our Around-the-World Semester for Concordia. We were just finishing our fifth country and looking forward to entering the Promised Land. Literally coming out of Egypt, we wandered through the deserts of Jordan and were finally being led to Jerusalem. Of course with our Bedouin guides, we were able to avoid the unfortunate 40-year detour that the Israelites endured.

After getting a few photos with one of my instructors on the trip, Professor Adam Lee, we were hastily drawn back to the road where we were abandoned to our Dead Sea adventure. Although our driver spoke very limited English, I was able to understand his laborious arm waving while yelling, “Hurry!”

It passed through my mind that we had not entirely asked permission to climb down to the rocky shores of the Dead Sea. Feeling slightly guilty at my dismissal of our driver, I made it a personal effort to make my way to the top as fast as possible. This goal was, of course, a limited one equipped with my aging Reef flip flops, and I was quickly overtaken by my travel-stained professor.

In my guilt and my haste I was surprised with a visitor to my esophagus. Breathing in I sucked in a scrumptious and protein-filled Jordanian fly. It reminded me of the times in which I would inhale water while swimming. For the non-swimmers, it is similar to having a drink go down the “wrong tube” and not your esophagus. This time, however, I was disgusted even more by the fact that a filthy fly had just defiled my mouth. I started dry heaving, with a false hope that I could dispel this unwelcome guest. Professor Lee turned and asked if I was alright. Conveying the situation, he continued on his way with a small laugh. I was disappointed at my failure to rid myself of the fly. I do not think I have ever actually wanted to vomit before this incident. I guess that is what happens when a fly gets too overzealous.

In retrospect, I suppose I came on this trip to get out of my comfort zone. This is just another “exotic” food that I have tried. If this was someone’s choice of food, there is no doubt in my mind that they would never go hungry in the Middle East. The plague of flies from the biblical Exodus has a new meaning to me now. I am completely convinced that this plague never actually left but was spread through these unfortunate countries. I have never seen so many flies!

Finally making it to the top, I was floored at the sight in front of me. Our escort was hooked up to a large red tractor. “Are we being towed all the way to Jerusalem,” I thought to myself. When our car had overheated, I had assumed that it would be a quick fix. A little water in the radiator works wonders. I would learn later that these things are never as simple as they appear.

Complications started in Petra at our quaint Cleo-“petra” Hotel. Professor Lee, two other students and I were chosen to travel apart from the rest of the group. Having a 26 seat bus with 30 passengers typically causes adjustments to be made. This October morn I was delighted to find myself in forest green BMW trekking at 100 mph through the Jordanian desert. I knew for sure that my companions and I would reach the Israeli border before the rest of the group, stuck in the sluggish bus.

Climbing in our broken luxury sedan, we were again plagued by Moses’ flies. If anyone has stumbled upon a hornets’ nest knows the crawling feeling of insects covering your body. It took all of my self-restraint to not writhe crazily to rid myself of these flies. Slowly we made our way up the highway with our tractor friend. At a glance, this situation would seem somewhat ordinary, but the closer look shows a truly peculiar situation. Attaching our BMW to the tractor was not a cable. It was not a rope. It was a piece of fabric. I am still unsure what kind it was, but this “cable” of ours was definitely a towel or head scarf. What else could you hope for as speeding cars rush past at 90 mph?

Being towed along the Dead Sea by a tractor.

After about ten minutes our Good Samaritan dropped us off at a place to get some water to cool the engine. Quickly our driver jumped out and ran off with some bottles to fill them up. “Is he filling those with salt water?” The questions lingered a while after Professor Lee had inquired. “I hope not,” I replied.

I was desperately hoping that this trip would not end in the explosion of our beautiful BMW. We had decided to stay in the car to avoid creating any more trouble than had already become. Again we battled the ruthless flies. We all laughed as Professor Lee started what seemed like a tribal dance with his Palestinian scarf. The key to keep the flies in the air and off your body was movement. After a while, our driver came back to our rescue. Pouring the water into the radiator, we all secretly crossed our fingers in hope for fresh water. As long as we all made it to Israel, everything was going to be good.

It was time for our final act of heroism. Although the water worked to cool the engine off. The dry Jordanian desert was not going to give up without a fight. Skillfully, our driver took on the obstacle. As our temperature gauge continually rose, our driver would speed up to 120 km/h and then turn off the engine to give it a cooling rest. I wish I could have helped but my limited…non-existent knowledge of cars was a serious gap in my ability to fight off this heat.

It was only a matter of time. We again came to a stop, only thirty minutes outside of Israel. We were out of water and this thirty minute gap seemed like an eternity. Trudging out of the car to find some shade, we pulled out some food to keep us sane. Although our last act of heroism ended, the true hero came slowly around the corner. Through all of our break downs, the slug of a bus was now right behind — a savior!  With arms outstretched I welcomed my friends. It was time to rejoin. I grabbed my things and hopped onto the bus ready for another adventure.

Our Russian Sanctuary

by Mai Vu, sophmore

The sanctuary of the Russian church in Vladimir.

Emmanuel Church in Russian city of Vladimir could be mistaken for a large boarding house.  From the outside, the façade does not include stained glass windows or a large cross bearing its name.  Instead, it blends in with the other simple apartment buildings that surround it.  Sixteen identical windows cover the building’s face with a seventeenth window in the center tying it all together with six panels. The pinkish-tan paint color with a darker mauve trim reminds me of the convalescent home in Garden Grove that I used to visit and sing karaoke for the residents.  The only thing that hints at its purpose is the colorful banner on the outside proclaiming, “Jesus Is Risen!” with a little icon in the corner saying, “ЗММАНУИЛ.”  Yes, there is a sign, but in quick passing, the building does not scream Pentecostal Church.

As I pass through the iron gates and through the brown metal front door, I am greeted by two sets of stairs, giving me the choice of up or down.  One set is made out of tile, bright like the road with sun rays piercing through the trees.  The other is the worn down cement with cracks and uneven-footing like the dark road filled with dead trees and vicious animals.  Sure, it only leads to the basement, but who knows what lurks down there.  Choosing up, tile and light, I walk up the stairs, through a white metal door and into the sanctuary.

Some things about this room remain consistent.  The floor is always cold and hard like the counter at a Cold Stone Creamery.  It is speckled linoleum, the kind that can hide dirt so that it does not have to constantly be cleaned.  It does get cleaned though every week.  I found that out this morning when I wanted to have some quiet time in the main sanctuary.  The men and women that live at the church clean it on Wednesday mornings.  They push aside all of the benches and sweep and mop the floors just like they would in a normal house.

The lights of the santuary, when on, shine a bright money-saver white.  It is the kind that burns your eyes when you look up at them.  Luckily, the off-white, almost cream walls somehow change the light so that it reflects a sleepy yellow tint.

Another item that remains constant is the bench that I sit on.  It is simple and practical in design.  About six and a half feet in length, the bench is able to accommodate five people comfortably.  The backrest and frame is constructed out of a light polished wood and it is carved at the top into crests and swoops like waves.  The cushion is not fancy by any means, but it is comfortable.  Its fabric, warn down and dirty, holds indentations from the numerous bottoms that have sat there.  I am thankful for the wear and tear of the seats because the fabric is soft like a worn in sweatshirt or pair of old jeans.  When I first look at it, it is inviting and tells me to sit down.

Sitting in the bench, I now face the front of the sanctuary.  The drum kit, electric piano, and microphones still remain on the left, and the pulpit is off to the right.  The carpeted stage is a darker, off-salmon color and it, un-like the linoleum, cannot hide stains.  To my left are carved pictures of Moses and the Ten Commandments and a man knocking on a door — “Seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open unto you.”  At night, both paintings radiate because the white money-saver bulbs shine right on them and deepens the shadows and enhances the shine.  In the morning however, the paintings go unnoticed because they are eclipsed by the brilliant rays of light that shine through the two windows that sit on the same wall.

In the morning the room becomes contradictory — its purpose shifts from being a sanctuary to a classroom, to a stage, and to an escape.  The pulpit transforms into a podium where Professor Lee and Professor Norton teach on Stalin and the Cold War.  Sergei comes to chat about growing up as a child in Russia and Marina lectures about her opinion of The Gulag Archipelago. Students sit in the benches just like they would sit in class with laptops open and books strewn around, pens everywhere.  Today, Annemarie is wrapped up in her green FINNAIR blanket and I sit cross legged with my candy-corn Halloween socks.  Macho has on his green hunting cap.

How bizarre. This is a place of worship, not studying.  Hats off, shoes on because I am in church, not at home on the couch.  Every Sunday, Wednesday, and Saturday there is a church service full of believers praying out loud, some in tongues.  Loud music and singing fill up my ears, the Russian language still not presenting itself as a barrier as I sing along to “More Love, More Power.”  The love of God transcends all barricades, including language.

Yes, this is the room’s purpose, a room of worship and prayer.  Though, as I sing along it shifts once again, this time transforming into a stage.  In front of me I see Masha singing vocals for the praise band.  Bright lights shine down on her cute skirt, shirt, and heels and she dances around with the microphone raised to her lips.  Her arms are raised to the ceiling and her face is furrowed into a pained expressing almost saying, “Here I am, thank you for loving me!”

Then again, what is her motivation?  Is the front of the sanctuary a stage to her where she puts on a show, closing her eyes singing and praying because it is the thing to do or is the platform an area for Christ to do His work and use her as a vessel? I want to look at her and think that she is truly in a state of worship and is singing in complete abandon, “Here I am Lord, thank you for loving me!”  Only God knows the true desires of our hearts.

The room modifies itself once more, this time into one that is silent.  I walk in to find Aaron sitting up on the off-salmon colored carpeted platform reading his Bible.  The room is an escape for him who seeks solitude.  Aaron does not look up as he reads his Bible, instead, quickly looks to the side, jots down a note and continues reading.  It is late tonight and the white, money-saver bulbs shine just like the night before, giving the room a soft, sleepy, yellow tint.  With a final sigh, Aaron closes his eyes and sinks into prayer.

The room transforms for the last time, back into a sanctuary.  I sit staring at the wooden cross on the opposite wall with the soft worn in bench under my thighs and bright, white, money-saver lights glowing above me.

Russian and Me

by Annmarie Utech, senior

Annmarie is torn between two loves.

Russian and I broke up yesterday. It was not pretty. He found out about Arabic.
We had met at the airport, as do most cliché and typical characters of the love stories. I had just made it through customs. I was jetlagged. I was tired, and in no way did I think that any spark would occur as I groggily made my way to the luggage carousel. But there he was, looking all cool and suave and I just had to stop and stare. He looked a bit dangerous – I always fall for those types.

He said his name was Russian. We started to talk and we realized that we had lots of things in common. We both loved sentences that followed the subject, verb, object pattern and we talked into the night of all the cognates we had in common like bus, television, internet, rose and coffee. He would make me laugh when instead of using “p’s” he would use “r’s” and instead of “c’s” he liked to throw around “s’s.”

I began to think, “Maybe this is the one. Maybe I would want to do this forever.” So I began to spend more and more of my free time with him. I poured myself into our relationship. I wanted to find out as much about him as I could. But when you do that, sometimes you find things that you don’t want to find… the skeletons in the closet. And Russian had a lot.

Russian really liked the hard and soft “b.” Of course I knew. I had seen them from the very beginning but I was hoping that it was nothing, that it was just a phase that would pass. And then there were the symbols. At first I thought that it was an interesting quirk about him, something that he was trying to do to impress me, so I let it slide. Then he started to use them all the time, pushing them upon me that at times I would get so overwhelmed and just throw my hands up in frustration. But yet he would not relent. I was bombarded to the point where I just withdrew.

As in any relationship when frustration builds and tempers are tried, we fought. He lashed out that I had stopped committing to our relationship that I was only spending minimal time with him. I was angry that he was constantly pushing me, telling me what to do and how to say things. In fact, it got so bad that if it was possible, I would find someone else to be the middle man, the messenger. That way I didn’t have to talk to Russian for days. It was horrible, a time filled of doubt, worry, and constant headaches, seeing Cyrillic letter as I dreamed, haunting me.

I had to leave and then the perfect opportunity came— an adventure to Turkey. Without telling Russian or even saying goodbye, I left. This is not my proudest moment and there still is a bit of guilt that lingers as I lie in bed at night, but I had to leave. I met this new friend named Arabic who showed me around. He looked, sounded, and acted in a way that was so unfamiliar that it was like a breath of fresh air, a new start. We hung out a bit, nothing too serious, deciding that it would be best to be friends.

But Russian followed me to Turkey.

He burst in on class one day, still having things to say to me. I thought we were over, I thought we were through. Apparently he didn’t. He clung to my side throwing more complex symbols at me and openly flaunting his friendship with hard and soft “b.” I was miserable. The first few exciting days of Turkey and my new friendship with Arabic were thrown aside. I pleaded for Russian to leave me alone, but he refused.

And then Arabic showed up, like a knight in the tales of Scheherazade. He just walked in the door calm and confident. He looked at me and smiled as if to say, “Do not worry, I will take care of this for you.” He went right up to Russian and calmly said, “Please leave.” They stared each other down, the room grew tense, my heart stopped beating. Russian looked from me to Arabic and then from Arabic to me and he knew, putting two and two together. So throwing one last symbol at me, he stalked out of the room, slamming the door shut on his way out.

And that’s when I knew that Arabic and I were going to be more than friends.

Around and Around: Vladimir’s Baby Orphanage

by Ellie Hanson, sophomore

Mai, Ellie and Catherine with some of the baby orphans.

Strong roots of small trees growing along a chain link fence cling tightly to the dirt as I attempt to dig them up. Each skinny tree, still a vibrant green although the weather recently faded to fall, stands about four or five feet above the soft coffee-colored soil, perfect for growth. The Lord provides everything the tree needs…the dirt, water and sunshine. These young healthy trees remind me that this orphanage provides a place of provision for God’s precious young children — “the least of these” (Matthew 25:45). I pray the orphanage workers and volunteers share the love of Jesus with the vibrant young children, so that each may grow like a vibrant young tree taking root in the rich soil of Jesus Christ.

Vladimir’s biggest baby orphanage rescues many children, newborn to three years old, from deceased parents, neglect and unwanted pregnancies. Russia’s key orphaning factor is alcohol. It takes over 200 people working at the orphanage to replace the job of two parents, yet it is impossible for the workers to fully complete that father and mother role for each of the 94 babies living at the home. Many infants, dropped off just after birth, have diseases such as spina bifida, down syndrome, and hydrocephalus. According to Paul Lossau, co-founder of Mercy Ministries, many of these young lives do not make it past the age of three, and those who do begin the life of moving around and around from one orphanage or foster home to the next.

Thorns on a rose bush, once full of beautiful buds, penetrate my gloves as I restrain the untamed branches from engulfing my gardening mission below. I proceed to struggle digging up the trees when dirt gets in my shoes and eventually makes its way between my sockless toes. I try to wriggle my toes to remove whatever uncomfortable particles I can as another shovel full of dirt sends more dust my way, but instead give up and continue with the task before me. The broken-in shovel from Mercy Ministries helps, but it still takes a lot of work to pull each root-ball out of the ground. As time passes, nannies begin to walk by with a few children between the ages of two and three. Each child, bundled in warm cloths, waddles along the cement driveway holding the hand of the child next to him. Mismatched brightly colored hats, scarves and puffy coats keep each child warm, but it almost gives them the look of Ralphie from A Christmas Story, who could barely put down his arms due to the extensive layers of clothing.

Groups of nannies and children pass by again and again. I stop shoveling to join them and I realize they just walk around and around the orphanage. Sometimes they stop to enjoy the primary-colored merry-go-round, swings, or to play house. Although the bright paint shines vividly, the grass slowly turns into mud at the center of the well-worn paths and a mixture of dry sand and dirt overflows out of the cracks in the wood floor of the playhouse and cakes itself on the plastic toys. It reminds me of the preschool where I work at home, but then scares me when I realize how far from morning preschool this really is.

Nannies continue to walk around and around to let the toddlers exercise, following them almost anywhere other than outside the iron gate we, the group from Concordia, walked through earlier as we entered the orphanage. Maksim, a young boy probably around twenty-eight months with a mild case down syndrome, now becomes my tour guide. He notices the iron gate too and sees that it serves as a barrier between him and the outside world. I hold the bundled child closely in my arms as he points to the metal bars keeping him inside the orphanage property. He says to me, “Я хочу выйти” which translated means, “I want out.” That is a pretty profound statement for a two-year-old.

Paul helped with translation that time, but I find that the language barrier at the orphanage is not like the locked iron gate. I heard the screeching metal of the gate as the barrier opened for us to go inside, but there is no screeching of metal in seeing people from Concordia love and interact with their new toddler friends. A baby is a baby. It seems as though almost every action toward a baby proves universal. Holding, swinging, bouncing, smiling and our higher pitched voices seem to transcend cultures and make it easy to communicate. Besides the fact that parenthood remains unknown for the vast majority of us, the universality of the babies at the orphanage gives it a natural feeling. I find a calm feeling of normality in loving Maksim and the other children even as I ponder the fact I am in Vladimir, Russia.

The nanny I am walking with gestures for Maksim, three other two-year-olds, Mai Vu and me to follow her inside. A sweet stench of baby powder, diapers, mashed-up cooked food, lots of bodies and stale air instantly fills my first breath once inside. Wooden lockers and a mural cover the plain walls. Inside the mud room I help unbundle Sasha, taking off his turquoise hat and unbuttoning his jacket. We put “indoor” shoes on each child and then the nanny tells Mai and me it is time to go away.

Paul tells me I am invited to tea and cookies. Mai and I walk down the long hallways looking for the open door, but instead we find thirteen children in the playroom. Russian dolls and other various Russian toys sit in a gigantic doll house, a Persian rug covers the floor, a miniature playhouse with a slide sits in the corner, and a kitchenette awaits a child’s presence over by the window. Each of the thirteen toddlers find someone from Concordia to befriend as new people enter the room. Smiles from both the two-year-olds and the twenty-year-olds add joyful character to the room. The moment lasts ever so briefly as teatime calls.

With the iron gate ahead of me, I notice the landscape at the orphanage looks a little nicer from the yard work. A satisfied feeling, both from the tea and the time with the babies, makes me want to come back to observe and learn again. I look back at the building to see the balcony and eight bibs hanging on a clothes line to dry. The thirteen children, all lined up against the glass look out the upstairs window. These children will continue to go around and around, along the pathway encircling their orphanage and eventually from one orphanage or foster home to the next. I will continue to pray that the children looking out the window will find and take root in Jesus and His glorious love, trusting that His love always stays in their hearts and will never wander around and around.