This article offers great encouragement for anyone who has ever despaired that simply visiting orphans is not enough:
A Curious Injunction
The response to orphans in the New American Standard Bible in James 1:27 always caught my attention because initially it was a curious injunction that sounded ironically misguided…’visiting?’-- That’s enough?
“This is pure and undefiled religion the life of God our Father, to visit widows and orphans in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”
Many of us have ‘visited’ orphans, and we have felt deeply that it is not enough. It has, to me, many times felt woefully inadequate. There are times, too, when I have felt cynically indignant and critical about do-gooders who visit to take their cute pictures and then go home with soothed consciences that they have done something important. Visiting has seemed like putting a tiny bandaid on a body covered 90% with third degree burns.
A Visiting Story
The frozen Neva River, St. Petersburg, Russia
It was the year 2000, and we were in Russia in a frigid April, just as the winter ice was melting on the Neva River and many others like it. We had gone to adopt Katya, Sasha and Vasya (then ages 10, 14, and 7), from their Soviet block orphanage in extreme disrepair. We met an unexpected heartbreak when, after being assured there were ‘only three children in this family, kind-eyed Masha introduced herself to me.
“Hello. My name is Masha -- I am Katya, Sasha and Vasya’s ‘second sister,’ (the Russian word for ‘cousin.) I would like to go home with them and with you and your husband to America.”
This was one of many occasions on which I felt a faith beyond me rise up, larger than life.
“Masha, you are a precious girl and it would make me very happy to have you as my daughter. But because you are 16 years old, it is against the law for you to be adopted by a foreign family. Because of this, I cannot adopt you. But I do want to tell you about our Father in heaven who can adopt you and who is ready to do it now. If you want to ask Him to come in to your heart and to forgive you and to show you His love and His purpose for your life, He will be with you forever as that good Father, that good parent that you are so longing for. Do you want to pray with me now and ask Jesus to come into your heart and life forever, for God to be your Father?”
Masha replied, “Yes,” without hesitation, with faint tears, more of joy than sorrow, lacing her eyes. “Then just pray after me, like this,” I explained. So I hugged her as we prayed, and she seemed somewhat content. But I was far from content. Here I was helping introduce a young 16 year old orphaned girl to her heavenly Father and then walking away with her three cousins to leave her there abandoned, with no other believers to help nourish her fledgling faith. As I was driving away with our three new kids, the tears filling my eyes were not from joy at the gift of our next three children, but rather deep sorrow and gnawing frustration at driving away to leave this sweet girl alone…all alone. With more doubt than belief I prayed, “Lord, I put your Name on the line back there and that sweet girl responded to You and NOW You are leaving her all alone in that place?! I ask that youplease send someone to help Masha grow in her faith.”
Brian Hillis with Katya, Sasha and Vasya
Several years later when I had the opportunity to visit this orphanage again, I would remember Masha, by now aged-out of the orphanage and living who knows where. Dear local believers opened their home to me for the night – an older couple who told fascinating stories of the husband’s former days of ruthless cruelty as a Soviet army officer fond of vodka, before he came to faith. Before going to sleep that Friday night, the wife said with a warm smile, “Sister Susan, tomorrow you will have to warm your own breakfast because I will leave early – I have left you fresh blinii (Russian pancakes) and caviar here in the table. Every Saturday morning I go spend with a young girl named Masha who I am helping to grow as a believer – she used to live in the same orphanage your children are from.”
Against all hope, I asked “Can you tell me if Masha’s last name is S_______?”
“Why yes, how did you know?”
And my eyes burned as I recounted over the lump in my throat, the story of the desperate, doubt-riddled prayer over this young girl several years before.
When Visiting is Enough
In Masha’s story I saw that the role I was to play in her life was simply visiting her, and offering what I did have – the gospel and prayer -- no matter how meager and inadequate it seemed at the time. It was the truth of Acts, “Paul planted, Apollos watered, and God caused the growth.” God’s design for my role in Masha’s life was simply planting. He knew at that time, even though I did not know, who He had in mind to do the watering, and that He would be the one to cause the growth.