The April 20-21, 2012 launch conference for the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans was a huge success! The CoMission for Children at Risk and the Russian National Network for Children at Risk were privileged to partner with a number of great Russian organizations to help coordinate and host this event to encourage an adoption and orphan care culture in Russia. Plenary and workshop sessions focused on providing the knowledge, skills and resources Russian Christians need to successfully care for orphans.
Read the full report below, view photos from the conference, or read the report in Russian.
Russia Without Orphans Conference
Moving Towards the Goal: Russia Without Orphans!
On April 20-21, 2012, the first “Russia Without Orphans” conference was held in Moscow. The opening session of the conference was attended by 450 delegates from 38 regions of the Russian Federation, plus speakers and specially invited guests.
The Isaev Family
The event began with a video about the Isaevs, a family who recently received the “Pride of Ukraine” award, which they won by a large margin. The Isaevs are former staff of the “Pilgrim” center, which is headed by Pastor Gennady Mokhnenko. Despite significant challenges, they have found the strength to stand up and raise children living with HIV. Everyone at the conference was moved when Evgeny Isaev said, “We pray every day for our children’s healing. But even if they live for only two years, they will have a mom and dad for those two years.”
Dr. Leonid Roshal Opens the Conference
Following the video about the Isaev family, the Director of the Institute of Emergency Children’s Surgery and Traumatology, “Children’s Doctor of the World,” and expert of the World Health Organization, Leonid Roshal, spoke. After acknowledging the example of the Isaev family, which deeply impressed him, Dr. Roshal gave a very inspiring and emotional speech, sharing the personal story of his own family. He also highlighted the importance of young believers gathering together at the conference. “Thank you for the invitation to the Russia Without Orphans conference. I’m glad to see so many young people here because youth are the future of our country! In addition, you are believers and you have God, and this means that you are no longer orphans. That’s why it is you who will be able to reach the goal — Russia without orphans!”
A Strong Marriage – Foundation for Adoption
In addition to plenary sessions, conference participants had the opportunity to attend a variety of workshops. It was evident that participants were soaking up what conference speakers were passionately sharing.
Robert Ekh and Pyotr Dudnik presented seminars on the topic of marriage and family. They stressed that a strong marriage is the foundation for building healthy relationships between adoptive parents and children and should be the first consideration of couples contemplating adoption. Other speakers, including Tatyana Gorbacheva, Mikhail and Galina Kozitskiye, and Ilya Okhotnikov, also addressed this theme.
The Closing Session of Day One
The first day of the conference concluded with a plenary session at which Tatyana Chernyaeva, Boris Altshuler, Alexandr Torshin, Alexandr Belov and other honorable guests spoke. Music by “Credo,” a chamber orchestra, added to the special atmosphere of the evening. The ensemble performed the Russian National Anthem, as well as portions of a program, “Mother, Child, Orphan.”
There was also a moment of silence in honor of the late Bishop Vasily Ryakhovskiy, father of Sergey Ryakhovskiy, Bishop of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians. Ivan Iklyushin said that it was not a silence of sorrow, but it was a minute to pay tribute and give thanks to God for the gift of this man who lived and served with us.
Mikhail Pimenov: “We Need to Focus on Preparing Adoptive Families”
Alliance for Russia Without Orphans board member and director of the charity “Family,” Mikhail Pimenov, presented the status of orphans in Russia, based on analytical data, and also addressed current trends in the country. The main point of his report was that unfortunately Russia is moving away from the gains that were made during the first wave of domestic adoption in previous years, as children are being returned to orphanages. This is due to poor preparation of adoptive families and inadequate support for those who foster children. In conclusion, Mikhail Pimenov called for preventing this in the future through an emphasis on selection, preparation and support for adoptive and foster families.
The Love of Parents and God’s Grace Can Do Wonders!
The most emotional part of the evening came right after Mikhail Pimenov’s report when foster and adoptive families shared their personal experiences. The first of these was Pastor Matts-Ola Iskhoel, his wife Randy, and their adopted children. Originally from Sweden and living in Moscow, the Iskhoel family adopted four Russian children and gave them the love of parents. Many people sitting in the audience noticed what tender and touching relationships the family members have with one another. One of the honored guests of the evening, television personality Tatyana Kirillovna Chernyaeva, said that she liked Pastor Matts-Ola’s family, as it is an incredible example of the benefits of international adoption.
The conference organizers specially invited Maxim Mugnetsyan and his family from Minusinsk (Krasnoyarskiy region) to talk about their experience adopting children who have serious diagnoses, such as heart disease. When asked about the current health of their children, Maxim and his wife replied that all the diseases are in the past because the love of parents and God’s grace can do wonders!
Then Maxim Boreykin from Prokofiev shared that his family, like the Isaevs from Ukraine, has adopted HIV-positive children. Conference attendees stood to honor and applaud all of these families.
Cooperation with the Upper House of the Russian Parliament
The First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council, Alexandr Torshin, also participated in the conference. As he went to the stage, he placed a large, beautiful folder from the Federation Council before himself and said: “In this folder are greetings with all the necessary and important words, but let me speak for myself.” Then Alexandr Torshin shared not only his impressions of what he saw and heard at the conference, but also offered sincere words and support for the event and made a number of suggestions for addressing the problem of orphanhood in Russia.
In conclusion, Alexandr Torshin said, “The upper house of the Russian Parliament is open to legislative initiatives from the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans and is waiting for proposals for laws and amendments to be taken in the Parliament. He also urged the Alliance to actively participate in solving the problems of orphans in Russia and invited an Alliance delegation to a hearing that took place in Moscow on May 28, 2012.
At the end of the session the senior ministers of various Christian associations also shared:
Alexandr Smirnov, Chairman of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists
Sergey Ryakhovskiy, Commanding Bishop and Chairman of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians
Nikolay Zalutskiy, Deputy of the Commanding Bishop of RC CEF on the International Relations and Bishop of the North-West Federal District, who spoke on behalf of Bishop Eduard Grabovenko
Conference delegates also received greetings from the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Control Commission for the Reform and Modernization of Health Demography.
Forum on the “Development of an Adoption Movement”
On the second day of the conference there was an international forum on the development of adoption movements in Ukraine, the United States, and Russia and principles of organization and growth of the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans. The forum brought together leaders of these movements addressing the orphan crisis.
Among the special guests were:
Ruslan Maliuta, Director of the Alliance for Ukraine Without Orphans
Pyotr Dudnik, Founder of You Will Be Found
Gennady Mokhnenko, Director of the charity Pilgrim
Sergey Demidovich, Representative of You Will Be Found
Steve Weber, Director of Emmanuel
Karmen Friesen, Director of The CoMission for Children at Risk
Speakers talked about the development of the Alliance for Ukraine Without Orphans and the US-based Christian Alliance for Orphans. They shared their experience and responded to questions from conference attendees.
Board Members of the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans Discuss Plans for Development
Members of the Alliance board of directors asked conference participants to adopt some principles to help grow the Alliance in the near future. One of the suggestions was to develop support for the Alliance through personal involvement and private donations by Alliance members.
In his report on the first year of the Alliance, director Ivan Iklyushin thanked Russia Without Orphans’ partners for their great support and dedication. Ivan suggested that everyone take an active part in the Alliance by becoming a source of funding and added, “from personal experience, I know that the Lord blesses our workplace and income when we sacrifice to such a thing." Conference participants enthusiastically received this opportunity and a lot of them expressed their desire to become financial partners of the Alliance.
Meeting of Regional Coordinators
Following the forum, Ivan Iklyushin invited delegates who are ready to devote their time and strength to developing adoption movements in their regions of Russia, to attend a meeting of regional coordinators. According to Ivan, “We were expecting 15-20 people to come to this meeting of regional coordinators, but all in all, 55 delegates came! This, of course, makes us very happy! The high quality of these representatives should also be noted. All of them have experience working with orphans…are spiritually mature and of good reputation. We are grateful for the hearts and response of those who have committed to staying faithful to their decision to develop the work of the Alliance in their own regions. There are now 55 new people on our team, which significantly increases the position and opportunities of the Alliance. Now we can become closer to people in Russia’s regions and organize various events there.”
Ruslan Nadyuk and Lanny Endicott held a seminar on the topic of the therapeutic effect of a healthy church life on the well-being and spiritual-moral development of the family.
Mikhail Pimenov and Konstantin Bendas held a round table discussion on "The Faith of Adoptive Parents as a Factor in the Relationship with Guardianship Authorities," where they spoke about how Christians can work with the governmental bodies of trusteeship and guardianship. They also addressed why experts sometimes deny custody to potential adoptive or foster parents because of their faith.
One of the significant events of the conference was a meeting of pastors attended by Matts-Ola Iskhoel, Pastor of Word of Life Church (which hosted the conference), Gennady Mokhnenko, Pastor of Good Changes Church, Sergey Demidovich, Pastor of Good News Church, and Steve Weber, Director of the charity Emmanuel. Speakers talked about the importance of the role of a pastor in developing a culture of adoption within the church. "When a pastor adopts a child, it is a green light for the whole church," said Sergey Demidovich.
Galina Obrovets talked about useful and harmful methods for addressing the needs of orphans and how to most effectively serve children.
Irina Kabanova opened up the theme of "Spiritual Formation of Individual Orphans." She said that children in orphanages receive what they need physically and caregivers put effort into the development of the children’s mental life, but only one who knows God can teach true spiritual life, without which it’s impossible to have a full life. That's a huge field for Christian volunteers.
Nikolai Zalutsky along with Ruslan Nadyuk held a seminar "Counseling Support for Families: Prevention of Child Abandonment." This workshop is a continuation of the seminar "The Church as a Spiritual and Therapeutic Community for the Family," where they proposed methods of family counseling both as a separate service and within church life: the family in worship, the family in prayer, the family in overcoming problems, in conflict and reconciliation, and family-oriented fellowship around the Bible.
Lanny Endicott shared methods of self-help and self-control under stress for volunteers and staff working with children. He said that not only professionals, but also people who are simply interested in helping traumatized people, are at risk of being traumatized themselves. This type of trauma is known as secondary or compassion trauma. The seminar discussed the issue and suggested methods for its prevention and recovery afterwards. Self-care is a topic of international importance for all individuals working with traumatized people, especially with children.
John Novikov spoke about the prevention of various dependencies, which are a major cause of child abandonment. Spiritual, moral and psychological aspects of chemical dependency were addressed.
By Changing One Person’s Life, We Change the World!
In the closing session of the conference, Sergey Demidovich spoke about the importance of focusing on positive experience and courageously handling situations in which not everything goes according to plan. These children must not be rejected. Sergey drew the parallel with biological children – that parents do not give up on them when something goes wrong.
In the final message at the conference, Pastor Matts-Ola urged pastors to set examples for their congregations with regard to adopting children.
At the end of the conference, Ivan Iklyushin, Director of the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans said, “We have to translate our vision into practical activities in every region of Russia….We have to literally go west to east to each region in order to convey the idea of adoption and give people opportunities to receive training and education to do something to solve the problem of orphanhood in our country.” He spoke about a bike ride that is being organized by the Russian Alliance and World Without Orphans that will help bring awareness of the plight of orphans to regions through Russia, as well as regional conferences to be held in the near future. Ivan urged people to join in this work and many responded, expressing their desires to volunteer, attend an event, organize an event in their home town, and even directly participate in the bike ride project.
In summary, Ivan Iklyushin said, “We are absolutely satisfied with the conference results. The number of people in attendance was optimal. The quality of the conference particpants and speakers was very high. Every person who came to the conference has an amazing story that is worthy to be honored. Adoptive parents of many orphans who have been serving children for years, activists, heroes who are sacrificing of themselves and doing this work, changing the world for the better. We are proud of each person who attended this conference. And right now our aim is to get better acquainted with everyone and do something together, so that we could become closer to our goal – Russia without orphans!”
Press-center of the Alliance for Russia Without Orphans