From Ministry in the Gulags to Taking in the “Defective”: the ministry of Evangelical Grace Church in Ryazan, Russia

Of the 26,000 who age out of Russia’s orphanages annually:
10% (2,600) will commit suicide
40% (10,400) become alcoholics or drug addicts
40% (10,400) commit crimes
10% (2,600) adapt to life

— within the first years after graduation
*the Prosecutor General’s Office

As of 2010, according to Elena Nikolaevna of the Russian Public Chamber’s Commission on Social Issues and Demographic Policy (quoted in Institute of Modern Russia, by Olga Khvostunova), 115 to 120 thousand new orphans appear annually. She finds the existing system of guardianship to be more concerned in managing money, rather than the fates of children. In 2006 (statistics are hard to come by, here) the estimated orphanage population was two million. Four million were on the streets.

According to a UNICEF study from the same year, a number of homeless children in developing countries will be roped into prostitution as young as the age of 5; by 11, many will be addicted to drugs and involved in crime. A 1998 Human Rights Watch report, titled “Abandoned to the State: Cruelty and Neglect in Russian Orphanages” states that “from the moment Russian children are left in state institutions, they become victims of long-held prejudices that all abandoned children are in some way defective.” Many are labeled mentally retarded by the age of four, and there are virtually no channels through which to reverse this diagnosis. Discipline in orphanages often takes the form of “punishment-by-proxy, through which older or stronger children are delegated to maintain order. The resulting disciplinary pattern alarmingly resembles that found in the Russian military and prisons, both state institutions notorious for their elaborate systems of violence and debasement. Whether for punishment or for simple sadism, this practice amounts to a training module in physical and mental violence.”

Creating a home for graduates of this system, as Pastor Anatoly Redin of Evangelical Grace Church, in Ryazan, Russia, did, is not a typical or easy response. Fittingly, the path that ultimately led to this ministry began in the gulags of Chukotka.

This interview of Anatoly was filmed in the dining room of the transition home (a place where a lot of free food is served, and where morning and evening prayer and worship are held. The music in the background is a recording of him leading the morning “malitva”).

 I was born after my parents became Christian. Those times were difficult; it was a time of atheism, and because of persecution, it was difficult for those who wanted their children to know God. When I was a teenager, my father became a pastor. This did not last long, because he served with all his heart and this drew attention. He was imprisoned for five years, in Chukotka, not far from Alaska. 
 These times of suffering did not break him, though — he came back stronger in his love to God, in his faith, and in his ministry. There were over a million people in these Russian prisons, and when our pastors were there, they would teach. They were like “salt”, as they should be, and helped people to understand the truth.
But when the Christians were freed, it was like there was a vacuum in these prisons — an empty place that had lost the presence of Christians. 
 Some years later, the prison governments asked us to visit the prisons again, to help people understand the truth, and to find the way to God.When I became a pastor, I was not imprisoned. But I visited prisons and told people the gospel there. God blessed this ministry — many, many prisoners became Christians, and when they became free they brought their families to Christ and served God. This ministry is very necessary in our country. 
 Through our ministry in prisons, we understood that these women and men who were imprisoned had kids, and these kids were in orphanages. God helped us to take care not only of the parents, but the kids as well. And when the prisoners became free, they would recreate their families, and live with their kids again. But God showed us that to continue our ministry in orphanages, we could not continue both ministries — our ministries took much time, and we needed more time, strength, and people to continue doing both. I understood that yes, we must serve God and serve people everywhere; so people who are ill, people who stay in prison. But our ministry to kids is very necessary and more important than others. 
The Lord tells in his Bible that He is the father of orphans. 
 We visit six orphanages in the region. About four hundred kids stay in these orphanages. The three farthest from our city we only visit on holidays.Two orphanages that are not so far, we visit twice a month, and the orphanage which is near our city we visit twice a week.
 And praise God that He focused us on this ministry — we visit the orphanages and tell kids about God, about the gospel, and that there are people who love them. And that if they want, we can help them to organize their future life.
Our ministry had been to visit kids to tell them the gospel, give them sweets, take them on weekends and holidays, and no more. But some years later, the kids who were very interested in us and in Christianity and the Bible, graduated the orphanage. We started hearing that some of them were not very successful- that they were becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol. And we started to ask the question, “How can we help such people, in reality?” And God led us to go this way, and to create this transition home. We see God’s hand in this job. We’ve worked here for fifteen years. When we compare the lives of orphans who have been through our transition home, and those who haven’t, it is very different. Almost ninety percent of orphans who have come and gone from this transition home have been able to find a good path in life; a job, a good family. Half of them asked the Lord into their hearts. All of them heard about God, and about salvation. During these years this ministry, we saw how these kids changed; though they did not feel a mother’s love or a father’s strength, when they become Christians they would become very very good people and real Christians.
Dinner in the woods on a rafting trip for the kids and church

Of the kids who have lived at the home, (now over seventy),

85% study or have finished their studies
80% have some sort of specialty
43% have a specialty or some consistent job
30% have started a family 
68% attend a church

The home’s schedule includes morning and evening malitva (prayers), and chores (gardening, cleaning, maintenance, and cooking). They attend church, (a one minute walk away), and help out there as well. Anatoly and the house parents help them to get new papers (many don’t have these), to find work, to apply for the residences promised them by the government, and encourage them in their education. Most stay from two to four years. Here, the “defectives” of Russia can learn the skills necessary for independence, to ask for help, and to pray.

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