By Claire McGough
"How did you know that I liked cats?" That was one of the first questions Anastasia asked my husband, Chris, and I when we first met her last week. It was such a delight to realize that we already shared a connection, even though we had been living in vastly different worlds -- she in an orphanage in St. Petersburg, Russia and we as middle class Texans.
As we enjoy our three weeks together in Buckner International's Angels from Abroad program, we are discovering many other connections and learning some valuable lessons as well. After 12 years of marriage with no children in our household, it is eye-opening and joyful to discover life from the perspective of an 11-year-old and very fulfilling to share with her the experience of living in an American family.
Through Angels from Abroad, our family has been able to show Anastasia a world she probably only dreamed existed: one with trips to the hair salon, circus, rodeo, water park and church--even the aisles of Hobby Lobby and Home Depot are like a whole different universe from her point of view.
Although she has never before experienced the routine of family life before, I am pleasantly surprised at how helpful and cooperative she is when the time for household chores rolls around. Her intelligence and independence shines through the language barriers and each day a little bit more of her personality unfolds.
When Anastasia returns to Russia after this whirlwind tour of American living, I hope she doesn't simply return with the idea that, in America, they buy gifts for you all the time. I want her to hold in her heart the memory of what it is like to live in a family and to take comfort in knowing that households with a mom and dad who care about you do exist.
Chris and I first had our eyes opened to the plight of orphans when we began participating in mission trips to Mongolia, a country that does not have an international adoption program. After much research and prayer, we felt led to learn more about adoption from Russia and Buckner's Angels from Abroad program, which provides older children living in orphanages the chance to learn about American culture, share their Russian culture and experience living in a family. The Angels program also helps raise awareness about the need for adopting older children.
We have learned that older children in Russian orphanages face a bleak future if they are not adopted. Children are forced to leave the orphanage system at age 17 and many fall prey to alcohol, drugs, prostitution and crime. It is estimated that nearly 10 percent commit suicide within the first three years. There are more than 750,000 estimated orphans in Russia and about 75-80 percent of those available for adoption are 5 years old or older.
My prayer for Anastasia, and the thousands of beautiful children just like her who are waiting on a place to call "home," would be that the day comes when she will be out of the orphanage receiving all of the nurturing, education and opportunities every child deserves.
If you are interested in learning more about hosting-to-adopt opportunities through Buckner's Angels from Abroad program, call 214-319-3426.
This story first appeared on Dallas Morning's News' Moms Blog at momsblog.dallasnews.com.
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