By Reb Wayne
Imagine getting on a plane in Dallas/Fort Worth headed to Frankfurt, Germany to meet 20 individuals you've never met and never laid eyes on, to spend 10 days– and I mean all day – in 25 degree weather in a country whose language you do not know and whose culture cannot be more different. Welcome to Russia.
It is a curious thing that one makes a journey halfway around the world to do humanitarian work and share Christian faith, charity, compassion and sometimes just the act of simple human kindness to a world and a people that have seen far too little of it because of war, famines or governments.
After you survive your 12 hour flight, here's good tip: know your airport signs and keep your senses about you, otherwise you'll take a wrong turn and end up in the wrong airport security line and almost miss your flight to St. Petersburg. Fortunately, those more familiar with international travel pushed me to the front of the line to get to my gate on time. And then, when you arrive in St. Petersburg, you're greeted by 18 strangers saying "Buckner, Buckner?" and you cannot imagine what you have gotten yourself into.
It doesn't seem like the most logical way for a group to travel. But then it dawns on you that it was each individual Christian’s beliefs that led them to make this journey, pay their way and interrupt their lives to help others – all for the seemingly simple act of handing out shoes to children. That's pretty heady stuff.
What you quickly learn is that the ‘in-country’ staff Buckner has assembled knows their stuff. They’ve learned to adapt, adjust and be innovative. They probably do back flips just to keep the train running on time and to get shoes on the feet of kids who might only see a new pair of shoes twice a year.
The language barrier is tough. The days are long and cold –missionary work in a Russian winter isn't for wimps. But you spend quality time on a bus with strangers who little by little become people you care about.
Then you meet the children and that’s when you realize why you are there and you understand your purpose. It is not an easy 10 days. You meet 3 and 4 year olds desperate for attention and physical contact; 7 and 8 year old boys whose eyes light up at the appearance of a soccer ball. There are the 11 and 12 year olds who show so much talent and promise it amazes you, and then cynical teenagers who would challenge any Christian but need your compassion and concern as much as any.
If you are fortunate, you will arrive at a place like Volkov, a rural area about 100 miles outside of St. Petersburg. And as you deliver your Christian humanitarian aid, pass out winter boots, give out toys and make new friends, you learn you are the first group of strangers to visit them in a year. And the time you have there suddenly seems terribly, terribly short.
My 10 days in Russia went by in the blink of an eye. And the 20 or so strangers I met seem more like family. I carry those people with me everywhere, as we have experienced something that cannot be described.
If a photo is worth a thousand words, perhaps the picture above sums up my journey best. It’s a picture of two young boys just about to enter their teens, parentless, who will soon enter adulthood in a challenging time and a challenging country. They are the world's future and they stand there waiting for our help, our time and our concern.
Buckner led me to Russia. It will likely lead me there again. Perhaps Buckner will lead you there or someplace where the simple act of putting a new pair of shoes on a child can change a life. It may be your mission to discover that for yourself.
Have you been on a Buckner mission trip? Volunteered with one of our ministries? Are you an adoptive or foster family? We want to hear from you!
Buckner is now accepting story submissions for Buckner eNews Now and the Buckner Web site from people who have participated on mission trips or local volunteering.
Send your story in a Microsoft Word document to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, city and state in the subject line along with the title of your submissions. Stories should be no longer than 1200 words. (ex. Your Perspective – John Doe, Houston, TX)
Send any photos as jpegs. We can accept anything up to 10 MB in one email.
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