Board member Larry Heller reports:
I met Sergey at summer camp near Vyborg, Russia in 1999 when he was 11 years old (yes, he looks more like a 7 year old). Some years later, I was sharing some photos on my computer with his orphanage director.
When we came to this photo, she started sobbing. Lydia knew Sergey was a child at risk and she had carried a burden for him to escape the bleak existence that awaited most boys who grew up in Russia without parents.
At the time, Sergey had already been jailed for stealing food from a street vendor’s cart. She was sure he was lost. Indeed, Sergey was in and out of prison for more than a decade.
In 2018, he was released from prison and we were reconnected through social media. We agreed to meet, the next time I visited St. Petersburg. Our meeting was at the hospital where he was recovering from tuberculosis. He said he had another several months of treatment before he would be discharged. Then, the real challenges of life would begin (finding a place to live, holding a job, feeding himself and staying clean and sober). I can honestly say, I have never been with such a broken person as Sergey on that day.
I learned a little more of Sergey’s story. He had become sick while in prison. So sick, he became emaciated and too weak to get himself to the toilet. So sick, the prison administrators shortened his sentence and released him early to the hospital, so they wouldn’t have to process him as a deceased inmate.
At our next meeting, Sergey was looking better, more healthy, more full of life.
I gave him a book, called Castaway Kid: One Man’s Search for Hope and Home (“Abandoned Child” in the Russian language version). The author, Rob B. Mitchell tells the story of his journey through the American foster care system and coming to faith. He had his book translated into Russian, and offered me and others as many free copies as we wanted, asking that they be given to Russian-speaking orphans and orphan caregivers. Sergey gratefully received a copy of the book from me.
Though Sergey was given The Castaway Kid book a while back, unfortunately he lost it. Eventually, he asked me if I could get him another copy and we did.
Then just last February, Sergey wrote this to me….
Today is a church holiday, Forgiveness Sunday, and tomorrow Great Lent, according to the Orthodox calendar begins.
The Lord has entered my heart. I learned to hear Him.
Everything started anew and changed dramatically for me on 12/28/2019 when I read the book you gave me as a gift, Castaway Kid. I read the book in one gulp. In the process of reading, I experienced a huge amount of unprecedented power of previously experienced emotions.
You pushed me Larry! I am grateful to God for introducing me to you. For everything, I am grateful to Him.
I am grateful to you that you are and give us tremendous examples. Thank you Larry. And again, I’m sorry 🙂 (Since we have this holiday of forgiveness.)
And all the angels in Heaven rejoiced!