Feature

“Value-Added” Ministry

Russian children and their families receive message of compassion

By Anonymous

In North America people’s desire to be politically correct causes them to change some English terminology every few years. Individuals who were once called “handicapped” became “disabled” and are now “challenged.”

In Russia these people are known as “invalids.” Their families keep them hidden from public view because of the social stigma of having a family member who is mentally or physically challenged. Wheelchair accessibility in this country, even in large cities, is almost unheard of. The “invalids” are treated as invalid members of society.

Volodia and Natasha Bogomolov had a daughter who was born with a disease that crippled her body. They spent all they had on treatment for her; nevertheless, she died when she was nine years old.

Because of the Bogomolovs’ love for their daughter, they have tender hearts toward the “invalids” in their hometown of Mykop, Russia. They also have a unique empathy for parents and family members of these children.

The couple, members of the Evangelical Christian Missionary Union of Russia (ECMU, an Alliance partner church), felt God calling them to minister to physically challenged children and their families. The Bogomolovs made themselves available to God, and He hasn’t stopped bringing people to their door.

Adding Value

One of the Bogomolovs’ first ministries was in the children’s ward of a local psychiatric hospital where young people can receive long- or short-term treatment. The Bogomolovs met one girl at the hospital who had been found living like a dog in a shed outside her family’s home. Some of the patients return home to their families following their care, but many are wards of the state who live in orphanages.

Because the hospital is greatly underfunded by the government, its staff struggles to provide for the children’s needs. The Bogomolovs secured funding from local businesses to help purchase additional food and clothing, and they even found donors to give a TV, VCR, curtains, clothing and toys.

Natasha and Volodia visit the children and found volunteers from the ECMU church to visit as well. Periodically they bring in special programs like music and puppet shows. As they spend time at the hospital, they are able to befriend many of the children and staff.

The Bogomolovs have also formed relationships with staff at several other underfunded hospitals and children’s homes. Everywhere they go they encounter overwhelming needs: families who are unable to buy enough food—much less, required medication—people who have experienced grief and have no one to confide in, refugees who have no friends.

True Friendship

God has provided other opportunities for the Bogomolovs to reach out. Through their relationship with the city social services department, they have met families with physically challenged children. The city often invites Natasha and Volodia to visit these families with a social worker, and then the couple tries to develop these relationships on their own.

At first this was a difficult ministry for the Bogomolovs because the families, especially the mothers, are protective of their children and couldn’t understand why Natasha and Volodia would want to befriend them. These women have mistrusted others’ motives for years and have hidden their children away from the world to protect them.

It took several years of effort before the ice was broken and Natasha was able to form a mothers’ support group. The first few meetings were especially emotionally draining, as the women poured out feelings they had kept bottled up for years.

After the second support-group meeting, where the women had shared for three hours, Natasha said, “I understand that there is a lot of pain and suffering in the hearts of these women. It brought back a lot of memories of my own daughter, and I’m afraid that these women are alone in their pain without God. We made it through those difficult years because Jesus was with us. Only in Him can we find strength and endurance. Thanks to Him, we didn’t give up.”

The mothers have begun to trust Natasha and are able to receive the love and acceptance she offers. They realize that she is one of them, and they have no reason to fear her. Although they no longer distrust her motives, they still wonder why she reaches out and keeps trying to befriend them when they’ve rebuffed her time and again. Natasha is able to share with them her faith in Christ, which compels her to reach out in love to others who are hurting and in need.

Partners for the Kingdom

God has used many people around the world to assist the Bogomolovs in meeting others’ needs. They met an American nurse who was in Russia for a short-term missions project. She helped them and later recruited a team from the United States to construct a playground for the children’s ward in the psychiatric hospital.

Natasha and Volodia also met a young couple from Alliance Theological Seminary (Nyack, N.Y.) who were in Russia doing an internship. They told the Bogomolovs about a Christian organization called Kids for the Kingdom, which now supports the ministry.

A mutual friend introduced Volodia and Natasha to me in hopes that I would be interested in working with them. This friend had no idea that I had worked with mentally challenged people in the United States and had been praying about getting involved in a ministry to people in need.

This led to the establishment of Compassion Ministries, through which people affiliated with The Alliance can share God’s love with Russians. Over several years people’s contributions to the Alliance Approved Special, “Aid to Russia,” have helped us purchase food, clothing, medicine, wheelchairs, surgical supplies, toys and even a cow for a refugee family. Donations were also used to renovate the children’s ward of a hospital located in a Muslim republic. Members of the ECMU church donated their labor to make the repairs, and the project helped give the church a good name in the community.

Last summer a C&MA church in Ohio took an offering during its vacation Bible school program and sent the money to needy children in Russia. This donation helped send physically challenged children to a Christian camp.

Many people have partnered to make physically challenged children and their families “valid” members of society. More importantly these donors are providing an opportunity for Russians to hear the gospel and become “valid” members of the Kingdom of God. One day the King will say to the Bogomolovs and their supporters, “‘I was hungry and you gave me something to eat . . . I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me . . .’”(Matt. 25:35–36).

Editor’s note: You can contribute to Compassion Ministries by making your check payable to the C&MA and designating it for the Approved Special “Aid to Russia.” Learn more about this and the other C&MA ministries in Russia at www.cmarussia.org.

Cover artwork for November 2005 November 2005

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