Yesterday I went to a monthly prayer/news meeting at the non-profit Russian charity where I’m an official “volunteer” (meaning they give me a legal covering and support for what I do). Anyway, there is always a lot going on and most of the workers don’t actually work in the office; they serve in various places in the city and just come to the monthly meetings. So it is good to catch up. Here are some of the things people are doing (Russian believers as well as foreign missionaries): teaching people how to better care for handicapped children, leading seminars on HIV/AIDS, distributing Christian literature, delivering humanitarian aid, etc.
Afterwards we were talking about the current situation and general attitude toward foreigners, and what kind of needs exist. Even the orphanages that are “open” often seem to have a wall up, figuratively speaking. You’re welcome to spend time with the children’s, but good luck trying to change anyone’s way of thinking. When you can understand Russian, you notice these things more. Of course God is bigger than these obstacles and of course he can soften the hardest director’s heart. But is it actually effective for foreigners and other volunteers to continually pour their effort into ground that isn’t necessarily fertile? Or if there was a time when this was effective, has that time ended?
Then there is the question of how to prioritize the needs. To be more specific, there are ways of meeting an immediate need, such as humanitarian aid, and there are more carefully thought-out solutions that both treat and prevent a problem. Russia needs a well thought-out plan in order to tackle problems like orphanhood, AIDS, affordable housing, etc. And it could take several years of research to find a solution. But in the meantime, there are those who won’t live to see a solution reached. How do you help them?
We might look at Christ’s example. Though he performed miracles and touched the multitudes, he also was observed spending his time with individuals. But his witness, and willingness to point people to the Father, changed society.
The Epistles contain examples of Christians who were not only faithful followers, but were educated about the problems and controversies in the surrounding society, and were able to address these issues.
I don’t think that we can say which is more important, serving individuals or seeking to make a difference for society as a whole. I don’t want to say that feeding the homeless is ineffective. A hot meal is an act of kindness that could turn a life around, yet how likely is that? What about getting the homeless off the street and giving them a home and a job?
In Russia there are issues like: Do you help the younger orphans, who might still have a chance of overcoming the odds and leading a normal adult life? Or do you help the older ones who don’t know how to live on their own and are at risk for abandoning their own future children to orphanages? Do you change the orphanages to help them better serve children, or do you work to prevent orphanhood in the first place?
It’s hard to know where to start…but what we can do is pay attention to our individual callings. Some older missionaries encouraged me with the reminder that our primary assignment each day is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” It’s important to have compassion and to be knowledgeable about the needs in the society around you. But it’s also important to give these observations to the Lord, and to ask that He who is all-powerful and all-knowing might grant the tools and the wisdom to be His instrument.
At this stage in my life I’m serving immediate/practical needs by visiting orphans and teaching, and at the same time working on research for helping Russian families become involved with adoption and foster care. This second aim will have amazing results someday, but it is a lot more complicated and going very slowly. It’s possible that God will call me to do one or the other full-time, or do something else entirely. But for now these are my priorities.
If this post sounds awkward it’s because I’ve been communicating in Russian all day and am having a hard time switching back. :) I tried to proofread…