I'm not sure how, but somehow I managed to fit a 4-day conference into the past week along with substitute teaching, regular teaching, and church activities. It makes me wonder how I could have thought my normal life was busy...
I wanted to just share some impressions of the conference. The theme was on teaching lifeskills to teenage orphans and graduates. Two ladies came from a church in Ukraine to lead the seminars. One of them was originally from Mexico. She brought some interesting cultural elements to the atmosphere. :)
The conference initially left me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, here we were talking about all the familiar issues: how children end up in the orphanage, how they suffer developmentally, what all the consequences are. I didn't need a conference to remind me of that. But at the same time, there was a sense of everyone speaking the same language. Anyone can visit an orphanage a few times and make some generalizations about life there. But everyone at the conference had exptensive experience and had made more specific observations that we could all relate to.
I was completely humbled by our seminar leaders' wisdom and insight. They keep these conferences small on purpose so that the atmosphere will be more personal. They said at the very beginning that the materials which they had authored and brought to share with us are not a "program"; they are simply tools to use in our relationships with youth. I'm still not sure how/if I will use the textbooks I received, but I do know that my heart was touched.
Here are a few nuggets we talked about:
-Not opening wounds if you aren't prepared to be involved in the healing process. For example, if you're going to initiate a conversation about the child's past, you had better be ready to be a good listener and also to discuss whatever issues come up. And you need to be ready to protect the child's trust.
-How discipline relates to the cycle of testing that the children will put you through. If you don't reward good behavior, the child may resort to bad behavior. If you don't correct bad behavior, you also miss a chance to give a child guidance and let him know that you care.
-Being patient when a child hurts you and realizing that it is coming out of his past and not related to you personally.
-Being careful (women) about how you dress/act around teenage boys in the orphanages. Modest clothing and all that. Simple advice, but a female volunteer in their ministry had been raped, so it isn't something to take lightly. I'd already made various observations for myself, but I was quite grateful to our guests for sharing so explicitly. I have never encountered that level of detail at a conference before.
At one point we began to watch a video as part of one of the lessons. We had already seen excerpts of various videos, so we were never really sure what we were going to see. This one turned out to be about adoption. There were adults sharing about how specific children had touched their hearts. I felt myself getting teary, even towards the end after I realized that I had seen that particular excerpt before!
Then I looked around the room and saw all the shoulders shaking, and the hands reaching for tissues. It was as though our emotions had been put aside while we talked about practical matters, and now the crux of the matter was revealed. A young man sitting near me had been joking around just a few minutes beforehand, and now tears were streaming down his face.
I think that adoption stories make almost anyone cry with their poignancy. But there was a different feeling in the room, because you knew that for each child featured, each person in the room had loved at least a dozen similar to him.
By the end of the conference, I had spent some time with other Christians who work in orphanages in St. Petersburg. Some I knew already; others were new acquaintances. We all had a lot of the same concerns. And there was no sense of competition. Competition is when I come to the orphanage and they say "You're our 3rd English tutor today." But when it comes to loving children, I don't think there could ever be redundancy.
Since we received a contact list, I hope that there will be more cooperation between everyone involved in this kind of ministry. We will have the summer to plan and pray, and to build up new ideas and strength for the fall.