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14 posts from September 2008

September 29, 2008

Crazy Love

Francis Chan is a fellow David C. Cook author who has written a fantastic book I highly recommend. It's entitled, Crazy Love: Overwhelmed with a Relentless God. Below is a review from my colleague, Daniel Clark. Pick it up as part of your fall reading.

Francis Chan is a catalyst. As a pastor, speaker, and writer, he focuses on igniting passionate devotion to God. This is clear in Crazy Love, a book endorses by Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio of Passion Conferences. While Chan does not chart new territory (he is writing the same thing that we’ve heard from Tozer, Piper, and others, after all), he does so with an energy that is fresh and contagious. You wouldn’t think that it is refreshing to be reminded of something over and over. But in the face of spiritual amnesia and religiousity, Chan’s message breathes new life. The ninth chapter explores the lives of 12 individuals, a family, and a church that live by ‘falling in love with God.’ This is a highlight of the book. Again, Chan’s message is simple: God is love. But the message comes through in a passionate way that is sure to light you up.

September 26, 2008

Pictures from Russia

It's been a crazy week at home after my trip from Russia. I've come back to economic markets collapsing and $700 billion bailout packages. I know these things are important, but it's a further reminder to me about the truth of Psalms 20:7, "Some may trust in horses, some may trust in chariots, but we trust in the name of our God." It's all I could think of when I saw the incredible things God was doing in the lives of orphans in Russia. Here are a few pictures from the trip. 1st pic - Katya our National Director 2nd pic - Volodya, an amazing artist and main character in the next novel 3rd pic - Natasha, a student at RACU (Russian American Christian University) Enjoy!




September 24, 2008

Sex Trafficking in Russia...

A friend of mine is planning a fundraiser for Children's HopeChest for the fall 2008. She specifically asked me about sex trafficking in Russia, since that's something I'm researching for my upcoming book.

You can check out some of the information I'm collecting for my research on this page, and also see how CHC is specifically addressing trafficking issues in Russia through our programs focused on prevention and restoration of relationship and family resources. I've re-posted the information below:



On my recent trip to Russia, I shared with you the story of two girls--one who chose to live at a Children's HopeChest Family Center, and another who did not. The girl who chose to go her own was found dead in a ditch on the road from Moscow to Vladimir. She was working that major highway as a prostitute. The girl on the right is the one who was found dead.


I've created this page as a resource and a request.

Sex trafficking in Russia is real, and orphan girls are at high risk of being sold as forced prostitutes either within Russia or sent abroad. Forced prostitution in Russia has exploded after the economic boom of the past few years. It's hard to get accurate statistics, but Russia's leading anti-trafficking organization estimates that 500,000 Russian women have been trafficked to more than 40 countries over the past ten years.

The video below is a 2008 news story about sex trafficking in Russia. The lead story is of an orphaned girl lured into prostitution by the promise of big bucks in the big city of St. Petersburg. This short segment helps convey the depth and breadth of what is happening to Russia's young girls.

Children's HopeChest works with one of the most vulnerable population groups affected by human trafficking: orphan girls.

No one chooses prostitution as a career choice. They are lured by empty promises of predatory crime lords, or forced there by circumstances beyond their control. Either way, orphan girls in Russia represent a prime target for many traffickers. With no family and no support...who will miss these girls when they are gone?

Children's HopeChest provides a variety of programs that help divert girls from trafficking, by focusing on prevention and awareness. There are several levels of support:

1) Orphanage Intervention: Through our orphanage sponsorship program, young girls living in the orphanage are brought into relationship with caring Christian mentors. Funded by a sponsoring church or business, these "disciplers" model the love of Christ and a healthy lifestyle for many girls to follow. This foundation of trust makes future interventions much easier.

One of the key programs we have at this level is the "Life at the CrossRoads" curriculum. Through a strategic partnership with CrossRoads International, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ, Children's HopeChest disciplers are trained to teach a 30-week character education and HIV/AIDS prevention curriculum. While Africa captures much of the attention on AIDS, this video news clip shows the link between prostitution and the rapid rise of HIV infections in Russia. [Warning: There are some shots of women in brothels and in various states of undress or inappropriate dress. It's all pixel-out, but wanted to warn you before clicking the link].

Right now, Children's HopeChest has finished a 2-year study of the Life at the CrossRoads material, and found it highly successful within our population group. The focus is on teaching young girls the value of having strong core beliefs and character that guides decision-making. Jesus is studied as a role model within the context of relevant information about HIV and its impact.

2. Transitional Living Support: Once a child ages out of the orphanage, they are left on their own often without much support. Children's HopeChest offers three programs to help  young women avoid sexual trafficking:

- Ministry Centers: These multi-faceted community centers provide daily programming to connect girls to mentors, counselors, peers, and activities to keep them in school and on a healthy path toward adulthood. Each Center is fully staffed by Russian believers who provide the classes, run the computer lab, and maintain the dental clinic.

- Family Centers: These small group homes (for boys OR girls) help younger teens find placement within a family setting with a set of Christian houseparents. The overall goal of the program is to provide a model of family, restore some of what the children have lost in the abandonment process, and teach independent living skills. Family Centers have a 98 percent success rate.

- Independent Living Centers: For the right older children, Children's HopeChest helps arrange apartment rentals with oversight from a counselor to help them practice living on their own. This helps slow the transition to adulthood as they "practice" what real life is like. These opportunities help them finish school and find employment.

3. Young Mothers Program: The Young Mothers program is operated out of the Ministry Centers and ministers to between 20-30 young moms per center. These are orphans who have made poor choices and find themselves pregnant and without the resources to get themselves back on their feet. Given that 1/3 of current orphans are children/grandchildren of orphans, Children's HopeChest is actively working with these young women to ensure they can acquire good parenting skills for the future. This often involves direct support of the mother and her child, counseling, mentorship, and family dynamics classes.

Each of these three outreaches helps girls avoid sexual trafficking in Russia. We focus on the prevention side and provide women with the opportunities and resources to make themselves successful in life. Think of it like your own daughters...

You want them to stay in school so they can get into a good college, find a good job, and eventually get married and start a family of their own. Right?

This is our dream for every young girl in Children's HopeChest's many programs. You can help at a variety of levels, and here's how:

  • A gift of $480 provides a young woman with a mentor at one of our Ministry Centers for one year. Through this program you can specifically choose a young woman to sponsor and start a personal relationship with her.
  • A gift of $700 provides one girl with services at a CHC Ministry Center for one year. These funds help operate the entire Ministry Center, and right now we are serving orphans for approximately $700/kid/year.
  • A gift of $1,000 provides one month of services to 20 young mothers at a CHC Ministry Center ($12,000 for the entire year).
  • A gift of $2,000 will provide one young woman with a year's worth of living expenses in our Family Center or Independent Living Program ($10,000 per home or apartment/year)

To launch new programs is also an option. Right now it costs CHC a minimum of $100,000 to add a new home or apartment to our programs. A new Ministry Center would require at least $500,000. This is mainly due to the sharp increase in real estate throughout Russia.



Thank you for helping us help the girls of Russia avoid trafficking and poor choices before that cycle starts.

September 23, 2008

Scared - "A Novel on the Edge of the World"

Time to get your help again on a book cover. Scared is my debut novel and will release in the late spring/early summer of 2009. This is the first in a series of three, and I will be releasing a few excerpts in the months to come. The publisher has chosen to market this under the theme, "Novels with a conscience" - I like it. What do you think about the cover? What changes do you think need to be made? How does it make you feel? Any input is appreciated. Thanks everyone!

I had to take this down because the publisher wasn't ready to release it yet. Something about the sales team getting involved. Any way, your comments are noted and I will post the new version when they let me!

September 16, 2008

Hope at a Russian McDonalds

Clip_image002_2 Natasha Luzina grew up in the Sharia orphanage in the eastern part of Kostroma. It's pretty remote, and far away from the main city of Kostroma. After she graduated, she went to one of the worst Tech Schools in the region. When I took a team of Americans to visit this place, the administration had nailed shut certain doors they did not want us to open. I'll never forget seeing the "equipment museum" where they kept certain machinery on display to teach the kids--but they could not actually operate any of it. Imagine trying to learn how to operate power tools by "looking" at them on display and reading about them in a book. This was Natasha's Tech School.

Fortunately, she was able to get  into a better school in the city of Kostroma and that's when she started visiting the Ministry Center there. She quickly became one of the leaders, and CHC hired her as one of our "mentors" in for our Mentorship Program. As a mentor, she would meet with other new orphan graduates, help them get familiarized with the city and the Minsitry Center, and maintain an ongoing relationship of encouragement and support. This is part of our intentional strategy of helping orphans reach their peers and giving them the vision and resources to make it happen.

We helped Natasha with many of the usual things--small repairs and furnishings to her apartment, for example.

When I visited her at her job (she's the assistant manager of the McDonald's in Kostroma) she was overcome with gratitude when she described all of the opportunities the Minsitry Center was able to provide for her. Again, I keep thinking about the life and death realities that our kids in Russia face. Something as simple as a place to go and spend time with caring Christian adults can make all the difference.

Images of Russia

Just a few photos from the trip I wanted to share...


This is me and some of the graduates from Ivanovo region. I stopped in at the Ministry Center in Ivanovo to meet with some of the older kids.


While at the Ivanovo Ministry Center, I asked the staff to show me the Christian books, Bibles, and other resources our staff use in their programming and teaching with the kids.


There's nothing like Russian hospitality. The man sitting next to me is my traveling companion for this trip, Lyston Peebles. On my right is Katya Celenina, CHC's national director.  We were having tea and snacks with some of the older girls in our young mothers outreach. Through this program, we help orphan girls who find themselves pregnant and without resources. In Vladimir, we're helping 18 young moms--13 receive direct assistance and counseling and the other 5 receive counseling only.


This is me and Natasha Koryakina--graduate of the infamous Neya orphanage. She now lives in Kostroma and is attending university, majoring in foreign languages. She made her first trip to the United States this summer, and works for CHC as a translator with groups in Russia. She now is a translator for the church that sponsored Neya where she grew up. You can read about her in Chapter 9 of Red Letters (pages 138-140).

September 15, 2008

Throwing a Russian Pizza Party

Tonight we had an amazing pizza party at the Kostroma Ministry Center. If you've ever had a Russian pizza party, you know that you can often end up with mayonnaise, peas, and ketchup thrown into the mix!

I had a special surprise tonight (and it wasn't peas in the pizza)...

My "Family Group" from my first Kostroma camp back in 2000 showed up to greet me.


These girls were pretty young when we first met. Marina, Masha, and Jenya were all part of that Family Group at summer camp and were from the Ostrovskoe orphanage in the Kostroma region. Those first Kostroma camps are some of the best memories of my life overseas. To see those girls grown up and receiving life and love from the Ministry Center showed me again the full circle of what goes on over here in our Russian ministry.

They are still scared and alone--but they have hope in the relationships and support they receive from our staff at the Ministry Center.

We also had a lot of our young mothers show up with their babies. These girls have decided to keep their baby (despite the prevalence of abortion in Russia) and connect to the Ministry Center for support, training, guidance, and help. I thought, "Where else would these moms get help if it wasn't for the Ministry Center?"

I'll keep posting my photos and reflections. Thank you for your continued prayers for me and our staff who are reaching out to save so many orphans in Russia.

September 14, 2008

Two Girls, Two Choices, Two Roads

Tonight, Katya Celenina, CHC's National Director in Russia told me the story of two girls, two choices, and two roads. It's unfortunately a very familiar story.

Lida and Sasha were graduates of the same orphanage in Russia. As they left the safety of the orphanage for life out in the world--they were offered the same opportunities from Chidlren's HopeChest, but each chose a different path.

Sasha chose to accept a placement at a Children's HopeChest Family Center.  These small group homes are staffed 24/7 by CHC-trained foster parents. The goal is to help model family to the residents, slow down their transition to adulthood, build up their independent living skills, and help them attain the highest education possible before releasing them into mainstream Russian society.

This model is so effective because it grabs kids at their point of crisis, and helps them take deliberate steps toward adulthood.

At the Family Center, Sasha received love and encouragement. She finished her degree. Today, she works as a teacher in Russia. She's a successful and happily married young woman. A success story on every level for CHC.

Lida chose to go her own route. As the story goes, Lida found herself trapped in a web of bad relationships and decisions that she couldn't get herself out of. Caught and struggling, Lida became a prostitute, working the long stretch of road between Moscow and Vladimir. That road ended Lida's life when she was found dead on the side of the road.

I've driven that road more times than I can count. And today I got another reminder of how CHC's work is about LIFE and DEATH for our kids. Literally. We're not just doing a "good deed." This story shook me up tonight. And I'm praying again for the Lida's and Sasha's of Russia--many of whom you know and pray for on a daily basis.

September 13, 2008

Arrived in Russia Safely

I made it to Russia.

I was picked up at the airport by our Russia Finance Director, Marina Bodrova, and our Russia National Program Manager, Yelena Kharitoniva. I've known these wonderful women since my first trip to Russia in 1997. We spent the night sharing stories together of those first camps.

One that they always bring up is about Hayden--my 6th grade son who made his first trip to Russia when he was seven months old. In those days, the camps were pretty nasty...and some of you CHC veterans will remember "Aftomoblisk"--the nastiest camp in Russia! The next summer when we brough him, Hayden would romp through the mud and the orphan kids would latch on to him, swinging him around all over the camp.

Remembering the "good old days" put the "new Russia" into greater perspective. Although Russia's experienced tremendous growth and development as a country, there are still millions of orphans languishing in orphanages--or worse--growing up without the guidance and support of parents and failing to make the transition to successful adulthood.

On the 17th, I'll be having dinner with one of those girls we've helped get into university, study English, and pursue a degree in social work. I've known her since she was probably 12, and I can't wait to see her again.

I'll post more as I can. I want to bring you a better view inside the new Russia, and introduce you to the people and places who make orphan ministry happen. Thanks for praying, and leave your questions and comments so I can make my posts here even more informative.

September 11, 2008

Ministry in Russia

My life was completely transformed by a trip to Russia in the late 90's. It's a fascinating country with beautiful people and a rich heritage. Many things have changed over the years but one thing hasn't changed: It's still extremely difficult to be an orphan. Everyone knows you are an orphan, it's stamped right on your passport. People draw conclusions from that 'label.' You are stupid, a criminal, or you have no skills to work. Your shelved to be on the bottom rung of society whether you like it or not.

The reason I fell in love with the programs run by Children's HopeChest in 1997 is the same reason I am committed to them today. They are lifelines providing hope to orphans who are left alone. The success we've seen over the years has been amazing. Many of these kids have made the transition into adulthood successfully. They have graduated from Bible school, nursing school, and linguistics school and will be the future leaders Russia needs.

I'm hoping to post pictures of some of these kids along with their stories. Please stay tuned in and continue to pray for the 1 million children still in state run orphanages. Your prayers have powers and these kids need to know there is hope and a future for them.