August 11, 1999

San Antonio home conducts
camp in Russia to aid orphans

___By J. Michael Parker
___San Antonio Express-News
___SAN ANTONIO--Teenagers in Russian orphanages have many material needs, but their biggest need is hope.
___That idea is what attracted eight volunteers and a staff member from Baptist Child and Family Services in San Antonio to bring a 10-day summer youth camp to Vladimir, Russia, for 150 youths 13 to 16 years old.
___Vladimir, a city of 360,000, is about a five-hour drive northeast of Moscow.
___The group is using interpreters to communicate with the youths. "I want to tell them rusorphanssketchabout Jesus and the hope that is in him," said volunteer Sharon Carter in a recent interview.
___"When I think of Russia, I think of a really dark place. They don't know what real hope is," she said.
___In the Book of James, Carter said, God calls Christians to "take care of orphans and windows."
___"My husband and I prayed about it, and we believe God is calling us to go there," she said, adding, "God has handed us all the things we need and taken care of all the financial needs so we can go."
___For herself, Carter expects to gain a greater sense of humility and dependence on God.
___"I have no idea what to expect over there. We'll be depending on God both physically and spiritually, and there's no better place to do that than where you're completely helpless," Carter said.
___Kevin Dinnin, chief executive officer of Baptist Child and Family Services, said the summer camp is a small but meaningful step toward addressing the overwhelming problems of Russian youth caused by a stagnant economy and parental abandonment.
___"We hope to minister to their emotional needs--to provide fun and give them a chance to do things they've never been exposed to, like singing songs around a campfire," Dinnin said.
___"We'll conduct Bible studies, too. We'll tell them about God, who sent his Son to bring love into the world and who loves them," he said.
___Russia maintains separate orphanages for different age groups, from infancy to 17 years of age, he said.
___Dinnin said Russia's floundering economy is causing many parents to turn their children out because they can't support them.
___This is overwhelming the capacity of the orphanages, which are badly understaffed and undersupplied.
___"The teenagers sleep as many as 20 to a room. It's like a warehouse," said Dinnin, who last visited Russia in February. "These children don't have an opportunity to develop individuality.
___"The child-to-adult ratio is so high they're not developing mentality or physically. Every time I tried to guess one of their ages, the child was older than I thought," Dinnin recalled.
___An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 children live in Russian orphanages until age 17, when they're put out on the streets to fend for themselves, he said.
___"Russia has no welfare system, so the vast majority wind up homeless and without hope.
___"Prostitution is rampant. Many young girls are having babies and abandoning them," he said.
___Many American religious organizations are trying to address some of the appalling problems of Russia's homeless youth, some even offering international adoption, Drinnin said.
___"The United States can't adopt 500,000 of them," he said. "But if we can provide a conduit to make life better for a few children and give them a chance they wouldn't otherwise have, that's what we want to do."
___Dinnin said he hopes the next step will be to launch a foster care program that will give youngsters a chance for a meaningful family life.
___But that's down the road. The summer youth camp is only a first step.
___Mica Akridge, a second-grade teacher who volunteered for the trip, said she's excited about the opportunity.
___"I appreciate what I have, and want to share it with somebody who wouldn't have a chance for them otherwise," she said.
___"I give every day to my students, but this will be a totally different group of kids with totally different expectations. I want to find out how they are, how they think and what their values are," Akridge said.
___"I don't know what to expect. I want to come back with a different view of life. I want to come back with stories," she said.


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