I met Nastya right after we moved to Russia in 2007. She was already a few years out of the Harbor (a residential ministry for orphan graduates) and had come back to take an English class that I had been asked to teach. Nastya stood out to me, and we got to know each other slowly. She struck me as extraordinarily thoughtful, hungry for growth, perceptive about people, and personally engaging.
Little did I know at that time that the other Nastya—the one whom the Harbor had inherited in 2004—looked nothing like this person. She came to them from a “correctional” orphanage, which meant that she was considered mentally delayed. Once you get a diagnosis of any sort in a system like this, it's all over. You're stuck there for life, and no one tries to treat you any way except what your papers say you are. When she applied to the Harbor, she met none of the benchmarks that were needed to accept her into the Harbor (cognitively or otherwise), so the psychologist rejected her outright.
In the nearly four years I have known Nastya, she has always struck me as a person who is serious about her relationship with Christ, and the depth of that relationship has only grown. I find that in every question, what is most important for Nastya is, “what does God want?” Her faith is remarkable for someone of her age (26).
By contrast, the Nastya who came to the Harbor had little more than a vague sense that there was a God. She had a drive and dream to be somebody, and that was what told her that she wanted to move to the Harbor. When they rejected her application, she ended up living in a dorm for the first month of college, but she was so convinced she needed to be at the Harbor that she prayed, “God, if you exist, then make it work for me to come to the Harbor.” Two days later she got invited in. Nastya's true self was so hidden behind a wall of lies about who she was from years in an institution that no one at the Harbor could even recognize Nastya's potential. Harbor staff nonetheless invested countless hours in her until the real Nastya began to emerge. As Nastya has told me, she came with a completely closed heart, but it was impossible to keep it closed when the staff were so open and loving themselves. She opened up and blossomed despite her best efforts! Sometime in those two years, Nastya had to admit that God was real, that Jesus loved her and died for her, and that she owed Him everything in return. Nonetheless, she resisted baptism for a whole year after that, realizing that it was like getting married – the most serious commitment she would ever make.
We started inviting Nastya over to our place within a few months of meeting, and she quickly hit it off with our daughter Lydia. They would go on walks together; Nastya would take Lydia on outings around town; and they shared a love of clothing design. Besides just liking Lydia, Nastya wanted to give back to us for our hospitality by helping Lydia with her Russian. Nastya would stay late, and we'd talk about God, her place in life, and relationships. She seemed to have a natural bent and inclination in counseling, so she was fun for me to talk with. Her appetite for meaningful conversation is voracious.
Outside the Harbor, Nastya is the kind who gets along with most everyone, and many of her fellow graduates from the Harbor seem to turn to her for wisdom and guidance in life, relationships, and work. At least this was an area where she could function on her own. As one of the most senior graduates of the Harbor (founded in 2002), she has a large network now of young adults.
Now Nastya became the 1st member of a new team God has called me to start called Orphans Reaching Orphans. Our mission is to build bridges of relationship with Harbor and other orphan graduates that model the love of the Father, encouraging healing, growth, the pursuit of dreams, and generosity. It's a wonderfully organic ministry. I mentor and train Nastya and the others on the team, and they, in turn, reach out to orphans who are out on their own but often without the life skills, relationships, and purpose to help them see and fulfill God's purposes for their lives.
Details on Orphans Reaching Orphans are here.
St. Petersburg, Russia