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Before, I had never left my home. I’ve flown across the seas in my dreams, traversed the highest mountains between classes, but one day, I promised myself that I would travel. Across the nation… yes, even across the globe. Then it happened. We landed in Moscow after 20 hours of travelling non-stop. Way out of my comfort zone, and overdue on sleep, we met the rest of our team in the airport lobby and loaded up to begin our two weeks of work at a family camp in Lipetsk. Around me, the sky was overcast, the air full of energy, vivacity, and cigarette smoke. As we walked out to our van, something began to pull at my heart. I think God wanted me to see something – but I didn’t know what.
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But over the next few weeks, I looked, and I began to see what I did not expect to find – pain. I saw anxiety for the future, and hope for tomorrow clouded by fear. I saw meaninglessness and brokenness, families torn apart and children neglected. Surrounded by humans with broken hearts, I saw people looking for something they did not know how to find, and my own heart began to break.
I saw a father leading his family through passport security, their belongings stuffed in three black trash bags. I saw a woman who knew that her marriage was failing. I saw a Ukrainian refugee, working more than 10 hours a day, her home literally blown to pieces, and her husband slowly going blind. I saw, I heard, I touched, and I cried. But this was not all that I saw. As we traveled from our hotel, the Ismailovo, we passed a woman selling matryoshka dolls. She sat on the ground, watching people as they passed her. In my heart I judged her, thinking, how desperate must you be to sell dolls in the gutter? But then I looked into her eyes, and I saw her. No, not just her face or her lips, but HER, what made her different. She had hope, dreaming of a future that she could now make for herself. She had exactly what she needed for the day, and that was enough. She had a home to go to, a heart to share, and a hope to drive her dreams.
I have never forgotten what I learned: how to see. As we returned home, I began to see, not with my eyes, but with my heart. I did not see the color of someone’s skin, I saw the way they laughed and dreamed. I did not see shabbier clothes; I saw a concern for the future, but a desire to love and a need to be loved. I did not see different types of eyes or hair; I saw an excited spark for what the future holds, and a searching for what love truly is. Russia has a special place in my heart, and the time that I spent there, working and living with those that are now like family to me, can never be taken away from me. I learned that we must remember who we are. I learned that we must remember the pain along with the brighter days. But most of all, I learned that we must see. We must look and see the stories that are being written around us. We must look and see that there is beauty in the brokenness. We must look and see that maps do not merely show us where we are, but all the places that we have left to love.
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