Photo: Courtesy of Erin Flynn
Mercy In The Streets
By Erin Flynn (Apr 11, 2006)
Many people ask me why I would choose to go to the Russian Far East. Some days I ask myself that very question! The answer, however, is surprisingly simple.
There are children who are living on the street, children who have no one to take care of them and who never know if they will have enough to eat or where they will find warm clothes to get them through the bitter winter. Thoughts of these children trying to survive in a harsh land haunted my sleep, and I would think again and again, "They don't even have anyone to care if they live or die."
Ministering to Street Kids
I arrived in Vladivostok alone in September, and as planned, met up with an American volunteer from the Mary Mother of God Mission, which works to re-establish the Church in the Russian Far East and ministers to the many needs of the Russian people.
We had both come specifically to help develop a program for the street kids.
We started coming across kids a few at a time. We got them warm clothes and boots at the Chinese market, and provided them with food. We made announcements for clothing donations, and found a place where we can bring the kids to shower. We are also able to take some of them to the dentist and doctor.
Here in Vladivostok, there is not a single homeless shelter. Orphans are treated like second-class citizens. And children with physical disabilities and simple learning disabilities are lumped together in schools and treated like social outcasts.
The kids I work with have either run away from these types of schools, are orphans, or they have an alcoholic parent or parents who make life at home too miserable to bear. They are between the ages of 12 and 18, but there are even younger ones here who are harder to find. Because there are problems that the street kids inevitably cause, it has become accepted conduct for the police to beat and threaten them.
When we first met Alexei, we bought him winter clothes and boots. Within a week, the police had beaten him, hitting his head numerous times. They then burned his new coat in front of him and told him if they saw him again they would do much worse. The police are motivated by the fact that when the kids are afraid to come out of the sewers and crumbled apartment buildings during the day, or they go outside of the city, Vladivostok can say it has no street kids.
When God is Abandoned
This is not to say the government doesn't care at all, but there are many social problems, historically, that contribute to these issues and make the city's job more difficult. One is alcoholism. Another, in my opinion, is the fact that, as a matter of policy in the former Communist Party, God was so efficiently killed in the minds and hearts of the people. When God was abandoned, society collapsed.
But one of my favorite Scripture passages has always been from the beginning of the Gospel of John: "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it" (Jn 1:5). There are many people here who, after years of hardship and oppression have allowed Christ to take root in their hearts and who bear His light in the darkness. God is faithful, and His mercy reaches to the ends of the earth.
It is this mercy that reached a heart in need, and filled me to overflowing. Since I was a little girl, I have felt called to serve in foreign missions. Volunteer work, ministry within the Church, and my singing, seemed to satisfy that desire, but it was always present. Because my family's ministry has been so centered on The Divine Mercy, I feel like it was a perfect preparation for this new chapter in my life.
A Vessel of Mercy
Serving here in Russia is certainly an extension of The Divine Mercy message. The babies I hold at the orphanage, the street kids who come to me when they have torn their coats or cut their feet, and the elderly at the hospice who held my hand like I was family, all bring me to a place where I have to say, "Jesus, I Trust in You! I trust in Your love for these forgotten ones, and I trust in Your promise of mercy. Let me be your vessel."
I don't know how long I'll be here in Vladivostok, or where I'll go after this. But I do know that we have a merciful God who is constantly transforming us if we allow Him to. We become the most powerful messengers of His mercy when we are truly molded in His image. And I believe that He wants to use each one of us, no matter where we are, to bear His mercy to a wounded world. If I can do this even a little here, then I have done what I came for, and I am a little closer to becoming who I was created to be.
Erin Flynn is from Stockbridge, MA. You can reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. MercySong is the Flynn family's music and speaking ministry. Their music albums are available through the Marian Helpers Catalogue. To order Vinny Flynn's "Talks on Tape," call toll-free 1-888-549-8009 or send for a free catalogue: MercySong, P.O. Box 486, Stockbridge, MA 01262.