Twice a year, for five years, I did mission work with orphans in the town of Lutanova, Russia. During my time serving in the orphanage, it was run by a tough, stern director by the name of Ludmilla. For thirty years, Ludmilla had served in that capacity and for those years she was the mother to thousands of orphans.
Although she was the mother to thousands, I would not describe her as an overwhelmingly lovable mother. Although she cared greatly for the orphan children, she was very tough, stern disciplinarian, not only to the children, but all who worked there as well. Ludmilla was the law in the orphanage. When Ludmilla spoke, people listened. It didn't matter who you were, when Ludmilla told you to do something...you did it. Ludmilla scared me. I didn't really know what to think of her. She was this stern Russian woman that was very militant in her demeanor. She grew up under a communist regime that was the same way, militant, harsh, and cold. God
was seen by this regime as non-existence and Ludmilla grew up not believing in God. She represented the old communist regime to me. However, one should never judge a book by its cover. About thirty years ago, when Russia fell on hard times, the Lutanova orphanage fell on hard times also. The orphanages, being government run agencies, depended on the government for financial support. When the economic system in Russia collapsed, there was no more government support for Ludmilla and all the children under her care. So the responsibility for the orphanage, and the children's survival fell completely on the shoulders of Ludmilla and her small staff. They began to farm their own food and raise pigs to sell for profit in order to purchase clothing. The orphanage struggled this way for a few years but soon things became worse. During one winter, a severe cold hit the area and ruined all of the produce they had stored for winter.
The orphanage staff was forced to ration the remaining food and the children were beginning to starve. On top of this, the heater system broke and they were forced to huddle the children into one big room with their jackets on. One morning while she was in her office, exhausted from the responsibility, cut off from any government support, cold and hungry, this caring mother of thousands, against a culture that said otherwise, fell to her knees and prayed to a God she had never believed in. Ludmilla pleaded that if God was real, to please show up for her kids.
At the same time, Pastor John Smith from the Concord United Methodist church was in Russia with a small team from his church, looking for an orphanage that they could support financially and spiritually. After visiting a few other orphanages, they found their way to the Lutanova orphanage...It happened to be the very same day— the very same morning that Ludmilla was on her knees praying for Jesus to show up. The rest of the story is that for the last thirty years, needs have been met, children have been fed, orphans have been shown the love of Christ, and the Lutanova orphanage thrives today. It's amazing what a person will do when they are hungry. In a place where physical bread was so scarce and where life hung in the balance, that tough woman knew what she needed more than anything else...she needed Jesus, the Living Bread of Heaven. The life-giving bread of Jesus showed up in the form of some of His disciples from Riverside PA. That day Ludmilla became a believer. Jesus was born to bring hope and love once again, only this time not in a stable, but in the heart of a tough, stern Russian mother to thousands of orphans.
Merry Christmas and glory be to the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ.