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Finding Love in Latvia (#ShareYourStOOry)


We love hearing your stories - stories of hope, stories of encouragement, stories of community and care. That's why we ask you to Share Your StOOry with us on Facebook, Instagram, and right here on our website. We're thankful today for Caro lMalson, a faithful friend who has served with us on a short-term mission trip in Latvia. Her story is a reminder that love doesn't end when we return home.




I went to Latvia three years ago. When I turned 50, I felt like I hadn't done enough "worthy" volunteer work. I have volunteered with numerous organizations, Presbyterian Pilgrimage, prison ministry, etc.

As the mother of three healthy, well adjusted, and happy children, I felt like God put the plight of children - namely orphans -  on my heart. Trusting Him, I went online to see what was available for an individual looking to volunteer with orphans. That's when I came across Orphan Outreach. I researched the background and mission of OO, as well as the places they served. Could I travel thousands of miles, meet ten total strangers and serve these orphaned children? My husband was fully supportive. He felt that if I could spend a weekend in a maximum security prison ministering to prisoners, I could do this! My children were skeptical, mostly worried for my safety in a former Soviet country.

The song "Here I am, Lord" just kept playing in my head. I knew I was being lead by the Lord to go. I filed out the application and awaited word that I had be selected to go! I was ecstatic when I got my acceptance letter! I was going to a country I had never actually heard of, one didn't have the same language or even the same alphabet! Yet all I felt was excitement! Still, everyone I told what I was doing that June-July had the same reaction.

Why abroad? Why a country I knew so little about? Had I lost my mind? I was a bit disappointed with my friends and family. But I never wavered in my feeling that I had been called to go!

The time came to go. I had gathered all the things in the list of items they needed. I had craft supplies, small gifts, toys, bubbles, and candy all packed in a used suitcase I would leave when my trip was over. I followed the suggested lists to a tee, even down to clothes that could get dirty and be comfortable.

Because I had frequent flyer miles, I made my own travel arrangements, and chose to spend a little time in the capital city of Riga, Latvia, before the rest of the mission team arrived. Dace, the program director of Orphan Outreach's NGO in Latvia, met me and took me to the team's hotel. I spent the next day exploring the beautiful city of Riga. The following day I met the ten people that would serve as a team for ten days. They came from all over the United States! There were some first-timers lime me, and some that had a number of mission trips under their belts. Other than one girl's luggage being lost for a few days, we came together and immediately became focused on the days ahead.

We headed off to Jelgava the next day -  to the orphanage.

As our bus pulled into the grounds of the orphanage, some of the older children met us. They seemed excited to see us. Our translator said they love when they get US mission trip visitors. We immediately got busy meeting the group of children. We then separated by age groups and got busy with crafts, games, bible stories and just interacting and building trust and relationships with the children.

Needless to say, bonds were formed. I soaked up their personalities. Some were outgoing, some shy, some aggressive, some introverted. They were all beautiful children, welcoming us. Some vied for attention and lapped up every offering of a hand or a hug.

I did crafts with all of the children, which gave me the opportunity to work very closely and one-on-one with each child. Translators were always on hand to help with what wasn't conveyed via the universal language of smiles, gestures, and expressions. Some children readily offered affection, and some were more cautious.

After crafts we got to play outside on the playground with them. I had brought bubbles and the excitement over them was overwhelming to me. Their appreciation for such small things. A little boy named Edvards had latched on to me from the younger group. He was only two. I carried him around as he put his tiny arms around my neck like his life depended on it! With each bubble blown he let out a stream of laughter that melted my heart! We played on the slide and swings. He had become my buddy!

When it was time to leave for the day the staff began lining the smaller children up to go inside. Edvards didn't want to go. I tried to convey to him that I would see him the next day. He didn't understand. Our translators and Latvian staff were busy with other children. He hung his head and wouldn't look at me as they were lead back inside.

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I went on playing with three sisters and their best friend from the older group. They were all about anything American! We had had a great time doing their hair and painting their nails earlier! They were funny, outgoing adolescent girls!

As we loaded onto the bus, they followed and saw us off. They ran beside the bus and made us feel so appreciated!

As the bus reached the road and the children were out of sight I broke down in an unexpected fit of sobbing. They all had touched my heart. Their circumstances sank in and I realized that I would be forever changed by this experience. I felt so helpless. "What was one two-day visit going to do for these children long term? What would a few days of unconditional love really mean to children that had been let down by too many adults? How could this make a difference?'

Those questions shook me to the core.

God replied "...If you lead me I will follow, I will hold your people in my heart!" So the next day I silently said, "Here I am Lord, is it I Lord I have heard you calling in the night? I will go Lord!" I braced myself for another day with these loving little souls. They need the knowledge that God loved them and so do I! They are worthy of love. They are enough.

In the three years since, I have seen four of the girls from that orphanage on sponsored summer and holiday visits to Florida. A couple that was a part of that team have brought the three teen sisters and their best friend to the US twice a year. I travel from North Carolina to Florida to see them when they are here in the states. I have a wonderful relationship with these four girls and their older sister that aged out two years ago and  has a baby. One of the sisters has since also had a baby at 16 which stays at the orphanage with her currently. They are now a part of my life. I try and keep up with little Edvards through the girls. I have sent things back with them for him.

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I love and adore these girls. I try to mentor them and encourage them to be positive influences on social media. Though a family from the United States has wanted to adopt the girls, they want to remain in Latvia because it is their home.

I pray daily for these children. Their futures are unknown. They have many obstacles they face as they get near aging out. I worry about their futures.

In closing, I have gained so much from my decision to take on an adventure and take a leap of faith. I have gained three great friends from my mission team, plus the mother of one of my mission mates that sponsor the girls.

I am so blessed to have had this experience and made the friendships I have!

 


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