An e-mail from the Hartmans has stirred my heart this morning. Unfortunately, I can't share it; but it has made me realize all the more why I have felt STRONGLY that WE NEED TO BE IN PRAYER FOR THEM.
They are in a dark place. I know. I walked those streets. I can't explain exactly how it feels to live in that village. The words elude me. I will put it this way: We were always tired, even though we slept more there than we ever sleep at home. We felt a physical, emotional and spiritual weariness that just seemed to be with us all day, every day. We felt as if the air was too heavy to breathe and we were walking in a fog. We commented on it all the time. It felt oppressive. Overwhelming. Although the village's Orthodox church was visible for miles around, it offered no solace.
Almost everyone we encountered seemed grim and sad. There was just so little joy there, at least in the presence of strangers. After a few weeks walking the streets, I grew tired of the constant grimaces and gave up even trying to greet people. Rob held out until the end, trying to make eye contact and refining his pronunciation of their greeting ("zdras"). We kept longing for a smile, the light of life and humanity in a stranger's eyes. We were among the first Americans who had ever walked those streets, and to some, we were simply not welcome.
Except for one special day, when we went to the open-air market before heading out to see Aaron. We were alone and lonely, as always. We were looking for warm clothes because the temperature had dropped with the coming of Fall, and we were not prepared for the cold. As we were preparing to leave, we met a lady selling used clothes displayed on a couple of benches. We saw a jacket we wanted for Aaron, so we turned to the lady and asked her the price in our pitiful Rus*ian. We dreaded asking, because up until then, nearly every merchant had acted as if he or she wanted to slap us for not knowing more Rus*ian.
This lady was different. When she realized that we didn't known Rus*ian ("nye po Russky?"), she broke out in a smile that seemed like a bath of warm light. She was so pleased to learn that we were Americans. She even hugged us. I cannot begin to tell you how good it felt at that moment to be embraced by another human being. At the time, we had been there for 5 long weeks. Our hostess was wonderful to us, but nearly everyone else ignored us or even appeared hostile. The only other human contact we had was through blog comments and daily, 10-minute phone calls with our sons at home. To say we were lonely would but be putting it mildly. Our brief encounter with this woman filled us with a warmth that we desperately needed.
We didn't know her name. We didn't know why she was so excited to meet us when everyone else regarded us with suspicion. We wondered aloud as we walked away if she was a Christian. We had no way to know and no way to ask. We just knew that her welcoming arms brought healing to our weary souls.
On the next market day we went back to find her again. I was hoping for another hug. I was that starved. Of course we had to pretend we were looking to buy something. How can you just walk up and ask someone to hug you again? Fortunately, when we arrived at her booth we saw that she had two hand-embroidered table runners. They were beautiful, by far the nicest home-made craftwork we had seen in the village. So we pointed them out and asked how much they cost.
That was when we had our second encounter. Our friendly lady just happened to have a friend nearby who knew a smattering of English. And this friend was just as excited to see us as her partner. She helped us buy the runners, and we were so blessed to chat with her. In the course of our conversation we discovered that, as we had suspected, they WERE BOTH CHRISTIANS. Not Russian Orthodox, but Baptists (a "secta," as our hostess later described it). They loved the Lord, and oh, how it showed! It was evident in their eyes and in their warm embrace. For a few minutes, in a dark and oppressed world, God used his people to minister to our hearts.
Melanie and Ben are in that spiritually oppressed world right now. It is cold, quiet and extremely lonely. We traveled through different parts of that country during our time there and I can tell you sincerely that none felt as oppressive as that little village out in the middle of nowhere. The Hartmans can't share all of their experiences because they don't want to jeopardize their adoption. Just know this: they are deeply in need of our prayers and support. Please leave a comment on their blog to let them know that you are praying. Offer scriptures and words of encouragement. Remind them that they are not alone. I speak from experience when I say that those comments make all of the difference in the world to a lonely soul.