Student Leaders: SPRINT

Summer 2010 SPRINT Teams: Russia

Trip Dates: August 4-31, 2010

Project Description:
Serve in a HIV baby orphanage and youth runaway transit center, presenting a Vacation Bible School program in Saint Petersburg. Volunteers will provide emotional and spiritual support to children and youth through friendships and summer camp programs.

Sunergos International

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Follow the team on Sunergos' blog

Russia SPRINT Team

Team Updates

August 27

After a month in Russia, the team will return home on Tuesday, August 31.  As you prepare to receive them, here are some things I hope you'll think about to help the team make the most of this trip.

As the group returns, they’ll continue to think through this experience and its implications for their lives.  It’s likely that this mental processing will involve at least some of these elements:

• Relief upon returning to familiar surroundings,

• Frustration with aspects of home culture that appear less desirable than the cultural values experienced during the SPRINT experience,

• Sadness and joy over relationships and memories developed during the trip,

• And hopefully, Resolve to incorporate the learning from this trip into daily life as life moves on.

Orphanage ministry and work with vulnerable children, as the group has experienced, are particularly difficult to leave, because as our students return, the children they’ve met continue in their circumstances in Russia.  This challenge highlights our selection of Sunergos International as our partner for this trip.  Over the next few days the team will spend time debriefing their experiences with Tatiana Mendakova, Sunergos’ director, and will begin the “what now?” conversation before they arrive home.  It’s also reassuring to remember that the children with whom our team has interacted will continue to be supported by Sunergos’ partners in Russia.

It’s our hope that SPRINT participants will return to “life as usual” with expanded worldviews and a clearer sense of God’s work in their lives.  The learning process continues after the trip experience; students will participate in a debriefing gathering in October, and will be encouraged to continue meeting with their SPRINT team to share the story of their host’s work and encourage future generations of SPRINT participants to serve.

I encourage you to give your student time to catch up on sleep and collect her thoughts, then set aside an extended period of time to share pictures and stories.  Don’t expect completely-formed opinions immediately; the reflection process takes time.  We remind returning SPRINTers that not everyone will have time to hear the whole story, but that they should find a few people with whom to share the longer, more in-depth account. 

I’ve e-mailed team members a list of debriefing questions designed to help students think through their experience and its meaning as they move forward in their lives.  If you’ve got time, I’d encourage you to talk though some of these questions with your student.

Thanks for your support of students on this team!   Please let me know if you have questions.



Here’s an update from each team member!

Hilary- Hello friends and family!  Tomorrow we are finishing our VBS and are saying goodbye to the kids and teens we have gotten to know in the last few weeks.  Honestly I think saying goodbye is going to be a bit tough.  I truly feel that I could stay in this place for another year and am a little worried about the re –entry process.  Yet, if this trip has taught me anything it is that the Lord works in mysterious and powerful ways so I must trust Him as we prepare to leave Russia.  Thank you for all of your prayers. 

Rachel- Hello loves! As our trip is winding down, I’ve been trying to slowly sort through all that I’ve learned since being here. I think the biggest thing I will take away from these incredible children and this awesome culture is the importance of family and support. Saying our goodbyes at the TB center tomorrow is going to be unfathomably hard, but I know that the work we are doing is only a small part of God’s huge plan here in Novgorod. Thank you all for your love and support. Hi Mom!

Mary Ann- Hello from Novgorod! Tomorrow, we’ll be finishing our two week VBS with a trip to the circus with the kids! My time here has been incredibly challenging, as well as incredibly rewarding. I’ve felt such a close bond with a few of the children and am NOT looking forward to having to say goodbye. However, I fully trust that God is working in the lives of these kids and I have learned so many things through this experience. Thank you all so much for your support and prayers!!

Laura-Hello family and friends!  Tomorrow is our last day of our two-week VBS here in Novgorod.  We’ve spent so much time with these children and teens, and tomorrow will be very difficult for everyone.  While this is a sad time, I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of God’s plan here.  I’ve learned so much from these incredible youth and know that God will continue to bless the TB Center.  Thank you so much for your prayers!  Love you.

Emily- Well fam and friends, I’m thinking about refusing to get on the airplane.  Just kidding (kind of. . . ) Seriously though, I am in love with Novgorod. I am in love with these kids. We’ve all grown so close to them! This week FLEW by, and now tomorrow is our last day with them. It’s going to be difficult. Really difficult. Yes, God is still going to very much be present in Novgorod after we leave, but it’s still a very, very hard goodbye. Please be praying. Thank you for all of your continued support!

Bethany- Hello Family and Friends! We have just spent the last three hours preparing for our last day at the Children’s Center making gift bags and now I’m beyond exhausted. But losing sleep to bring the kids joy is worth it every time. I don’t know how to say good bye to the kids that I have come to love so dearly. My hope is that we will be following the Spirit’s leading and leave the kids with the love of Christ. I know my experience in Russia is and will continue to be rewarding for me. I feel blessed to be here! Thanks for the support and prayers; I can feel them surrounding me. I love you all! MWAH! 

Natalie or maybe Natasha? So as I adventure to discover how infectious disease challenges people, I’ve fallen in love with the children I’ve played with the last two weeks at the TB center. Despite my intrinsic love of borscht and the Russian language, I’ve fallen deeper in love with the culture through the eyes of the children. I’m definitely going home understanding how disease can affect the most innocent. I’m definitely going home with a stronger urge to stand against the inequalities of disease, poverty, and social injustice. Christ is using my strengths, weaknesses and desires to lead me closer and closer to a future in His name. It’s exciting. I’m so thankful to be here. I’m so thankful for the children, their joy. If the Russian government wouldn’t kick me out August 31st, I wouldn’t leave. Thank you to all who have supported me. My next task at hand: Learn Russian so I can come back and continue to love.

Brittany-  To my dear family and friends.  My time here has been a huge blessing and I have felt God’s touch in my life in larger doses than I ever have previously.  I look back at my experiences in Russia and see how God had been preparing me for this trip over many years.  Every time I think of one of the youth, here at the TB center or back at the HIV orphanage, I smile because I can hear their laughter rolling in my memory and the heart-to-heart talks we were able to have with the older teens.  I know that these memories are precious to me and they will remain in my heart for years to come.   I’m not sure quite what to think about tomorrow being the last day at the TB center, but I know that God has more planned for my life than I could ever imagine and I’m excited to see where He’ll take me next!  As for the youth, I release them to God knowing that He’ll take care of them in ways I never could.  Thanks for your continued prayers and comments.  I love you all dearly.

August 23

See photos to accompany this update at Sunergos International's blog.

To all our supporters,

It has been a wonderful and long week at the TB center.  We are filled with the joy that has been radiating from these wonderful children as we play games, sing songs, and make crafts.  They love our silly songs like Aroostasha, the Hokey Pokey, Head Shoulders Knees and Toes, and many others.  But most importantly, they love showing us all they have learned including songs, crafts, and games.  In the mornings we spend three hours with them, simply loving them, and then are able to take a break for lunch and a quick nap, only to return in the afternoons for another two hours of smiles, laughter and hugs.

We have been learning more Russian phrases and traditions little by little and the kids enjoy trying to communicate with us.  Luckily we have been blessed with the presence of two translators who have made our instructions clear and direct.  With their help, we have also been able to meet with a small group of older youth and share deeper thoughts and conversations about life’s struggles.  Each day that group has opened up further and shared more of their personal struggles as we remind them that they are not alone.

Unfortunately, today is our last full day with our fantastic fellow volunteers Alex and Megan who have become two fabulous members of our team.  As they venture back to their homes in California, we lift them up in prayers for their safety and in hope we will all stay in touch.  They have become two more voices of wisdom and inspiration and will be missed.  However, although they are returning home, we know that we still have more time to bond and learn with these beloved children at the TB center, and that we need to focus on the youth with our thoughts and hearts. 

We ask for prayers that our team stays strong and energized, and that all sicknesses (and stomachaches from too much food) will cease.  And, Rachel and Brittany are doing much better! Thank you so much for all your prayers and thoughts as we love on these kids!  And please continue your comments, for they are such an inspiration to all of us.

With hearts full of love,
The Russian Voyagers

August 16

Here’s a report on the group’s first day of Vacation Bible School at the TB Children’s Center.  The invitation to do an explicitly-Christian program like this is uncommon in Russia; Sunegos International (as well as our team) was excited to serve in this way.

Pictures are online at Sunergos International's' blog page.

Priviet from Novgorod!!!

We’ve arrived safely, after an. . . interesting, and very exciting journey. We had lots of thunder and lightning on Saturday night, and it continued to rain and storm off and on during the day on Sunday, which made the drive exciting.

We are staying at a church that is very close to the TB Children Center, which is a blessing. Our commute time to the sight is about 5 minutes, whereas with the HIV Baby Orphanage, it was about an hour.

It’s Monday night here, and we just completed our first day of VBS with the kids at the Children’s Center. The kids are fun, and very outgoing! Overall, the day went really well. We did some crafts, and taught the kids some American games. The kids taught us some Russian ones, too.  We are all looking forward to getting to know the kids even more, and to learning more Russian.

Please be praying for Rachel and Brittany, who have been sick for the past couple of days, and were not able to join us today at the Children’s Center. Also, pray that the rest of us will remain healthy. Please be praying that we would be able to communicate effectively with the kids, despite the language barrier.

August 16

Here’s an update from the team.  You’ll find pictures on Sunergos' blog page.

The girls note their sadness at leaving the HIV orphanage – separation like this can be challenging for missions teams as well as the children served during this type of trip.  Thankfully, the team has strong support in their host, who will help them think through how to process this experience and appropriate ways to extend their commitment to disadvantaged children. 

Sunergos’ relationship with these orphans continues beyond this trip’s calendar.  While our students play a small role in the lives of these children, they’ve also met committed leaders who will continue to invest in the lives of these young ones.  It’s a great opportunity for our team to learn from committed individuals like these, and a reassurance to know that our team’s departure doesn’t signal the end of care for the orphans.

The team’s time in Novgorod will include Vacation Bible School programs for which the team spent significant time preparing in Spring Quarter. 

We are off to Novgorod!

After a wonderful week with our little kids at the HIV Orphanage, we are leaving for Novgorod to meet the kids where we will do a camp for two weeks.

The last day with the little kids was a little different than we expected. After we arrived we found out that the kids went to the zoo! We were sad, but excited for them, since that is something they do not do very often.  And it was for the best, so that the kids would not be crying when we say goodbye.

So, on Friday we played with a different group of babies and toddlers.  It was a blessing to see them open up and give us smiles and laugh at being tickled.

We left with tears in our eyes, but knowing that God has them in His arms and will take care of their future.  We trust Him to be there for each child and will continue to pray for these special kids who forever will be in our hearts.

On Friday night we went to see the amazing ballet of Swan Lake!  It was so beautiful and so elegant! A fun night to dress up and be out in the city.

Saturday was our last day to see and do everything we still wanted to see and do in St Petersburg! We spent it shopping and sightseeing.

Please pray for our team as we head south – to a new ministry location. Pray for the kids and teens that will hear the Gospel, some for the first time.

August 12

Find photos to accompany this update on Sunergos' blog page.

Dear friends and family,

This week has been simply amazing at the HIV baby orphanage!  When we first arrived at the orphanage, we were greeted with many hugs and smiles from some of the children but many took more time to warm up to our group.  But we stood the test and have bonded with the children deeply, knowing they will remain in our hearts forever. 

Every morning, we have been chasing the children and have been blessed with seeing their smiles and hearing their laughter as they play. It has brightened our world seeing how well these children are cared for and the resources they have at their fingertips.  During an intriguing tour of the facility, our whole team was blown away by the amount of room the children have to play, and that these kids have the opportunity to play in a swimming pool, and breathe deeply in a salt room as well as a sauna.  This facility has been truly a blessing to all the children and we are grateful for the opportunity to lend a hand, even if shortly. 

In the afternoons, we have been visiting many places throughout the city including the Hermitage, where we were grateful to see such a variety of art in one building (including some pieces by Rembrandt, Picasso and DaVinci), Orthodox churches, and on a prayer walk around the city in groups of three.  Today, we will be seeing Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and view the city from above as well as some slight roaming around the city. 

Each day has been full of activities and we’ve become pretty exhausted.  Prayers to keep up our energy levels are greatly appreciated. Also, please pray for allergies, as some of us are experiencing a little. Please pray for our continued health, and for the health of the children we are working with.  And please pray for these beautiful and bouncy children as we prepare to part ways and journey to Novgorod. 

Thank you SO MUCH for all of your comments! We love hearing them so much, and they really lift our spirits!

Peace to you all,
The Russian journeyers!

August 10

Here’s another update from the team, via Sunergos International’s blog.

The text is repeated below, but you’ll also enjoy the pictures on the blog itself.

For the last two days we have played with children!

Each morning we run, swing, hug, laugh, smile, pull and love a group of orphaned children. These little ones will spend 18 years in an orphanage because mommy and daddy did not want them. Abandoned in the hospital, at a dumpster, or just brought to the orphanage and left in the hands of the government.

Their little faces, full of smiles and laughter, do not show the pain of abandonment and pain.  Not yet, at least…

Please continue to pray for us as we spend this precious time with the kids.  As we pour as much love and care unto them – showing that their Heavenly Father loves them very much.

August 10

Team member Emily updated her blog from Russia – you can learn from her experience so far at

As Emily notes, the well-reported fires around Moscow aren’t a hazard for the team.  St. Petersburg and Novgorod are quite a way West from Moscow.

August 7

The team has posted an update and pictures at Sunergos' blog page.

As you'll note, they've been offered the opportunity to volunteer at a HIV baby orphanage.  The team had hoped this opportunity would open up, and has prepared the proper paperwork to serve there.  They'll be there next week, then will travel to Novgorod August 15, where they'll lead a Vacation Bible School.

August 5

The SPRINT team has arrived safely!

Each one of the 8 students is very excited to be finally in St Petersburg, Russia, after 8 months of planning and waiting for this day!

They are resting at their apartment and will start the 3 day training tomorrow morning!


Tatiana Mendakova, Director
SunErgos International

Along with updates posted here from our students, you can look for updates on the Sunergos blog page.

August 4

This afternoon 8 students left the US from a variety of cities, bound for St. Petersburg, Russia. The team will spend the remainder of August working with Sunergos International, helping with summer camps, orphanage visits and Vacation Bible School programs around St. Petersburg and nearby cities.

Sunergos International's director, Tatiana Mendakova is a SPU graduate who sensed God's call to ministry work in Russia during her own SPRINT experience. The team will learn a great deal from Tatiana, I'm sure.

Here are the team members who flew from SeaTac Airport in Seattle this afternoon.

Back to SPRINT.

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