Meet *Alexei, he is one of the 90% of Russian orphans who have a living parent.
His mother is an alcoholic and because of her problems social services removed him from her care when he was a child and placed him in an orphanage. Even though she was deemed unsuitable to care for him, his mother did not lose her parental rights, meaning if she turned her life around she could have him back. She never did.
The fact that her rights were never removed meant that Alexei could not be adopted. Even when a family who offered him a loving, stable home applied to adopt him, her parental rights meant the adoption could not go ahead. Alexei was moved to a new orphanage and lost all contact with this family and hope of adoption.
At the age of 16, Alexei had to leave his orphanage and move in with his mum because a government room could not be offered since he was legally still hers. He could become homeless or to move in with the woman who’d made no effort to visit his orphanage and hardly knew him.
He spent little time at home, preferring to spend the majority of his day at a centre where many other orphanage leavers get together for socialising and life skills sessions. Here, they took this young man under their wing, teaching him valuable work ethics and skills by offering him work experience at the centre. He dutifully kept the place clean and ready for use and proved to be very hard working.
Recently, Alexei’s difficult upbringing got the better of him and for one afternoon he turned to drink. Not used to drinking, the alcohol quickly and suddenly took effect. His behaviour became dangerous and crazy which frightened others at the centre, resulting in physical damage to himself - thankfully no-one else was hurt. This awful episode was perhaps more extreme than most, but sadly, orphans going off the rails is not uncommon.
After sobering up Alexei was horrified by his actions and apologised to everyone affected by his behaviour. It is clear that he does not want to become like his mother. His Mentor was of course distressed and shocked by these events. But not for a moment was there any doubt that Alexei was forgiven and that the slate could be wiped clean.
We all mess up. But, for orphanage leavers with fewer pointers about right and wrong, no home support network or choices and opportunities open to them, the learning curve is often harder, more frequent and more painful than a young person with the privilege of a secure, sober and supportive loving family. This is why our Mentors are so important – they never give up on these young people and they show how God’s grace and forgiveness works. Working with vulnerable young people can be extremely challenging and we are constantly in awe of the love and care our Mentors give.
At Easter, we often reflect on the ‘new start’ we’ve all been given. Sometimes though, like Alexei, we make a mistake and life can come crashing down. We have to start again, re-evaluate and humbly ask for another new start. Thankfully, there is no limit to forgiveness! We pray that even through huge mistakes, orphanage leavers will learn that God loves them even more than they knew!
*Name changed for protection and privacy.