The story of God’s care for one “useless” Russian child
By Lori Belden Pope
“Why would anyone want such a useless child?” the judge in the Russian adoption court asked. Vladimir, like countless thousands of other children all over Russia, was a throwaway, condemned to an orphanage by a mother and a culture that found no use for a child who was less than perfect.
By God’s grace and the dedication and determination of a family in our church, Vladimir left the orphanage on his sixth birthday to come to America where he joined our family as Kenton Vladimir. He came with scabs still visible from his bout with chicken pox. He came with brittle hair, bones and emotions. He came with an arm and leg atrophied by cerebral palsy, crossed eyes and a lopsided grin that allowed saliva (and dinner) to run down his chin. He also came with determination honed to a sharp edge by the basic need to survive.
He came with only a little suitcase but lots of “baggage” gathered from years of neglect and probably physical abuse. He came without a real understanding of love. Not only did he not know how to give love, more tragically he did not know how to receive it. When he hurt himself, he ran away from us instead of to us for comfort. He did not know God. He did not have a word for God in his small vocabulary, but he said, “Nit God!”(No God) vehemently when someone would try to discuss the Almighty with him.
After he had been in our home for about six months, equipped with different life experiences, Sunday school lessons and a lot more English he asked, “Why do people in Russia not love God?” To which I answered, “How do you know that they don’t love God?” He shot back, “Because if they loved God, they would have told me about God.”
Physical, occupational, speech and vision therapy filled our schedules already crammed full with jobs, the needs of our biological son and a new baby who arrived the same week as our Russian son. Sometimes I felt that I needed “therapy” to help with the stress of juggling schedules, therapy, medical appointments and raw emotions.
Sometimes we felt that we needed therapy for the stress of the misunderstandings that surfaced almost daily with our friends, neighbors and family who did not comprehend the enormity of the daily struggles we experienced with even the most mundane activities. For instance, a child with only one good arm cannot tie his own shoes or cut his own meat. A child with no depth perception falls frequently. A boy with no normal reflexes to catch himself sustains injuries on a regular basis. We began to think we deserved a personalized parking place at the emergency room.
Our son, who had always lived with a strict routine and then experienced such a drastic change in his life, could not tolerate any kind of change in his schedule, and friends and family were offended when we could not flex to accommodate simple things like visits or birthday surprises.
Our son had sleep disorders, eating disorders and disorders with names we could not pronounce. Our hours of sleep as well as our bank account became greatly diminished.
In a few weeks, we will celebrate Kenton’s 18th birthday. It is a huge milestone but not nearly as important as the one nine years ago when we celebrated his new birth in Christ.
Kenton is now a junior at a Christian high school where, with good teacher support, he achieves an average grade point average in regular education classes. With the help of understanding coaches, he has played on the tennis team, the soccer team and currently is on the swim team, though we have not figured out how he manages to swim in a straight line with only one good arm. This winter he learned to ski.
Our son has had many victories but that is not to say that they have not come without cost or that his or our lives are or will be easy. We are grateful that he can volunteer at the local Mennonite Central Committee store and that he is applying for summer jobs.
Kenton is now counting on attending college. When a career counselor from a secular agency asked him what he wanted to do for a career, he said “Whatever God wants me to do.” Not bad for a kid who once was thought to be “useless.”
Lori Belden Pope is a speech/language pathologist who lives in Reedley, Calif., with her husband, Kevin, their three children—Lyle, Kenton and Annalisa—and a houseful of pets. They attend Reedley MB Church.