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The Journey between Black and White
by Julie Cramer
Posted on Tuesday, February 26, 2013
“Two years ago a boy came. He almost did not speak. He was more like an animal. He did not look into your eyes and he was very hungry. We tried to invite him to participate, but he refused. Then I asked him to come and talk with me, so we had tea together. I asked him to share a little bit about his situation and he started to cry,” said Tatyana Tarasova, a social psychologist working at the Orphan Outreach-supported Day Center for children in Liepaja, Latvia.

One day the then 14-year-old, Artur, had come home from school to find his mother in a drunken sleep. She had made sausages, and he knew he was only supposed to have one, but he was so hungry that he ate two. When his mother woke later and found out, she flew into a rage and stabbed him in the stomach with a knife. He nearly died. His mother went to prison, and shortly after, Artur’s father moved in with a new woman who mistreated Artur.

When Tatyana—nicknamed Tanya by the children—met Artur, his favorite color was black. Today it is white. But the journey he had to take from one to the other was far from simple.

“When Artur first came to the Day Center, he said that he hated women and that he would not trust anyone. His two older brothers are in prison, and although his father is very lovely, he is an alcoholic,” Tanya said. “I invited Artur to come one more time to the Day Center, and he came."

And he continued to come for the lunch served Monday through Friday at 3:30 p.m.

He was using alcohol, not thinking it was harmful to him, was one of the worst students in his school, and refused to participate in activities at the Day Center. He came to fill his belly, and stayed at the periphery ... a silent boy often mocked for his "ginger" hair.

But a year ago, he started to write songs. Hip-hop, to be specific.

“There was a lot of hatred in those lyrics,” Tanya said. “I asked him to come to my office and read them out loud. Then we would talk about all his feelings. We talked about forgiveness, and he said that he was not yet ready to forgive his mom.”

A typical Monday

Every day 40 to 50 school-age children bustle into the Day Center, which is open weekdays from 2 to 6 p.m. Before lunch the children sit down to do homework, and after they eat, some finish their studies. Others play games, do chores to help maintain the center, or play sports. Sometimes they watch movies about the dangers of substance abuse, a problem many of the children's parents have. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, there are Bible studies by age group. Fridays usher in tea time, when the children celebrate birthdays and have special discussions and activities.

As Tanya and I talked via Skype for this interview, we were interrupted intermittently with children bursting into the room, shouting their goodbyes. I could hear joy bubbling out of their greetings, affection in the way they called out Tanya’s name.

Zanda, 10, (pictured at right) stayed behind to speak to me for a minute.

“I come to the Day Center because I can play and spend fun time here, but we are not allowed to curse” she said with a giggle. “We talk a lot about God. That helps me with my friends and my mom.”

When I asked Zanda to describe herself, she said: “I am funny and I am very good and I really like to help smaller children. In the Day Center my favorite thing to do is to pray
to God and do my homework. I’m always thankful about the food that we receive, and I pray also that everyone would be healthy, and that everything would be good here.”

“The children do not want to go home now,” our translator added, as I waited for a new flurry of goodbyes and well wishes to quiet down. “The kids love Tanya.”

“Our first mission is to serve God and to show love to those who are most needy. Those are the kids who are lacking love and care,” Tanya said. “We are here as a tool in God’s hands to give the care and to provide the food or clothing for the kids that the families cannot provide for themselves. The Day Center is a testimony of how God is taking care of children and what God’s love looks like.”

The culture

“We live in the poorest region in the whole country, not just materially but also spiritually,” Tanya said of Liepaja. “A lot of people are poor because they haven’t received love. In this region are a lot of people who were sent here by the government because they could not pay for rent. Many are alcoholics, have many children, and were formerly in prison.”

It is in this cultural context that the Day Center strives to instill the children with a desire for healthy families, and a commitment to support each other. If loved and cared for well now, the children can grow up to transform their community.

“My vision is to meet the children’s spiritual needs first, but when we speak about God when a child is hungry or when someone has abused him, he simply does not hear about God,” Tanya said. But when the staff at the Day Center can feed children like Artur, they share the gospel tangibly—each life-saving word like a link of sausage.

“This is like a small island, a house for children, and I believe that kids will carry this in their memories," Tanya said. "Recently the kids filled out a questionnaire and many said they want to do something good with their lives. I really believe this is the place where God is going to transform these children,” Tanya said. “For many children before they came to the Day Center, all they had experienced was violence. Now a lot of kids have learned to trust the adults. They always will remember that those people who loved them were Christians, and I believe that this will change their lives forever.

“Our work is not easy; it’s like being in a war," she continued. "We have seen that there are many things that want to destroy this work here, but we know that this work with children must happen. They will suffer without it. We pray, and we invite others to pray, that this type of work happens not only here, but also in other regions. This type of work cannot be done by only one person; it needs to be done by many. Then no one is able to say ‘I did this,’ but that God did the work,” she said. “When Orphan Outreach stepped in to keep the Day Center from closing, it was like a testimony that God wants to continue this work. I’m very happy that to this day we have a very excellent partnership and that the work can continue. I’m very thankful to all those who are supporting and praying for us. That’s very, very important.”

"They always will remember that those people who loved them were Christians, and I believe that this will change their lives forever."

A white turn

During the past year, Artur has shed his love of black and dark lyrics. He has joined other children in dancing and singing. A month ago, he “gave his life to Jesus,” Tanya said.
“Now he is able to forgive his mom. And he really tries to change. This type of story ...
we have a lot.”

Dace Rence, director of Russia programs, leads the Day Center team, which includes Tatyana Tarasova—who holds a degree as a social psychologist and a diploma in theology and ministry from the Riga International Bible Institute. There are four teachers, two kitchen helpers, and four regular volunteers. Orphan Outreach has been supporting the Latvia Day Center for two-and-a-half years. For more information, or to help children like Artur and Zanda, click here now.

The Day Center for children was opened by a local pastor in 2007 and has been operating as a haven for the children in this area ever since. In 2012, the pastor left the program and Tatyana Tarasova took over the leadership role. Orphan Outreach has been supporting the program since 2010 by providing financial resources and sponsorships of the children. Orphan Outreach short-term mission teams have also provided humanitarian aid and evangelical outreach programs for the children.

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