During the summer of 2014, our family decided to become an ABRO host family. I am so glad that we stepped out in faith and made that decision. In the months before 10-year-old Dasha came into our lives we knew very little about her. I knew she liked to read, that she was a little bit afraid of the dark and we had her picture; a picture, that trust me I examined in detail, looking for any additional clues to find out more about her. After her arrival, it was amazing how quickly we bonded with Dasha. She became part of our family and her family became part of our family. Dasha has a loving mother, Tatyana, a father, Ivan, and a little brother, Seva. We talk on the phone and text and also Skype to keep in touch when she is not with us. Dasha’s mother speaks English which makes it much easier for us to communicate with her family.

The ABRO Christmas trip was announced in 2014 and I quickly was interested in going. I very much wanted to see and learn about the places that Dasha spoke of. Unfortunately, that trip never materialized because of lack of interest. Dasha was so disappointed that I would not be visiting. When the trip in 2015 was announced I again expressed interest. I had some serious health problems that summer and had to get permission from my doctor to make the journey. I got the medical release for travel and decided I was going. I had faith that everything would be fine. Thankfully, there was enough interest in the trip and it was not canceled! My goal for the 2015 ABRO trip was to learn more about Dasha’s world. I wanted to see with my own eyes where she lived, her school, stores her family used, and their summer house. I wanted to experience myself their customs and culture. Her family, especially her little brother, was very excited for my visit and they couldn’t wait to show me their country.

I also planned on spending time with the ABRO group at an orphanage and a picnic in Mogilev with current, former, and candidate host children. I had a full agenda planned. I was very excited about the trip and couldn’t believe I was actually going.

Dasha’s mother and father picked me up at the airport. We then drove 2 ½ to 3 hours to Mogilev, the city where they live. It has a population of about 370,000 people. There is quite a difference between city life in Belarus versus rural life in West Virginia. Most people in Belarus don’t have cars. They walk and use public transportation. Because I had never seen them before, I found the trolley buses interesting. People live close to work, schools, and stores. They walk no matter the weather outside. People have a harder life in the villages where there isn’t public water and sewer systems and they are further from public transportation and work.

There were apartment buildings everywhere and they all looked practically the same to me. Dasha lives on the sixth floor of one of these buildings. The apartments themselves are very small, compact, and practical. It was not as open as it had appeared during our Skype calls. They have a washing machine but no dryer so they hang their clothes to dry. The kitchen was small but adequate. There was no dishwasher. Dasha has her own room and it is very small. She has a small bed, desk, and a small wardrobe for clothes with a couple of shelves. A lot of the clothes were ones I had given her. The most obvious thing to me was Americans have too much stuff!

The grocery store surprised me. It was much better than I expected. I expected shelves to be empty and the fruit and vegetables to be spoiled or not available. It wasn’t that way at all. Apparently, it was hard to get things after the fall of the Soviet Union, but it is not that way anymore. The store was comparable to a small WalMart. There were fresh fruits and vegetables and the quality seemed just the same as our stores. They also had tanks of fresh fish. During one of our visits, Tatyana bought a fish and they put it in a grocery bag. I said, “Are they going to kill it?” She said, “It will die.” So we took the bag home with the fish in it. The bag moved when she set it down on the table in the kitchen. I screamed and we all had a good laugh.  We had a delicious fish dinner that night. We went to that store several times. They seem to go more frequently to the stores than we do but buy less quantities at one time.

One of the things I wanted to do was to visit the family’s dacha, their summer house. Even though it obviously wasn’t summer, I still really wanted to see it. It took us seven minutes to get there from their apartment in Mogilev. It is in a small nearby village. They have a garden there where Tatyana grows flowers, herbs, and vegetables. Ivan has building a garage at the summer house so that someday he can do his car repair work there instead of renting a garage in Mogilev. They spend most every weekend there during the summertime. The yard was very large and it gives Seva a chance to get outside and play. There was no indoor plumbing at the summer house. It had a central wood stove for heat that Ivan built himself. It had a cellar under the floorboards in which Tatyana stores canned vegetables and potatoes.

I checked the weather forecast regularly before my departure. I was expecting it to be cold during my trip, perhaps temperatures in the 20-30 degree Fahrenheit range. The forecast was wrong. It was colder, much colder. A couple of mornings it was -8 degrees Fahrenheit.  We had to scrape the windows of the car, the inside of the car! Of course the Belarusians are used to it being cold. They are out walking everywhere, bundled up in big fur coats, covered with scarves and hats. They pull their babies in the cutest little sleds just like we push ours in strollers. My fingers were really the only thing that got cold. I wish I had taken my better gloves, ski gloves. Next time…

The public restrooms in Belarus are interesting! You never knew what you were going to get and it was best to be prepared. Some of them you had to pay to use which did not necessarily equate to being a better restroom. At one stop, I opened a perfectly normal restroom stall door and in front of me was a hole in the floor. Yes, a hole in the floor. Although, that particular one did have toilet paper! Another type of restroom I found was one that had a toilet yet it had no seat. Yep, no seat. I have yet to figure out the logic behind that one.

One thing I realized on my trip is that people are pretty much the same no matter where they live or what language they speak.  We had so much fun playing Bean Boozled, the jelly bean game where you don’t know if you are going to have eat a good jelly bean or a bad jelly bean. Expressions are priceless if you have to eat something that tastes like dog food! Dasha’s family enjoyed teaching me about their culture and history. I loved learning about what they traditionally do to celebrate New Year’s Eve. I witnessed how hard Tatyana and Ivan work to provide for their children. Dasha’s family is just like mine. They have the same wants and desires. They work hard but they also enjoy having fun. They need to have a hope for a better tomorrow. My desire is that through this ministry, through this one child, we can provide her family a light, an eternal hope that only our Lord and Savior can provide.

Next Year! Yes, I’m already thinking about a future trip. My son has told me he wants to go and I may let him. I think it would be a good experience for him and perhaps help him realize how truly blessed he is. If you have the desire to go, go! Don’t be scared, take that step of faith. I was asked by one of our host children’s father what I was most afraid of in coming to Belarus and “Was it the bears?” I have laughed about this numerous times. No, it was not the bears! There were several other things higher on my list. I guess I was too naive to think about bears. But, it would probably be best if we kept it simple and only worried about the bears!

The trip was a blessing to me and I highly recommend it to anyone associated with the ABRO ministry.