Students at Florida Hospital College have been saving money for Christmas for months. Not to buy the latest in technology or fashion, but instead, to buy a plane ticket to Russia to receive the greatest gift of all – a hug and a smile from a child.
Three years ago, Dr. Ann Vining, math professor at FHCHS, began leading mission trips to Russia. Each year, during Christmas break, groups loaded down with suitcases full of underwear, pajamas, clothes, toys, and hygiene items travel half a world away to become the eyes, ears, and hands of Christ to children in orphanages.
The group of 53 will spend most of their time at Zaoksky Adventist University, about 100 km south of Moscow, putting on eight separate Christmas parties for children in local orphanages. Funds raised before the trip help pay for busses that transport the kids to the program, a hot meal for each child, and horse-drawn sleigh rides. “Once the kids have seen the Christmas program and eaten their meal, we entertain them by making balloon animals and painting their faces,” Dr. Vining said. Each child is then given a gift of new underwear, a toy, a coat and gloves, and a new outfit—either jeans and a sweater or a jogging suit.
“The best part of these trips is that we have become ‘enablers’ for Zaoksky,” Dr. Vining said. She went on to explain that the town’s mayor has now begun to support aid given to the children’s homes and the Zaoksky community is able to work with the orphanages all year long. “We work hard while we’re there,” Vining commented. “We’re just so happy to be able to help!”