It’s been almost twenty years since the sisters and brothers of Saint Elisabeth Convent started to visit the Boarding Home for children with special needs, which is located near the Convent grounds in Minsk.
The children who live there are special children – starting from Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, different birth traumas and finishing with severely ill children with multiple genetic illnesses and traumas. Some children are bed-ridden and even have very short lives. All of these wonderful children have been abandoned by their families due to various reasons, and they are also orphans.
They live in this institution called Boarding Home all their lives, nobody adopts them.
As Jesus Christ calls us to serve those in need – especially the young – the Convent helps the Boarding Home provide long-term care for about 100 children with mental and mobility disabilities placed in institutional care. The numbers vary, as other institutions sometimes close down and children are transferred. When children turn 18 years old they are transferred to the Boarding Home for adults which we support as well. Thus, we do not abandon them and continue our journey together.
How we serve the spiritual needs of these children
Children with disabilities, or special children, as we call them, need a lot of love and support. The Boarding Home is run and operated by the local government, but we make sure the children’s spiritual needs are properly cared for.
The dynamics of their development largely depends on other people. And this is exactly why it is a part of our ministry – we want to give them a chance to live a full and happy life in Christ. We want to bring God into their lives.
We provide spiritual and social help and rehabilitation to children. Supporting their spiritual lives, God granted us a chance to build a chapel in the name of St. Nektarios of Aegina on the territory of the Boarding Home. We regularly take the children to the chapel to participate in Liturgy and molebens there. We do everything together: attend services, pray, receive Holy Communion. We also take them to our Convent, to field trips, pilgrimages to holy places, and celebrations, provide hippotherapy. Some children are hard to transport, but despite any difficulties, the amount of joy and happiness we receive overwhelm our hearts. Children are extremely happy when people come to visit them.
We also bring happiness in their everyday lives
Additionally, we organize concerts for children and other activities such as arts and crafts.
At our Convent, there are various clubs that are organized for children. The children can learn how to draw, create cartoons, make various crafts.
In addition, there is a theater studio here at Saint Elisabeth’s. Children with disabilities get to participate in theater plays as real actors. This is extremely important because special kids require special attention and support.
How these children bring us closer to the Kingdom of Heaven
When our sisters and brothers (both lay and monastic) first started visiting Boarding Home, they were shocked with the many problems and injustices that those small toddlers, infants and teenagers live through. At some point, they realized that these are God’s people, dearly loved and cared for by Our Lord. They are much closer to God than we are.
The children may suffer bodily pain on this earth, as well as mental suffering from being rejected by society, but their souls reign in the Heavenly Kingdom.
Our sisters and brothers have found that they need them, as much as they need us, they treat our souls and spiritual infirmities. And it is a miracle. There is another world in the Boarding Home, very different from ours. God is certainly in their lives, and we are lucky that we have a chance to share our faith and our church practices.
This is the most rewarding ministry of ours, alongside the Boarding Homes for mentally challenged adults.
Because these people possess heavenly love, they give it and radiate everywhere. Elder Nicholas (Gurianov) when he gave a blessing to visit the Boarding Homes and hospitals said, “You will be saved through the prayers of these people.” We are lucky if they are praying for us.
The COVID crisis has stopped a lot of our work
At the moment, we are unfortunately not allowed to visit children due to the pandemic, as many of them are in very fragile medical conditions. So, medical personnel, nurses, teachers are working in the Boarding Home in 14 days shifts. Visitation is forbidden.
But we still help financially: purchase fruit, clothing, special nutrition for bed-ridden children and provide humanitarian help.
As the Boarding Home is under quarantine measures at the moment, we visit another institution which is open. It is the Social-Pedagogical Center of Minsk region where minor children under the age of 18 temporarily stay after they are withdrawn from problematic families.
The center usually houses 5 to 15 children. Our sisters and brothers regularly visit them and have talks, do fun things, travel along Belarus (pilgrimages, zoo, field picnics). We organize transportation, food during trips, spiritually support children and do not leave them alone.