Russia Contrasts Provide Army Opportunities
by Majors Don and Isa McDougald –
The falling snow whitewashed the grimy city street. As we walked around obstructions, we headed towards the small metal door in the face of the old stone building. Stepping into the small courtyard we saw a door with the lettering “Amiya Spasseniya” and we entered The Salvation Army social service center of St. Petersburg. Stepping through that doorway took us into another world.
Captains Joseph and Pamela Smith of the United Kingdom Territory were appointed to St. Petersburg to create a social service presence. It took months to locate property which was suitable with an owner willing to release his interest to this foreign military presence known as The Salvation Army. But a vision began to form and an ugly space was transformed into a beautiful service center in the heart of this great city.
Smith had served for several years in Moscow and was familiar with the type of construction workmanship in Russia. Spending hours daily, he was able to complete the plans to western standards and develop a facility that is astonishingly different from the typical building. There are bright lights in the room, colorful curtains on the windows lovingly made by Major Jan Hoofman, wife of the regional coordinator, coordinated tile and carpet and attractive pictures throughout. This has become a refuge of hope for hurting people.
As you step into the entry, you stand in front of a large desk where a receptionist greets you and asks if she might be of assistance. Whether your need is for food, medical help, alcohol or drug counseling or some other service, there is someone here who helps people. Each of the employees is a Christian. Physical needs are being met and the Gospel is given.
Our officer councils took place in one of the two classrooms upstairs. There are 18 officers in this region, of which half are Russian and the other are ex-patriates. The councils focused on Christian leadership and integrity.
After councils on the first day, Joseph takes us to the AIDS hospital outside the city. AIDS is still not understood as well as in the US and treatments are not available to the same extent as can be found in the Western world. This hospital is located well outside the city limits and it takes about an hour to drive to the remote location. It is a very large facility that opened to treat adults, and the first baby was abandoned here a year ago. Natasha is HIV positive and received it from her mother. Since then five more babies have been sent here, all but one abandoned by the mother. The youngest is six weeks old. Since this was originally a hospital for adults, it does not have facilities for babies. The cribs are three sided with the open side pushed against the wall and having only a woven twine to keep the baby from falling out the other side. The newborn lies on an adult bed with three mattresses, with pillows on each side to keep it from falling off the bed. Funds for baby cribs are needed.
The oldest is Natasha at 14 months. She is a happy baby and is delighted to see us walk in. Another baby, Nadia, begins to cry loudly, but stops when she is touched. The cry is for attention and she wants to be picked up, held and loved. Sasha is the only boy, and he sits in his crib rocking back and forth, the sign of a neglected child. We spend about an hour and a half playing with the babies, talking to them and generally giving them some stimulation and love.
Smith has a dream of being able to hire two Salvationists who would alternate coming to the hospital each day to stimulate the babies, change and keep them clean and to be of general assistance to the hospital staff.
The cost would be $3,500 for two people for one year, but the money is not available. (Ed. note: Since this was reported, the Pasadena Tabernacle Corps raised the funding as a gift for the Russian children.)
The Salvation Army in Russia has grown and now there are 38 corps in the former Soviet Union. But until full legal status is recognized, there are severe restrictions in some areas such as publishing, education and fund raising.
Donations can be accepted, but there can be no solicitation for funds. As a result, the only source of financial support for The Salvation Army work in Russian is Self Denial. The four US Territories and Canada provide 60 percent of the World Service moneys available and there are many needs and not enough funds to meet all the needs. Only special projects will buy the cribs and pay the salaries for needed services.