The Pankova Family in Russia:
Alexey, Tonia, Dima, Alyona and Losha
On the other end of the city, just off the main road and near a shopping center, is a piece of land with a few large buildings. It is an orphanage that holds almost 250 children ranging from age three all the way up to sixteen and seventeen. It is the nicest and newest-looking building is the school, and the older red-brick one is their housing. When we first moved to Altai in 2008, we started praying and seeking God for direction on how to minister to the kids in the orphanage.
The open doors didn’t come right away though God always has His timing. And every time I drive by, many emotions and thoughts fill my heart and mind. Thankfulness that God opened certain doors at the right times, gratitude that three of the kids from this place have joined our family, and also helplessness because I realize once again that we can’t change every single life in there.
The open doors didn’t come right away though God always has His timing
Over the last several years, part of our involvement in the community here has been through teaching moral values on abstinence to young people in schools and colleges. Gradually, we were able to develop connections with teachers and school directors who valued the importance of influencing kids early enough so that they can make wise decisions in life. My husband and I decided to approach the director of the local orphanage about coming to teach the older kids on topics like smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, relationships, and peer pressure. We were welcomed with open arms and thus began an ongoing relationship with the workers and staff, and eventually with some of the kids who live there. That turned into Alexey volunteering his time to lead a boys’ club for the pre-teens, which consisted in doing different activities with them and talking about life. He began by merely showing them love and attention. Little did we know then what God had in store.
Our involvement with the orphanage had taken on different forms and shapes – weekly clubs for both boys and girls of different ages, special events, Christmas parties, games and activities at their summer camp, and there was even a period when Alexey worked part-time as a ‘mentor/consultant’. There’s nothing like the experience of walking through the doors and being bombarded by half a dozen kids who were waiting all week for you to show up, or when one of them won’t leave your side the whole day just because they want to be near you and not miss their chance of being noticed.
Let me give you a better idea of the kinds of kids we are working with. Not all of them are actual orphans in the true sense of the word – of course, some are. Mostly, they are kids who still have a living parent but either their mom or dad is an alcoholic, is in jail, or doesn’t have parental rights anymore, or sadly enough, is not interested in taking care of their flesh and blood.
All over Russia, alcoholism is widespread and has directly affected the numbers of orphaned children. This is truly devastating. There are roughly 100,000 orphans around the country, and although many are adopted or taken into foster families, it still only feels like a small ripple in a big ocean.
Our oldest, Dima, joined our family almost four years ago right after his 12th birthday. He didn’t have any siblings, and his biological parents had passed away when he was still quite little. In the months leading up to our first adoption, Alexey was doing a weekly boys’ club at the orphanage and over time he and Dima seemed to develop a special bond. I kept hearing more and more about a particular boy that grabbed Alexey’s attention and heart. I remember being so nervous and excited when I first met Dima, and he was shy of course, but it didn’t take long for me to see what my husband had seen in him. We got permission for him to stay with us for the summer, and within a couple of weeks, we knew what we needed to do. When we asked Dima about becoming our son, right away he said a big YES!!
He has changed so much, and we thank God for giving us our ‘first-born’ at just the right time. Dima loves art and drawing, is athletic, has traveled with us many times to Canada. Dima. I am excited to see what God has planned for his future!
After adjusting to being a family of three and continuing our involvement at the local orphanage, Alexey and I felt the desire to adopt again. Like before, we didn’t know the details, and so we left it all in God’s hands. A couple of years after Dima appeared, we were leading a girls’ club every week for the 11 and 12-year-olds. This time, it was me who began noticing strong-willed and feisty Alyona. She easily caught my attention, hugging me tighter and longer with every visit. Although we had considered taking a much younger child, we knew that God had something better planned. We asked for permission to have Alyona at our house for the spring break last yea, so that we could get to know each other better, and that’s when we found out that she also had a brother living in the same orphanage!
God makes families in many different and unique ways!
Losha is just a year younger than his sister and most of the time is quite a comedian. He is full of energy loves to tell jokes and stories, and like his new older brother is very athletic. Our two younger ones have only been in our family for less than a year, so we are still adjusting to being a family of five now! Our house is noisier, messier, a bit more crowded, BUT we have the privilege of being parents to three great kids. God makes families in many different and unique ways!
Recently, our children told me they would never want to live in the orphanage again. All three of them have come from hard places. All they saw there was fighting, stealing, manipulation and overworked staff who couldn’t always give them what they needed. Happily, a home and being part of a family has given them love, acceptance, forgiveness and a hope for the future.
Please join us in praying for the Pankov family. We invite you to connect with them by email/mail and social media too. Here’s how you can stay connected:
Address: 80-135 Pawlychenko Lane Saskatoon, SK, S7V 1J8
To learn more about how you can partner with Alexey and Tonia's ministry,check out PAOC International Mission's current capaign to plant a church with the Pankova's community.