Sunday, March 23, 2014


I will start off by saying that Russia was hard; rather, the most difficult country I have ever visited. There were moments of tears, moments of loneliness and confusion, and most of all, moments that I questioned why I felt so impressed to go to Russia, Voronezh in particular.

While in Moscow I had somewhat of an epiphany as I showed photos of Аnna to Illya, his great grandmother and the woman I refer to as Babooshka. Illya had never met Anna, never even seen a photo of her until I had showed him the one of the two of us. Timofey hadn't been home to see any of his family in 17 years. I knew at that moment that I was the bridge for their family, but it wasn't until tonight that I really understood what that meant. 

At 8:00 I knocked on my neighbors door, Irena answered, all three of the ladies, including Babooshka were sitting at the table. I walked in and handed them the matryoshka from Voronezh, telling them it was from the small town she was from. I proceeded to show them photos on my iPad of Анна, Voronezh, and Moscow. 

Irena looked at me in awe, "I can't believe you went there. I can't believe you're safe and are home. I felt so guilty when I told you where she was from and then you decided to go. My son yelled at me and told me it was my fault you were going to the middle of nowhere. I figured when I told you to go to Russia you would go with a tour group, not on your own. We prayed for your safety, you are brave. You are just like a Russian, strong, and you are now ready for Siberia." 

She was astounded that I had found this small town of Анна, no one in their family had ever been there. Babooshka was born on June 21, 1916 (something that they actually have to assume because birth dates were not exact, they only knew she was born in peak harvest season). She lived in Анна until the age of 17 and then moved to Voronezh and on to Uzbekistan. 

"We figured you would go to Moscow or St. Petersburg, or maybe even Uzbekistan, but why Voronezh? She only lived there for a little over a decade?"

I told her Russia was hard. It was a difficult and trying experience and when I got to Анна I questioned why I was there, why I had even come to Russia. Irena said, "I knew you would get there and ask yourself that, we sent you to the end of the world, the middle of nowhere. It is desolate and dirty." I told her it wasn't until I showed photos to Illya that it all made sense, that I could be the middle man for this family.

"You are the family alliance, you are a hero, you are heroic for our family."

She continued in awe, awe that I had found this small town and photographed it for them. I told them I photographed a war monument there, asking if anyone in their family had died in the war. Irena pulled out a photo and said that Babooshka's husband died in 1944, Anna was 24 when he died and had two young children to raise on her own. It was sad but the harsh reality of Russia at the time. Shortly after his death, Anna took the children and moved to Uzbekistan.  Irena translated everything for Babooshka, lifting her scarf and raising her voice in her ear. As the photos of Illya and Timofey came across the screen, tears of happiness and a raised pitch came out of their mouths, "Timofey, Timofey."

I told them I would go through all of the photos, make a photo album for them and give it to them in the next few weeks. Once again speechless, all she could say was, "you're a hero." I went to leave the house and Anna got up walking to the door to give me a hug and kiss. "You are always welcome in this house, you don't need to bring photos, just come, please come, you're our hero."I held back tears, perhaps because it has been a rough 24 hours for me in general, and also because it was emotional to see the impact just a few photos had for this family. I had stepped foot on soil that their grandmother was from, a place they had never been but only heard of. I had, in their eyes, risked my life to do this for their family. A young girl, by herself, took her camera to a foreign country, where no one spoke English, and went to the ends of the earth just to bring back these images for their family. 

This is what makes my job worth while, this is what washes away all the hard times I went through within that long week, this is what gives emotion and feeling behind the photographs I took, and this is what will live on in that family for generations to come. 

"I will write this all down, everything you have done, for Anna. She may not be able to hear everything we talked about but she can read, and this is history, you've made history for our family."


  1. What an amazing and selfless way to share your talent! I love this post! I lived in Ukraine as a missionary and I know eastern Europe can be challenging. But as you have discovered they may be straight faced on the streets but when you get to know them in their homes they are the kindest, most gracious people you will ever meet. Sounds like you have found a permanent place in the hearts of this family. Thanks for sharing! Makes me miss my babooshkas! :)

  2. Either someone is cutting onions or a dust storm just kicked up...

  3. Sister it is amazing to witness through your blogs how deep a personal human relationship can be. As a nurse I have had the opportunity to tap into this type of human connection many times. Once you get a taste of how fulfilling life can be when we truly love one another and nurture one another it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities as to what we can achieve in life. This is the substance that feeds our existence. I love you more than words can say. Sister you have found and experienced what feeds the soul. True love. You and that family have been able to be a blessing to each other. There is now an everlasting bond that will forever be cherished. My heart overflows with happiness for you. If you ever feel an emptiness inside, remember these types of relationships are what feeds the soul and helps us grow. I love you dearly.

    Your Sister,



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