Blagoveshchensk was quite an adventure 20 years ago

Twenty years ago, I traveled to Russia with three couples who were adopting babies. We spent a week in Blagoveshchensk (Blago) in the Russian Far East and then another week in Moscow.

It was an amazing trip for a number of reasons. The newspaper I worked for paid for me to accompany the three couples, who were all Christians, and I wrote a series of stories. Dr. Darwin Olson and his wife Barbara had lived in Blagoveshchensk for several months previously and had established a church there. They facilitated the adoptions after they formed a relationship with the orphanage in that city.

Blago is the administrative center of that region of Russia and it sits at the edge of where the Amur and Zeya Rivers come together. Across the river is the Chinese City of Heihe.

Blago is roughly half the size of Tulsa.

It is a fairly modern city. Twenty years ago, almost all of the residents lived in high-rise apartments. We stayed in an apartment across the hall from our translator, an out-of-work middle school teacher who was a member of the fledgling Christian church.

Part of this adventure was a series of flights that ended in Anchorage Alaska. A childhood friend’s husband was stationed at the Air Force base in Anchorage and we spent a day there exploring in a place where I had never been.

Then we flew into Russia and landed in a city with a major airport. From there we took the Trans Siberian Railroad to Blago. The over-night journey took 18 hours to go about 300 miles. There are no highways in that part of Russia and the train stopped at every little town because that was the primary access to civilization.

I speak no Russian but I was mildly surprised at how many Russians had studied English and most were eager to try out their English on our group of Americans.

Most of the Russians I spent time with were generous and warm people. They were poor but they were generous with their time and they cooked some wonderful meals for us.

I wished I could talk to them in their language but it is not an easy language to pick up.

Most Russians in Blago immediately identified our group as Americans. Back then, they didn’t get a lot of Americans, especially not tourists. I think that has changed. We dressed differently and obviously we spoke English.

Our translator told me that we were recognizable because we had healthy complexions. The Russians in that part of the world had a simple diet that didn’t provide a lot of nutrients and the cold climate (Blago is close to Siberia and it gets to 40 degrees below zero there) doesn’t allow much tanning.

The legal aspect of adopting Russian children was strict and it changed according to the whim of the judge and ruling authority. In fact, the Russian government at one point became embarrassed about the number of Russian children being adopted by Americans and the process in Blago was stopped. That’s a shame, because the Olsons arranged for dozens of babies to be rescued and they are now young adults in Tulsa and around America.

We had to go to Moscow to complete the adoption process. When we arrived, we discovered there was a glitch in the paperwork for one of the couples. They were distraught. The Russians said that their baby would have to stay in Moscow while they went back to America and started the process all over again.

Our group prayed for an answer. We called U.S. Rep. Steve Largent and asked for help. We met with U.S. Embassy officials and asked them to intervene.

Our prayers were answered and everyone was allowed to leave with their adopted children.

One memory that I took from that trip was when we visited the orphanage. The women who run the orphanage allowed a few of us to visit the classroom of their children. There were about 30 children who desperately needed a family.

Some were shy and hid from these unknown adults. Others rushed into our arms and wanted to be hugged.

I wanted to take a bunch home with me but that was impossible. I knew that the best thing I could do to help them was to tell their story and I did. I think that publicity led to a few more adoptions in Blago.

I was left with this. There is great need throughout the world. America is the great hope. But we cannot solve all of these problems. It is just too big a job.

Immigrants founded America. My family, I believe, came from England many generations ago.

There has to be order to immigration. We can’t have open borders. And those who come, must learn our language, obey our laws and develop loyalty to their new homeland.

I would never presume to relocate to Russia and expect the Russians to change to fit my language and culture. I would expect to adapt. I would follow their laws and try to fit in.

America is the most generous nation in the world. We take in more immigrants than anyone else and send out more foreign aid.

But unless we have orderly immigration, we will lose what we have and America and the rest of the world will be diminished.