Chelsea Charping is a Samaritan’s Purse staff writer who visited the Republic of Georgia to cover Operation Christmas Child distributions and The Greatest Journey classes and graduation.
As a writer, I usually spend a day in each community I visit before moving on to somewhere else. I meet people, share their lives for a day, and then never see them again. I return home to write stories about these people whom I only met for a few hours. Although I may feel like I know them, I only saw a small window of their lives.
My most recent trip to the Republic of Georgia was different. I spent three days in a village called Vaziani, and on the fourth day, I attended a graduation for the children of that community who had completed The Greatest Journey, the discipleship program for kids who receive Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.
I know the names of those boys and girls, and I know their hopes and dreams. I have played with them, laughed with them, and scolded them. This community is special for me, and one of the main reasons is because of a woman I met who has sacrificed much for God and seen the results.
On the way to Vaziani, there’s a military base that was originally home to Soviet soldiers. Farther down the road, there are bleak apartments where the soldiers used to live.
After the fall of Communism, the soldiers abandoned their apartments. The homes were crumbling, but that didn’t stop the poorest Georgians from seeking shelter in them. As soon as a Georgian locked the door to an apartment, it became hers. No payment was needed.
When I arrived in Vaziani, I met Nina Yu. Her Korean face stood out among the Georgian people. I wondered how she had come so far from her home to live in this desolate place.
She told the story of her salvation and how she came to realize the missionary calling in her life. She left South Korea to share God’s love with former Soviet countries. She moved to Tajikistan and then traveled through Georgia and Armenia. She decided to stay in Georgia because she could live in the country for a year without a visa.
After eight months, Nina looked for permanent housing. A friend showed her Vaziani, but she never even thought of making her home there.
“When I came here, nothing was here,” she said. “Previously, it was [a] really old house and no roof, and there was only garbage. And after that, the blessing came.”
Following the Call to Vaziani
Nina met a man and his wife who wanted someone to help them study the Bible. Although Vaziani was unappealing, she felt God calling her to the community. She decided to renovate two flats for her home.
She began hosting people in her home and sharing the Gospel with them. Around 20 to 25 people came and left. As Nina struggled to share the Gospel with these people, she noticed the children in the community.
“For Georgia’s future, it’s much better to teach kids,” she said. “In 10 years, they will become teachers themselves.
There is no church in Vaziani, so most children don’t know about Christ. Nina said they bow down when they see a cross, but that is the extent of their beliefs. They live in difficult circumstances without the hope of Jesus.
“Even though I was just one person, I wanted to try to help them,” Nina said. “As long as I live, [my] heart gets heavier and heavier and more painful. I want to put this light of God in their empty hearts, but it’s really hard for me. Of course I can do anything with God.”
Nina began inviting students to her apartment for lessons. Sometimes it was difficult to teach them with just the Bible because they didn’t understand. When Nina found The Greatest Journey curriculum, she was relieved. She began using the books to teach other teachers, and now there are two classes for The Greatest Journey in Nina’s apartment.
The books make teaching easier because there are pictures and simple language. The children also paint and act in short plays to help them remember what they’ve learned. So far, 50 students have gone through The Greatest Journey with Nina, and many of them say the class introduced them to Jesus and changed them.
Usually when I travel, I see suffering. But in Vaziani, I saw a community that is changing with the next generation. Most of the children reported that they are now happy. They have fewer worries, and many of them have seen their home lives improve since sharing Gospel stories with their parents.
Some of them want to leave the community. Others want to get an education and help the people they live around. All of them are now intent on telling others what they have learned from Nina.
Through one middle-aged woman who obeyed God’s call on her life, an entire generation in a community in Georgia is changing.