Begin with part one here.
|Igor, before the Sorrow, age 29|
When Igor was arrested in June, 1994, and sentenced to fourteen years in prison for the heartbreaking and accidental killing of a young man, he must have questioned if he would ever return to his family or meet his unborn son.
Named for his grandfather, baby Roman, nicknamed Roma, was born later that year in August. I don't know if Russian prisoners in Republic of Georgia prisons get time off for good behavior like they do in this country, but if it were possible, Igor had loving family members who eagerly would have testified in his defense. I have "met" many of them. And I believe their stories of Igor. All who knew him claimed he was not capable of murder, only that he, in the words of his closest cousin, Lia, seemed "doomed from the beginning."
For the first, long years of Igor's incarceration, he could hang on to hope that he would one day return to his family. Even if he served all fourteen years, his baby would be fourteen, an age when a teenage boy would need a father. Through letters home, he wanted to be a presence in the lives of his children. But communication between Igor and his family became more restricted by the prison in Georgia, perhaps because of his Russian citizenship. He had received a letter with a photo of the baby when Roma was six months old, not much after that. Very little information was getting to Liana from her father in the prison, or to Igor, from his family. The prisoners were rarely allowed visitors.
Outside the prison walls, Igor's struggling family faced a difference kind of imprisonment. Marina gave birth to another son, Rostilav, in December 1999. Rostilav's father, the papa Roma thought was his own, was taken from the family by force. Emotionally fragile, Marina, who often turned to alcohol for relief, was unable to care for her children.
In March of 2000, Liana, fifteen, Roma, five, and Rostilav, only three months, were suddenly removed by the authorities from their home. Concerned neighbors had reported Liana and Roma were often on the streets, begging for food. Not so unlike his own painful childhood experience, his children were delivered to an orphanage. Marina was charged with neglect. Frightened and helpless, Marina had to appear before a judge and answer the charges. She had ten days to get a job and straighten out her life, or parental rights would be revoked. Ten days came and went. Nothing changed.
Cousin Lia learned the location of the children during a phone call from Raisa, Igor's stepmother. She had remarried eleven months after Roman, Igor's father died of cancer in 1987. Raisa was not able or willing to help rescue her step-grandchildren from the orphanage.
When Igor learned of his children's troubling situation, he still had nine years of his sentence to serve. Beloved Lia would help. He knew he could trust her to save his children. Lia tried to help from Georgia, but road blocks met her at every turn. The political hostilities made it impossible for Georgians to cross the border into Russia. Even though Lia was related, and had the means and the desire to take the children into her home, she was not allowed.
Surely there was a way. Lia and her family would figure out a way to help. Igor trusted Lia.
By 2001, Liana had aged out of the orphanage and attended a trade school. No one thought they would be in the orphanage that long. Liana did the only thing she knew to keep her family together. She marched back to the orphanage as often as she could to visit now six-year-old Roma.
Meanwhile Igor, remembering his months spent in an orphanage as a child with his sister Eteri, must have raged in his raw helplessness to deliver his son to safety. His own father had come for him. Surely one day both his children would go home. Surely Marina would be able to get them back, and they could survive as a family. Almost half his sentence was behind him. His behavior in prison was exemplary—he did nothing that might prolong his stay. Some days he could be hopeful. Others, he was despondent.
In their despair, did Igor, or Liana, or Lia ever cry out to God for help?
I grew up thinking the Communists were atheists. Russia had enjoyed only three years of relative freedom since Communism fell after eight destructive decades of evil tyranny before Igor was incarcerated in 1994. But even in darkness, God's Light can never be snuffed out. Even without a teacher, God's truth is written on our hearts
Although no obvious solution seemed forthcoming to an imploding family in southwestern Russia, or their distraught father confined to a Georgian prison 250 miles away, the God of the Universe was already at work making Divine provisions. While everyone wrung their hands in utter despair, God was making a Sacred connection with a clueless and reluctant mother in America. The same month Liana and Roma were delivered to the orphanage, March of 2000, I "heard" God speak to my heart for the first time about adoption. Although I did not know the tragedy of Roma's birth family until a few months ago, my own drama, told in But the Greatest of These is Love, was just beginning to transform my apathetic faith.
God was breathing His Spirit, and His crazy idea into my heart as I set innocently, minding my own business, in a small town in Maryland 5000 miles away. In my comfortable little corner of the universe, I was oblivious to the family tragedy brewing in a remote area in the Caucus mountain range.
Had a desperate and helpless father cried out to the Heavens for help for his son he would never know? I keep thinking of Igor—my unexpected tears for him, his loyal, loving family members, his identical appearance to our son—his son and mine, Lia's haunting description of his cursed "doom."
And yet, I know God is fair. God redeems it all. I don't know what that looks like, but I trust God to make it all perfect, even to Roma's first relatives who suffered great loss. Even to Igor. Eventually, God will redeem it all. And I believe the redemption has begun. I pray that Roma's first family will have peace and healing after years of anguish and torment and uncertainty. Roma will not be their son or brother or cousin in the purest sense, but we all pray that we will go forward as family, as best we can. Here on Earth we have limitations, but in Heaven, there will be no barriers to our love and family.
God's Revelation of Himself though these experiences, beginning in March of 2000 and continuing to this day, has changed me. For the better.
So has Roma's love. I pray my love has done the same for him.
(I have just a few more photos and little more information to share in the next/last post. I still have so many questions. Maybe I'll get more answers.)
Continue with part Eleven here