[originally posted in 2001]

On my first trip to Russia, I went with several members of the Austin, Texas team to an orphanage (Baby Home #6) that houses some children with Down’s Syndrome. Before going, I was apprehensive about how I would be able to relate to the kids there. I felt, though, that I should go and play my guitar; Beth Shanklin and others encouraged me that the children need as many different kinds of stimulation as possible. So, I figured I’d play some music.

I aspire to play music that is restful and brings peace. Often I’ll lay my head on top of the guitar as I play–this way I can not only hear the music with my ears, but I feel it in my bones. The music comforts me, and it’s very cool the way the music can be both outside and inside at the same time.

As I was playing, a little red-haired girl walked by, and she noticed the vibrations of the guitar. I assume her hearing was not very good because of what happened next. She reached out and touched the guitar and let her hand move over the wood and the strings; she was slowly discovering the music I was playing. As she realized what was happening, she grabbed the guitar, pulled herself to it, and rested her forehead against the instrument and so she could hear/feel the music. We listened to the music that way for about ten minutes.

So, here was a little Russian orphan girl and an older American man sharing the beauty of God’s gift of music. It was a blessed moment. I pray that she received a blessing from the Father–an experience of peace and beauty as a gift from Him to her, through me.

Here’s an update from a year and half later: I visited the summer camp where children from Baby Home #6 stay during the summer. One of her teachers told me that she is very musical. Imagine that!

My Guitar

Many of you know that I love to give away guitars when I come here. So, on almost every trip I’ve made I brought a guitar to be given to some person or group who needs one. I’ve given one to an orphan named Vanya, I gave one to an orphanage for street kids, and the last one was given to my church, Street Cry. They have a great music ministry (doing concerts on the streets), and they needed a nice acoustic guitar. I was going to sell mine to them (they offered to buy it), but just as we came to the time to “talk money,” I felt the Spirit tell me to give it to them.

A friend once told me, “The Kingdom of God is not about buying and selling, it’s about giving and receiving.” When I gave the guitar to John Russell at Street Cry, he said “God is gonna bless you.” I thought, “well, OK, whatever” and didn’t really want to presume about what the Lord was going to do. After all, we don’t give to get.

The place I buy my guitars is a classic store in Austin run by a classic-looking old feller named Ray Hennig. He’s been in the guitar business for 40 years, and he’s known as a tough, crusty businessman. When I bought my first guitar from him last year, I told him what I was doing: working as a Christian in Russia, planning to give the guitar to an orphan. He said, “you have touched my heart. I love kids, and I love the Lord.” I was dumbfounded, but super happy. After giving away the first guitar, I was able to give him a picture of Vanya playing the guitar he sold me. Since then, Ray and I have shared our faith with each other when we’ve met. One time when I was in Austin, I felt that I should have a good, concert quality guitar here in Russia. I don’t want to be carrying my good guitar back and forth to America. So, this time I came looking for a very good guitar. Of course, this meant that the guitars I would want to buy would cost more than I had to spend! But I looked anyway.

I felt that I should ask my church in Austin, Red River Church, if they would take up an offering for a guitar. I was hoping to raise a few hundred dollars to offset the difference between a pretty good guitar and a very nice guitar. At the end of the service on Sunday, Keith Atkinson explained the situation to the congregation and asked to take up an offering for “Mike’s Guitar Fund.” We set out a little basket. In just a few minutes the church had donated over $1200!!!! Amazing. Thank you, Lord. Wow.

The next day, I went and met with Ray. I told him that I had enough money to buy a nice guitar and told him how much had been given at church. He said, “are you Catholic? Only Catholics can raise that kind of money that quick.” But no, we’re just a small Protestant church. So (this has turned into a long story), I bought a very nice Martin cutaway jumbo with on-board electronics (for you guitar players) that has a sweet, full, even sound. It’s a joy to play, and I am blessed. I will be playing it for orphans and widows.

I say all this to encourage you to walk with God. He has built the world to function much better when we give selflessly, when we consider others first. I have received many blessings from wonderful people who bless in wonderful ways. And their blessings to me overflow into blessings for people here in Russia. It’s the way God works in the world. I am a walking testimony to His goodness and mercy. As I play this guitar I praise God and remember His provision and love. It is a testimony of His kindness.


[originally posted in 2001]

I met Paulina during the summer of 2000 in one of the non-ambulatory wards at the children’s home in Pavlovsk. She is ten years old, with severe cataracts–as far as I can tell she can see when the light changes but can not see any distinct forms. She does not speak; she does not walk; she is not able to bathe or feed herself.

When I first saw her, she was sleeping, all curled up with her arms over her face–closed to the world. I sat next to her and began to play the guitar. She heard the music and was at first unsure how to respond, then she broke into a very large smile and stretched her body out in a very graceful way. I think she would have been a ballerina if she did not have her disabilities. Her response to the music was wonderful to see. Then, she reached out to me and pulled my hand toward her and held it against her chest for a long time. It was an honor and a pleasure to pray for her as she held my hand. I prayed for her spirit to be at peace, I prayed blessing on her. I prayed that she would be great in the kingdom of heaven, since she is so “low” here on earth. That is the way God has built creation: those who are last shall be first.

I went back to visit her at every opportunity. The second time I played for her, I moved the guitar so that it touched her body–this allowed her to feel the resonance of the instrument. She reached out to the guitar and held on to the instrument to feel, as well as hear, the music. God has given me comfort through this music, and I know He also comforted Paulina as I played. Even though we don’t share a language, and she can’t see my face, the music connected us–two people connected by a gift of God. This is a very holy thing.

The Austin team has provided supplies to help her as she lives in the orphanage, but just as important is our being there to serve her through human contact, by loving her. The workers there do the best they can–they obviously care for the kids, but the work is overwhelming for them, and they can not give each child the attention a person needs; we are called to love them with the love of God.

Paulina is one of 140 children in the non-ambulatory wards at the orphanage. Please pray for her.

Update: I visited Paulina three years after first seeing her. She is growing!! The nurses at the orphanage say that she loves music! She is blind and does not speak, but at least she is now able to sit in a chair and move some. When I first met her, she was bedridden. I’m not sure how much she can understand around her. Both of her grandmothers visit her, but her parents now live in New York–they’ve abandoned her because of her disabilities. To think that she’s been in this orphanage since she was a baby, and she’ll be here until she turns 18 and is sent to an adult facility.