The steel grey winter sky is a familiar welcome. I’ve heard the summers in St Petersburg are beautiful – with only four hours of darkness, the city comes alive with color and music and dancing. But that isn’t the St Petersburg that has come to haunt my soul. Her palette is muted with columns of steam and clouds that rage against a sun that appears for a brief moment. Color aggressively punches through the gray, reminding the world she is not hibernating at all. It’s those colors that are painted on my heart.
There is the robin egg blue of the Church on the Spilt Blood. Tiny mosaics paint every inch of the cathedral with story. Thousands of hands now anonymous washed the walls with color before the floors were washed with blood in war.
There are the red carnations ever present on the World War II memorial, a silent song to a country that has been reborn and reborn and reborn and still hungers to be reborn.
There are the rainbows in folded paper and paint and scraps of fabric in the orphanages. Small hands with big imaginations design beauty seen by eyes that will likely never see beyond the walls of their government institutions.
And there is green. It’s not painted on a wall or written into a book. Green is the color of a life disregarded. Green is the color of a life that could have been rescued. But instead, just a few short years ago, it became the color of ridicule – comedic relief for naïve fools.
We first saw her, a girl no more than 16 sitting in a corner of the lobby bar – her eyes darting nervously. She had on a short, tight green dress with thigh-high black boots. She looked disheveled and tired, and her smoky eye makeup was smudged. Someone said they had seen her the day before, in the same outfit. With a quick conversation on a cell phone, she was gone. She appeared again from time to time, always looking – and always disappearing. As we sat in the lobby to send messages of hope back to friends and family in the United States, proudly sharing our stories of how we had provided humanitarian aid to poor orphans and how we had cared for those thrown away by society, we scoffed at the young girl in the green dress.
We knew what she was doing.
We called her a whore.
In our self-righteousness, we condemned her.
That was then.
We know better now.
We understand that of 10 girls aging out of orphanages in Russia, 8 will turn to prostitution as a way to fill their bellies and have a place to sleep, or will be caught in the vile web of human trafficking. We know those darting eyes are crying for help. We know that the green dress is a uniform of shame and pain. We’ve seen the vans filled with green dresses going to hotel after hotel to tend to the dark needs of visiting businessmen. We know that outward appearance rarely tells the story. We’ve witnessed what happens when uncompromising love is lavished on a hungry soul. We’ve seen miracles.
If only we knew then what we know now.
In the steel grey of St Petersburg, I pray no more girls will ever have to wear the green dress of disregard. I pray for those called to the rescue and redemption of girls with darting eyes. I pray for “you are worthy” to be engraved on the hearts of the discarded. And I pray for the “we” – that we will know better.
And to you, precious one in the green dress, I apologize. I pray you were rescued.
I’m thankful for ministries like Love146, A21, and Abolition International, that work daily to give innocents a safe life. And I have seen first-hand the fruit of Orphan Outreach’s Graduate program in St Petersburg, Russia. Lives are being transformed. The future is being redefined.