IMG_2668In 2011, I was able to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia to visit a HIV clinic ministry the Central Territory had just fundraised for during Central Bible Leadership Institute (CBLI). We had raised over $11,000 which was going to enable this ministry to open a number of new outposts. I was told that I would shadow Nina Davidovich during my time there. I would go with her, her driver and one another worker on their daily runs and home visitations to recipients/clients of this ministry. Primarily, young, HIV positive mothers (some fathers or relatives – even concerned neighbors pictured above) and their children. These visitations were often short counseling sessions or just a simple follow up to ensure medicine was being taken and to deliver groceries to the families. I could always sense Nina’s genuine care for these people, and sometimes I could sense her frustration when clients didn’t take this process seriously. Some had chosen to become pregnant again, even though they promised they wouldn’t because of their HIV positive status. One refused to take her medicine (for HIV and TB), refused to even tell her husband – even though her four children were taken from her by the government because of this neglect. I remember her shhhh-ing us when she heard him come in the house. Doesn’t he ask who all these people are in their home right now? I’d wonder to myself, how do you explain all of this? Is denial this overwhelming?
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But Nina doesn’t give up on these people. She continues to visit them, teaching them, loving them, encouraging them. I was (still am!) moved by her diligence where I would have become so discouraged. Then while on my visit, the officers hosting me shared with me who Nina really was. If I thought her commitment to these clients was honorable learning about her commitment to serve refugees from Chechnya, to the point of being held hostage in a pit for six months – made my jaw drop. I didn’t believe it was true and so recent. At the time of meeting her, it was less than ten years ago that it had happened. But yes, her commitment to the children she had been commissioned to serve was so great she put herself at risk to care for them. She was even named a Salvation Army ‘Order of the Founder’ for her work. 
I’ve never lost touch with this incredible woman, how could I? I want to know and learn from her forever. Recently I asked her a few questions about her life, her journey into The Salvation Army and her call to serve. Read on to be inspired and encouraged by one of the bravest women I have ever met.
1. How did you meet the Salvation Army church?
It happened in the summer of 1991.  In a television show I happened to see a piece about the Salvation Army, and about the work they do.  At that time I was working as a professor at a college.  This was not a simple time in Russia, including in my city, Petersburg.  Many people lost their jobs, their houses…there was not enough money, stores did not have food.  When I found out that people from the Salvation Army wanted to help our people, I came with my students to a meeting and offered the officers my help.  At first I did not see the Salvation Army as a church, because doing good in God’s name was VERY out of my practice- previously I was a member of the Russian Orthodox Church.
However I liked the proposal to organize assistance for those people that did not have a lot, for those that did not have enough for food at the local administrative office we found the addresses of those people, and brought them hot soup.  My students, like me, became willing volunteers in this program…at the same time we began attending classes to learn about the Bible.  Soon I became a soldier of the Salvation Army…later, in 1996, I was invited to work in the social center of the Salvation Army.
2.Did you always have a desire to serve children?
In my childhood I wanted to be a teacher, but when I got older I became an engineer, and then started to teach.  I liked interacting with my students.  Many of them became my friends and still are to this day.  I never thought of my job as serving.  I just liked doing what I was doing.
3. Did you have any inspiration people in your life growing up?
 An example of someone I greatly admired was my father: he was responsible, loved his work, read a a great deal, didn’t waste words and only spoke when he had something important to say. I have never in my life seen him drink … And of literary examples my favorite was The Little Mermaid from the fairy tale by Andersen.
4. Did you have a female mentor or spiritual teacher that helped you grow in your faith?
Yes there was and is such a woman.  It is the first officer of our headquarters in Petersburg, Sandra Ryan.  We have been acquainted for more than 20 years, from my first visit to the Salvation Army and to this day.  I can always count on her support.  My understanding of the Salvation Army came together under the influence of impressions that I received in interacting with her and Geoff Ryan, her husband.
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5. When the Salvation Army recruited you to do work in Ingushetia with the refugees from Chechnya was there any fear in your heart?
It happened Feb 19, 2000, on my birthday, that’s how I remember the date. Captain Geoff Ryan called me and offered for me to come to Ingushetia for a couple months, to try to organize 2-3 small schools for children of Chechen refugees, living in tent camps and spontaneous settlements.  I agreed the same day.  I was not afraid.  More likely I felt a bit unsure because I could not imagine how I would do that which was expected of me.  But the decision was made…later I understood that, yet again in my life, that with God’s help it becomes possible to do that which seems impossible.  Together with the Chechen refugees we managed to organize tent schools in which at one time there were 1268 students.  In addition to schools for children, for teenagers and women, we opened leisure centers and held festivals of child creativity.
Later we opened 3 centers in the capital of Chechnya (city Grozni), to which in 2002 families of refugees started returning.  Instead of two months I spent 4 years in the North Caucus.
6.After being released for the hostage situation, were you hesitant to go back into a ministry? (See BBC article here on Chechen kidnappings – Nina is listed as one of the ‘high profile hostages’)
After being freed from the hostage takers I had no doubts about returning to my work.  For this there were several reasons.  Firstly, I understood that I would not be able to return to a normal peaceful life in Petersburg. It would be new stress and may have ended in depression.  Secondly, I understood how important my return was to members of my team: they were waiting for me, fought for my release, continued our mission.  I could not disappoint them.  The third reason is tied to my character: I did not want those that kidnapped me and kept me as a hostage, to think that I left because I was afraid of them.  (Honestly, I was scared, but I did not want to show it.) Upon my return to Ingushetia (where kidnapping took place), I worked for another year.  After that I returned to Petersburg.
7. What position do you currently hold in the Salvation Army?
Right now I work in the Petersburg Salvation Army and am in charge of a project to help HIV positive people in Petersburg and ten neighborhoods in the Leningrad surrounding areas.
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8. Do you have a scripture from the Bible that has helped you get through the challenges of life?
Philippians 3. 13 – 16, “13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us. 15 Let all who are spiritually mature agree on these things. If you disagree on some point, I believe God will make it plain to you. 16 But we must hold on to the progress we have already made.
All individuals in the photos gave permission for the use and sharing of these photos – taken by Sarah Micula.
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