Jackie is an ordinary woman but she’s doing extraordinary things to help Russian orphan graduates. Jackie grew up in northern Minnesota, went to school for hotel management and worked in hotels and then in children’s ministry. In 2002 Jackie met her future husband, Matt. Of course, when she met him, she had no idea what God had in store.
Matt had been traveling to Russia on mission trips for a few years but didn’t tell Jackie about his heart for Russia. He had prayed and asked God to bring him a wife who would have a heart akin to his. In June of 2002 their church was going on a mission trip to Kaliningrad, Russia with the organization Fund Pycholka and 19-year-old Jackie signed up to go, totally unaware that Matt was leading the trip.
When the team arrived at the orphanage on the first day one of the orphans, four-year-old, Svetlana, ran up to Jackie right away and pretty much sat in her lap daily for the rest of their time there. Jackie fell in love: with Matt, with Svetlana, and with Russia. While she was there and once she returned home she prayed constantly for the four-year-old who had stolen her heart.
Jackie and Matt married in January of 2003 and by June they were back in Kaliningrad where they found sweet Svetlana still in need of a mommy and daddy. The social worker informed them that Svetlana’s paperwork was done so would they “please find her a home.” Jackie knew immediately that God had chosen them to be her parents. The paperwork was started in September and by December, when Jackie was just 21-years-old; she flew back to Russia to pick up her now five-year-old daughter.
Matt and Jackie continued to travel to Russia every year, even after moving to Arkansas in 2005. Together they led others on mission trips to the orphanages of Kaliningrad. In 2006, they decided to adopt a little boy and ended up with two! A pair of siblings. One of the boys wasn’t speaking at the time and also had serious vision problems. When they arrived in Russia, people tried to discourage them from adopting but they knew, they just knew, that these boys were theirs. Costia and Dania joined their family in December of that year.
Jackie and Matt returned to Russia yearly but it was during a trip in 2008 trip that Jackie realized that God was calling her and Matt to live in Russia full-time. She arrived in Kaliningrad ahead of the rest of the team, so Jackie had some time alone and traveled to one of the orphanages by herself. She met with some people and talked to them about how the public views orphans in Russia. She was shocked by the response she heard: they were considered trash, unlikely to succeed and sure to fall into crime.
In Russia, the average life expectancy of an orphan is 30-years-old. 90% of the orphan graduates will die from substance abuse or suicide. Nearly 20,000 children per year age-out of the government run orphanage program. They “graduate” around the age of 16 with no skills to make them successful. It’s not graduation as we know it in America; it’s a sentence. Ninety percent of the orphan graduates are forced into a life of crime, prostitution, or sex trafficking, simply to survive.
When Jackie sees an orphan graduate she sees them as her kids. And she was determined to make a difference. But first she had to get there. When God called her and Matt to minister in Russia, Jackie felt like 2011 was the year they were to go. With that in mind, they set about getting out of debt and becoming financially stable.
Even though Jackie and Matt knew they were supposed to go to Russia they didn’t know what exactly they’d been called to do. So before they flew over in 2010 they prayed that God would show them his plans. Someone told them to start a program for orphan graduates but Matt wasn’t sure. On their flight home God prompted Jackie to do a 40-day Daniel fast. Jackie remembers that time as one of the most exciting times in her life. Every day Jackie would wake up, pray, and seek God for his vision and encouragement. Through a podcast, and because of the prayers of his wife, Matt was able to see that fear was holding him back, and once he surrendered his fears he was ready to commit.
From this point forward Jackie says things just kept moving. She asked God to show them each step:
God told them to put their house up for sale. In the midst of a depressed housing market with values rapidly falling, their home sold in a week.
When Jackie was stressed about getting rid of all their belongings, God told her to give it all away, not sell it, give it away. And they did.
And then God told Jackie to give their car away. Matt wasn’t sure about this so Jackie asked him to pray about it. They gave their car away.
In June 2012, Jackie and Matt led a team of 18 to Kaliningrad. And when the ten-day trip was over, the team flew home, but Jackie, Matt, and their three children stayed and found a place to live.
Fund Pycholka was originally started to help fund one orphanage by that name, but Jackie and Matt’s vision was to change the life expectancy of orphan graduates past the age of 30 and came up with the name Change 30 to match the vision God had given them. Eventually, the two organizations morphed into one.
Since Jackie and Matt arrived in Kaliningrad they’ve helped open graduate apartment buildings, provided life skill classes such as English classes (to help them get a better job), cooking, cleaning, budgeting, et cetera, and helped find free medical and dental care for the students.
In 2002 God gave Jackie a vision for a building in Russia. She wasn’t sure what it would be used for but knew God had a purpose. As they’ve spent time there they’ve seen the need for a central location in Kaliningrad where all of the orphan graduates could meet together in one building. Jackie sees that building as the one God placed in her heart nearly twelve years ago. In an unexpected partnership with the Russian government, they have been given a building in the center of Kaliningrad to use for their purposes – for free! It opened earlier this year. You never know what God can do when an ordinary woman has a heart for God and is willing to go all in for him – no matter what.
James 1:27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
What is God calling you to do? Are you willing to go all in?
Nancy loves to laugh and considers laughter a critical part of human survival. If you were to ask, most days she would say her glass is half full but when it starts reaching the half-empty level, she reaches for a funny book or movie knowing that indeed “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” Nancy has three married sons and five grandchildren. To read more from Nancy find her at www.nancyholte.com.