The challenge appeared enormous.
Natalya Balan, the 59-year-old mother of four adult children, wasn’t sure how to make God real to the two young brothers that she had brought home from the Russian orphanage.
The boys — Daniil, 10, and his 9-year-old brother, Nikita — had suffered unspeakable abuse from their alcoholic father and later in the orphanage. Their mother was dead.
Natalya and her husband, Yakov, a retired Seventh-day Adventist pastor, took the foster children into their home in Obolensk, a small town of 4,600 people located 70 miles (115 kilometers) south of Moscow, after reading church cofounder Ellen White’s appeal for every Adventist family to care for orphans.
Having raised her own children on principles from Ellen White’s book “Child Guidance,” Natalya was determined to do the same with Daniil and Nikita. So, the family gathered daily for morning and evening worship, and the parents prayed earnestly for God to manifest Himself in the boys’ lives.
Then calamity struck.
Daniil and Nikita owned a pair of old bicycles, a welcome gift from kind neighbors, and they loved to ride after school. But the boys disliked having to drag the bicycles into the cramped elevator to store at home on the seventh floor of their apartment building. Other people left their bicycles and baby strollers on the first-floor landing, a fact that the boys quickly pointed out to their new parents.
“Don’t look at what other people do,” Father replied. “If you leave your bicycles downstairs, someone might steal them.”
But one day the boys left their bicycles downstairs and they were gone in the morning. How the boys cried and wished they had listened to Father.
“Let’s pray, and God will help,” Mother said.
Mother didn’t know whether the bicycles would be returned, but she believed that God would hear their prayers.
Praying for Bikes
At morning worship, Mother prayed, “Dear God, please help the boys who stole the bikes to return them.”
Then the boys prayed.
“God, help,” Nikita said. “I really wish that I had my bike back.”
The town only had one school, and Mother was sure schoolboys had taken the bicycles. With permission from the principal, she hung signs around the school, reading, “Children from this school stole two bikes belonging to two foster children. The foster children loved the bikes and are very sad. Please return the bikes.”
Mother and the two boys prayed about the bicycles every morning and evening.
Three days passed.
Then in the morning the intercom rang, signaling that someone downstairs wished to speak with the family. Mother answered, and a male voice said, “Come down and take the bike.”
Downstairs, Mother found a stranger with an expensive, brand-new bicycle.
“I saw your sign when I took my son to the first grade,” the man said. “My boy is too small for this bike, so I have decided to give it to you. I’ll buy my son another bike when he grows some more.”
The bicycle was big, so it went to the older boy, Daniil. He was thrilled that God had heard his prayers.
“God thank you for such a nice bike!” he prayed.
Nikita also was happy, but he wished for his own bicycle. Mother told him, “Let’s pray to God and ask Him to help.”
The family prayed for a bicycle for Nikita for several days.
One morning, the intercom rang again, and a male voice said, “Come down and take the bike.”
Mother went downstairs and found another stranger with an expensive bicycle, smaller than the last one. The man said the bicycle was too big for his son and he had decided to give it away.
Nikita was overjoyed!
Big Change in Faith
The thieves never returned the stolen bicycles, but the family thanked God for answering their prayers and giving them even better bicycles than the old ones.
“The answers to prayer caused a big change in the boys’ faith,” Natalya said. “They saw God work in real life.”
The bicycle story, which happened three years ago, is still strengthening the family’s faith. Natalya, now 61, and Yakov, 64, are raising six foster children in a home and private sanatorium that they built in Klemyonovo, a village southeast of Moscow. Everyone in the family knows the miracle behind Daniil’s and Nikita’s bicycles.
One of the children, Anya, 9, believed that God would answer her prayers, too, and began praying that her father would know Jesus. Her father is in prison, and her mother is dead.
A few weeks ago, Anya received a surprising letter from her father. He wrote that he had somehow found a copy of Ellen White’s book “Steps to Christ” and had started to read it.
Natalya is delighted that God is transforming the lives of her six foster children. Three of them have been baptized, including Daniil and Anya.
“I thank God that He answers prayers — especially my own that my children would know God,” she said.