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August 10, 2022
Yelena Wiggim

This spring, our Small Group had an opportunity to serve dinner to a group of international students.

It was a delightful event on a rainy day with many people showing up, and with us serving traditional American cuisine. It was an event that, not surprisingly, took me back to the time when I was an international student myself. A little over thirty years ago, I came to America as an exchange student from Russia. I don’t feel much older now, despite all these years, and it was easy to connect with the smiling faces that came through the line.

One student saw my name tag, and being visibly surprised by the connection he made, quickly switched to Russian language. Before too long, I was at the table of Russian-speaking students from Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, and Russia (One student even happened to be from a town that is just a few hours away from where I grew up in Southern Russia). It was an unexpected and delightful surprise! It was wonderful to speak to them and learn about their roots, backgrounds, and stories of coming to America.

This short experience made me somewhat nostalgic of the life I used to know back home; the laughter and the unity we shared while I was living there. My father grew up in Azerbaijan, my parents met in Ukraine, and we had relatives in Georgia, Estonia, and Belarus. Our family and friends’ gatherings during the holidays were full of joy and laughter. My father would play the accordion with people singing and dancing, and we would spend hours together at a long table talking while enjoying the food my mother spent days preparing. And of course, we would drink tea and listen to my father’s hunting stories, which were always a highlight of our family gatherings as he had us all in tears from laughter.

Spending a little time with a Small Group of international students did not feel too much different from the perspective of joy and delight I remember sharing with my friends and family back home. It was short, but it was memorable, refreshing, and uniting. God was there on that rainy evening connecting His people from across the ocean, and it was a blessing to our family to be a part of this experience, as well as serving alongside our wonderful East White Oak Small Group.

Yelena Wiggim and her husband, Duane, have served as AWANA leaders and are currently involved in a small group. Yelena, Duane, and their two children Dominic (22) and Sasha (16) live in Bloomington. Dominic is pursuing a degree in Mechanical Engineering at Grand Canyon University, Phoenix, AZ, and Sasha will be a senior at Normal West High school. Duane works as a Technical Analyst at State Farm Insurance Company. Yelena works as a Project Management consultant for a local management consulting firm. Her free time is spent reading, gardening, and traveling with family.