by Nathan Warner
Nellie Vorobyev of Kyrgyzstan lives a quiet, peaceful life in Zimmerman, looking after her husband, her 10 children and donating to CAER.
She regularly donates clothes, food and anything she can think of to the CAER food shelf, just as they donated these things to her when she needed them. This life of caring for and loving others appeals to Vorobyev and was what she first noticed about America, but life wasn’t always so pleasant.
Vorobyev grew up in a Christian home in Kyrgyzstan when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Her memories of her birthplace are far from happy.
“Everyone was sad,” she said. “There were lots of frowning faces and nobody smiled.”
She describes a country desperately poor and angry – the people were without life and without a future.
“It was a very scary time because anger and hatred were everywhere. Nobody helped each other, everyone was on their own, and they only looked out for themselves,” she said.
In the primarily Muslim country, Vorobyev said, Christians and other minorities were not treated well unless they had money.
“When I was 8 years old, the police came to our home church and took away many of the men, including my father,” she said, “and they tore apart all our Bibles and burned them.”
She said she can still remember the angry face of a policeman as he ripped apart her mother’s Bible.
“My father was taken away to prison for his faith,” she said. “He was jailed there for 3 1/2 years!”
Still, she said he was happy to suffer for his faith.
This life of suffering followed them everywhere in Kyrgyzstan, even into the delivery room. Her mother-in-law was violently attacked in a hospital while having her daughter. The abusive nurse wanted to stop her from having more children.
“She bled so much, she would have died, but they called soldiers into the hospital to donate their blood and she pulled through.”
Still, Vorobyev says her mother-in-law was left in a closet to recover with no medical attention while her daughter was fed sour milk and almost died as well.
“When I had my third child, there was no pain medication offered in the hospital,” Vorobyev said, “and they treated patients very poorly unless they had money.” She adds that the nurses didn’t wash newborns either or take care of them.
What’s more, Vorobyev remembers a harrowing scene of a pregnant mother being carried roughly up flights of stairs while giving birth, made all the more shocking because the nurses were busy on coffee break and wouldn’t help them.
All these experiences made Vorobyev feel pregnant mothers were treated like princesses here in America.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, laughing. “They had pain medication, they were fed, and their babies were washed! Everyone cared for them, looked after them and helped them.”
After she saw that, she said, she wanted to have more children.
In 1993, the Christian Bible Church of Rockford sponsored the Vorobyev family to come to America, and they settled first in Maple Grove.
One of the first things she remembers noticing about America was how everyone was smiling.
“People said, ‘I love you’ all the time,” she said, laughing, “and that was a shock because even husbands don’t say that to their wives in Kyrgyzstan.”
In 2006, they moved to Zimmerman and the change of scenery was quite a surprise. “I remember thinking Zimmerman was like a little mud-hole after living in Maple Grove,” Vorobyev laughs, “but I came to love it so much and now couldn’t see myself living anywhere else.”
With the move, she learned about CAER from a friend who told Vorobyev that it was great luck to live near such a wonderful charity that offered food, clothing, referrals and limited financial support for people’s needs if they were having hard times.
Vorobyev learned this first hand when her husband was looking for work and CAER provided for their needs until they got back on their feet. Vorobyev was shocked to have so many caring people surround her. Because of how they’ve been helped, Vorobyev takes every opportunity she can to give back to CAER, donating food, clothing and supplies. She says it feels so good to show love for people by supporting and helping them.
“When I came to America, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” she said, “because people cared for and loved each other. People loved Jesus and tried to follow Him, unlike in Kyrgyzstan. I want that way of life to continue and not change.”
Regarding change, Vorobyev is a little uneasy with where she feels America is headed.
“When we first came here, America was less strict and times were easier to live in, but now, the government is harder and people are getting frustrated and depressed,” she said.
She said she sees sadder and angrier faces than she used to and people are mad about their taxes and bills.
“I wish America would go back to 1993,” she said, “because I don’t like the change.”
Still, Vorobyev and her family are just grateful to call themselves Americans. Her seven boys and three daughters are well on their way to achieving their dreams.
Her eldest son Andrew lives in Virginia with his wife, because, “Minnesota is too cold,” Vorobyev said, rolling her eyes. Her seventh child is her 13 year-old daughter Esther, who helps her mother in any way she can and translates for her when there’s a need.
“I think I want to be a nurse or an obstetrician when I grow up,” Esther said, before looking at her watch and asking if that was, finally, the last question.