Justus in Russia: When the game makes a difference

By Michael Eldridge | @DFWSportsMike

ARLINGTON, Texas - UT Arlington women's basketball coach Talby Justus spent two weeks on the other side of the world as he volunteered with Alies in Youth Development in Russia. 

Justus visited orphanages, sites around the cities and was able to teach the youth his game of basketball. Upon his return, Justus was able to reflect on his trip to Russia and what it meant for his life after arriving back in Arlington. Below is his post-trip recap and what he was able to experience in his own words. 

Justus in Russia: When the game makes a difference

I can’t begin to express with words how excited I am to have had the opportunity to go to Russia and Siberia in hopes to make a difference in the lives of orphans and of those less fortunate.

My life mission and goals have certainly expanded due to this travel abroad and coming across boys and girls that desperately need my/our help. I feel anytime someone can gain something in their life that they are passionate about that’s a very positive thing. I have to say thank you to Chris Burgin (Missionary, Walnut Ridge Baptist Church) and also Tatianna Baeva (Missionary, UTA Colleague) for having a vision back in 2011 and coming up with the ministry and education program named Allies in Youth Development designed to help boys and girls across eastern European countries as well as Russia.

I am confident this ministry and education program is in its infant stages, and as people begin to learn about the severity of the problems facing the thousands of orphans in Eastern Europe and Russia, people will be glad to give to this organization and make a difference in the lives of those without hope. I feel these kids are the forgotten people.  

First Stop the Village of Orion

The Orion village is the hope of the orphans in Russia. This is the area I feel most passionately about helping and giving.

The best way I know to describe this place is much like what I imagine an "Amish Community" being like. There I saw orphans that had been adopted with the issues that face them, and were overcoming those issues with parents, brothers, sisters, and a community that loved them and gave them hope and purpose in life.

These boys and girls were tending the garden, cleaning the school house, milking the cows, working the wood shop, etc., to contribute to the whole and teaching them that by caring for the things around them they were caring for others. This may have been the first time in their lives many of them have done anything for someone other than themselves. Most orphans are simply in survival mode and this can be a very individual or selfish mindset.

A mindset that doesn’t allow people access to them and of severe mistrust. But one they are enslaved to when they are raised without people that care for them.

"My most fond memory, of this entire trip, was introducing the game of basketball to the boys and girls of this village. It had to be, very much, how James Naismith felt in 1891 when he first introduced basketball to a group of kids."

My most fond memory, of this entire trip, was introducing the game of basketball to the boys and girls of this village. It had to be, very much, how James Naismith felt in 1891 when he first introduced basketball to a group of kids.

I was also allowed the opportunity to help the men of the village build their first basketball goal. This still makes me grin from ear to ear. The thought that the kids of Orion, will be able to enjoy the sport that I have absolutely loved my entire life for many many years. I am so ecstatic about that.

I feel as though God has laid it on my heart to raise $15,000.00 to build a home that would house six more orphans. That’s a small price to pay for the lives of six young orphans

I also have to say there is a little girl that absolutely stole my heart while I was there named Nastia. Nastia is one that I’m going to keep up with for many years and do all I can to help her, if and when she needs help. She fell in love with basketball and this basketball coach fell in love with her.

Second Stop: Sister University to UT-Arlington -Omsk State University in Siberia, Orphanage #10, and Student Volunteers 

At Omsk State University, our team was able to meet with the professors and student volunteers and help motivate many of them to continue to volunteer and also motivate many students to begin volunteering. It’s so important that these orphanages have college age students that can go to their orphanage and mentor them as often as possible.

This is a revolutionary idea and movement that is taking place in the Russian culture and in their Universities. There is some concern in the Russian government of this idea of “compassion” and “freely giving” filtering through the young people of Omsk State University.

In Russia, I feel the orphan problem is kept out of the sight of society, and is completely neglected because they don’t want to spend the money and effort on curing this epidemic.

Basketball was a great tool to use in breaking the chains of distrust between our team, the student volunteers and the orphans of Orphanage #10. I had a great time showing them some new things they can do with a basketball as well as getting out there and playing some 5-on-5 full court. The students of our sister of our sister school Omsk State University did a problem solving exercise with the students, and then also did a collective reasoning exercise to help the orphans figure out how to work with one another. We take for granted the things we learn by having families and within our culture.

Touring Moscow and Omsk

While on the trip I was also able to see some things I would’ve never imagined seeing. The city of Moscow is breath taking, with all of its beautiful Russian Architecture and history.

The communist history of Russia has made a lasting impact on its culture. Losing 20 million people during World War II gives them a perspective of war and sacrifice that not many countries can begin to understand. Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Bolshoi Theater were highlights of what I was able to see in Moscow. The Zoo near Omsk, Siberia was unbelievable.

I could not believe how close we were able to get to the animals, but what I enjoyed most was getting to experience the Russian culture. Once you have a friend in Russia, you will always have a lifelong friend.




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