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Woodbury teacher traveling to Russia this summer

Editor's note: This is the first in a series chronicling Woodbury teachers' summer plans. If you are a Woodbury teacher with interesting or unique summer plans contact the Woodbury Bulletin at

Royals Oaks Elementary third grade teacher Shannon Espoldt feels right at home in front of a classroom, but this summer she will be far outside her comfort zone when she travels to Russia as part of a mission trip.

"I have never done any overseas traveling - I've only been to Mexico and around the United States," she said. "I've never been interested in missions before. It just wasn't something that ever piqued my interest.

"This trip is really exciting for me because this is so outside of who I am and what I would ever picture myself doing."

Espoldt will leave July 21 and return Aug. 12.

During her stay in Russia, the Woodbury resident will be working with orphanages and children's homes.

"I came to life when I knew that I would be working with the children in Russia," she said.

Three years in the making

Espoldt said she first caught the travel bug about three years ago when a missionary spoke at her former church, Hope Community in Cottage Grove, about a Russian mission trip a colleague was participating in.

"As soon as I heard Russia there was just something that came alive," she said. "I felt different, like maybe I should go and do that."

After talking with some members of the church, Espoldt learned of a Russian church in Shakopee that was planning a summer trip to Russia.

The church is comprised of about 450 native Russians, Espoldt said.

Around the same time Espoldt heard about the trip, her mother became ill.

"My mom got sick and passed away that year, so that was not the right time to go," she said. "Time has just gone by and I've always kept that in the back of my head."

Then, earlier this spring Espoldt wasn't having much luck finding a summer job so she began to think of other options.

"I stopped and thought that there was something else that I should be doing," she said. "I have not gotten a single phone call on any of the jobs I looked into, so I dug in my drawer and found the church contact information."

By chance, or fate, the Russian church in Shakopee was taking another group on a mission trip to Russia this summer.

"I know the timing is right and I know it's the calling," she said. "Obviously this is a very spiritually led trip for me."

Espoldt is tasked with raising between $1,200 and $1,600 for her trip.

Reaching out

For the mission trip, Espoldt and the group she is traveling with will fly into Moscow where they will learn which orphanages or children's homes they will be working at.

"It's kind of shoot from the hip once we get there," she said.

The group will stay at their assigned sites, and will program the children's day.

The need for help in Russia is very great in relation to children, Espoldt said, because the country has some 700,000 orphans.

Espoldt said about 80 percent of those orphans are what the country refers to as "social orphans," which means they have at least one living parent, but the children have been removed because of abuse, alcohol, drugs or other reasons.

Espoldt said many of the orphans in Russia, who live in the facilities with poor conditions, often have attachment issues, medical issues or mental issues.

Additionally, Espoldt said, Russian residents are not interested in adopting the children.

"They really truly are unwanted in their country," she said.

Espoldt said she learned those children's lives often get worse as they become teenagers.

"After losing my mom, I realized what a gift it is to have a mother and have someone there who loves you and nurtures you," she said. "That definitely inspires me to want to go and be able to give back to the kids over there."

During their stay at the orphanages, Espoldt and a small group of missionaries will work closely with a group of three to five children.

"It's really important for the Russian children that you're not trying to hit everyone and that you're really zeroing in on who you have," she said.

Espoldt said there are a few aspects of her upcoming trip that make her a bit nervous.

"The thing that makes me the most nervous is being gone for three weeks with people I don't know," she said. "I'm worried about the loneliness and not being able to speak the language and being able to connect."

In order to better acquaint herself with the Russian language and the Russian culture, Espoldt participated in a workshop in Nebraska earlier this spring.

One Russian cultural aspect she was glad to learn was not to smile, she said.

In Russian culture you only smile at those you know.

"I'm so glad they told me that," she said, "I'm a teacher, I'm a smiler, I smile at everyone."

Not only does Espoldt see her mission trip to Russia as a chance to help children, but she also sees it as an opportunity for the future.

"I am really kind of seeing this as a chance for me to see if I would enjoy long-term missions or if I want to stay in the states and be a teacher and continue doing what I'm doing," she said. "There's so many things I love about teaching, but also wonder all the time if there is something different that I could be doing - that's the big question that I'm going with.

"What is it like for me to serve in this way and will this take me in a new life direction - it really is just testing the waters on a whole new opportunity."

Espoldt said she is very excited to leave on her trip.

"I want to help the children, I'm excited to see Russia," she said, "But I'm so excited to see the coming together of a dream that started three years ago."

For more information on Shannon Espoldt's mission trip to Russia, or to donate to her trip, visit

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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