Friday, September 2, 2011

lessons in submission

September 1st, is a big day in Ukraine. Since the days of the USSR it was christened Knowledge day. It is the official day first day of school for all of Ukraine, and actually all of the former Soviet Union. Complete with parades, concerts and flowers it is a big day for all students but especially for first graders and seniors. All parents and pupils gather in the school courtyard for a special ceremony called "the first bell". With William starting school this year, it was supposed to be a special day for us.
This day was really important for me, I've been nervous about Will starting school, and have been battling back to school jitters all month. I had postponed all plans and all ministry issues so that our entire family would be at this ceremony on Sept. 1. I had gotten in my mind that if William didn't make it to this first day of school thing his entire educational career would be doomed. I don't usually struggle a lot with trusting in the Lord. I have tons of other issues, but trust isn't really one of them. I probably lean too much toward the providence camp, just sort of coasting through life on "the Lord's will".  But this new chapter in our life has really brought up some issue of trust. I occured to me about a week ago that I was putting too much emphasis on this school thing, and seeking forgiveness, I gave it over to the Lord once and for all (or so I thought). And then came to the real test of faith.
For the past few months we have been preparing William for a minor operation. Nothing serious just the removal of his adenoids. We thought we would do it on his fall break, so as not to  miss school. Then on Monday we got a phone call that his surgery had been bumped up to Augustt 31. Yes, August 31, as in the day before September 1, as in after all my fretting and postponing plans we would still be missing  THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL.
I had already given this school thing over to the Lord, so I couldn't very well take it back again. But here we were facing two things that were really hard for me; missing the first day of school and infamous Ukrainian hospitals.  I swallowed hard, tried not to pout, packed our bags and headed for the hospital.
In my egocentrical heart, I comforted myself by saying, "the Lord may have someone here I need to witness to"
I'll save the all the shocking details of staying in a state hospital  crippled by socialized medicine for another post. In short, we were placed in a tiny room with another family preparing for the same operation. The boy, Misha, was a little bit younger than William but a good five inches taller. He was there with his grandmother and after a few minutes I realized that Misha was very behind developmentaly. As we waited anxiously for our little ones to return from the operation room, Misha's grandmother shared their story. Misha was born a month early, with lots of complication including fluid on this brain. Before he had turned a year old his mother had already filed for divorce and signed away all parental rights for Misha. At six, Misha was still unable to make complete sentences or dress himself. He still wore diapers. Once the boys were brought in, we didn't have much time to talk. But I did have time to observe. I watched Misha's loving grandmother, patiently care for this child, that was given to her in her old age, this grandson that would always be a little boy. I had been moping about everything not being just right for the first day of school, pouting about missing William's big day. William would be in school by Monday, but not Misha. He would always be by his grandmothers side, for as long as she had strength and helath to care for him.She didn't pout or feel sorry for herself or her lot in life. She handle her task without a trace of self pity or irritation. Here before me was a living example of Christ's humility and submission in pracitical human form.
The Lord hadn't sent us to the hospital for me to witness, but to be witnessed to. He wanted to teach me about true submission and awaken me to how far I still have to go.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Big steps, little steps

A little over a year ago we started a project that seemed way beyond our means. After prayer and years of dreaming, Andrey and I felt like it was finally time to build a soccr feild in Irpin to help with our ministry. We have seen God use soccer in am amazing way in this culture. But the task was daunting. First of all the idea of rasising $30,000 seemed to us just as intimidating as if we were raising $1,000,000 add to that the economic crisis loitering over the US and Ukraine, and the job seemed even more impossible. But we took a step of faith, really wanting this to be not our project, but the Lord's. This past year the Lord has taught  us many things through unexpected blessings.
Three months after we started the project we had raised a little over $1,000. This was discouraging, and we began to doubt. But after the New Year, we discovered that $15,000 had already been raised. That was amazing for us, we were halfway to our goal! Suddenly this mission seemed not so impossible.
 Andrey's burden's is to instill in Ukrainian churches the blessing of giving. His dream was that this be a joint project and that our local church also donated to this project.
So after a few prensentations to the church, this past Sunday, our church did a special offering for the Soccer Feild. The response was overwhelming. Our church gave over $4,000 to this project! Can you be believe it? Personally I was overwhelmed and blessed by the vision our church has got for giving. So if my math if correct (an usually it isn't) that puts us at $19,000, we only have $11,000 to go. We are excited. We believe that we will have a field by spring!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What I need you to know

 The truth is, sometimes my needs and wants and dreams get a little bit scrambled and it's hard for me to discern and shove them back onto their shelves. Was it Mueller, or Taylor, or Carey, (maybe Moody) that said, "attempt great things for God, expect great things from God". Then there was the Prayer of Jabez, craze about 10 years ago, that got everyone excited, and made the words, "expanding our boundaries" a catch phrase. Personally I grew up in a house of mountain moving? George Mueller type faith. Our reliance on God was daily, and to outsiders maybe a little fanatical, but I came to know God as my provider from the largest to the smallest need.
The thing is, when you grow up in a house like that, you come to realize that God will just as often provide your wants as He will your needs. And sometimes perhaps you get a little brazen in your request. I'm not talking about a vending machine relationship, where you punch the prayer in, select the item of choice and it  pops out. But I hope there are some of you who know what I'm talking about. Ever asked God for something crazy, and He ended up giving it you in His wonderful will?
Now getting to the point of this post, I have these needs, the needs are concerning women's ministry, and I have these wants, the wants are concerning women's ministry, and I have these dreams. And the dreams are concerning women's ministry. In the spirit of the Jabez prayer, let me say that God has increased my boundaries this year. Women's minstry is huge, and there are so many needs, and wants and dreams, that it hard to know where to start and what to ask for. We need, people to lead and to train. We need finances to minister and encourage, we need wisdom to guide and mold this minstry into something every better.
So it comes down to this; God will send people, God will provide finances, God promises wisdom. But prayer,  well that's up to you guys. So - please pray for us.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Communion with family

The pinnacle of these last two years of amazing overwhelming women's ministery happened on June 27, when five women followed the Lord in baptism. I'm always inspired when I witness adults, wading into waist high water and in a humble akwardness bend their knees backwards to emerse themsleves in testimony of their love for their Savior.  When you spent hours on the prayer battlefield, wrestling for their souls, it make the moment extra special. I couldn't help but cry at our baptism services. Our church baptized 24 people this summer, five of them were ladies from our small groups, two of them were husbands we had been so desperately praying. And in the moments you soul seems to be bursting with so much joy, that you think if the Lord adds just one more drop of blessing you will burst. But there is something even more special.
Last night was local church's montly communion service. I had the previlige of taking communion with these beautifully baptized saints.  And in the somber rememberance of our Lord's suffering, joy buzzed underneath. After the bread and the first prayer, one of  my babies in Christ leaned over and whispered, every prayer is different now. We're girls and we wanted to somehow giggle in that joy that we were swimming in, but for fear of being misunderstood by some neighboring saints, we kept straight faces. There was joy, a sheer joy in taking of the bread and wine. Taking communion with new believers seems to put in all into perspective. The sacrifice of Christ takes on a brighter meaning. And for me, saved and baptized in childhood, it gives me the chance to see His suffering and victory in a whole new light.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Super time with VSM team

After over a week of intense ministry the VSM basketball team headed home on Sunday afternoon. This was our ninth VSM team to host and our second VSM baketball team. Over nine years of hosting VSM we've seen God do some amazing things through the kids lives. Of course some teams have been stronger than others and we have made friendship that have continued throughout the years. But I don't think Andrey and I have ever enjoyed and felt so satifisied with a team as we have in these two years of hosting baketball teams. First of all they are doing  something here that we can't do. They are reaching basketball players, which is it's own subculture very seperate from soccer players, they dress differently, listen to different music and even have their own lingo. So here is the beauty of the body of Christ at work: eleven guys doing what they do best, showing love and unity on the court, and reaching people, that otherwise wouldn't be reached.
We pushed them hard during the 10 days they were here. They had two streetball touranaments, expo games with pro and semipro basketball teams, two live television interviews, and of course two days of intense ministry in gypsy villages.
We worked for the second year  with the "New Hope" church plant in Uzhgorod, Ukraine. The city itself is fascinating, located on the border of Slavakia, it is only a 10 minute drive to Hungary and a 30 minute drive to Romania. So these guys were faced with the task of encountering four  different cultures, langauges and cuisines all at once. but they took it all in stride and did an excellent. job. The new church there was very encouraged by the work that the team did, and there were several new contacts made. I have now doubt that in a few months we will be hearing reports of first fruit from this ministry. Check out some pictures of their trip in our flickr photo stream below.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Dentist

I probably dedicate a little too much of my time to the abnormalities of Ukrainian medicine, but allow me to induldge once again. On a recent trip to the Black Sea with the fam, I discovered a hole in my tooth, (turns out it's tooth #5 on the right for the dental savy) Anyway, because I'm a little leery of medicine here anyway, I decided to have it filled after I got to Irpin.
Although we actually have a pretty wide range of dentist and orthodintist here in Irpin, I went to a guy from our church, who has actually just finished dental school. He is still doing his internship, but I chose him because Andrey strikes a certain amount of awe and fear among the young men in our church, and I knew he would do his best as risk of having to answer to Andrey later.
The fact that he practices in a private home wasn't that unusual to me, the fact that I had to take my shoes off when I entered the house was, (glad I had just had a pedicure). I waited on the couch beside napping cat, who after waking up tried several time to intrude on my appointment. The bare feet, (yes the dentist also wore no shoes) the cat, and the rather dilapidated house all made a rather large impression upon me. I have to say the kid did a pretty good job, and I'm very pleased with my new filling. However, half way through the proproceedure with he lit a cigarette lighter and held in up to my mouth, I got a little nervous.

Sport week 2011

Our first summer camp was a huge success. This year we started the summer off with our own home church here in Irpin, Ukraine. The camp was  an amazing success. We averaged 120 kids in the morning VBS program and over 250 in the evening youth program. We had the help of an amazing team from Charlotte NC , there were actually 32 of them serving with all their hearts. I was blessed by their organization and servants spirit.
But the coolest thing about the camp was the weather. The weather forecast for all of last week was heavy rain and flash flooding. Not a good sign for a basically all outdoor camp. But we had given all these plans to the Lord weeks beforehand. And after almost a month of no rain how could we possibly ask the Lord to hold the rain off any longer? I had a feeling that the Lord would be working things out with His perfect timing and He did. Each day after the morning program, almost on cue, we would have a light shower, which would stop right before the evening program. So grateful for the Lord working around our camp schedule! :) We made lots of new contacts through the week, and on Saturday we had a special picnic for all the families of kids that attended throughout the week. It was so fun, and so great to get to meet the parents of so many new kids and get them aquainted with our church! You can check out pictures of our sports week below.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Father and Son camping trip

Our men's ministry is heading to the great outdoors. Our local church is holding a Father and Son fishing trip this weekend. The last count I heard, was that 80 had signed up. William is more than excited about this camping trip. After all it is is his first, with his dad, and they are going to sleeping  tents! He has been counting off the days on his calendar since May 1, but it wasn't until today that we finally let him start packing. These are the things he packed: his calendar, underwear, a book about squirrels, a small globe, a notepad and pen, a very large stick, plastic sword and wooden mace. I went ahead and tucked some clothing in the backpack while he wasn't looking. They will be gone Friday and Saturday. Hopefully this will be a time of father/son bonding and also a time bonding with the new guys who have started attending our church, but have yet to make a decision.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

up to my elbows in honey

Tomorrow is our quarterly get together for ladies in our small group that have still have not accepted Christ as Savior or have just recently been saved. Four times a year we celebrate birthdays for the ladies in this group and showcase a particular culture and that culture's cuisine. In the past we've had Turkish, Polish, American, Japanese and tomorrow we will be learning about Jewish culture and sampling some Israeli cuisine.
So what does an Irish-American Missionary to Ukraine have to do with Jewish cooking? Obviously not much, expect that the woman who was supposed to be making the dessert had "had something come up" so for the last few hours I have been boiling things that resemble pretzles in honey syrup.
I hope I've done this right, the recipe was very vauge with instructions like, add flour until you obtain the right consistency. Considering that I've never tasted or seen these babies, it's hard to know what the right texture is.   However, after dunking cookie  #112, I'm finally done and now I'm discovering honey in the most unusual places, like behind my ear and below my knee. Despite a rather indepth cleaning I feel my kitchen will probably be sticky for days.
I trust it's worth it. We usually have about 40 ladies attend these thematic birthday parties. They are encouraged to invite their friends and it's a great way to meet unchurched gals that might be interested in attending a Bible study. I don't know what the program will be. Last time it was Japanese themed and we tried out  sumo wrestling. Other than spinning a dredel, I'm afraid I don't know many Jewish games. So it should be fun and informative. I hope my kosher cookies are edible.

Last prayer group

We pushed the patio table closer to the lilac bush, so that the strong old fashioned scent of lilacs would drift our way as we drank tea and fellowshiped. Yesterday was our last prayer group for this season, and we had an intimate time of fellowship as each of us shared about answered prayers and ways that God has changed our life and our walk this year.
This preayer group is too personal to me to reduce to it figures of souls saved and candidates for baptism, although we have had more than one over the course of  these past nine months. God had done more for this group than I could have dreamed or imagined. I have been humbled by the way He has blessed me and taught me through such a unique combinations of ladies. To see these ladies accept Christ as their Savior, and help assist them with their first steps in their Christain lives has been amazing. It was hard to say goodbye to everyone. Of course we'll see each other on Sunday and in the weeks to come, but this group bonded in a special way and I will miss the weekly prayer and encouragement I recieved from these gals. And I will thank the Lord daily for allowing me to be apart of this incredible work.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Hottest Spot in Ukraine

No offense to the house of Windsor, but Ukraine did not stop last Friday to catch a glimspe of the royal wedding. Instead Ukrainians were in a frenzy of preparation for one of thier biggest holidays of the year. The first weekend after Easter, most of Ukraine celebrates a holiday known as "hrabki" based on the word or graves. Each plot in a Ukrainian graveyard has a usually rather elaborate tombstone bearing the deceased photograph, in front of the tombstone stands a small metal picnic table and bench enclosed by a short metal or wooden fence in accordance with the families social status. Friday and Saturday are spent cleaning and preparing the gravesites, then on the first Sunday after Easter a long line of cars and an even greater flock of pedistrains make their way to the local cemetary to honor their dead.
They carry baskets laden with bread, meat, cheeses, cutlets, eggs and of course vodka. A little after noon the deceased's family sits down at the picnic table to "share" a meal with their loved one. There are large brass bands that roam the graveyards and for a price will play a somber tune for you lost relative. It's  a time of mingling visitng with neighbors and coworkers, because pretty much anyone, that's anyone there. After the meal, and much drinking, a considerable amount of food, as well as customary shot glass filled with vodka is left at the picnic table for the deceased. Although no one really believes that the dead eat this food, it is an act of tradition and supersitition, a compromise made between paganism and Orthodoxy nearly a thousand years ago. Folks are afaid to offend their loves ones or bring bad luck upon themselves, even the staunchist of atheist will leave a small bag of candy for his lost ones, "just in case"
This is a holiday not to be missed, even in the large modernized city of Kiev, traffic jams near cemetaries made it almost impossible to pass thorugh the city this week. In our own small town our church has the unique blessing of being located on the main road to the cemetary. The protestant of Ukraine do not observe this holiday. However, for several years now, our church has used this stratigic location to reach the community. We have a small rummage sale to "lure" the cemetary crowd in, as well as refreshments, (for the living, not the dead).  It has proved to be a great opprotunity to reach people along their path of disilluisionment, and to get them reconnected with the truth.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The next big thing

I know, theoretically, that the older my kids get the tougher the decisions will be. But right now we are dealing with a big one. If last fall's question to preschool or not to preschool seemed obvious. This year's question is a lot bigger, and I find myself wrestling with the thought, "what if I mess up his whole life". School begins here with first grade. Back in the day, when Ukraine's flag was red, everyone started first grade at 7 years of age. Homeschool didn't exisit, you got 10 years in Siberia for things like that. And school lasted through the 9th grade. After the 9th grade a kid (or likely his parents) decided what his future profession would be, and the student was enrolled into a college specializing in his chosen major, ( future lawyers started law school in 10th grade).
Today, things are a little more westernized. The average public school now has 12 grades, and parents now have the option of enrolling their kids at age six or seven. You get to take all those factors into account like, birthday, maturity level etc.. In addition we get to choose which public school we want our child to attend. Each public elementary school has a special emphasis, economics, mathmatics, languges, fine arts. So the last few weeks the parents of preschool #12, ( post soviet preschool's have held on to their creative soviet names), have been very seriously courted by the eight public schools in our city. Each meeting leaves me more uncertain. The issue isn't so much the school, it's trying to decide whether or not William is ready. He has the unfortunate summer birthday that makes him either the youngest or the oldest in his class. And he is slight for his age, which is a concern to his Ukrainian grandfather (he doesn't want him to be picked on for his height). At the moment Andrey and I have no definate direction, one day we decide to go ahead and enroll him, the next day, we decide to wait a year.
There is another issue at hand.William would have been a great spy in the cold war, fluent in three languages and yet  he never leaks a bit of information about anything. It is almost impossible to get him to share what he does at preschool all day. Only in rare moments does he open up this little world to me. The most I can usually get from him in what they had for lunch, at best it's something funny that a kid said in class. Today was pretty much the same, I asked William what they learned at school today,
"what did you talk about?"
"what was something cool or funny that happend today?"
At bedtine he began reciting one of his favorite things, "2+2 is 4, 3+3 is 6, 4+4, is 8.." (Is this really my kid?) So in an effort to bond I start reciting this stuff with him, counting off two fingers on one hand, three on the other to make five, thinking I would stump him after 10. But William jumps right into this game. He says, "let's do 11" I decide to take off my sock and use my big toe for 11, (I've always been the artsy type). William sighs, "no, Mom, I'll show 6 fingers, you show five" and up we move all the way to 13, he already has 8 fingers up, I on the other hand am stumped, "Mom," in his patronizing little voice, " it's five fingers, show five fingers, 8 plus 5 is 13"
And that's why we're not homeschooling.

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Vesna, is the Russian and Urkainian word for Spring. It means green tulip leaves pushing their through hard black soil to be greeted by snow flurries. It means one day we wear light jackets, the next day snow boots. Spring is beautiful and unpredictible. Spring is full of plans, like actually turning that sunny spont in the backyard into a mini garden corner for tomaotoes, cucumbers, parsley and dill. And Spring is always brightened by hope. The ladies in my prayer group are full of this Spring like hope. The last few weeks we have been pondering over the wonderful verse in Isaiah 43:18-19, which encourages us to forget about the past and see that God is already doing something new, right now in our lives. Theses words have special meaning for many of our ladies. Some husbands are finally attending church services, other  husbands are celebrating five months of freedom from drug addiction. And for one family, after years of estrangment, they have finally found forgiveness, and the freeing joy that freedom can bring.
My own husband is on his personal spring journey right now. He is gone for six day of prayer and fasting. And in his absence I have been doing my own pondering, soul-searching if you will. The Lord is unchanging, always steady and faithful, and yet, He is always changing us, our perceptions, expectations and even capabilities. So where is the Lord leading me this Spring? What new adventures await? Stay tuned...

Monday, April 4, 2011

Get Refreshed Go Minister

About two years ago, I started dreaming about hosting a ladies retreat, for Ukrainian women involved in ministry. I have always been blessed and inspired by their creativity, organization, and sacrifice. I have learned so much from them and count it a true priviliege to work with them. For almost two years I kept this desire pretty much a secret sharing it with very few, and mostly just praying about it. In January of this year I finally felt direction from the Lord to act. I titled the retreat Get Refreshed Go Minister (it sounds a little snappier in Russian) and we set the date for the first weekend in April.
When you have planned and dreamed of something for a very long time and that thing actually becomes a reality, it is always accompianed by a bit of anxiety. After all there is a great probablity that the thing in reality won't be quiet so glorious as it was in your mind. In the three months I spent preparing this retreat, I fought with those doubts alot. It meant continuously giving my dream over to the Lord, and believing that He would bless.
I find it neccessary to explain that the ladies for whom I was preparing this get away, are a bit of a tough crowd. They're the cream of crop as far as ministry goes, they produce fanatastic ladies meeting throughout the year, they are well trained and well educated. In addition, there were a lot of conflicts lately between these ladies. We work together toward a common goal, but don't  really know each other outside of our planning meetings. Sometimes, insecruties and misconceptions brew into conflict and hurt feeling. So the plan for thise retreat was two-fold, I wanted to give theses ladies a thank you and much deserved break for the sacrifical ministry work they do all year, and provide an atmosphere that would encouarge some bonding between theses ladies. I asked a well respected speaker, who has served for several years as a missionary first in the Phillipines  and more recently in  Ukraine, to share with us some wisdom, experience and encouragment.
I've know the Lord for a while now, but He never ceases to amaze me. He gave me the desire of my heart (can someone please explain to me, why that keeps surprising me?) I know that I have never felt so blessed or so satisfied through ministry as I did this past weekend. When you get 30 women in an isolated location for a few days, with nothing to do but fellowship and relax, there is bound to be lots of laughter, almost as many tears, and so much love! We finally opened up, took off our masks, and began to understand each other. We left as sisters, feeling so blessed and encouraged and loved by each other.
We've been refreshed, we're ready to minister.

Monday, March 21, 2011

the Color of your Life

This past Saturday we had our spring Women's outreach event.(Doesn't it seem like we just had our Christmas event?) Anyway, we had a great time. There were 86 ladies in attendance. In the past we have usually used food to lure the ladies in, we've had salad parties, eggplant parties, potatoes parties, which have basically consisted of an assortment of dishes to sample accompianed by a recipe and a spiritual correlation.
This spring we used a different approach. The selected theme was "The Colors of your Life" and we invited the amateur female artist of our church and communities to display their masterpieces at our meeting.It was a local art exhibition if you will. We tied it in with the idea that all the good and tough times in our lives blend together to great a lovely masterpiece. Of course we had our traditional March weather; warm and sunny until noon, and in the evening this yucky sort of snow/ rain started falling. But despite the weather, we had 86 ladies in attendance, which is no small thing considering that probably 75 of them treaded through the slushy streets on foot to get there. The evening was blessed, there was just this lovely atmosphere of peace and God's prescence among us. It was one of those meeting where the fellowship mixed with tea, cookies and little sandwhiches lasted long, no one was in a hurry to leave. Thanks to everyone that supports and prays for these meetings!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Giving in and Letting Go

Okay, I know we've already established that I'm wierd. So it shouldn't be too big of a surprise to you, when I share my most recent blessing from the Lord. You ready? One of my most faithful ladies is leaving our prayer group. After almost a year of attending church Alina, made a profession of faith in January. The biggest change since then has been her relationship to the Word.  Alina's husband is one of the more wealthy and influential men in our city. He has been less then pleased at Alina's new interest in the Baptist church. In his opinion, Baptist are nothing more than a brainwashing cult. At worst, we're dangerous, at best we're charletons. In any case, he's not interested. The fact that in the past few months she  is gone everyday to a small group, prayer meeting or ladies event hasn't helped the matter any. His business is growing, and after two years of maternity leave he is ready for his wife to return back to work, and help him out. "Sorry dear, I don't have time, I'm late for prayer group, small group, etc.." hasn't gone over too well.
We have talked a lot lately about being doers of the word, not just hearers, about our husbands coming to Christ not through our sermons and lectures but through a gentle spirit. And I've noticed the wheels turning. So today, when she came to me told me to that she wouldn't be attending our prayer group for a while, so that she could help her husband with his business, brought me a lot of joy. I know how hard it is for her to give up her daily church activities, as a new believer she loves and craves the fellowship of other Christians. But the fact that she has made this decision to serve her husband on her own, is that first step of being a doer and not just  hearer. She will be blessed I know. I believe that the promises of God's word are true. Her husband will come to the Lord! Pray for Alina

Somewhere in between

After almost a year of trudging through a sometimes exhausting bog of redtape, I am happy to announce that I am finally an official resident of Ukraine. It has been a long time coming. The modest white card and black and white photo represents more than just a year of beuacracy, expensive trips to Poland, and seemingly endless stacks of forms and blanks to sign. After all, in my almost 11 years of missionary work, I've managed to aquire a Russian husband and two Ukrainian born babies . So when I recieved my little residency card on Wednesday, and glanced at the somber thirtysomething women starting back at me, it seemed fitting and right. I suppose since September , I've been looking for a way to solidify my decade of expatriotism. Becoming a  resident of Ukraine  really defines who I am. Yes, my royal blue passport is still proudly adorned with a gold embossed eagle. My citizenship, accent and mentality and craving for Dr. Pepper will always be American. And yet, I can't imagine life without borshct, March 8th, and the removal of shoes upon entering a house.  Whether I like it or not, I will never again be truly American, and no matter how hard I try will never actually be Ukrainian. I'm somewhere in between.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Red Army Day

Sometimes, I get so wrapped up in my family life, that I forget to write things that are actually about the culture here in Ukraine. Febuary 23 is a rather big holiday here It's sometimes called Red Army day, and sometimes referred to as Defenders of the Fatherland Day. It is a day to honor and recongnize all the men that served in the Red Army. This holiday has been around since 1918, when the orginial Red Army was formed.During the Soviet regime two years of  millitary service was mandatory for all males between the ages of 18-25. One could either serve before or after college, but if you were a physically and mentally healthy man, you had to give you two years of service to the Red Army. Despite the fact that both the army and the governemnt it proctected no longer exisit, every Febuary Ukrainians still celebrates this day. In the past twenty years of freedome here in Ukraine, it has become sort of like a Man's day, were all male relatives, colleges and friends are congratulated. However in our family we only honor Andrey's dad, who actually drove a tank in the '70's.
So how, does one celebrate Red Army Day, you may ask? Well, usually the celebrations begins in the morning as everyone starts texting men poems or jokes about Red Army day. Even those that never served in the military, like my husband, are congratulated.Their wives, daughters and female collegues give small gifts. Usually something like shaving cream, aftershave or deodorant. Anything that promotes good  personal hygeine is accetable. Sometimes they are presented with a few carnation, the manliest of  flowers.
Because Febuary 23 has not been an official holiday for almost 20 years now in the Ukraine, everyone goes to work. But after work ,the traditional stereotypical Ukrainian man (not all men, the typical man falling into the stereotypical category) who is always happy for an excuse to drink, gets together with his army buddies, several bottles of vodka and zakuski (little appetizers, a Russian or Ukrainian never ever drinks vodka without taking a bite after every shot)   And they drink long into the night recalling the glory days of the USSR or the crazy anatics that happened during their military days.
But honestly, this holiday is a rather quite a mystery to me. For those that lived in the USSR, life was either terror and torture, or glory and ease. So to congratulate someone with Red Army day, you are either conjuring up memories of opression or rubbing salt in the womb.  Right? I feel awarkard telling a man, "thank you for your service in  an army that proctected a tyrannical government, which in the end collapsed, literally collapsed, in every sense of the word".
So Wednesday night as we were getting dressed to go over to Andrey's parents house and congratulate his Dad, with Red Army Day. ( due to a stomach ulcer doesn't drink, we just had tea and cake with the fam.) I asked Andrey, who was at the moment reading  to mesome of the funny Feb. 23rd greetings he had recieved throughout the day.
"Isn't it kind of wierd to be celebrating a day for an army that doesn't exist?"
He shrugged his shoulders and gave me a bewildered look like, "why would that be wierd?"
So I'm guessing this must be one of those "cultural things"?
By the way,  for those who are interested, he gave his Dad a new toothbrush and a tube of Aquafresh.

Monday, February 21, 2011

by faith

William was three weeks old, when I first called my own mom in tears. Actually he and I were both in tears. Being his exclusive source of nutrition he needed me,however, it was very clear that he did not like me. For the first year of his life he pretty much wanted to be around me only when he was hungry.This was humbling to say the least. The louder he would screamed and the more anxiously he would fuss, the clearer it became that my plans for being the "World's most adored Mom" were not to be. When he was four, my dreams of  becoming the next Sandy Patty (my dream since 1987) also went down the drain. They were dashed the moment William said,   "Mom, please don't sing when I'm in the house. When you start to sing it just makes me so angry inside I want to scream".  It's hard to practice your octaves when anytime a mere hum passes through your lips a patronizing preschool voice says,
"Mom, what have I told you about singing in the house?"
Yep, it hasn't always been easy with him. And because of it, he gets more prayer than our phlegmatic Blondie, who at three years old has trouble identifying any color but pink and any shape besides a heart.  She doesn't care what language your speaking, just as long we're having fun.
William is our serious straight laced, five year old going on 46 auditor. William sees only two colors: black and white, no grays, and absolutely NO PINK. I don't want to put him down, there  is a lot to be said for the type A personality. For example, if I can instill the truth of the Gospel in Will, he'll stand by it to the end. And that's where the tricky part comes in. IF I can instill some sort of concept of God in his little heart. So far it doesn't seem to be working.
About two years ago, I made a decision to never again read a Christian book on marriage, they always left me feeling intimidated and frustrated. All the creative formulas for becoming SUPER COUPLE never seemed to work on my husband (blame on the culture), or me. I take my Christian literature with a grain of salt these days, finally understanding that every family is unique, and if behaviour A doesn't doesn't produce behaviour  B, it doesn't mean that you have failed, maybe your just using a different alphabet.
Now, getting back to the kid that keeps my prayer life vibrant. After reading all these incredibly wise and actually Biblical based books on super Christian parenting, I find myself feeling little more than a failure. After all, William is almost six, and not only has my son not prayed a prayer of salvation, at the moment he's not praying at all.  (He explained to me that he prayed when he was 4, now he is five and he does not pray any more) YIKES!!! If you've read those books than you understand, that obviously I've done something terribly wrong as a parent.
All jesting aside, I do worry about William. Because he is different, his is strong willed. And I know that if, someday he does make a decision for Christ, it will be strong and clear and he won't sway. I also understand, that if for some reason he decides not to accept Christ, his life will be so hard.
My husband, tells me not to worry, to just pray and everything will be okay. I want TO DO something. I knew that parenting was tough. I know that parents spend their whole lives praying for their kids. But I guess I never realized how much faith it actually takes. I suppose the issue here is that I'm doubting God's goodness and love to my family and to my son. If I could put it into a question here it is:
"Do I trust God to bring my son to salvation?"
I want to say, "Yes, of course"
But I supposed a more honest answer would be, "I want to believe, help my unbelief"

Saturday, February 19, 2011

snowfall and steaming borscht

I don't know why I love Saturdays so much. The pace doesn't seem to be any slower that the rest of our week, and on average Saturdays are usually overloaded with ministry. .Andrey has a morning  soccer tournament and evening soccer evangelism. I usually have a baby shower, speaking engagment, conference or small group to rush to throughout the day. Plans for Saturday usually includes finding a sitter or dragging (literally, we usually walk) the kids with me wherever I'm bound. Nastia, our morning bird, sees to it that we don't sleep in on  Saturdays. However, thanks to BBC's birlliant Mr. Maker, I get an extra 30 minutes of sleep on Saturdays, and the kids get to practice their british accents. William and Anastasia snuggle under our covers and every once in a while I open up my left eye to see what craft Mr. Maker is presenting today. My little wunderkinds have already been exposed to so many variations of English, that can nail british accent,  and taunt their Papa with a Russian accent,( complete with grammatical mistakes). Something along the lines of "It is a so beautiful day"  But don't worry, I've done my part in passing on my  Texas roots. Nastia can turn the word "chips" into four sylables. I think the record was when she asked for a "dru-ah-ah-ah-nk" (drink to those of you that don't speak Texan). With the thrity minute of exra snoozing that Mr. Maker saw too, we are up and moving by 7:30.
It's Febaury and we have a nice solid belowing freezing temperture outside. All nature and manmade connocotions are hidden under a think blanket of snow. My little ones are outside delighitng in the wonders of a white Christmas. As a child growing up in balmy East Texas, I used to watch those sentimental Campbell's Soup commericals with great envy. You know, the ones where the kid comes in from the snow and melts around a steaming bowl of  of sooo delicious, and yet nutrious soup. Well, although the thought of stewed cabbage and beets may not bring the word delicious to mind for most, don't forget my kids were born in Kiev. Borscht is thier comfort food, and one of the few ways I can get my picky eater to eat his veggies. In a few minutes they will make trudge their way  back into the house. We'll go through the exhausting process of removing snow suits, hats, boots, wool socks and a couple of layers of clothes. They will defrost around their steaming bowls of red borscht and then we will climb upstairs for a short winter's nap, bdfore our Saturday madness begins again. I'm praying that these campbell soup moments will be memories that last.

Friday, February 18, 2011

A church

Masha first started attending our church about a year and a half ago. She has a daughter about Nastia's age, and we sometimes passed each other on our path to and from the nursery. Beyond a brief introduction, "hi, I'm.." and the standard greetings that follow when you undressing or dressing you little one in a snow suit, I didn't really know her. This past fall she joined my prayer group. I was immediately touched by her openness and her humility. She comes from a very difficult background. Her mother had been raised in an orphanage and knew very little about love and nurturing, her father disappeared when she was still an toddler. Like so many in her generation, Masha got lost in the system after the USSR fell, and became addicted to drugs. By the time she joined our church, she had already been saved and delivered from drug addiction. In one of the miracles that prove God's love is everlasting, she carried and  gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, bright baby girl, while she was still using drugs.

It was in our prayer group, that she shared for the first time that her husband is still a drug addict. We began to pray for him, and for the last three months he hasn't missed one church service or small group meeting. (they also attend small group for couples). Squeezed inside a dilapidated one room apartment, they live in literal poverty. Due to years of drug use, Masha's husband is now considered handicap and unable to work. Having a preschooler prevents Masha from getting a full time job. To put it bluntly, she has every reason to be down and bitter, and distressed. But you never hear her complain, she always has a gentle joy in her eyes. She doesn't allow herself self-pity. She just reminds herself of how God has already saved her from so much.

After the New Year, she discovered that she was expecting another baby. Despite her difficult situation, she accepted her pregnancy with pure joy. This morning she called and told me she had lost the baby. The Lord worked it in such a way, that I was just a few feet from her apartment when she called, and I was able to rush to her immediately. We prayed and cried together. As always, I was touched by her calm acceptance of God's perfect plan in her life. As I left I sent the word out to the other ladies in our group to be supporting her in prayer. I was overwhelmed by the response. Immediately the other sisters started calling, asking how they could help, suggesting all sorts of ways to support her not just emotionally, but in practical ways, like keeping her preschooler for a few days, preparing meals.  I noticed that everyone that offered their help would be sacrificing their own convenience, changing plans, or giving up something to reach out to Masha.  It was a beautiful example of the church.

Sometimes we get discouraged by religion, by churches and programs, and brothers and sisters that let us down or hurt us. Sometimes we get disillusioned. And then something like this tragedy comes along, and we see Christ's  bride, doing what she was created to do, and it's beautiful.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A day in the Life

Last year, our family visited some freinds that live in Transcarpathia, it's  region west of the the Carpathian mountains that borders Hungary and Romania. They have their own dialect of Ukrainian that is heavily influenced by Hungarian, and it takes a few days to catch on to their lingo. We were sitting around the table one evening visiting when a lady started discussing, her daughters both in their late 20's with toddlers.
"They keep saying they don't have time to get everything done, they don't have time clean the house, cook, and care for the kids, they are tired all the time and just don't have enough time. When we were young we did all our washing by hand, all our cooking from scratch and somehow, we had time to do everything. I don't remember being so exhausted as my daughter is, and yet,  I see, she really is exhausted, she really doesn't have time."
I have pondered this conversation often. Because it's true. Today we as women have more conveniences than every before, we have automatic washing machines, you in the states even have dryers. We have dishwashers, cars, canned soups and frozen dinners. And yet, we just don't seem to have time. I know my house is never as clean as I would like for it to be, I don't spend as much quality time with my kids as I should, and most nights I sink into the pillow exhausted. All my planners and organizers don't save me much time either.
Take last weekend for example. We had a ladies conference at our church that had been scheduled for over a month, I had given Andrey fair warning, already planned my meals out, what and where we would be eating an on what days. And then on Wednesday night about 9:00pm Andrey informs me that a guy visiting from Western Ukraine will be spending the night at our house.
Okay I think, "no problem, I'll whip up something real quick for him to eat tongiht, and think something up for breakfast, since I'll be leaving before he wakes up"
Then at 9:15 I get a call from one of our pastor's wife asking me to prepared dinner on Thursday night for about 17 people in our small group. I think, "okay the conference last until 6 pm, the small group begins at 7pm, I will need to prepared dinner tonight", Which explains why I went to bed at 2am on Thursday morning. I won't go into the rest of the details, of  attending the ladies conferences, speaking at a new converts class, decorating for the Valentine's banquet, and taking care of our overnight guest, who ended up staying four days.Each day seemed to snowball into the next, and all I could do was laugh at the neatly organized planner that I had filled in a month ago. I was proud of myself that I didn't fall asleep at the Valentine's banquet, and thankful to my husband for giving me the best Valentine's gift I could have recieved yesterday, A NAP!

Valentine's Day

Thanks to everyone that lifted supported our church in prayer this past Sunday. We had our fifth annual Valentine's Banuquet on  Sunday evening. It was such a huge success. There were 62 unchurched families in attenadance!! What a blessing. Two men that have been attending Andrey's soccer ministry came with their wives. This was their first time to attend a church function. They seemed to really enjoy the evening. Please be in prayer for these two new families that we have made contact with. Sometimes we get so busy with programs, and decorating, and cooking, that we lose track of the main focus, following up on those contacts we have made. Irpen in ripe unto harvest. So please pray for our workers.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Testimony of God's Faithfulness

This past Monday, I had the blessed experience to have to tea with one of the most respected women of the evangelical work here in Ukraine. She is a well know speaker and respected leader of Women's ministry  throughout the entire former USSR.  As a child growing up in the 50's her family and loved ones experienced great persecutions because of their faith. She has countless testimonies of God's faithful and miracles during those difficult days. Here is one story she shared this week,

I remember once, late in the evening, a man knocking on our door, it was already late, and most of the little ones were asleep, (there were seven children in her family). Mama and Papa sat him beside the wood heated stove and served him compote. Our cot lay right across from the door to the kitchen and, my older sister and I fiegned sleep, while we strained to make out their whispered conversation.

"In Kiev, they are arresting anyone holding prayer meetings in their house," he whsipered, " parental rights are immediately taken and the children are put into orphanages. We can't find even find out which orphange  the children are taken to.. they give us no information" The man finished his tea and began dressing. "If I'm seen here, you'll be in danger of arrest, " he whispered to my father, who was already in danger of arrest A moment later he quietly slipped out the door into the night. I don't remember ever seeing him again.

To this day, I have a vivied memory of my mother and father on their knees, their foreheads pressed together in prayer. Although I was young, I had already learned, that when my parents prayed this way, with their foreheads pressed together, something was very wrong. I don' t know how long they prayed. My eyes fixed on their praying lips, I finally feel asleep.
The next morning my father made the greatest announcement we had ever heard, "Vera's birthday is next week, we are going to have a birthday party!" What a cry of joy rose up around the table. We were poor and had never celebrated birthdays befpre. God had given my parents an answer that night.
Now there were seven of us, plus Mama and Papa, plus Grandma and Grandpa who lived next door, that meant a birthday almost every month, sometimes twice a month. We celebrated every birthday among our small group of secret believers. It gave us an excuse to meet together as a church. The entire Christian community in our little village could  join together for the "birthday". When the authorities would come to investigate why we were holding "assemblies" in our home, Papa would calmly show him our birth certificates. "Surely in our great Soviet Union, it's not against the law to have a birhtday party," my Papa would smilingly defend. Frustrated the police would leave having now real proof to arrest us.
The Lord gave my parents great wisdom that night. He showed them away to continue holding church services. Even during the hardest years of persecution, our family was never seperated.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


 For several months, through newsletters and this blog and I have shared about and solicited prayers for my women's small group. On January 9 Olyona made a public profession of faith , or January 26 Alina followed her. These two salvations have had a very personal effect on me. I've seen them change so much in the three months they have attended. When Olyona first started attending, anytime pray time came around she always did something to distract herself. When she did pray, the words were forced and awkward. Anya's prayer were eloquent and empty. I was completely intimidated by the both of them, and baffled by their regular attendance. In the past three months they have never missed a meeting. I don't know when the changes started coming, at first they weren't noticeable, they started opening up more at tea time sharing more about what was really going on in their lives. Then there were the set backs, gossip and jealousy, the two diseases that no church group is immune to. I worried that they would become disillusioned or disappointed in "believers". I seem to always underestimate the Lord. And of course among the seven nonbelievers, that I was fervently praying for at that time, I thought they would be the last to be saved. They were the first. After Alina's repentance, her teenage son and daughter most made professions of faith. And I am continuously humbled and amazed through this whole process. If I had any misconceptions before that the the success of the prayer group had anything to do with me, the Lord has certainly removed them. I'm going through a pruning process myself right now. And it's painful, but the fruit has been worth it.
The work here is alive and growing, each day I wake up with the wonderful question, "who will be saved this week" It has nothing to do with Andrey, or I, or what great ministers we are. No, He uses in spite of how lousy we are are. Sometimes I feel like He's saying, "because you mess up so much, I will bless you". I"m grateful to Him for His loving kindness. I grateful that He has a soft spot for losers!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On Thursday

Today's Thursday. Thursday, means cleaning house, meeting one on one with ladies from my prayer group, and on Thursday evening we have our small groups for couples. This group is actually not lead by us, but by one of our local pastors. We meet in his apartment which is located on the fifth floor of a still underconstruction apartment building. Which means no working elevator. You have to climb five flights of stairs to attend small group. You have to want to attend small group.
At the small group, Andrey and I are the entertainment. I don't mean wisecracks and jokes, although there is plenty of that coming from Andrey's side of the room. What I mean is that, when forming this small group we were asked  to facilitate activities outside of the usual small groups meetings. We're the party planners! Which is usually what we do best, and what we do throughout most of this year. We help plan banquets, church picnics, Christmas parties, retreats, family nights, camps etc. And yet, here it is, almost an entire year as gone by and we haven't done any bonding as a group.
Last spring we planned a small group picnic, that fell through, so we postponed it to fall. That never panned out. When we mentioned Christmas party, threre were no takers.Yes, I admit, we did not even have a small group Christmas part!!!. We have a group here that is not bonding! And it's hard to figure out why. To generalize and sterotype Ukrainians, Ukrainians are very socialable. They love socializing! Dropping in for tea, can last three to four  hours. Last week we had a family over for lunch after church, they stayed still supper. Usually when we invite someone over for dinner, I go ahead an make up the guest bed. That's one of the things I love best about Ukraine. It's easy, for the most part, to bond with these guys. Which is why it's a mystery to me, why this group isn't clicking.
Not to say the group isn't successful. We've already seen fruit in this group, so far we have had three professions of faith. The group is growing and interested.  But there is still a bit of a barrier, we don't feel like family. Maybe socializing it too overrated. I certainly don't think it should ever take the place of spiritual growth or indepth Bible study, but it does have it's place in the unity of the body of Christ.
So tonight we meet once again. We're studying how to become an effective parent in a deffective world. There will be tea, sandwhiches, cookies, and fellowship. Then we will all go home, and  not visit with one another until next Thursday, when we climb the five flights of stairs once again, with new hope that maybe soon, this group will bond.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Up and going

After over a month of interenet trouble, (I don't think Mubarak had anything to do with it) our high speed internet is finally back. So hopefully our blog will be better updated in Feburary. January was a great month, two ladies in our prayer group made public professions of faith this month. And a man that has been attending the soccer ministry made a profession of faith last Sunday! This has been a great start for 2011!
There is still one faithful member of Laura's prayer group that has yet to make a profession of faith, her name is Lilya* . She lives in a one room apartment with her four kids. Her husband lives with his mother because the kids "annoy" him. I have been a little surprised by her faithful attendance, because she still has lots of doubts about Christianity. She holds to the philosphy that all paths lead to God. When she began attending the prayer group we started praying that the Holy Spirit would reveal to her that Jesus is the only way. The last two months have been a joy, as each week she comes and shares how God is answering the prayers needs she brings to the group. (Usually within a few hours after praying.) This is an answer to prayer within itself. Lately she has been arriving about an hour early  to read and ask questions before the group starts. Tomorrow our topic is confessing our sins before the Lord. Please pray for Lilya, that she will make a decision for the Lord soon!

*name has been changed