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