Thursday, March 1, 2007

Orphanage ups and downs January 11, 2007

Last week at the orphanage we were told that some of the children were being transferred. Now, I have known all along that First Stage Orphanage is a temporary stop for these children. Most stay three months or less, and during my time here I have seen children come and go. Still, we have had a little group of about seven kids that have been there since we arrived and a few others who came in early November. We know all their names and they know us. When we walk in, we can hear them shout our names and they run to us for hugs and to play.
So, over the weekend I was praying for the children who might be moved, especially for my little friend Valera, three little girls that are sisters—Ileana, Volya, and Veka—and a little girl named Anna, who is a troublemaker but who has completely stolen my heart. I was expecting that they would not all be there when we arrived this week. So, upon our arrival on Tuesday I quickly scanned the children in the room and all five of “my” kids were gone as well as some others who I didn’t even think might be moved. Honestly, I just wanted to cry. I was really feeling the loss of these children and just a great sadness. Oksana turned to me and said, “These aren’t even our kids,” so I know she was feeling some of the same emotions.
There were two new adorable little girls. When I first saw them I didn’t notice how adorable they were, I noticed what one of them was wearing. Sometimes, on Thursdays, we are at the orphanage during part of bath time. One of the workers will call over three or four children of about the same size and let them pick out their clothes from a little pile. One little dress is red and white checkered with a red apple on the front. When ever it is clean, Anna wears it. Honestly, most of the other clothing you will see on more than one child, but this little red dress I have only seen Anna wear. Tuesday, Leda was wearing it.
I honestly didn’t want to be there anymore. Oksana, Sasha, and I talked a little about our lesson, Sasha started to tell the Bible story, and then I led a game. When we finished the game, Leda and Jenya came over and wanted to play with me. Soon, Leda’s sister Nastya wanted to play too. We played for a little and then they went off to play with some toys. I was still feeling a little sad, so I sat down on a bench next to Oksana and she and I started talking a little about the children. Little Leda climbed up in my lap and wanted to play again. We were bouncing and wiggling and playing and she stopped and asked me, “Do you like my dress?” I couldn’t understand her but Oksana translated for me. In that moment I was struck with such a love for the beautiful and precious 4-year-old little girl I was holding in my lap and I was able to tell her yes, she had a beautiful dress.
God is so good to me. It is such a privilege to share His love with all of these children. I know He loves them far more than I do. I know He has a plan for each of their lives. I am thankful that God is using me to touch their lives and that He uses them as a blessing in my life. Please continue to pray for this ministry. Pray for Sasha, Oksana, Sarah, and me, but most of all, please pray for all of these children. I am confident God is also going to use other people in their lives, and I trust them all to Him.

The glitter saga January 11, 2007

Okay, so we do crafts, lots of crafts. I decided that for both the Kid’s Club and ladies’ ministry I would like to do a Christmas craft with glitter. The only problem was I couldn’t find any glitter. Now I will admit, neither of these projects was pivotal; I could have picked something else, but I didn’t want to. Thus began the search.
First, I looked in the craft supplies we have, but no glitter. Anna said she had never seen glitter in any store but promised she would keep her eyes peeled whenever she was out. I asked Oksana, who told me to ask Inna, who thought she had seen some in the department store, but she wasn’t sure in which shop. So, I searched there but did not find any.
One day Sasha and I went shopping with a list of other things, but our main goal was glitter. A big problem was that Sasha doesn’t really know what glitter is. In a Christmas store I found some little pieces of glitter on a shelf that had fallen off of a Christmas ornament. So, Sasha was able to ask the clerk if they sold just the glitter. Though she answered no, she suggested that we shop at a store that sells nail things or make up. So, always the good sport, Sasha took me to two ladies’ stores looking for glitter, but still we couldn’t find any. While shopping, Anna found some glitter lip gloss and glitter body lotion, which were great, but they wouldn’t work for the craft.
I know it is ridiculous, but I was getting really frustrated because all I wanted was glitter and it shouldn’t be that much to ask. I didn’t want to change my crafts. I was really being pretty stubborn and silly about the whole thing. Finally, I prayed about the silly glitter. I wasn’t asking for glitter but more for help with my attitude about the whole situation. Then, I was able to step back and see I could change crafts. Again, my plans are not that important; I could look at doing something else. So, I sat down one evening and started sorting through some Sunday School materials that a church from the States sent. I originally planned to use them to work on ideas for VBS-type programs this summer and for programs for the orphanage, but I was looking also for a Christmas craft idea. Guess what I found in one of the boxes—glitter!
When Anna saw it she said, “God really loves you,” and again I was reminded how much I am loved. How silly that little things can become a point of disobedience. I can become angry and stubborn and really just consumed with a little negative or I can trust God, roll with the punches, let go of the things that don’t go according to my plans, and just cling to Jesus. I am so thankful for the glitter but more thankful for the lesson and the love.
As an added note, Anna did find more glitter for me at the same department store I looked in, Oksana bought me some for Christmas, and both the Christmas ornaments and the decorated cards were great fun to make.

Quick Update January 11, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I know I am late, but here in Ukraine Christmas is not celebrated until January 7, so I am still in the middle of the holiday season. Things have been so busy but amazing and wonderful. I am so thankful to be in Ukraine for this time.
The Christmas season officially started December 19 with Saint Nicholas’ Day. We had the pleasure of being at the orphanage when he came to visit the children there. It was great fun. The youth English class had a small Christmas party during our last class on December 21. We are planning to resume on January 16, and I hope all the children will return.
On December 22 our conversation group had an American Christmas Party. We watched It’s a Wonderful Life, sang Christmas carols, read ’Twas the Night Before Christmas (this is something my dad always recites for Christmas, so it was such great fun to be able to share it with my Ukrainian friends), ate Christmas goodies, and most important of all, we talked about the birth of Jesus.
Saturday was a wonderful, amazing, crazy, busy day. Sasha and I combined our two English Kid’s Clubs for one party at Sasha’s church. We sang (I altered some Christmas songs to make them a little simpler, and they were a big hit), decorated Christmas bulbs, heard the story of Jesus’ birth, and enjoyed some more Christmas snacks. Then, we rushed home to Ernie and Anna’s for a huge Christmas dinner for 21 people.
On Christmas day we slept in until about 8:30 a.m. and then had a nice breakfast that the guys (Ernie and Don, a volunteer who came to visit over Christmas) prepared for us girls (Anna, Sarah, and I). Next, we had a time of praise and worship. Then, we opened gifts, but the gifts were not just from each other but from Ukrainian friends who had come to lunch on Saturday. It was a truly wonderful time. After opening presents, we just had a relaxing day. I received a phone call from home; it was such a wonderful gift to be able to talk to my dad, brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews. Then, around 4 p.m., I was off to ladies’ ministry.
It was funny when we set up our time to meet. I had explained to Tanya and Lewda that December 25 is Christmas in America so we shouldn’t meet. They assured me that it was okay that we meet. So, I said okay. I am so glad we did; it was the largest group we have had so far with 10 ladies. We had such a great time. Several people spoke, so we actually had a discussion in which the ladies shared their own experiences and talked about the story of Ruth. It was such an incredible blessing to me.
After that I was off to my English lesson with Katya and Alosha. They are a young couple in Sasha’s church who I am meeting with for private English lessons. Sasha is translating for us. We had such a good meeting. I am so excited about the growing relationship I am developing with Katya and Alosha. Christmas was such a wonderful day; I am so thankful for the love I am surrounded with here in Ukraine. Thank you so much for your prayers. I have such joy here, and I know that it is from God.
I know you are thinking this has been a full season, but wait, it is not done. Most people in Ukraine give gifts on New Year’s Day, so we had a huge task of preparing gifts for the children at the orphanage. Thankfully, people from the States sent many gifts through Meest Shipping. On Friday, December 29, we went to First Stage Orphanage and shared gifts with the children there. It was such fun. Then on Saturday, Sasha and I hosted two New Year’s parties for the Kid’s Clubs. I altered another song as a New Year’s song. Maybe I was a little overconfident from my success with the Christmas songs, but it was a real bomb. They requested that we just sing the Christmas songs instead. Oh well.
Then, for New Year’s Eve, the youth had an overnight party at Pastor Sergey and Oksana’s house. It was a typical all-night youth event, but with even more food. I feasted on lots of Ukrainian food that was all wonderful. Then, on January 1, 2007, we went to the birthday lunch of Sergey’s mom for another feast of Ukrainian food. Again, it was all so good. Sergey decided that I must not have an American stomach. I too am amazed. Not only am I trying foreign dishes, but I am actually eating fish and the most detestable vegetable of all, peas. I am giving the Lord all the credit.
So, what am I doing now? Well, we just finished our annual WGM field meeting. Missionaries Bill and Betsy Tarr and Bill and Oksana Brower met with Sarah, Ernie, Anna, and I to go over lots of WGM Ukraine information. It was so informative and really fun. Although Bill Brower and I were unfairly labeled as disruptive troublemakers, overall the meetings went really well. Oksana and I and some of the ladies in the church are working on gifts that will be given to children in the church on Ukrainian Christmas on January 7, and we have been invited over to Tanya and Mike’s apartment for a little party that day.
So, thanks again for all the prayers. I hope you also had a wonderful whirlwind of a Christmas Season and that Jesus was the focus of everything.

Language blunders January 11, 2007

The other day we were at the youth center and Oleg, one of the boys who comes very often, stole Sarah’s hat and put it on his head, only to discover that it was too large for him. Sarah is pretty small, and despite her statements that the hat is too large for her, Oleg started to chant in English, “Sarah have a big head!” over and over. Those of us who know English all laughed. It was pretty funny, but even funnier was when Sasha turned to me and said, “That is not correct. It is correct to say, ‘Sarah has a big head.’” I didn’t think I would be able to stop laughing.
I am making lots of language blunders myself. I was trying to learn my days of the week so I was practicing them at the youth center and every time I said Friday the little girls would laugh at my pronunciation. Finally, Oksana heard me and explained that it sounded like I was calling someone “a drunken man.” The bad part is that it is really hard for me to hear the difference.
While we were driving the other day we needed to turn, and we were discussing the correct way to give the direction—on the left, left, to the left—only to realize we actually wanted to turn right. So, sometimes it isn’t so much the language I struggle with as just knowing my directions.
Larissa, one of the lady’s in the church who used to help with the orphanage ministry, had a beautiful baby girl. Her name is Veronica (well sort of). When I tried to pronounce it Oksana laughed so hard. She wouldn’t tell me what I had said, but she insisted that I not say it again and suggested some fun and acceptable nicknames for me to call the baby.
Needless to say, I am still learning and I still need prayer!

Valera January 3, 2007

Truly, I love all of the children at the orphanage. It is such a joy for me to spend time with them; I just wish I could be there more. Sometimes we sit quietly and read or color or work a puzzle. Sometimes we are loud and rowdy and run and tickle and jump. We sing, tell Bible stories, do crafts, play games, and try to do all we can to share God’s love with each child.
There is one little boy in particular who has just stolen my heart. His name is Valera. I think he is about 7 or 8, and he is all boy. One day I was having a tickle fight with four of the boys (Volva, Tolik, Sasha, and Valera). I was winning, because they would attack me one at a time and I was able to fend them off by tickling them. Then, the boys decided to work together and all tickle me at once. This was very good strategy on their part, but it was bad news for me. The four boys would surround me and then start to count. As soon as someone would say Ras (one), Valera would pounce. He was just so excited that he couldn’t wait until the count of three to start tickling me.
Valera pretends like he doesn’t like to be tickled, but sometimes when we are sitting and doing something else, I will turn to him and make my hand like a claw and ask him if I may tickle him. He always smiles and says I may tickle him big. Sometimes, for no reason, he will turn to me and say that I may tickle him big. It is very fun. Valera likes to tickle other people too. Sometimes we will sit together and plot who should be tickled, and then he will try to sneak up on them to tickle them. It is so fun to point and whisper and try to decide and then try to see him sneak when everyone sees him coming and knows what he is doing. He really likes to tickle Pastor Sasha, but this takes a lot of courage, because Sasha has long arms and it is difficult to escape before Sasha tickles back. When Valera is done with his secret tickle attack, he always comes back to me so that I can hug him and tell him what a good job he has done.
One of the things we take to the orphanage for the kid’s to play with are puzzles. Valera likes puzzles, but he always does the “baby” puzzles with the wooden frame. The other day I was helping another boy with a 24-piece Finding Nemo puzzle. Valera sat beside me and watched. I asked if he wanted to help, but he kept saying no. When the other boy was done I put the finished puzzle in front of Valera and took four of the pieces out of place and helped him to put them back. Then, I took more pieces out and let him put them back. He was so excited every time he put it back together, and I would tell him, “Look how smart Valera is.” We kept taking parts of the puzzle apart until Valera was able to put the whole puzzle together by himself. Then he wanted to move on to a bigger puzzle. We have a tabletop puzzle that has 48 pieces. We tackled it in the same way we tackled the 24-piece Nemo puzzle and, by the end, Valera was able to put that whole puzzle together. As we were finishing I said Valera was smart and he said, “No, I very smart.” Yes, he is. Yesterday he was trying the 48-piece puzzle all by himself.
I don’t know anything about Valera’s background. He has not been at the orphanage long. The first time I saw him was in the middle of November and children are usually only at the first orphanage for about three months. I do not know if he will return home or if he will be placed in a long-term orphanage, but please help me to pray for Valera and the other children at the orphanage. I can’t imagine how confusing and unsettling life seems to them. Pray that they will come to know Jesus and that He will provide comfort and security in their lives.

Shushan is a boy's name? January 3, 2007

Okay, I admit, Shushan is not a normal name, but I really like it. I like that it is a Bible name, even though it is only Shushan in the King James and other versions have Susa instead. I’m okay with that. It means “lily,” which I have always liked. I think Shushan is a pretty name and I have always thought it sounded feminine.
So, the other day during my Russian lessons I started learning about verb cases. If you are wondering, it is difficult; don’t try it at home. Not only do adjectives and verbs have to agree with nouns, but sometimes, nouns have to change because everything in the sentence has to have the same gender and tense. Well, let’s just say I am still learning and it is a little complicated. The good news is that because all the words “agree,” basically I can write or say the words of a sentence in any order and it is correct and has the same meaning. That is a positive thing.
Anyway, during my lesson Tanya was explaining the rules for how the pronunciation of people’s names change if you are expressing the possessive. Basically, in English we say Tanya’s house, but in Russian it becomes Tanyee house. And, the ending is different based on the letter at the end of the name. Of course I was interested in how you would say something is Shushan’s. Tanya explained my name won’t work because it is not a Russian name. But, both Sarah and Anna’s names work because all girl names in Russian end with a vowel sound. Tanya very nicely broke the news that really, Shushan sounds more like a boy’s name. Bummer.
The good news is that the kids at the orphanage all call me Shushanna. I have heard some others call me just Shusha, which is like Ksusha, the nickname for Oksana. So, I am thankful people are “fixing” my name for me to help me fit in a little better.

Ministry Updates January 3, 2007

Today’s huge victory…Sarah and I got the trash to the trash truck. Granted, Ernie and Anna just disposed of our trash on Saturday, but today Sarah and I were sitting in the living room and we saw the trash truck and we heard him ring his bell and we were off and running. We gathered our trash and made it to the truck in time. Now, you may not think this is significant, but it has been a struggle. We had had many failed trash disposal attempts, so it was really wonderful to finally be successful. It was also nice that I saw one of my neighbor friends, Valya, the grandmother of one of the boys in my Kid’s Club class. She and I had a brief conversation, most of which I actually understood.
Bible Lessons—I was using a book that was teaching English with the lessons but I decided to try a different method. We acted out the story of the Good Samaritan before we learned about people who are our neighbors. The kids had fun acting out the parts and then we talked about the story. I think they learned a lot more from it than any of the other lessons. When we learned the days of the week we talked about creation. It was surprising to me that they all agreed that God created the earth. We talked about Sundays and I invited them all to church. One boy asked Inna, our translator, in Russian if church is interesting. She assured him that it is. None of my students who do not already attend our church came this Sunday, but hopefully they will in weeks to come.
Ladies’ Ministry—One need that I have seen and have been praying about is a ladies’ ministry at the church. Honestly, it came about through conversations I have had with some of the women and girls at the church. I have two other ladies (Tanya and Lewda) who also really want to have this ministry, so the three of us are working together to develop a program. We have prayerfully decided to have prayer and Bible study together and then just a time for fellowship and crafts. We are hoping this time will be a ministry to the ladies in the church, bringing them closer together and helping us all to grow in Christ. We also hope that the crafts can be used as an outreach to non-church ladies. During our first meeting we only had four adult women and one little girl (Lewda’s granddaughter), but I think it was a wonderful meeting. In a more recent meeting we had 10 ladies!
Second Kid’s Club—Our Saturday English and Bible Kid’s Club is going very well; we have completed our first eight weeks. Sasha and I talked about offering another Kid’s Club as an outreach from his church. So, we started a second Kid’s Club on Saturday afternoons. The first meeting went well. Although I am using basically the same program, it was different and I really enjoyed it. Going into our first lesson I was a little concerned about adding a second program on Saturday. I was sure I would be just exhausted by the end, but I am so glad we added it. I know the Lord really blessed the time and, in the end, I was excited and encouraged, not tired.
Looking Ahead—I am excited to report I am going to have two Christmases this year. First, I will celebrate with my American friends on December 25 and then with my Ukrainian friends on January 7 (which is Christmas in Ukraine). I am so looking forward to all the gifts for the children at the orphanage and youth center. I am also excited about the Christmas parties for our English classes and the programs at church, the orphanage, and the youth center. It is going to be a busy but exciting time. For the New Year, Ukrainians set off fireworks. I will be celebrating the New Year a full seven hours before the ball drops, which seems strange. Also, after the first of the year we are planning a field meeting. It will be sort of like a retreat, and I am really looking forward to that time with Bill and Oksana, Ernie and Anna, Sarah, and Bill and Betsy Tarr (WGM missionaries on the west side of Ukraine). I am sure it will be an encouraging and fun time together.
Thanks so much for your love and prayers. Please keep praying!

Sasha Stories January 3, 2007

One of the best parts of ministry in Ukraine is working with Ukrainians. I am so thankful to be a partner in ministry with Sasha, one of the pastors here in Berdyansk. Sarah and I work with him in ministry at the youth center and the orphanage and he also translates for us. Sasha is great fun and he has a wonderful sense of humor, so I am dedicating this journal to fun Sasha stories.
The other day was a beautiful day, and when we arrived at the orphanage the children were playing outside. A couple of the boys where playing with a football. No, I don’t mean a soccer ball; I mean a real football like we play with in America. I was so excited that I went to play with them. I simply laid my purse down beside some of the playground equipment and started to play; it was great fun!
Usually, I am very mindful of my purse. Not only do I have a mission cell phone and my camera, I also have van keys, my identification, and other legal documents, so I try to keep an eye on it. That afternoon I was particularly distracted and I did not notice when little Anna picked up my purse and started carrying it around. Sasha noticed and took it away from her for me. He put it back down on the ground and a few minutes later Anna was back to trying to carry it again. Sasha took my purse away from Anna and I guess he just decided he would hold it. When I glanced over he was playing soccer with three little boys, running around the orphanage yard and the whole time carrying my purse. I had to laugh out loud. I wish I had had my camera so that I could have taken a picture; it was such a priceless moment.
During another fun adventure, Sasha and I went on a covert trash operation. While Ernie and Anna were gone Sarah and I kept missing the trash truck. Here we don’t really have a trash day like at home. A man drives by and you have to take your trash out to him. Sarah and I just kept missing the truck so the trash container outside just kept getting more and more full. I really wanted to get rid of the trash but I didn’t know what to do so I asked Sasha for help. He explained that I just needed to take our trash over to the dumpster outside one of the nearby apartment buildings. When I asked if I would get in trouble for dumping our trash there he explained that is was normal and that Ernie pays for trash pick up just like the people in the apartments, so it was fine. I really did not want to do it by myself because I was sure someone would come and try to talk to me in Russian and I would not understand. So, Sasha said he would help me. Of course it was raining and cold outside when we loaded the trash container (it was really, really full) in the van to drive it to the dumpster. As we are standing in the rain, unloading the trash, Sasha says to me, “This is a good day to do this. No one is outside to see us.” So much for normal. No one bothered us, but I was even more glad that I hadn’t gone by myself.
Sasha speaks English very well. He also speaks Russian and Ukrainian. I assume he also speaks those languages very well. However, there is a very good reason that Sasha is not my Russian tutor. Sasha likes to switch between languages without any warning. It is so confusing when you think you know how to say something and then someone uses a completely different word. Whenever he tries to teach Sarah and me a new word or phrase, we always have to ask if it is Russian or Ukrainian. When I ask him questions about Russian, he claims he doesn’t know any of the rules, but whenever he tries to teach me a new word, he tells me different forms and conjugations and then tells me I don’t need to know all that. When I was first starting to learn I asked him why there is no song for the Russian alphabet and he said one is not needed.
The other day, on the way to the orphanage, we were talking about plans and discussing who would be “boss.” Sasha decided he was the boss and then proceeded to start barking orders in Russian. Unfortunately, I could understand some of them. While we were at the orphanage Sasha was playing with a couple of boys and I was playing on the floor with a little girl and a little boy. One of the workers at the orphanage came over and spoke harshly to us. When she was gone I asked if we were in trouble. Sasha explained that she said we were all being too loud for inside play. I asked Sasha why he didn’t just explain that he was the “boss,” but he decided that when we get into trouble I get to be the boss. What a blessing.
Sasha is a lot of fun, but even more than that he has compassion and great love for people. The children at the orphanage and youth center adore him. He is great at connecting with kids. The other day he sat down and read the story of Daniel to some boys. Afterwards, he talked to them about it and answered their questions then, naturally, he challenged them to a game of soccer and they shifted to play. He has a real heart and ministry for older people as well. The grandmother of one of little boys who attends Kid’s Club absolutely loves Sasha.
But, most of all his love for others is evident in the small things he does without thinking about it. Sasha walks Sarah and me to the bus stop or anywhere we go after dark, even when it is out of his way. If we are walking along and he sees a person sitting or laying on the side of the road, he always stops to see if they are okay or if he can help while most other people just keep walking. He is always willing to step into whatever roll to help people and to be in ministry. He is willing to talk to anyone and makes time for everyone.
Not only is Sasha a huge asset to current ministries, he is a real testimony to the effectiveness of previous ministries in Ukraine. Sasha only became a Christian about six years ago in the church he pastors now. He was trained to be a pastor at Kiev Wesley Biblical College and is now working on his Master’s Degree. Sasha is able to minister to people and in ways I cannot. I am so blessed to be able to minister with him and other Ukrainians. God is working in Ukraine!
Thank you so much for loving me and supporting me and praying for me, all are such incredible blessings. Please pray also for the Ukrainians I work with, especially our pastors Sergey, Arkoti, Peter, and Sasha.

Ejournals December 2006

Last week we were invited to the birthday party of Natasha. She works in the church and is also Tanya and Oksana's mom. The party was amazing. So much wonderful food, and I found a new favorite dish; I am just not sure what it was. I have officially tasted sala now. It was wrapped in beef. I thought it was good.
Right after church we had a little surprise party for Anna. Her birthday was November 14, but since she was gone we all missed it. Last Sunday we invited the church members to join us right after the service for a party. It was totally a surprise for her, but I have decided I don't enjoy being sneaky.
Before people give a gift in Ukraine they say something to the person they are giving the gift to. Roma, who is just 3, gave his grandmother (Natasha) her gift and his mom and dad told him to say something before presenting the gift. There were 12 people at the party and six of us were American. At first Roma was hesitant to speak and then he said, "Who is going to translate for me?" I guess he was trying to decide what language he should speak in.
I am having all sorts of silly language victories. I am so excited when I understand something or when I am able to say something to someone and be understood. It is very fun in class to be able to ask the kids questions in Russian. I am doing really well with shopping. The other day I was able to buy soda and ask for cups and complete my whole transaction being understood and understanding everything. This is amazing and huge!
I was helping with games at youth group this afternoon. I arrived early, so I got out my homework and asked a little girl named Tanya to help me read. I really just need to work on pronunciation, so we read my assignment together about four times. She is pretty shy, so this is the most she and I have ever talked. I think she enjoyed playing the teacher. I was so excited about my practice and was telling Tanya on the way to her mom's party how much I had practiced and that I would have "perfect pronunciation" for my lesson tomorrow. Well, that is what I was trying to say, unfortunately, I had to try three times before I could say "perfect pronunciation" in English. Ernie teased that after I learn Russian, Tanya can help me learn English.
I am confident God is using me. In some ways I think I am viewed as a novelty. I am different and so, maybe a little interesting. Most of the kids learn some English in school, so often when we play together they will try to use a little English. Many times I have been playing a game and struggling to speak in broken Russian to make a new friend and halfway through the game my opponent will start counting in English. When pressed a little, they will usually share other words they know. It is fun for me and I think they like the attention and praise.
The other day I approached a group of younger kids who were trying to play Monopoly. I thought they were having trouble reading the cards so I went over to help. The game was actually in Russian, so I wasn't able to help read but I was able to help with the rules. Mostly, they just wanted to play with the money, so the game didn't last very long. As the game broke up a little girl asked me to play Trouble with her. We played two games and then a boy about 12 started trying to talk to me in English. As we struggled, we grabbed a piece of paper (he can write English better than he can speak it), and I, well, I write just about as well as I speak.
It was a bit of a scary conversation and before I knew it I was talking to four other boys also in their early teens. They were telling me about a British black metal band that honestly sounds evil. I just kept thinking, "Lord, this isn't good. What am I supposed to do?" Then Sasha, who had been playing ping pong in the next room, came in. I called him over and explained what we were talking about and he talked to the boys for a while about the music and other things. Then, the boys and I continued to talk for a little while about other things. As I was walking home today that same group of boys was sitting at a picnic table. When I walked past they said, "Hi!" to me in English and I said "Hi!" back.
Please continue to pray for the kids who come to the youth center. Pray that this special place will be a light to the lost and the kids that come will see an alternative to the world around them.

Ejournals November 2006

Dognapper - November 15, 2006
An international incident. I am afraid I have become a dognapper. I assure you it was quite unintentional. Cleo, the Smiths’ dog, while often a nice and well-behaved dog, sometimes, with no warning, turns into a disobedient troublemaker. So, I am blaming the entire incident on her.
Now, some would ask, why does Cleo have these moments of rebellion? Well, I have many theories. First, maybe she was taken away from her mother too early. I am sure removing a pup from her mother at too young an age can cause all sorts of psychological problems. Perhaps, Cleo feels insecure in this family. I am sure she notices the Smiths have lots of different people stay here for a time and then they leave. She might be fearful she will be asked to leave.
Maybe, the Smiths themselves are to blame. They are required to travel for the ministries they are involved in. This may cause Cleo to feel neglected and unimportant. It might even be Cleo simply cannot understand the instructions she is given. I am sure her native language is some dog dialect, and then we humans ask her to understand English, Russian, and Ukrainian. Finally, maybe she is just tired. I mean really, when does Cleo get to go on vacation? Being a guard dog is hard work. It requires late nights barking at passersby, early mornings barking at the milkman. It is a pretty thankless job. I mean, you should see some of the food she is served; I wouldn’t eat it.
For whatever the reason, Cleo likes to escape from the yard. Sometimes I chase her down the street, yelling at her to come back in English. Sometimes I have to track her for a good distance and haul her home by the collar; we are quite the spectacle. Sometimes when she gets out and we are on our way somewhere in the van, I will pull up beside her and tell her what a bad dog she is before I drive away.
Anyway, by far the worst incident and the reason for this journal is that one fateful morning. I let Cleo out of the yard for a nice run, like I do every morning. I left the gate door open for her so that she could come back in at her leisure. About a half an hour later I looked out the window to discover Cleo had returned, so I came back outside and shut and locked the gate. About an hour later I was in the kitchen and I saw Sergey, our friend and pastor, run by the kitchen window. Usually, when Sergey comes into the yard he comes into the house. Then, I saw him run by again. I couldn’t figure out what was going on so I went to investigate.
Sergey told me that when he pulled up the neighbor yelled at him and asked for their dog back. It seems that when I locked the gate I accidentally locked two dogs inside the yard instead of one. The dog was completely out of sorts. Sergey and I both had to shepherd him out the gate. I have no idea how Sergey explained it to the neighbor. He was very kind to me about it, and very politely told me that they would like to have their dog back and then nicely informed me that I shouldn’t keep other people’s dogs again.
So, I am quite sure I have a horrible reputation with all of the dogs in the neighborhood. I am sure they tell each other to watch out for me. I can’t imagine what the neighbors think of me.
A Little Frosty - November 15, 2006
Okay, so now I am cold! Friday it rained all day, cold, icy rain. Sarah and I stayed in all day, but then in the evening, we had to go to class. It didn’t seem that cold when we left the house, but after an hour and a half at the youth center and then sitting in our classroom for two hours, I was pretty frosty. We stopped to talk to a friend and then I offered to pray for him. At the end of the prayer, he told me that he could tell I was shivering. I still had to walk to the bus stop, wait forever for the bus, and then walk home from the bus stop.
This is the point of the journal that I mention we could have heat in our English classroom for only $500. Many other rooms, including the sanctuary and youth center, also need heat. If you would like to help, please feel free to send a gift. If you want to label it, “Poor Shushan is really cold,” I am sure it will get to the right place.
I really am concerned though. It is only the middle of November and I am already wearing long underwear all the time. (Sorry if that is too much information.) I keep reminding myself how thankful I am to have not been called to serve in Siberia. When I watch the weather in the evenings I really try to make myself feel better with how much colder it is in other places, but I don’t know how much longer that is going to help.
I am also a little concerned I am going to suffocate myself while I am sleeping. I keep burrowing further and further under the covers. The other day when I woke up I pulled the green blanket from over my head and I was in a cream colored room. Sarah and I have a blue bedroom, so I was a little startled. I thought, “Where am I?” Only then did I realize that I had pulled a second, cream colored blanket over my head as well. Really, I am concerned about the winter.
How Can I Help? - November 15, 2006
A quote I found that has been really challenging me is: “A dewdrop acts out the will of God as surely as a thunderstorm. God cares little about size; He cares immensely about service.”
I have been thinking a lot about service lately. I want to be a servant. I really desire to serve God, and I truly believe that Jesus set the example of serving others by washing the feet of his disciples. I fully believe that my love for God should be visible in my love for and service to others.
Last January I went to a conference on missions. It was a good conference. The speakers were great, there were a lot of great discussions, and it was good to hear some information I already knew presented in a different way. One of the topics was service. The speaker shared that a person cannot truly determine their own service, it can only truly be determined by those you serve. He went on to tell the story of a church group in the U.S. that traveled to Mexico and built a church.
Building the church was an act of service, and I am sure they had the purest of intentions. However, the people they built the church for did not feel they needed a church. They had been content with the building they had and could have used something else more. The speaker was illustrating the fact that there must be dialogue between those who want to help and the people they want to help. He talked about how important it is to not decide what needs to be done but to ask, “How can we help?” I really felt like this was something I knew. It was kind of a “no brainer” to me.
So, a couple of weeks ago Sarah and I were invited to a youth event in a neighboring town. We decided to go and I offered to drive the van. We told a couple of other people we were planning to attend and when they asked if they could ride with us, we said of course. This is something I would have done at home. In the States, if the church doesn’t have a van of its own, parents and other adults drive. My intent was purely to help out, and I did not even for a moment think about the fact that this might cause problems. Oh, but it did.
The plan was for everyone to ride the public bus. So, those who rode with us would not have to pay for their transportation, they would not have to walk to the event from the bus stop, they would have a more comfortable seat and a more comfortable ride. People who had not been invited to ride with us felt this was unfair. Mostly, feelings were hurt. And, even though it was completely unintentional and I had the purest of intentions, it was my fault.
In the end, I had to make some real apologies. The youth event was a great activity, but many of those who had originally planned to attend decided not to, and that really makes me sad. But, I am confident that God has and is using this. I think my apologies have helped me to develop a deeper friendship with a couple of the ladies at the youth center. I think it has helped them to see me as a real person. Just like them, I make mistakes.
It also helped me to see some of the things that are different here. I have to pay attention to things and think before I speak or act. Pastor Sergey and I were able to talk about why I am here, and in that conversation he gave me some wonderful insights into how to be more effective in ministry here and a better picture of my role at the youth center. I really don’t think I would have learned all of these great things without making a mistake.

Ejournal 12 October 2006 its not my time

Sometimes, as Sarah and I are approaching the bus stop, a bus pulls up and we are able to step right on. Sometimes, usually on our way home, when it is late and we are tired and hungry, we wait a long time at the bus stop for a bus. Occasionally, I have thought, about the other things I could be doing, rather than standing at the bus stop.

The other day, when Sarah, Sveta, and I arrived at the Orphanage, I was asked if I could drive a couple of children that were sick to the hospital. Really, just to see a doctor, it wasn’t serious or anything. Realizing, that was not my plan, I said of course and really thought to myself, see how flexible I am being. I was a little proud of myself for surrending my plans and trusting that God was using me to help get these sick children to see the doctor.

So, two of the workers, one of whom spoke a little English, two children and I all headed for the hospital, Sarah and Sveta stayed at the orphanage to play with the other kids and have our normal ministry time. When we arrived at the hospital, I parked along the side of the road, again, there really aren’t parking lots in Berdyansk. They all got out and told me to wait with the van, they would be back in about an hour. This I had a little trouble with. What a waste of time, I couldn’t really go anywhere with the van, first of all, I didn’t know when they would be back and second, I didn’t really know exactly where I was – I have been there before, but I don’t think I could find it on my own. I was right next to an open air market, but it was raining and a little cold, so I couldn’t even get out and walk around.

So, I sat and waited. It was kind of cold and really boring sitting alone in the car. I really started talking to God about the situation. Really, I mean, I understood changing my plans, but this seemed like a waste of my time.

God really challenged me about “my” time. How many times have I referred to this year as “my time”in Ukraine or “my year” in Ukraine. God really pointed out to me how ridiculous that is, if this isn’t His time, then really what is the point of me being here. Why do I continue to think I am so important. My purpose was just as valid whether I was waiting in the car or in the waiting room of the hospital. My service was in providing them transportation, I wasn’t going to be any kind of help inside. But, if I had not been available to drive, the children would have either had to wait to see the doctor, or they would have had to walk to a bus stop, take the bus, and then walk from the bus stop to the hospital in the rain. I am sure the ride was a blessing to them, not me. Sometimes, I am just on the edge of what is happening and that is where I am suppose to be.

Ejournal 11 October 2006 Van Adventures

Okay, so I hit something with the van. It was little, and in my defense, I was trying to avoid the manhole with no cover. It was a little cement arch thing that was simply propped up to keep people from driving over this little flower garden. Let’s just say the little old man who planted the flowers was not happy that I knocked over his baracade. I guess sometimes, I really don’t mind not understanding Russian.

The other morning the van wouldn’t start. It is a deisel and it was a little cold, but even with the choke open it wouldn’t start. Ernie came out of the house and he tried to start it, but it stubbornly refused. Then it was decided we would have to push start the van. Sarah and I were not part of the desion making process and at first, we didn’t really know what we were doing. There were a couple of workers here to pour cement. I thought we were just moving the van out of their way. When they came and started to push the van out of the drive-way, I thought, okay, I will help move the van so they could get to work on the cememnt. But no, indeed, we started pushing and jogging down the road in front of the house. I am sure we looked hilarious, but fortunaly, with a little help the van started. Ernie climbed out and off Sarah and I went. Ernie assured us that was once the van was warm we “should” be able to turn it off and restart it. Thankfully, that was the case. I can’t imagine little Sarah out trying to push the van down the road by herself so that I could try to pop the clutch. The van has been repaired and I am happy to report it is now starting very reliably.

We are learning a lot about the van. For example, in the front seat, the ride is pretty smooth. In the middle seat, the ride is a little more bumpy, and in the back seat, you better hold on, or else with a big bump, you could be airborn. The other day, Sarah and I were giving Tanya, our friend and tutor, and her son Roma a ride in the van. Roma is about 5 amd he likes to sit forward in the seat so that his feet can touch the ground. As we were driving, a car pulled out in front of me and I had to break quickly. Roma, who was sitting with his mom in the middle seat, slid forward and bumped into the back of the front seat. A few minutes later, I almost missed my turn and so I turned quickly, again, Roma, slid forward into the seat. Roma turned and asked his mom, why the van kept pushing him. We all laughed and Roma had to sit all the way back.

The van is a Voltswagon Transporter. I guess there is a movie called the “Transporter”, I have not seen it, but Sarah and I have decided we are going to make a documentary called “The Transporter” about our van adventures, I am sure it wil be a riot to make, I will try to not make everyone watch it too many times.

Sarah and I are very thankful for the van. Mostly, we use it to travel to the orphanage, church on Sundays, and when we are carrying lots of things. It is a real blessing to have. We are also thankful for the bus. It is less expensive than the van and there is no need to worry about parking when we ride the bus. Boy, do we have a lot of bus adventures, but I will save those for another journal.

Ejournal 10 October 2006 an unexpected gift

Sarah and I started out teaching two beginner level English classes, one to adults and the second to youth. For the first two weeks, we co-taught both classes, and then as we recognized the different needs and levels of the classes, we decided to each take one class. We are still both attending both classes and helping each other out, but Sarah has taken on the planning for the adult class and I have the youth class.

I really enjoy the kids who come. Class starts at 4pm, but Sarah and I are always there by 3:30pm. Children often come early and sometimes, we play a quick game while we wait for class to start other times, I just make faces and try to tease them, and sometimes, I try to talk to them. Our translator Inna, is wonderful, and she is always willing to help me ask silly questions, but sometimes, the kids arrive before her and so I am on my own. Our conversations have to be pretty simple, so often, we talk about the things they bring to class. Many of the girls have fun colored pens and highlighters or fun notebooks, which I like to admire. I really just want to be their friend and I want to be seen and being real and approachable.

So, Tuesday night, at the end of class, four of the girls came up together and they gave me a gift bag – at first I didn’t understand it was a gift for me. Inside was a package of 5 colored highlighters, a little notebook, and a couple of pieces of candy. What a blessing that unexpected gift was to me. I am so excited and amazed by their generousity.
I hope these girls and the other children in the class will accept the gift I am willing to share with them. I know they are coming to class to learn more English, to be with their friends, and to just have fun. I know they are not looking for or planning on receiving a gift, but I pray that God will use our time together and the relationships we are building to bring them to Him. I pray that each of them will come to understand the amzing gift of salvation that is only through Jesus. I ask that you will help me to pray they will accept God’s incredible gift and they will see it as so much more than they could have ever expected.

Ejournal 9 October 2006

One of the things I have been praying for is an additional ministry. I was really asking for God’s direction on what to add to my schedule, because there are so many things that could be done and should be done, and I know I can’t do them all. (This is the part where I pause to mention that more volunteers and career missionaries are needed in Ukraine.) As I was asking God what I should add, I made a couple of personal requests. First, I would prefer it be a children’s ministry and second I wanted to partner with a church member so that the ministry could continue even after I am gone.

So, the other day, as we were driving back from the orphanage, Sveta, who doesn’t speak English, asked Sasha to translate for her. She told Sarah and me about the outreach English/Bible Kid’s Club that Jen Olson, one of the American volunteers this summer offered to children in the Smith’s neighborhood. Sveta shared with us that many of the children wanted to continue to come and learn more English and learn more about God. Further, Sveta shared that if one of us wanted to commit to teaching the English for the Kid’s Club she would come and teach the Bible Story in Russian. I was really excited and so I immediately told her I was interested, so we decided to meet and talk about it.

First we had to find a location, I confirmed Ernie and Anna were willing to have Sveta and I and an undetermined number of children take over their house every Saturday between now and Christmas. Once that was determined, Sveta, Sasha and I decided to meet and start to plan the lessons. I would start to talk and ramble on for a little bit and then Sasha would translate. Then, Sveta would talk and ramble on for a bit and then Sasha would translate. Then Sasha and I would talk and then Sasha and Sveta would talk. Then suddenly meeting ended and I had to ask Sasha what happened, I didn’t realize we had reached any decisions.

Last week Tanya and I went out and canvassed the neighborhood with flyers about Kid’s Club and Saturday was our first lesson. Our theme is “happiness and joy” and we are learning that both come from God and are not based on the things happening in our day to day lives.

We had sixteen kids and four parents, many of whom already know some English from school. We sang some songs with actions and reviewed the alphabet and I asked the children to tell me words that start with each letter. It was really fun to hear some of the words they know. For “G”, Anna offered the phrase “give me” and for “I”, Katya offered “I like”, for “O”, I heard the word “obey”, it was fun to see a little of what they already know and I am excited to help them build on those things.

Sveta shared the gospel with them. I didn’t understand her words, but I understood the visual aid. She had a circle that represented God and circles that represented the children and she laid a cross between the circles to explain the only way to God is Jesus. I was so excited about the lesson she shared and all the kids that came. I am hoping for even more next week. Please continue to pray for this ministry and all of the children who come.

Ejournal 8 October 2006 more lessons

I am learning and observing lots of new things. I want to share some of these things with you, so that when you come to serve in Ukraine, you will be prepared.

Ice Cream comes in a bag. I don’t know why it doesn’t come in a bag at home. It is easier to remove the ice cream from a bag than a carton and the empty bag takes up less room in the trash can.

Milk in the store is sometimes sold in a bag. Now, this doesn’t make much sense to me. I just don’t know what to do with a bag of milk. We buy the milk in boxes from the store or the fresh from the cow variety from the market or the from milk man that drives by our house.

It is possible to pasteurize your own milk. Isn’t that very cool? Silly me, I didn’t know that you could purchase milk that has not been pasteurized, but here it is an option. When they say fresh from the cow, they mean fresh from the cow.

Don’t buy fish that smells like fish. This is a helpful tip, but I don’t really understand it. What should fish smell like if not fish? I guess it is a good thing I don’t like fish.

Always taste the cheese before you buy it. And the fruit. And the prepared meat. And the nuts. And the salad. And the herbs. Not only does this insure you are getting the freshest product available, it also provides a lovely lunch while you are shopping.

It is okay to double park as long as traffic can still get by. The city planners in Berdyansk did not plan for people to have cars. Sure, maybe a few people, but not very many. More and more people now have cars, and often there is just not enough parking. You see cars parked all over and you just wait for the driver to come back or go around. Ukrainians really are very patient.

Milk fat is very interesting. It makes a huge difference in sour cream and milk and yogurt and cheese. I never really noticed before because I don’t believe I ever had so many options. Milk comes in about 6 different milk fat levels from 3.5% to 0.5%, sour cream, at least 3 levels from 10% to 20%, yogurt, at least 5 from 0.7% to 3.5%, cheese, I don’t even want to think about.

English and the Cyrillic Alphabet can be used on the same sign or paper or label or anything. I think it is just to confuse me. The other day I saw a sign with the letter “R” and I thought what is that letter, totally not realizing the sign was written in English until I had already passed it.

At the market, I can purchase half a pig head. Why would I want to? I don’t know, but isn’t it good to know that it is available.

Ejournal 7 October 2006

Well, Sarah and I have completed our first week of English classes and so far, things are great. Our plan was to offer a youth and adult beginner class on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and then an advanced conversation class on Friday nights. Tuesday night, we had seven youth and one adult and then on Thursday night, we had nine youth and ten adults. Friday night we had 11 people that stayed for the whole class, we also had a couple of people leave early and one that came late. I am so excited about all three classes and I have been so encouraged by the student’s participation and eagerness to learn.

I really enjoy teaching the classes. I get to use a pointer; it is helpful when we are reading the alphabet or other things together. When I am just holding it and not actually using it, I tend to start waving it around, I am sure that I will probably poke my own eye with it at some point, but until then, I think it is fun.

I know everyone I have ever spoken with noticed that I speak quickly. So quickly in fact, people at home tell me to slow down. Needless to say, that is a problem here. Usually, I speak about a 100 miles an hour. I have toned it down to about 80 miles an hour, but I need to be at about 40. Which really is very difficult, I find when I speak slowly, I think so much about my rate of speech that I forget what I am talking about – that is a bit of a problem.

We plan to leave the classes open for people to join until the end of next week, please pray for us and all of the Ukrainians who decide to take part in classes.

Sarah and I had worked out the lesson plans for the first four weeks of class. The youth class knows a lot more than we thought they would. Basically, we covered two weeks of material the first week. The adult class knows a little less than we thought they would, we only finished about half of what we thought we would. So, our plan to offer two classes with the same material is pretty much out the window. Pray that we will continue to be flexible and that God will help us meet the needs of each of the students who are coming to class.

Our Friday night conversation group was a blast. We played some word games – yes, you know how I love games. I was so excited that the group seemed to love them too. I do think they were fun and everyone had to talk. We broke up into conversation groups and spent some time getting to know all of the students. Sarah and I had thought that we wanted to keep the group small to promote conversation and we thought we would divide the group into two based on ability, but in our first class, we really saw the benefit of having different conversation levels together. If someone was speaking in English and wasn’t sure of a word, they could turn to the person next to them and ask it in Russian. It was so great to have everyone working together.

Thanks so much for praying for these classes. Please continue to pray for Sarah and I as we work together and make plans. Pray that we will be flexible and allow our plans to change. Pray that we will teach what the students need and want to learn. Most of all, pray that God will multiply our efforts and these classes will be an opening to share the gospel with the people in our classes.

Ejournal 6 October 2006

I have noticed that people are people. Sarah and I were at the youth center playing a game with one of the workers, Inna, and a teenage girl named Nastya. Through the window, I could see four girls who were tossing a Frisbee. Suddenly, I saw a young boy streak by holding the Frisbee with all four girls chasing him. They passed by the window a couple of times, this running boy being chased by four girls and I thought to myself, boys are boys everywhere in the world. We laughed at the scene and I realized, how alike people really are.

I watch the children at the Center, at the orphanage, and the children I pass on the street. It is so easy to see they are the same as my nieces and nephews and all the other children at home. It is so easy to love them.

Today on the bus, the seats were all full and a mother and her two young children boarded. While the mother was paying the driver, the little boy, probably about two, toddled down the bus aisle and started to fall, three people put out their hands to steady him. As the bus started to move, the little boy started to fall again and a man on the bus picked him up and held him in his lap. Another man gave up his seat for the little girl.

I have seen many little things like this experience to show me, Ukrainian’s love and value their children. And yet, there are so many children in orphanages. There are two orphanages in Berdyansk, the city I am living in. The First Stage Orphanage with about 20-60 children and the Azvol (permanent) Orphanage with 400-500 kids from ages 3-18. The children aged newborn to three are in an orphanage in the capital city of Zaporosha. Another nearby city Primorsk also has two orphanages, one for handicap children and the other is a permanent orphanage. And, I have heard about so many more orphanages in so many other cities. It is hard to fathom so many unwanted children.

But that’s the thing; many of the parent’s of these children just cannot take care of them. Some because of addictions, alcoholism is a huge problem here. For some, drug use is also a problem. Some just can’t afford to feed and care for their children, the economy here is not very good and most of the people I see work very hard for very little money. I can’t imagine coming to the place where I would need to give up a child, but please pray for all of these parents. I am sure they are all hurt and lost and I know that only through Jesus can they be found and that hurt be healed.

People here really don’t feel foreign or strange to me. Yes, I see differences, but mostly everything is the same. People just need God. All people everywhere. Ukrainians were lied to and told for generations there is no God. I am so excited to be in Ukraine right now, when doors are open and we have the opportunity to share God with people who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel.

I am so blessed to be able to be a part of a church in Ukraine that is working and serving. Sasha and Sveta are church members who go to the orphanages each week (Larissa, is another church member who has been a part of the orphanage ministry, but she is currently on Maternity Leave). Please pray for Sasha. Sveta, Sarah, and I as we partner in service at the orphanage.
Truly, I am more amazed by God now than I have ever been before. His love for people is beyond understanding and I am so thankful I get to experience that love and share it with others

Ejournal 5 September 2006 Blessed in Abundance

Now when I say “Potato House”, what do you think of? I mean if you were in a foreign country where they do not speak English and you saw a sign that said “Potato House”, what would you think? Picture it, big letters, written in English; it was like a desert oasis. I was picturing a baked potato bar with all of the fixings. But like so many oasis, that is not what I actually found. Would you believe it is a Mexican Restaurant? (Yes, sorry to all my friends who were forced to eat Mexican food before I came to Ukraine.) The inside is sort of western style, with swinging doors and a map of Mexico, pictures of Mexicans in sombreros and Native Americans in traditional dress on all the walls. The dishes were beautiful they looked like stone pottery. For lunch I basically had some chicken, tomato, and cheese wrapped in a soft shell – kind of like a quesadilla - and French fries with salsa (instead of ketchup) – my potato item. It really was very good, but not what I expected.

Nicole Nordeman sings a song called “Gratitude”. In it she asks the Lord for simple things, things we all expect to have, basic things, but then she ends each of her petitions with “maybe not, not today, maybe you’ll provide in other ways and if that’s the case, We’ll give thanks to you, with gratitude”.

I try to be thankful in all things, but sometimes I really struggle to understand why things happen the way they do. I see a problem or a need, and it seems there is such a simple solution, and yet, things just don’t work out the way I think they should. So often, my first response is to question, not to be thankful, even when there is a lessons learned from the situation. Over and over, I am reminded, it is not about my plans or the solutions I am able to come up with. Sometimes, I think I should be in charge of so much more than I can handle and I am thankful the Lord does not really hold me accountable for all of those things.
Another line from the song that really speaks to me is “we are blessed beyond what we could ever dream in abundance and in need”. It is so true. I am so blessed and sometimes I get so caught up in my everyday needs, I can almost forget about the amazing blessings of grace and love and mercy and the promise my needs are only temporary. God doesn’t owe me anything, I owe Him everything. I need to throw my expectations out the window and surrender my sight and my plans fully to God. When I am truly able to see things through His eyes, I will more fully understand His plans are perfect. I must be thankful for all the ways He provides. I am blessed, in abundance.

Ejournal 4 September 2006

Psalm 145:18 The Lord is near to all that call on him, to all that call on him in truth

So far my time in Ukraine has been full of adventure and firsts. Truly I am loving everyday and I am thankful for the opportunity to love people here. Please pray for me as I am adjusting and learning how to fit in. So far there have been many praises and much that I would love to have you help me to pray for.

The church members in Berdyansk are so friendly and loving. People have gone out of their way to greet me and hug me, it is such a blessing to feel welcome. Please pray that I will be a positive addition to the congregation. Pray also for the members of the church that they will be a witness to their family and friends.

Today (Sept. 14) was our second visit to the “first stage” orphanage. Both days Sarah, Anna, and I along with some friends from the church, Larissa, Sveta, and Sasha, have had the opportunity to play with and love the children there. I am trying to learn everyone’s name and play specifically with each of the children. Today, play dough and balloons were huge hits. It is wonderful to see the children having fun and to hear their laughter. One of the boys, Sergey, learned my name, it was so sweet to hear him calling out to me as he was taunting me with his balloon so that I would chase and tickle him. What a joy that was. Please pray for these children, they are so in need of love and have uncertain futures. This orphanage is only temporary, these children will either go back home to their parents, to another family member, or they will be sent to a larger orphanage. Pray also for the children at the other orphanage here in town. We have not been able to visit them because a number of the children there are sick. Pray especially for the health of those children.

Another praise is that Sarah and I are learning our way around the city. Not only have we successfully traveled by foot and by bus (and by successfully I mean that today we actually exited the bus at our correct stop PTL!), but today was the first day I drove. It really was fine, no problems at all, and I am thankful that I will be able to drive us to the orphanage each week for our time there. Please pray for safety as we travel and pray that we will be a positive witness to the people we encounter everyday.

I was very excited to make a friend at the youth center tonight, her name is Tanya, she was about 10 years old, and so sweet. We played Jenga and laughed, I am so thankful that I am beginning to make connections even though I only speak a tiny bit of Russian. When it was time to leave I was able to ask if she would be back tomorrow, so I am looking forward to playing with her again. Pray that God will use me in a positive way at the center. Everyday when we pass the school we see boys that look to be junior high school age standing around in groups smoking and doing nothing, pray that they will see the Youth Center as a alternative, as something to do. Pray that God will use the church members who work at the Center to have an impact on the children who come to hang out. Pray that then God will multiply that impact to the family and friends of the young people that come.

Finally, I can’t wait to start teaching English and learning Russian. Sarah and I have been working on lessons and plans for the classes we will be offering, a youth beginner class, an adult beginner class, and an intermediate to advanced conversation and fellowship class. As we continue to seek God’s will for this ministry, pray for wisdom and enthusiasm, so that the classes will be both educational and fun. Pray also that we will be an example of God’s love. We will also be beginning our Russian lessons soon. Pray for understanding and retention so that I will learn quickly, I so want to be able to talk to people.

Thanks so much for all your love and prayers.

Ejournal 3 September 2006 lessons learned

I have been amazed at all of the wonderful things I have learned about Ukraine. I want to share a few of my more humorous lessons with you.

When walking around the block, it is best to know the parameters of the block. Sarah and I walked down to the sea and along the coast and we thought we could just make a little circle to get back to the house. To be honest, the little circle wasn’t that little, so after walking for over an hour, we found our way home. The good news is, now we know two ways home from the sea.

Television is a wonderful place to learn lots of new languages. With the satellite we are able to watch the news and programs in English, Russian, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, and possibly other languages I cannot recognize.

The weather forecast looks a little different in Ukraine. First, you will notice that the numbers are lower. No this is not because it is freezing outside in September, it is because the numbers are in degrees Celsius not Fahrenheit. Second , you will notice the map looks a little different. Of course it does, Ukraine is on a different continent.

There is always more room on the bus. If the bus pulls up to the stop and there are still seats available, there is room for you to get on and have a seat. If the bus pulls up to the stop and there are no seats available, there is room for you to get on and hold on to a handrail. If the bus pulls up to the stop and there are people standing and holding on to all of the handrails, there is room for you to get on and wedge yourself between other people, brace your hand against the wall or nudge your way into a small space on the handrail. If the bus pulls up to the stop and there are people hanging out the doors and windows, there is room for you to get on ……I think you see my point.

Rules of the road are a little flexible. If traffic is backed-up and you are “in a hurry” you can go off the road to make your own way a little more quickly. You don’t hurry through a yellow light, yellow lights are the indication to the cars coming other directions that it is almost time for them to have a green light, so they can go ahead and pull into the intersection. Finally, you always have a choice, hit the big pothole, the bigger pothole, or a huge moonsized crater.

Ejournal 2 September 2006

I have been praying about coming to Ukraine for almost 2 years and I was so excited when God confirmed His call for me to serve in Ukraine. As I prepared to come, and details started to fall into place, again and again I received confirmation that this is the plan the Lord has for me. However, as things came down to the wire and it was time to pack and leave, I realized just how much would be involved in saying good-bye to those I love and all the things I am familiar with to travel to Ukraine and answer God’s Call.

I kept trying to delay saying goodbye. Some wonderful friends decided that they would have a going away party for me and I thought I would be able to “save” all of my goodbyes until then. I felt so loved not just by those who came to my party, but also by those who made a special point of seeking me out during my last weeks at home to say good bye, they love me, and will pray for me. As I was preparing to leave, I was reminded of many different events and occasions that I will be missing; births, weddings, holidays, graduations. Those reminding me were sad that I would not be able to be a part of those special days with them; that too was difficult. Packing was more than I could have ever planned. I had a two bedroom apartment full of things. They were things I liked, things I had worked hard to purchase, and gifts that had been given to me. It was remarkably difficult to decide what to bring and what to store and what to give away or sell. In the end, I had to surrender part of the process to others, because all that I thought I should bring would not fit into the two 50-pound suitcases the airport would allow me to bring.

During the time of my goodbyes and packing, I kept asking the Lord for help. It was so much harder than I thought it would be and I didn’t want others to be hurt that I was leaving. Two things I have really been clinging to during this time are Proverbs 3-5:6 and the song “Hold on to Jesus” by Steven Curtis Chapman.

Proverbs says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he shall direct your path”. This has been a reminder over and over that it really isn’t about my plans, it is about knowing that God is God and He is going to lead me during this time that I am feeling a little alone and lost. The song by Steven Curtis Chapman says “I will hold loosely to things that are fleeting and hold on to Jesus for life”; over and over God has used that to challenge me. In the end, what is going to matter: how close I live to my family and friends, whose birthday parties I attend, what knickknacks I have on my table, or perhaps, did I seek the Lord’s will even when things were difficult.