Tuesday, December 2, 2008

wow, I really haven't posted in forever

Okay, so a quick post.

I really enjoyed chapel today - don't get me wrong, for the most part, I ususally really enjoy chapel. Anyway, today, Dr. John was speaking about Jesus and how the Word became flesh. He was sharing stories from the Old Testament about the Angel of the Lord, who is the pre-incarnate Christ, and he said "Jesus was just showing up all over". When he said it, I wanted to laugh - I just smiled, but as he continued speaking, I realize, Jesus really does show up all over. So, then I wrote it down in my notes and I have thought about that statement several times today - I am so thankful Jesus does show up all over. He can be found. Sometimes in ways, places, and to people I might not expect, but He is so good and He loves us so much, that He always shows up.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fall Break is over

Well, I am back at school, sadly fall break is over. It was really wonderful. I tried to not run around as much as I have on my last few visits home, so I actually saw fewer people, but was able to spend a little more time with each of them - which was so nice. I am looking forward to even more relaxed visits as I am able to go home much more frequently than I have been able to the last couple of years.

Last night when I arrived at school, I realized that I had brought a cold back with me; it was very difficult to get out of bed this morning and even after taking Dayquil, my stuffy head, sneezes, and congestion are getting the better of me. So, I am going to finish my homework for tomorrow so I can go to bed early.

Well, off I go.
In Him,

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

a full inbox

A fun praise. I like to say "praise the Lord!" and I mean it. God is so good to me, and I like to give Him praise. We had a lady here on campus for a week and she is not a Christian. I had the opportunity to spend some time with her, she is a really great person, we had a lot of fun. Anyway. The day she was leaving, she shared with me that she was trying to use her computer that morning and the Internet wouldn't work. When it finally came up, she said, "Praise the Lord!" She told me, "I don't even know where that came from." and that I was "rubbing off" on her. How amazing! I pray that God will use the time she was here at KMBC to continue to cause her to think of Him. Since this conversation, I have prayed several times from Psalms 19:14 "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." I so desire to always be used by God.

I only have a minute, but I need to send a quick update. I am only checking my email about twice a week. Today, I had 68 messages in my inbox - a wonderful and blessed thing, but I am so far behind in my responses. So, sorry. I do so appreciate the notes and truly praise the Lord for the love and support each email represents.

This week we are having missions conference, I am really looking forward to the speakers and the WGM representatives, Frank and Sharon Martin, that are coming. I have been helping with the advertisements, we have been drawing with chalk on the sidewalks - it has been great fun.

Classes are going well, I have a test and a quiz this afternoon and I need to participate in the online discussion board for one of my classes (that is why I am in the computer lab right now actually).

My job at the library is still great, though as the semester is progressing, I have less time for study as more and more other students are coming into the library and need help.

A quick praise, so far, I have been in America for two months and I have not gained any weight. I have actually lost an additional five pounds, which I really praise God for! I have an accountability partner here at school and we meet once a week and talk about our quiet time, our eating, and exercise. It is a wonderful blessing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

a new update

Hi All,

I have been planning to post for more than a week, it is amazing how time gets away from me. I actually have a notebook with four blogs written, but I failed to bring it to the computer lab, so I will plan to send those later. I took a test today that I don't think I did very well on. So far, I have earned A's on all my tests, but the one today in Christian Education wasn't so great, I would be really happy with a B. I truly am enjoying all of my classes, probably my favorite is Minor Prophets - I really find everything I am learning to be remarkably interesting.

Just FYI, I am taking 17 credit hours -
English Grammar - mainly because this will help me to teach English
Minor Prophets
Intro to Missions - I am enjoying this class a lot
Intro to Christian Education - you would think this class would be easy, but lots of theory
Foundations of Faith - which is a first level theology course
Spiritual Worldview Formation - you will be happy to learn I have a Biblical Worldview :-)

A of course, my Thursday night Russian lesson - I am so encouraged by all that I am remembering, I am blessed to have a tutor - God is so good!

I am also working 10 hours per week in the library, cooking for a couple of hours on Saturday, and picking up cleaning hours when I can fit them in my schedule.

In other news, I have fall break October 24-27. I have found a ride home. One of the other students lives in Michigan and he drives straight up I69 to get home. I was explaining to him where I live and he said he often stops at the Gas City exit to eat, I am praising the Lord. Me riding with him will be a help for him too, because I will help cover the cost of his gas. I have promised I will not talk continuously on the way home, so I hope I will have a ride to and from home for all of my breaks - again, God has provided in an amazing way.

What else, we have been participating in the "Concert of Prayer". Every night at 9:05pm a group of students has gathered in the parlor of one of the dorms for a prayer time for the country featured that day. It has been a wonderful time. Each night a different person leads the time and shares about the country, praises, and prayer requests. It has been a wonderful time of fellowship and prayer, but even more a time to really focus on what God is doing in the world.

Well, I am going to run. I need to go to the library before it closes, I have overdue materials - that is not a good thing when you are a library employee.

Hope you are having a wonderful day. May God bless you!
In Him,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Well, I think everyone knows that I want to be able to speak Russian. Well, honestly, I want to be able to speak Russian well. I already speak some. On a side note, I use to always say I wanted to be able speak Russian like a second grader - that was my goal. After 2 years in Ukraine, I honestly believe, God blessed me and I reached that goal. When I was still in Ukraine, I was expressing my frustration with my many grammatical mistakes and my friend Sasha told me that I should have prayed that God would help me to learn to speak Russian like a fifth grader.

At any rate, after so much prayer, time, and effort, I really want to retain the Russian I have learned and it would be great if I could learn more during my time here in America. Then, when I return to Ukraine, I can learn Ukrainian. So, before I came home, I began praying for a native Russian speaker to tutor me. Now, keeping in mind, I did not move to a metropolitan area. I am living in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. But I kept praying. When I arrived here at KMBC, I asked people, if they knew any Russian speakers. They all looked at me like I was perhaps crazy and said no. But God gave me a confidence He would provide. To one person, I actually replied, "well, don't be surprised if a Russian speaker moves here".

Anyway, I was invited to share about Ukraine at a boarding school about 10 miles from KMBC. Before I presented, I played a game with the students using the Russian alphabet and I was informed that the game wasn't really fair because they have TWO students that were adopted from Russia so they already know the alphabet. Praise the Lord! One of those students, a sixteen year old girl named Ana has agreed to be my tutor. The coolest thing of all, she wants to return to Russia when she finishes college and serve God there. She is so excited to have someone excited about speaking and learnign Russian.

God is SO GOOD!

On another note, in my excitement of sharing this praise, one of my professors and his wife asked me how I will go the 10 miles each week for my lessons. Well, to be honest, I hadn't thought that far ahead and when they asked I said, I am not sure how God will provide that yet. They answered, you can borrow our car to drive to and from your lesson. Again, praise the Lord! I am so amazed by His provision and His goodness to me. What a wonderful confirmation that He is preparing me to return to Ukraine.

just silliness

God has really blessed me with the dorm situation here at school. It was something I was REALLY dreading, but honestly, it is great. I am in the "older" dorm. The new dorm is airconditioned and the building is nicer. Several of the rooms have carpet and multiple windows, truly, it is very nice. The dorm I am in is not as nice, but much less populated. There are only five girls in my dorm (the first floor houses the student center and the book store), two on the second floor and three on the third. The two other girls on my floor are also non-traditional students, which has been really great for me. One is a junior and the other has also been out of school for a while and this is her first semeser back in college. She is also not from Kentucky, so we have had a lot of fun experiencing new things here.

We very much enjoy the accents we hear, honestly the other day neither of us had any idea what was being said to us. We are enjoying the long winding roads (she has a car) that narrow to one lane and seem to be headed no where and then suddenly come out at either a highway or a driveway, you never no which it will be. We found a well marked quicksand area and bridges that seems to go everywhere and nowhere. Two of our favorite things are the little houses built on the edge of the road for school bus stops, which more than once have also held a sign stating "Beware of dog" and the fact that the hardware store has a pet section with dogs, cats, bunnies, fish, everything.

a praise

God is so amazing to me. I am amazed how much I have grown and how much He has changed me. I remember when I attended college before and I HAD to work two jobs. I remember crying about it, struggling over it, and failing. Why, did I have to work two jobs - I had to have a place to live and a car to drive and bills for myself and helping others. I am intelligent, but I could not do it all, and failing in college before has always been a difficult subject for me.
Returning to school now, at 33 years old, I see that those things I struggled with and that compelled me to work the way I did, really come down to pride in myself and a failure to trust God. So, humbly and trusting, I am attending Kentucky Mountain Bible College. I am living in the dorm, eating cafeteria food, I have no car and no income, and so much joy. Before I came, I prayerfully struggled with returning to school, and now I am so excited about how I can see God at work here. I am amazed at the plans he has for me and I am so happy to be here in this place. And I am trusting Him to provide for me while I am here.

Monday, September 15, 2008

a quick note

Hi all,

Sorry it has been so long since I posted. I have a lot to say, but not a lot of time to say it. So, a quick summary. School is going well, I have made new friends and I am enjoying my classes. God has provided in amazing ways, I can so see Him at work in me, and I have some amazing answered prayers that I need to share in another update. I am still missing Ukraine (a lot) and adjusting to being in America but not at home (unbelievably, I have still not seen all of my family and friends and I have been in this country for more than a month)

I have not kept in touch the way I should and I am embarassed to admit I am remarkably behind in sending out "thank you" cards. Please forgive me and grant me a little more patience.

More and better posts soon.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Camp Day 1 - Friday

- The kids were planning to be at the church ready to leave for camp at 10:30am, so Pastor Arkoti and I left at 7am to go shopping for food. We purchased some things on Wednesday, but all of the fresh things needed to be purchased today and because we have very little refrigerator space, meat will need to be purchased for one day at a time. I enjoy that men here, particularly Christian men, treat women like they are cherished. When I go shopping by myself or with other women, I am loaded down with heavy things. With men, they carry everything. I have no desire to be “treated equally” when the bag of potatoes weighs 80 pounds.

- I learned a new expression in Russian. I was told I have “meat in my head”. It is a compliment; it means I had a good idea. I never heard it before and at first I thought I misunderstood. We were in the midst of loading lots of food into the van and I thought Arkoti said I had meat on my head and I just couldn’t figure out how that could have happened. So, maybe the compliment was a little overstated, my head is not full of meat, there is still a little room for “air”

- Our camp is basically two small buildings for sleeping, a “kitchen”, three outhouses, and an open field; everything is about a ten minute walk from the river. It is really roughing it. The kids are all sleeping in tents in the field with their counselors and the other adult workers are sleeping in the buildings. I am sharing a room with five other women and we have a large set of bunk beds. The bunks are rough cut boards all laid together to form two beds, one top bunk and one bottom bunk. I am sleeping on bottom with two other women. I am so glad I came out to camp on Wednesday to help “clear” the open field – this was done with sickles, rakes, and hoes. On Wednesday, I was really concerned about everything, but the group that stayed and worked all day yesterday did an amazing job. Truly, if I had not seen camp before today, I don’t think I would appreciate how great things really look!

- Daniel, from the Christian Church was very unsure about coming to camp. We had only been here about two hours when he came and asked me if I would drive him home. Nothing had really started yet: everyone was settling in and decorating their tents. So, he was feeling bored and discouraged because the only other guy he knows at camp, Dema from the Bethel church is two years younger than him and is in a different tent and group. So, he doesn’t know anyone and doesn’t think camp will be interesting. I thought about asking Leana, the director of camp to allow them to be together, but decided to just pray about the situation. I told Daniel if he still wants to go home on Sunday, I will take him when I go to church. I sent Pastor Sasha a text message asking him to help me pray for Daniel (one of only two kids from the Christian Church at camp) and I am trusting God will work it out.

- I am working on learning names, there are several kids I know from Kid’s Club and from camp last year, but several still to learn. Today, there is a lot of free time and the transitions are a little bumpy as everything is still being “worked-out” but I am having fun just goofing around and playing with little people. It is exciting that I am sleeping at camp. Last year I came out everyday for just a couple of hours and led crafts, but this year camp is further away from home and I really wanted to have the whole camp experience. The kids think it is very cool I am staying and I am not sure that the adults know what to think about me staying – which I find to be a little funny.

- A cool answer to prayer. We had thunder and dark clouds, but rain on the first day would just be miserable. So, we prayed for no rain, and praise the Lord! No rain!

Camp Day 2 - Saturday

- I am truly praising the Lord for every word I understand and can speak in Russian. Camp is a big deal for me because no one here speaks English. Really for the first time, I am totally forced to speak Russian. God is so good to me.

- Praise the Lord, Daniel has decided camp is okay and he wants to stay!

- “Squishy face” Luda. I have one little girl whom I simply cannot remember her name. She is tiny and blond and just doesn’t look like a Luda to me. When I said that she squished her face up at me, which made me laugh and then I squished her face more and poof, she looked like a Luda. This also made her laugh. Now when I see her, I remember her name because I think she is my squishy face girl. Today she told me she wants to go home. She is pretty young, probably 8. I am praying she will stay.

- Today we went swimming in the river, which is remarkably deep. There is really no bank to the river, just big rocks you can jump off of into the water. The more shallow banks are filled with plants and there are snakes there. (we won’t go into the answer I received when I asked if the snakes just stay there in the plants are). I helped “lifeguard”. Several of the children don’t know how to swim. Which seems strange to me because they live on the sea, but the sea here is very shallow, so they play in the water, but most don’t feel comfortable if the water is over their head. So, in addition to Veta (short for Victor) and Leana, the couple we have who are supervising sports and swimming, Pastor Arkoti, and I stayed in the water for the swimming time for each of the groups. Veta supervised those who know how to swim and the non-swimmers lined up and waited for Leana, Arkoti, one of the counselors or me to hold them and help them swim in the water. How trusting they are. They don’t know us and some of them are afraid of the deep water, but they willingly come into our arms leaving the safety of the rocks. I could probably find a lesson in that kind of trust.

- Our camp area does have a well, but it is filled much like a cistern, there is no underground spring. Right now the well is not working, hopefully tomorrow – I really don’t understand all these things. Anyway, so today we had to make a water run. All the “clean” water we brought with us is gone. So, with two 40 liter drums and a 60 liter drum I drove the van with four men I just met to get water. I thought we were headed into town to buy water, but instead, we went off-road for about 10 minutes to a pipe coming out of a rock with a slow but steady stream of water. Where this water comes from – I have no idea. I was reminded of my earlier ejournal about being content with all water and I vowed to be content with this water too. So, as the tubs filled, we had lots of time to wait and visit. First, Sergey was telling me lots of history about this region of the country and how this river was Tsar Peter’s favorite place to fish. That this river is deeper than the deepest part of the Azov Sea. Then Volva who had been wandering around came up and gave me a little bouquet. Now, this bouquet did not have any flowers, but just some random plants, which seemed strange to me, but I thanked him anyway. He asked if I knew what the plants were – of course I did not. This led to an explanation of the usefulness of each of these non-flowers. It was cool.

- Tonight for dinner, I was forgotten. The children are divided into groups by age and gender and the counselors eat with their groups. After all the groups have eaten, the other random adult workers get to eat. I was playing with kids and I realized the other adults were eating. I went back to find, everyone else eating and Dema, our cook, said, “We forgot you”. Which is okay, there was still food, just no more meat. Not a big deal. Dema gave me extra candy to make up for my lack of chicken.

- Tonight in the evening service, the younger boys put on a puppet show. I love this group. They are the largest group, the loudest group, by far the most unruly – so of course, I think they are wonderful! As they were preparing, several of the little guys couldn’t help but to peak over the top of the puppet stage or around the sides to see the audience. It was completely adorable. Then in the middle of the show, one of the puppets fell onto the ground in front of the stage and just a hand was sticking up in the air. Then in a scrambling rush, Benjamin ran around the stage, picked up his puppet, put it back on his hand, ran back behind the stage, and rejoined the show. Totally hilarious!

- I think no one slept last night. Every kid I talked to today told me they only slept one or two hours – that is crazy! I think everyone went to bed earlier tonight. On my way back to the room I passed two of the teen girls on a self-appointed patrol of the tent area. I guess the boys pulled a couple of pranks last night with tooth paste and they have decided they will be sure it does not happen again. Secretly I suspect they may be planning a little revenge, but we will hope that is not the case.

Camp Day 3 - Sunday

- Today, I was given a task. Go and gather a plant for tea. Unfortunately when Leana, our camp director, asked if I knew what that plant was, Volva was there and overheard the question and answered for me “yes, she knows”. It was one of the plants he showed me yesterday. Now, if I had known there was going to be a test, I would have paid more attention to the lesson – I am sure there is a moral lesson to be learned from that statement! So off I went on my own to find this little purple flower that grows around your “legs” (just a language point: feet, ankles, calves, knees, thighs, really the height of this plant would have been a help, but in Russian you just say leg). Soon I found a little purple flower, but the leaves didn’t look right, but really, what do I know. Then I remembered, everything Vovla showed me had a non-flower scent. So I smelled it - not the right thing. Upon further searching, I found a different little purple flower growing right at ground level with a non-flower scent. I was so proud of my botanical skills and picked a whole bag full. I returned to discover it was the right stuff! After separating out the stems and letting the flowers and leaves dry we made tea for dinner. Sadly, I found the tea to be not very tasty, but everyone else really liked it so - Praise the Lord!

- fun quotes from today
“quick, give me a Bible, right now!”
“Shushan, you are strange, but cool.”
“write, we want to see you write in English” then after a pause
“can you really read that?”

- tonight, I was not forgotten for dinner. As a matter of fact, I was counted several times with many reminders to Dema “Don’t forget Shushan”. It is nice to feel loved. Also during dinner, I learned I say Pastor Arkoti’s name wrong. Mostly because I said his name and Dema and Veta laughed at me and asked me to say it again. Let’s forget for a moment, this is how I have been saying his name for almost 2 years, so feeling a little dumb, everyone tried to help me pronounce his name correctly. It really is more Arkodye. After several attempts that made everyone laugh it was determined I get to call him Arkasha, which is a nickname for Arkodye that is normally reserved for small boys – just a reminder, it is good to be humble.

- During tonight’s service the older girls were supposed to lead the singing, but they stumbled over the words and stopped. The younger girls in the audience kept going. The music leader stopped and tried again, but the younger girls were louder than the older girls, so again, they stopped. Finally, the music leader, asked the audience to sit down and the older girls preformed the song for us. It was pretty funny.

- Answered prayers: one of the little boys, Keereal, maybe seven years of age shared in the evening service tonight that he was afraid of the water yesterday, but last night he prayed that God would help him and today when they went to swim he was not afraid. How sweet he was when Leana asked if anyone wanted to share about how God answers prayer and he raised his hand and boldly spoke into the microphone. How sweet his little voice was as he praised God. I pray he will always remember God hears us when we pray and we can trust him!

Camp Day 4 - Monday

- This morning I feel so much better. By 10:30 last night I was no longer able to process anything being said in Russian. After three nights of less than five hours of sleep and 3 days of hearing and speaking almost totally Russian, my brain was super tired. I totally bailed out of the staff meeting after lights out last night. I slept deeply last night, I didn’t even hear my roommates when they came in. I was up at six this morning and ready for our staff prayer and devotional time at 6:30. I am praising God for the amazing staff he has put together for this camp.

- Today there were a couple of hiccups with craft time. I am flexing. The schedule was changed last night at the meeting I skipped. So, instead of craft time starting at 11, it started at 10. So thinking I was 40 minutes early and had time to get things set up, I arrived 20 minutes late and unprepared. Also, the groups were switched. I thought I was going to have the young boy group and instead had the older girl group. They were not remarkably pleased with the simple craft, but we all had fun anyway.

- Another blessing, I realized today, I am totally ready for camp meetings when I am on HMA, I am sure nothing will come up that I am not ready to deal with after this camp experience!

- My squishy face Luda is going to stay at camp, PTL!

- The weather has been cold, so today, all of the tents were lifted up and hay was stuffed underneath. Interesting! Now all the tents look a little funny because they are up off the ground.

- Vladim and Andrey, the counselors for the younger boys are doing an amazing job! They have 15 boys age ten and younger and they seem to have the perfect balance of sternness and love and the little guys just love them. Tonight during our evening service, we were singing a version of “If you’re happy and you know it” and during one of the verses we snapped our fingers. Super sweet, after the service, I saw Vladim giving Benjamin and Oleg snapping lessons. How important Christian men are in the lives of these boys. So many of them lack any kind of male roll model.

- Today was a difficult day. The well was working, but now it is broken again. Our 60 liter drum is leaking. Leana, our director is feeling sick. Dema, our cook, went home for his fiance’s graduation. Our meeting tent was broken by the wind. No swimming because it is cold and windy and all the children are a little disgruntled about that. And poor Arkodye had to deal with everything. Praying that tomorrow will be better.

Camp Day 5 - Tuesday

- This morning I was not needed to help with the breakfast preparations, so I joined the morning calestanics. Now these are not your normal gather around the flag pole morning stretches like you might expect at camp, but 30 minutes of serious Olympic athlete type work-out. It really did remind me of the little behind the scenes stories they always show in between Olympic events with all the little children in a circle working out. The couple who are in charge of sports and swimming are very sweet, Christian people, but Leana turned into a drip sergeant calling out “one, two, three, four, again”. Periodically, she would shout out someone’s name and tell them to work harder. Veta wandered around the group helping people to get a deeper stretch or to have the proper technique. It was really quite serious. I found it all to be comical, but I took it very seriously because I didn’t want to draw Veta or Leana’s attention to my efforts.

- Today’s craft was better; I had the younger boy group. I love them and they love me and we had a great time.

- I have had several invitations to be a guest in tents – it is really a big deal to have me over to visit. The kids have decorated their spaces and so the tents are like their little houses. When I come over, everyone who is sleeping in that tent also needs to come in. Today, seven of us crowded into a 3-4 person tent and they tried to host me. They showed me where they each sleep, their decorations and all their stuff. They offer me water and swished cookies or melted chocolate. How sweet it all is.

- One of the little boys overheard one of the older girls trying to speak in English with me. After she walked away, he came over and started quizzing me on English words. After he had said about eight words in Russian and I knew the English translation he was impressed.
He said, “I think you know all the words in English”
I said, “not all.”
He said, “but you must have studied in school a long time.” That is when I realized he did not know I was not from here. Which is amazing! So I explained to him that I am from America and we speak English there.
“Oh,” he said, “is that far away like Kiev?” I am guessing he hasn’t had a lot of geography yet.
It really is a great big world and it is so easy to get caught up in our own little part of it. Over and over I am struck by the fact that God is big enough for the entire world. He knows us all, he understands us all, and he loves us all.

- One of the other workers, Sergey, pulled me aside today to show me a picture on his phone. I thought, “Wow, that women looks remarkably like me.” It was a photo of Sergey’s wife’s sister and it was kind of cool.

- Again, I am praising the Lord for the Russian I can understand. One of the counselors for the older boys is named Allosha. Today he and I were talking and he asked me how I became a Christian. Then he shared his testimony with me. I was really struggling to understand and over and over I had to ask him to speak more slowly. In the end, I felt stupid and frustrated. It is such a special thing to hear how God has worked in someone’s life and I missed a lot of it. After our conversation it really bothered me. So I went back and found him again and asked him to forgive me but I really wanted to understand and for him to be able to share with me. I explained to him what I had understood, but where I was confused and he was so gracious to share with me again. What a wonderful connection.

- Tonight’s service was our intentional call to repentance. We had a special guest speaker, a missionary from Norway and youth from another church here in Berdyansk. We also had a school group that is backpacking around Ukraine staying overnight at the camp grounds. They did not attend our service, but they could not help but hear it. Our guest presented shared how sin keeps us from God but that through Jesus’ sacrifice we can be forgiven. And then he asked us about sin in our lives. Several of the children responded and asked to be forgiven of their sins, including two of our “difficult” teens – Praise the Lord!

Camp Day 6 - Wednesday

- This morning I had a new kind of kasha (kasha is basically like oatmeal, but there are lots of kinds made of different grains). It was quite a novelty that I had never had it before, children and adults were fascinated – I felt a little like a freak. It really tasted a lot like cream of wheat, but really sweet – of course it was prepared by Ukrainians so it probably had lots of sugar.

- Today I am tired. There is no craft because the weather is really warm so we are allowing extra swimming time. I could be swimming, but instead I am sitting and journaling. I can hear the younger boys practicing their song for service tonight. Such beautifully sweet voices, they are singing “I’m in the Lord’s Army”. It is a little different in Russian. We sing “I’m in the Lord’s army, Yes Sir!” they sing, “I am Jesus’ servant, I serve!”

- This afternoon my friend and Russian tutor, Marina, is graduating from university and I was invited to the ceremony. So, I went to Berdyansk. It was really nice to take a shower. It was also really wonderful to share this special time with Marina and her family. As I was preparing to return to camp, the van made a funny little sigh. Praise the Lord I was only about two blocks from the Home of Hope. When I arrived, I discovered the oil leak that was recently repaired had re-broken in a big way and oil was all over the engine. So, I am stuck at home until it is repaired. I really wanted to go back to camp, but it is not a hardship to sleep in my own bed tonight. I am very hopeful the van will be fixed in the morning so I can lead crafts tomorrow at 10am. Praise God I was not out in the middle of nowhere on my way back to camp when the van broke!

- Since I had planned to be at camp, I ended up with a free evening. It turned out to be a lot of fun. I spent some time with two of the other American volunteers here, Mark and David. It was wonderful to have a conversation in English. And it was hilarious as our topics ranged from: do you believe in a literal seven day creation (I do) to if the Hulk and Superman fought who would win (Superman, of course) to if you could change the meaning of any word in the dictionary what would you change (I would change a “bad” word to meaning something happy and nice). What a blessing this evening turned out to be.

Camp Day 7 - Thursday

- With a patch on the van, I am back at camp. Craft time today was wonderful and fun.

- During Bible lesson, the younger boys made the bracelets that explain salvation. When Benjamin saw me, he rushed right over and started explaining to me, “This black bead represents sin and the red one is Jesus’ blood and the white one is being made clean.” How incredibly cool that he listened and learned what the beads meant, but even better that he responded by wanted to share it with others. I pray God will give Benjamin the boldness to continue to share Jesus with others!

- One of the little guys, Oleg, was bitten or stung by something last night and today it is infected and he has a fever. After much prayer, his temperature has come down, but because the swelling and redness of his leg we are going to take him to the hospital. Praise the Lord again for the van. Oleg doesn’t want to leave camp and keeps asking if he will be able to come back. Poor guy!

- Oleg and his family attend the Bethel church in Berdyansk and Oleg has been part of the Kid’s Club I teach. He is usually so full of energy it was difficult seeing him so lethargic. After not being able to get a hold of his mom, we were finally able to reach his dad, Volva, at work and he agreed to meet us at the hospital. When we arrived, Oleg’s shout of “Papa!” revealed he was a lot more concerned about coming to the hospital than he expressed. The hospital here was a nightmare – I won’t go into details, but truly not a place I would ever want to have to go with a real emergency. The sweet part was I got to listen to Oleg share with his papa all the wonderful things about camp. The name of his group and the chant they made up. I got to hear what he thought about the games, crafts, swimming, puppets, music, and services. Camp meant so much to him and it was great to be able to hear from him all of the wonderful things during a time when he was hurting and scared.

- Tonight I went to bed early and then sat for almost two hours talking to my bunkmate Nadia. I do so much better with one on one conversation how great it was to get to know her better.

Camp Day 8 - Friday

- Today is Benjamin’s birthday. As a special gift I have allowed him to take all the pictures he wants with my camera. All the kids, especially the younger ones love digital cameras because they want to see the picture right away. They also love taking pictures, especially Benjamin. Usually, I will let them take one picture each and then make them give the camera back. I told him he can’t take it to meals – I can’t imagine how to clean kasha from a camera.

- Today has been a difficult day. Today, feels like camp will never end and I am super tired of dealing with all the foreign things. I praise the Lord for my proficiency in Russian, but often I am not able to be understood and don’t fully understand. It can feel quite frustrating.

- Today I spent a lot of time with the girls, swimming and doing hair. Then we played a game where they would quiz me by saying a word in English and I would have to say it in Russian and then I would say a word in Russian and they would have to say it in English. I am happy to say I won. I really am thankful to be here at camp.

- Americans smile. That is something I like about us and it is something I very much enjoy doing even though it isn’t really cultural here. As I am walking along the paths here at camp, I always try to greet anyone I pass by name and smile at them. It turns out this is a contagious behavior. I had a couple of boys stop on the path as I approached, paste on giant cheesy smiles, wave a greet me. Now, I hope I don’t look quite as silly as they did, but I thought it was really nice. Allosha, one of the teen boy’s counselors, smiles and waves every time he sees me. I know my Ukrainian friends don’t always understand me, but I know they always love me.

- Tonight we had a campfire with the older groups and talked about relationships. Each kid shared about what they look for in guys or girls and we talked about what things are really important and how to behave in a relationship. Then Veta and Leana shared their testimonies and how God brought them together. It was a really wonderful time.

Camp Day 9 Saturday

- This morning many of the adults are dressed as and acting like campers. One camper from each group has been appointed counselor and the adults are acting out all the problem behaviors – it is very funny! Andrey, one of the counselors for the younger boys, is making Maxim, his “new” counselor crazy. All he has been talking about is food. Andrey says, “I am hungry” and “I want to eat”. After listing all the things he wants to eat: sausage, cheese, fish, he began to say over and over again, “now, now, I want to eat now.” Finally, in exasperation, Maxim sat down and said, “me too!” Poor kid, but really quite funny.

- It is adorable when little people correct my grammar. Its like “is this what you are trying to say?” I love it.

- Today, there was an obstacle course full of difficult situations. As the groups went through, the adults would try to help them to make good decisions. At one point, the younger boys were trapped in a net and every solution they suggested was rejected. Finally, one of the little boys said, “let’s pray.” Everyone agreed it was a sound idea. Another boy said “okay, the Lord’s Prayer” (which they had been learning during their Bible lesson) “No, no,” came the response of another boy, “let’s just pray a normal prayer”. Who knew the Lord’s Prayer wasn’t a normal prayer? This funniest part was the gasp and shocked expression from their counselor Andrey, I couldn’t help laughing out loud. I can only imagine what they will talk about in their quiet time before bed tonight.

Camp Day 10 - Sunday

- It is funny to me how fascinated the kids all are by my Bible. In the morning the staff has quiet time and prayer together. I always bring my Bible. And everyday, I have had kids want to look at it and ask me questions about it. There are two main questions; Can I/Do I read my Bible and is my Bible the same as the Russian or Ukrainian Bibles? If I do nothing else, I think my presence here helps the kids to see that God is bigger than what they see and what they know. The God who loves them in Ukraine is the same as the God who loves people in America. And the truth of His word is the same for all people.

- The phrase I will always remember in Russian “it’s not fair”. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard that and every time I am reminded that kids are kids!

- Language. The adults have been trying to curb the use of some not so nice slang. There are a couple of words that are not really “bad” words, but they aren’t really nice either – kind of the equivalent of “shoot” and “darn” in English. When adults hear children say these words, they subtract behavior points. I never subtract points, I just act shocked and surprised and the child apologizes and then I make them promise not to say it anymore. Now, I do not say these words in Russian, but the words themselves make me want to laugh because of the translations. One “bad” word is “pancake” and one of the phrases is “Christmas tree sticks”.

- Today is the last day of camp. It is funny to me. I was talking to Luda, who wanted to go home earlier in the week, and she told me she doesn’t want to go home tomorrow and that she is going to cry if we make her. Praise the Lord for working in her heart and helping her to love camp. Luda is one of the campers who made a first time commitment to Jesus during camp. I am praying God will continue to work in her life and she will grow to know him better and trust him more.

- Tonight I had my first foray into public speaking. In front of everyone, with a microphone, speaking in Russian. To be honest, I felt remarkably uncomfortable, but praise the Lord I was able to do it. And I know that even though I could hear the grammatical errors, everyone understood me and they loved me anyway.

Camp Day 11 - Monday

- Today has been chaos. Clean up, packing, making breakfast, and driving two trips from camp with the van packed full of kids. Camp is officially over. Looking back, I am both glad it is finished and sorry to see it end. I am exhausted and sure it will take me a week to recover, but God has been remarkably good and has truly blessed this camp!

- On a more personnel note, God has been really working in my heart. He has used some of the “hardships” of camp to show me areas in my life where I think a little too highly of myself. God has been working in my heart to help me to be more humble before Him. Something I didn’t recognize before, I have some cultural issues that make me a little proud and just some selfishness that I did not realize was a problem. God is so good to me and I am so thankful to have been able to come to camp and serve him here.

Friday, June 13, 2008

catching up and posting ejournals

Connecting with the Blind - February 15, 2008

So with my limited experience of ministering with the blind people who are coming to our church, I was concerned about being able to connect with them while we are in the van together. Previously, when Sasha Simonovich rode with us, they would have discussions about the Saturday ministry, they would ask and answer Bible questions, they would sing songs, or they would just talk. Often, all of them would talk at the same time, creating an overload in my brain so that I was totally unable to understand anything that was being said. So before I embarked on the adventure of driving alone with the group, I prayed God would help me connect with them.
My first stop is for Stanislav Ivanovich, my second is for Aleksandra Ivanovna, and my third is for Nina Alexandrovna and on and on. Now these names are difficult for me, and the formal and polite way to address people is by their first and middle name (the middle name is really a second name, called the Patronymic name, and it comes from your father’s name). It is basically equivalent to someone addressing me as Miss Richardson. Until you are invited to simply call someone by their first name or nickname, it is not polite (unless, of course, you are working with children; one more reason I like working with kids).
Anyway, I really struggle with these names sometimes. In the van Sunday morning, one of the ladies was sharing that she has a new grandson. Her son Artyuro named his son Artyuro, so the babies name is Artyuro Artyurovich. She was laughing about how difficult that was to pronounce. We went around the van, everyone trying to say this new baby’s name, and everyone stumbled over it.
What a fun connection! First, that they also have trouble sometimes with their own names, but also, that when we hear a new baby’s name we always say all the names together and sometimes think, “Oh, that sounds so pretty,” or “Did they never say the names together before they named that poor baby?”
The second connection was they talked to me. I found out that I am the age of many of their children, which makes them about the age of my parents. Also, very interesting, many of them had healthy eyes earlier in their life. Medical treatment is not nearly as available here as it is in the States, which is why some have lost their sight. They had jobs and have families; they are interesting people and willing to share their stories with me.
The third connection was that one of the guys started telling jokes, which caused everyone to start laughing and joking. I love to laugh and joke. Now I didn’t totally understand the joke, but it was about a dentist and having a tooth removed, and everyone else found it to be quite funny.
So I am enjoying my time with the people from the blind ministry, and I am excited to help with this ministry that God is blessing. Four of the ladies have given their hearts to Jesus. Praise the Lord! Praise Him for hearts that are open to Him. Praise Him for the church and its members who are actively serving Him and sharing His love with lost and hurting people. Praise Him for the freedom and opportunity to hold services on Saturday in a government-owned, non-church setting and that people are responding to His Word. Praise Him for His love for all people.
This Is Normal - February 13, 2008

It is funny. I LOVE being an American. Love it. I love America. Really. But, I love Ukraine too. While I was home in the States I found I was struggling a little with silly cultural things, and as I returned to Ukraine, I struggled with them again but in reverse.
First, in America I just couldn’t seem to find any tea. Everywhere and everyone wanted to give me soda. In my heart I just wanted tea. And, everyone served something to drink with dinner, but no tea right after dinner. It was strange and I kept telling myself, this is normal, Shushan. Now, I am in Ukraine. Everyone and their brother wants to give me tea but can soda be found…nope. I went and purchased a whole liter of Pepsi and drank it all by myself. Then I was at a friend’s house and she served all this dry food and not a single drop of liquid until we were done eating. I thought I was going to die. And I kept telling myself, this is normal, Shushan.
When I was in America I had a lot of trouble with my schedule. People kept asking me what my schedule was for the next week and I truly had no idea. I would call people and say, “Let’s go to lunch today,” and they would sometimes say, “Today I have plans, let’s do it next Wednesday.” I kept thinking, okay, Shushan, this is normal. Now I am here and no one can make a plan. I ask, “What time do you want to get together tonight?” and I get, “I will call you later.” “What are we doing next week?” “Let’s talk about it next week.” Okay, Shushan, it is normal.
In America I was in the car for hours at a time and no one wanted me to walk anywhere. In Ukraine, I have to walk and walk for hours and no one wants me to spend the 25 cents to ride the bus. But it is normal. In America I ate in restaurants almost everyday. My first day back in Ukraine I ate at McDonald’s in Kiev but not again since then, but it is normal. In America everyone hugged me. In Ukraine only grandmother-type ladies and children hug me, but it is normal.
Moral of the story, everything normal is different. When we eat, what we eat, how we pray, what we say, how we act. Some days I don’t feel so normal and I struggle to remember what is normal. So, let me apologize to anyone I frustrated with my abnormalities while I was home and please pray for me as I adjust to feeling normal.
Blind Faith and Trust - February 13, 2008

The Evangelical Christian Church, also known as the little house church where my friend Sasha is the pastor, has a ministry to the blind in our city. It started this summer with an invitation from another Christian organization to bring blind people from our area to a camp, but in order for the organization to invite “campers” local churches had to provide “counselors.” Our little church sent five people, so blind people from our local community center went to camp. Based on the relationships started at camp, the church began to host special services at the community center every other Saturday. Soon, it became every Saturday and then some of the people wanted to come to church.
Now, I truly think this is an amazing ministry, but I have had very little involvement with it for two reasons. First, I think it is wonderful that this is a ministry that the church is responsible for. Second, my Russian is still pretty poor. I rely a great deal on nonverbal communication and that is a lot more difficult with people who cannot see me. One day I was leading one of the blind ladies, Vera, out of the church, and when we came to the step I said, “Look.” One of the other ladies in the church was a little shocked, but Vera and the other blind lady within hearing distance both laughed at me. So, yeah, I am not a lot of help.
As the Saturday meetings at the community center have grown, more and more people have shown interest in coming to church. Praise the Lord! This presents a small logistical problem, namely how to get the people to church. The church is in a region towards the edge of town, not very close to downtown. Sasha Simonovich, an elder in the church and the only church member who has a car, has been picking people up and driving them to church, but his car is very small and only really has room for three passengers. The bus stop is about five blocks away and some of the people would have to take two buses to get to church, so taking the bus alone is not really an option and finding someone who wants to come to church with them is often difficult. Taxis are an option, but can be expensive, especially for those on a fixed income like all of the blind people are.
One solution: I have access to the mission van. This van is a multi-purpose vehicle, and I honestly so appreciate that it is available for my use, but I really don’t enjoy driving it. Actually, I really don’t enjoy driving in general; I much prefer sitting in the passenger seat. Long have I joked that really the only thing I am looking for in a husband is someone who loves to drive. And the truth is, driving in Ukraine is about a hundred times worse than driving in the States! Anyway, I digress. The mission van has room for nine people, so here is a viable solution. Now, Shushan is officially helping with the blind ministry.
The first few times I drove to the church and picked up Sasha Simonovich and then we drove around and picked up others who wanted to come to church. Then after church, we took everyone home and then I would take Sasha home. Well, last week Sasha asked me if I could take the people home by myself. I was a little nervous, but I did it.
This past Saturday I was at the church working with Pastor Sasha on the Kid’s Club. We made fun Valentine’s cards and talked about God’s love; it was great fun. Anyway, when we were finished Sasha Simonovich asked me if I could do all the pick ups by myself this Sunday. I immediately answered, “NO.” However, we sat down and made a list of who was attending. Two of our regular attendees are sick this week, and then we have a “new” guy who would like to come. So, armed with my list and after MUCH prayer, I was prepared to embark on this journey. All went well with the pick ups and we all made it safely to church on time!
Now, the drop offs were a little more difficult. After I dropped off the only person who could see (the wife of one of the blind men attends with us), somehow I made a wrong turn. Now, keep in mind that all the roads really do look the same and there are very few road signs to speak off. So here I am, lost, and driving with four blind people in the van. I am not quite sure how I got where I was, so turning around and going back would not have been the best option. Going forward, who knows where that would have led me? Maybe I should mention one of the reasons I don’t like to drive is that I have a horrible sense of direction. My sisters tease me that it is not a “road trip” until I get lost. Then I saw a road I thought looked familiar; keep in mind they all look alike! So, I made a turn and then thinking I knew where this road led, I stayed on it for a long time and viola, I ended up coming out on a road I knew and I was able to get back on my route to take my remaining four passengers home.
Now about this time, one of the ladies, Riah, asks me, “Who are we taking home?” I mean, yes, these people are blind, but they are not stupid! I am sure they realize I am not going the right way and that we have gone too far and turned too many times. I am sure at this point they are thinking that I am stupid; actually, they may have thought that before! So, a few minutes later when we arrive at the apartment building where Riah lives and I have to convince her that we are indeed at her house and I do indeed know where I am, I thought what an amazing amount of faith and trust it would require to be blind.
How often do I believe because I can see or because I have seen? How often do I trust the way things feel? Or do I trust the outcome only because I have recognized the path that led me to this point? In John 20:29 Jesus says to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Oh, to have a faith that neither asks for nor requires proof. I pray Jesus will help me to get out of the driver’s seat and not move to the passenger seat but to the back. That He will help me to trust Him with where we are going and how we are getting there and that I will know that I am safe in simply being with Him. And then, when we arrive and it is time for me to get out of the van, I will trust that He is dropping me off at the place I need to be and that even if I cannot see Him, He is with me and I am in the right place.
One of Those Days! - February 13, 2008

Did you ever have one of those days? Oh, you know what I am talking about. One of those days where everything just seems to fall into place and everything just seems to come together. Where at the end of the day you think, I can’t believe how that all worked out. What? Not the kind of day you thought I was talking about? The other day was just an exceptional day; it was just amazing and amazing. And it wasn’t any one thing, it was everything. Truly everything! It was just a perfect day.
That night, as I knelt by my bed in prayer, I was whole-heartedly praising the Lord for blessing me with such a perfect day. I was giving Him glory for everything that had occurred and thanking Him for orchestrating the whole day. I thanked Him for His planning and provision. In that very moment God whispered to my heart, “Shushan, I always plan and provide, even when things don’t go the way you think they should.”
I am so amazingly and abundantly blessed. I am so in awe of a God who loves me and knows me and has a plan for me. I truly cannot entertain any other option but to surrender totally to His plan and to praise Him come what may!
Christ's Hands, Feet, and Ears - September 14, 2007

“I wanna be your hands, wanna be your feet, I’ll go where you send me, go where you send me.”
I have noticed there are a lot of songs about being the hands and feet of Christ, and I like them. It is something I think about and try to do. I believe service and obedience are signs of love. No, we are not saved by the work of our hands and we are not saved by the paths of our feet, but if we surrender our work and our path to God He will use us in amazing ways and give us so many blessings.
So, here I am in a foreign land that, somehow, amazingly, doesn’t feel foreign. Working in situations I often feel unprepared for and don’t fully understand but, somehow, amazingly, I am able to share God’s love in so many places and situations I would have never imagined.
The most amazing part, as I am trying to be God’s hands and feet, I also get to be His ears. People thank me for coming to Ukraine when it was God who brought me here. People praise my efforts when truly I am able to do nothing on my own. And, the sweetest of all, I get to hear the words, “I love you.” Even knowing that, truly, the words are being spoken to Jesus, how wonderful it is to receive a hug and a whispered I love you from a child.
Lack of an Example - September 14, 2007

Have you ever heard of Hama Beads? These things are absolutely amazing. Basically, you take this flat little plastic shape that is covered with little prongs. On each prong you place a colored bead. Then, once you have completed the design you want, you use a hot iron to heat the beads. The little beads melt together and then you lift them off the little plastic shape.
I had never seen these amazing beads before this summer. A couple volunteers from America asked me if I was familiar with them and then a couple teams from Ireland brought some out. I love these things, and I used them everywhere! Most of the kids had never seen anything like them before and they LOVED them. We used them at the youth center, in Sunday School, at camp (boy were they a huge hit at camp).
When I brought them for the craft at Kid’s Club at Sasha’s church, I forgot to bring a sample. Now, none of the kids had ever seen these beads before, and Sasha had never seen them put together. As I tried to explain it to Sasha and then he tried to explain it to the children, he stopped and said to me, “Shushan, it is too difficult to understand without an example.” With some confusion, I tried to demonstrate and explain but, truly, until the first completed pattern was heated and lifted off the plastic shape and the magnet was added to the back, the children and Sasha could not really understand what we were doing and what we would have when we finished.
This situation has come to mind several times since it happened. When I look around me here in Berdyansk, I realize the lack of an example is a problem not just during craft time. Children desperately lack positive Christian examples in their lives. Alcoholism and drug use are serious problems, and economically, this region is suffering. Further, there is just a general sense of hopelessness. Teens and young adults often want to leave Ukraine for better opportunities and more money in the West. Older adults seem to feel that nothing is really going to change and their lives really aren’t much better today than when they were under the Soviet Union. Working with children, I know there is a hope. I know Who has a plan for their lives and, desperately, I want to point them to Jesus.
I remember when I was a little girl and I first started to attend church and first sought to make a commitment to Christ. I truly didn’t understand what it meant to be a Christian. Of course, we have Jesus as the ultimate example of how to live, and the Bible is an amazing tool to understand God and His love for us. But, beyond that, God placed some wonderful Christian people in my life who, as they were emulating Christ, were examples for me—the Hartmans, the Harvilles, the Davises, and the Porters. As an adult, God continues to place people in my life to help me to be more like Him—people who when I look at I see the face of God, people who challenge me, people who hold me accountable. How wonderful that God uses people in such amazing ways!
Even more amazing to me is that God is using me as an example. Please pray that God will continue to work in my life so I can boldly say, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1 Pray that I will be an example to the children I work with everyday at the orphanage, in English class, in Kid’s Club, and at the youth center. Pray that they will come to know the hope that is found in the love of God. In this place lacking examples, pray that God will use me in a powerful way.
Plain Water - September 14, 2007

I like to drink water—plain, ordinary, nothing added, no bubbles, no carbonation, no flavoring, no lemon, no nothing—just water. Now the reason I mention this is because here in Ukraine that puts me in a minority. So, since drinking water from the tap is not an option, when I am out I drink bottled water. If you ask for bottled water it will most likely be carbonated. If you are lucky and it is not carbonated, it is probably mineral water. In my opinion, the only thing worst than carbonated water is mineral water. So, if you want plain water in a bottle, you must specifically ask for it.
When you ask for plain water, about half the time the store or vendor will actually have it. Hooray for plain water in a bottle! But, needless to say, when I am really thirsty and must have a drink, I can drink carbonated water. I have found that if it is really, really, cold, it is tolerable. Hooray for really cold carbonated water! Of course, drinking a really cold drink will make you sick (truth, one of my Ukrainian friends went to the hospital once from drinking cold milk). So, carbonated water is usually served at about room temperature. It is absolutely horrible and when I drink it, I feel sick to my stomach. But, summer was really hot and I was often very thirsty, so I have found that if I take very small sips and kind of hold the water in my mouth for a few seconds, it quenches my thirst and doesn’t upset my stomach. Hooray for not being thirsty!
Now, I admit I will probably always ask for and prefer plain water in a bottle, but I have learned to be content with carbonated water. I know it seems silly, but a lot of the things that I allow to make me unhappy and uncomfortable are silly things. There are many things in Ukraine that are different than in the States, and God has used things like this to show me how important I make things that are truly unimportant. I can focus on difficulties and differences, and it would be easy to miss all the wonderful things about Ukraine. But instead, like Paul, I have learned the secret of being content in everything is through the power of Jesus. Hooray for the power of God at work in me!
“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13
Language Blunders - March 7, 2007

Nastya is a wonderful teenage girl whom I attend church with here in Berdyansk. She also hangs out at the youth center a lot and has come with her mom to our ladies’ meetings. Nastya is learning English in school, and with my fledgling Russian language skills, she and I have had many fun conversations. I truly think she is an amazing Christian girl.
So, on Sunday in church, as she was helping to lead the singing in service, I noticed she has a new cute hairstyle. After service we were chatting, and I started to tell her that I think her hair is really cute. Unfortunately, I totally drew a blank on the word cute, so I said, “I think your hair is very….” She was trying to help and offered a word. It wasn’t cute, so without thinking I just said “No.” I noticed the surprised look on her face so I stopped to think. The word she offered was “beautiful,” and I had said no. Oops! Of course, then the word cute came to me. So, I profusely apologized and confirmed that I do think her hair is both cute and beautiful. Learning a language can be very difficult.
I was telling a couple from church about my family. I thought I was saying I have one older brother, but instead I said I have one scary brother. Oops, not what I meant, but still true! I often confuse the words “young” and “small,” and sometimes it is okay, but mostly, it just doesn’t make sense. The numbers 12, 19, and 20 always get confused in my mind. I really do well with all the others, so I guess it is okay. For some reason, I confuse the verbs “to close” and “to forget.” I was trying to tell some boys at the center to “close the door,” but instead I told them to “forget the door,” three times before Leana asked me what I was trying to say. Oops!
I was at my friends’ house and they told me we were going to pray. I totally misunderstood and thought they were offering me something to eat so I said, “No, thank you.” Thankfully, they did not accept my answer and helped me to understand that they wanted to pray. Oops!
The good news about all of these mistakes is that I am learning Russian. I mess up a lot, but I also understand a lot and can speak a lot. I can have whole conversations in Russian, which to me is huge and amazing. I am so far from fluent, but really my goal is simple communication, and I am really starting to feel comfortable and confident speaking in Russian. Praise the Lord!
Making Friends - March 7, 2007

I am so excited to say that I have friends who don’t speak English! It is amazing to me. Now, of course this should make sense, since I have been living here in Ukraine for six months, but because most of my time is spent in ministry to children and youth, I don’t spend a lot of time making adult friends, especially those who don’t speak English.
There are two churches World Gospel Mission works with here in the city of Berdyansk. The first is Bethel Church. It is located in the Home of Hope and is the larger of the two churches. It has the youth center and English as a Second Language ministries. The second is Christian Church. It is a small home church that Sasha pastors. I attend Bethel Church on Sunday mornings, but it does not have a Sunday evening service, so I attend Christian Church then. It was there that I met Katya and Allosha.
Katya and Sasha both have birthdays in December, so the young adult group in the church decided to have a birthday party for them at Katya and Allosha’s house. I did not know very much Russian at that point, and I was a little intimidated to go to a party where I thought the only person I could talk to was Sasha. However, because both Sasha and Katya had invited me, I really wanted to go and try. Soon after we arrived Katya and Natasha went into the kitchen to prepare the food and drinks. I asked Sasha if I could help them and he took me into the kitchen, explained to Katya and Natasha that “Shushan likes to work,” and then left us to set out the cake and other things. Most of our communication was body language, but it was great. We laughed, and I felt so comfortable. I had such a wonderful time.
Not long after that, three of the young adults at Christian Church wanted to learn English, so I started tutoring them on Monday nights. While I am at ladies’ ministry at Bethel Church, they attend a prayer meeting at Christian Church, and afterwards, we meet together and study English with Sasha as our translator. They usually finish before I do, so instead of meeting at the church we started meeting at either Sasha’s house or Katya and Allosha’s house. Katya is pretty serious about trying to learn English, but her husband, Allosha, and the other young adult, also named Allosha, just sort of play around. Mostly, we really have a good time trying to talk and communicate.
Sometimes, after our lesson, we will just hang out and watch a movie or listen to music. Also, a couple of times they have invited Sasha and me over just to visit or to play games, but Sasha was always there to translate for me. A couple of weeks ago, Sasha needed to stay after church to talk to someone and Katya and Allosha offered to walk me home. As we walked we were chatting, and they invited me to come to their house. I was so excited! Not just that I understood the invitation, but that they wanted me to come, even without Sasha. It was such a great time. We struggled to understand each other, but for the most part it was great. Then, this Sunday, they invited me over again. Almost every time I am there, Katya and I end up together in the kitchen, making tea or something. She is helping me to learn all of the Russian “kitchen” words.
This Sunday night, we were talking about Ukrainian food and they asked me if I like borscht. I said I do and that I want to learn to make it before I go home. They were a little shocked that I don’t know how, and they asked me why. Well, because I have a limited vocabulary, I explained the best way I could, by shifting the blame. I told them none of my grandmothers or moms have ever made borscht (sorry Grandmas and Moms if this is not true, but I have never seen any of you make it). So, it was decided that after our lesson on Monday night I would learn to make green borscht. It was really good, if I do say so myself. Basically, regular borscht is made with beets and lots of other things while green borscht is made with a green vegetable, sort of like spinach, instead of beets, and still lots of other things. I had such a good time.
The second Allosha left after our lesson and Katya and her husband and I played together in the kitchen. We chatted and laughed and joked, and I learned to cook. (A really wonderful and amazing thing, the verb “to cook” and the noun “a cook” were both in my Russian vocabulary list last week. God is so good!). We then played a game on the computer and started to watch a movie. I was so tired I just couldn’t stay awake, and, with apologies, I told them I couldn’t finish the movie. As Allosha and I were putting on our coats (after dark, men here will not let me walk home alone, which is really, really nice) I looked at the time, and it was after 11 p.m.
It is silly, but suddenly I realized that Katya and Allosha are my friends. I am so excited! They are such a precious couple, and I am so thankful they are part of my life.
Youth English Class - March 6, 2007

Every Tuesday and Thursday I teach an English class to children ages 8-14. I have been teaching this class since October 2006, and I have shared some prayer requests and praises about this group before. Over Christmas and New Year, when the schools were on break, I also took a break with this class. During the last week before break, we of course had a party (you know how I love parties), and we had a test to see what they had learned. I had planned to use the results to determine what I should repeat before learning new vocabulary this semester.
Looking at their tests, I was congratulating myself on what they had learned. I decided that they really do know more English now than when we started. I was feeling like I had done a good job teaching English. As I was congratulating myself on a job well done, I was struck with the question, “Why am I really here?” English is supposed to be the tool to get them in the door, and they have come in twice a week for three months, but what have I really shared with them? What impact has it had on them? I spent a good amount of time trying to justify to myself and to God how hard I had worked to incorporate Bible stories and lessons into the English class. I tried different stories and different methods to tell the stories and teach lessons and, always, behavioral problems would come up and attention would go down during the stories. I would try to be sneaky about it and sometimes water down the Bible story. I kept trying to reassure myself that the kids want to learn English, their parents want them to learn English, and my attitude and love alone would be enough of a witness even if I didn’t tell a Bible story every week.
I really felt like God was challenging me to do something different with the class as we restarted in January, but I was reluctant and honestly at a loss about what to do. As I was in the midst of privately struggling with this, I was talking to a friend. She said she wanted to ask me a question but didn’t want to hurt my feelings. She asked if I really felt like the English classes are a ministry, if I really felt like they were bearing fruit. I was able to tell her that I have heard testimonies about the impact of some of the classes in the past but that I was struggling with those questions myself about the classes I have been teaching. I asked her to help me pray about what to do and what changes needed to be made in order to make God really the center and focus of the class.
In January, when the class restarted, I explained that our class had three goals: to learn about God, to learn more English, and to have fun. Our class is 75 minutes long, and I have committed to spending at least 30 minutes of that time focused on sharing Bibles stories, lessons, and the gospel with the children who come to the class. After that first lesson, a parent came and talked to my translator and explained that she did not want her child to hear Bible stories, she only wanted her to learn English. Two other children also said they did not want Bible. My response was simple, they can learn just English in school but that I am here to share more than that.
To be honest, some of the children that came last semester have stopped coming to class, but God has blessed us with new children who are coming. We are not covering nearly as much English as we did last semester, but I am so encouraged. We have a Bible story during every lesson, and almost all of the class behavioral problems are gone. Last week, we heard the story of Noah and the flood. I told half the story on Tuesday and the second half on Thursday. We talked about the fact that the Bible is truth, that science gives evidence of a global flood, that it had never rained before the flood, and that God can do things that have never been done before. I asked them what it would be like to be on a boat with just your family and a bunch of animals. Would it be fun? Do you think they had a TV? Do you think the animals were stinky? Who had to clean up the animal’s messes? The children listened and talked and participated. When we stopped on Tuesday, Noah and his family and the animals were all still on the ark. On Thursday, I asked the kids to remind me of the story so far and one little girl said, “It is a very interesting story.” What a praise to know that stories from the Bible are capturing their attention! Pray with me that the message of the Bible will capture their hearts.
The Ukrainian Volunteer Weight Loss Program - March 6, 2007

I am so excited to share that I have found the perfect diet plan. Now, before you start thinking this is some kind of crazy infomercial, let me reassure you that there is no cost to learn this secret plan. I am going to tell you all about it for FREE.
Now, experts will tell us that in order to lose weight we must change our habits and behaviors. When I came to Ukraine I realized I was changing a lot of things, but I did not recognize some of the implications. As I have mentioned before, the closest McDonalds is about two hours from where I live, so I will admit that it makes eating there a little more difficult. Actually, in Berdyansk the only “fast food” we have is food from the deli at the grocery store or prepared by women in the open-air market. I have eaten restaurant food less than 10 times in the last six months, and the food I eat at home is wonderful and homemade. There are almost no “convenience” foods here, which means cooking takes longer but there are fewer preservatives.
Another thing that I have changed dramatically from when I was at home is my eating schedule. When I first arrived here I remember having a discussion about scheduling with two Ukrainians and they wanted to plan a class to take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. I explained that we couldn’t do that because it was lunch time. Neither of them could see a conflict, and now I understand why. Meal times here are really very flexible. In the States, when it was time to eat, I would eat. I would stop what I was doing and eating always took precedence. Not so much now. Honestly, you do what you need to do and then eat when you have time.
Also, in the States everything social is tied to eating, and I am very social. We eat for and at every occasion. We have special breaks at the office, someone brings in a cake for a birthday, or you haven’t talked to a friend in forever so you go out and have dinner. We snack at Bible Study and in the car on the way. Here, tea is very social and is almost always offered with cookies or candy if you are in someone’s home. However, if you are out, people do not plan to eat, often because most people are on very tight budgets and it is viewed as an unnecessary expense.
The other thing that has dramatically changed since my arrival in Ukraine is the amount of time I spend exercising. I walk so much more than I ever have before. Even when you take the bus, you have to walk. To go to the youth center or to my youth English class, I walk about two blocks to the bus and then about five blocks from the bus. Sometimes, the bus stops downtown are so crowded that if I want a seat on the bus it is best to walk five or six extra blocks to an earlier stop to get on. Riding on the bus can also be aerobic exercise. Standing and holding your position in the crowded bus as it turns and speeds along is a workout for all your muscles. Sometimes sitting is even hard work, balancing the pressure of holding yourself on the seat without squishing into anyone around you sometimes feels like your doing squats.
Typically, if I travel with my Ukrainian friends they would rather walk, and it really doesn’t matter the distance. If we are staying within the city of Berdyansk, it is “not too far.” The typical question is, “Are you in a hurry?” and if I am not, we walk. If you are walking and you are cold, the answer is to walk faster, and if you are walking and start to get hot, the answer is to keep walking because we will be there soon.
The really amazing news in all of this is that for the first time ever in my life losing weight is easy and I am really feeling healthy and great. I am enjoying walking, and distances I used to think were far don’t seem like that big a deal anymore. I even walk by myself. For the most part, I don’t miss fast foods, and for the first time ever, I am one of those people who says things like “Oh, I forgot to eat lunch today.” I used to be really annoyed by people who said things like that.
Bottom line…in the six months I have been in Ukraine, I have lost 50 pounds! It is amazing and wonderful! I hope I continue to lose; it really is the perfect diet plan. I am so thankful to be here, serving God in Ukraine, and my weight loss really is an incredible bonus to all of the blessings I am experiencing.