July 6, 2011

Neighborhood Kids LOVE US!

Summer is in full swing, and our second team is here already, and, in fact, they're almost on their way home. We've had an awesome time with this team from North Carolina, USA. Though the team is only here for a short time (1 week total), they have made a huge impact! During the daytime we visited the kids of Solnechney Orphanage, and every evening after dinner we spent in our local neighborhood, spending some fun times with the kids in our neighborhood. Every day more and more kids from surrounding neighborhoods joined in on the fun. What fun interested these kids so much? Well, every day we brought the kids outside Frisbees, jump-ropes, and soccer balls to play with. We've brought these things every year, but this year's hit was the new things we brought, such as face painting and glowing bracelets! These two things alone were the biggest attention-grabber of all, but we also did scratch-art crosses, and even preached to the kids with "Evangicubes". The first day of the week we had about 25 kids show up and play with us, and by mid-week we had 50+!! Our second-last day was the biggest show-up; we had upwards of 70 kids swarm outside around us on the playground!!

Here our team is singing songs with the kids
Every time even ONE of our team members showed up to the neighborhood, a group of no less than 30 kids would all scream in unison from excitement and swarm around that person, asking what we would do with the kids that day. I remember the first time I experienced it for myself. I came out of the main door of my apartment building and what seemed like 40 kids ran full-tilt towards me and surrounded me. I had glowing bracelets to hand out, and it was a frenzy! Needless to say, I was a bit overwhelmed. As the days went on, and the numbers of kids grew, I got more and more concerned with what the neighbors might be saying and thinking about us. I felt like we were the Pied Piper, because these kids seemed to want to participate with us, no matter what we were doing.

Typically in summer there are several elders of the neighborhood who sit outside my main door, keeping an eye on the neighborhood, sort of like like a "Neighborhood Watch" program organized by themselves. They keep watch over the kids in the neighborhood while the parents aren't around. So basically, if you get on their bad side, you are in deep waters. The other day I came out my main door to join the rest of the team outside with the kids and found a distraught mother of one of the kids from the neighborhood looking to make a fuss. She came straight to me and started yelling at me, asking where we came from, what we're doing, and why kids from families need "free handouts" and why we need to play with them, since they have parents. That's when our "Neighborhood Watch" ladies piped in. They were beside themselves at the nerve of this woman. They said, "Look at all these 70+ kids in the playground right now. Tell us where their parents are! They are all over there at the bar or in their apartments getting drunk and/or stoned while their kids roam free outside, without someone to watch over and care for them, let alone play with them! They are neglected. Yet these wonderful Americans travel half way around the world to play with them and hand out gifts to them. They are taking care of our children because our people are too apathetic to do so themselves." I was beside myself. The ladies looked at me with a smile. "Don't pay attention to this woman, or any others like her who complain about what you do. We have no problem with it. You are doing a good thing." I was so very thankful and encouraged immensely.

When you want a picture with one, you get a picture with them all
I am grateful for such an awesome team who was able and willing to do so much in such a little time. It took some courage to handle this crowd of neighborhood kids. I even had fear of it, and I could actually communicate with them. My main concern was that my own neighbors would start to hate me because of our program, because to some it may seem rather invasive, and it may seem like we are stealing their kids from them like the Pied Piper. But through the encouragement I got from the ladies outside my apartment, as well as numerous helpful and encouraging parents, I know what we did was successful and good. Many kids' lives were touched, and they heard the story of Jesus. All praise be to God Almighty for His goodness!

Speaking of parents who were encouraging, one even wanted to take a picture with her daughter and me together. Here is that picture...

April 10, 2011

It's been a while.

Today I quickly signed in to my Blogger account for any updates on friends' blogs and noticed how long it's been since I have posted!! It's been far too long.

Since my last post many things have happened. First off, we had a few guests - three sisters from the village stay at our team apartment for a few days. These girls are from a family of 6 children, all under 12 years old! Their family lives in a one room house in the village and can barely afford to put a loaf of bread on the table each day. The father is an honest man, and tries to support his family, but as of late he has become terribly ill and the family has come into many problems. We are always glad to take the kids in and provide them with clothes and treating them out to McDonalds and feeding them tons of fruits and vegetables to improve their health. The kids are such sweethearts, and so very smart. Our hearts go out for them. Please keep this family in your prayers, and that the father can get well again and provide for the family.

One of the reasons why I haven't written in a while is because my computer died. Right now I am writing on my iPod, and it's rather difficult. But I can get by. The only downside to this is that I can't post any pictures. I sent my computer away for repairs, and was told that the video card and motherboard are fried. The cost of repair will be more than half of the computer's worth, so it makes little sense to bother. I will be getting a new one sent over with one of the teams coming in Summer.

Also, for those who are wondering where my scooter went as of late - I have handed it over to a local dealer who will sell it and hand me the proceeds, while he takes his cut off of that. I am happy it's out of my hands, because right now I am scrounging up money to buy a car here. Hopefully that'll happen soon!!

Speaking of things to buy, A month ago I ordered a bed and nightstand for my room. Well, last week it finally came to my apartment and Adam and I put it together. So now I have a nice place to sleep, instead of that old mattress I slept on for so long with springs that dug into my back. Next step - a wardrobe or dresser to store my clothes in instead of the suitcases that they are in now.

In two days a team from Canada will be arriving here to visit and renovate some rooms at a local orphanage for disabled men. Please keep posted as I let you in on the progress of that and everything else! I'll do my best to keep posting more frequently!

Please keep us all in your prayers.

February 27, 2011

Update on Nastya (from last post)

          For those of you who didn't get a chance to see my post on Facebook last night, I am posting an update on the girl from my last blog post who gave me her stuffed animal when I visited her in the sick ward at Boarding School #9.

          When I wrote last, two weeks ago, Nastya was still in the sick ward with a fever, and wasn't sure how many more days she would be quarantined there. We went there the following day and she was already back in her group, without a fever and doing well. Only one week before she came down with the fever, she had her cast removed from a broken arm she suffered while wrestling in her wrestling class at school. We visited her orphanage again on Friday, and I found her once again in the sick ward...this time with a broken knee! I went into the sick area to visit her, and found her in a slightly warmer room than last time, and that she has a full leg cast on. This time she shares her room with one other girl who never seems to be around who also has been recovering from leg problems. I asked Nastya what happened to her leg, and she told me that a girl fell on her leg while wrestling in her class. Nastya's group is very involved in wrestling, and even have a professional Ukrainian national trainer who volunteers his time to train these girls 3 times every day! They are involved in many local, and even some international tournaments.

Here Nastya (left) wins a match in a local tournament.

          I told Nastya that I didn't have much time to visit her, but that we would be at her orphanage again the following day, and that I would come to visit her. After I talked to her a bit longer, I packed up to go.
          As I started to leave, she asked, "So you'll be coming tomorrow to our orphanage, right?"
          "Yeah, we'll be here in the morning," I replied.
          "You'll come to visit me?"
          I smiled. "Of course. I'll make sure to especially visit you."
          She smiled back. "I'll be waiting for you."

          The next day we came to Nastya's orphanage, and did our program of crafts, games, and Bible stories with a few groups as time allowed. After that, I stole down to the sick ward with my bag and came to the open door to Nastya's room. I peered in to see her leaning on the hot water radiator with her crutches firmly tucked under her arms, gazing out the window before her.
          "Privet, Nastya," I said.
          She turned and with an instant smile and came to greet me.
          Ever since Nastya gave me her only stuffed animal, I have been weighed down with the longing to give something back...anything at all! I gave her a homemade Valentine's card on Valentine's Day that turned out terrible because I am not very good with crafts, but she loved it anyway. Then she gave me a wonderful card in return, and once again I felt like the equation wasn't balanced. Her precious, selfless deed of giving me her only belonging spoke to me in volumes so loud that I just had to do something more! So, after visiting her orphanage and seeing her broken leg the night before, I went to the store and bought her the fluffiest, most beautiful Teddy bear I could find. So I said to her,
          "Nastya, I know that it must be boring and lonely for you in here every day. I understand you won't be going to school for the three weeks that you have your cast on. Well, I have a surprise for you," I said as I turned my back to her so as to conceal what I was pulling out of my bag.
          "What? For me?" She inquired with intrigue.
          Before I could have answered, I turned and presented her with the Teddy bear. Her face lit up with such amazement.
          "It's for me??" She continued with excitement growing in her voice. "He's so beautiful! He's co great! He's perfect! Thank-you very much!" She immediately cuddled the bear into her arms and hugged him tight with a smile from ear to ear. There it was. The moment I needed to see this precious child experience.  

Nastya with her new Teddy

Here is Nastya with me, showing the camera her new Teddy as I show off the one she gave me.
          As I started to leave, I said to Nastya, "We'll be back to this orphanage next Wednesday. I'll make sure I come and visit you."
          "You know where to find me," she said. "I'll be in here for three weeks."
          "Then I'll make sure to bring you something to do so that you won't be bored. But for now, let Teddy keep you company."
          "Ok. I'll be waiting for you! Bye!" She said as she resumed sitting on the hot water radiator.

          My good friend Barry suggested I bring her some Crayons and some reading material. I think that'll be perfect. If anyone has any other suggestions, please feel free to comment on this post and help me out. Thanks for reading, and I'll make sure to keep you posted on her in the future!

February 11, 2011

Always a New Experience

Since being back in Ukraine, things have been amazing. It's as if all the fear I had of not returning has since turned into wonder and amazement of everything around me, all over again as if it's my very first time being here. I remember coming into the airport common area and being so EXCITED to speak in Russian to a lady at the desk, asking where I could top up my prepaid phone account. It was a joy and a blessing just to use my language knowledge again!

On the day of my arrival in Krivoy Rog, I didn't even let a moment slip by! Adam said I could take the day off to rest, but I just HAD to see the kids again!! So off I went to Solnechney Orphanage, the one only 15 minutes' walk from my apartment. It felt so good to even walk that road leading to my favorite place. When I got there, I noticed that lots of the kids noticed my absence, while others simply greeted me as if nothing had happened. The ones who did notice gave such big hugs and smiles! Some said they missed me so much! Oh, how nice it is to be missed. :)

I recall in particular stepping into the older girls' group and all of them were sitting around watching a movie. They had the lights dim, and when I said Hello from the doorway, they all looked and couldn't figure out who it was since it was too dim there. So then I stepped into the light, and immediately one girl in particular, Nastya Papova who is 12 years old, jumped up and bolted to me to give me a big hug. Others all welcomed me with enthusiasm and asked many questions about my adventure. All the boys greeted me as usual, and it was so nice to see them all again! The younger kids were all ecstatic to see me. (Am I bragging? :) I recall seeing little Dasha standing in the corridor, almost in tears because someone threw a snowball at her head when she was outside. I hardly recognized her all bundled up and with a toque on. I said to her, "My, it's been a long time since I have seen you! I missed you so much, Dasha!" Then she, without any emotion in her face replied, "I know. It's been a long time. I missed you too...very much."  I then knelt to her height and opened my arms for a hug. She walked over and gave me the biggest hug ever!! She didn't let go for some time. I thought if she didn't let go soon, then I'd have to carry her back to her group! :) I love big hugs like that! They're like medicine for the soul. :)

On to today's news. We were visiting the boarding school, and since most kids were busy, we ended up sitting around with the younger boys. They love to wrestle, so Adam and I gave them some good lessons like a father would with his own boys! But as we were leaving, we walked past the sick bay, and there I noticed a little girl named Nastya (9 years old?) in there, all by her lonesome. I walked over to her, and asked her why she was there. She told me that she was in there already for 2 days because of a fever, and that she would be there another day or two at least. No school, no visitors. She then asked if I wanted to see her room in the sick bay. I said sure, and she led me over to the doorway and opened the door to her room, located right off the main hallway. The room was devoid of anything at all to resemble any form of comfort. The walls and the floor were bleak and sterile, the 4 beds were old Soviet-style with chain-link support and thin blankets, and all Nastya had with her were a few schoolbooks and a stuffed bunny that she sleeps with. She told me how boring it is being that she is the only one in the room, and for so long. I felt such compassion for her, and thought of how I could help in any way to make her time there more enjoyable. I reached into my bag and gave her a craft that we had for the boys. It is full of stickers and sparkly powder to decorate a shape on a paper. It's hard to explain :). But I thought, at least it's something for her to pass the time. Her face lit up, and she was so thankful, from such a tiny thing! She then immediately ran from the hallway, and into her room and over to her bed, fetched her beloved stuffed bunny and handed it to me. "Here," she said with a smile,"You can keep him. He's so soft and cuddly! I love to use him as a pillow." I tell you, I was beside myself! What do you say to something like that?! The bunny was a medium-sized, good quality one too. I immediately tried to turn it down, because I knew it was something important to her. "I can't take this! It's your favorite stuffed animal!" I pleaded. She only smiled more, "I insist. Please keep him safe for me." I thanked her and gave her a big hug. When I went outside, I nearly broke into tears. I couldn't get it out of my mind how Nastya had just given one of her only possessions to me. May God bless her in abundance!!

The heart of a child is so pure, so innocent. It's something I re-experience almost daily. Oh, the innocence of children, and how every fiber of my being yearns to do everything in my power to preserve and cherish it in the name of Christ!!

February 6, 2011

A Lesson Learned

Since being back in Ukraine, I have had lots of time to think of things. Even on my trip in Germany, it occurred to me that I wasn't there simply by man's doing. I learned many things about our Heavenly Father, and that He shall never leave us, even in our most trying times in life when He seems most distant. In all that I had going on in my life in Ukraine, I seemed to leave God out of the picture a lot. But you ask, "How can that be possible? A missionary who moved to the other side of the planet can lose focus on God?" Unfortunately, it is possible even for the greatest of men to lose some of their trust and focus on God. Look at Elijah after the showdown at the altar where God fried everything to a crisp with His holy fire. The next day Elijah was fleeing for his life from Queen Jezebel. How quickly in this life we can forget the wonders of God and walk on our own path of fear and neglect for Him, even though the previous day He showed His presence in the most amazing ways! I am no exception, and I don't claim to be even remotely as great as Elijah! :)

I understand my "vacation" was (to a very, very small degree) something like that of the Israelites wandering in the desert due to their misplaced faith in God. Or perhaps my trip could be very reservedly compared to that of when God took King Nebuchadnezzar off his throne and drove him into the wild just to show him who's really in charge. Whatever the case, I know God spoke volumes through his leading me out of Ukraine. It seemed that He gave me a very serious ultimatum. I felt Him saying, "If you don't change your ways and focus on Me, then you cannot return to Ukraine. You are not fit to do My Will without complete faith and trust in Me." I felt like the lukewarm water that God is ready to spit out of His mouth. At that point I was so eager to seek my Father's approval! How terrible it feels to not be in one with Him!!! Not just because of the possibility of losing something in life I hold so dear, but to come to the utter and full realization that you are not where God wants you to be in your spiritual life! But even as hopeless as things seemed at time, I had a peace knowing that God hadn't abandoned me. He was simply showing Me His presence - showing off His wondrous self. It may seem harsh when God throws us off our track in life, but let these verses explain that: It is written in Proverbs 3:11-12 "My child, don't reject the LORD's discipline, and don't be upset when He corrects you. For the LORD corrects those He loves, just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights." That verse gave me much hope and understanding of my predicament. :) Now, I don't need to tell you all how special everything in Ukraine is to me. The mere thought of not returning burned a hole in my emotional stability, and I couldn't bear the weight of it; of life without being right with God, and my life without all those whom I love so dearly in Ukraine.

Needless to say, I prayed more and more daily as the days went by. Yet, I still had the nerve to worry about things and couldn't hardly get a good night's sleep most nights due to anxiousness. I found that at every key moment of acquiring things or going places that took me one step closer to Ukraine, the situations at first always seemed to go a bit wrong. While the Canadian passport went good and fast, I found that everything else was directly controlled by God's hands. What I mean is, this: the letter of invitation that was to accompany my Ukrainian visa application for some reason took far longer than it should have to arrive in the mail. So I prayed and prayed, and prayed some more until I saw it clearly happening...and there it was in the mail. Then came the day of submitting the application at the Ukrainian embassy. I planned my route there with precision, yet it seemed no matter which way I chose to get there, the trains were all slower than normal, the waits at the platforms were all delayed, and the bank I had to pay my fees at wasn't where I thought it was. The line-up in the embassy had only one woman in front of me, yet it took 45 minutes before I got helped. In all these delays, my worries allowed me to focus on prayer, and God paved the way for me to pray more and more. Even my flight from Berlin to Kiev had many setbacks. Our departure from Berlin was 30 minutes late, and our connection in Warsaw was pushed back by an hour due to mechanical problems with our plane that forced the flight to be transferred onto a new aircraft entirely. What did I do with my extra time? I prayed. After all, the time in Warsaw's Chopin International Airport was the most nerve-wracking for me. It was the final point of no return before landing in Kiev to see if they would allow me entrance into Ukraine or not. When we were told to stop boarding our plane in Warsaw and got turned back, I simply looked up to the sky and I knew it was God's doing. Of course, He probably saved us from certain doom in the plane that was clearly not fit to fly, but I know He was also calling me to worship Him, and to, for once, get a grasp on that tiny mustard seed of faith in Him. It was as if He was telling me that I needed more than the amazing prayer cover given by so many of you amazing friends and family who keep my in your prayers. It was more than my own prayers. The golden ticket was for me to throw my worries off and place my whole world in God's very capable hands.
"Trust is the LORD with all your heart; do not lean on your own understanding." - Proverbs 3:5
"'What do you mean, 'If I can'?' Jesus asked. 'Anything is possible if a person believes.' " - Mark 9:23

When we landed in Kiev, it wasn't obvious at first which passport check line God had chosen for me, but when I chose to see through my faith, I saw the way paved as smooth as fresh asphalt.

Since being back, it's been a joy and blessing to be more aware of the situations God is showing me daily where I can say something that matters, or show someone care and love when they need it. In the past I often found myself being the silent bystander who hardly broke through his comfort zone. But already I am finding that I can more easily hear the Spirit's guiding, and see God's very hands pointing out the things He wants me to see. It sure makes a difference when you put some faith in the recipe of life. Thanks again for all of you who have been with me on my journey. But my journey is only beginning. Stay tuned because the future posts will be of the amazing kids I minister to, of their amazing warmth, and of their love with deep roots that so rarely gets a chance to grow and show its flowers in full bloom.

January 30, 2011

Back in Ukraine

Well, the trials are over. I am now sitting safely at my own computer in my apartment here in Krivoy Rog, Ukraine. God's presence couldn't have been more evident in the time I needed Him most. I can recall yesterday with great detail as I stood in line at the customs check at Kiev. All my mind was searching for was to hear that THUMP noise of the stamp slamming down on my passport. And there it was... THUMP! :)

All day yesterday while traveling, I had so much fear and anxiety of the potential risk of being rejected for entry into Ukraine. I got up at 5:00am in order to catch the bus. After a 20 minute drive, I got off and went down, into the metro station. I had to ride the subway train for a good half hour at least. It was weird being underground for so long. The whole time I was reading my Bible and praying for God's deliverance, since I had so much worry about the entrance into Ukraine. Usually I have anxiety and nervousness about flying, but this time those fears were replaced with the fear of not being allowed back into Ukraine to see the kids I love so dearly. No clammy hands on landing, no fear of the plane blowing up due to poor maintenance. All that was on my mind was getting that stamp of entrance into Ukraine. :) I prayed that God would show me that I can trust in Him, and to give him all my worries. I realized that I need to fully trust in Him and give Him the reins in my life, and all would turn out the way it's meant to. I did that in the past, and He led me to Ukraine to do His will. The experiences here have given me so many amazing memories, emotions and love of which I would never have even fathomed of, if it weren't for God being there every step of the way. So all day, through my two flights (Berlin - Warsaw, Warsaw - Kiev), I prayed, and prayed some more, and focused on shedding my fears and worries, and letting God do His work behind the scenes as I opened the doors He knocked on.

When our plane taxied to the terminal in Kiev, that's when I just gave it all over. I said to God, "I am yours; just show me which line to be in, and whatever happens, I know it's where you want me. If I get turned away and told to fly back home, then I know it's what you want." I started waiting in a particular line (I ALWAYS choose the slowest one!!), and before long, I noticed that there was a different line that was particularly shorter than all the others, with only one person waiting there, while 4 more were in my line. So, I picked up my duffel bag and spoke, "Thank-you God for your signs," and with a sudden surge of confidence and faith, I walked over and up to the desk where the woman customs guard sat. I submitted my passport and spoke "Zdrastvuytye" (Hello). She nodded and greeted me back. As she flipped through the pages of my new, clean passport, she looked up and asked, "Where will you be going to, here in Ukraine?" I told her Krivoy Rog. At this moment, time seemed to slow. I watched (perhaps with a gaping mouth :) as she reached for the stamp. THUMP! Then came the passport, through the window. With a smile, she said, "Welcome to Ukraine."

Now, I had a sick stomach, clammy hands, and my soul seemed to carry bags weighing a thousand pounds all day long. I was that full of worry. But let me tell you, that the moment the passport returned into my hands, I felt like I could fly! I suddenly felt more giddy and full of joy than I have been for a long time! I started to dance a bit as I made my way to the public area of the airport, but then thought better of it as taxi drivers started to hound me for rides! :) What freedom I felt!! I can't put it into words. All I know is that I kept praising the LORD of my life! I always wondered throughout my life why God made me such an emotional person. Well, let me tell you, my emotional side has proven to be an essential tool in this ministry here with the wonderful children from the orphanages. Every time I saw a child while I was in Germany, I saw those kids in Ukraine whom I love so dearly, and I would want to cry. But then these kids would look into my eyes and give me a nice, big smile from ear to ear. I saw God smiling at me through their smiles. (No lies! This happened with 4 or 5 different times from various children I met in Germany, and it was God comforting me - holding me over until I can be with the kids in Ukraine again!) God's allowing me to be here in Ukraine again tells me that I am exactly where I ought to be: using the gifts of emotion and compassion and love to further His Kingdom! AMEN.

The train ride to Krivoy Rog was better than expected, because some friends of mine were there too! They were 5 cars down from me, but I walked over to them and visited with them for most of the evening. In the morning I was greeted by our whole Ukraine team at the train station! What a nice surprise that was!

Anyways, so here I am alone at home. Time to do laundry! Then to see the kids later this afternoon! :):):)

January 28, 2011


Yeah read right - I got the visa today!! No hassles. Hardly a wait. But I'll get to that in a bit!

The morning started early once again - I wanted to get the visa thing done and over with! So I went downtown to where I understood I could find the particular bank I had to pay the fee at for my Ukrainian visa. The procedure is to pay at the said bank by presenting them the bill from the embassy. On the bill is written all the bank account information for the Ukrainina  embassy. Then I would get a reciept from them, and then submit that reciept at the embassy to get my passport back, visa and all.  But first of all, all the trains and subway trains were SLOW today. At each connection, I had to wait at least 10 minutes, and even when I got on them, they drove way slower than usual. Not sure why. So I went downtown to where my map said I could find the bank I needed. I got there only to find that this location was only their offices. No tellers. So then I rushed a way's accross town to another branch. This one had tellers. I made the payment, and headed on to the embassy, several blocks away.

At first when I came into the embassy, there were many people standing around the outside doors. They were the overflow line! I thought, 'wow, how long will I have to be here in this line up?' But then one person entered and asked, 'Who here is last in line for window number 2?' Thinking back to the other day I remembered that I was in line 4: the visa line. So then I asked everyone there in Russian, 'Is anyone here in line for window number 4?' One lady replied, 'Nobody here needs a visa; you should just be able to go right in! ' So I went in, told the guard what I was there for, and I onlz had to wait for two people in front of me. They were both helped really quickly, and when I submitted the reciept from the bank, the man left the window, and 30 seconds later had my passport in hand. With a smile he said, 'Das vidanya' ('Goodbye' in Russian).

As I received the passport, I looked over the visa inside for any possible mistakes. Under 'Visa Type' was written 'P'. I thought, OH NO!!!!' This is because I have always had 'Private visas' in the past. They have given me nothing but trouble. It's why I am stuck out of Ukraine! I figured, 'Well, I gave them the invitation letter which clearly stated that I am going to be in Ukraine for religious matters, so it must be right.' Then I realised: I read it in English!! 'P' in Russian is actually the letter 'R'!! This means I did indeed get the 'Religious visa' as requested. You don't know how the 'P' in my visa scared me. I almost P'd my pants! :) But now I know for certain that all is well with that!! Praise the Lord!!

I'll be flying out to Kiev tomorrow morning! Please pray for my safe travels, and that the customs agents don't give me any hassles! Thanks so much for following me on my travels! God bless!