Saturday, September 22, 2018

Summer Wraps Up

The final weeks of summer were a bit of a whirlwind and we have now bid farewell to summer with it's long, warm days and have definitely moved into fall. Foggy, cool mornings await us, yellow leaves are popping up on more and more trees, the bright greens and yellows of summer fields have yielded to browns, we don our hoodies and curl up under blankets, and life starts to take on a different feel. But before officially leaving summer behind, I need to recap some of our final summer activities.

At the beginning of August, Sveta and I attended the European Spinal Cord Injury Federation conference in Prague as representatives of our organization. Our main task was to network with people from other countries in Europe and see if there might be partnership opportunities in the future. Many people were interested and surprised to hear of the situation for people with spinal cord injuries in Ukraine. They expressed a desire to assist, through sharing knowledge and experience or by donating resources, such as used wheelchairs. We are grateful for their desire and look forward to seeing how God uses these contacts in the future. We were also blessed to get to stay an extra night and take in some of the sights of Prague with its castles, palaces, cathedrals, bridges, and parks. It is a beautiful European city!

Conference attendees

Following a week of work back at Agape, we headed out of Lutsk to celebrate birthdays. Veeka (OT), Katya (PT) and myself have birthdays within 5 days of one another, so our entire rehab team takes the opportunity to spend a day together out of the city. We grilled, swam in the river, relaxed in hammocks, and enjoyed fellowship together. I love these people and am extremely grateful for their presence in my life. What a privilege to serve and work alongside them and what a joy that we also enjoy spending our free time together!

Next up was the second session for the 3rd group of students at our PT Training Center. All 8 students returned and, with a little extra work for some, all passed the tests over the material from session one and will continue on in our program. This group works extremely hard and demonstrates a genuine desire to learn. Some of them have absolutely no experience with rehabilitation so we sometimes need an extra measure of patience with their repeated mistakes or seemingly elementary questions, but God is merciful to us and to them. I am really proud of their progress and look forward to our next session with them in November. 

Poor Taras is the lone man among all those women, but he handles it well
Learning the gait cycle
Certificates of completion for the first session

One exciting aspect of this session from my standpoint was the increased teaching done by our Agape therapists. Pasha, Ira, Veeka and Katya each had at least one topic to teach which was accompanied by skills to demonstrate and work with the students on learning. It is good for the students to learn from others beside Sveta and I. I'm also hopeful that our therapists benefited from their preparation and teaching and that they will have a now more solid grasp on the information and skills themselves. Plus, it gave Sveta and I some breaks from teaching and translating!

Ira demonstrating sensation testing
Katya teaching how to fit walkers, crutches, and canes
Veeka showing various pieces of equipment used by people with spinal cord injury or stroke
Pasha teaching on wheelchair measurement, fitting, and adjustment
Following the session, Sveta and I took our one week of remaining vacation time and headed to the Carpathian Mountains. We LOVE the mountains and enjoy both relaxing and hiking in them. Since we went after peak tourist season, we enjoyed even more solitude and quiet than in past years. God's creation is beautiful and I'm so thankful we had this time!

Just us and a trail - we didn't see a soul for over 2 hours!

Just after returning to work at Agape, we received a much-anticipated and prayed for piece of equipment. For more than 2 years we have been praying for a LiteGait to use with our patients. When we started praying for it, we didn't work with nearly as many patients on regaining the ability to walk as we do now. Receiving this piece of equipment and the treadmill we received a year ago are tremendous blessings for us and our patients. We are so grateful for God's provision through the generosity of His children and in answer to many prayers. We began using it this week with 3 patients and look forward to seeing the progress of both these patients and those in the future. Thank you to those who prayed and gave financially!

Summer is a wrap! It was wonderful time of working, serving, traveling, teaching, and living the day-to-day of life here in Ukraine. I am so grateful for God's provision, blessings, and grace over these past few months and look forward to witnessing all He will do in the coming months. Bring on fall!!!

Monday, August 6, 2018


Yesterday, we had the opportunity to witness baptism in the village of Sitovichi! This is the village where our friends Lyuda and Vanya live with their family.

Picture taken on a previous trip to visit them in May
Lyuda grew up in this village and moved back there about 7 years ago, not long after marrying Vanya. Their desire to see a church in this village has not wavered despite the challenges they have faced. God has clearly been at work, but it has not been easy for them. They began as one of only two Christian families in this village. Then, God added a third Christian family about a year ago - a couple that God rescued from drug addiction through the men's and women's drug/alcohol rehabilitation centers operated by Fimiam Church.

A few years ago they were able to purchase an abandoned house in the village and begin remodeling it. They have done much of the labor themselves, but financial donations and labor have also come from churches and individuals in Ukraine and abroad. For more than a year now, they have been able to use the building for Sunday services and other church activities and more and more people now visit the church. This is a fairly rural part of Ukraine and this is the first church of any kind in Sitovichi and the only Protestant church in the region.

Vanya and Lyuda have been faithful to do the work God has called them to and God has been faithful to bless this work. Yesterday's baptism service was held at the river and was a testimony before the entire village. People came to participate in the service from Fimiam Church and another church, but many people also came from this village to watch and listen. God's Word was clearly proclaimed and two young people (Julia and Stasik) testified of God's saving work in their lives, why they were being baptized and their desire to walk with God for all their days. It was a truly beautiful day!  

Please join us in praying for more people in Sitovichi to know and follow the Lord as well as for God's sustaining grace for Vanya, Lyuda and the others serving in this village. 

Sunday, July 29, 2018


Our camp for adults with disabilities was held July13-20 and had the theme of "Shalom." We spent the week with old friends and new acquaintances. Although the week was not without some difficulties, we are very thankful for God's blessings and answers to prayers!

The forecast for the week of camp called for rain every day...a forecast that basically became a reality. We prayed for clearer weather so our friends with disabilities could spend more time outside. And we saw God answer that prayer in various ways. Sometimes it rained just as we were planning to go to the lake to swim, so our plans had to be altered. But other days it rained only while we were inside for meals or only during the night, so our plans were generally not affected. One blessing that the rain brought was that really warm temperatures - which many people with disabilities have difficulty tolerating - came only on the last day.  

Kolya got stuck for a bit out during a rain shower but he didn't mind
Another challenge we encountered was that the elevator in the facility was not working when we arrived and remained inoperable until the third day of camp. This presented a great challenge due to the large number of wheelchair users at camp, some of whom resided on the second floor. Additionally, there is no space on the first floor large enough to hold all of the participants of our camp at the same time. So it was a tremendous blessing that the first few evenings were rain-free and we were able to have our evening program outside! And what a big answer to prayer it was when the elevator was repaired and remained operational for the remainder of the week! 

We welcomed our guests to camp on the first day in festive attire and with music and smiles. We all enjoy this time of when our friends with disabilities and their family members arrive at camp. The joy is almost palpable, embraces abound, and excitement fills the air! Somehow, I managed to find myself volunteered for the "dress-up group" again this year: 

These two young girls above are growing up around people with disabilities because their parents work at Agape and/or serve in our ministry. They have a comfort level around people with disabilities that other children their age often do not. Mariika has cerebral palsy and because her speech is greatly affected, it is very difficult for many (myself included) to understand her. Not everyone attempts to converse with her. But these girls know Mariika. They not only know her, but they love her and consider her to be their friend. I just happened to be looking in the right direction when Mariika arrived at camp and these two girls ran to greet her with this enthusiastic embrace! This just may be my favorite picture from this camp.

Welcome to camp Vasya! Meet Sasha, your volunteer for the week (on the right). 
Each year, as more and more people with disabilities become our brothers and sisters in Christ, they also join our team and begin serving others with disabilities.
Our Bible lessons for the week focused on the life of Joseph. Each day we met in small groups to discuss various lessons we could learn from his life. Then during the evening program, one team had the task of depicting that day's story for the entire camp. Actors and actresses were born and everyone had a good grasp of lessons to be learned from the life of Joseph by the week's end! 

Fellow prisoners with Joseph
Lena read the narration for our skit
Joseph named second in command to Pharoah

This year marked the first time in our camp that an individual with a disability was a group leader. Kolya has been a believer for 10 years now. He has discipled new Christians and served in the ministry in various ways for many years. But this year, he agreed to be a small group leader. When I asked him about it during the camp, he said it was exhausting for him to prepare and to teach, but that he also enjoyed it very much. Praise God for how He grows and uses His children!

My small group, which also included wives and mothers of men with disabilities at the camp
One of the men's small groups - without their wives and mothers their groups were truly small and their leader reported having good discussion times
I was paired with Ira and her mother again this year. Ira is 33 years old and has cerebral palsy. She is unable to speak any words, but she comprehends much and she has ways of expressing herself. We can all accurately assess when she is happy, but other emotions, needs, and desires typically require her mother's interpretation. Ira is all about participating in anything and everything! She's ready to get out of bed first thing in the morning and wants to stay by the bonfire late at night until it burns out. She's not interested in an afternoon nap on a rainy day - something her mother and I would have welcomed a time or two! She was highly disappointed when the rain affected our activities, but she was also ready to engage in the alternative activities presented. When Ira gets excited and smiles or laughs, her happiness is contagious! It was a joy to serve this family for a week!

Morning exercises always finish with a lap around the ponds. Katya and I pushed Ira as fast as we could and she loved it!

Morning exercises take two of us to accomplish, but we have fun doing them!

Some of our fun at camp included a few hours at the lake one afternoon. The water was cool from all the rain so only a few people swam, but plenty of people went for rides on the two large rafts. And everyone enjoyed soaking up the sun while it was out!

The line for raft rides
Sveta and Olya didn't find the sun quite warm enough to necessitate removing their jackets :)
Vasya and his wife Olya both have cerebral palsy - this is their second year to come to camp and both seem to enjoy it
Andri had rehab about 3 years ago following a massive stroke and he made slow but significant progress. He and his wife, Oksana, have attended camp 3 times - this year with both of their children. Please join us in praying for God's work in this family.  
On another afternoon, we had a photo scavenger hunt game where we had to recreate scenes from Joseph's life:
When Joseph was sold into slavery, all of our wheelchair users formed the caravan of Midianites
Joseph interpreting dreams before a very happy Pharaoh
We also had plenty of free time to simply fellowship and play games together:

We enjoyed wonderful music throughout the week! One of our guests actually plays the violin professionally and she played several pieces for us one evening. We also invited two musical groups whose leaders have disabilities. In addition to playing their songs, they were able to encourage everyone through their testimonies.

As you can see, it was a great week and we thank God for His mercies and blessings! Many seeds of truth were planted this week, both in the small and large group times as well as during individual conversations. Please join us in praying for the repentance of many people who participated in this camp. Shalom!