Monday, August 6, 2018

Baptism

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

Shalom

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!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Time to play catch up!

Wow, it's been a really long time since my last post and far too much has happened to share it all, but I'll do my best to hit the highlights and then post more frequently in the future. I had a wonderful time in the US for the months of October through March. I got to spend precious time with family and friends, visit with many people who support me and the ministry, share about our ministry with new individuals and groups, work part-time, attend continuing education, purchase supplies for our ministry, and simply rest. It was so relaxing and freeing to be surrounded by English 100% of the time: to always understand what is being said to me and around me, to converse freely - even with strangers, to not have to fight for language comprehension during a sermon or miss a few sentences because someone walked down the aisle and I took my total focus off the preacher, to have instant comprehension of what I read in a store or while driving, to be able to express myself in both simple and deep conversations without sounding like a small child, to be able to keep up with all the cross conversations that happen when a group of people are gathered together. Those are all struggling points for me in Ukraine and the ease of communication I found while in the US was not only a breath of fresh air, but also gave me a renewed motivation to push on in learning Ukrainian, to strive for the ability to understand and be understood in Ukraine. By God's grace, I see progress in this area, so thank you to those who have prayed in the past and continue to pray.

I returned to Ukraine during the first week of April and was welcomed by many of my closest Ukrainian friends when my bus arrived in Lutsk!


Shortly after my arrival we held the first session for the third group of students at our PT Training Center. Eight students from six different cities in Ukraine were in attendance. As a whole, this was the best group of students as far as learning the pre-session material for the first day. They continued to be eager to learn throughout our session and we look forward to welcoming them back for the second session in August.

Opening our session in prayer


Pasha participated in teaching again
Sveta was present to translate and also help with teaching
The students often studied late into the night with Henry


The Agape Rehabilitation Complex continues to be full of patients. We are so grateful that people are beginning to seek rehab sooner rather than later after surgeries, strokes or injuries as it often gives them greater potential to progress. Not long ago a local neurosurgeon called Sveta to request rehabilitation for a man who had received a spinal cord injury just days prior in a diving accident. He had undergone surgery the day before and the surgeon actually asked Sveta to first come to the hospital to educate the staff and the family and then to accept him to Agape as soon as possible. So many secondary problems that patients with spinal cord injury often encounter here in Ukraine can be prevented by early education, but we rarely have the opportunity to give it. This was that rare opportunity and that man is now receiving the early rehabilitation he needs. Praise the Lord! And we are also considering how to propose providing further education for the hospital staff.

Life outside of work has also been busy since my return. While I was in the US, Sveta moved into her new house in the village of Boratyn. So we now live directly behind Agape and have an extremely short commute to work.

Agape - taken from our driveway
Our house is the gray one left of center - taken from Agape
Life in the village is a bit different. The closest store is a 20-minute walk and carries only some essentials. Going to and from Lutsk requires planning according to the bus schedule.

Walking home after a trip to Lutsk for groceries
My running routes have become very limited since we have few paved roads in our immediate region. I sometimes run the dirt paths and roads through and near the forest, but they can be a bit treacherous and isolating.

Sveta walked in the vicinity of my first run so we could explore the area together, but she hasn't joined me since!

While there may be less convenience living in a village, there are also some wonderful aspects that we love! We have the possibility to be outside at any time - to sit on the back porch and enjoy the quiet or to take walks along the train tracks or through the nearby forest.






Hanging out on the back porch on a Sunday afternoon!
We also get to take in the beautiful nature around us and I can tell you that the skies over Ukraine in summer do not disappoint! The heavens declare the glory of God!









An obvious difference between apartment life and life in a house is that we now have yard work. Actually we just have weeds but they too must be controlled to some extent. Since we have nowhere to store a lawnmower yet, we recently borrowed tools from Agape to "cut" our high weeds. Then one of the men from Agape brought over the lawnmower and mowed it shorter for us. So now not only do I know the difference between a sickle and a scythe, I have successfully used them both.



And best of all, we now have a place that is fully accessible to all of our friends! No more steps or narrow elevators that sometimes get turned off or break. We have ramps to the front and back doors and a wide open floor plan. We look forward to the opportunity to host more and more of our friends in this home!


Other adventures this spring included spending an afternoon at a tulip festival at a nearby nursery. I particularly enjoyed this since tulips are my favorite flower!



My mom came for a 5-week visit and we thoroughly enjoyed having her!!!  In addition to our days spent at Agape, we managed a weekend getaway to Lublin, Poland, a Sunday with friends at their church and home in the village, meals with local friends, and some adventures around Lutsk:
Sveta and I lived with Lyuda (red jacket) years ago before she married and before we moved to the US.


Lublin, Poland




Dinner with friends in Lutsk
Sveta's mom came for a weekend too!

Lunch break at Agape
Lutsk train station - mom and I were headed to the Kyiv airport
And for the final bit of news, we are blessed to now own a car! I had the opportunity to travel to Germany last weekend to shop for a car. Three men graciously assisted me with transportation, lodging, and the selection and purchase of a car. The importation process was completed last night and we are officially legal to hit the streets. The car is a 2013 Skoda Fabia and we are SO blessed to have it. We will easily be able to put 1-2 wheelchairs in the back when transporting our friends with disabilities. We hope that this car will not only serve our needs, but open up further opportunities for us to serve others. Thank you to those who supported and prayed for the purchase of this car! We are so thankful for God's provision!



On Thursday, we head to camp for adults with disabilities which runs until July 20. Then camp for families of children with disabilities will run July 22-28. Please join us in prayer for these camps. This time of year is always a highlight for many of us, but we want it to be so much more than just fun for those who attend. Many of them are not believers and we are praying for their repentance above all else, so please join us. More to come when we return from camp!