Sunday, June 14, 2020

Two steps forward, one step back...

Well, in this case it was actually "two weeks of work, one week off." Agape was open for two weeks of outpatient rehabilitation and then had to close again as that format was simply not sustainable. Thankfully, however, we only closed for one week and tomorrow reopen with our normal inpatient rehabilitation format. Of course, our work will not be completely "normal." There will be less residents in the building initially, new guidelines for how we work, and all employees and residents have undergone/will undergo testing for COVID-19, but we are excited to be taking this step back toward normalcy.

Of course, opening Agape is not without risk. Ukraine is still in the process of easing the quarantine restrictions and the number of people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Ukraine actually hit record highs this past week. Much prayer and discussion went into the decision to open Agape and much prayer and discussion will need to continue as we begin our work. Our trust is in God to provide, protect, and guide! We ask you to join us in prayer!

In other news, summer finally hit here - at least for one week! Warm, sunny days were a welcome change and the week off from work allowed us to travel to visit friends and spend plenty of time outside.

Late spring and early summer in Ukraine are truly beautiful as everything grows and blossoms. Tulip season (my favorite) is now behind us. Wheat fields have taken on a lighter green color and are now often dotted with red poppies. The bright yellow canola fields of May are gone, but large fields of sunflowers will emerge before long. The sky provides some incredible views and rainbows can often be seen after the rain, particularly here in the village. I hope you enjoy seeing some of Ukraine's beauty...

"And the waving wheat, it sure smells sweet..." from "Oklahoma" suddenly popped into my head while taking this picture. I have yet to smell that sweetness but I do enjoy the beauty of the rolling wheat fields!

While this may not be part of the "beauty of Ukraine," shooting around on this little court in our village park has brought me some extra joy lately. Now to convince some friends to join me!
In closing, I want to thank those who responded to the request to help us raise the salaries of our therapists. God has used you to answer our prayer and we believe we now have adequate funds to raise their salaries beginning in July. The caregivers are the next group of employees for whom our administration wants to raise salaries. These men and women work 24-hour shifts every 3-4 days to care for the residents and patients of Agape. They help them dress, eat, bathe, transfer to and from wheelchairs, turn in bed, go for walks...whatever the need is, they are there to help fill it. It is physically taxing work, but the opportunities to share the gospel with patients are also abundant. If you would be interested in helping to raise the salaries of our caregivers, please contact me ( and we will discuss how that is possible. Please join us in prayer for God's provision of this need.

Also, we would ask for prayer for summer camps for adults and children with disabilities. They were on, then one was cancelled, then both were cancelled, and now they are both back on. Please pray for the leadership teams of both camps to have wisdom and discernment as to whether they should hold the camps and if so, what they should look like in these partial-quarantine days were are living.

Nearly three months of closure at Agape is coming to an end and it's back to work we go!
God is good!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Moving forward!!!

Like most, if not all, of you we have started to see an easing of the quarantine restrictions here in Ukraine! Although we are still only in the first phase, we are extremely grateful for the changes. We are also thankful for God's mercy that the situation in Ukraine with COVID-19 did not look like some of the other European countries (over 18,000 cases, 514 deaths) It is definitely an answer to prayer.

Here's a quick rundown of some of our quarantine activities:

- An early morning rise to catch a beautiful sunrise by the river in our village

- Lots walks and runs, finding new paths and witnessing more and more of God's beauty in His creation. Spring in Ukraine is truly beautiful!!

- Planting a garden (sorry, no pictures)

- Road trip to bring one of our therapists back to Lutsk (no public transportation) and stopping to get cool, spring water!

- Two drive-in church services at Fimiam, including on Easter. For those without cars, live-streaming was still available. It was great to people, even if only from the car.

- As the restrictions have eased here, we have hosted and visited friends more and more. SO good to see and fellowship with friends again.

My home church gathered yesterday to grill out!

- And we completed a 2-week session with the 4th class of the PT Training Center! The first week was conducted via Zoom and after a 2-week break we all gathered at Agape for the second week. We finished the session with 7 students and they did great, despite the unusual format. 

Veeka, one of our OTs, participated in the teaching 
With no residents at Agape, we used anyone we could find in the building to give our students more practice. Olya now tells everyone how she "donated her body to science!"
Lunch breaks were spent driving electric wheelchairs since they have gone unused for almost 2 months. 

Now it's time to move forward from the strict quarantine and Agape has a plan! Starting May 25, Agape will reopen with a temporary new format. We will be treating patients on an outpatient basis, so there will be no residents and fewer employees in the building. Only patients who live nearby and can provide their own transportation or choose to use ours will come and go each day. Of course, this means that not all patients on the waiting list will be given the opportunity to have rehabilitation in the beginning, but it's a start and we hope it will not be a lengthy period. We have been praying for wisdom to know how and when Agape can reopen and I believe this is an answer to that prayer! Please continue to pray with us that God would protect all who come through Agape in the coming weeks and that we would be discerning to know when we can return to our standard operating procedures. 

Please also continue to pray with us for the financial needs of Agape. Being closed for 2 months naturally means we have generated no income and with 50+ employees this has a huge impact on many, many lives. There is a desire to increase the salaries of all of our employees, but at this time there is a particular need to do so for our therapists. We have a great therapy team right now! They have learned so much and gained invaluable experience over the past few years together at Agape. Losing any one of them would have a huge impact on our department and Agape as a whole. Unfortunately, in order to keep the cost of rehabilitation as affordable as possible for patients, Agape cannot continually raise the salaries of our employees. It is truly a difficult situation. 

I consider each of our employees to be a domestic missionary. I witness frequent, often daily, conversations in our rehab gym about God or the Bible. God uses our therapists not only to impact patients physically, but also spiritually. I understand this is a difficult time financially for many people, but if you believe God is leading you to help support one of these Ukrainian missionaries, please contact me ( and we will discuss how that is possible. Even a small amount can have a huge impact since their salaries are roughly $300-475/month. If you cannot or do not feel you should give financially, please pray with us that God would provide this need and continue to provide for Agape and all of its employees in the future. Thank you to all who stand with us in prayer! May your life join the heavens in testifying of God!

"The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork." 
Ps 19:1

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Quarantining in Ukraine

Like the rest of the world, COVID-19 is impacting all spheres of our lives and we are experiencing unusual days here in Ukraine. We live under ever-increasing government-issued restrictions as the number of people infected by the virus increases. At the time of this writing, Ukraine has 1251 confirmed cases and 32 deaths with the peak currently predicted to occur on April 14-15.

So what does quarantine look like in Ukraine?

Like most of you, we have been instructed to stay home, practice social distancing, limit trips to the grocery store, pharmacy and bank (nothing else is open besides gas stations and post offices) and not gather in groups of more than 10. All educational establishments are closed, but not all have implemented a form of online learning. Many grocery stores require people to line up outside, allowing one person in only when one person comes out. All forms of public transportation have ceased. In a country in which so many people rely on public transportation, both within the city and between cities/villages, this had an immediate positive impact on social distancing.

Those were our restrictions for the past few weeks, but additional restrictions will soon go into effect. Starting tomorrow, we can be in public only alone or in pairs, must be wearing masks and carrying identification and are forbidden to visit parks, recreational areas, playgrounds, and squares. People over the age of 60 are strongly encouraged not to leave their homes or have any visitors. There are also checkpoints set up at the entrance/exit roads to Lutsk and our broader region of Ukraine. We must pass through one when we go to/from Lutsk from our village of Boratyn. At our checkpoint, they have rarely stopped anyone, mostly just watching as the cars drive by slowly. But we did go through another checkpoint this week that stopped every car. The officer asked if we had any health complaints and when we did not he sent us on our way! 

Our checkpoint
So what do our lives look like with the restrictions in place? 

No work at Agape: The Agape Rehabilitation Complex closed 2 weeks ago and will remain so until at least April 24 (the current end-date for the government-issued quarantine). If the government extends the quarantine, we also will extend our period of closure. We are saddened by the impact this has on the patients who are not receiving rehabilitation, as well as on Agape and the employees who will be financially impacted the longer this continues. It is also sad to look out our window and see a lifeless Agape during the day and a dark Agape at night. Praying that Agape will be full again and we return to serving people with disabilities soon.
No gathering for church-related activities: Fimiam Church has moved completely to an online format using live-streaming and Zoom. God is giving our pastors much wisdom to lead the church in this unusual time. One of our church members tested positive for the virus yesterday and is in the hospital. Some of her family members also have symptoms and are self-isolating at home for now. The church territory is completely locked down for the next 4 days as her son works as a church security guard and was in the building this week after having contact with his parents.

Spending our days at home: We spend our time on individual projects (I am trying to study Ukrainian and complete as many CEU hours as I can), work around the house (we have completed several deep cleaning tasks and a vegetable garden is in the works), projects for Agape (translating a book and scanning documentation) and other activities. Runs/walks take place regularly. Oh, that is a big piece of news for me! I started running at the beginning of March for the first time since before the spinal leak last summer and I feel great! Well, the first few runs were definitely difficult and short, but now I am increasing my distances and feeling good. I am extremely grateful to be running again! 

So what other plans do we have? 

Our rehab team is planning to implement a version of telehealth this week for patients on the waiting list for rehab. If their injury or diagnosis occurred in the last 3 months, we will offer them the opportunity to have a video consultation with a therapist and receive recommendations/education. It will be interesting to see how it goes, but we believe it can be beneficial. 

Before the quarantine, we were scheduled to hold the first 2-week session for the fourth class of students at our PT Training Center beginning on April 21. Unfortunately, this can no longer take place at Agape, but we now plan to conduct one-week of online teaching using a format such as Zoom. Although it is not ideal and we will surely encounter difficulties, we think we can cover enough material in this format so that we will only need to complete the second week at a later time when we are allowed to be together at Agape. The online portion will most likely take place the week of April 20. 

As all of you, we continue to pray for God's mercy, protection, and wisdom as we navigate these days. 

Please join us in prayer for these specific requests:

- Financial provision for Agape and the employees during this period of closure.

- The implementation of video consultations with patients by our therapists. That we can truly provide beneficial consultations using this method and that there would be opportunities to speak to patients and their family members about God and the hope they can find in Him, especially during these tense days.

- The plans for a week of online teaching for our PT Training Center. That we can utilize the technology well so that our students will truly be able to learn the material presented.

- For God to heal Lyudmila - the Fimiam church member with coronavirus - and to protect her family and others who had contact with her.

-  For God to give us wisdom in how to use this time at home for His glory!

We are praying for you and covet your prayers for us! 

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Time to Break the Silence

It's going on 6 months since my last post, so this is long overdue and I apologize for the silence on my end. Some of what transpired over these months was completely normal and expected, such as camp for adults with disabilities, work at Agape, celebrations of life events and holidays, etc. And some of what transpired was completely abnormal and unexpected.

Camp for adults with disabilities occurred way back at the end of July. I was once again paired with Ira and her mom for the week and Glory Blankenship also assisted us, more so as camp went on. The theme was "One Way" and the camp was attended by 42 adults with disabilities, including recent patients at Agape, old friends and new acquaintances. 

It was during this week camp that things took an unexpected turn for me. What had been daily, nagging headaches for a week or more leading up to camp turned into severe pounding headaches in vertical positions. The condensed version of the story is that I spent the remainder of camp in a horizontal or reclined position and drinking high amounts of caffeine (doctor's orders!). I was able to get an MRI in a nearby city which confirmed the preliminary diagnosis of spontaneous intracranial hypotension due to a cerebrospinal fluid leak in the spine. Back in Lutsk after camp we searched for treatment options in Ukraine and Europe, but that yielded no rapid options and within a few days Sveta and I were on a flight to Tulsa. We arrived on Friday, I was admitted to the hospital on Sunday, a blood patch was successfully done on Monday afternoon, and I was discharged home on Tuesday. There was a period of recovery which included taking it easy for a couple of months. By late September I was allowed to begin easing back into activity and in October the neurologist released me to return to Ukraine, which I did on October 31.  

Ira participated in my "horizontal positioning" during our small group Bible study sessions at camp. 
Awaiting discharge from the hospital in Tulsa
During this time, God's hand was so clearly at work in my life and the events and people around me. One example is the timing of the onset of severe headaches. Being at camp in a village was actually a blessing because the nearest MRI machine produces higher quality scans than most, if not all, of those in Lutsk. Because it was a clear, high-quality MRI, an accurate diagnosis was made long-distance and having this evidence already in hand when I landed in the US was helpful in the rapid hospitalization and treatment I received. Another life detail that God orchestrated was the difficulty we have had over the past year with forming the 4th class of students for the PT Training Center. Since November/December of 2018, we have had only four applicants who met our admission criteria so we had to postpone the start of this class three times. According to our original schedule, we would have held a session in August and it would have been necessary to adjust the schedule at the last minute due to this medical issue. It's a seemingly small detail that God was orchestrating months before the headaches even began. At the present time, we now have 7 qualified applicants and can schedule the first session of the 4th class as soon as we get one more! 

So many brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in Ukraine and America prayed for, encouraged, assisted, and blessed me. From prayers, to calls, to texts/cards of encouragement, to financial gifts, to business class airline tickets, to the loaning of a car, to meals - the list goes on and I will surely leave someone/something out. I AM deeply grateful for the care and love of my Heavenly Father and His children! Thank you to all who cared for and about me during this time!

I have now resumed all of my responsibilities at Agape and returned to a fully active lifestyle, with running (which I hope to resume in the spring) as the only exception. I am tremendously grateful that God restored my health so quickly and pray that the spinal leak does not return.

We continue to have plenty of work at Agape and many, many people on the waiting list for rehabilitation. We prioritize those whose injury or diagnosis occurred in the past 3 months. Previously people did not seek rehabilitation so quickly, but now the majority of our patients fit that time frame.

Our leadership continues to look for ways to expand Agape, both to allow more patients to have rehabilitation as well as for more people to have temporary residence and care. Plots of land surrounding Agape were purchased this summer and construction ideas are being discussed. Please join us in praying for the wisdom, finances and timing to expand Agape. The need is great and we want to be good stewards of the resources, personnel, and knowledge God has given us. Above all, we want more and more people with disabilities and their families to have the opportunity to hear the gospel and repent!

I'm sorry about the poor quality photos below, but this was Thanksgiving with our rehab team! We had a pretty traditional spread and dinner was followed by relaxation and games. I think these Ukrainians are getting the hang of celebrating American Thanksgiving! I love these people and was glad to get to share this holiday celebration with them.

As 2019 wraps up soon, I look back with gratitude and awe over the Lord's mercy and blessings in my life! And I am thankful for the brothers and sisters He has put in my life, both in Ukraine and America!

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them a light shone." Isaiah 9:2

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 
Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

All the happenings...

The past few months have been busy with both ordinary life and out of the ordinary events. We are now enjoying a wonderful Ukrainian summer and gearing up for camps later in July. But first, a little of what has been going on...

The warmer weather has brought more and more opportunities to host friends and acquaintances at our house. Sveta's home group meets here every Wednesday and recently enjoyed a cookout on the back porch...

Members of our therapy team typically come over a couple times a month for dinner followed by some educational session. For the summer, though, we have suspended the therapy education and they have instead been getting an education on how to play American football!

Sometimes friends from Agape will come over for a few hours in the evening and this week my home group will come over for a cookout. It has been a joy to be able to host people and we are very grateful for God's provision of this place!

We have also had the opportunity to enjoy God's beautiful creation and some of the beautiful cities of Ukraine. Sveta and I enjoyed a spring sunrise (before the sun started coming up at 5:00 as it does now!) by the river on the other side of our village.

We did some traveling around Ukraine while the bright yellow fields were in bloom.

During a recent long holiday weekend we took a 2-day trip with Larry and Tammy to see Lviv, Ternopil and the ruins of a castle. It was fun to see some new areas of Ukraine and spend time with these friends.

And we've enjoyed the beauty of God's nature as seen from our own back porch...

May held a couple of fun events. The first and most exciting was the wedding of our friend Vasya. Vasya is a quadriplegic and he first came for rehabilitation in 2015 and then attended camp that summer as well. He repented at camp in 2016 and was baptized the following year. He has also stayed at Agape for a couple of extended periods to undergo treatment for pressure sores, but his home was with his parents in the village where the Fimiam's retreat center is located. His home conditions allowed him very little independence, but he sought every possibility to maximize it. God brought Oksana into his life last year. She lives in another city and attends a church whose pastor is known by many in our ministry. It really is an amazing story of God's providence in the lives of these two people, first bringing them to Himself and then to each other. Earlier this year Vasya moved to Oksana's city to try living on his own for a few months before their wedding. That is an amazing accomplishment for just about any quadriplegic in any country, but particularly for one living in a small Ukrainian city. He succeeded and now he and Oksana are married...and have two children (Oksana's)! We were so excited to witness their union and look forward to watching how God uses their family!

The other event in May for me was a trip to Sweden to attend the European Spinal Cord Injury Congress. I met several new contacts that may be beneficial to us in the future, got permission to translate and distribute a booklet about diet and health for people with spinal cord injuries (which will be very helpful as there are not many written resources in Ukrainian related to spinal cord injury), and learned some new information to share with our team. I was also able to spend a few days with a friend from Ukraine who now lives there and showed me around a bit. 

Update on Agape: We continue providing rehabilitation and temporary housing for people with disabilities. We have again postponed the beginning of the next class of students at the PT Training Center as we wait for a full class. In the meantime, I stay busy assisting our therapists and managing office work for our department. I love being out in the therapy gym and interacting with the patients!

Just this past week we celebrated the Agape's anniversary! Three years have already passed since our opening and we celebrated by recalling God's blessings to us over the past year and praying together over specific requests from each department. Then we had a celebration dinner with the current residents of Agape. Sergiy and Natasha Bolchuk shared their story and how the idea of Agape was born and became a reality. God's work in and through it all was clearly communicated so we continue to pray for God's work in the lives of those who were listening. And we look forward with great anticipation to what the coming year holds!

One of our prayer requests for the past few months has been to sell a limousine that was donated to us by a local businessman. We used it during the Night to Shine event we hosted in February and then were told if we could sell it we could use the money to buy a wheelchair accessible bus. Our current buses routinely break down, consuming both time and money, so we have been praying and searching for the possibility to buy a new bus for some time. And the limo has been parked behind Agape since February, waiting for a buyer. We prayed again about it collectively on Tuesday during the anniversary celebration. And by Friday not only had the limo been sold, but a fully equipped bus was already standing in our parking lot that our leaders say we will likely purchase! God is good!

That's pretty much the scoop on the happenings over here. Camps are quickly approaching with family retreat July 16-21 and camp for adults with disabilities July 23-27. Please join us in praying for those camps. Sveta and I will work at Agape during family retreat and then serve at the adult camp. Several former Agape patients are planning to attend so we are praying for God's saving work in their lives. Looking back on the past few months I am grateful to see God's clear hand at work in and around me and I look ahead with great anticipation for what He will continue to do!

I didn't take this pic but it does reflect the beauty of an early summer evening in Ukraine!