Saturday, March 23, 2019

Oh my, how time flies!

These first months of 2019 have passed remarkably quickly and we are now slowly welcoming spring to our part of the world! I am more than happy to say "see ya later" to snow, cold, and limited daylight... 

...and "hello" to warmth, flowers, and sunshine!

In January our rehab team welcomed a new member into our family - sort of - as Ira gave birth to little Tima. They are both doing great and we are glad that we still get to see Ira from time to time - but we will have to wait 3 years for Ira's return to work at Agape as that is standard maternity leave duration in Ukraine. 

We held the final session for the third class of students at our PT Training Center in February. Five students officially graduated and two other students plan to retake certain aspects in the future in order to graduate. Teaching this group definitely presented Sveta and I with some new challenges, but God was faithful to provide and answer our prayers. One of the students, Alina, is now a member of our team, but the others all live in different regions of Ukraine so we look forward to hearing how God uses them in their communities. 

This session involved LOTs of simulated practice in an effort to help the students integrate and use everything they have learned. Sveta and I both spent plenty of time as "patients" before flipping the switch back to teachers and giving feedback and instruction.

The students living in Agape spent one of the final evenings at our house, fellowship and sharing God's work in each of our lives. I am thankful for the friendships God has given us with them. 
Graduation Day!
These students were super kind and generous, giving rocking chairs to each of us! 
Prayer before parting ways
Sveta and I were excited to finish this session for several reasons, not the least of which was that we headed out as quickly as we could with several members of our rehab team for a weekend in the mountains! For most of us skiing was the primary agenda, but Sveta says she thoroughly enjoyed her days at the cabin and serving as the cook for our crew. Our rehab friends are more and more like family and we truly love spending time together. This brief 2-day trip was no exception. God blessed us with beautiful sunny days and no injuries and we are ready to make it an annual trip!

Night skiing

Agape hosted a team of nursing students and professors from America in early March and Sveta and I got to open our home to two of the students. We enjoyed getting to know these girls and get to invest in their lives for a few days.

With the assistance of this team from America, our ministry held a 3-day camp for families in which the husband, wife or both have a disability. We were not present, but it has been exciting to hear how many of our former patients were in attendance. The testimonies about how beneficial their time at Agape was in their lives - for more than just physical rehabilitation - have been encouraging for the entire team. Rehabilitation is not always as successful as we would like it to be in altering the present lives of our patients, but we always have the opportunity to be instruments used by our mighty God to change lives for eternity! 

Prayer Requests:

- The presidential election in Ukraine on March 31

- The students who recently graduated from the PT Training Center. For God to use them in their work and for them to appropriately apply the knowledge and skills they've learned to help those in their communities.

- For the next class of students at the PT Training Center. We have received less applications than in previous years and are also being more selective. As a result, we have now postponed the first session for this class twice and we still do not have a full class. Please pray for the class to form according to God's timing and to be composed of those whom God would have us to teach.

- Agape: For God's provision of employees and finances and for God's love and truth to pour out through His people to those who come through our doors. Also for the future growth that our leaders believe is God's will for Agape - for exactly what that looks like and how and when to take steps forward.

Thank you to those who pray for us and the ministry here!

Come on spring! We're ready for ya...

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Christmas - Round 1

Merry Christmas from Ukraine!!!!! What a fun week we have had here with "round 1" of celebrating Christmas! Ukraine now recognizes two official dates for Christmas: December 25 and January 7, so we are doubly blessed to get to celebrate the birth of our Savior.

We began the week by cooking dinner for the residents of Agape on Sunday evening. One of our cooks recently had surgery so our administrator asked us to help fill her void for a meal. In turn, we asked our new friends Larry and Tammy (who moved to Lutsk a few months ago from Texas) to join us and together we prepared a burrito buffet. While it turned out a little spicy for Ukrainian palates, everyone seemed to enjoy trying something new and we enjoyed the opportunity to serve them.

On Christmas Eve, we managed to finish our work day a little early and hosted our rehab team for the evening at our house. It was a cold, snowy evening and we enjoyed a fire, good food, fellowship, games, and presents. We truly feel like a family so had a great time together. We even had "family" devotions, reading from Luke 2 about the birth of Christ before enjoying our meal.

Cookie decorating contest
Not quite everyone

There was no need to sing about dreaming of a white Christmas as we actually had one this year! Most of the day we got to enjoy watching big, beautiful snowflakes fall.

Although December 25 is now an official holiday, Agape was still full of patients and so we went to work. Sveta and I got to cut out a little early though and enjoy a meal with Larry and Tammy on their first Christmas here. I am so thankful for these new friends! I enjoy getting to fellowship, share joys and challenges, and laugh together with people from my own culture. It's something that I haven't had since moving to Ukraine in 2014. I love my Ukrainian friends and enjoy spending time with them, so I have never really dwelt on the "absence" of Americans in my life here. But now that I have been able to spend some time with Larry and Tammy over the past few months, I am really thankful for our developing friendship and can see that it is a gracious gift from God. 

After a Christmas evening service at Fimiam Church, we made a spontaneous decision to go out for pizza with Pasha and Katya and then enjoyed a walk through a portion of the beautifully decorated center of Lutsk. 

Thursday evening was the final meeting of the New Opportunities Club for 2018. Current and former patients as well as friends from camp and other spheres came Agape to enjoy the evening together. Christmas songs, preaching about the birth of Christ, games, gifts and food filled the evening.

Today (yes Saturday) was our final work day and Agape is now closed until January 9. We finished our day - and year - with an employee Christmas/end of year celebration this afternoon. It was a time for remembering all the God's blessings and provisions in 2018 at Agape and looking ahead to 2019. 

As I personally look back on 2018, I see much to be thankful for in my own life and I continue to be excited to be right where I am doing exactly what I'm doing! What a privilege to be a child of God and what a joy it has been (and will be again soon for us in Ukraine) to celebrate the birth of our Savior!

"For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." 
Luke 2:11

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Fall flew by!

The fall months here were full and fast and here's a taste of how we spent our time...

A small group of us went to spend a day with our friend Vasya for his birthday. It was a beautiful fall day, full of fellowship, food, and a walk in the nearby forest. 

Our crew of strollers and mushrooms hunters
No we didn't visit a pumpkin patch. We just found a pile of pumpkins in the yard near the wagon used to collect them and other vegetables from the garden. Pretty typical sight in a Ukrainian village in fall. 
Letting Vasya know ahead of time that we would bring food did not stop his mom from working well into the night to prepare quite a spread...that's Ukrainian hospitality!!
Enjoying the beauty of God's creation with friends
Their barn is stocked up for winter
We needed to do some winter preparation of our own, so a friend borrowed the chain saw from Agape and cut up all the leftover lumber from Sveta's house construction. It took us a couple of weekends, but it seems like we now have enough wood chopped and stacked to last the winter. 

And we have already had several warm fires in the wood stove!!

Our rehab team grew briefly to nine this fall before dropping back to eight. Alina, a student in the current class at our PT Training Center, joined us full-time in October. She helps with secretarial duties while also functioning as an assistant/student under Sveta's supervision until she completes our program in March. She has expressed a desire to do occupational therapy and we are grateful as we had to bid farewell to Ira in November. Ira was a long-time member of our ministry and our rehab team, but she is now on maternity leave in anticipation of the birth of her first son in January. We are sad to see her go, but excited for her and her husband and look forward to loving on their little boy!

Please join us as we continue to pray for more men to join our rehab team
Night out together in Ira's honor
We continue to have a full schedule of patients and a consistently long waiting list. Most of the patients this fall had recent traumas or strokes and we saw much progress during their rehabilitation. We use the LiteGait/treadmill many hours each day and see that many of our patients benefit from it. We first tried out the device with Evnika (below) and she then continued to use it almost every day for the 7 weeks she underwent rehabilitation at Agape. Evnika is 16 years old and had several strokes as well as brain surgery earlier this year. She was a joy to work with and was willing to try anything we asked of her. She really benefitted from using this device to improve her gait, endurance, balance and confidence. She is now back home, but we continue to hear from her periodically and are excited to see how she continues to improve. And maybe one day she will return to work at Agape as she now has a desire to become an occupational therapist. 

Veeka is our only OT at the moment - she has grown SO much in these past 2 years
With the addition of the LiteGait, I had more opportunities to participate in patient care these past few months. We often need two people to assist a patient with walking properly on the treadmill, so I have been spending most of my time there. I also got to fill in for sick therapists a time or two. I love being out in the therapy gym and not always tucked behind a computer screen! Below is Natasha Bolchuk's mom who fell off a ladder, fracturing her arm and spine. She spent almost 2 months in a horizontal position and this picture was taken the first time she got up on her feet. She is one tough and determined lady! We gave her a few pointers, a bit of assistance and the right equipment, and she took it from there. Before she left she was walking all over the third floor of Agape with only her husband by her side. We are soo thankful for the Lord's mercies, protection, and healing in her life!

Sveta recently took a patient outside while it was snowing for a little "real life" gait training!
We recently completed the third session for the third group of students at the PT Training Center. There were a variety of challenges over the two weeks, but God was gracious to give us wisdom and perseverance and we pray the students will fully understand and retain what they were taught. We will have a chance to find out when they return for their final session in February!

Alina, the newest member of our Agape rehab team

No one has bigger smiles than us on the final day!
We recently held another meeting of the New Opportunities Club at Agape. This is a time for people with disabilities to come together and enjoy fellowship, food, and a program. So many people attended and it was a joy to see friends from camp, former patients, and new friends/patients. Truth from God's Word was shared and we pray it bears fruit in the lives of those present. 

This lady had rehab with Sveta several years ago and then was my roommate at camp that summer. We love her and it was a joy to see her and hug her neck!
It's always a joy to see Ira and her mom
We celebrated Thanksgiving with our Ukrainian family - aka the rehab team - and had a wonderful time! It fell in the middle of the session so the entire team had to pitch in as Sveta and I were teaching until 6:00. Everything was delicious and we enjoyed the both the food and fellowship, as well as many games of Ligretto with the loser rotating out each hand. Vadim was out of town so Pasha was the lone man, but he handled it fine...he's had plenty of practice at work since Vadim is only with us until lunch each day anyway. Again, please be in prayer for more men to join our team!

I'm so thankful for these people!
For those who may be wondering, our region of Ukraine is not under martial law and is largely unaffected by the recent rise in tensions with Russia. Of course, we are praying for peace and remaining attentive, but we are thankful that our region remains safe at this time. We would appreciate your prayers for the nation, leaders, people and churches of Ukraine. Pray that this added conflict will bring more Ukrainians to God and that His people will be bold to proclaim the hope found in Him alone. 

May you all have a blessed season of celebrating the Savior's birth!