Sunday, June 19, 2022

Approaching 4 months

The war in Ukraine has now exceeded 115 days and will hit the 4-month mark later this week. Thousands of lives have been lost and millions have been altered, to say the least. The number of soldiers wounded or killed rise with each new day. Civilians continue to flee the zones of active fighting in search of safety. The majority of those who fled earlier are still unable to return home as their cities are occupied by the Russian forces and/or their homes are destroyed. The fighting is primarily confined to the east and we are keenly aware that we must be grateful for the current safety we experience here in Lutsk and in western Ukraine in general. Periodic air raid sirens and strikes on locations within a few hours of us remind us that our "safety" is far from guaranteed. Below is a map of Ukraine, posted on social media a few nights ago shows a moment when the air raid sirens were going off in almost every region of Ukraine simultaneously. This is not uncommon. 


So while the fighting is currently in the eastern side of Ukraine, no region of Ukraine gets to live in peace at all times. Please, please continue to remember Ukraine and pray for Ukrainians! The war likely does not get the attention it once did in the news, but it does rage on and people's lives are at stake. Below are a few pictures of lives altered or ended because of the war. The first few stories are of people I do not know personally, but who are representative of so very many Ukrainians. Please let these brief stories serve as a reminder that while the war has negative ripple affects all around the world, on the economy, on prices, on the availability of various products, it is most important to not forget the direct and lasting impact it has had and continues to have on the lives of Ukrainians. 

First is a family, a mom and her twins. They were at the train station in western Ukraine trying to evacuate when it was hit by a missile. Their physical wounds are evident. One can only imagine the emotional and psychological wounds they have as well. They were successfully evacuated to western Ukraine for medical treatment and very likely on to Europe. Lives altered, drastically altered by the war...


Next is a little girl who will now grow up without her father, a soldier killed in the war. On her first birthday, her mother took to visit her father's fresh grave. A life altered, drastically altered by the war...


Next are funerals for men from our local region. So many soldiers' lives lost in the war and so many families now without a son, husband, father, brother...




And now for a few stories of people with whom I am acquainted. 


Ihor is one of three wounded soldiers currently undergoing rehabilitation at Agape. When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Ihor immediately volunteered. He is 59 years old and had served in the army when he was younger, but that was more than 30 years ago. He was injured just one week into the war when a mine exploded, resulting in a spinal cord injury as well as other injuries. When he arrived at Agape, he stated that his goal was to get back on his feet "because I still have business to finish with the enemy." While he is not likely to achieve that goal due to the extent of his injury, he is working hard to be maximally independent in all spheres of life while using a wheelchair. Please follow this link to see an article, pictures, and a video about Ihor published by a local station this past week. 

https://suspilne.media/251101-nogi-neruhomi-ale-a-mau-nadiu-ak-na-volini-prohodit-reabilitaciu-odin-z-poranenih-bijciv/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=ps&fbclid=IwAR04oYA5cfJajFAubxBNyD5Pbgla2ghNEJ_DCN2j7kLoMAlFE67DF5wQTec



Above is Danik who was a patient at Agape early last fall. He has a spinal cord injury from a gunshot. Since he is only 9 (probably 10 by now) he was accompanied by a parent, in this case his father, during his stay at Agape. Just this past week, his family member called to ask if he could return for more rehab as he has now had a needed surgery. When we asked if his father would be with him, we were deeply saddened to learn that he had been killed in the war after sending his wife and children to safety in Europe before joining the fighting. So many children are now without fathers, but the shock and sadness go to a deeper level when you have become acquainted with child and his now deceased father. More lives devastated by the war...

While leaving church today I ran into Baba Luba in the parking lot. She and her husband, who is in a wheelchair, lived at Agape for a few weeks back in April and we became acquainted at that time. They are probably in their 70s and were evacuated to Agape from eastern Ukraine. She, her husband, and another family not related to them were assisted to find a house in a village not far from Lutsk. One of our friends went to pick them up for church today and I enjoyed visiting with Baba Luba briefly. She expressed her desire to see the war end and to be able to return home. Despite losing everything and living in a completely new place, I realized that she did not complain once during our conversation. Instead, she expressed gratitude to all who have helped her, including Agape, and stated how many kind people were around her even now in their new village home. Her life has been drastically altered as well, but she demonstrated a heart of trust in God even in her difficult circumstances. 

I share the pictures and stories above to demonstrate the personal nature of the war. They are just a drop in the ocean of stories that could be told of lives altered and devastated by the war. But despite all that we see and hear as the war continues, God is still on His throne and is still worthy of our trust. We petition Him for a Ukrainian victory, for protection of our soldiers and civilians, for wisdom for our president and other government leaders, as well as the leaders of the other nations assisting Ukraine, for thwarting of the plans of the enemy, and for provision of daily needs such as food, clothing, and medicine. Please join us in these prayers and more. 

If you desire to financially assist Agape in meeting needs, there are two options for doing so: 
1. Go to https://www.agapeukraine.com/en/golovna-english/ and click on the "Donate" button
2. Christian Health Service Corps: Text CHSCUkraine to 41444 or at bit.ly/CHSCUkraine. 

The funds will reach Agape via either method. 

Below is a video with English subtitles about the evacuations of people with disabilities to Europe. The link is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XniirHxhXA&t=1s

Monday, May 9, 2022

Evacuations Continue and Rehab Resumes

Last week, the 9th group of people with disabilities and their family members evacuated to Europe. This group included 43 people from eastern regions of Ukraine. 



It has become increasingly difficult to find places in Europe able to house people with disabilities, so please pray for this provision as the need for these evacuations does continue. Agape will continue to receive, house and feed refugees with disabilities, but as of today we are also back in the swing of rehab. Our patient load is decreased as our about 1/3 of our employees are not in Ukraine and our rehab team consists of only 6 people at this time. But we are thankful to be able to take this step and open our doors again to those in need of physical rehabilitation! 



In my previous blog, I wrote that we were in need of one or more buses to replace our rapidly declining ones. Praise the Lord, funds were provided and two buses found in Germany!! One bus has been purchased and is already at Agape and the second one is in the process of being purchased this week. Thank you to all who prayed and gave financially toward these much-needed buses!


Also in recent weeks, Sveta, Alina (our speech therapist) and I made another trip to Budapest to receive money donated by so many of you for Agape. God blessed the trip, we were able to see a bit more of the city, and also got to tour the apartment our new friends in Budapest are renting for Ukrainian refugees. 




While we have partially resumed "normal life" with the beginning of rehab today, the war in Ukraine continues to be seen, heard, and felt. A fuel shortage has resulted in hours of waiting lines at the pumps, if you can even locate a gas station that still has the type of fuel you need. Prices are understandably rising for everything. Air raid sirens continue to go off at varying frequencies. The fighting in the east is never far from anyone's mind. And the need for prayer and divine intervention to end this war is known by all.  

Please continue to pray with us for a Ukrainian victory in this war, for the safety of civilians and soldiers in the fighting zones, for the provision of fuel across the country, for the church to continue to be agents of assistance and be faithful to share the gospel, and for the work of Agape as we mesh refugee care and rehabilitation. Thank you again to all who support us with your prayers and finances! May God be glorified in the work of His servants! 

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Keeping on!

Our work at the Agape Rehabilitation Complex continues. In the past weeks we have continued to receive refugees from the eastern regions of Ukraine. Most have arrived in small groups, slowly filling Agape to capacity. As of today, all rooms are full and almost every bed in the rehab gym is occupied. But tomorrow that will change as the next group of people with disabilities and their family members will be evacuated to Europe. 

The previous evacuation group departing from Agape

This group includes families from Kharkiv, Izyum, Mariupol, and Donetsk, among other cities. Some of them know they have lost all they left behind and others are still unsure. Here are bits of some of the stories I know: 

- Yuri and his sister came from Kharkiv. Yuri has been a quadriplegic since 1989. Back then, there was no available physical rehabilitation in Ukraine, only periodic visits to sanatoriums for procedures. Due to his injury, there is little Yuri can do for himself, but he had a home that had been adapted and a lift that his sister used to transfer him. They know that is all gone now and upon arrival at Agape they realized his sister did not know how to physically assist him without that equipment. So, Sveta and I got to spend a few days training her to move him in bed and transfer him to and from his wheelchair. They don't know what awaits them in Europe, but we are all thankful she can physically assist him now. 

- Masha and her mother and brother came to Agape from Mariupol. The story of their evacuation is one of the most difficult ones to hear as they lost their husband/father in the process. He went out first in search of transportation and never returned. To this day they do not have any information about him. Later, Masha's mother found a way out of Mariupol with her two children. Although her brother's disability is the most obvious of the family, Masha also appears to have a mental disability and her mother possibly a psychological disorder. Their family has been with us for a couple of weeks and Masha has become the favorite playmate of the daughter of one of our employees. Last week, Agape was able to help Masha celebrate her 6th birthday! 


- Ira and her 81 year old mother came from Izyum. Ira, who is a believer, shared some of their story during the service at Fimiam Church on Sunday. As is the case with most, their evacuation was a harrowing experience and they were thankful to find in Agape a peaceful place to stay. Each evening after dinner at Agape, someone leads an time of testimony, possibly singing, and fellowship with the current residents. This is led by men from various churches in our city. At the end of this time last Saturday evening, Ira's mother repented. Ira shared how she has tried for 15 years to talk to her mom about God, but she didn't want to listen. Her mom would say, "I know the Lord's prayer, that's enough." But in God's providence, He used a war to drive her from her home and across Ukraine so that He could not only save her physical life, but her eternal soul. I bumped into Ira on Monday morning in the hall and she swung open the door to her room to reveal her mother sitting on the edge of her bed, bent over and reading the large print Russian Bible she had been given. I wish had a picture, but trust me that it was a beautiful sight! As long as a person has life and breath, they are never too old for the salvation only God can give! 

- On Saturday evening we listened to the evacuation stories of 2 families from Mariupol and Berdyansk, all of whom are believers. Both families lived for a more than a month in their occupied cities without water and heat. They told of the "down to the bone" cold they felt, even long after arriving in a heated facility. They told of traveling through many Russian checkpoints on their way out of occupied territory, of the questioning, pilfering and even theft of their belongings. And then they told of coming to the first Ukrainian checkpoint and the utter joy they felt to see Ukrainian colors on the soldiers uniforms, to hear "Greetings to you" in Ukrainian when they rolled down the window, to be welcomed and treated kindly. Some cried and others screamed, but all reactions were expressions of joy to be out of the occupied territory and reunited with "their" people. While listening to them, I found my mind thinking their immense joy was just a foretaste of the profound joy they, I and other believers will experience after death when we leave this earth and find ourselves welcomed by God to our eternal home!!

So what else have we been up to? Well, we organized a food drive for people with disabilities who have not evacuated to Europe. Last week we were able to pack 100 bags with groceries and hygiene products and deliver them to the homes of adults and children with disabilities.







Those of us currently working at Agape have also had a few gatherings to celebrate birthdays or just have some needed time of fellowship together. 


This was a "big #" birthday so we had to order some good stuff to celebrate

A drive-by surprise to serenade our speech therapist on her birthday!

So what is next at Agape? Well, as of today we have a timeline of May 2 for restarting rehab on a limited basis! We have many questions to answer and details to work out, but that is the current plan. We will continue accepting refugees, but the number will have to be reduced. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find places in Europe ready and willing accept people with disabilities, so the evacuation process will likely continue to slow down as more time is needed between groups to work out all the details. And we are receiving more and more phone calls from people with recent injuries or diagnoses who are in need of rehab. So we will attempt to do both rehab and refugee care simultaneously for a time. Please pray for us as we work out all the details. Many of our employees are still in Europe with no time frame on when they will return to Ukraine, so operating at full capacity is still in the future, but we plan to get started.

Also, I wanted to make you aware of our need to purchase one or more used adapted buses for Agape. Two of the three buses we currently have were barely making it before the war. And now with all the driving, often on bad roads, since the war started, all three buses are going downhill fast! Agape staff in Europe are searching for buses in Germany and we hope to purchase as least one, maybe more, to bring to Ukraine. Because of the war, customs fees for bringing vehicles into Ukraine from Europe are minimal, so it is also good to take advantage of this time. Will you please join us in praying for this need? And also prayerfully consider a financial contribution? Below are pictures of our buses from several years ago. They don't look this good now and they don't run reliably either. 



If you need information on how to make a donation, please refer to the previous blog post. 

Thank you once again to all who support us prayerfully and financially.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Home again

Sveta and I returned to Lutsk last Friday!! Thankfully, the drive back was uneventful and without delays. We only paused a couple of times at checkpoints, but encountered no long, slow lines this time. There were many more checkpoints than on our trip to Uzhhorod, but they mostly just waved us along. 

Before leaving Uzhhorod we were able to make another trip to Budapest to receive cash from America for Agape. One positive aspect of this war and the resulting displacement and travels for us has been making some new friends. Davide and Orsi welcomed us into the home for the night and we enjoyed our time of fellowship with them. This godly couple is generously and selflessly giving of their time, finances, and home to help Ukrainian refugees. And there are thousands more people just like them all across Europe who are assisting Ukrainian refugees in some way. It is a blessing to now call this couple our friends! 

Thank you once again to all who have generously donated!! We brought most of the money back with us to Lutsk, but we were able to use some to purchase medications requested by Agape that were not available in Lutsk. We probably stopped at 10 pharmacies across Uzhhorod, but were thankful to be able to send back most of what was requested!

Doesn't look like very much, but about $800 worth of needed meds

I am grateful to be back in Lutsk and helping at Agape. It has been such a joy to be reunited with friends who are still here and try to connect more with friends who are in Europe. 

We are all praying for an end this war so that everyone can come home and rehabilitation at Agape can resume. But until then, Agape continues the work of receiving refugees and evacuating people with disabilities and their families to Europe. Another group of about 60 people was evacuated on Sunday and the next group is scheduled to depart this Friday. 

Loading the buses on Sunday

With the rapid and large turnover of people at Agape, laundry is a big task for which Sveta and I are now responsible. Fimiam Church and another local church also bring us their bedding when refugees depart from their facilities. So we stay pretty busy with that task, as well as helping clean Agape and prepare the rooms and rehab gym for the next arrivals. 



Hanging bedding literally wherever we can


Rehab gym ready for next round of people

For now, that is the update from here. I want to thank everyone once again for your outpouring of support!!! For those still interested in making a financial donation, you may do so via: 

1. agapeukraine.com: select the English version of the website and click on the "Donate" button
2. Christian Health Service Corps: Text CHSCUkraine to 41444 or at bit.ly/CHSCUkraine. 

The funds will reach Agape via either method. 

Please continue to pray with us for:
- An end to the war.
- Safe evacuations of people with disabilities and their families. Currently the majority of people we are evacuating are coming from the "hot spots" in Ukraine. Pray for transportation to be found and for them to safely get out of those cities where the fighting is strong.
- Physical strength and perseverance for those serving refugees, both at Agape and many churches, organizations and facilities across western Ukraine. 
- Wisdom to discern when/if Agape should resume rehabilitation. That is not even a topic of consideration at this time, but as more and more soldiers are wounded the need for rehabilitation grows rapidly. Please pray we will understand when we should be ready to resume rehabilitation and on what level. There will many questions and few easy answers when this topic does come up for discussion.
- The light of the gospel to go forth in the darkness of war. 

Thank you for standing with us in prayer!!

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Quick Update

Let me open by saying THANK YOU to all who have prayed, contacted me through various means to offer encouragement, offered to assist in any way, and donated financially!! The outpouring of support has been almost overwhelming (in a good sense) and such a blessing in these days of war in Ukraine. SO many people have contributed financially. The sum total of donations to date is beyond what I could have imagined or projected and donations just continue to come in. On behalf of all of us here, I say to all who are donating, "Thank you so much! We will continue to seek to be good stewards of these funds in meeting the needs of Ukrainians with and without disabilities in these days." 

Many of you have continued to reach out to me personally. While I desire to respond to each person, I cannot always find the time for a detailed reply. So here are some highlights of the past week for me. 

While in Uzhgorod, we have been:

- Doing rehab with Vasya (our former patient) for a couple of hours each day (we are currently staying in his house where he no longer lives). His wife, Maria, is super busy as they are hosting many refugees as well as continuing their work with girls who have aged out of the orphanage. Our time with Vasya allows Maria to focus her attention and efforts on the needs of those living in their facility, knowing her husband is cared for and active. 

- Volunteering at the large operation taking place in Uzhgorod to feed refugees, both those living here and those waiting in lines at borders and checkpoints. It's amazing to see the scope of the work and to assist even in small ways, such as washing dishes or making sandwiches. 

- Traveling to pharmacies to collect medications requested by Agape. Yesterday we were asked to buy as much seizure medication as we could find. Many children with disabilities who are coming through Agape as refugees are in low supply and the local pharmacies are also out. Unfortunately, that is almost the case in Uzhgorod as well, but we were able to find a few boxes to purchase and will continue to search. Today we received another long list of medications to purchase, so we will set out tomorrow to work on finding them, Lord-willing. Money received from your donations is giving us the possibility to meet these needs for medications. So again, thank youPlease pray that we will be able to locate all the medications on the list and in the quantities requested. 

On Saturday morning, Sveta, her mom and I set out for Hungary. God blessed the trip and we were able to cross the border in 1.5 hours and make our way to Budapest where Stacy, our new friend, was waiting to welcome us. She is the acquaintance of a friend of a friend - I think! She took me in for 4 nights and helped me accomplish many tasks! Sveta and her mom flew to Berlin on Sunday so her mom could live with her brother. While waiting for Sveta to return, Stacy and I set about understanding how we could receive cash from America. The process had several bumps along the way, but in the end we made it back to Ukraine with much cash from donations in America and Europe. So thanks again to all of you! 

We plan to repeat this trip early next week to retrieve more cash, Lord-willing. Then we will determine how best to get this cash back to Agape. Using the traditional method of transferring to a bank account here is still not a good idea according to our Agape accountant, so we are maximizing our means of obtaining cash. Please pray with us that the current avenues do not close for us and that if they do we will be able find alternate means quickly to continue to receive cash. 

Agape and our ministry have also been very active. The third group of people with disabilities to be evacuated to Europe left Agape this morning. We are thankful that the first two groups are now settled in various locations in Germany. All of the groups include children and adults with disabilities, some of their family members, and additional caregivers from our team as needed. Many different organizations throughout Europe are willing and able to assist in evacuating people with disabilities and providing them with housing and care. People are being so generous with their time, energy and resources. God is truly using His people all over the world. Here are few pictures of some of the groups in transit:



The parting of a young girl with a disability and her grandfather, who is one of our Agape employees, at the border. 





The plan, of course, is to continue these evacuations, so please join us in prayer for the planning, coordinating, and transporting of these groups. And then pray for them as they settle in foreign countries where they cannot speak the language. Pray they will have access to translators to be able to communicate and also for the necessary medical care. Several of those who have already evacuated have pressure sores that require specialized medical attention. This is being sought with some of our German partners. Please pray the right medical personnel can be found. God knows the needs of each of these people evacuated, both those with and without disabilities. Please pray they will know God's nearness even in a new, foreign place and thank God with us that they are now out of a country at war. Please pray that many more will be able to be quickly evacuated to safety as well. 

Agape has also been busy hosting refugees who are traveling toward the Polish border. Large groups have come through and even our rehab gym has been turned into overflow sleeping quarters. 




Agape employees as well as volunteers who are still in the Lutsk area have been working to feed refugees, keep the facility clean, receive and distribute humanitarian supplies, and perform so many other tasks. Please pray for sustaining strength as many of them are unable to go home for days at a time do to the constant work. Please pray for the continued provisions (food, medication, etc) necessary to care for the continual flow of refugees. 

Thank you again to all for your concern, encouragement, contributions and prayers. I tried to highlight throughout this post ways that you can join us in thanking God as well as ways you can pray. There are many, many more than the ones I listed, of course, but I trust God will lead you in how you should pray. 

I want to close with two "contrasting" pictures from Budapest of the Hungarian parliament building. In the daytime, this building does not particularly stand out amidst the surroundings, other than due to its sheer size. But at night? Against the backdrop of darkness, this same building absolutely shines in splendor and cannot be missed! 



May the light of Christ continue to shine spectacularly through His children against the backdrop of the darkness of great evil. 

And when the world sees it, may they magnify our great God!