Monday, December 29, 2014

Christmas in Ukraine...Part 1

For those who are wondering how Christmas is celebrated in Ukraine, you are going to have to wait a bit longer.  You see, Ukraine follows a different calendar from the West, so Christmas is on January 7th.  For now you'll just get to see and hear how this American celebrated Christmas on December 25th and the surrounding days. 

Christmas morning at our apartment began with a Facetime chat with mom while opening her gifts to us.  Then Sveta was off to work and I baked a pan of cookies and took them to share with our friends at rehab.  Typically, cookies in Ukraine are store-bought and quite different from our fresh-baked varieties, but everyone really seemed to like them.  Sveta freed herself from afternoon patients so we headed home to cook a delicious Christmas meal together and then relax for the evening. 

Our Christmas decorations and gifts

Gotta have a red sweater on for Christmas!

We switched to pajama pants and t-shirts for our meal. 
See my mom in the background?
On Friday evening we had a small dinner party with two of our fellow therapists, Alla and Ira.  We enjoyed taco soup and homemade tortilla chips (this is a potato chip society, but since tortillas are now sold consistently in the stores I get to enjoy making tortilla chips and introducing them to my friends!).  We also introduced our friends the idea of a cookie exchange.  Unfortunately Alla had no time to make cookies, but Ira came over and I shared one of my recipes with her and helped her make her first batch of cookies.  All of our cookies were delicious and the evening of fellowship and fun was a blessing!  
We had plenty of cookies left over so on Saturday we packed some bags and headed out to share them with friends with disabilities.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the new tastes and we enjoyed our visits!
On Sunday afternoon we hosted a girl's time at our apartment for a few friends with and without disabilities.  We introduced more new foods to our friends, including white chili and chicken salad on croissants and then we had a white elephant gift exchange (another new concept).  The girls were all so considerate of their friends that almost no stealing took place, but we had lots of laughs anyway.  To conclude our afternoon we invited a guest speaker who shared her story of life as a single woman until her late 20s and now as a wife and mother of 3.  She encouraged us to find our full satisfaction in God in all seasons of life, to serve God as single women, and to not pursue men.  She used Scripture to help us see the God-given roles of women.  The girls had several questions at the end and we are hoping to have the opportunity to have a similar gathering again in the future.
Mariika pondering her gift selection

While the events of this Christmas season have been different for me, it has been and continues to be a blessed time of celebrating the birth of our Savior and pointing others to Him!  I am so thankful for all of you who encourage and pray for me and for the work here in Ukraine!  
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
 Stay tuned for "Christmas in Ukraine...Part 2" (after January 7th of course!).


Saturday, December 13, 2014

November News

Just like it does everywhere, time flies here in Ukraine!  Weeks go by so fast and I suddenly realize it's been a month since my last post.  So here's a little of what has been going on:

We took a trip to the village with friends to celebrate my former roommate's birthday. Lyuda, her husband, and their two children live with her mother in the house where Lyuda grew up.  She and her husband have been slowly remodeling and updating the house, including the additions of an indoor toilet and bathtub...which her 70(ish) year old mother had never had in her life.  We enjoyed the day of fellowship and food around the fireplace with friends. 

Rehab continues to welcome new patients and we are working to improve our processes and equipment to better serve our patients now and in the future.  This is Sasha:

Sasha has a traumatic brain injury as a result of a car accident a year ago.  He has been coming to rehab for about two months now.  He lives on the 5th floor of a 5-story apartment building, which means there is no elevator, so we started rehab with him at home.  Everyone knew he would get the most benefit by coming to the center, so some of his friends agreed to help him up and down the stairs in his wheelchair.  They didn't last long however, so now our driver, Dima, bumps him up and down all 5 flights twice a week!  As you can see, Sasha is no small man so it has to be a workout for Dima.  And we are seeing some progress.  Sasha was a professional volleyball player and was traveling in Europe at the time of his accident.  He is always SO happy and our center is more lively and joyful when he is with us.  He loves to use his limited English to talk with me.  And to my surprise his first response upon hearing I was from Oklahoma was "Thunder!"  It's rare for me to find someone who loves basketball in Ukraine, and Sasha loves it enough to know our Oklahoma team!  Vadim is his primary therapist and has been working hard with him.  About a month ago, Sasha's wife brought in a walker for us to try with him.  The picture below is from the first day we tried it.  Somehow 5 people became involved in helping him walk about 10 feet.  Thankfully we have all improved since that first day and Sasha can now walk 4 laps in our center with only Vadim, Sveta, and I assisting.  I wish I had a picture, but you'll just have to trust me for now.

Sasha is not the only one benefitting from his walker.  We want to find a scooter to use with our kids, but for now we've managed to use sliding boards and this walker to create a make-shift one.

We created this scooter when we met Stasik.  He's a precious 4 year old who had a brain tumor removed 2 years ago followed by several post-op complications.  While he is definitely behind on his motor skills, his greatest deficits are his inability to talk and eat and his breathing difficulties which require him to have a tracheostomy.  His family is hoping to take him to another country for further medical evaluation and treatment of his oral issues and we are trying to help as much as we can with all of his challenges.  Please pray with us that his family can get the answers and treatment he needs to maximize his progress with eating and speaking (whether that's in Ukraine or in another country) and that we have wisdom in how best to help him.

We concluded November like all of you - with a Thanksgiving celebration!  Even though it's not a Ukrainian holiday Sveta and I wanted to find a way to celebrate it with our friends.  Our apartment can't hold too many people, so Sergiy Bolchuk (the leader of our ministry) agreed to host a joint celebration with his birthday, which was the day after Thanksgiving, at his new house.  The guest list grew and grew and we ended up celebrating with over 35 people!  This was my first (and very possible my last) time to attempt cooking for that many people, made more challenging by searching for ingredients in a foreign country and cooking in a smaller-than-the-US-standard oven.  But we made ourselves responsible for the turkey and some traditional American dishes and then asked everyone to contribute a dish to complete the meal.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the evening, the food, and the fellowship with one another.  These friends are my Ukrainian family so I was thankful to get to share this holiday with them!

Dads do this everywhere!

 Kids being kids!

 Sergiy Bolchuk - the birthday boy

   The dessert table included my favorite - cherry pie!!!
Last Sunday our ministry led the church service.  Below is a video presentation of our ministry from the past year that I hope you to enjoy!