Saturday, November 28, 2015


There have been many opportunities this past month to express our thanks to God for His goodness in our lives and our ministry and for His answers to our prayers. 

Last weekend we hosted a full-day seminar on spinal cord injury rehab for the staff from a private rehab clinic in Rivne, Ukraine.  In advance of the seminar, Sveta and I were quite busy for several weeks preparing and translating the material.  We were able to involve some of our therapists in the teaching and small group sessions and three of our current/former patients came to demonstrate their skills and answer questions.  Having never met the nine therapists and one doctor who came for the seminar, we were unsure if what we prepared would be what they needed or wanted.  But God really blessed the day!  They were receptive to everything we presented and said that it was a very beneficial seminar.  They were all young and several had been working for less than 6 months.  I was encouraged to see their eagerness to learn about active, functional rehab as PT in Ukraine has historically been passive.  We were also grateful that God answered our prayer to have Sergiy Bolchuk, our ministry leader, share how and why our center opened, how we use the center as a means to serve people with disabilities and to serve God, and our vision for the future with the Agape House. 

The staff from both centers

During this month our ministry also held our first "club" meeting since last spring.  Club is a time for adults with disabilities to come together, fellowship, and hear the Word of God.  We employed a completely new format for this club, creating a sports and games atmosphere.  We had an obstacle course race for the whole group and then people could choose between playing volleyball, bocce ball, or ping pong.  Everyone seemed to enjoy the afternoon.

About 35 people with disabilities came and many were accompanied by family members.  After the games, we all fellowshipped over a meal and then listened to encouragement from the Word of God.  It was a blessed time for all!

The construction at Agape House continues and we now have a projected opening day of June 19, 2016!! It is very exciting to see this vision that began developing over 6 years ago coming to reality by the grace of God!  I was there this past week to help unload 7 tons of medical equipment and supplies that were generously donated from US, so I got to witness first hand how just far the construction has come.

View from the front/side

View from the back - there are ramps at every entrance
This 3rd floor room is the future home of our rehab center

As you can see, the exterior is finished, so the guys are now working inside for the winter (with heating!).  The elevator has been installed and they are working hard on tiling all the rooms, stairwells, and hallways.  We do not have a move-in date yet, but the plan is for our rehab center to move to Agape House in late spring and for residents to move in after the official opening date in June.  Currently, our leaders are inviting people to partner with this work by equipping a residential room with furniture.  If God stirs your heart to participate in this way, please contact me via email ( and I can give you more details.  Please join us in prayer for the completion of the Agape House, finances need to construct and equip the house, construction of a road to the house, and the development of the team of people who will serve daily in the house.
Many of you have joined us in praying for more therapists, particularly males, to join our rehab team.  God graciously gave me a reminder this month that He is more than capable of answering that prayer, even when I have doubts.  To understand why I would have doubts, I will tell you that of the staff at our clinic, only Sveta and Alla have formal PT training.  And even though Alla completed the PT program at the local university, even she says her primary training came on the job at our center.  All of the other therapists who have joined our team in the past 8 years have been or are being trained on the job.  So our desire for trained Ukrainian therapists who are also dedicated Christians and want to serve in the center as part of our ministry to people with disabilities...well, by human logic we are very unlikely to find such people.  But thankfully our hope is in God to meet this need when and how He sees fit, and I was reminded recently that it is not too difficult for Him.  A few weeks ago Sveta and I attended an evangelistic concert at a local church and one young man went forward to repent at the end.  A few days later, Sveta received a call from a Christian brother who wanted to bring a young man to see our center.  It turned out to be the same young man, Pasha, who is now our brother in Christ and recently completed a PT program in Poland!  He is home assisting his family during his brother's illness and wants to see how we work and help us a few days a week.  We don't know whether or not he will ultimately going to join, but my heart was greatly encouraged to trust God for the provision of trained therapists!  Please join us in praying that we could be an encouragement to Pasha in his new walk of faith, for wisdom how best to use him at our center, and for wisdom for him to know the path God has for him in the future. 
As I said in the beginning, reflecting on this past month gives my heart many reasons to be grateful.  Looking ahead to the next month gives my heart many reasons for excited anticipation!  Next Friday I'm boarding a plane and heading home for 5 weeks.  I love my Ukrainian home, but I sure miss my Oklahoma one too!  While I am gone, our ministry will celebrate our 10-year anniversary with a special church service on Dec 6th and our club will meet again on Dec 26th.  Please join me in praying for these opportunities to again share the love of God with people with disabilities. 
I hope I get to see many of you in December!! I'm so thankful for each one of you!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

On the move...

Greetings from Ukraine, where fall already seems to be on it's way out and the sun now sets by 5:15!  We've already had several nights below freezing, giving us a good indication that winter is just around the corner. 

Our rehab center continues to be busy and since we reopened after the summer break we have many new patients who are challenging our therapists in new and exciting ways.  When our center first opened 8 years ago, it was done to serve people with spinal cord injuries.  The leaders of our ministry for people with disabilities at Fimiam Church saw the need for such a center after Natasha became a quadriplegic in a car accident.  But it was not long before the center received requests for rehabilitation from people with other diagnoses.  Slowly, our therapists learned to work with children and adults with various diagnoses and our clinic became more diversified.  But people with spinal cord injuries - and primarily those with quadriplegia who have no possibility of walking - have always made up the highest percentage of our patient population.  I think all of our therapists would say that spinal cord injury rehabilitation is their favorite area of rehabilitation, mostly because they know it so well.  But our current list contains only 2 such patients, which is why this time is both challenging and exciting!

Currently, we have more patients who are "walking" than ever before.  Our adult patient population includes those with traumatic brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and transverse myelitis.  With these diagnoses often come cognitive and language disabilities which factor into rehab too.  So our therapists are facing new challenges and we have frequent discussions about individual patients and how we can maximize their rehabilitation in all spheres.

Here are some of our current patients:

Sasha is not a new patient, but he is one of our two current quadriplegics.  He is always excited about coming to rehab, works very hard, and brings a lot of laughter to the center.  Now he consistently attends church too and he is considering joining a home group.  He attended Fimiam Church years ago and he knows many things about God and the Bible.  Please join us in praying for his salvation.


Alexander is our other patient with quadriplegia.  His injury was this past summer and he continues to be in a significant amount of pain, which hinders his progress in rehab.  Please pray for Sveta as she works with him, advises and teaches his family, and seeks the best ways to help him.

Volodimir received his spinal cord injury when he fell out of a cherry tree this summer.  We rarely have paraplegics come to our center, so Sveta is enjoying working with him.  He is very motivated to walk and will try anything Sveta asks of him.  She has invited him to church several times, but he consistently declines.

Working on negotiating obstacles
Andri had a massive head injury due to an aneurysm last spring.  When he first came to us in mid-summer, he couldn't sit up, much less stand up.  But in the past two months he has made tremendous physical progress and now walks everywhere with a crutch and a little help.  We are also working on going up and down stairs.  Alla (not pictured) was his original therapist, but she is no longer working due to her pregnancy.  So Ira agreed to work with him, even though she had never worked with anyone with such significant cognitive, speech, and physical deficits.  She and I have frequent training sessions and I am always with them during their rehab sessions.  It has been a stretching experience for her, but we can all see Andri's progress and we are so grateful. 

Sergiy also had a head injury and recently started rehabilitation.  As you can see in the picture, when we work on gait with patients we have to deep squat or crawl on the floor behind them.  Now that so many patients are walking, this is a more frequent sight than ever.  But not for long - finally we have 2 rolling stools on order!!  
Pavlo had a recent stroke and Sveta has been working with him for about a month.  We do not claim to be occupational therapists or speech therapists.  In fact, we are careful to tell our patients that we are physical therapists and then define for them what we do.  But there are no occupational therapists in Ukraine and while speech therapists are said to exist, we haven't yet found any.  So we offer our patients what we can, gleaning input and expertise from occupational and speech therapists back home.   
I introduced Anya in a previous blog.  She has been having rehabilitation for the majority of a year.  She is now able to walk slowly with a walker on level surfaces and to care for herself.  Unfortunately she lives on the 4th floor in a building with no elevator.  Her brother (pictured) or father carry her up and down the stairs if she wants to go anywhere.  But she is stuck at home if they are not available.  So her final goal is to be able to negotiate 4 flights of stairs with help from her mother only.  She is very close to meeting this goal and then Ira will have to discuss discharge.  Please pray for Ira and Anya as this will be a difficult conversation.


Transitioning over to our kids:
Stasik also isn't a new patient, but working on climbing a flight of stairs with him is new.  And what better way to do it than taking a huge basketball up and rolling it down to mom?!  Stasik has been in Italy for the past month for medical treatment regarding his talking and swallowing deficits.  We are looking forward to having him return and seeing what progress has been made!
We have a growing number of children with cerebral palsy, but Sveta is the only Ukrainian therapist currently working who has any experience with this diagnosis.  So to give our other therapists training and experience, and to free up Sveta's schedule a bit, we implemented a pediatric group. 

Vladik (Ira), Mark (Vanya), Timur (Sveta)
Vladik, Mark, and Timur spend one hour together on Fridays.  Sveta plans and directs the session.  Vanya and Ira learn how to facilitate, stabilize, guide, stretch, etc.  And I provide the toys, take pictures, and encourage.  Yes, there are 7 of us in the room together, but the boys seem to enjoy it as Sveta says they smile more frequently than in their individual sessions.  And it gives the moms one hour of respite and a chance to just sit and talk with another adult.

Tongue out - she's clearly working hard!
Although Ana-Maria is also a long-standing patient, she is now able to participate in new activities following treatment in Israel this summer.  She now has more range of motion in her legs and properly fitting braces.  At about the same time as her return, our center received a shipment of equipment from Holland, which included a perfectly fitting reverse walker.  So now she too works on walking at every session! 
As you can tell, we are on the move in rehab!  I am so thankful for all the patients God brings to us, for our therapists' willingness to grow, learn, and work with new patients, and for the progress many of our patients are making.  And thank you for all who pray for our rehab center and team (girls pictured below)!!


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Reflections, Rest, and Restart

Last month marked a year since my arrival in Lutsk, Ukraine as a full-time missionary, so I spent some time trying to reflect and analyze the year from a variety of aspects.  I looked back at previous blog posts, scanned through pictures, and read letters.  I spent some time in thought about the events of the year and the lessons I have learned.  Instead of documenting all of my conclusions in detail, I will simply say that through all of the ups and downs I am thankful for a faithful God who has provided for my needs and the needs of our ministry.  From wheelchairs for kids like Mark and Polina, to the finances needed to conduct camps and continue construction at the Agape House, to steadying my heart through His Word and the encouragement of others during periods of loneliness and difficulty, to granting me understanding and retention in my Ukrainian studies, to using members of His body to support the work and my presence here through generous financial contributions...the list goes on and on.  As I look ahead to the next year and whatever it may hold, I am grateful that I can look back on the past year and be reminded that nothing is outside the watchful eye and controlling hand of our faithful God. 

So what have we been up to here since camps? Well, our rehab center remains closed and everyone in our ministry has vacation in August, so I filled my time with a trip to the Carpathian Mountains, trips to Kiev, and some relaxation here in Lutsk.  Krista was able to stay after camps ended, so we seized the opportunity to go to the mountains together.  We enjoyed 4 days of hiking and relaxing, taking in the beautiful scenery and fellowshipping together. 

We had one day all together in Kiev!

For Ukraine's Independence Day, we went to the center of the city to participate in the various events.  One annual tradition in Lutsk is a "Flower Holiday" in the park, where different organizations enter their flower creations in a competition.  They were unique, detailed, and beautiful!

Our rehab center reopened toward the end of August and is now back in full swing with lots of new patients.  Please join us in prayer for additional staff at our rehab center.  We have more and more patients, but less and less staff.  We also need wisdom for how to best organize the work load with our current staff and their various levels of education and training.  I continue to work primarily on the PT training center preparation and my Ukrainian language studies, while assisting at the rehab center on a part-time basis. We are praying for God's provision of qualified physical therapists to join our team and that we can be ready to open the PT training center some time next year.
In the last bit of news for this post, I got to travel last week to Switzerland with my friend Tanja, who is a quadriplegic.  We participated in the our second and final working conference as part of a European Spinal Cord Injury Federation project we joined last year.  In addition to doing the work of our groups, we had opportunities to share with individuals from other countries about how people with spinal cord injury live in Ukraine and about our ministry and rehab center.  We were able to further develop some contacts and are hopeful that some of our new friends will partner with our ministry.  One man in particular suggested that he can gather used wheelchairs and bring them to us.  Obtaining an appropriate wheelchair in Ukraine can be very difficult and sometimes impossible, so we are always grateful to have wheelchairs at our disposal to distribute to those in need.  After the conference, Tanja and I were blessed to enjoy a couple of days of sightseeing in Zurich before heading back to Ukraine.  

That's it for now! I hope and pray that all of you are doing well and also having opportunities to testify of the faithfulness of God in your lives!