Saturday, September 9, 2017

So much to be thankful for!

God has been good to us in many ways over the past month and more! We enjoyed a few days off after camps before resuming work at the Agape Rehabilitation Complex and it has been non-stop ever since. We used the first couple of work days for staff training, analyzing and revising our work processes, and other administrative-type activities. Then we began welcoming patients back into our facility.

Everyone participated in the CPR seminar
Our therapy team has grown again! Katya, a student in the second class of our PT Training Center program, transitioned from her role as caregiver to our therapy team. For now, she functions as a student under Sveta's supervision for the next few months. We hope that she will be ready for independent, full-time patient care by the beginning of next year. We are excited that our therapy team is now up to 8!

Another HUGE praise is that three of our therapists were accepted into university programs and are now on track to obtaining diplomas in their rehabilitation specialty over the coming years. Natasha's was accepted into a 3-year speech therapy program. The university is located in a city about an hour away and she will travel there to attend sessions several times a year. Katya and Ira were accepted into a brand new program here in Lutsk. It is a Master's program that will take a year and a half and is somehow a combined occupational therapy and physical therapy degree program. Sveta learned about this program on literally the second to last day that applications were accepted. They were able to get the needed documents turned in and not long afterward they took an entrance exam. Ira has a undergrad degree in psychology and Katya in music. By God's grace and their hard work to prepare themselves, they both not only passed this PT entrance exam, but did so well enough to be granted one of the few spots to study for free!! On the first day of class, each student was asked to introduce themselves and state their undergrad degree. When it came to Ira and Katya, the professor was quite surprised and asked how they managed to get into the program (every other student had some previous form of medical education). For Ira and Katya the answer was clear: GOD!

Our students: Katya, Natasha, and Ira
August was also a time for birthday celebrations! Katya, Veeka and I share birthdays within a 4-day period, so that called for a full rehab team celebration. We headed out to Pasha's village and spent the day by the river: swimming, resting in the hammocks, grilling and enjoying fellowship together. I am SO incredibly thankful for these people and their love for the Lord, for people with disabilities and for me. I'm so thankful that we get to work, serve and do life together. It was a perfect birthday celebration with many of my most beloved Ukrainian friends!

Our leaders, Sergiy and Natasha, were out of town and could not join us so the next weekend Sveta and I spent the better part of a day at their house. God has truly blessed me with a wonderful group of Ukrainian friends/family! I cannot imagine my life here without them.

August marked the one-year anniversary of our PT Training Center program and the 7th session we have conducted over the past 12 months. The second class returned to Agape for their 3rd session. Due to a variety of circumstances, the class size decreased from 9 to 6. As usual we covered much material and learned new skills. It was a tiresome but productive two weeks. These ladies have bonded in friendship over the course of this program. We had an enjoyable time of learning together, with many smiles and laughs to help us through the intense days of learning.

The atmosphere at Agape is truly special! When you live or work at Agape, you are part of a family, even if you are only there for a few days or a few weeks. Julia, one of our students, had her birthday during the session. Her fellow students organized a celebration from our class, but staff and patients at Agape also organized themselves to collectively drop by our classroom to sing to her and greet her. In the picture are patients, housekeepers, cooks, office staff, drivers, caregivers...Agape is a family and it is growing larger all the time! 
Students leave our sessions with a lot of new material
Vadim, our former student who is now the head physician at Agape, stopped by one afternoon to be a mock patient. 

Our room repeatedly transitions between a lecture hall and a lab.



Gotta love the intensity and concentration!

See what I mean? These ladies have a good time together.
In addition to all of the wonderful things that have been happening, there are also some challenges and prayer requests. Despite the recent growth of our therapy team, we are currently experiencing a shortage of therapists and therefore having to admit fewer rehab patients, which decreases revenue for Agape. Pasha has taken a leave of absence for a couple months to help his family as his brother undergoes another surgery due to complications from having a tumor removed from his leg a couple of years ago. As he does periodically, Vadim has gone to Poland to earn money to support his family and the construction of their house. And the schedule for the program Ira and Katya are in is not as it was understood when they applied. They actually have daily afternoon classes to attend, which decreases the hours they can be at Agape. And in a week Natasha will have her first session and be gone for about 10 days. So it's a "perfect storm" which leaves us with few full-time therapists at the present time and therefore a decreased number of patients at Agape. Please pray as we work through this ever-changing schedule and try to maximize the number of patients we can provide with quality rehabilitation. Please pray for God's direction as we look through the waiting list (which contains over 40 adults currently) to determine who to admit at this time. Please continue praying with us for God to continue providing additional therapists to our team. And please pray for the finances need to keep Agape operational. 

As a result of this staff shortage, we decided we needed to cease providing outpatient pediatric rehabilitation and focus on adult inpatient rehabilitation. We will continue to offer one-time pediatric consultations when the schedule has holes, but will not provide ongoing pediatric rehab until we have additional staff. Please pray for the families of children with disabilities in Lutsk to find quality rehabilitation and for God to bring a full-time pediatric PT to our facility in His timing. 

Also, to add to the shortage, I will soon be heading back to the US for 6 months. With all that is currently going on here, the timing seems less than ideal. When I made these plans, we had no idea what would be going on at this time, but God knew...and He knows what is ahead. So I trust His plan best and that He will provide for all of our needs, wherever we are. 

So on September 28, I'll be leaving my Ukrainian home, church, friends and family and returning to my American home, church, friends and family. I sometimes wonder to myself, "Am I leaving home or going home?" At the moment, the answer seems to me to be "yes." Ukraine is home now in so many ways and I'm thankful for God's grace that I feel at home here...most of the time. But I'll always be a foreigner and may never fully understand all that is going on or being said and the various cultural nuisances. Lutsk, Ukraine has been my home for the past three years and I'm so grateful that I feel in a very real sense that I'll be "leaving home" when I return to the US. I'm praying for this transition from Ukrainian home to American home and all that it entails. And I'm eagerly anticipating how God will use the six months I spend in the US to grow and teach me, to spread the news of how He is at work here, to reconnect with family and friends, and so much more. I hope I will have the opportunity to visit with many of you who support and pray for this work. 

To close, here are a few pics from our beautiful city of Lutsk (not all of which I took):

I'll miss this view and the beauty God puts on display from my window

Notorious yellow Ukrainian fields

Gonna miss this dear friend, but thankful she has a trip planned to OK in December!

Aerial view of our castle - the village across the green pasture on the top right is where I run on Saturday mornings. Not everyone gets to run with a castle in view!

Monday, August 7, 2017


This year's camp for children with disabilities and their families had the theme of "Butterfly." We had a butterfly lead our music times and a caterpillar who spent the week transforming into a beautiful butterfly. Twenty-eight families attended as well as a large number of volunteers. God richly blessed our week together!

No matter what we do at children's camp, we are sure to have an abundance of SMILES and JOY!

As volunteers, we are privileged to be paired with one child for the week, to take them to all of the activities, play with them, help care for them, encourage their parents and give their parents opportunities for rest and relaxation. I was blessed to be with Svitlana and her daughter Angelina this year.

Angelina is 6 years old and has cerebral palsy. She cannot talk, her understanding is very limited and she has almost no voluntary control over her body. But she has the most beautiful blue eyes and curly hair and when she smiles or laughs it is absolutely contagious!!!

We had a great time participating in all of the camp activitiesmp! Angelina's mom, Svitlana, is 6 months pregnant but was equally active in all of the activities for parents, such as spa time, Zumba, and Bible studies.

She was particularly encouraged by the testimony of a family from America who also have a son with cerebral palsy. She excitedly told me some of the the things they shared from their experience. She was encouraged to hear that other parents let their children with disabilities "cry it out" alone in their rooms after assuring that their basic needs have been met. Angelina and her family actually live very close to us so I look forward to staying in contact, taking her for walks, and maybe even having some rehabilitation sessions with her. I am praying for this family to come to know the hope and salvation that can be found in God alone.

At camp, every child get an opportunity to try everything. From getting a manicure, to participating in the talent show, to slinging water balloons with a huge slingshot at a crazily dressed volunteer, to crafts, to rides in the boats, to blowing huge bubbles, to getting up on stage for their group presentation, to swimming...if it is a camp activity, everyone has a chance to try it. And it is wonderful to observe it and participate in it!

These children are precious image bearers of God. The same God Who created the beautiful sunsets we witnessed and the forest and lake near the campground fashioned each of these children with their unique physical appearance, abilities and character. I was so privileged to spend these days with them, to love on them and be loved by them, to share joy with them and be infused with their joy.

In closing, I will share a quick story about Katya: 

This young lady first came to our camp 3-4 years ago. She has a younger sister who also has cerebral palsy and is much more outgoing. That first year, Katya was stoic and reserved, rarely lifting her head or showing any interest in what was going on around her. She seemed to take no pleasure in any of the activities of the camp and I honestly was not sure how much she was able participate and interact. After camp, her mother continued to come to church and other activities with the girls and a few years ago she repented and was baptized. But God has also made a transformation in Katya! It takes effort for her to talk and her speech is not always clear, but she is now eager to pray and answer questions in her Bible study groups. She smiles, responds to others and her desire to know and share about God is evident. She loves to listen to Christian music and this year she participated in the talent show, singing "Jesus, You are the Best Friend." As I listened to her sing, I remembered that young girl from the first camp with her head always bowed and not interacting with others and I rejoiced over the transformation God has made in her life! 

Please join me in praying for similar transformations in the lives of the children and adults who came to the camp this year.