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! 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Summer Wraps Up

The final weeks of summer were a bit of a whirlwind and we have now bid farewell to summer with it's long, warm days and have definitely moved into fall. Foggy, cool mornings await us, yellow leaves are popping up on more and more trees, the bright greens and yellows of summer fields have yielded to browns, we don our hoodies and curl up under blankets, and life starts to take on a different feel. But before officially leaving summer behind, I need to recap some of our final summer activities.

At the beginning of August, Sveta and I attended the European Spinal Cord Injury Federation conference in Prague as representatives of our organization. Our main task was to network with people from other countries in Europe and see if there might be partnership opportunities in the future. Many people were interested and surprised to hear of the situation for people with spinal cord injuries in Ukraine. They expressed a desire to assist, through sharing knowledge and experience or by donating resources, such as used wheelchairs. We are grateful for their desire and look forward to seeing how God uses these contacts in the future. We were also blessed to get to stay an extra night and take in some of the sights of Prague with its castles, palaces, cathedrals, bridges, and parks. It is a beautiful European city!

Conference attendees

Following a week of work back at Agape, we headed out of Lutsk to celebrate birthdays. Veeka (OT), Katya (PT) and myself have birthdays within 5 days of one another, so our entire rehab team takes the opportunity to spend a day together out of the city. We grilled, swam in the river, relaxed in hammocks, and enjoyed fellowship together. I love these people and am extremely grateful for their presence in my life. What a privilege to serve and work alongside them and what a joy that we also enjoy spending our free time together!

Next up was the second session for the 3rd group of students at our PT Training Center. All 8 students returned and, with a little extra work for some, all passed the tests over the material from session one and will continue on in our program. This group works extremely hard and demonstrates a genuine desire to learn. Some of them have absolutely no experience with rehabilitation so we sometimes need an extra measure of patience with their repeated mistakes or seemingly elementary questions, but God is merciful to us and to them. I am really proud of their progress and look forward to our next session with them in November. 

Poor Taras is the lone man among all those women, but he handles it well
Learning the gait cycle
Certificates of completion for the first session

One exciting aspect of this session from my standpoint was the increased teaching done by our Agape therapists. Pasha, Ira, Veeka and Katya each had at least one topic to teach which was accompanied by skills to demonstrate and work with the students on learning. It is good for the students to learn from others beside Sveta and I. I'm also hopeful that our therapists benefited from their preparation and teaching and that they will have a now more solid grasp on the information and skills themselves. Plus, it gave Sveta and I some breaks from teaching and translating!

Ira demonstrating sensation testing
Katya teaching how to fit walkers, crutches, and canes
Veeka showing various pieces of equipment used by people with spinal cord injury or stroke
Pasha teaching on wheelchair measurement, fitting, and adjustment
Following the session, Sveta and I took our one week of remaining vacation time and headed to the Carpathian Mountains. We LOVE the mountains and enjoy both relaxing and hiking in them. Since we went after peak tourist season, we enjoyed even more solitude and quiet than in past years. God's creation is beautiful and I'm so thankful we had this time!

Just us and a trail - we didn't see a soul for over 2 hours!

Just after returning to work at Agape, we received a much-anticipated and prayed for piece of equipment. For more than 2 years we have been praying for a LiteGait to use with our patients. When we started praying for it, we didn't work with nearly as many patients on regaining the ability to walk as we do now. Receiving this piece of equipment and the treadmill we received a year ago are tremendous blessings for us and our patients. We are so grateful for God's provision through the generosity of His children and in answer to many prayers. We began using it this week with 3 patients and look forward to seeing the progress of both these patients and those in the future. Thank you to those who prayed and gave financially!

Summer is a wrap! It was wonderful time of working, serving, traveling, teaching, and living the day-to-day of life here in Ukraine. I am so grateful for God's provision, blessings, and grace over these past few months and look forward to witnessing all He will do in the coming months. Bring on fall!!!