Sunday, December 22, 2019

Time to Break the Silence

It's going on 6 months since my last post, so this is long overdue and I apologize for the silence on my end. Some of what transpired over these months was completely normal and expected, such as camp for adults with disabilities, work at Agape, celebrations of life events and holidays, etc. And some of what transpired was completely abnormal and unexpected.

Camp for adults with disabilities occurred way back at the end of July. I was once again paired with Ira and her mom for the week and Glory Blankenship also assisted us, more so as camp went on. The theme was "One Way" and the camp was attended by 42 adults with disabilities, including recent patients at Agape, old friends and new acquaintances. 

It was during this week camp that things took an unexpected turn for me. What had been daily, nagging headaches for a week or more leading up to camp turned into severe pounding headaches in vertical positions. The condensed version of the story is that I spent the remainder of camp in a horizontal or reclined position and drinking high amounts of caffeine (doctor's orders!). I was able to get an MRI in a nearby city which confirmed the preliminary diagnosis of spontaneous intracranial hypotension due to a cerebrospinal fluid leak in the spine. Back in Lutsk after camp we searched for treatment options in Ukraine and Europe, but that yielded no rapid options and within a few days Sveta and I were on a flight to Tulsa. We arrived on Friday, I was admitted to the hospital on Sunday, a blood patch was successfully done on Monday afternoon, and I was discharged home on Tuesday. There was a period of recovery which included taking it easy for a couple of months. By late September I was allowed to begin easing back into activity and in October the neurologist released me to return to Ukraine, which I did on October 31.  

Ira participated in my "horizontal positioning" during our small group Bible study sessions at camp. 
Awaiting discharge from the hospital in Tulsa
During this time, God's hand was so clearly at work in my life and the events and people around me. One example is the timing of the onset of severe headaches. Being at camp in a village was actually a blessing because the nearest MRI machine produces higher quality scans than most, if not all, of those in Lutsk. Because it was a clear, high-quality MRI, an accurate diagnosis was made long-distance and having this evidence already in hand when I landed in the US was helpful in the rapid hospitalization and treatment I received. Another life detail that God orchestrated was the difficulty we have had over the past year with forming the 4th class of students for the PT Training Center. Since November/December of 2018, we have had only four applicants who met our admission criteria so we had to postpone the start of this class three times. According to our original schedule, we would have held a session in August and it would have been necessary to adjust the schedule at the last minute due to this medical issue. It's a seemingly small detail that God was orchestrating months before the headaches even began. At the present time, we now have 7 qualified applicants and can schedule the first session of the 4th class as soon as we get one more! 

So many brothers and sisters in the body of Christ in Ukraine and America prayed for, encouraged, assisted, and blessed me. From prayers, to calls, to texts/cards of encouragement, to financial gifts, to business class airline tickets, to the loaning of a car, to meals - the list goes on and I will surely leave someone/something out. I AM deeply grateful for the care and love of my Heavenly Father and His children! Thank you to all who cared for and about me during this time!

I have now resumed all of my responsibilities at Agape and returned to a fully active lifestyle, with running (which I hope to resume in the spring) as the only exception. I am tremendously grateful that God restored my health so quickly and pray that the spinal leak does not return.

We continue to have plenty of work at Agape and many, many people on the waiting list for rehabilitation. We prioritize those whose injury or diagnosis occurred in the past 3 months. Previously people did not seek rehabilitation so quickly, but now the majority of our patients fit that time frame.

Our leadership continues to look for ways to expand Agape, both to allow more patients to have rehabilitation as well as for more people to have temporary residence and care. Plots of land surrounding Agape were purchased this summer and construction ideas are being discussed. Please join us in praying for the wisdom, finances and timing to expand Agape. The need is great and we want to be good stewards of the resources, personnel, and knowledge God has given us. Above all, we want more and more people with disabilities and their families to have the opportunity to hear the gospel and repent!

I'm sorry about the poor quality photos below, but this was Thanksgiving with our rehab team! We had a pretty traditional spread and dinner was followed by relaxation and games. I think these Ukrainians are getting the hang of celebrating American Thanksgiving! I love these people and was glad to get to share this holiday celebration with them.

As 2019 wraps up soon, I look back with gratitude and awe over the Lord's mercy and blessings in my life! And I am thankful for the brothers and sisters He has put in my life, both in Ukraine and America!

"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of deep darkness, on them a light shone." Isaiah 9:2

"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." 
Isaiah 9:6

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Sunday, June 30, 2019

All the happenings...

The past few months have been busy with both ordinary life and out of the ordinary events. We are now enjoying a wonderful Ukrainian summer and gearing up for camps later in July. But first, a little of what has been going on...

The warmer weather has brought more and more opportunities to host friends and acquaintances at our house. Sveta's home group meets here every Wednesday and recently enjoyed a cookout on the back porch...

Members of our therapy team typically come over a couple times a month for dinner followed by some educational session. For the summer, though, we have suspended the therapy education and they have instead been getting an education on how to play American football!

Sometimes friends from Agape will come over for a few hours in the evening and this week my home group will come over for a cookout. It has been a joy to be able to host people and we are very grateful for God's provision of this place!

We have also had the opportunity to enjoy God's beautiful creation and some of the beautiful cities of Ukraine. Sveta and I enjoyed a spring sunrise (before the sun started coming up at 5:00 as it does now!) by the river on the other side of our village.

We did some traveling around Ukraine while the bright yellow fields were in bloom.

During a recent long holiday weekend we took a 2-day trip with Larry and Tammy to see Lviv, Ternopil and the ruins of a castle. It was fun to see some new areas of Ukraine and spend time with these friends.

And we've enjoyed the beauty of God's nature as seen from our own back porch...

May held a couple of fun events. The first and most exciting was the wedding of our friend Vasya. Vasya is a quadriplegic and he first came for rehabilitation in 2015 and then attended camp that summer as well. He repented at camp in 2016 and was baptized the following year. He has also stayed at Agape for a couple of extended periods to undergo treatment for pressure sores, but his home was with his parents in the village where the Fimiam's retreat center is located. His home conditions allowed him very little independence, but he sought every possibility to maximize it. God brought Oksana into his life last year. She lives in another city and attends a church whose pastor is known by many in our ministry. It really is an amazing story of God's providence in the lives of these two people, first bringing them to Himself and then to each other. Earlier this year Vasya moved to Oksana's city to try living on his own for a few months before their wedding. That is an amazing accomplishment for just about any quadriplegic in any country, but particularly for one living in a small Ukrainian city. He succeeded and now he and Oksana are married...and have two children (Oksana's)! We were so excited to witness their union and look forward to watching how God uses their family!

The other event in May for me was a trip to Sweden to attend the European Spinal Cord Injury Congress. I met several new contacts that may be beneficial to us in the future, got permission to translate and distribute a booklet about diet and health for people with spinal cord injuries (which will be very helpful as there are not many written resources in Ukrainian related to spinal cord injury), and learned some new information to share with our team. I was also able to spend a few days with a friend from Ukraine who now lives there and showed me around a bit. 

Update on Agape: We continue providing rehabilitation and temporary housing for people with disabilities. We have again postponed the beginning of the next class of students at the PT Training Center as we wait for a full class. In the meantime, I stay busy assisting our therapists and managing office work for our department. I love being out in the therapy gym and interacting with the patients!

Just this past week we celebrated the Agape's anniversary! Three years have already passed since our opening and we celebrated by recalling God's blessings to us over the past year and praying together over specific requests from each department. Then we had a celebration dinner with the current residents of Agape. Sergiy and Natasha Bolchuk shared their story and how the idea of Agape was born and became a reality. God's work in and through it all was clearly communicated so we continue to pray for God's work in the lives of those who were listening. And we look forward with great anticipation to what the coming year holds!

One of our prayer requests for the past few months has been to sell a limousine that was donated to us by a local businessman. We used it during the Night to Shine event we hosted in February and then were told if we could sell it we could use the money to buy a wheelchair accessible bus. Our current buses routinely break down, consuming both time and money, so we have been praying and searching for the possibility to buy a new bus for some time. And the limo has been parked behind Agape since February, waiting for a buyer. We prayed again about it collectively on Tuesday during the anniversary celebration. And by Friday not only had the limo been sold, but a fully equipped bus was already standing in our parking lot that our leaders say we will likely purchase! God is good!

That's pretty much the scoop on the happenings over here. Camps are quickly approaching with family retreat July 16-21 and camp for adults with disabilities July 23-27. Please join us in praying for those camps. Sveta and I will work at Agape during family retreat and then serve at the adult camp. Several former Agape patients are planning to attend so we are praying for God's saving work in their lives. Looking back on the past few months I am grateful to see God's clear hand at work in and around me and I look ahead with great anticipation for what He will continue to do!

I didn't take this pic but it does reflect the beauty of an early summer evening in Ukraine!

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Oh my, how time flies!

These first months of 2019 have passed remarkably quickly and we are now slowly welcoming spring to our part of the world! I am more than happy to say "see ya later" to snow, cold, and limited daylight... 

...and "hello" to warmth, flowers, and sunshine!

In January our rehab team welcomed a new member into our family - sort of - as Ira gave birth to little Tima. They are both doing great and we are glad that we still get to see Ira from time to time - but we will have to wait 3 years for Ira's return to work at Agape as that is standard maternity leave duration in Ukraine. 

We held the final session for the third class of students at our PT Training Center in February. Five students officially graduated and two other students plan to retake certain aspects in the future in order to graduate. Teaching this group definitely presented Sveta and I with some new challenges, but God was faithful to provide and answer our prayers. One of the students, Alina, is now a member of our team, but the others all live in different regions of Ukraine so we look forward to hearing how God uses them in their communities. 

This session involved LOTs of simulated practice in an effort to help the students integrate and use everything they have learned. Sveta and I both spent plenty of time as "patients" before flipping the switch back to teachers and giving feedback and instruction.

The students living in Agape spent one of the final evenings at our house, fellowship and sharing God's work in each of our lives. I am thankful for the friendships God has given us with them. 
Graduation Day!
These students were super kind and generous, giving rocking chairs to each of us! 
Prayer before parting ways
Sveta and I were excited to finish this session for several reasons, not the least of which was that we headed out as quickly as we could with several members of our rehab team for a weekend in the mountains! For most of us skiing was the primary agenda, but Sveta says she thoroughly enjoyed her days at the cabin and serving as the cook for our crew. Our rehab friends are more and more like family and we truly love spending time together. This brief 2-day trip was no exception. God blessed us with beautiful sunny days and no injuries and we are ready to make it an annual trip!

Night skiing

Agape hosted a team of nursing students and professors from America in early March and Sveta and I got to open our home to two of the students. We enjoyed getting to know these girls and get to invest in their lives for a few days.

With the assistance of this team from America, our ministry held a 3-day camp for families in which the husband, wife or both have a disability. We were not present, but it has been exciting to hear how many of our former patients were in attendance. The testimonies about how beneficial their time at Agape was in their lives - for more than just physical rehabilitation - have been encouraging for the entire team. Rehabilitation is not always as successful as we would like it to be in altering the present lives of our patients, but we always have the opportunity to be instruments used by our mighty God to change lives for eternity! 

Prayer Requests:

- The presidential election in Ukraine on March 31

- The students who recently graduated from the PT Training Center. For God to use them in their work and for them to appropriately apply the knowledge and skills they've learned to help those in their communities.

- For the next class of students at the PT Training Center. We have received less applications than in previous years and are also being more selective. As a result, we have now postponed the first session for this class twice and we still do not have a full class. Please pray for the class to form according to God's timing and to be composed of those whom God would have us to teach.

- Agape: For God's provision of employees and finances and for God's love and truth to pour out through His people to those who come through our doors. Also for the future growth that our leaders believe is God's will for Agape - for exactly what that looks like and how and when to take steps forward.

Thank you to those who pray for us and the ministry here!

Come on spring! We're ready for ya...