Monday, October 3, 2016
During the first month I was gone we were very busy with English camps.
They were like nothing that I had imagined. As we discussed the bible stories we were reading and met with people from our small groups, trying to share the gospel with them I realized how very lost and hard these people were.
The first camp was mainly with people from Odessa, (The city that I lived in.) Odessa is hard soil- People are comfortable; life is better than during Soviet times and they don’t see any need for a Savior. (Sounds kind of like America)
For the average Ukrainian it takes about 2 years of hearing the gospel over and over again before they decide to follow Christ.
Despite this, several people moved a lot closer to God during this camp. We were able to follow up with some of these campers during August.
During the first camp I struggled a lot, between homesickness, exhaustion and feeling completely useless, unwanted, unneeded and inadequate I was ready to come home after the first day of camp.
Thankfully I didn’t have that option and God put people in my path to encourage me when I needed it the most.
(Never underestimate the power of genuinely asking someone how they are and listening, and asking how you can pray for them.)
God showed me during the last few days of camp and once I got back to Odessa that I was focusing on what other people thought of me or what I thought that they were thinking of me instead of focusing on who I am in Christ, and that not of anything that I have done but because of Christ and who He is.
Like it says in Ephesians 2, ‘for by grace we have been saved through faith, and this is not our own doing, it is the gift of God. Not a result of works so that no one may boast.’
We had a week between the first and second camp and by the time we were headed back to Kherson I was actually excited about the upcoming camp.
The second camp was by far my favorite, I don’t think that any of us, camper or leader, wanted the camp to end.
The campers ranged in ages from 13 to 19, the majority being under 17 years. These campers were from the war zone- even while they were at camp a group of boys learned that a friend of theirs had been killed by a stray bullet as he was standing in his garden.
Most of these campers had never met an American, had no idea who Jesus was and they were so eager to soak up every ounce of truth that they could learn, almost every single one of the campers said that their view of God had been changed and challenged greatly and they wanted to learn more about Him. Several of them wrote out the entire gospel in their “camp evaluations” and said that they believed it and have accepted Christ.
Unfortunately, because Avdivka and Dimitriov are 8 hours away from Odessa their discipleship has to be left for the most part to one young believer in her twenties who came as a guardian for the trip.
August was a lot slower than July; mainly follow up with campers, bible studies, English club and staff meetings and I was able to sit in on discipleship meetings as well.
It was actually a blessing to have August so calm because I then had the opportunity to get to know Kimberly (the young woman that I lived with), and the other members of my team.
It was a great encouragement and blessing to be surrounded by people who love the Lord and are passionately pursuing Him in every part of their lives. Their conversation, their lives and their deeds all pointed to their love for Christ, not that they have loved Him first but that He loved them and gave Himself for them.
The phrase “living in light of the gospel” was a common phrase to hear- not that they were perfect or that they thought they were perfect. This combined with the book of Philippians and a challenging message by Francis Chan and living in a foreign country was a powerful impact on me.
One day while I was there it struck me, I was in a country that was not my own, enjoying being there but I couldn’t wait to be home, I sang my national songs with gusto and longing, and couldn’t wait to feel American soil under my feet, be with people who spoke my heart language, (anytime I heard someone speaking English without a Ukrainian accent it was such a fun feeling. I wanted to shout "Please! Speak to me! Let me be your friend!!")
I talked about America almost any chance I got, the things that I did were not always in line with Ukraine’s customs, I didn’t dress exactly the way they did, I TOTALLY did not talk the way they did, I was in their culture but I was not of it…
America isn’t my home, although I love her and can be greatly distressed to watch the decay of what was once valued. My citizenship is not of this earth, if I can be so attached to, and eager to return to my earthly country how much more so to my true home? My goal here on earth as a believer should be so different that people can look at me and know, “She’s not from around here” (Just like they did in Ukraine.)
My heart language is the language of the gospel.
My national songs, songs of the Kingdom
To be anticipating and living in a way that shows I am anticipating the return of my King.
To speak of Him everywhere I turn
To love and respect people as God has commanded me to here on earth, and be a faithful ambassador on His behalf, but not to blend into the culture so that my heritage is virtually indistinguishable.
Time on earth is so short, eternity is much, much longer.
It is so easy for me to slip into complacency, “It’s too hard to try to talk about Jesus. I’ll just talk about the weather or the newest Marvel movie.”
Or into pride, “No one really cares so I’m going to stop trying and feel angry that no one wants to listen.”
But neither of those glorify God, which to glorify God is why I was created and He has prepared for me ways in which to walk, none of it is of me anyway so I have no reason to be proud and my King has given me a command so I have no excuse to be complacent and ignore Him.
All in all, I loved my time in Ukraine, I learned so much and I am very thankful that I was able to go.
I also want to thank each of you for your support through prayer and finances.
I would definitely go again if I had the opportunity and I would recommend it to anyone.
Last Sunday, Mark prayed Psalm 16 over us
|Kimberly's Farewell Party|
In the Odessa airport... It was very small, it had three gates. We had no idea if we were in the right place because the screen was blank until it was time to board.
Zach was a huge help in helping me figure out what in the world I was doing. He did most of the talking for us both unless I needed to talk for some reason.
It was so nice to get back and have the customs officer smile at you and ask about your trip. It felt like a welcome home from a stranger. :)
Home sweet home! Part of my beautiful family met me in the airport with roses and hugs.
(Mom, Dad, Elizabeth and Morgan.)
However, I had to wait for them to find me because we were at different exit gates.
Thursday, August 25, 2016
My bags are mostly packed- a few more things to be put in, in the morning.
I hope I sleep the whole plane ride away, but seeing as I have an aisle seat next to two seats with baby seats I doubt that will happen-although they may be really friendly people with no qualms about a strange American girl holding their baby... That would be cool too.
A bowling party with the team and stories from Kimberly about her time here.
Kimberly and I, Kim and Oksanna
My last marshutka ride for the summer.
Mark is trying to bowl backwards... :P
Anyway, in less than twelve hours I will be leaving Kimberly's little house on Chubaevskaya street for the last time and be headed to the airport towards America.
Monday, August 15, 2016
It sounds so very uncomfortable to say that... Not wanting to sound prideful or lifting ourselves up to such a place of esteem... Kimberly was telling me about this quote from a book she was reading "The Praying Life" They are very powerful and life changing words... if they are true.
"You are the center of your Heavenly Father's affections"
This is a place reserved for Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit in their one-ness and love they are the center of their own affections... right???
John 17:22-23 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that all the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
Ephesians 1:4-5 Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him, in love He predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God. and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.
1 John 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His So to be the propitiation for our sins.
1 John 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God and God abides in him.
This is a radical and amazing gift.... Learning to be His child and not strive or try "to love Him more" but to come humbly before Him
confident because of who HE is- not because of who I am;
because of what HE has done not because of anything that I must do.
Satisfied with the love that HE pours undeservedly over me, not because of how much more I can love God.
To be satisfied and content with God and who He is and find fullness of joy in His presence instead of constantly striving to "be better," and miss the joy of knowing Him.
Tuesday, August 9, 2016
My portrait was drawn by dear Misha... I think that maybe I need to start wearing make-up again. ;)
Karla, Misha, Me
Our picture... A community project- each of us had a part in it.
Said my goodbyes to these dear ones and their parents and aunt today. :( :( I am so grateful to have been able to meet them all and I will miss them. :( :( :(
They have to leave town for a few weeks and likely won't come back until I have already departed.
Kimberly and I had pancakes, nectarines and ice cream for supper last night... Yes, ice cream comes in a sausage-like roll here.
When we were at the store getting supplies for our supper we also happened upon matching socks and decided that it was meant to be.
It hasn't rained very many times while I have been here... Three times actually, to be exact. This was on Sunday and it POURED for a good hour to two hours. The streets still have puddles! (Take note, it is Tuesday afternoon here already- not Tuesday morning like it is in the states.)
SO... After a wet adventure of getting to the cafe all of us girls from Ivano Franko waited out the storm in the cafe and had tea, conversation and a small hawaiian pizza.
Ivano Franko Bible Study
I actually led the Bible reading and vocabulary this Sunday but no pictures to mark the momentous occasion. ;)
More pictures of the rain...
Kimberly and I at the Kutless concert
English Club on Saturday
So what does an American do in Odessa when the camping trip is cancelled and you aren't old enough to go to the war zone-without-a-parent-because-if-you-die-the-government-would-have-issues...
I've been able to go to Anneke and Arkadiy's twice and hangout with them and play with Misha and Karla which has been such a joy.
Zhenya and I were able to get together last week and hopefully she will be able to come and read the Bible with Sasha and Lily (two friends of Kimberly's) and Kimberly and I tomorrow.
Staff meetings, English clubs have started on Saturdays now, Sundays are always busy, prayer meeting, church, lunch and Ivano Franko Bible study occasionally meetings after that, wandering Odessa with Kimberly... Oh, last week I was also able to go to Michelle's house and attend a birthday party for an orphan graduate there which was fun.
Last week when I met with Zhenya was also pretty momentous because it was my first time taking the bus by myself and having to talk to people on the bus, in the grocery store and in the coffee shop (AKA McDonalds... plans changed when I realized the actual coffee shop wasn't open) That was an experience in and of it'self.
We also had Zhenya and Lidia (a couple on our team) and their little boy Matthew, over for supper and ice cream, cookies and conversation. It was a wonderful time.
It is so hard to remember what I have told which people and who actually reads this blog to know what I should leave out saying for the fear of redundancy... Hopefully this is a decent overview.
I've been learning about trusting God as I have been trying to make plans for when I come home, work, further education and future... etc... I hate making decisions, as you probably know! Even trying to decide what to eat at a restaurant is stressful so I usually try to stick with the same thing... I know that God works through our decisions and it doesn't really matter to Him where I decide to work, what to study, where to live and do ministry- if I am seeking His will and lining up my decisions with scripture I can have the freedom to choose what I want to do and He will guide and lead through that.
I can tend to worry that some how I will make the wrong choice and God won't be able to work as much as He may have been able to, had I chosen the other option.
This is a verse that God brought to mind that has really encouraged me.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.
I can have the freedom to choose, trusting that God will use my choice for His glory. Of course, hold every plan loosely and surrendered to God for Him to mold and shape or change completely but also have freedom to live 'to the hilt' every situation that I believe to be the will of God. He will guide and He will lead, in all my ways, acknowledge Him.
It was an encouragement to me even though I have heard those verses a hundred times and I hope it is an encouragement to you as well!
17 Days until I come home. :) Can't wait to see everyone at home but I will miss everyone here very much. :(
Wednesday, July 27, 2016
In the back is Thomas.
L to R, Sergey, Arkadiy, Sergei, Sasha, Andrey, and in the front is Oksanna.
Alika with her sweet note that she pleaded with us not to erase... I told her we could take a picture to save it forever. (I didn't mention that I would have to erase it before leaving but she knows and is content that I have the picture.)
Fully dressed, Kimberly and I were persuaded to join the boys from camp and two of the girls in the big, dirty lake... We had a wonderful time!
We had a mouse in our room and had an all out attempt to capture in kill it... which means- we stood, mainly on our beds, and shone flashlights on it until Mark got there.
L to R,
Me, Ruslan, Sergey, Vika, Ilya, Mark, Kimberly, Vera
On Monday I went on a last minute trip to the catacombs under Odessa with this wonderful group of guys... As soon as I got in the car Misha pointed out that I was the only girl.
Zach is the one sitting, Thomas is not actually trying to look the statue of liberty.... Misha is enjoying the view and Arkadiy is almost not in the picture so you can't see what he is doing... Oh well, I'll tell you... He is being the mature one and just casually standing on top of an old world war II truck exhibit because in Ukraine you can do that! It's great! (There is even a thousand year old castle fort here that you can visit and walk the walls and go inside and everything.)
Rob and Zach.... being Rob and Zach... (They became the best of friends it was such a fun relationship to see... They are both jokers and goaded each other it was very funny to watch!)
We had a great time! After the catacombs we went and got shaurma and baklava. :)
Tuesday, July 26, 2016
Shoulders weary, laden, worn
Striving upward on a hill,
Burden heavy, dirty, torn
Pulling fiercely, climbing still.
Knowing surely, burden must
Be carried onward from the cross.
Doggedly, blindly, pushing onward
Determined to burn up all the dross.
Plodding, plodding, always plodding
Onward trodding, from the cross,
Toward His heaven climbing still,
Afraid to stop or all is loss.
Master sadly shakes His head,
bends down from His throne;
Gently touches little me,
tells me I am not alone.
Bids me open eyes & see,
I wonder how I cannot know,
And blindly I ignore Him,
When truth & light He free bestow.
He keeps on calling out my name,
Telling me to stop, & turn away from muddled mire
I think I hear from up above
& so I keep on climbing higher.
He knows my burden blocks my ears,
I am His sealed & washed in blood
He will not see me walk away
From His presence, grace & love.
He pulls my burden hard away,
Clinging to it, I fight His mighty hand & moan
About my unwillingness to let go, I say that I’m
‘Afraid I’ll fail & never make it on my own.’
In a whisper He calms my heart
& shows me truth anew
His Son He sent, my burden bore,
There’s nothing left for me to do.
My burden of who I thought I had to be
Fell slowly to the ground,
I thanked Him for His grace & love
But again, I began to look around.
I didn’t fully trust His grace
And what He said He did.
I somehow thought I could save face
& dismiss all the sin I hid.
He passionately pursued me,
& tore my selfishness from me away,
It hurt, ingrained so deeply,
Held by sin’s dark way.
Blinded to my pride,
I thought I could press on, in my own
He knew better & in His grace
Would not let me, by wind be blown.
I pray to walk by His side,
Along the narrow way,
For this I’m made,
To worship Him all day.
To be an arrow on the road,
Not gathering crowds around me in a little glade
But pointing towards the cross of Christ,
Where every debt was freely paid.
By His grace & that alone,
I stand here truly free,
& if my burden I lift anew,
Again, His truth will chase me.
& someday in His sacred place,
I’ll see afresh how very wrong I am.
When I look into His face,
& weeping touch His hands.
His grace is deep & love is wide,
His sacrifice was limitless,
To cover every single sin of mine
& I simply must confess;
That naught of good have I done,
Or ever could I do;
You clothed me in your righteousness,
& made my life anew.
Knowing surely, burden must
Be left behind at that rugged cross.
In His strength I’m pushing onward
By His grace He’s burning up my dross.
I’m sealed in Him
Held firm by grace
Until my final breath on earth,
& waking see His face.