Monday, October 29, 2007

A Night of Culture

Traditional Russian Dance

Traditional Russian Dance

Our good friend, Fedir, invited us to go see a performance put on by a group of Ukrainian dancers last night. Along with traditional Ukrainian and Russian dancing, they had several gifted singers. All the music for the event was performed by an orchestra. The energy and skill of the dancers was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Dominic and Joshua are still talking about it. We all had a great time and can say that we are more in love with the language, culture, and people of Ukraine than ever before. Thank you, Fedir, for an evening rich in Ukrainian culture. Дякую. Я бажаю тобі щастя.

Click on the photos for larger sizes. These are just a few of the pictures I took. You can see more by going to Flickr.

Traditional Ukrainian Dance
Traditional Ukrainian Dance

Traditional Ukrainian Dance

Ukrainian Dancers

Friday, October 26, 2007

Blessings in California

“The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life. I will advise you and watch over you.” - Psalm 32:8

As most of you know, I took a very sudden and unexpected trip to California. The Lord laid it on my heart to make the trip to see my Mother and Father in law, Ann and Rich. Ann had a knee replacement in April which healed up very nicely. Then, in July she stepped into a hole and herniated several discs in her back. She had been in a lot of pain and was left feeling a little depressed from it all. Right before my arrival, she went in for a procedure called an epidural, which is a conservative approach before surgery.

Before I left Ukraine for California, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to come to be a blessing to Ann and Rich, to uplift and encourage my Mom in particular. I wanted to help her around the house with whatever was needed. I just wanted to bless her in any way I could. I was also feeling some depression trying to take hold of me and I also asked the Lord to encourage my heart, teach me new things, and renew me spiritually during my trip.

Rich, Me, and Ann

I just wanted to tell you all how much God has blessed not only Ann and Rich, but also me! Ann and I prayed together just about every day. We went before the Lord in prayer, asking Him to be the lifter of our heads, that He would lift the pain, and heal her back. Each day, we could see the Lord working in so many awesome ways. Slowly, her back pain was easing up and she was able to do things that she wasn’t able to do before. I would drive her to physical therapy and saw such an improvement in what she was able to do each time she would go. We both began to feel the fog of weariness and depression lift from our lives. We thanked God everyday for the marvelous things He was doing in our lives. I am so grateful for her. We have a very special relationship and from what I can tell, a rare one. She truly loves me like her daughter, and I love her like my mother. I don't know what I would do without her.

I was also blessed by the people I would meet. God always has a way of leading us to the people we need to talk to. I was so impressed by the office where Ann has physical therapy. She goes to Bacci & Glinn in Visalia. Bob Bacci is a Christian and has no problem letting his clients know. He has bibles out to read and also literature from Crown Financial. Another surprise to me was that he contracts from a place called Workforce Chaplaincy. A Chaplain named Paul Gendron visits and provides spiritual advice or counsel for the employees and clients. It was so nice to meet Bob Bacci and Chaplain Paul and tell them about our lives in Ukraine. It was such a blessing to know that Ann is being treated by the best in town!

Rich and Boris in the shop

When I left Ukraine, I brought our dog Boris back to live here in Visalia. The Ukrainian’s thought we were crazy, but he wasn’t allowed to stay in our apartment and we didn’t want him to freeze to death in the winter. Rich wasn’t too happy about the idea at first because we had left our little Jack Russell Terrier (Spencer) here with them and he was hit by a car and killed. It was so hard on them to lose him because they grew so attached to him. Boris was used to life in Ukraine and he had no idea what life here was like. He had never been put behind a fence, never had a dog toy/bone to play with. This ranch is such an ideal place for him we thought. Well, when I would take Boris out of the yard for walks he would go to the neighbors who have children and dogs. He would get under their fence somehow and just want to play with all of them. We were beginning to think that maybe he would be happier somewhere else. I placed an ad for him in the paper. The next day, Rich had a change of heart and decided that Boris deserved another chance. Thank the Lord for such a blessing!

Tiffany and Me on her front porch

I also made a trip to San Luis Obispo and stayed with my very dear friend from Calvary SLO, Tiffany Cook. I stayed for 4 days and had such a wonderful time! I want to thank Tiffany for her kindness and hospitality during our stay. It was so good to see Justin and Arabella again. My, they have grown! We had such a great time together doing girl things. We went shopping in downtown SLO and she blessed me with some new shoes! They were exactly what I needed for Ukraine. Thank you Tiffany for your valuable friendship and unconditional love and acceptance towards me. And thank you for the clothes that you gave to me to take back for Maxime!

Edna, Maia, and Anya

I visited Calvary SLO on the same Sunday that Jake & Anya spoke at the church about what is happening up in Chernihiv. Jake said it the best when he spoke and said that America is cool for a few weeks, and then you want to go home. I wanted to cry when he said that because it is so true. I felt pure indifference visiting my hometown, which I have always loved so much. It just didn’t seem the same to me. I was really missing my real home in Ukraine. God really sealed that in my heart that day and I won’t ever forget it. I had a wonderful time meeting with the ladies who attended the Fall Gathering on Saturday, and then catching up with those I met with on church that Sunday. I felt so blessed to be counted worthy to serve the Lord in Ukraine and then come back and share with my friends all of the amazing things God is doing there.

I want to say a big THANK YOU to Pastor Bryan. He gave me a $200 shopping trip to Michael’s so that I could get anything that I needed for the children’s ministry at our church in Ukraine, House of Mercy. And thank you to Cindy Ecret, as she donated to me a very big bag of her own assortment of different crafts! Thank you to Roxanne Foote who gave me a big bag of books for us and the boys to read. And Taffy! Thank you for the bags of Butterfingers for the boys! I just felt so full of joy and happiness because those were things that were really needed back home since we began a children’s ministry with nothing but some markers! Now I am loaded up with so many crafts that I had to call the airline and get a missionary waiver for a third piece of baggage. Praise the Lord that I can take the excess piece free of charge!

Me, Tricia, Elijah (who turns 1 next month!), and Mike. They are our old neighbors. I also met the new tenants of our old place (which is behind us) and they now go to our church, CalvarySLO!

On the last day in SLO, I visited as many of my friends as I could possibly fit into one day! If your picture is not posted here, you may go to Flickr and look at all of the photos I took of my trip there. Thank you to all of my friends who greatly encouraged me, prayed for me, and gave to me. It meant so much to me. I felt so much joy that weekend that I thought I would burst! God is so awesome and so faithful to provide for all of our needs.

For the last week, I have been very anxious to get home. I leave here this Monday. The Lord has put so many things in my heart and has renewed my passion for serving the people of Ukraine. He has filled my heart with so many ideas. But most of all, he has truly renewed me, encouraged me, spoken to me, and erased any lies the enemy had created in my mind during my last few weeks back in Ukraine. He has taught me so much during my trip here. Just deep, personal things that have been sweet to my soul. I am so grateful for the time that He gave me here.

And last, but not least! I want to thank my wonderful and very capable husband for what an awesome job he has been doing taking care of our boys and our home in my absence. We've been able to communicate daily via email or sometimes by phone. I am truly blessed to have a husband who is so committed to the Lord and loves me with all his heart. What more could I ask for in life? Praise the Lord for all of his blessings!

- Edna

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Life and Death in Ukraine

Babusya Maria, Our Neighbor from the 8th floorI found out a couple of days ago that our neighbor who lived on the 8th floor of our building had died. The boys knew her as Babusya (grandma) Maria. She was always so nice to us and willing to talk. She spent many summer evenings sitting on the bench below our kitchen window with the boys and some of the other neighbors. She walked with a cane, so I remember helping her up the stairs when the elevator wouldn’t be working. She was always cheerful and always laughed at all the silly things Joshua would do on the playground.

Today they carried Babusya Maria from our apartment building on the way to the cemetery. I don’t know if she was sick, but she seemed well enough the last time I saw her. It made me realize how much of a mist or a vapor our lives really are as we are here one day yet vanish the next. We have been reminded of it several times since coming here. To get back home once, Joshua and I had to walk around the body of a man who had drowned in the river. Another time, all of us sat on the bus watching as they began to take away the body of a man who it appeared had just collapsed and died while walking in the parkway. Even now, a girl from our church is suffering from a terminal brain disorder. Death is a simple fact of life here.

I think Babusya Maria was a believer, but I don’t know. I never took the time to find out. We talked about the weather, how beautiful the river is, and how the boys are doing in school, but I never ventured to speak about what really matters, Christ. I guess I felt my language skills weren’t up to the task or maybe since she appeared healthy I didn’t feel a particular urgency to discuss salvation. Whatever the reason, I missed that chance.

But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

1 Peter 3:15

А Господа Христа святіть у вашик серцях, і завжди готовими будьте на відповідь кожному, хто в вас запитає рахунку про надію, що в вас, із лагідністю та зі страхом.

1 Петра 3:15

I have to ask myself if I was prepared to give the reason for my hope. I know in my heart that I was prepared to give that answer, but Babusya Maria never asked me to. The reality of death and those perishing around us without having known Jesus should be a call to boldly share the Word of God. Yes, be ready to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have, but why wait to be asked? Simply tell them, possibly before it’s too late, in anyway you can, that Jesus is the reason for the hope that you have.

I want to be able to say that I lived my life as Paul did in the last verse of the book of Acts. Luke tells us about Paul,

Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Acts 28:31

І проповідував він Боже Царство, та з відвагою повною беззаборонно навчав про Господа Ісуса Христа!

Дії 28:31

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Letting God's Word Speak

Children's MinistryI’m learning just how powerful God’s Word can be when you let it speak for itself. This is especially true with children. I have to admit that I’m more nervous speaking to the small, but growing group of children at church than I am when speaking to the adults. Children tend to ask a lot more questions and for right now, I’m not using an interpreter. I hope to someday not need an interpreter, but I’ll be the first to admit that at the moment my Ukrainian is somewhat lacking. I discovered that by using some Ukrainian Bible exercises with questions and group discussion, I can have the children take turns reading as I lead them through it. We then read the actual corresponding verses in Ukrainian (as well as in English) and do some activities and crafts. Today, I decided to do some review before we started a new lesson. I was happy at how eager the children were to answer the questions and read through the exercises.

I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to help them understand the parables or concepts properly until Maxime asked me something that I couldn’t answer in my own words. He pointed to the bread and the wine set out for communion and said, “What’s that?” I explained that it was bread and wine. He said, “I know, but what’s it for?” Maxime is learning, but still knows very little about the Bible. I started thinking of ways I could explain it to him. Then I started thinking of ways I could explain it to him in Ukrainian. I realized pretty quickly that I wasn’t going to be able to explain and have any confidence that he really understood. I decided to let God’s Word speak for me. I found all the relevant verses in Ukrainian and had Maxime read them. Finally, he understood and realized that we do this to remember Christ as he instructed us to do. This of course has prompted him to ask more questions like, “What was his body given up for and what is the new covenant?” The beauty of this is that God’s Word has not only brought understanding to Maxime, but also more interest in His Word. All I did was point Maxime in the right direction and let God’s Word speak. This isn’t a substitute for good solid Bible teaching, but it was the only tool I had at the time. It turned out to be a surprisingly sharp tool as well.

Children's Ministry

Friday, October 19, 2007

My Best Friend

Хто жінку чеснотну знайде? А ціна її більша від перел: довіряє їй серце її чоловіка, і йому не забракне прибутку!
-Пр. Соломона 31:10-11

It’s hard to imagine just how much you will miss someone until they’re gone. Edna has been in California for more than three weeks now and will be coming back home on the 30th. It’s not that I can’t manage to keep our home in order, but it feels strangely empty and cold without her. I realized as soon as she left that she was the one who brought life to our home and made it a place of comfort and warmth. Now it feels as if it’s in a state of slumber, waiting for her return. I’m not the only one to notice this. Our boys have both commented on how things feel different without Mom here. We find ourselves doing things around the house not because it has to get done, but because Mom would have done it that way. The neighborhood kids have all asked as well, “When is Miss Edna coming home?” They know that she would always stop what she was doing to bring out tea and cookies and play a game of UNO with them.

Separation shows you just how much you can rely on the person you love to hold you together emotionally. The strain of everyday life, especially in a foreign country, is eased by that person you have committed your life to. Working together to raise a family, maintain a household, and share the Gospel with people can be one of the most rewarding things in the world, but it can also be very demanding. The key is to cherish these times good or bad, because the best day in your life would be the worst if you didn’t have your beloved to share it with. I’m so thankful that God granted me that perfect companion to share this life with for all its sorrows and joys.

A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
–Proverbs 31:10-11

Monday, October 15, 2007

"Christian Mercenaries", Consumerism, and Peet's Coffee

I was reading through an online advertisement for family-oriented, Christian DVD’s for sale through a Christian retailer. Just in time for Christmas you can buy a heart-warming DVD called The Christmas Blessing. The artwork for the DVD had a picture of Rob Lowe on it. This caught my attention as Rob Lowe isn’t someone I would normally associate with Christian themed movies. I decided to read more about the movie and was a little shocked to read that the main character, who has his belief in God and his faith renewed by Christmas miracles, is played by Neil Patrick Harris. I find this a little disturbing since Neil Patrick Harris is currently living with his boyfriend and last year was quoted as saying, “I am happy to dispel any rumors or misconceptions and am quite proud to say that I am a very content gay man living my life to the fullest and feel most fortunate to be working with wonderful people in the business I love."

The most disturbing part about this is not the actor’s lifestyle, since he is free to live and die as he chooses, but the fact that he would be cast in the role of a Christian in a family-oriented movie. Of course other Christian produced movies have used unsaved actors to promote Christian based entertainment, but not in this manner. The movie The Visitation is a good example. Edward Furlong (not a Christian) was cast as the villain in the movie. A lot of the cast and crew were Christians. Christians portrayed Christians for the most part and according to someone who was on the set, Edward Furlong was a little strange, but he would patiently listen to other Christians who shared their faith with him.

It just seems wrong to me that in the case of The Christmas Blessing, we as Christians would be served up a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It seems to me that the aim of a family-oriented, Christian movie should be to inspire people and give impressionable young children suitable, Christ-centered role models on and off screen.

It makes me exam my own role in all of this as a Christian consumer. I have the (buying) power to reject the use of what I call “Christian Mercenaries” in media intended for a Christian target market. Can you imagine Marilyn Manson cast as John the Apostle in The Passion of the Christ? Or how about as the host of a Children’s Bible Stories TV show? I’m sure if the money was right he’d become a Christian Mercenary.

How much responsibility do we have as Christians to behave as Christians when we act as consumers? What I mean is, do we make consumer choices like the rest of the world or should we make choices based on what the Bible teaches us? An example of this could be your choice of coffee. If you can choose a Fair Trade coffee over a non-Fair Trade coffee, then why not choose a coffee that promotes better health and education for the impoverished people who grow it? Love your neighbor as yourself.

I would also apply this to avoiding a consumer choice that promotes something very unbiblical. Someone told me of an encounter they had with a person from the corporate office of Peet’s Coffee and Tea who was responsible for community outreach programs and donations of coffee products. The company representative was contacted to see if they would be willing to donate coffee for an event that was being held to benefit the homeless and local needy families. She was interested in donating coffee until she found out that the people volunteering to host the event were affiliated with a Christian organization. She was very rude and stated that Peet’s wanted nothing to do with Christians. (Except maybe as customers?) In contrast the same request was made to Starbuck’s who were happy to donate coffee as long as the event being held was not used to promote any specific doctrine. Fair enough.

I decided to check this out for myself by going to both companies’ websites. In regards to donations, Peet’s states, “Please note: Peet's does not donate to political or religious organizations.” Starbuck’s policy states that they will donate to religious organizations as long as it is not “for the purpose of promoting religious doctrine.” These policies of themselves would not necessarily make me choose one over the other, but what they support would. I looked into what both of these two coffee giants claim to support and was a little disgusted with what Peet’s says they proudly support in regards to the arts in the community.

“Peet’s Coffee & Tea and Berkeley Rep (Berkeley Repertory Theatre) have enjoyed a growing partnership over the last decade. Our two companies have a shared history in Berkeley since our beginnings in the 60s.” “We are delighted to continue our mutually beneficial relationship for another exciting season.”

I read further into a couple of the plays that were listed on Peet’s website and copied some exerts from their reviews.

Secret in the Wings

“The play is spattered with age-old horrors that appear repeatedly in mythology and folklore: cannibalism, beheadings, live burials, incest, children chopped up and replaced with changelings, gruesome metamorphoses that stem from a thoughtless curse. The suggested connection between pedophilia and fairy tales, often sexual in nature, is an unsettling overture.”

Fêtes de la Nuit

“Be forewarned: Fêtes de la Nuit is a naughty valentine. It contains strong language, adult themes and nudity. It’ll be irresistible to mature audiences!”

I understand that we’re talking about the city of Berkeley, but my point is that given a choice, this isn’t what I want to support through my purchases of Peet’s coffee. I guess what I’m trying to say through all this ranting is that we as Christians have the consumer power (and biblical responsibility) to make a difference in this world. We can’t be overcomers in this world if we avoid worldly things, but we can display Christ in how we act as consumers. When we accept a movie like The Christmas Blessing because we have rationalized that it brings about a greater good or knowingly make poor consumer choices, we begin to chip away at the Cross. We start to turn the Cross into just another piece of jewelry that everyone wears around their neck. We cheapen what Jesus did for us.

I usually avoid these types of topics, but with retailers gearing up for Christmas, I thought it was a good time to vent my concerns. I’d be happy to hear any of your thoughts on the subject.

“In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:16

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Children's Ministry

Children's Ministry

We just got back from church where I tackled the children’s ministry by myself for the first time. I couldn’t find any of the pre-packaged kids’ packets that I liked so I put one together from scratch for the parable of the lost sheep. I didn’t have a translator so I relied heavily on God’s Word to speak for itself, in Ukrainian. I asked if everyone understood and they did, except for Dominic and Joshua. Oops. I went through the parable again in English and then we went to work on coloring and crafts. My class consisted of five Ukrainians and two Americans. We are praying that this number will continue to grow as word gets out about how much fun the kids are having while learning about the Bible.

Maxime's Artwork
Maxime was excited to take his coloring home.

This Lamb is for You Mommy
“This lamb is for you Mommy.” (and yes, the wool was made from shredding your cosmetic cotton puff pads. Sorry Mom.) The Ukrainian verse below the lamb says:

See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.
Matthew 18:10

Friday, October 05, 2007

One Body

Church at the Invalid Center

Last Sunday our church, Дім Милосердя (House of Mercy), couldn't meet in the usual place due to the national elections going on. Instead, we met together with two other churches (one from Bila Tserkva and one from the town of Fastiv) at the Invalid Center across the street. We had a combined service with lots of different worship and the sharing of testimonies to the Glory of God. The service was held on the second floor so we needed to carry the people in wheelchairs up the stairs. It was encouraging to see how God is working here among the Ukrainian people to foster a true sense of community and brotherly love for each other.

The Pastor and His Wife from Fastiv
A husband and wife from Fastiv

Maria's mom playing a bandura, a traditional Ukrainian instrument

After the service, the head of the Bila Tserkva City Association of the Children-Invalids and Their Parents, asked if I would be interested in getting involved with the children they work with. I'm looking forward to setting up a time to meet with him and see how I could be a blessing and more importantly, encouraging other Ukrainians to help serve God's children. In a place where so much darkness and hopelessness seems to hang in the air, it's a true blessing to witness God's church advancing as One Body.

Dominic and Joshua after Church
Dominic & Joshua enjoying tea and cookies after the service

The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ.
1 Corinthians 12:12