Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Church Christmas Party

Maxime, Marina, Ira, and Joshua at our church Christmas party
Maxime, Marina, Ira, and Joshua

On Saturday the 27th, we had our church Christmas party where we invited people to come from the three English clubs we are involved in. Several people from our church also invited their friends and family. The Christmas party began to take life when Valya suggested that we do something for Christmas where we could invite people to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

Maria and Edna
Maria and Edna

Kristina playing the bandura and singing
Kristina played the bandura and sang for us.

It started with Valya's idea of having a skit that would portray the parable of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom that Jesus told about in the book of Matthew. It ended up including several songs by girls from our church, a bandura performance, a slide show on the life of Jesus, a presentation of why Jesus is better than Santa Claus, personal testimony, and of course a slide show of American Christmas scenes complete with classic Christmas songs by Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, Elvis Presley, and even Alvin and the Chipmunks.

Maria, Nastya, Zhenya, and Veronika singing

The girls performing a skit of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom
The girls performing a skit of the ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom from Matthew 25:1-13

Ruslan, Karina, Marina, and Anya at our church Christmas party
Ruslan, Karina, Marina, and Anya

Besides being a fun time for everybody involved, our Christmas party was a cooperative effort to work together with fellow laborers in Christ. Along with our church, Ruslan and Anya and a couple from their church, Andriy and Marina, poured their hearts into making this Christmas party a success.

After our church Christmas party
After the Christmas party we were all pretty tired, but thankful that everything went well and everyone had a good time. From left to right: Valya, Fedir, Nastya, Yana, Nikita, Ruslan, Anya, Me, Edna, Andriy, and Marina.

Maxime and Joshua with Fedir dressed as Did Moroz
Maxime and Joshua with Fedir dressed as Did Moroz

Fedir wasn't able to join us until almost the end of our Christmas party because he had to work. It was his job that day to dress up as Did Moroz and delight the young children as their parents snapped pictures and took video. As not to be outdone, the children also dress up in costumes for the occasion.

Fedir as Did Moroz with some children
Fedir as Did Moroz with some children

Sleigh Rides
I thought it was cool that there were sleigh rides going on that day too.

On Sunday, the following day, we continued this same type of unity by combining our church with theirs for a joint service. We met at their church where I was honored to be able to share a message on the sacrifice of Christ being born into the world and several girls from our church were invited up to sing. The skit of the parable of the ten virgins was also performed again.

Regardless of what we may have shared or said at the Christmas party, I think our willingnes to cross denominational lines, put aside doctrinal differences, and work towards a common goal of making the Gospel known, spoke louder than words. In this way, no one person can take credit. To God goes all the glory.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day in Ukraine

Edna and Joshua in the park
Edna and Joshua in the park.

Today we decided to keep the boys home from school since it was Christmas and snowing heavily (tomorrow is their last school day before the holiday break) . We made it a snow day and took a sled to the park. Joshua's friend, Yaroslav, also joined us (he stayed home from school too because he said he had a “headache”). We basically had the park to ourselves as we trudged through the fresh powder searching out hills suitable for sledding. We played in the snow and took turns on the sled until Joshua became hypothermic and Edna lost all feeling in her toes.

Joshua sledding down the hill
Joshua sledding down the hill while Dominic and I watched and Yaroslav chased after him.

Edna surprised by a bird landing on her hand
Edna was surprised when she put out her hand and a bird landed on it. A real Mr. Bluebird Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah kind of moment.

Dominic and I braved the cold a little longer to make a few runs down the little hill by our apartment building. Some of the neighborhood kids had set their sleds aside in favor of going sans sled down the ice covered slope. The kids convinced me to take a few slides with them on the treacherously slippery ice that last week's freezing rain had produced. I figured that since the hospital was less than 100 meters away and well within crawling distance, a few trips down the hill could be fun. I was right. Who could have imagined that gravity and some frozen precipitation would be so entertaining? I'm the only dad I've seen who actually plays with his children so the other kids had fun having a dad along for the slide.

Sliding on the ice

Sliding on the ice

Sliding on the ice

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Real Gift Giver

Grandfather Frost of pre-Christian Ukraine

With Christmas almost here for those in the West and soon approaching for us in Ukraine on January 7th, I thought it was a good time to talk about gift giving.

Did Moroz (pronounced Deed Mo-rose), meaning "Grandfather Frost", is not the Ukrainian equivalent of Santa Claus, but rather a pagan character that was used during communist times to replace any reference to the Christian holiday of Christmas. Did Moroz, along with his granddaughter, Snihuronka, the "Snow Maiden", bring presents to children around the New Year holiday.

Did Moroz and his granddaughter the Snow Maiden
Snihuronka and Did Moroz in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine

In the Soviet Union, Christmas trees were banned until 1935 because they were considered to be a "bourgeois and religious prejudice". They were brought back as "New Year Trees" since this holiday was not associated with Christians. In 1937, Ded Moroz (the Russian version of Did Moroz) for the first time arrived at the Moscow Palace of Unions. In subsequent years, an invitation to the New Year Tree at the Palace of Unions became a matter of honor for Soviet children. The color of the coat that Ded Moroz wore was changed several times. So as not to be confused with Santa Claus, it was often blue. Joseph Stalin ordered Palace of Unions' Ded Morozes to wear only blue coats. During the times of the Soviet Union's dominance over Eastern Europe, Ded Moroz was officially introduced in many national traditions, despite being alien to them.

Ded Morozes in Russia today

Of course in the United States and elsewhere, we have Santa Claus as our Christmas gift giver. But what does Santa Claus have to do with Christmas? It turns out that old Saint Nick has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Not in the beginning anyway. So where did the jolly man in the red fur suit come from then? I posted a blog about this very topic a couple of years back, so here's a quick history of Santa Claus from that post.

1. Nicholas was born in Parara, Turkey in 270 AD and later became Bishop of Myra. He died in 345 AD on December 6th. He was only named a saint in the 19th century.

2. Nicholas was among the most senior bishops who convened the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and created the New Testament.

3. In 1087, a group of sailors who idolized Nicholas moved his bones from Turkey to a sanctuary in Bari, Italy. There Nicholas supplanted a female boon-giving deity called The Grandmother, or Pasqua Epiphania, who used to fill the children's stockings with her gifts. The Grandmother was ousted from her shrine at Bari, which became the center of the Nicholas cult. Members of this group gave each other gifts during a pageant they conducted annually on the anniversary of Nicholas’ death, December 6th.

4. The Nicholas cult spread north until it was adopted by German and Celtic pagans. These groups worshipped a pantheon led by Woden –their chief god and the father of Thor, Balder, and Tiw. Woden had a long, white beard and rode a horse through the heavens one evening each Autumn. When Nicholas merged with Woden, he shed his Mediterranean appearance, grew a beard, mounted a flying horse, rescheduled his flight for December, and donned heavy winter clothing.

5. In a bid for pagan adherents in Northern Europe, the Catholic Church adopted the Nicholas cult and taught that he did (and they should) distribute gifts on December 25th instead of December 6th.

6. In 1809, the novelist Washington Irving (most famous his The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle) wrote a satire of Dutch culture entitled Knickerbocker History. The satire refers several times to the white bearded, flying-horse riding Saint Nicholas using his Dutch name, Santa Claus.

7. Dr. Clement Moore, a professor at Union Seminary, read Knickerbocker History, and in 1822 he published a poem based on the character Santa Claus: “Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse. The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in the hope that Saint Nicholas soon would be there…” Moore innovated by portraying a Santa with eight reindeer who descended through chimneys.

8. The Bavarian illustrator Thomas Nast almost completed the modern picture of Santa Claus. From 1862 through 1886, based on Moore’s poem, Nast drew more than 2,200 cartoon images of Santa for Harper’s Weekly. Before Nast, Saint Nicholas had been pictured as everything from a stern looking bishop to a gnome-like figure in a frock. Nast also gave Santa a home at the North Pole, his workshop filled with elves, and his list of the good and bad children of the world. All Santa was missing was his red outfit.

9. In 1931, the Coca Cola Corporation contracted the Swedish commercial artist Haddon Sundblom to create a coke-drinking Santa. Sundblom modeled his Santa on his friend Lou Prentice, chosen for his cheerful, chubby face. The corporation insisted that Santa’s fur-trimmed suit be bright, Coca Cola red. And Santa was born.

Here's what I think is interesting and worth thinking about. Communism tried to create a non-Christian gift giver for a secular holiday to detract from Christmas. In some respect it was successful. The New Year holiday is still more popular in Ukraine than Orthodox Christmas on January 7th, but the celebration of Christmas is growing more popular each year. This will be a good thing as long as people celebrate it for what it is, the celebration of the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. The irony is that in the West, the Catholic Church merged the worship of Nicholas with the celebration of the birth of Christ to draw pagan converts. The result is that today Jesus now has to compete with a fictional character called Santa Claus who is nothing more than a clever marketing tool. I won't even mention the multitude of lies we would be forced to tell our children to support the whole charade. Like how he gets in homes without chimneys, the deal with the reindeer, and their ability to fly at the speed of light to deliver all those gifts in one night. The list is endless.

For now, Christmas in Ukraine is mostly identified with Jesus Christ, although that could change as Santa Claus makes his way into Ukrainian culture through marketing and advertising.

The point of all this is to focus on the real gift giver, Jesus. He gave himself as a gift to us both in life and in death. He became a man that walked among us and He died on the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins so that we could have eternal life with Him and His Father. There is no greater gift than that so don't settle for anything less this Christmas.

Merry Christmas and may God bless you with His Grace and Mercy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lord, Hear Our Prayers

Yulia in July of 2008
This is Yulia in the center of this photo taken in July of 2007

Shortly after the above picture of Yulia was taken, we learned that she had been having fainting spells. This was later diagnosed as a brain disorder that had been left undetected too long to be treatable. Specialists in Prague and Moscow were consulted, but Yulia was told that all that could be done for her was to be given pain medication and be sent home to die. This was especially heart breaking for us since Yulia was a widow raising her daughter Masha on her own. We were devastated to think that this girl would become an orphan.

Each Sunday we began praying for Yulia that God would provide for her healing and recovery. We continued to pray for her as we got updates of her condition. I'm not quite sure of the details of how exactly everything took place, but somehow it was discovered that a procedure at a hospital in Turkey might be successful. The only problem was that it was going to cost something in the neighborhood of what the average home sells for in Central California.

We prayed that God would miraculously provide a way for Yulia to have this procedure and that He would guide the hand of these surgeons as they operated on her. Again, I'm not sure how it happened, but amazingly the hospital significantly lowered the fee for the procedure and enough people stepped forward to pay for the costs to make it possible.

Praise God that Yulia stood before us at church today to give her testimony of God's Sovereignty even in suffering. Against all odds, the surgery on her brain was a success. She last saw the doctor six months ago and has made a full recovery, but the story doesn't end there. While Yulia was in the hospital, a man named Yura began visiting her and praying for her. In fact, Yura began spending so much time with her that they fell in love with each other. Even in the face of death and suffering, their faith remained firm and their love blossomed. They are now happily married.

God not only restored Masha's mother, but through Yulia's suffering, Masha gained a father. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. May the name of the Lord be praised, yet how sweet it is to be witness to His giving.

Yura, Yulia, and Masha
Yura, Yulia, and Masha today at church

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bila Tserkva on Ice

Freezing Rain
Freezing rain caused everything to be covered by ice.

This evening as we headed home from English Club, we were met with an interesting phenomenon. Even though it was well below freezing outside, it was raining. The rain was immediately freezing on the ground causing an unusually slippery surface. I know this often happens in lots of other places, but being from the Central Coast of California, we've never seen anything like this.

We left English Club as a group, laughing and clinging to each other for support as we made our way to the bus. It probably would have been a bit more fun, had I not had our computer strapped to my back. We had to shuffle along to keep from slamming on to the ice as did all the people around us. Most people made good progress by just sliding across the ice as though they were ice skating.

Ira, a girl from our English Club, lives in a building close to ours so she walked, I mean slid, most of the way home with us. Normally this would be about a five minute walk, but it ended up taking us about twenty minutes. The fact that it was mostly downhill and we were laughing hysterically didn't do anything to expedite our trek home. I guess there's just something inherently funny about seeing women slipping, sliding, and falling in high heels on the ice.

As the three of us prepared to descend a particularly slippery slope, we had to wait (and laugh with) two girls who were struggling to climb the slight incline in their high heels. They would walk arm in arm for about five feet and then slide backwards to where they had started. They were being good sports and laughing too. What else can you do? Amazingly, each of us slid the twenty feet or so with out falling. The rest of the way home consisted of controlled slides of about ten to fifteen feet each. I think each of us went down at least once. Edna saved her fall until we were in sight of our building. She went flat on her back in a frozen pot hole. Thankfully it was dark and her pride remained intact with no one to see her squirming on the ice trying to stand up.

We eventually made it to our building with only our sides sore from laughing. It was definitely an interesting evening for us. There's never a dull moment in Bila Tserkva.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Making a Right Judgement

Maxime Playing Guitar
Maxime posing with a guitar at church.

Today before church, Maxime and Joshua were out playing until Joshua came in complaining that Maxime wouldn't share. Apparently, Maxime's grandmother had given him some money (a rare occurrence to say the least) and he had spent it on cookies and candy at the store and refused to give Joshua any. The first reaction Edna and I had was to question why we weren't getting through to Maxime with all the Bible teaching about sharing. After all, Joshua has always shared with him and we have treated him like one of our own children, so how dare he not share with Joshua.

When it was time to go to church we were still upset with how Maxime had acted. The one time he had the opportunity to share with Joshua, he didn't. When we didn't see him outside our building or at the bus stop, we figured that maybe it was best if he didn't go with us to church this time. Obviously the messages about sharing with one another hadn't gotten through to him.

We were more than a little surprised when Maxime showed up at church a few minutes behind us. He told us that he had run to the bus right behind us and had just missed it so he had to catch the next one. What happened next broke our hearts and made us see how poorly and wrongly we had judged. Maxime opened up the bag he was carrying his Bible in to reveal unopened bags of candy and cookies. He hadn't shared with Joshua because he was saving all of what he bought to share with the church. How could we have been so quick to judge? Maxime had not only taken the Bible teachings of sharing to heart, but had far exceeded our expectations. We had misjudged Maxime and the power of the Gospel message to transform lives. How humbled we both are by what happened.

Maxime was just happy that he could share what little he had with the church and he was excited to sit up front and listen to the worship music. Some members from our sister church in Kyiv provided us with some great music that included some songs in Hebrew.

Worship at Church
Maxime was fascinated by the music.

As if I had thought my birthday had somehow gone unnoticed, I was yet again surprised this year to be presented with flowers. I'm just glad they didn't announce how old I was. Not that everyone doesn't already know, you can't keep anything a secret in Ukraine, but at least they didn't say it out loud.

Greg's Birthday Flowers and Maria
Edna holding my birthday flowers as Maria admires them.

We were also blessed to have Ruslan and Anya (and of course, little Nikita) join us for church. It was nice to include them in our church family and introduce them to everyone. Nikita made his way around the room making friends with everyone, no introductions needed. Anya even stayed after church to practice a skit the girls will be performing as part of a Christmas outreach.

The Girls Practicing for Our Christmas Outreach
The girls practicing their parts while Valya gives careful instruction.

Today turned out to be a humbling yet fulfilling experience for me and Edna. I will never cease to be amazed at how God uses children to bring us to our knees and to bring us to the Cross where we belong. Glory to God.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Finding Value in All of God's Life

Greg with a 5 month old orphan boy
Me holding little "Dima" (and yes the smock with pink hearts was the only one they had for me to wear.)

On my birthday yesterday, Edna and I went along with her friend Marianna and a girl named Dani to a children's hospital in Kyiv. We went there to spend time with AIDS orphans who otherwise wouldn't have any visitors. They are sectioned off in their own little room where they have little opportunity for human contact. The only exception is a Catholic nun who spends a few days a week caring for these forgotten children. We could tell that she really loves them by the way that she lovingly handled them.

Edna and Marianna try to visit the children every Friday, but this was my first time. As we talked and played with these children, I couldn't help but think of how these little lives had simply been discarded by their parents. On top of being orphans, they had also been dealt a death sentence of having HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, society here views them as not only cast offs, but as cast offs to be feared and avoided. A recent BBC survey found that about 13% of Ukrainians believe the virus can be transmitted merely by touching someone who is already a carrier. I noticed that when hospital staff came in the room, they wouldn't even approach the children without first donning latex gloves.

Edna with a 5 month old orphan boy
Edna taking a turn with Dima.

I was privileged to be able to spend my afternoon with the three children who are currently tucked away in a little room in the hospital we visited. To protect their privacy I won't show their faces or give their real names, but I will tell you that their faces were just as bright and happy as any other of God's children. There was a little five month old boy, who we'll call Dima, that looked so perfect in every way, yet had been abandoned. We all took turns holding him and showing him the love he has so rarely gotten.

At first the two little girls, who we'll call Ira and Alina, were quiet and very shy. Four year old Ira would look at us and giggle, but she stayed very close to the nun who serves as her primary care giver while she is in the hospital. It was only towards the end of of our visit that she suddenly jumped into the arms of Dani and didn't want to let go. She was all smiles from that point on.

4 and 5 year old orphan girls with a nun
Ira and Alina playing a game of Memory with Dani and the Catholic nun.

Five year old Alina was another story. She was shy at first, but once I told her there was a spider on her neck, she began laughing and assuring me that she knew it was just me tickling her. Soon after, we began tossing around a blue bouncy ball that caused her to literally erupt in laughter. Gone was the shy little girl quietly sitting with her face turned down. Alina began to openly mock our Ukrainian and laugh all the louder at our funny accents. If that wasn't bad enough, she even began to mock our English. She would throw the ball to us and mockingly say "Wow!" or "OK!" when we would catch it. This caused her to laugh even harder.

It wasn't long before we drew the attention of several hospital staff and patients who stopped outside the window to see what all the fun was about. Along with bringing some light into these little children's lives, I hope we broke down some barriers with adults along the way. These children may seem insignificant to some, even burdensome, but their lives still have value. Yes they have been born into a world where they will suffer and die, but God has a purpose for them. The life He creates has purpose and value and I pray that more people here will see that. Please keep these little ones in your thoughts and prayers as people like Marianna continue to labor on their behalf.

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

Minding the Store

Joshua minding the store
Joshua watching over the scale and vegetables.

The other day I looked out the kitchen window and saw what appeared to be Joshua selling produce in the snow. I went down to the playground to see what he was doing. There had been a man selling cabbages, beets, and carrots near our building, but he was nowhere to be seen. Apparently, he had decided to take a break so he asked Joshua to watch his stuff for him. Joshua was standing by the produce scale waiting to assist any customers while the man was away when I took his picture. The man returned a few minutes later and thanked Joshua, who I think was a little disappointed that he didn't get to help any customers.

Afterwords we decided to play in the snow and make snow angels. It's the simple things that can be our greatest treasures.

Joshua the Snow Angel

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Prayer Request

My mother, Ann

When we think about making sacrifices to follow Christ's command to leave home and family to share the Gospel, what often comes to mind is culture shock and the lifestyle we have left behind. Most people visualize the physical sacrifices missionaries must make, but I've found that all the blessings we gain by sharing God's Word far exceed any of these minor inconveniences. It's the family we have left behind that often tug at our hearts more than any cravings of a lifestyle we once enjoyed or culture we once embraced. This is especially true when we know that one of our family members is sick or in need of our comfort. Thousands of miles of sea and land divide us and we know that we just can't jump in the car (even if we had one) and drive there when we're needed. We have to trust that God will keep them and show them the comfort that we are physically unable to provide them with.

My mother, Ann, is our biggest source of encouragement and we are so thankful for the ways in which she shows us Christ in her words and actions. She has suffered quietly for many years with spinal problems that cause her to be in severe debilitating pain. We are asking that all of you would please pray for her as she is being evaluated as a possible candidate for surgery. Please pray for the wisdom and guidance of the doctors and for her healing in the times to come. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A Night on the Ice

Joshua and Tanya
Joshua and Tanya hugging the rail.

Last night Ruslan and Anya invited us to go ice skating with them. Joshua and I accepted the challenge and met up with them and a few girls from their church and English Club. The ice rink is only about a ten minute walk from our place, but we had never gone before. I was impressed at how nice it was. It reminded me of Roller Towne in Visalia, where I often roller skated as a child with my friends to the tune of 70's and 80's music (because it actually was the 70's and 80's then). Surprisingly, the ice skating rink was playing the same music. Except for the addition of laser lighting effects and of course the cold ice below us, it was like being transported back in time to the days of my youth.

I was especially thankful for those ice skating lessons my mom insisted I take one year when I was about Joshua's age. Thanks Mom. Those lessons saved me from several potentially painful and surely embarrassing spills on the ice. I'm happy to say that the only thing to make contact with the ice were the blades on my skates. Some of my Ukrainian friends weren't as fortunate. That's not to say that I was tearing up the ice like they did in Blades of Glory, only that my fear of impacting the ice and having to actually be admitted to the hospital we passed on the way to the ice rink made me a cautious skater.

Joshua and Anya
Joshua and Anya gaining confidence.

Joshua was more than a little nervous at first (he also had images of that hospital running through his head), but he made good progress for his first time on skates of any kind. He stayed close to the rail as he worked up his courage. By the time Edna called to let us know that it was time for dinner, Joshua was hooked. He didn't want to leave. I had to drag him off the ice. He had such a good time and can't wait to go back someday. Once the river freezes over maybe we can look into getting ice skates. I had a great time skating and laughing with everybody as they took more risks than I did, ending up more on the ice than on their skates sometimes.

Ice Skating Rink
Ice Skating Rink
Ice Skating Rink

Anya and Ruslan on the Ice
Anya and Ruslan on the ice.

Joshua Ice Skating
"Look Mom! No Hands"

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Soviet Movie Day

Olya, Edna, Tanya, Serhiy, Andriy, and Greg
Olya, Edna, Tanya, Serhiy, Andriy, and myself watching "Office Romance".

Today we got together with some friends to watch a classic Soviet movie. It was called Служебный Роман (Office Romance), a romantic comedy that takes place in a Moscow office in 1976. We were totally blessed at how patiently everybody explained all the cultural aspects and all of the Russian idioms. Tanya and Serhiy did such a great job of translating and filling in the gaps for us. Thanks guys. It was so fun just to sit around eating and laughing about Soviet life and life in general. We learned so much about why some things are the way they are and why people do the things they do. It was a priceless afternoon and I hope we can do it again soon.

If you want to read more about this great movie, you can click HERE. It tells so much about everyday Soviet life in the office. It really wasn't much different than some of the things I've seen going on in American offices, especially the government ones.

Afterward, Andriy and Kolya tossed Joshua around our living room. He loved it.

Andriy and Kolya tossing Joshua around
Andriy and Kolya tossing Joshua around
Andriy and Kolya tossing Joshua around

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving, What It Really Means

Several Ukrainian friends have asked me what American Thanksgiving is all about as we prepare to celebrate it on Thursday, November 27th. Yes, it's origin comes from the Puritans in the autumn of 1621. Yes, we all sit around and eat turkey and enjoy each others company, but what is it really about. I think the best way to describe Thanksgiving is to look at how two of our American Presidents described it. For Americans, lest we forget, Thanksgiving is about giving thanks and it is to God who we give thanks on this day.

Thanksgiving Proclamation
City of New York, October 3, 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and Whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanks-giving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."
Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national. One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the People, by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and Us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

President George Washington

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

President Abraham Lincoln
William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

It is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God; to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations are blessed whose God is the Lord.
We know that by his divine law, nations, like individuals, are subject to punishments and chastisements in this world May we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war which now desolates the land may be a punishment inflicted upon us for our presumptuous sins; to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people?
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in numbers, wealth and power as no other nation has grown.
But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.
It has seemed to me fit and proper that God should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged, as with one heart and one voice, by the whole of the American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every pad of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November as a day of Thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

President Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, November 23, 2008

First Snow!

Joshua in the First Snow
This morning we sent Joshua to the store and this is what he found waiting for him. We noted that it took him an extremely long time to make his way there and back. He claimed he had to walk slow on the icy ground, but the snow on his gloves told us otherwise.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Weekend at Baka's (grandma's)

Joshua, Greg, Baka, Edna, and Edna
Outside of church last Sunday with Baka in Osijek, Croatia

After speakers week at the Bible College in Hungary, we were able to spend four days with Edna's Grandma, (Baka in Croatian). It was fun to spend time with her and communicate using Ukrainian. Baka only speaks Croatian, but a lot of words in Ukrainian are similar or the same in Croatian. At one point she was telling a neighbor how excited she was that we were speaking to her in Croatian. We learned to mix a few Croatian words in with Ukrainian to get our point across. It seemed to work out good enough for us to get by. It's just nice to know that the words for "I love you" are almost exactly the same in Croatian as they are in Ukrainian.

Old Osijek
A view of the old city wall from across the Drava River

With the help of Baka's neighbor Zlatko, who speaks English, we were able to share God's Word with her and its application for her life in Christ. We prayed together and agreed with Baka that we would read our Bibles together every evening. We will be reading a chapter from the book of John here in Ukraine as she reads the same chapter in John in Croatia. In this way we will be exploring God's Word together.

Dominic and Baka
Dominic and Baka

Joshua and Baka
Joshua (aka Mr. Magoo) and Baka

Baka and Edna
Baka and Ednitsa out for a walk in a village

Zlatko with his honey
Baka's neighbor Zlatko took us out to the home he built in a nearby village where he keeps his bees. Along with his wife Tanya and daughter Ana, we all enjoyed some Croatian style grilling. Zlatko also sent us home with three jars of that delicious honey in the picture.

Osijek on the Drava River
Looking towards the city center of Osijek from across the Drava River. The weather was beautiful and much warmer than Ukraine.