Saturday, March 29, 2008
Today Joshua told us about a little boy who was at a nearby playground. He told us that he was dirty, smelled bad, and his clothes were worn out and had dirt and leaves stuck to them. Joshua felt sorry for him because he was just sitting on a bench staring off into space while some of the kids mocked him and called him homeless. Joshua ran the mean kids off and tried to talk to the little boy and ask him what was wrong and if he needed any help. Some of the girls on the playground saw what Joshua was doing and also offered to help the little boy. They tried to talk to him and they asked him what was wrong, but his mumbled reply was, "Nee-CHO-ho", nothing. Joshua asked him what his name was and he thinks the boy said "Vitalik", but he wasn't sure. He asked the boy where he lived and all he would say was that he lived far away. The other children said that they had never seen him before and that he was probably homeless. Joshua said that the boy was sitting alone on the bench and seemed afraid or maybe too embarrassed to play with the other kids.
Edna and I decided to go to the playground and see the boy for ourselves. We looked around at all the benches, but didn't see any little boys sitting by themselves. I asked Joshua where he was and he pointed to a little boy climbing a play structure. I noticed right away that his shoes looked too small for him and that the zippers were broken. As I looked closer I could see that his black jacket and pants were filthy as though he had not just been wearing them, but living in them. I could even see the black soil under his fingernails. Right away I knew this wasn't normal for a Ukrainian child. This wasn't the kind of dirty you get from playing outside, but from neglect. Most likely he has parents somewhere that are unable or unwilling to take care of him due to alcoholism, making him one of the many 'social orphans' here in Ukraine. Maxime was much the same way when we first met him. All we can do is try to show compassion and the love of Christ to these children. We're going to ask around tomorrow and see if there is any way we might be able to help this little boy.
What happened next was what really broke me. I turned to Joshua and said, "I thought you said he was just sitting on a bench with stuff all over his clothes?"
Joshua looked at the little boy climbing on the play structure and said, "He was dad. I brushed his clothes off and took his hat and cleaned it for him. Then I prayed for him so that God would take care of him. After that, I took his hand and led him to the merry-go-round and pushed him on it for awhile. He seemed happy after that and played on the other stuff too."
What a simple act of love, and yet it would have been so easy to ignore or even to have been tempted to follow the other kids in teasing. As adults we might not openly mock someone, but how often do we pass by someone who is homeless or an alcoholic and think, "That's sad", but do nothing about it? At the very least we can offer them prayer. I know not everyone is easy to love, but God doesn't ask us to choose which brothers to love. He simply says love your brother.
I'm humbled when I see the overflow of love that can come pouring out of a child's heart in words and in action. Please Lord, let us be more like children and let us be recognized by our fruit.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart... For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. - Luke 6:45
Wednesday, March 26, 2008
I came across an article about a new book that addresses some of those questions. It tells the story of how two families recovered from tragic loss through Faith in a Sovereign God and how mistaken identity would play a part in it. I thought the article was worth sharing as it points towards God's Sovereignty even when we don't understand it.
Whitney Cerak says in 'Mistaken Identity' book she still asks why she survived crash
by Dave Murray | The Grand Rapids Press
Wednesday March 26, 2008, 7:11 AM
GRAND RAPIDS -- There were hints, early on, that Laura Van Ryn's family missed.
While tending to the bandaged young woman in the hospital bed, the family did not recognize the clothes that staff in a Fort Wayne, Ind., hospital told them belonged to Laura.
Her brother noticed her teeth seemed different and, later, her sister was surprised to see her navel was pierced.
Their doubts grew when a Spectrum Health therapist in Grand Rapids asked the college student believed to be Van Ryn to write her name, and they saw what she printed in big letters: W-H-I-T-N-E-Y.
"I'm the only person I know who's listened to her own funeral," the 20-year-old says in the epilogue of a new book written by the families whose lives were intertwined in an ordeal of joy, sorrow and faith. "That was pretty weird."
Why did she survive the wreck on April 26, 2006, when four fellow students and a staff member from Taylor University in Upland, Ind., did not?
"I still don't get that," Cerak writes in "Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope," released Tuesday. "Maybe I'm not supposed to. Even if I can't figure it out, I know that God has a purpose for it, even if I never completely understand what it may be."
Cerak, who grew up in Gaylord, spent five weeks in a coma while the parents of Laura Van Ryn stood vigil by her side, believing she was their daughter.
Authorities in Grant County, Ind., had confused the two young women during the chaotic aftermath of the collision between a semi-truck and a school van on Int.-69, midway between Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. Their blond hair and even some facial features were similar.
Cerak's parents, Newell and Colleen Cerak, declined to view the body they believed was their daughter's, preferring to remember Whitney as she had appeared in life.
Meanwhile, Don and Susie Van Ryn, of Caledonia Township, believed her appearance had been altered by facial injuries. Only when she began mentioning strange names while slowly regaining consciousness did they suspect something was amiss, the 275-page book explains.
Clerks at two area Family Christian Stores said copies of "Mistaken Identity" were selling shortly after doors opened at 10 a.m.
Don and Susie Van Ryn wrote of how they spent five weeks at the bedside of a woman they believed to be their 22-year-old daughter. Their story is mingled with that of Newell and Colleen Cerak, of Gaylord, who thought they buried their 18-year-old daughter, only to discover she survived the crash.
Both families share how their faith provided the strength to accept what happened, and they wrote the book with Mark Tabb, a former Indiana pastor. It was published by Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.
"None of us are in any way unique or special. We are simply average people who have accepted God's love for us, demonstrated through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection," say the families in the prologue to "Mistaken Identity."
Whitney Cerak says two things about God that I think more people need to hear. The first thing she says is that God has a purpose for what happened.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. - Romans 8:28
God is Sovereign. God is in control. He has a plan and it is for the good of those who love Him. If we are to find comfort in anything, it should definitely be in the fact that God is ultimately working for our good.
The second thing she says is that she doesn't know God's purpose for this event and even if she never understands it, that's OK. God is Sovereign. God is in control. She admits that maybe she's not even supposed to know why this happened.
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! "Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?" "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Note: Kristina is no longer allowed to use markers. Joshua was just thankful that it was a washable marker. Although he still wasn't happy about "the incident" at church.
We realized that since we will be leaving for California on April 1st and Orthodox Easter is celebrated on April 27th, we'll miss Easter this year. We decided that we would teach about Easter in church today, both with the children and the adults. It turned out to be a blessing for all of us, because for once no one was distracted by the commercialism of chocolate bunnies and plastic Easter eggs. We simply focused on the Cross and the gift that Jesus gave us through his suffering, death, and resurrection. Today we were able to celebrate the assurance of a shared resurrection in Christ.
But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. -1 Corinthians 15:20-22
Та нині Христос воскрес із мертвих, - первісток серед покійних. Смерть-бо через людину, і через Людину воскресення мертвих. Бо так, як в Адамі вмирають усі, так само в Христі всі оживуть. -1 Кор. 15:20-22
Friday, March 21, 2008
Since next week is spring break (and on the 1st of April we leave to America for 2 months), today is Dominic and Joshua’s last day at School #16. They will miss ‘Last Bell’ on May 31st. But they will be returning back to school in the fall, which always starts on September 1st (‘First Bell’).
Dominic and Joshua were the first foreigners to attend School #16. We had an agreement with the director and teachers that the boys would go to school and attempt to complete any homework that they could understand and would take an active role in the classroom. The primary objective of them being in school is learning the language, being a part of their community, and making friends. They know that they are also home schooled. We are grateful for their understanding and acceptance of the boys in school.
However, there were plenty of ups and downs. When Joshua and Dominic started going to school last September at School #16, I was very nervous. I think the boys were a little nervous, but they didn’t show it. As a Mother I worried about a lot of things. We all learned how different school in Ukraine is. Our boys had the afternoon session of school, which means they went to school from around 12:30PM - 6:00PM (sometimes later for Dominic). It was a big adjustment for me because I wasn’t always able to just walk to the school and talk to the teacher about any concerns I had. One time Joshua came home without his winter hat and told me that one of the boys in his class had taken it. My only option was sending him to school with a letter that I had translated into Ukrainian. Thankfully the matter was cleared up quickly and his hat was returned. Then another time Joshua came home to tell me that all of the children in his class went to the Doctor at school and got an injection in their backsides. He said, “Don’t worry Mom, it didn’t hurt.” I went looking through his backpack for a note that explained what happened. I also looked through his shodenyk (all of the children have a homework book that has all of their assignments, teachers notes, and grades) to see if anything was written there. I found nothing. I started to ask around about this and I was told that it was normal for children to receive vaccinations or flu shots at school. They routinely see the Doctor and Dentist at school.
For Dominic, he encountered some interesting things with his teachers. Since he is older, he goes to different classrooms for different classes all day. His homeroom teacher is also his English teacher. You would think that his teacher would enlist him to help, but she would rarely have him speak because she was embarrassed to admit that she couldn’t understand him. Dominic’s classmates would go to him for help with their English homework only to be told that Dominic’s suggestions were incorrect. Whenever they would have tests, Dominic would write out the answers correctly only to be told by his teacher that his answers were wrong. Dominic tried to explain that the answers she wanted weren’t grammatically correct (even for British speakers). She didn’t seem to care that the English she was teaching was wrong. The books might be wrong, but everybody uses the same books so therefore everybody, while not correct, is at least consistent. Dominic gave up and just gave her the answers she wanted. All we could do was laugh.
When the boys entered school Dominic was able to read Ukrainian while Joshua was still learning. They both had a limited knowledge of Ukrainian vocabulary. As time went on, we began to realize how much they could speak and understand. Joshua learned how to write in Ukrainian cursive in his class and before I knew it, he could completely read the alphabet. His teacher had taken the time with him to teach him the alphabet. She even taught him how to say the difficult letters that even we still have a hard time pronouncing. Joshua has learned a lot of both Ukrainian and Russian as well as the mixture of the two known as surzhik. Dominic is focusing on learning pure Ukrainian like we are, but picking up some Russian along the way is just part of life here. Not learning some Russian here would be like not learning some Spanish in Southern California.
We sent the boys off today, each with a box of chocolates for their teachers in appreciation for all their teachers’ patience in dealing with the two American boys. Maybe next year the boys will let us dress them up in little suits with ties for their first week of school like some of the other kids. Probably not, but a mother can still dream can’t she?
Today also happened to be the second day of Spring, but that didn’t stop it from snowing throughout the day.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
Today we had some excitement at the hospital near where we live. A small fire broke out somewhere near the top floor. Thankfully it was small and no one seemed to have been injured.
We were just surprised to see how quickly everything came together with all the different agencies working together. What they lacked in equipment, the Army, Fire Department, Police, and hospital staff made up for in cooperation. Had it not been for their uniforms, I would have thought it was all one organization working to save lives.
I couldn't help but think that the same should be true of Christians. I see too often cases where people's church affiliation keeps them from working with other churches to do exactly what they should be doing, saving lives. How many more souls could be won for Christ if we could learn to put aside doctrinal differences? I'm not saying we need to "take off the uniform of our beliefs" and pretend to all believe the same thing. I'm saying that like those men and women I saw all wearing different uniforms today, we should focus on our common goal of saving lives.
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Friday, March 14, 2008
We've started using the TV series LOST in our Saturday night English Club to share the Gospel with English speakers in our community. So far, it is turning out way better than we had thought it would. We show an episode of LOST which turns out to be about 45 minutes and then spend another 45 minutes discussing it. We play the episode in English with English subtitles to help everyone through some of the more difficult dialog and then we work some life application and biblical questions in. The girls seem to love it (That's right. No guys have shown up yet, but we do have two guys who have said they would go this Saturday).
We tossed around different ideas of what we could use. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) was our first thought since season one of 24 has a biblical truths study guide to go with it called, "Jack Bauer's Having a Bad Day: An Unauthorized Investigation of Faith in 24, Season One". We decided against 24 because of the amount of violence and fast pace that would make it hard for Ukrainian speakers to follow closely. We decided against Gilmore Girls because of how fast they talk and all the obscure American culture references, although Gilmore Girls is on TV here translated into Ukrainian. Walker Texas Ranger was even briefly considered but we decided Chuck Norris wasn't worthy enough to replace Jack Bauer. Sorry Chuck. Oprah is a familiar sight on Ukrainian television so we even gave her a thought, just kidding (Ukrainians have had enough of Oprah's New Age, self-improvement, do-it-without-Jesus, psycho-babble without us subjecting them to more).
Jack Shephard (Matthew Fox) won out. We were also pleased to find that LOST has a study guide for Christian discussion called "What Can Be Found In LOST?: Insights on GOD & the Meaning of Life from the Popular TV Series". LOST is popular on Ukrainian television under the title "Загублені".
Each meeting we have seems to go better and better. What started out kind of shaky and a bit awkward has become a lot of fun for us. About half of those who come are believers so we are blessed with fellowship each time. Please keep us in prayer as we seek to reach out to those who don't yet know Christ.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
We enjoyed great fellowship and shashlyk together
I just got back yesterday from a two day pastor-leadership conference in Irpen outside of Kyiv. It was great to get a chance to meet people from Calvary Chapel who are serving in Ukraine and have fellowship with them. God is doing amazing things throughout Ukraine.
The most important thing I took from the conference was something that John Chubik shared on the first night. He told us about a church member's father who had spent 14 years in a Soviet prison in Siberia because of his Christian faith. He told us that this man, and others like him, prayed for the day when the Gospel of Jesus Christ could be freely preached in Ukraine and men would be raised up for that purpose. He told us that we were the answer to those prayers. Our ministry in Ukraine has been built on those prayers. We are here in Ukraine because someone we probably don't know, prayed for us to come.
I think that message really affected a lot of us that night. It makes perfect sense, knowing that most of us, myself included, didn't just wake up one day and say, "I think I want to go to Ukraine". Most of us felt an overwhelming pull to be here and experienced circumstances and events that only God could have orchestrated to bring us here. It's comforting to know that the power of prayer and God's faithfulness to answer is so great that he would bring us here to serve His people in Ukraine.
I remember what a blessing it was to have someone tell us when we first started the children's ministry in our church here, that their Bible study had been praying for us to come for over a year. That's the kind of God we serve.
In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation. -Psalm 5:3
Sunday, March 09, 2008
Pastor Pavlo translating while I teach from 1 John
Several people have asked about the church we serve in here in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine so I thought I would share a little about it now. Edna and I have been blessed to be a part of this small, but growing church called Дім Милосердя, or in English, House of Mercy. The church began about three years ago when a group of Christians who were involved in a large denominational church decided to form their own non-denominational church. They wanted to get away from the politics and legalism that had taken root in the local church they attended. They wanted to be free to study God’s Word, fellowship, and worship in away that put Jesus in the center of their lives rather than an organization. The result is a growing group of people who love the Lord and are functioning as one body. We are truly blessed to be part of a family of believers who value God’s Word and serving one another.
Pastor Pavlo Ivanovich Mitichev was asked by the founding members if he would pastor the church which he has been doing from its start. Pastor Pavlo has been a pastor for 12 years in a sister church in Kyiv about an hour and a half away. Our sister church is a messianic church that meets on Saturdays and also has the name House of Mercy (you can check out the website that his daughter, Maria, designed for their church by clicking HERE) . Pastor Pavlo also works within an organization in Kyiv called Світло на Сході, or Light on the East (click HERE to see the website). They print Bibles, publish Christian magazines, and have a missions training program for Ukrainians who are interested in church planting. Pastor Pavlo and his wife Ira have four children, Ivan, Tanya, Maria, and Anya (Little Anya is in our children’s ministry). Pastor Pavlo lives in Kyiv so he has to make the trip to Bila Tserkva each Sunday and he said he will continue to do so as long as he is needed here. We are grateful for someone like Pastor Pavlo who is willing to serve wherever God calls him.
Edna and I have been serving in children’s ministry which we started in September of 2007. I have also been teaching short messages in the church since last July. I was ordained as a pastor in the church in early February of this year and have had the great privilege to be teaching through the book of 1 John. It is my blessing to be surrounded by people who are so eager to hear God’s Word and be excited about applying it to their lives. They make it all to my joy to be able to explore the Bible with them each week.
God led us to House of Mercy through a girl named Maria. Maria was hired as our interpreter when we first came to visit Ukraine in April of 2007. We knew that God was calling us to serve in Bila Tserkva and we thought that was with an organization here that ministers to orphans and the disabled. When we came back to live here in May of 2007, we soon realized that God had a different plan for us. We contacted Maria and she agreed to be our Ukrainian teacher while we waited on the Lord to show us the next step. She invited us to her church, House of Mercy, and we knew then that God had a plan for us there. It wasn’t long before they asked us if we could start something with children’s ministry where they had a huge need. Our involvement grew from there and we have since become very close friends with Maria and her family.
Maria is now working in Kyiv and going to school to complete her Masters degree in Business, but she usually comes home on the weekends. Her sister, Nastia, has helped us start an English Club on Saturdays where we hope to reach people through English. Maria and Nastia often sing together in church. Their voices are absolutely beautiful and Edna loves listening to some of the Christian songs they have recorded together. Maria’s parents, Fedir and Vala, are founding members in the church and are the administrative back bone of it. The amount of time and effort they pour into the church is amazing. I honestly don’t know how they do it.
Maria’s father, Fedir, works as an announcer for various events and was even the master of ceremonies for the Franklin Graham Festival that was held in Kyiv last year. He has also been working on recording audio versions of the Bible in Ukrainian and is an elder in the church. Fedir told us that his first language was Russian as it was for most people during Soviet times, but he made a point of learning Ukrainian. When Maria and then Nastia were born, Fedir and Vala decided that their daughters would learn Ukrainian first and then Russian, which was unusual in Soviet Ukraine. We’re convinced that’s why Maria was such a great Ukrainian language teacher for us.
Maria’s mother, Vala, told us that she became a Christian when she was 14 years old and she knew in her heart that Jesus was real. Her first Bible was a hand copied Russian Bible. As a Christian during Communist times, she wasn’t allowed to attend music school or any of the good schools. This didn’t stop her from learning to play the very complicated bandura , a traditional Ukrainian instrument. Vala has been so encouraging to us and so grateful for any help we give her. We always look forward to spending time with her and her family.
Today in church they handed out yellow roses to all the women in honor of National Women’s Day that was on March 8th. As usual, Maxime was with us after spending the night on Saturday. We took him out for pizza after church and made sure his physical body as well as his spiritual body were well fed. We think that he actually seems to be putting on some weight.
Hopefully I’ve answered some of the questions I’ve been getting from friends and family and have given everyone a glimpse of our church here in Bila Tserkva, Ukraine.
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
Бо як тіло одне, але має членів багато, усі ж члени тіла, хоч їх багато, то тіло одне, - так і Христос. - 1 Кор. 12:12
Friday, March 07, 2008
Oleh and Edna
Fridays are when Edna teaches English to Oleh and Kristina. It's been a blessing to be able to serve God's children in this way. Edna does most of the lesson planning and teaching, but I sometimes help her out by coming up with interesting ways to challenge Kristina. Kristina already has a good knowledge of English so we are focusing on Biblical terms and getting her used to interpreting. She usually goes to English Club with us on Saturdays and is a huge help when it comes time for Children's Ministry on Sundays. Kristina's mother and grandmother also attend church with us.
Oleh didn't know any English before Edna started teaching him, so he was more of a challenge. Oleh is our landlord's son and he lived in our apartment before they built a new house across the river. His parents aren't believers so it has always been our goal to show them Christ by how we live. It's a slow process, but we've seen a big difference in how they look at us. They were convinced when they first met us that we would skip out on the rent and leave them with a huge phone bill and a dirty apartment. Now, they regularly invite Joshua over to spend the night with Oleh and have been really good about helping us out whenever we've had any problems. We realize that it might be awhile before Oleh goes to church with us, but we intend to keep investing our time in him knowing that all things are possible in Christ Jesus. Please keep Oleh, his mother Olena, and his father Vitali in your prayers.
As soon as Oleh left after his lesson, Maxime and Dominic were in the kitchen waiting on dinner. We gave Maxime a special treat and fixed Hamburgers Americanski with fries. Maxime ate until he was about to pop, but he loved every bite. We know that God has placed this little boy in our lives for a reason. Our hearts break when we think about the conditions in Maxime's home so we do our best to open our home and our lives to him. We know that Maxime's life is in God's hands and we take great comfort in knowing that he reads the Ukrainian Bible we got him every night before he goes to bed. Seeing Maxime's zeal for learning about Jesus has been our greatest encouragement since coming to Bila Tserkva. Please pray for his continued growth in the Lord and that his mother and father might someday come to know the hope that is in Christ.
We thought our day was finally winding down as Maxime went home for the night, but before our door could close, Oksana from downstairs was coming in. She asked Edna to help her with her English homework while I helped her print up some business cards. Oksana sells Oriflame Swedish cosmetics, so we helped her out by giving her the professional edge you need in competitive cosmetic sales. Oksana is also a regular at our Saturday night English Club. Keep her in your prayers also as she has just recently considered going to church with us.
This has to have been one of our busiest Fridays yet, but it has all been to our joy.
Wednesday, March 05, 2008
My favorite story to tell is the time that an old woman from upstairs followed Edna into our apartment. She asked us what was in our bedroom. We let her look in and then she asked if Edna had potatoes in her shopping bag. Edna said no, so the woman asked to see what Edna had bought if she didn't have potatoes in her bag. Edna patiently showed her our purchases until she seemed satisfied. Our neighbor Olya came over about that time and told the lady that she had bothered us enough and it was time for her to go home.
Sometimes getting to know your neighbors means getting to know their pets as well. We realized the other day that as well as knowing our neighbors by name, we've also learned the names of their pets. There's Jerry, the German Shepard who lives on the first floor, Cesar, the Doberman who lives on the floor below us, and of course Vera, the 200 lbs. plus black Great Dane who lives on the 8th floor. It's kind of like having community pets. Everyone pets them and feeds them scraps of food, but at the end of the day they go back home.
This is Rocky. Rocky is an English Springer Spaniel. Rocky enjoys chasing cars, bicycles, and the occasional scooter. He does this while barking as loud and as ferociously as he can, right under our bedroom window, way before we are ready to wake up, every morning. I've learned to sleep through the crowing of roosters, but hearing what sounds like a dying turkey caught in a fan belt is a bit much. We've gotten to know Rocky quite well.
Rocky belongs to Andriy and Luda who Joshua sometimes sells scrap metal to. He's actually a pretty friendly dog and if he sees us in our bedroom by the window he'll come running. We usually feed him a few scraps so he's always happy to see us.
Life here is anything but boring.