Sunday, September 28, 2008

Conference in Chernihiv and an Unlikely Teacher

Edna, Dominic, Nastya, Maria, Mathew, and Mark
Edna, Dominic, Nastya, Maria, Mathew, Mark and Joshua

On Friday, we traveled to Chernihiv for a church conference along with Nastya, Maria, and their mother Valentina. It was held at an old Soviet Young Pioneer camp in the forest on the edge of town. We were blessed with great fellowship and beautiful weather. It was the first time that members from our church were able to connect with other Calvary Chapel missionaries and like minded churches. Of course it was great to see old friends and meet a few new ones too.

Nastya, Edna, Maria, and Valya
Nastya, Edna, Maria, and Valentina enjoying the first sun we had seen in about three weeks

We were excited to be able to introduce Maria, Nastya, and Valentina to all of our friends outside of Bila Tserkva. They really liked the worship music and all the great teaching. Valentina was especially moved by Danny Foote's teaching on redemption. He did an amazing job of communicating the fact that we were "purchased" with the blood of Christ because of God's love for us.

We were all a little disappointed that we had to leave early to make it back to Bila Tserkva in time for church. (We went straight to church when we got into town and only had about thirty minutes to spare.) We left the conference just after Maria and Nastya performed one of their songs together during worship. We missed hearing Jake speak and I know that Nastya didn't get to say good bye to all the new friends she made or finish getting everyone's contact info. We're all looking forward to future fellowship and joint outreaches together. Thanks to the church in Chernihiv for putting on a great time of fellowship, mutual encouragement, and building up the body.

Josie, Angel, Joshua, and Mark
Josie, Angel, Joshua, and Mark just before worship started

So when the kids weren't at worship or in a class, they were out playing on the dangerous old Soviet playground equipment or in the woods catching all manner of God's creatures. They had fun.

Dangerous Soviet Playground Equipment
Mathew with a lizard on his nose
Mathew with a new friend

Dominic enjoying dangerous Soviet playground equipment
Dominic going for a spin

Mathew, Joshua, and Josie
Mathew, Joshua, and Josie

The highlight of this conference for me was when I came across an unlikely teacher. It was a teacher that wasn't on any of the schedules or that you would even think of as being a teacher in the first place, but she had a huge impact on me as I'm sure she must have had on others. Masha was no stranger to most of the people at the conference, but it was my first time meeting her. Masha is a little Ukrainian girl with Down Syndrome and a smile that can light up any room.

I was fascinated by how Masha was able to brighten the face of every person she met. She spent her time walking from person to person greeting them and reaching out to touch their hand or asking if she could touch their hair. She didn't seem at all shy and what truly amazed me was that she exhibited the exact love that Christ calls us to show each other. She didn't judge anybody, she didn't show any favoritism, she just reached out to people with Jesus in her heart.

Masha is such a blessing. It breaks my heart to know that children like Masha are prevented from coming into this world because people think they would be a burden if allowed to live. What a sad world we would live in if there weren't little lights among us like Masha to point the way to Jesus. I learned so much this weekend thanks to her. I hope to see her shining face again soon. We all do.

Masha, Joshua, and Maia
Masha sitting with Joshua while Maia looks a little jealous

Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. - Mattew 18:4-5

Saturday, September 20, 2008

God Can Open Doors (Literally)

English Club
English Club last night: Edna, Oksana, Yana, Nastya, Tanya, Inna, and Serhiy

In December of last year, we began praying that God would open doors for us at the university here in Bila Tserkva so that we might reach out to people through our English Club. (Currently we are using the TV series LOST as a way to introduce Biblical truths and English language discussions.) We were also praying that at least one guy who spoke English would start coming to our English Club. It had so far been all girls and we had jokingly called it "Girls Club". It had also been in our prayers to have a permanent translator at church since Maria, who usually translates, has to come from Kyiv on Sundays and can't always be here. God has been faithful in answering all these prayers beyond what we could imagine.

First, I'll start with Tanya. She moved to Bila Tserkva with her husband Kolya so that they could both teach at the university here. Tanya has been coming to our church for a few months now and we are blessed to have her. She has offered to act as a translator whenever we need her to. Definitely an answer to prayer. Tanya is also very active in our English club and has introduced us to several English speakers from the university. One of those people is a guy named Serhiy who also teaches at the university.

Through Tanya and Serhiy, we have learned that there is a satellite campus for the university that is even bigger than the main campus and includes student and faculty housing. Last Friday, we met for English Club at the Rosava Palace of Culture (where we always meet and also have church on Sundays). We had the largest group of people show up so far. Unfortunately, there happened to be an event going on that was taking up all the rooms in the building. Undaunted, Serhiy suggested that we use one of the classrooms at the university. A few of the girls couldn't make the trip across town, but the rest of us piled into a marshrutka (shuttle van) and headed for the university.

After we walked through the front doors of one of the campus buildings and Serhiy used his keys to open the classroom door, it hit me. We had prayed for open doors at the university and God had sent someone to physically open them for us. He sent someone who also happens to speak perfect English. God is Faithful.

Our English Club, which we have moved to Fridays instead of Saturdays, is slowing growing in size, one person at a time. It is also evolving into a more fluid and more tightly knit group. Our goal is to build relationships that will allow us to share the Gospel with people on an individual basis. We have struggled with ways to make this outreach successful, but it has only been through God's leading and His provisions that we have begun to see fruit. Sadly, we have heard that some students who wanted to attend our English Club, were told by their parents that they aren't allowed to attend simply because we are Christians, but God is in control.

Sometimes it's easy to try and plan things from the world's perspective. "Things work a certain way. There are formulas and rules to be applied for success. There is a pattern and plan that must be followed in order to get results." The simple truth is that the best marketing strategy in the world can't deliver the results that God can through our earnest petitions in prayer. God is sovereign.

English Club
English Club at the university last week
Front row, left to right: Yana, Tanya, Nastya, Anya, Edna
Back row: Me, Kolya, Serhiy

See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. - Revelation 3:8

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Bench Gang

The Bench Gang
Babusia Natalya, Baba Hala, Mykola, and Petro

These four are regulars on the bench downstairs. You can't go anywhere or do anything without them knowing about it. Edna and I usually just tell them where we are going or where we have been so they won't have to speculate or ask around. They are a wealth of information if we ever get curious about where someone in the building works or what kind of car they drive or what school their children go to. Nothing happens around our place without them knowing about it.

Babusia Natalya lives on the first floor with her cat, Astya, and Joshua sometimes helps her in her garden. Baba Hala also lives on the first floor with her German Shepherd, Jerry, and two Chows, as well as four generations of family including herself. Joshua often plays with her great-granddaughter on the playground. Mykola likes to talk about his health, which never seems to be good, and he keeps a close watch on the playground to make sure the children behave properly. Petro likes to take walks down to the river where he is an endless source of fishing advice and isn't shy about sharing it with us.

Someday I would like to replace the bench they sit on with a real one complete with a back. The one they currently use is just some scrap wood thrown together across some concrete blocks. It would be nice to show them how much they bring to our lives by helping make theirs a little more comfortable.

Seeds! Rain, Snow, or Shine

Seed Ladies
Selling seeds (насіння), all day, every day

Over the last year we've watched these women near our home who sell seeds, in particular, roasted sunflower seeds (my personal favorite). They also sell cigarettes, one at a time, and various plastic bags for all your shopping needs. The black unsalted sunflower seeds are a Ukrainian favorite. It's not hard to find someone selling these black little gems just about anywhere you go from sun up until late in the evening. I admire how tough these women are to sit through rainstorms, blowing snow, and blazing hot sun to sell seeds. Each one of these women also pack a stick that they don't hesitate to use on the incredibly bold pigeons who will often fly up and dip into the profits. Joshua calls the sticks "ho-lube (pigeon) whackers".

Seed Ladies
Seed Ladies
Seed Ladies
Seed Ladies

Happy Birthday Bila Tserkva! 976 Years

Bila Tserkva City Day
The statue of the city founder, Yaroslav The Wise, was adorned with flowers to commemorate the founding of Bila Tserkva 976 years ago.

Today is the Day of the City here in Bila Tserkva. Various ceremonies and a parade have marked the day. A massive fireworks show is scheduled for tonight and a few more events tomorrow will complete the weekend long celebration. I thought I'd share a few of the pictures I took this afternoon. The city Coat of Arms for Bila Tserkva is a bow with three arrows about to be released into the air. Here's a link to the official city website: Bila Tserkva. You can see that we are now experiencing cooler Fall weather and the leaves are starting to change color.

Bila Tserkva City Day
Bila Tserkva City Day
Day of the City!

Bila Tserkva City Day
Bila Tserkva City Day
Like most of the kids near the city center, this little girl was celebrating with some colorful bunny ears

Here's a message from the Mayor of Bila Tserkva about the city

День народження міста - завжди хвилююча подія для його
мешканців. Це свято улюблене і шановане всіма білоцерківцями.

У житті нашого міста - багато яскравих сторінок. З Білою Церквою
пов`язані імена відомих державних діячів, вчених, військових,
діячів літератури і мистецтва.

Майбутнє процвітання Білої Церкви залежить від нашої щоденної
праці і турбот про місто, від нашого бажання зробити своє місто
красивим і благополучним.

Від щирого серця вітаю всіх білоцерківців з Днем міста! Бажаю, щоб
у кожній домівці царили мир і спокій, збувалися всі заповітні мрії!

Це величне свято є даниною пам`яті наших предків, які упродовж
століть будували рідне місто і заповіли нам берегти його та
зміцнювати своєю щоденною працею.

З днем народження ношого улюбленого міста!

З повагою,
міський голова Савчук В.П.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why We Speak Ukrainian in Ukraine

Several people, both Ukrainian and American, have asked us why we are learning Ukrainian instead of Russian. So I thought I'd answer those questions by posting about it and sharing some of the history behind the Ukrainian language. Like some of the recent Government TV commercials proclaim, "I live in Ukraine, so I speak Ukrainian." It's not quite that simple, but almost. The official language of Ukraine is Ukrainian and that's what the schools teach. (It's interesting to note that the United States doesn't have an official language.) Since both of our boys go to Ukrainian public school and the dominant language in our region is Ukrainian, choosing Ukrainian over Russian was an easy decision. I'll admit that Russian can be more useful as an inter-Slavic language both in Ukraine and abroad, but God has called us to Ukraine not its neighbors. That's not to say that we don't learn some basic Russian, but our focus remains Ukrainian.

Statistically, Ukrainian is a growing language and we constantly see government programs promoting its use and expansion. In the 2001 census, 67.5% of the country population named Ukrainian as their native language (a 2.8% increase from 1989), while 29.6% named Russian (a 3.2% decrease). There are even children's camps where the entire focus is on learning the history and proper use of the Ukrainian language. The language of Ukraine and its culture has had a difficult and sometimes brutal past. Even before Ukraine was annexed as a part of Imperial Russia and later the Soviet Union, it went through periods where spoken and written Ukrainian was prohibited and only survived due to underground movements and the smuggling of Ukrainian literature.

The Ukrainian language and culture probably suffered most during modern times under the control of the Soviet Union following the genocide/forced famine called Holodomor. The following was taken from an article on the history of the Ukrainian language.

[Soviet policy towards the Ukrainian language changed abruptly in late 1932 and early 1933, after Stalin had already established his firm control over the party and, therefore, the Soviet state. In December of 1932, the regional party cells received a telegram signed by Molotov and Stalin with an order to immediately reverse the korenization policies. The telegram condemned Ukrainianization (allowing Ukrainian language and culture within the Soviet Union) as ill-considered and harmful and demanded to "immediately halt Ukrainianization, switch all Ukrainianized newspapers, books and publications into Russian and to prepare by autumn of 1933 for the switching of schools and instruction into Russian".

The Stalinist era also marked the beginning of the Soviet policy of encouraging Russian as the language of (inter-ethnic) Soviet communication. Although Ukrainian continued to be used (in print, education, radio and later television programs), it lost its primary place in advanced learning and republic-wide media. Ukrainian was considered to be of secondary importance, and an excessive attachment to it was considered a sign of nationalism and so "politically incorrect".

Major repression started in 1929–30, when a large group of Ukrainian intelligentsia was arrested and most were executed. In Ukrainian history, this group is often referred to as "Executed Renaissance" (Ukrainian: розстріляне відродження). "Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism" was declared to be the primary problem in Ukraine. The terror peaked in 1933, four to five years before the Soviet-wide "Great Purge", which, for Ukraine, was a second blow. The vast majority of leading scholars and cultural leaders of Ukraine were liquidated, as were the "Ukrainianized" and "Ukrainianizing" portions of the Communist party. Soviet Ukraine's autonomy was completely destroyed by the late 1930s. In its place, the glorification of Russia as the first nation to throw off the capitalist yoke had begun, accompanied by the migration of Russian workers into parts of Ukraine which were undergoing industrialization and mandatory instruction of classic Russian language and literature. Ideologists warned of over-glorifying Ukraine's Cossack past, and supported the closing of Ukrainian cultural institutions and literary publications. The systematic assault upon Ukrainian identity in culture and education, combined with effects of an artificial famine (Holodomor) upon the peasantry—the backbone of the nation—dealt Ukrainian language and identity a crippling blow from which it would not completely recover.

The Communist Party leader of Ukraine from 1972-1989, Shcherbytsky, purged the local party, was fierce in suppressing dissent, and insisted Russian be spoken at all official functions, even at local levels. His policy of Russification was lessened only slightly after 1985.

"For Ukrainian Children - Ukrainian School!" Protesting Soviet Russification

The Ukrainian language is currently emerging from a long period of decline. Although there are almost fifty million ethnic Ukrainians worldwide, including 37.5 million in Ukraine (77.8% of the total population), only in western Ukraine is the Ukrainian language prevalent. In Kyiv, both Ukrainian and Russian are spoken, a notable shift from the recent past when the city was primarily Russian speaking. The shift is caused, largely, by an influx of the rural population and migrants from the western regions of Ukraine but also by some Kyivans' turning to use the language they speak at home more widely in everyday matters. In northern and central Ukraine, Russian is the language of the urban population, while in rural areas Ukrainian is much more common. In the south and the east of Ukraine, Russian is prevalent even in rural areas, and in Crimea, Ukrainian is almost absent.

Modern signs in the Kyiv Metro are in Ukrainian. The evolution in their language followed the changes in the language policies in post-war Ukraine. Originally, all signs and voice announcements in the metro were in Ukrainian, but their language was changed to Russian in the early 1980s, at the height of Shcherbytsky's gradual Russification. In the perestroika liberalization of the late 1980s, the signs were changed to bilingual. This was accompanied by bilingual voice announcements in the trains. In the early 1990s, both signs and voice announcements were changed again from bilingual to Ukrainian-only during the Ukrainianization campaign that followed Ukraine's independence.

Use of the Ukrainian language in Ukraine can be expected to increase, as the rural population (still overwhelmingly Ukrainian speaking) migrates into the cities and the Ukrainian language enters into wider use in central Ukraine. The literary tradition of Ukrainian is also developing rapidly overcoming the consequences of the long period when its development was hindered by either direct suppression or simply the lack of the state encouragement policies.]

Dark Blue = territory where the Ukrainian language is used chiefly
Light Blue = other territories where the language is used
Gray = territory where Ukrainian is not used

So you can see that to many Ukrainians, especially where we live and in Western Ukraine, (some regions are predominantly Russian speaking) speaking Ukrainian is a symbol of national pride. It's not just a language, but an identity. I've witnessed two older men, who could both speak Russian quite well, take their time to properly speak Ukrainian to each other even though it was more difficult because Russian had been their first language. That experience gave me a better understanding as to why things are the way they are.

Knowing the history of Soviet Russification programs also helps to make some sense of why Surzhyk (a blend of Russian vocabulary with Ukrainian grammar and pronunciation) exists. Living in an area where Surzhyk is spoken, like we do, makes it difficult, to say the least, for anyone trying to learn pure Russian or Ukrainian. The villages in our region seem to have resisted Russification better than the urban areas. On our visits to one local village, we have always been surrounded by almost pure Ukrainian, in contrast to the mixture we sometimes hear in Bila Tserkva.

Transliteration, or the changing of words from the Russian or Ukrainian alphabet to English is another area that still confuses me. All Ukrainian cities have reverted to their Ukrainian names from the former Russian, so the correct transliteration of the capitol city (Київ) is Kyiv, but you will still find it on English language maps with its Russian name,(Киев) Kiev. Personal names are another area that often give me trouble. Transliterating often can make a Ukrainian name sound different than it should be pronounced. When you factor in that names change depending on how the person prefers it (Russian or Ukrainian), I really get confused. Oleg in Russian becomes Oleh in Ukrainian while Pavel becomes Pavlo. (I won't even mention the multitude of pet, or diminutive, names for each name.)

Learning and speaking Ukrainian is an ongoing adventure and one we are glad we have embarked on. While we love our homeland of the United States, we are blessed to share in the language, culture, pride, and identity that is unique to Ukraine.

Слава Україні!

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Outreach to Flood Victims in Western Ukraine (Part 4)

Sampling some of the fresh bread that was bought to hand out
Andriy and Dominic sampling some of the hot bread that we would later hand out.

Saturday morning we headed to within a mile of the Moldovan and Romanian borders to visit some of the worst hit areas around the village of Mamalyha. One of the biggest problems is the need for clean drinking water. The flood carried bacteria and waste into all the wells and polluted the ground water. The elderly were most affected because it is difficult for them to travel to get food and water. (Be sure and check out Conor's blog too.)

On the way to the village
On the road to Mamalyha

That is the high water mark on this well
Valera shows us just how high the water was, filling this well with mud and debris.

Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper
Along with food, the Chernihiv church placed Russian translations of Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper in these black bags.

Handing out food and Hope

This woman lost everything including her homeA woman's home completely destroyed
This woman told us that she lost everything she owns including her home on the other side of the fence. She is now staying with neighbors.

A family stands near their destroyed home
A family stands near their destroyed home.

Though He brings grief, He will show compassion, so great is His unfailing Love. -Lamentations 3:32

Moldova on the left and Romania on the right
The Ukrainian border is just down this road. The hills to the left are in Moldova and the hills to the right are in Romania.

Outreach to Flood Victims in Western Ukraine (Part 3)

Marina and Olya cleaning up in the house
Marina and Olya begin the cleanup work in the house

On Friday morning we began helping to cleanup around the home of Halya, a woman from the church in Novoselytsia. You can see from the pictures that the flood literally stripped away all the newly completed work they had done on the home.

Flood damaged walls

Conor looking at the damage to the walls

Andriy and Conor cleaning out the shed
Andriy helped me and Conor move some of the bigger stuff as we cleaned out this shed to salvage what we could from the mud. Later we would clean the mud off the table and bench so that we could share a meal on it.

Dominic cleaning off the mud from the jars of food
Dominic cleaned the bulk of the mud off of Halya's canned foods that Jake had rescued from her still flooded cellar.

Jake and Andriy cleaning the canned food that could be saved
Jake and Andriy cleaned up the jars of food that hadn't had there lids rust through.

Mira, Vlada, and Olya cleaning windows and screens
Mira, Vlada, and Olya cleaned the mud of the windows, blinds, and screens.

Greg and Conor after they cleaned out this shed
Conor and I had almost finished getting the shed cleaned out so the mud could dry.

Sitting down for a meal
We all sat down to eat on the table that had earlier been covered in mud and debris. Halya is at the end of the table serving us borshch.

After we left Halya's place, we got cleaned up and attended a Friday night service at our hosts' church. Jake was invited to share a message and Andriy gave his testimony while the girls were asked to lead a few worship songs. We were all greatly encouraged by the welcome we received and the fellowship we shared. Our hosts went out of their way to make sure we were always well fed and had a comfortable place to stay. They were all amazing.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. - Romans 12:10

After the service we traveled to a small village of about 3,000 people to attend a Friday night Youth Group. The village was made up of ethnic Romanians who spoke Romanian and attended Romanian speaking schools, something we were all a little surprised to find. The village was actually part of Romania until the Soviet occupation after WW II. The family that was hosting the Youth Group in their home told us that they had ten children, which is a little unusual in Ukraine. We talked and sang until about 1:30AM. Heavy rains forced some of us to spend the night in their home. It was a long, but rewarding day.

Friday night Youth Group
Friday night Youth Group

Some video of our evening together

Monday, September 01, 2008

Outreach to Flood Victims in Western Ukraine (Part 2)

Valya and Olya with a woman outside of her damaged home
Valya and Olya with a woman whose home was damaged by the flood

Just to give you an idea of where we went, this map shows the straight line distance from Chernihiv to Novoselytsia in the Chernivtsi Oblast (If only the drive had been that simple).

Once we arrived in the village of Novoselytsia and met our hosts from the local Baptist church, we waisted no time in getting out to meet the people. We picked up some food that had been donated by other Baptist churches in Ukraine and then the Chernihiv church also purchased some food and supplies to be distributed. We headed out to some of the areas in the village that had been hit by the flood. People were very grateful for what we could give them and had tears in their eyes when they learned how far we had come just to help them. Almost everyone had lost their gardens to the flood so any food we could give was greatly appreciated. Anya Knotts has also posted about this so please check out that blog as well. Mission: Western Ukraine flood area

Handing out food and water

Handing out more food

A woman describing the collapse of her home behind her
This woman is explaining how her house, behind her, collapsed during the flood.

The girls talking to a woman who lives alone
This woman lives alone and was thankful for what we could give her and for the time the girls spent talking with her.

A man walking his goat home
This man was walking his goat home when he saw us giving out food. I carried a bag of potatoes to his home where he and his wife showed me how high the water had come.

A couple showing me how far the water rose on their home

Once the food was all handed out, we decided to visit the home of a woman from the Baptist church there in Novoselytsia. She had almost completed an expensive remodel on her home when the flood hit. The water level had risen almost to the ceiling. There really wasn't much if anything she could salvage from her home. It was sad to see almost everything she owned sitting around her home waiting to be hauled away as trash. It was decided that we would spend most of the next day helping her clean up so that she could begin the process of making her home livable again.

Valera showing us how much water is still in the cellar of a woman from their church
One of our hosts, Valera, shows us how much water is still in the cellar of the woman from their church. All of her canned food for the winter was also still buried down in the mud.

Valya showing how high the water level was
We were amazed at just how high the water had risen in some areas. Valya can't even reach the highest water mark on the tree.

A rose from the mud
I noticed that while the garden behind this rose bush was dead and completely destroyed by the flood, this rose had not only survived, but had blossomed. That is my prayer for the people there. Not only that they survive, but that they blossom in Christ and look to Him to meet all their needs.