Tuesday, January 27, 2009

From Pryluky with Love

At the Table
Edna, Bohdan, Tanya, Nastya, Yana, Joshua, Kolya, and Vlad sitting down to eat borshch

On Saturday, five people came from Calvary Chapel Pryluky to help us out with worship in our church here in Bila Tserkva. Vlad, Kolya, Bohdan, Tanya, and Yana blessed us with fellowship and some help learning to play guitar for me and Nastya. Vlad also helped us to pick out a guitar that we can use for worship at church. (I don't know how, but Vlad was able to get our internet to work with our Macintosh for the first time, so we are especially excited about that. Life just got a little easier.) We are so grateful for all the help and advice they gave us and honored to have them as guests in our home. Thanks again guys.

Worship at Home
Oksana, Edna, Tanya, and Bohdan

Our neighbor, Oksana, came over to copy some songs to a CD, but when she heard the worship music coming from the other room, she forgot about the CD and sat down to listen. We were shocked at how much she enjoyed listening. When we told her that they would be leading worship on Sunday, she asked excitedly if she could come. She was at our door dressed and ready to go an hour before church the next day. I was totally amazed at how she was drawn to the worship music and how she intently listened through all of the teaching. Praise God.

Joshua and Bohdan
Joshua and Bohdan

Nastya practicing
Nastya practicing some of what Vlad taught her

We are excited to see how quickly Nastya is learning to play guitar. We aren't surprised since her entire family is so musically gifted. We hope some day that she will be able to play well enough to lead worship at church. She already made the first sacrifice when she had to cut her nails to hold the strings properly.

Worship at church on Sunday with Bohdan, Nastya, and Kolya

Also on Sunday, we were happy to meet a girl named Masha who joined us at our church for the first time. Interestingly enough, she found us through this blog, so I'm encouraged that God would use it in such a way. I have no doubt that Masha will be a blessing to us.

Thanks to everyone from Pryluky, we were able to have one of the most intimate times of worship we have ever enjoyed here in our church. Including the time spent in fellowship after the service, we were in church for almost four hours and it still seemed too short. We are eagerly looking forward to future visits and joint outreaches with Calvary Chapel Pryluky. We are currently working on a few ideas, so please pray that God will use us all for His Glory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I've been Tagged!

Old Edna

Well, I am finally getting around to posting the 7 weird/random things about me since I was tagged by Ira. The rules for this tag are posted below. I think this kind of thing is really fun so thanks for the tag!

1.) I *LOVE* cleaning. Seriously. I enjoy cleaning my house or anyone else's house for that matter. I almost never mind doing it. In fact, I like to clean when I have a lot on my mind because it is good stress relief for me.

2.) All of the plants I have ever had have died within a few weeks of getting them. I try really hard to take good care of them and they always die. For my birthday in December, I received several plants as a gift (my request). Already one has died and the others aren't looking too good.

3.) When I was 3 years old I fell out of the window of our 2 story house and landed on the hood of the car down below. My parents said they had never run so fast in their lives. When they found me, I was crying because I had landed on a bee. Thankfully, I was not hurt.

4.) I like to smell things. To me, everything has a scent and I like to find out what it is. I even like the smell of plastic and gasoline. Sometimes my family catches me smelling something and they laugh and say, "Mom, did you just smell that?" I thought I was unique until I found out that my Grandma in Croatia does the exact same thing! I had bought a bottle of (unscented) glass cleaner there in Croatia when I was visiting her last. I didn't plan on taking it home, so I gave it to her. She looked at it carefully and then smelled it. We all started laughing hysterically!

5.) I am the most clumsy person I know. I trip on flat surfaces and bumpy ones too. I don't need a reason to trip and fall. I just do. All the time. Along with my clumsiness, I often spill things or break glasses. All on accident. Nonetheless, we have gone through a few sets of drinking glasses.

6.) I like to be silly. Really silly. Usually only at home where I am most comfortable. I like to play around with my boys and we can be pretty goofy together. Dominic told me the other day, "Mom, I am going to tell the kids at school that I have a weird Mom!". We try to include Greg into our silliness but he is too serious. :)

7.) I am really scared of heights. Unreasonably so. I even get scared walking over a bridge. I am not sure why, but every time I am on some high height, I am convinced that I will fall somehow.

So, now you all know how strange I am! And I guess I need to tag some more people. So, I tag:

Marianna Peipon
Bryan Stupar
Christy Claycamp
Benjamin Morrison
Conor McNamee
Koren McNamee
Elyisa Larson

Monday, January 19, 2009

Seven Things About Myself

At the Cross on the river today (my previous post explains this picture)

So, I've been tagged by Ira and now I have to tell you seven things about myself according to the rules.

1. I wasn't supposed to be born. At 35 years old, my mother was shocked to discover that she wasn't suffering from the flu, but morning sickness. Doctors had told her that she could never conceive a child and further assured her that she would not be able to carry one to term. One doctor was so convinced that he scheduled an abortion for her to avoid any complications her unusual pregnancy might present. She adamantly refused and I was born at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo, CA thanks to her faith in God and not doctors.

2. I have a scar under my chin that required seven stitches. I can't remember how old I was, but I remember that I was wearing a cape and pretending to be Underdog. My downfall, quite literally, was caused from running across a polished dining room table with socks on. I landed on a toy work bench that opened up my chin like a salmon fillet. I still remember my mom holding my chin together as my dad drove to the doctor. When it came time for the stitches my dad had to politely excuse himself from the room to "check on his truck" outside.

3. I met my best friend, Joshua Ryan Marshall, at Mooney Grove Park in Visalia, CA when we were both two years old (I'm two weeks older). He had a nose bleed and my mom gave his mom a handkerchief to help stop the bleeding. Joshua Ryan Silva was named after "Uncle Josh".

4. When I was about seven years old, my grandmother and grandfather lived on the same ranch with us in another house. One day my grandmother sent me home with a fresh baked lemon meringue pie. I sat under an orange tree and ate the entire thing. The next day, my grandmother asked my mom how the pie was. "What pie?"

5. I was a sniper in the U.S. Army. This came as no surprise to my parents since I was obsessed with shooting for as long as I can remember. I was just like the kid in A Christmas Story. My dad overruled my mom's objections and bought me my first BB gun. It didn't take long for him to regret that. What can I say? I was good. Windows, gauges on tractors, and even overhead lights were no match for my marksmanship skills (Sorry Dad). At least I never shot my eye out.

6. I like mustard on my fries and on anything else I can put it on for that matter. Unfortunately, it is no where to be found in this part of the world. Occasionally someone is generous enough to mail us some, but I long for the day when I will find it for sale here.

7. Someday I want to visit the city of Prypiat near the Chornobyl Nuclear Power Plant only a few hours from where we live here in Ukraine. It had a population of 50,000 people before it was abandoned in 1986. I've always been fascinated by ghost towns and this has to be the biggest in the world. I've already been to Slavutych, the city that was built to replace it, but my dream is to walk the streets of Prypiat one day.

So there you have it. Seven things about myself that hopefully allow you to know me a little better.

Just about everybody I know, including my wife, has been tagged, so I'm going to bend the rules a little and just tag one person.

Micah Claycamp

Tag! You're it.

Baptism of Jesus and Epiphany Bring the Christmas Season to an End

Today marked the official end to the Christmas season here in Ukraine. The Baptism of Christ and The Epiphany are celebrated today with water blessings and people plunging into icy rivers and lakes through holes cut in the ice. I celebrated by breaking through the ice in our river last night and taking a quick dip to avoid the crowds today. (This was also done to spare myself unnecessary mental images. The majority of people who partake of this event are elderly and they do it sans clothing.)

Here's a quick overview of the holiday:

"Epiphany (Ukrainian: Bohoiavlennia). A religious feast on January 19, popularly called Vodokhryshchi (Blessing of Water) or Yordan (Jordan River), which completes the winter (Christmas–New Year) festivities cycle. Its Christian content is permeated with old agricultural rituals of diverse origins. The Eve of Epiphany is called ‘the second Holy Eve’ or ‘Hungry Kutia’; in Podilia it is also called Shchedryi Vechir (Generous Eve). It calls for a more simple meal than on Christmas Eve but with kutia still as the main traditional dish. The principal ceremony of Epiphany traditionally consists of the solemn outdoor blessing of waters, usually at a river or at a well, where a cross is erected out of blocks of ice (nowadays water is usually blessed inside the church). Often a cross is cut in the ice, a wooden cross is placed vertically with beet drink poured upon it so that it turns red, and decorated with flowers and pine branches. Epiphany water is considered to be a universal medicine for all diseases.

After the blessing of the water, everyone present drinks the water and also takes some home to be kept there for a whole year. On the second day of Epiphany (Day of Saint John the Baptist) the head of the household traditionally fed his cattle with bread, salt, and hay, which had been in the house since Christmas Eve, ‘to last them till the new bread.’ Following the feast of Epiphany, parish priests visit the parishioners' homes and bless them with the new holy water."

I came across this great video that describes Ukrainian Christmas and the traditional Christmas Eve Holy Supper. Click on the link below to see it.

Here's a more detailed description of Ukrainian Christmas traditions for anyone who's interested:

"For the Ukrainian people Christmas is the most important family holiday of the whole year. It is celebrated solemnly, as well as merrily, according to ancient customs that have come down through the ages and are still observed today.

Ukrainian Christmas customs are based not only on Christian traditions, but to a great degree on those of the pre-Christian, pagan culture and religion. The Ukrainian society was basically agrarian at that time and had developed an appropriate pagan culture, elements of which have survived to this day.

Christianity was officially adopted in Ukraine in 988 A.D. The flourishing pagan religion and traditions associated with it were too deeply rooted in the people to allow the Church to eradicate them completely. Therefore, the Church adopted a policy of tolerance toward most of the ancient customs and accepted many as part of the Christian holidays. In this way, the ancient pagan Feasts of Winter Solstice, Feasts of Fertility became part of Christian Christmas customs. This is perhaps why Ukrainian Christmas customs are quite unique and deeply symbolic.

Ukrainian Christmas festivities begin on Christmas Eve ([G]Dec.24; [J]Jan.6.) and end on the Feast of the Epiphany. The Christmas Eve Supper or Sviata Vecheria (Holy Supper) brings the family together to partake in special foods and begin the holiday with many customs and traditions, which reach back to antiquity. The rituals of the Christmas Eve are dedicated to God, to the welfare of the family, and to the remembrance of the ancestors.

With the appearance of the first star which is believed to be the Star of Bethlehem, the family gathers to begin supper.

The table is covered with two tablecloths, one for the ancestors of the family, the second for the living members. In pagan times ancestors were considered to be benevolent spirits, who, when properly respected, brought good fortune to the living family members. Under the table, as well as under the tablecloths some hay is spread to remember that Christ was born in a manger. The table always has one extra place-setting for the deceased family members, whose souls, according to belief, come on Christmas Eve and partake of the food.

A kolach (Christmas bread) is placed in the center of the table. This bread is braided into a ring, and three such rings are placed one on top of the other, with a candle in the center of the top one. The three rings symbolize the Trinity and the circular form represents Eternity.

A didukh (meaning grandfather) is a sheaf of wheat stalks or made of mixed grain stalks. It is placed under the icons in the house. In Ukraine, this is a very important Christmas tradition, because the stalks of grain symbolize all the ancestors of the family, and it is believed that their spirits reside in it during the holidays.

After the didukh is positioned in the place of honor, the father or head of the household places a bowl of kutia (boiled wheat mixed with poppy seeds and honey) next to it. Kutia is the most important food of the entire Christmas Eve Supper, and is also called God’s Food. A jug of uzvar (stewed fruits, which should contain twelve different fruits) and is called God’s Drink, is also served.

After all the preparations have been completed, the father offers each member of the family a piece of bread dipped in honey, which had been previously blessed in church. He then leads the family in prayer. After the prayer the father extends his best wishes to everyone with the greeting Khrystos Razhdaietsia (Christ is born), and the family sits down to a twelve-course meatless Christmas Eve Supper.

There are twelve courses in the Supper, because according to the Christian tradition each course is dedicated to one of Christ's Apostles. According to the ancient pagan belief, each course stood was for every full moon during the course of the year. The courses are meatless because there is a period of fasting required by the Church until Christmas Day. However, for the pagans the meatless dishes were a form of bloodless sacrifice to the gods.

The first course is always kutia. It is the main dish of the whole supper. Then comes borshch (beet soup) with vushka (boiled dumplings filled with chopped mushrooms and onions). This is followed by a variety of fish - baked, broiled, fried, cold in aspic, fish balls, marinated herring and so on. Then come varenyky (boiled dumplings filled with cabbage, potatoes, buckwheat grains, or prunes. There are also holubtsi (stuffed cabbage), and the supper ends with uzvar.

Christmas Carolers at Olya's
Christmas Carolers at our door

While many of the Ukrainian Christmas Eve customs are of a solemn nature, the custom of caroling is joyful and merry. Ukrainian Christmas songs or carols have their origins in antiquity, as do many other traditions practiced at Christmas time. There are two main groups of Christmas songs in Ukraine: the koliadky, whose name is probably derived from the Latin "calendae" meaning the first day of the month and which are sung on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; the second group of Christmas songs is called shchedrivky, which is a derivation from the word meaning generous. The latter are sung during the Feast of the Epiphany.

Both koliadky and shchedrivky have pagan elements in them, but many have been Christianized. For example, one pagan carol tells of a landowner who is awakened by a swallow and told to make preparations, because three guests are coming to his house: the sun, the moon and the rain. In the Christianized version the three guests become Jesus Christ, St. Nicholas and St. George. The very popular Ukrainian carol in the United states, "Carol of the Bells", in its originality is a shchedrivka and tells of a swallow (herald of Spring) that has come to a landowner’s house and asks him to come out and see how rich he is, how many calves he has, and so on.

The themes of Ukrainian Christmas songs vary. Many, of course, deal with the birth of Christ and that occasion's joyful celebrations, and many of them have apocryphal elements. Another group of carols contain purely pagan mythological elements. Still another group deals with Ukrainian history of the 9-12 centuries, mostly with the heroic episodes in the lives of some of the princes that were favorite among the people. One of the largest groups of carols are glorification songs - glorifying the landowner, the farmer, his wife, his sons, his daughters, every member of the family. These songs glorify their work as well as their personal traits.

Caroling required extensive preparation. Each group had a leader. One member dressed as a goat. Another as a bag carrier, the collector of all the gifts people would give them. Yet another carried a six-pointed star attached to a long stick with a light in its center, which symbolized the Star of Bethlehem. In some places the people even had musical instruments, such as the violin, tsymbaly (dulcimer), or the trembita (a wooden pipe about 8-10 feet long, used in the Carpathian mountains by the Hutsuls).

Caroling was not a simple singing of Christmas songs; it was more of a folk opera. The carolers first had to ask for permission to sing. If the answer was yes, they entered the house and sang carols for each member of the family, even for the smallest child. Sometimes they even performed slow ritualistic dances. They also had to present a short humorous skit involving the goat. The custom of the goat accompanying the carolers has its origin in the pagan times when the goat represented the god of fertility. The skit showed the goat dying and then being brought back to life. This also symbolized the death of Winter and the birth of Spring. The caroling always ended with short well-wishing poems, appropriately selected for each home.

Koliadky and shchedrivky are the oldest groups of Ukrainian folk songs. They are sung by Ukrainians at Christmas time throughout the world."

Friday, January 09, 2009

Ukrainian Christmas in Pryluky

A chilly, but sunny Christmas day in Pryluky

On Tuesday, Orthodox Christmas Eve, we set out for the town of Pryluky to spend Christmas (January 7th) with the members of Calvary Chapel Pryluky (Церква Голгофи Прилуки). It was a brisk -22 C (-8 F) as we walked to the bus stop from our house. We finally had some weather worth writing home about, but it's still not nearly as cold as places like Ulan Bator, Mongolia where they had a low of -32 C (-26 F). (I guess things could be worse.)

Zhanna, Vlad, and their daughter Anya
Zhanna, Vlad, and their daughter Anya

The pastor of the church, Vlad, and his wife, Zhanna, let us stay at their home in Pryluky while we were there. They made us feel at home and Vlad has even begun the task of trying to teach me to play guitar. (We'll see how that goes.) Everyone in the church was so nice and welcoming.

Tetyana and Joshua serving food
Tetyana and Joshua serving food. Tetyana says "hello" to all of her former Russian language students.

We wish we could have stayed longer. It was so encouraging to see how well the church is doing there. We are doing our best to pass on all the greetings from the church to all the missionaries who once lived there. We could definitely see the impact they had made on people's lives in Pryluky.

Bohdan, Nastya, and Joshua
Bohdan, Nastya, and Joshua

We were especially excited to spend time with Bohdan, who was home for the winter break from the Bible College in Hungary. Joshua really loves hanging out with him. We are hoping that he will come visit us this summer and help us out with worship at church.

Ukrainian Christmas Eve
Christmas Eve around the fire

Dominic playing pool
Dominic playing pool

We spent Christmas Eve sitting around a fire at the church singing worship songs and sharing about our lives and what we're doing in Bila Tserkva. On Christmas we were blessed to be a part of the church Christmas program that started at 3:00pm, but went well into the night and even into the morning for a few of the young and brave. The day included music, singing, lots of food, skits, games, and plenty of dancing. It was fun to be a part of the Pryluky family for a couple of days. Thanks guys.

Musical Suitcase
Musical Suitcase. The person holding the suitcase when the music stops has to put on whatever they pull out of the suitcase. It all ends in a bizarre fashion show.

Ukrainian Musical Chairs
Joshua playing Ukrainian Musical Chairs or what I like to call Musical Marshrutka Seats. The game started with as many chairs as there were people and a chair was removed each round. Even at the very end with only one chair left, everyone managed to stay in the game.

One of the Gang Passes On

Mikolai, our neighbor
Mykola on his usual bench last Spring

On Monday, January 5th, our neighbor Mykola, or Kolya to his friends, died of a heart attack. We affectionately referred to him as one of The Bench Gang. He was a regular outside of our building and never failed to greet us as we came or went. He especially liked to wish us good health even though he always said that his health was "very bad". He complained that his apartment on the ninth floor was either too hot or too cold so he preferred to spend his days sitting out on the bench. We already miss him as we pass by the empty bench with no one to say hello or to ask where we are going or where we have been.

Friday, January 02, 2009

New Year's Day

Happy New Year! 2009
"Happy New Year! 2009" on the River Ros

On New Year's Day, Dominic and I walked down to the river to see how frozen it was. We found that it was frozen solid enough to safely support our weight and probably the weight of a small car. The ice had a soft blanket of snow on it and I was able to snap the above photo on this unusually sunny day under a clear blue sky.

Did Moroz handing out candy on New Year's Day in our neighborhood
Did Moroz handing out candy on New Year's Day in our neighborhood

We found Did Moroz wondering around our neighborhood handing out candy to children on their sleds. Our neighbor told us that this man dresses up as Did Moroz each year and does this on New Year's Day much to the delight of neighborhood children.

Maxime opening the New Year gifts we gave him including a children's book of Bible stories
Maxime excited about getting a children's book of Bible stories

Maxime spent New Year's Eve in the village with his grandparents, but took the bus home in the morning. He came straight to our place where we gave him his gifts and loaded him up with some food. He was especially excited about the book of Bible stories in Ukrainian that we got him. He immediately took it and began reading it out loud to himself as Tanya and Kolya helped us prepare for the other guests that were on their way over. He laid on the couch reading Bible stories until everybody arrived for dinner.

Maxime reading Bible stories
Maxime busy reading Bible stories

We know it is difficult for Maxime to read and we know he struggles in school, but what some of our guests told us, broke our hearts. We had assumed that Maxime was only speaking simple Ukrainian to us because he was trying to help us to understand. We learned that he speaks this way to everyone. They told us that besides mixing in a lot of Russian words with his Ukrainian, Maxime speaks as though he were a small child just learning to speak who doesn't know how to use the right tenses or cases in normal speech. Dominic told us that Maxime showed him his grades at school and his highest grade in any of his classes was a 4 out of a possible 12. The sad part is that his teachers don't care. He will just go through school like this until it comes time to graduate and take exams. The result will be that he won't pass any of his exams and won't get any further education. He will most likely have to work with his father as a plumber when he is done with school. Joshua believes that Maxime might grow up to be a pastor some day. That would be a beautiful thing.

New Year's Day
Celebrating Edna and Tanya's birthday on New Year's Day

When Olya broke out the sparklers, I didn't expect her to light them. She passed them around the table before I could bring myself to think of a polite objection to fireworks in our living room. I figured that since everybody was lighting sparklers at the table that they must know what they're doing. Of course, I was wrong. We ended up with a smoke filled room, holes burned through the table cloth and into the table, and a thick coating of what looked like black pepper all over our food and in our drinks. (Luckily the smoke alarm didn't go off, because there aren't any in Ukraine.) Everybody had a good time despite minor burns and smoke inhalation.

Maxime washing the dishes
No, we didn't make Maxime work for food. He just loves to help out when he can.

We're happy that Maxime could be a part of the celebrations and spend the night with us. Hopefully he will be able to stay at our place over most of the holiday break.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

З Новим Роком! Happy New Year!

Happy New Year

We spent New Year's Eve and Day with Tanya and her husband Kolya. Tanya came over in the morning and started cooking all the food with Edna. We stayed up late watching movies on TV and live broadcasts of the festivities around Ukraine. Tanya's birthday is on January 1st, so we had two reasons to celebrate.

Tanya pretending to dig in
Tanya pretending to dig in (and this was just the start)

We had way more food than we could eat, but it will go towards tonight's dinner as we have people over to celebrate Edna's and Tanya's birthdays together.

New Year's Eve
Me, Edna, Dominic, Tanya, Kolya, and Joshua

Best Friends, Ednochka and Tetyanka
Best Friends, Ednochka and Tetyanka

And of course we weren't disappointed by the fireworks that seemed to be exploding on every side of our building and all over Bila Tserkva. The explosions and colorful flashes of light lasted several hours after midnight and once again proved to be more spectacular than any display I've ever seen before.

New Year Fireworks
New Year Fireworks
New Year Fireworks

Our Ukrainian year of the cow couple
Our Ukrainian "year of the cow" couple