Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Day 9

Mavs, Mavs, Mavs...big game tonight
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journal entry from May 4:

"There some people brought to [Jesus] a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man's ears. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, 'Be opened!' At this the man's ears were opened, his tongue loosened and he began to speak plainly." Mark 7:32-35

Another day of victory and demonstration of the Lord's faithfulness. As a gentle rain fell on Theodosia we headed to the School for Children with Internal Disorders (gastro-intestinal problems and spinal disorders). After touring their facilities we determined they have a great need for new beds--the current ones are awful, probably 30 years old and not fit for children who are already suffer enough. So Ruth is organizing a bed drive when we return to Grapevine (note: she just concluded this and raised money for more than 80 beds!). We gave the kids ice cream, a special treat for them, and I enjoyed visiting with them for a few minutes in my limited Russian. Wish we could've stayed longer--they were precious and upbeat and fun to talk to.

Our next stop was the School for the Deaf, a suprisingly happy place. The children there put on a Ukrainian dance show for us that was impressive, especially considering most of them couldn't hear the music they were dancing in perfect rhythm to (reminiscent of the evening programs at Camp Smena and Young Builder). The kids were all so friendly and I enjoyed visiting with them and watching them play volleyball later. The highlight though had to be watching two young teenage girls get fitted with their new hearing aides. One of the girls had never been able to hear her entire life, so we had an extra powerful and strong hearing aide built for her. As it was turned on for the first time we watched as her eyes got real big, her face almost pale. She signed to her friend, "I can hear..."

We witnessed a young girl gain her hearing for the first time in her life, we witnessed a beautiful miracle...and I can't even grasp how huge that is. All I can picture is an image of Christ with his hands gently placed in her ears, wearing a soft smile on his face as he says, "Be opened." Unbelievable.

Tonight we ate dinner with a couple of the preachers we support, Igor and Vitaly and their families, two very good, God-fearing men. It was my honor to pray for them, humbling really. As I approached the throne of our Creator I was struck with overwhelming evidence of the power of the Gospel, and how in all languages and all lands it does the same thing...change lives and claim souls. Very sweet...
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pic of the day, miracle girl is 2nd from left:

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Day 8

"How about the Mavericks?" --Avery Johnson after game 7
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journal exert from May 3:

"And now brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy, and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us for the priveledge of sharing in this service to the saints."
2 Corinthians 8:1-4

There really aren't adequate words to describe the experiences of today, so I borrowed these from Paul, words that were fulfilled, words on a page that came alive, had breath and personality and faces...

To be honest at first I didn't think much of this excursion to another old run-down Soviet-age apartment building, where we gathered in a cramped room to drink hot tea and meet with 11 Christians. But oh how much great is God's kingdom that I can fathom! The tiny apartment was owned by Natasha or "Mother Teresa" as she is aptly dubbed. The oldest member a 90 year old babushka named Marina who never misses a worship service or meeting; the youngest Curio, 14, son of Anatoly, taxi driver/mechanic; when we asked Curio about his mother he said, "she's not a Christian...But she will be."

All of us crowded around a small table to visit and share stories of God's work, stories that stunned me. The faith of these 11 simple people absolutely floored me--they talked of having nothing, working 2 or 3 jobs just to pay rent and have money left over to buy Bibles for the orphanages, told stories of being beat up and threatened at work b/c of the Gospel, even fired. And yet they had a joy about them that was so evident; they spoke like true laborers, dedicated disciples so focused, so committed to spreading the Gospel that they had forgotten all about themselves, their extreme poverty, their needs. I can't begin to explain what our time there was like, looking and listening to faithful servants who weren't just being good but following the way of Christ, spending themselves, fulfilling God's Word, living as the very people Paul described in 2 Corinthians 8. Amazing, inspiring, humbling, beautiful.

Oh Lord, to have even an ounce of faith like I saw today, just a drop of their zeal and commitment. Empty me Father, help me realize my complete weakness and dependence on you. Help me chase after you with everything, to be focused on my ministry, to follow the incredible example of these Christians. Thank you for this trip, these opportunities, of which I am not worthy to be a part of. Somehow I pray that you might transform this worthless, selfish being of mine into the image of Christ, a giving and genuine, faithful and loving servant. Father search my heart and lead; take away all my worries...and teach me to trust you with a faith like Christ.
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pic of the day:

Monday, May 22, 2006

Day 7

Hopefully I'm not boring anyone to death with these. Thanks for reading

exert from May 2:

...before we got on the train last night Michael (my roommate and preacher in training) invited me to pray with him. As he prayed for me I began to cry, his words so genuine, full of love and truth, begging God to reveal heaven to my heart, to set my life upon that...he prayed for Emily, for our relationship and future...he labored in prayer for me, and I don't know why but I just lost it. I have known Michael for only a few days and can't remember a prayer so penetrating and fervent. I have been incredibly blessed to spend time with him, humbled by his faith and vulnerability, his desire to please God and his example of openly wrestling with his Creator...

...began our day in Theodosia with a wonderful breakfast at the City orphanage. Met several rooms full of children with beautiful smiles, so precious. The girls had short hair after a lice breakout but that didn't prevent them from loving life. Helen and Eugene have an incredible ministry with these kids...you should see how the kids light up when they walk into a room. Our next stop was the village orphanage for kids with mental disorders. Unbelievably hard to swallow being in this place, but great to see the dedicated teachers and care-givers who love them so well. Some kids here had severe mental handicaps, some severely abused, and some completely healthy, their residence here a result of their parent's disregard for them. A hard place to visit but I pray I won't forget these faces.

Witnessed sad things today, evidences of life's injustice, but also witnessed God's hand at work in it all; his kingdom growing from a mustard seed. That's all we are after all, tiny seeds of broken lives and specks of faith, seeking a place to plant roots and grow into a strong tree, whose branches and fruit can be helpful to all. It's hard for me to walk away from orphans, especially living half way around the world with my car, house, and nice things while they suffer--how do I justify leaving? What more can we do? Is $ enough? How can I pray for them better? Praise be to our God who cares immensely for them and who has put people in their lives who do so as well. He has them in his hand and I pray he continues to hold them there....
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pic of the day:

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

(long) Day 4

journal exert from April 29th:

My roommate for most of the trip is Mike, 35 from Moscow, training to be a preacher, with an incredible story to tell. Don told me to try to be an example to him and encourage him—what?? I walked away from our very first extended conversation impressed and strengthened by his faith, a man with a heart like God’s. I don’t know what it is but being around Christians outside the US is very encouraging, their example so incredible, b/c Christ is truly their life and more precious to them than anything…the way God intended us to be…sometimes I feel really far off from this.

We made the rounds to a couple of orphanages we sponsor this morning. One an AIDS orphanage and the other a children’s hospital type. Met with both of their directors and talked extensively about possibly doing a camp for their sick children, what all that would entail. I’m beginning to see one of my key purposes on this trip is to think, pray, promote, and be exposed to all the different camp work here in Ukraine. Just talking and reflecting on possible camp stuff has reminded me of my love and passion for this sort of thing—I’m anxious to see what other conversations and opportunities the Lord has for me on this trip.

Didn’t get to see one group of AIDS children b/c of a quarantine, but the kiddos at the children’s hospital were precious. Went into one particular nursery area and saw a few of the babies. Ruth held a little girl with thick fear in her eyes, abused badly by both parents, cute as ever though…she smile at Ruth when she left. I played with and smiled at a little girl who was very quiet b/c of numerous mental health problems that they haven’t completely diagnosed yet, but extremely sweet with a beautiful smile. As our faces moved inches away from eachother I prayed that somehow she might know the great love of Christ in her life. We ended up purchasing some blankets, toys, pots and pans for the hospital.

Tonight I went and met up with old friends/translators from Camp Smena, Arusik and Arthur! Went to their apartment and ate dinner and cake for Arusik’s birthday and visited for an hour or so. They told me all about Smena last summer and it brought back tons of funny memories of how much she exaggerates. Really made me miss Smena and Sergey and the great camp there. Had a good talk with Steve Talifero about his ministry in Ukraine with orphans and his dream to set up a ministry center and transitional housing program for street kids. He’s a good man and I pray that the Lord will bless his efforts here and provide the wife and partner he longs to share his ministry with. Took a shady taxi home.

A good day, good conversations, and unexpected visits and surprises. I feel the Lord affirming me being here and hopefully using me here—his calling for me in this place is evident, though I’m not sure in what capacity or when or how. While I have no desire to live here it is clear that I love this country, especially it’s children. Don noted last night that it’s nearly impossible to reach the current generation of men, hardened by oppression and a socialist upbringing (church statistics prove this). Therefore we must focus on the next generation, the kids and teenagers. So I pray that his great and awesome love might reach them and that he might see me fit for assisting in that in some small way…

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pic of the day:

Monday, May 15, 2006

Day 2

journal entry from April 27th, my dad's birthday:

...delayed is the theme of this trip thus far...45 minutes to start in Dallas, 4 hours in Atlanta, missed our flight in Paris, redirected through Milan (flew over the Alps though...amazing), and finally arrived in Kiev at 3:30 in the a.m. They lost all of our luggage, but that's not a huge deal, more comical than anything and a fitting end to our journey to get here.

It's a weird feeling being back in Kiev, but there's something familiar about it too, very nostalgic and eary, yet something that strangely puts me at ease. I feel a comfort around these people, listening to their language, driving through their streets, brushing past a sea of pedestrians on crowded sidewalks; their clothes (or lack there of), the stilletos, hairstyles, the odd smells...I know it's weird but for some reason I enjoy it, I really do.

Father I pray for rest tonight and energy for tomorrow and the next 12 days. Empty me of myself, my negative attitudes, and fill me with your Spirit, one of peace and compassion, one to listen, love and hope. Thank you for reminding me today that my "home" is with you in heaven....Be with our group and give us patience and understanding, unite us in our love for you and our purpose here. And watch over everyone back home...
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pic of the day, airport in Paris:

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Back in the USSR

actually I'm back in Texas after two amazing weeks in Ukraine. thanks for all of your prayers.

In the coming weeks I will be sharing stories along with some of my journal entries from the trip. Until then here's a few pics...blessings.
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with Don, our fearless leader

little Lana and Anya, daughter and wife of Eugene, a missionary we support

boys at the orphanage for kids with mental disorders eating ice cream

Ukrainian dance performance by kids at School for the Deaf

precious girls at the orphanage for kids with internal disorders

a bay on the Black Sea