Special Volunteer

When I first arrived in Ukraine, I volunteered at a center for children and made friends with a special boy named Anton.  He was bright, inquisitive and full of fun.  He was one of my first Russian teachers.  Time passed, and I moved on to other ministry projects and always wondered what happened to him.  I found him on facebook this week and he has been very busy with his life.  Very busy indeed.  I am so proud of him!

 

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PONY Ukraine in Kremenets!

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PONY Ukraine took a team from Lviv to Kremenets to play in a weekend tournament/camp  and I was able to go and meet some of the new kids in Lviv who are have started playing in Ukraine’s PONY league.

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We had a lively group of kids.  We stayed in an internat(orphanage)/boarding school.  Many of the internats in Ukraine are being phased out so they have extra room in them.  We were warmly welcomed by the staff with tasty Ukrainian food and comfy beds.

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A lot of training went on as well as baseball games.

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It was pretty cold, but that doesn’t stop baseball players in Ukraine!

For more information on PONY Ukraine, click HERE!

 

What Ukraine Used To Be Like

I got an email from someone stateside who wanted me to write a blog post on what Ukraine is like.  From his questions, I could tell he had the standard, post soviet ideas running through his head.  Dark, orthodox church bells, heavy food, oppressed people, women running around with just black purses on their arms…..standard enough thinking for someone who hasn’t been here.

Last night a friend took a look at a photo of me sitting in a cafe next to the river and couldn’t believe it was Ukraine.  “That doesn’t look the way I thought it looks.”  The brand new river front area in Kyiv, looks like nothing from the soviet era.

The thing about Ukraine that most people don’t recognize or understand is the country has been through TWO revolutions in the past twelve years.  That’s not one, but TWO revolutions since it became an independent country severing it’s ties from the Soviet Union in 1991.  Because politics are pretty complicated in this part of the world, it took a long time for the reality of separating from the Soviet Union, now Russia to happen.  It’s still happening.  Heck, Russia, annexed Ukraine’s Crimea and invaded eastern Ukraine, they were so upset with the separation.

Another friend commented this week how much Ukraine has changed in just the last two years.  That it was more….she hesitated to explain…….European now.  Listening to a popular singer here who regularly plays a circuit of concerts in the former soviet union and Russia, I noticed that her act seemed so….so…..retro Ukrainian soviet.  Pre Maidan music culture.  And suddenly, I started to process how much Ukraine and the culture has changed in two years and how it continues to change at lightening speed.  Kiev is Kyiv, and the Ukrainian language is heard everywhere in Kyiv.

So, I’m not going to try and explain what it’s like here because trying to explain it is too complicated. All I’ll say is that if you haven’t been here in a while or haven’t been here at all, all I can say is it has changed.  Just forget about state bread houses and the standard white “baton” bread loaf….now your bread is baked fresh in a restaurant or market and there are many different kinds and styles.  I’m in the middle of the change, so I’m just trying to hang on and process with the rest.

All I know is that young people are smart, sophisticated, and interesting…..I am so excited and blessed to be here at this point in Ukraine’s history.

(I had 19 people from Sweden check out my blog this month!  Welcome to my blog!   My great grandfather immigrated to America from Sweden!)

Hey! Short Termers! Read This Post!

Lots of people think when you go off to be a missionary and work with children or, excuse me, I’m going to cringe because I hate this term……”love on” people……that rainbows and unicorns are going to start popping up beside candy flavored mushrooms and the smell of roses will waft in your wake.

Ministry, REAL ministry, the bible believing loving and walking people through good and hard times ministry, the pointing them to Jesus, and hold on because this is really hard, HOLDING PEOPLE TO ACCOUNTABILITY AND A STANDARD OF INTEGRITY ministry is a lot different.  Ministry is always difficult.  It’s always messy because you are dealing with people, life, sin and good or bad intentions.

I think social media has a tendency to either reinforce the fantasy of unicorns or can tear up good intentions and leave them dripping in cynicism. How can one photo really explain a relationship?  Can a blog post or status update ever truly give someone who’s not there an adequate idea of the poster’s reality?  It can’t.  But some people start believing because they want or need to believe that those candy flavored mushrooms are there in the background just waiting to be picked and eaten.

The instagram account, “Barbie Savior” is a satirical account of Barbie’s short term, multiple trips to Africa to save the children.  And I admit when I stumbled across it, I laughed til I cried….and then laughed some more and then cried some more…..It. is. hysterical. period.

I laughed because we have all been there and those of us who have been there know that some people stay there.  The first missions trip is about emotion, passion, the desire to make a difference in the world.  I still feel it.  But the difference for those of us who made the decision to move overseas, is that we grew past the innocence, learned the language, and thankfully, if not painfully, came to terms with not just the things that touched us positively on our first few mission trips, but also learned about the ugly side of the culture.  It’s otherwise known as, reality.   It’s the stuff you only learn by living long term and getting involved in the daily grind of life in another culture.  I can explain it as the difference between a long term relationship where you see every side of a person, their strengths, weaknesses, the good and bad, as opposed to spending time together on short dates where you work hard to impress each other and cover up your faults.  The former is real love. A more real, gritty and intimate kind of love. But one that lasts for a longer period of time.

The intimacy of living together, with your own culture that’s inside you and the culture you are walking around in, is the key to building relationships and ministry that makes an impact on the world.  There is a difference between visiting an orphanage and passing out gifts, and waving goodbye to the kids afterwards and taking an orphan under your wing and helping them transition to real life.  The first is easy, there is little commitment.  It makes you feel super good. The second requires commitment, vision, and guts.  It requires growth and change.

I guess what I’m trying to say is we won’t end up like Barbie Savior if we keep growing.  If God calls you to short term mission trips, check your heart because chances are he’s calling or preparing you for a longer commitment.  Don’t be afraid of the commitment or the intimacy of doing ministry long term.  Don’t settle for passing out material gifts when you can give deeper and more precious spiritual gifts to people.  In this summer season of short term mission trips, don’t settle for just the easy ministry.  Ask God what is really going on and what is he really trying to show you.  Why are you doing short term trips and not serving him full time?  Why are you not committing to long term ministry.  How could you and your ministry grow if you decide to MOVE to where your ministry is instead of just visiting it?  How can you get more intimate with the culture you love?  Where is your comfort zone now?  Are you really helping the nationals with your quick visits? What do they need long term that you can’t give visiting for a short term?

Just make sure you don’t become a Barbie Savior.  Or I’m gonna laugh at you!

Here’s a great blog post on Barbie Savior:  “The Danger Of Being A Barbie Savior”

Thank You Atlanta Braves!

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The Atlanta Braves sent us all kinds of gloves and batting gloves!  It is so encouraging when Major League teams get involved and support developing baseball/softball among young people.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be!  Baseball is a great sport and one where those who are blessed will give back!  I am so thankful to be a small part to connect and bless children in Ukraine!

For more information about our organization’s work in Ukraine, go to www.youthofukrainephoenixproject.com

That Moment When…..

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That moment when you find yourself down on Maidan walking with a friend and you are explaining to her where everything happened during a revolution……and you realize….I was here.  This happened where I live.

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And now it’s a memory that you know well as you walk across the pavement and remember seeing blood and dirt where there should have been none.  A memory as I climb steps that have been chopped up and still are broken.  Explaining where people died.  Where the snipers were located……

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For many people in Ukraine, the revolution in Ukraine is something we are still processing.

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And will never forget.  Here is a memorial to the Heavenly Hundred.

Always Thankful

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The Bible says that “All good things works together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes.”  – Romans 8:28. 

This has been a hard verse for eastern Ukrainian Christians to read. Their lives have been totally disrupted by war and there is no end to the chaos in sight.

The last two years have been so hard for all of us in Ukraine, but this last week I was so blessed as I have been able to meet and am getting to know Christians from eastern Ukraine.  I am seeing first hand how God is shaking up communities and these young people are blessing and encouraging those around them in the new cities they are living in.

Last week I was able to experience a Thanksgiving meal in Ukraine which was put on and prepared solely by Ukrainians!  What fun and what a blessing for a home sick American.

I also was able to start a life skills training series for leaders who are ministering to orphans.

Ukraine is going to be okay.