Reunited, and It Feels So Good!Last night, we celebrated "Christmas in July" as 15 bags made their way from Athens to Donetsk. We really were like kids opening Christmas presents as we got everything out of each bag. The good news is, we got them just in time to leave many of the teaching materials with the Christians here, which they will truly appreciate. We also had gifts for many of the people here packed in our luggage, so it is wonderful that we can give those to them in person. Thank you for the concern and prayer about our luggage adventure. The lady at the airport was quick to tell me in Russian that "10 days isn't very long." She was probably right, but I'm glad we didn't have to wait too much longer. Our ladies worked for hours and hours before we left on putting together a tremendous series of lessons and crafts. I am so glad they will be able to be put to use here.
Today, the opportunity opened up for us to visit another orphanage to do Bible Classes. We are blessed with a large team, so a few of us traveled and hour to "New York" (that is really its name). It is a suburb of Dzerzhinsk (pronounced "Duhr jeensk"), and there were about 30 wonderful kids there. Our cab had a flat tire on the way, and I think our driver set a pit crew record for changing it! We will only be able to be there today and tomorrow, but those are 30 more children that can hear about Jesus. The rest of the team worked with the Novoshelone orphanage, which met in the ampitheater outside. Those classes continue to go well, and the kids are picking up a lot of the details in these stories.
After a quick lunch, we prepared for a very special visit. The former mayor (who worked with Steve Hale and others years ago) and the councilwoman we spoke with yesterday came over to the house. Our hostess, Tamera, cleaned the house and prepared everything beautifully. We presented them with gifts and discussed past visits. Sasha even inquired about ways the government could help the church here expand its facilities. They have set up a wonderful tour of the city for us tomorrow, and we are looking forward to it. We even sang one of the Russian songs we have learned for them (hand motions and all)!
Tony spoke tonight about the plan of salvation, and did an excellent, thorough job. We had more children in our children's classes than the previous evening. It really is refreshing to see those kids playing and laughing outside after our worship service. They are reaching out to those children, and it shows. We are about 4 minutes until this Internet Cafe closes, so we will sign off now. Again, thank you for all the comments and prayers - we can't get enough of either (but especially the latter).
Live from Krasnoarmeysk...it's Monday Night!Well, today has allowed us to become more accustomed to our new surroundings. We spent the morning at Novoshelone. One of the boys asked if we would come every day of the year! We taught about the good samaritan; they performed skits about being kind. I wish you could see the looks on those faces as they do their lessons and crafts - it is truly amazing!
David, David, and Tony spent the morning with Sasha, discussing the work in Krasnoarmeysk. They toured the city and visited one of the women of the congregation who has been seriously ill. After lunch, we met with the councilwoman to set up some appointments for this week. We will be visiting with the mayor's office and take tours through several places in town. Hopefully, this will help us maintain a closer working relationship with the church and the local officials.
We are preparing to leave for the first night of our campaign, in which David Burka will be speaking on how to understand the Bible. If all goes well, we should get our luggage tonight (but we will be fine either way). God bless you!
I Heard It Through The GrapevineSorry we have not written in a couple of days. Friday night, we welcomed Tony, David, and Greg to Donetsk and got in late. Saturday, we moved to Krasnoarmeysk and have just now been able to locate internet access.
Friday was another successful day at Karlovka. We talked about the treasure of Heaven using the story of the man who found treasure in the field and the pearl of great price. One 16 year old who seemed "too cool" for us at first was really engaged today. He asked, "What made you decide to believe in God?" What an opportunity! We let them decorate the frames we brought with their pictures in them, and they loved it. We all signed them to give them a souvenir to remember us by. After that, we spent time with them watching a movie (apparently a weekly privelege for them). We didn't understand much of it, be we got to be with them.
After that, we headed over to Lynn's. We presented her with a pot she mentioned really liking as a token of our appreciation. After that, we had a blast with our Proletarski crew. We gave them bookmarks as one of their end of the week prizes, and we thought it would be great for the boys to get some soccer player bookmarks. The city of Donetsk has a very good soccer team, called "Shocktor." That's how we pronounce it; it looks more like "Waxtep"in Russian. We accidentally gave out soccer bookmarks with players from a rival team! The look on the boys' faces was priceless.
After that, we welcomed our newcomers, who arrived safely (with their luggage). Thanks to their hard work, as well as the invaluable assistance of Eleni Merrylitos (we support her and Alexander as missionaries in Athens), our luggage is now out of Istanbul! It is in Athens, and it should arrive tomorrow night in Donetsk. Again, we have been told that before, so we definitely maintain "cautious optimism." We have also decided that we will pitch a new reality show in which mission teams are dropped in a foreign country without any supplies and have to lead 4 VBS programs! If a show existed, I am convinced our team could handle it.
We left bright and early to get moved into our houses in Krasnoarmeysk and get to the orphanage at Novoshelone. We have two wonderful houses with plenty of space (although working out a restroom schedule has been fun!) We have 9 men in one and 8 women in the other. The two ladies who keep these houses are also cooking lunch and dinner for us, and the meals have been delicious. Lydia (in whose home the ladies are staying) has a garden with grapes hanging all over the arbors (hence today's title). It is a great situation, and the houses are close together.
Our first day at Novoshelone went well. Some of the kids remembered us and our songs! The overseers there are very gracious, and they were excited to see us. In the afternoon, half of us went to Good Shepherd (an orphanage in Macheevka) to provide a picnic for the kids there. This also have us a chance to see Vitya, the young boy we met at Proletarski last year. With a new, stable home environment he has learned alot. He has even memorized the books of the Bible! The other half of our team enjoyed a picnic here in Krasnoarmeys, comeplete with a kids Bible Class and adult Bible Class. A few visitors were present, and it was a wonderful evening.
This morning, we had 42 in worship service (which meant several stood in the hallway)! 4 visitors were in attendance, and many came later for the children's program. After worship service (where we focused on the way Jesus taught the woman at the well and how we should be teaching others this week), the kids presented skits for us. This is the group Julia (Sasha's wife) has been teaching, and she is doing a wonderful job. They even sang two songs in English - I'm Happy Today and Jesus Loves Me. They performed skits for us, and several of their parents came. This gave us a good chance to network with some neighborhood parents who do not normally attend worship service. Tomorrow, we continue at Novoshelone and begin our campaign. We will try to get back to the internet cafe (the only one in town) when we can. However, it is often used for "CounterStrike" tournaments with Ukrainian boys, so we can't make any guarantees. Thank you for your prayers and comments!
Early RisersOur visit to Karlovka today was earlier than yesterday, in an effort to catch the kids before they got involved in other activities (like going to the river). It worked well - we even beat the director to the orphanage! He was very cordial when he arrived, so I doubt anything was done intentionally yesterday. The kids were responsive to today's story - Jesus calming the storm. Our key word today was "Peace," and God has certainly provided that for us. Our ladies helped the kids make pin-wheels from construction paper and pencils. They were a big hit! We also taught them some more American games. Since they are mostly male, they love running and playing games with us. Tomorrow, we will give each of them a personal picture in a small frame. Every time we do that, I wonder how many have owned a framed picture of themselves in their lives.
During the time at Karlovka, David, Kostya and I went to check on the housing for our Krasnoarmeysk stay. We will have two houses with multiple rooms and even more beds. We were pleasantly surprised with how nice the houses are - they will work just fine for our large group of 12 Americans and 5 translators. We will be able to eat all our meals there as well, which will help with logistics.
We had our usual terrific meal at Lynn's apartment, and we shared some new songs and games with each other. Melissa's friend Eileen (who serves in a missionary role in Rostov-on-don, Russia) has been with us for a couple of days on her way to the Pan-European Lectures. She taught us (and the kids) a wonderful song about giving all your fears and problems to God. It fit in perfectly with our lesson today.
We just finished a wonderful meal at Sunset City in Donetsk. This was our feeble way of treating Ray and Lynn to a nice meal in order to show our appreciation. What they have done for us deserves much more than that, but it was very enjoyable. They are doing a good work here, and we are happy to be part of it.
Working with these kids has really reminded us of what is truly important. Our team has handled the luggage issue really well. As Ray put it today, "If you have a team member who is really upset about it, I haven't noticed at all!" But, it can be frustrating. We had a great team meeting today where several of us encouraged each other and really put things into focus. Our bags are still in Istanbul. We have set all the proper wheels in motion, and they are working to get them back, but we remided ourselves today our stuff is just that - stuff. We can replace it. What we will never be able to replace is the chance we have to teach precious souls about God's Word. Jesus showed us how important children are and commands us to receive little children is his name. That is exactly what we are doing. If one soul can be affected for God, then it will be worth far more than a few bags and some frustrating phone calls. That is what our trip is about, and that is what we are about.
Please be prayerful as David, Greg, and Tony travel to Athens and then to Donetsk. We look forward to welcoming them tomorrow night!
Down in the River to...teachToday was more of a challenge than previous ones, but I think we handled it well. When we arrived at Karlovka (in our cool Ukrainian outfits we bought last night), the boys had already gone to the nearby river to swim. The director told them they could go. This is a problem we face often here - the director might wake up one morning and decide that day's schedule will be different. We went on a tour of the facility, and when it was clear they would be at the river, we walked there. The boys were excited to see us, and they gave up some time in the river for our Bible Classes. We were able to have singing, Bible Classes, and crafts by the river. Actually, a small Russian Orthodox Chapel sits in front of the area where we had class, so we were teaching in the shadow of the Orthodox church. Our teachers did a great job talking about the Prodigal Son and the patience of the father. We bought some supplies last night that gave us good material for bookmarks to make. We plan to arrive 1 hour earlier tomorrow to catch the kids right after breakfast. Hopefully, that will avoid another miscommunication.
We made the trek to Lynn's where she fixed another great lunch. From there, we called Sasha in Krasnoarmeysk to make final preparations for next week. He is going to take a couple of us tomorrow to check out our housing. We have never stayed there before, so we want to make sure we have all the neccessary preparations in place. After Lynn's we led the Proletarski VBS. We have a good core group that continues to enjoy it. For their bookmarks, they were able to write the English version of their name (which made life easier for us, since our nametags are in our checked luggage).
Speaking of luggage...thanks to David Burka and others who have called trying to help. Our luggage is still in Istanbul, but it might be on the flight to Athens tonight, where it will then go to Donetsk. It may arrive at the same time as our other teammates! We found out today that the United Airlines rep never put in the report that our luggage was missing. We filled out all kinds of reports, but it didn't get recorded on their end. So...we filed one of those today to make sure they know where our luggage is. We have a great travel agent working on it from the States, and we are in touch with the folks over here. Maybe tomorrow, probably Friday, but always...just the way we like it.
Just the Way We Like It!Today was especially exciting because of our morning. The older boys in the group we have been working with at Karlovka did not seem as interested yesterday, since they were probably trying to figure out what we were all about. We planned some games and activities with them in mind today, and they really got involved! Once a few of the leaders participated, the others thought it was cool and dove right into the activities. Tomorrow, they are going to teach us some Ukrainian games and one of the workers has asked to take us on a tour of the orphanage. Today's theme was kindness, and we learned about the parable of the Good Samaritan. Since our craft supplies were not available, we had to improvise. Melissa bought some yarn, and Tansy taught the kids how to make friendship bracelets. They loved them - even the older guys!
For lunch, we had ham, green beans, and corn at Lynn's. After lunch, we sang with Ray, Lynn, the translators, and few other Ukrainian Christians. It was wonderful - we weren't ready to quit when it was time to walk to the church building. Proletarski's VBS went well again. One of the visitors who seemed reluctant last night brought a friend today - you never know!
Well, I guess I should provide a luggage update for everyone. I liked Annie's reminder that this is "just the way we like it." Our team has really exemplified that attitude, and we are constantly reminded how much we take for granted when we teach these kids. While we had no problem going through customs in an airport, our luggage did! We found out today that customs in Istanbul does not accept unclaimed luggage. So...it will be flying back to Athens, and heading to Donetsk on the next direct flight (which should be tomorrow afternoon). Ray and Lynn took us to Metro tonight (think Sam's Club in Ukraine) to get some more supplies/neccessities, etc. Even though this news was frustrating, it didn't keep our day from being a big success. If I could choose to have either our luggage arrival go well or our Bible Classes go well, I know which one I would prefer! God has been with us, and He will continue to take care of us. Thank you for your encouragement!
I Hear Istanbul is Nice This Time of Year......I don't know firsthand, but apparently our luggage does! Since the airline was trying to get our luggage here as soon as possible, they sent it on a connecting flight in Istanbul, where it apparently never made it onto the plane. We're hoping and praying that it comes in tomorrow. As for craft supplies - have you ever heard the expression "drop back and punt"? Our team continues to adjust creatively to every challenge, and we have a plan for tomorrow worked out. What a blessing that three of our apartments have washing machines!
While the luggage saga continues, please know that it has not put a damper on the work we are doing. I only include this information because I know you will be curious about it, but our team has not let it get us down, and we are not dwelling on it. The Lord provided us with a wonderful day today. We worked with an almost exclusively male group at the Karlovka orphanage. Many of these boys (age 11-16) are in this facility for rehab-related reasons. Once the director found out about Doug's experience as an addiction recovery counselor, they had a long conference! This is great, since the director is not affiliated with the church at all. We are hoping our presence can aid the work that is being done by Ukrainian Christians. We want to use our presence as a chance to further the cause of Christ. The boys soaked in the story of Jesus' birth and brief summary of His life. Each day's theme is part of the fruit of the Spirit, and we are using Jesus' life to illustrate each one. As we talked about love today, we stressed that God loves every one of them, which is why He sent Jesus.
We then proceeded to Lynn's apartment, where she treated us to meatloaf, mashed potatoes, broccoli, and even...wait for it...sweet tea! She has done us a tremendous service by agreeing to prepare lunch for us this week. We then began our VBS at Proletarski, gathering children from the neighborhood into the building. While many came and went, we had 13-14 tonight (a much larger group than last year's first day). Many have promised to bring friends, and we are very optimistic.
Our team has truly enjoyed the blog comments! As far as Krasnoarmeysk is concerned, they added another row of benches in the room, and a couple of the men sat in chairs in the hallway during our worship service. That is the only way our group could fit in that room. And for those of you who are wondering...no, the hippo song (or any VBS song) is not the same without Phil! We are thinking of you - God Bless!
Making the RoundsToday truly was a special Lord's Day! First, we worshipped with the Krasnoarmeysk congregation. You may remember that there were only a few members last year with very few children attending. The great news is that we had 5 children in worship service today, along with a few new faces. Counting the 13 of our team, we had over 30 in attendance. Roma (who has preached there before and is now working in Karkov) preached an excellent lesson on the parable of the sower. It was a great message to keep in mind before our campaign there next week. Then, the ladies set out some tasty fresh fruit and we had some fellowship time.
Julia, wife of Sasha (the preacher), has been leading Sunday Bible Classes in the afternoon with children from the congregation and neighborhood. We took those kids out to the park this afternoon, where Sasha led us in some games. We also had some free time to play with the kids - a few of them attended the Christian camp that many of our Bible Classes took up a contribution to help. Then, Julia served us some homemade pizza in their flat. We left Krasnoarmeysk tired and full!
Then, we worshipped with the Proletarski church. Alex (who will be helping prepare our lunches this week) preached, and we met with Ray afterward to plan out the week. We finished the night with a Ukrainian buffet that had a great selection. We finally got some borscht again!
Tomorrow, we begin our two VBS type classes (and hopefully, our luggage will be in by the afternoon). God bless you!
Preparing for the WeekOur first full day in Donetsk was a good one! We began by greeting out translators who moved in this morning. Their names are Kostya, Lera, Masha, and Nika. We met with Ray and Lynn (the American missionaries who have helped us with our lodging, transportation, etc.) as well as Sasha, the preacher for Krasnoarmeysk Church of Christ this morning for breakfast at a restaurant known as "3 Fat Men." I promise, that is its name! We planned out our schedule for the week, as well as next week with Sasha. Tomorrow, we will get to be a part of the children's Bible Class he and Julia have started with the neighborhood young people. One baptism has already occurred as a result of this program. He was also telling me that the wife of one of the church's long-time members was baptized, and she is now bringing their children to worship!
We left there to exchange money and do some shopping for what we will need the next few days. Our translators were helpful in the outdoor market. We were able to get everything we needed. One thing we noticed is that the Donetsk economy is doing better. More stores are opening all the time, and the prices are not nearly as low as just a few years ago. We also bought all the groceries we will need for each apartment. Since we are such a large group, we had to divide and conquer - each group of a few Americans had a translator to help them. Because we are now more familiar with the city, that task was much easier than last year. Plus, everyone got a good workout walking around the city.
We met this evening and discussed the classes for Monday. We will be teaching at Karlovka, an orphanage/rehab center for kids ages 7-16. Many of them have run away from home or are dealing with addiction-related problems. We will also be doing a VBS at the Proletarski church in the evenings. Because Lynn has so many teaching resources, we should be able to make it Monday teaching the lessons, applications, crafts, and games that we had planned. What a blessing! The airline representative says our luggage should arrive on Monday, so we are hoping to have everything we need for the rest of the lessons.
Well, it is late here, so I will sign off. Tomorrow, we will go to Krasnoarmeysk, worship with the congregation, help with the children's Bible class (which takes place in a nearby park), and then Sasha and Julia will host us for a meal. After that, we will go to Proletarski for evening worship service, and then we can prepare for the VBS there.
Thanks for reading, thanks for the chicken wings and elbow grease (Scott); thanks for everything you do for us!
We Have Arrived!Well, here we are...live from Donetsk! It is about midnight here, and everyone is settled into the apartments, but I wanted to drop a quick line to let everyone know we have arrived and we are doing well!
By now, some of you may have heard about our luggage adventure. I won't dwell on it, but I will let you know that we are being taken care of very well by Ray and Lynn (our hosts here). It is true that our luggage was stuck behind a locked door in the plane's cargo hold when we landed in Athens and that it couldn't be recovered before the plane flew back to America. The good news is, we haven't lost our luggage - we know exactly where it is! They are sending it back to us, and we have travel insurance for just this sort of occasion. Ray and Lynn took us to a store tonight to pick up items we need, and we may buy a change of clothes or two tomorrow, and our team has handled this beautifully. The fact that Ray and Lynn have arranged for nice apartments here has helped us feel at home, and we are ready to meet with our translators tomorrow to plan out the week. So you don't have to worry too much about us - we are in good hands and we have team members with great attitudes! We should get everything worked out shortly, and we look forward to beginning our work in earnest here.
By the way, our team members that came last year and are not here this year have already been missed. Just so you know, the missionaries/translators here appreciate you very much! Again, we will try to update this often, and we are thankful for your prayers and support!
Ukraine Trip 2007Well, it is that time of year again! 12 of us are preparing to make the trek from Mount Juliet, TN to Donetsk, Ukraine. 9 of us will leave on July 19th, and 3 of us will fly over on July 26th. We plan to work with the Karlovka and Novoshelone Orphanages, teaching them Bible Classes. We will be conducting an evening V.B.S. in Proletarski and an evening campaign in Krasnoarmeysk. We are also planning to visit several local sites in Krasnoarmeysk to advertise the gospel meeting, and we plan on hosting a picnic for another orphanage. We will do our best to update this blog regularly, since this is the easiest way for everyone to stay informed about what is happening here.
Please continue to keep us in your prayers as we seek to do as much good as possible on this trip. Also, please leave comments on our blog while we are over there. We often share those with the entire group, and even if we don't have time to respond to each one, we truly appreciate them. Thank you!
Mt. Juliet Church of Christ
1940 N. Mt. Juliet Road
Mt. Juliet, TN 37122
Mt.Juliet, TN 37121-0248
Sunday Early Worship: 8AM
Sunday Bible Study: 9:15AM
Sunday Late Worship: 10:15AM
Night Worship: 6PM
Wednesday Bible Study: 7PM