Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Nikopol

Singing for the widows' outreach
After barely a week of settling in and exploring Zholty Vody, we left Thursday, October 1st, and drove to Dnipropetrovsk to meet Stepan Bokach who is the regional director for Gospelink.  Gospelink is a ministry which works with pastors and churches in Ukraine to reach out and minister to orphans and others in need of helpWe were given Stepan's contact information by Dean Kershner (the man who portrays Vanya) whom we met this past summer at Camp Dwight.  

During our initial meeting, Stepan invited us to go immediately to Nikopol, where a group of Canadians were doing a two-week outreach to widows, handicapped children, and other needy people.  After being treated to an amazing Ukranian meal, we headed south to Nikopol with our interpreter and new friend, Ira.

In Nikopol we had a tremendous experience, spending three days with wonderful believers from Canada and Ukraine.  We had the privilege of staying in one of two homes for foster families and had a precious time getting to know both young Ukrainian couples who live in these homes and care for the children.  Ola and Pasha (our hosts) have their own little girl and a sibling group of three in their home.  Sveta and Max, have three children plus five "born in their hearts" as Sveta told us.  We hope to visit them again before we leave Ukraine.  
 
Friday morning we met the Canadian team and sang for their outreach to widows.  The team expected 150 widows to attend, but almost twice that many came and filled the choir chairs, balcony seats and tables.   The team shared hymns, scriptures, songs, and testimonies with these widows and also served them lunch.  After the meeting, everyone in attendance was given much needed care packages filled with food and other necessities.  
Ericka, Ben, Ira, Sveta and Ola & Pasha's precious family

We didn't intend to be in the Nikopol area for three days, but our five speed van was not able to get into fifth gear because of a shifting linkage problem. One of the men in the church was willing to repair the problem, and he ended up working on it for two days and one night rebuilding the whole assembly with new parts, which had to be ordered all the way from Kiev!  This change of our plans was a huge blessing, which of course was no surprise to the Lord.   Because we were "stuck", we were able to take part in the widow outreach and also help out with a different outreach to special needs children on Saturday morning. 
 After a delicious breakfast and fellowship with Ola and Pasha, we walked next door to help decorate the church for the children's outreach.  We shared our testimony and music and some of our kids had roles in a skit about the Good Samaritan.  They did a great job of beating up and ignoring the poor traveler.  For lunch afterwards, the children enjoyed hot dogs, yogurt, cake and candy.  We handed out food care packages and had the opportunity to visit and pray with some of the children and their parents.  

After the children's ministry we loaded up the van, (which drove and shifted like new), and headed to another foster home/church about 40 km east of Dnipropetrovsk.  Again we were treated like royalty by the family who lives in the home. The parents, Ivan and Luda, have five biological children and seven foster children. Three of the oldest children, who are siblings, (twin boys and a younger sister) were discovered living in a cage in their biological parent's home, at the ages of three and one.  They were treated worse than animals;  malnourished, unable to speak or taste, and could not use their hands properly or stand upright.  These three children, now 15 and 13, sang and played beautiful music for us on the accordion and a mandolin-like instrument, and played volleyball like pros with our children.  How great is our God and how great is His loving-kindness!

Some of the children and church family.  Luda is wearing the gray dress with a white scarf.  The family presented us with a beautiful, handmade beaded picture. 


L to R: the deacon and his wife, the pastor and our host Ivan.  Check out the windex bottle in the pastor's hands.  He preached about true servant-hood and demonstrated this by washing our van windows before we left.

The next morning (Sunday), we enjoyed fellowship at the little Baptist church next to their home, where we shared and sang several songs.  It was a special Sunday for their church because they appointed a new deacon.  After the meeting, we enjoyed an incredible meal with all the church members, and conversed with some sweet babushkas (grandmothers).   With clean windows, full bellies, and overflowing hearts, we drove back to Dnipropetrovsk to take Ira home and then we continued on to Zholty Vody (our current home.)   A huge thank you to Ira for all her hard work translating for us for four days, and being willing to stick with us the whole way, even in the crowded van, over bumpy roads, stinky boys (they only brought one change of clothes. . .remember we planned to be gone only one night) and everything else, she still smiles! 

Through this unplanned busy weekend, the Lord reminded us that we should desire His plan, not ours and that He directs our steps, not us.   And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

   
Selfie time!

Monday, November 23, 2015

From Bojano to Ukraine

After our busy Sunday, Monday morning dawned a little too early but we finished packing, loaded the van and tidied our cabin.  Both families came down to say goodbye and after a sweet prayer time we started our trip to Ukraine.


We stopped in Tchew at the home of our friends (Piotr and Marisha) and enjoyed fellowship with their family and Yanush and his family for an hour.  They had large plates of delicious pastries prepared for us, along with lots of coffee and tea. They also gathered around us and prayed for us, and we felt that we were saying goodbye to family as we pulled away from their home.

Jewish Ghetto Memorial
Poland has a really nice toll road and we traveled on this until we safely reached "Varshava" as Warsaw is pronounced.  Ben had contacted Jerzy Schmiel, a gentleman who was instrumental in arranging the tours that he and the other younger siblings took part in years ago in Poland.   It was amazing that we found his office building amid all the rest because our phone ran out of minutes and could only receive calls.
 


 





















Tiniest house in Warsaw
Our dear friend Bogna, who had flown down from Norway was in Warsaw visiting her mother that week. We met her at a Jewish memorial statue and she gave us a grand tour of the beautiful, old city and park.  She grew up in Warsaw and we appreciated having her as a guide. 









Before we left Tczew, Piotr had offered to contact a church hostel near Warsaw to ask if we could stay the night.  That wasn't available, but a family he knows invited us to stay in their home just outside of Warsaw.  They are a young family with two girls and two boys and they also play music.  We ate some delicious home-made pirogi, and they put us up for the night in their spacious home.  They specifically built a large house so they could offer hospitality to others.  After dinner, Ben helped start a fun game of keep away with their four children which helped break the ice.

Say cheesy. . .or fishy!
Funny sign @ border
The next morning, after an amazing breakfast and goodbye to our new friends, we hit the trail to Ukraine. We took the route that goes through Lublin, then through Chelm.  We didn't know what to expect at the border but after 3 1/2 hours, we learned the procedure; wait a long time, open the back door (and hope the luggage won't fall on the gaurds), open the side door for roll call, wait more, drive to the next line, wait more, repeat luggage avalanche and roll call, wait again and then you're free to continue The Ukrainian border gaurds asked where we were travelling to and couldn't believe we were taking such a large family to Zholty Vody.

Poland
 
Poland is a lot like the States and most places have street lights along most of the highways, especially in cities and towns. Not so in Ukraine! The first moderately sized town we came to, Kovel, looked as if we'd driven back in time about 50 years.  Mom found a hotel listed in the GPS directory, so we were able to find a nice place to stay for a good price.  The parking lot behind the hotel even had a friendly security guard with a big dog keeping an eye on things. 

The next morning we set out for Kiev, where we were looking forward to seeing our friends Pasha and Sveta Agarkovi.  They are originally from Zholty Vody, but now live in the outskirts of Kiev and work with an orphan facility called Fathers House. We got there in the late afternoon, and enjoyed some great fellowship with these precious friends. They had arranged lodging for us at a friend's apartment, so we got some good rest. 

Us, Vika, Luba, Sveta and Katya
Recording in the studio
Bullet holes
 The next day we drove into Kiev and visited Maidan, the square where all the protests took place when the previous president was ousted. It was still beautiful, but the scars and bullet holes from the confrontation were obvious. Many people were killed during this time, and there were pictures of the fallen, along with flowers, flags, and other symbols of remembrance everywhere. Ukraine has definitely been through difficult times lately, and to see it firsthand was a real eye-opener. 

   
McDonalds is here too!
That evening we were invited to visit "Father's House," where we sang for all the children, then had supper with them, which was a treat! It's a real testimony to have three children in our own family who have a story that these children can relate to. 

After saying our goodbyes to Pasha, Sveta, and their three children, we headed southeast towards Zholty Vody. 
After seven hours of bumpy roads dotted with pot holes, we entered the quiet little town of Z.V.  Pasha and Sveta own a house here that has been vacant the past three years while they've been in Kiev.  (It needs a little repair and clean up and we offered to help with this while we are here.)  
We arrived at the house to find that the previous week they had made the long trip from Kiev and prepared their little home for our arrival.  What a blessing!     

Roadside snack
Unfortunately, the next day the clutch broke on the van while Dad was finding supplies downtown.  He was able to contact Roman, the pastor from Living Waters church, who helped Dad get the van to the church and temporarily repair the problem.

Roman asked us to sing and share with the believers during the Sunday morning service.  This day was a special day of blessing for their harvests and many people shared poems, songs and praises. It was a joyful reunion, seeing friends that we haven't seen in the four years since the adoption. It was a lot like coming home!   

A bountiful harvest


One family we had met last time invited us for dinner Monday and we enjoyed visiting with them.  The husband, Zhenya, offered to help set up the gas at our new house the next morning too.  We also asked them about our friend, Nina, who had offered us her apartment to live in when we were here four years ago.  She moved to Kiev a few months ago and her apartment was left empty.  The next morning, Zhenya came to tell us that they had called Nina and she wanted us to live in her apartment again.  We decided to move there because all the utilities were available and we could still work on the house. 
 
Ilohna and her boys
Wednesday evening that week, we were invited to dinner at the Mercy's Hope house where our friend Ilohna treated us to an amazing dinner. Mercy's Hope is an organization started by our friends, Cris and Karen Mahy, who were not only the first to adopt a child from the orphanage here in ZV, but also shared with us the first pictures of Kathryn, Clayton and Kevin. After adopting their own beautiful daughter, Karina, they felt the Lord's leading to come back and start an outreach to other children in the area, which has since developed into a variety of ministry opportunities.  We also made a new friend, Inna, who has become our Russian teacher (when we are in town.)  

It was a crazy first week back in Zholty Vody but we were glad to be in this special town once again.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Our First Visitor

After exploring Poland for a month and meeting many new people, we were excited to see a special visitor who arrived October fifteenth from the States.In preparation, we created a new Polish greeting custom—a sausage lei. We all piled in the van, drove to the Gdansk airport and waited in front of the security doors for. . .Uncle Ben! (Sorry about these fuzzy pictures. . .)


He was loaded with his heavy luggage (containing luxuries Poland/Ukraine don't have) and trusty bass. We snacked on the sausage lei until we arrived in Bojano. We took the scenic back road forest route to the Stebnecki’s home where Nancy had prepared spaghetti for everyone. After dinner, Uncle Ben unpacked his luggage. He brought along expandable fishing poles for the kids to share, peanut butter, coconut oil, vanilla extract and Kobos coffee! He also brought letters from various friends.

Ben slept in the main house so he could catch up on sleep but his jet lag pills must have worked because he and the kids were up early the next morning testing the new fishing poles.

Can you tell the time at this church?

Feed the birds. . .


Later that afternoon, we drove to Wejherovo, the county seat, to pick up our completed van documents. The square in town is a fun place to walk around and we enjoyed some ice cream. We also walked through the outdoor market area there and looked at the clothes and produce. Our next stop was the insurance office to finish up some paperwork.

The valley!

Ben was up for more adventure so we drove to an acquaintances property to explore the countryside. We parked our van above and walked down a rocky path into a beautiful valley. This property was used as a fish hatchery and the grass is very lush and green.



Remember the music night/sausage roast we attended hosted by a new friend, Caesar? He is a skilled musician and has also composed many scripture songs for children. The week following the sausage roast, Caesar met with us and asked if we would be interested in learning some of his songs in English. His vision is to travel across Europe with a children's group and evangelize children through music and other presentations. We had agreed to visit his home Thursday, September seventeenth and Ben went with us. We learned three catchy tunes about Samuel, Esther and Joshua that afternoon.


On the way home, we stopped at a beautiful lake. It's a peaceful place surrounded by forest. It was the end of the season but we found a few wild huckleberries (Grandpa B could quickly fill his bucket here. . .) Not wanting to lose a chance to fish, the kids and Ben waded through the water to cast their lines from an old dock. No fish were caught but it sure was fun!



Playin' round the campfire
Our sweet friends, Goscia and Jurek















This week was also full of packing our cabin in preparation for our trip to Ukraine. A couple evenings that week, we sang round the campfire and roasted sausages. Friday was also busy because we practiced with our friends Jurek and Goscia for a concert in Sopot on Sunday. They taught us a Hebrew song which we performed together. 
They live very close to the beach and we took the opportunity to visit the Baltic Sea. Some swans came to swim with us and the girls found more jellyfish.


The swan herders
He got his toes wet!



Mom celebrated her birthday on Saturday. The girls made a gingerbread cake with our friend Danusha and Nancy provided a chocolate cheesecake. In case you didn't know, Mom is now. . . one year older than last year!
 
Sunday morning we attended church at Ecclesia. After lunch, we drove to Sopot to prepare for our concert and do a sound check. The day was overcast and the rain started falling halfway through our performance but the audience came prepared with their umbrellas and most stayed until the end. Jurek and Goscia shared some songs in Polish and we rejoined them for the Hebrew song. Afterwards we all went out for delicious ice cream and so ended our first segment in Poland.  




Rainy day in Sopot
*Sorry about the funny white boxes and irregular text.  It looked normal until it was published.




Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Our First Month in Poland. . .Part Two



Drawing lesson with Tim
We continued to enjoy beautiful weather in September and maintain a school schedule.  Most afternoons, the kid enjoyed walking to town through the forest to buy sweets at their favorite store, Biedrunka.  We also bought fresh bread from a local bakery and a variety of sausages from another store (or sklep) nearby. 

Scarlett and Julia

Another Christian home-school family also lives on the Stebnecki's property.  They have a sweet twelve year old girl and cute little boy age two.  Scarlett enjoys spending time with Julia and Samuel has become Eliana's little shadow.  Their mother, Danusha, has taught us some Polish and her husband Gieshek has helped Chris "modify" our van.  We've been enjoying spending time with this family and learning from them.

Beautiful  Bojano
On Saturday, September 5th, Chris was blessed to be able to attend a "Daddy" conference about 5 hours from Bojano in the city of  Lodz (Wooj.) There were around 850 dads in attendance from several countries, mostly Poland. Some amazing testimonies were shared- even the father of Poland's current president shared about the importance of daily reading the Bible in the home.   Chris had several encouraging conversations including one with an Orthodox priest from Romania.   Chris was also able to encourage a group of dads who were considering homeschooling, but were looking for encouragement and confirmation. "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable," Psalm 145:3.  Thank you Lord, for these encounters!

Piotr, Marisha, neighbors: Beata, Piotr, Ericka, Chris, Lisa & Yanush
Our friends in Tczew, Piotr (Peter) and Marisha, invited us to spend a couple days (September 11-12) at their home with their children (ranging from 17 to 27).  Piotr is an excellent drummer and jazz/blues musician so Chris and Kenneth enjoyed a good jam session.  We drove down Friday morning to sing at a festival for handicapped children in the town square in Tczew. 
The quiet square in Tczew.
This quiet square was transformed into a colorful place with artwork, balloons and people robed in medieval costume or dressed as animal characters.  Three people walking on stilts really stood out above the crowd.  The festival coordinators fed us delicious soup and bread (with salo) and cake after we sang. 

Preaching by the train station.
After a tea/coffee break at Piotr's house we had the privilege of particiating in an outreach at the Tczew train station.  We sang and shared with Yanush (the Tczew church’s pastor and fellow homeschooler) translating and also handed out the gospel message in Polish with wordless book wristbands we brought from the States.  Yanush, and other men from the Tcew church, preached in between our music sharing times.  Everyone went away encouraged as some of the men had several great conversations about the Lord.


Our families with the church in progress behind.
On Sunday, September 13, we shared a few songs at a church in Gdansk.  The congregation is in the process of reconstructing an old building but they meet under several large tents on the property for now.  We were very encouraged by the saints there and we again experienced a wonderful Polish welcome.  A family from Ukraine recently started attending this church and meeting them grew our desire to revisit Ukraine.  After the meeting we enjoyed an amazing time of food and fellowship with one of the pastor/elders and his family, who speak English well. 


Chef Wiesiek with Steak Tartar. . .look it up!
We are grateful to the Lord for providing us with our wonderful hosts and friends, Wiesiek and Nancy Stebnecki.  They have spent countless hours on the phone talking with people on our behalf, translating for us at stores and shops, at church meetings and conferences, and at government offices.  They have hosted us in their home, introduced us to many of their friends, provided us with a lovely cabin to stay in, and have driven us around the Gdynia, Sopot, Gdansk (tri-city) area showing us where all the "best" places are. 
A Polish "truck stop" diner.
Their sons have been a huge blessing to our children as well. Tim taught us many things from how to catch, prepare and eat snails to how to draw and build tree houses.  Paul has been an inspiration to our boys-teaching them how to play new songs on the guitar and how to how to shoot and edit photographs.  David is also such a joy.  He loves to come in and listen as we read aloud in the evenings, and he does an excellent job of making sure our home is spic and span (even the outside boards and the stairs.) 
Blueberry Pierogi! Yum

We have been so blessed by the wonderful hospitality and warm welcome we have received here, and have been impressed about how important it is to just love.  1 John 3:18: "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth."  What an example our brothers and sisters in Poland are to us.

Our First Month in Poland. . .Part One


It looks a little Norwegian. 
Enjoying a sermon on the beach?
Some of the young people at Ecclesia.
 Here is a summary of our first month in Poland. . . better late than never!
    
    We arrived in Poland refreshed after our wonderful stay with our Norwegian friends.  After landing, we collected our mountain of luggage and hauled it outside to await our greeting party.  Jurek arrived first in his van and managed to pack all our luggage in the back in less than five minutes!  Three other vehicles also came carrying the Stebnecki family, Goscia (Jurek's wife) and two of their friends.  After orgainizing seating arrangements, our caravan set off to enjoy dinner at an "American" restaurant.  The food was worth the hour and a half wait.  With full bellies, our caravan then continued to our new home in Bojano, Poland.  Our cabin is like a fairy tale home-- very cozy.
     

After a few days of getting acclimated to our new surroundings and accommodations, we were provided with the opportunity to share our testimony and music at Ecclesia, church in Gdynia, with Wieshek translating.  After lunch and an excursion to a Baltic Sea beach in Gdynia, we attended the opening party of a homeschool friendly Montessori school.  We were blessed to meet a fellow American (and Texan) who now lives and ministers in Poland with his family at a bible college in Gdansk.

   After sharing at Ecclesia, the young people invited us to return the following week and help out with an outreach to the local community. We picked up trash, went door to door offering to clean the area rugs in neighboring flats (apartments), sang, fellowshipped, were able to encourage some of the kids who attended, and participated in a kind of VBS for the children.

A game they played with the children.

It was really encouraging to witness the zeal of the young people who organized the entire event, whose hearts for the Lord were truly evidenced by their attitudes and actions. Many of the young people here speak some English, so it was not difficult to communicate, fortunately for us!

Picking up trash near the church.
Due to the size of our large family we had been traveling by several vehicles, which was somewhat challenging since we are staying about 20-30 minutes out of town in the small village of Bojano.
We prayed about this need, and the Lord provided a huge blessing; a 2004 Mercedes Sprinter van.   It's pretty bare bones with no frills (manual transmission and no AC,) but it’s in great mechanical condition, gets excellent fuel mileage, and holds all of us with our luggage.  We are so thankful!

This bridge originally had turrets like these but was bombed in WWII

On Sunday, August 30th, we were invited to share at a church about an hour drive from Bojano in the historic town of Tczew (Tchev.)  Many of the buildings in the town square are hundreds of years old-including a Catholic church built by the Teutonic Knights in the year 1216.  The architecture is lovely here, but the people are truly the treasure. 
    
     We were blessed to share at two meetings that day (at around 200 members, the church is one of the largest protestant assemblies in Poland. Because they have a small building, they have two meeting times in order to accommodate all of the believers.  Praise the Lord!)  There are two families in this church that currently homeschool (one of them is the pastor, Januscz (Yanush) with two children, whom we have been praying with about street ministry and other evangelistic opportunities) and the other is a young family with three children.
The fire pit!
     After two music sharing times, meeting, and lunch in Tczew with new friends, Peter and Jarek and their families, we then drove to a musical gathering near our home in Bojano.  We again shared our testimony and a couple of songs.  It was an enjoyable evening with songs being shared by individual families as well as a time of group singing and worship.  We enjoyed meeting the host, Caesar, and his family, and we all gathered around a campfire roasting-not hot dogs mind you-but real Polish kielbasa sausages! It was an extremely busy, but rewarding Sunday. 

Jellyfish!
 In between the church meetings and sharing times, we tried to maintain some of our typical daily lives.  Much to the children's disappointment, we began school work (and of course, continued to do chores like washing dishes, cleaning house, and doing laundry.) 
Fried snails are. . .okay. . .
We also took time to enjoy this beautiful country.  We swam in the Baltic Sea and walked the lovely beaches, spent some time admiring God's beautiful rolling hills and dark forests, enjoyed learning about the rich culture and history of Poland, and have greatly appreciated the delicious foods prepared here.  We have very much enjoyed the fellowship and the slower pace of life.  Emphasis is on relationship building and taking time to encourage one another, much different from the harried lifestlye of many of us Americans.  It is a nice change of pace.
Posing in Sopot.