Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Clock and the Couple

That couple in the last picture of my last post could use a little of this from Doug Wilson. Here's my favourite part:
So the issue is not whether the husband offers what he has, or whether the wife offers what she has. The issue is when, the issue is timing. Remember, the only difference between salad and garbage is timing.

I hope that couple reads the whole thing.

Settling In Again

Helen and I are slowly settling back in at home. We're both surprised at how long it's taking us to get over our jet lag. Our first night back we woke up at 2:00 AM; second night was better...4:00 AM; last night was 5:00 AM.

I've been asked to do a report to our local church tomorrow evening on our trip. Helen worked hard this afternoon putting a PowerPoint presentation together of pictures.

We had the privilege of having a missionary couple in our home Monday night. Bruce and Marilyn Poidevin were here to give a report on their flight service ministry in Zambia. Their visit fell on our KFC night so Bruce first spoke to the kids and then gave the report afterwards.

There are still several posts and lots of pictures to put on the blog regarding our trip. We hope to get going on them later this week. In the meantime here's a picture of a Ukrainian couple in traditional dress.

Then tragedy struck.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Back in Town

After a long day of flying, we're home! My family was there to greet us at the airport and to drive us back to our house. We've had a good sleep and are now excited about seeing our assembly again this morning.

My parents are having us over for supper tonight, and Helen's mom and sister will be there too. We'll miss dad who is out in the east coast right now having kids meetings.

Can't wait!

[Correction: Dad is doing everything but kids meetings out east!]

Friday, October 19, 2007

From Vienna With Love

We left a rainy Ukraine and are now in Austria for the night. We don´t actually have anything to say. We just wanted to be able to say that we have blogged in Vienna. Helen is laughing at me as she watches me struggle with this German keyboard.

We parted ways with the gang this afternoon. Ruslan did a good job getting us to the airport on time despite locked up traffic.

Please pray for Malcolm as he stays on for one more week. He has a lot to accomplish before he goes. Helen and I have really enjoyed working with him. Please pray as well that Helen and I will get a good night's sleep as Helen has a heavy cold.

Auf wiedersen!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ukraine 15 – Our Last Night in Ukraine

We’re getting ready for our last night in Ukraine. We had to say goodbye to Yaraslav and Halia this morning, and tomorrow we will have to do the same with Flo, Helen, Ruslan, Malcolm, Marcus and Rachel.

Vadym took us to Lviv today, and then we parted ways with him as well. We depended on Vadym for almost everything, and he never let us down. God bless you and your young family, dear brother.

Tonight we had the special privilege of meeting Misha, a godly man who, if the Lord enables, will be able to study and teach the Word of God fulltime in this needy country. Feeding the physically hungry is important; how much more so the feeding of the spiritually malnourished.

So we leave for Vienna tomorrow at 4:15 PM. We overnight there, and then we fly to Toronto, and then on to Winnipeg, where we land, DV, at 7:35 PM. It will be so good to see our family at the airport again!

We fly in your prayers.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ukraine 14 – Day 19 (October 17)

On our last leg
Tomorrow is our last day in Ivano Frankivsk. We go back to Lviv tomorrow afternoon. Friday is our last day in Ukraine as we fly out in the afternoon to Vienna. It’s hard to believe that our three weeks here are almost over. Ukraine was a culture shock coming from Canada. Canada will be a culture shock coming from Ukraine.

Update on things mentioned before
A couple of great things have happened that we want to share with you. Both of them have nothing to do with us and everything to do with the Lord and with his people. First, a Christian kindly gave money so that Flo could give the rest of the kids in the orphanage in Loparton jackets. The second thing involves the orphanage in Yassapowich. The three windows have been purchased and installed, and a large amount of money has been given to put in proper toilets and washing facilities. Lord willing, this work should be done in the near future. The Lord is good!

Short update on today
This morning we had a delicious breakfast at Yaraslav’s and Halia’s. If you can call it breakfast. We were served chicken breasts and potatoes, among other things. Apparently Yaraslav had had a lot of chest pains going home after the meeting last night. He was just praying that he would make it through the hour-long bus ride home. Thankfully he did. Yaraslav needs our prayers.

I won’t mention all the details of the day, but we did go back to the orphanage in Yuremcha (close to the Carpathian mountains) to deliver some stationary as we had promised. While we were in the area we stopped to admire a beautiful waterfall and to purchase some gifts for family and friends back home.

We were also able to buy a fridge for Luba, and we visited a woman who faithfully comes to the meetings named Marica (yes, there are two Marica’s). She is clinically blind and has to look after her young son, who is an invalid, and her 13 year-old daughter, who also has health problems.

As I type this Helen is packing our suitcase for the umpteenth time this trip! She will not be able to fit everything into it. There are friendships, memories, and experiences that will have to stay behind. There are also some juicy secrets about Malcolm, but don’t worry, we’ll find a way to bring these home somehow! As the saying goes, what happens in Ukraine does not stay in Ukraine!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ukraine 13 – Day 18 (October 16)

We’re zonked! The Lord gave us a heavy itinerary today, but we did confess to having an easy day yesterday! There are three big things to report about today:

Visit to the Grammar School

This place was a big surprise for me. It was a beautiful school, unlike anything we had seen before in Ukraine. Only the brightest students get to come here; the school has a little over 400 enrolled. They all wear uniforms, which looked very sharp. The assistant director was an efficient fellow who looked after us for the three hours we were there. He organized six classroom visits for us.

The first class we visited shocked me. The kids were older than I was expecting, and they were very sharp. I was glad Malcolm spoke the first two times! Thankfully the Lord quickly gave me some different messages than the rope trick, which I didn’t feel comfortable using today, for whatever reason. One message involved Pangaea, and the other involved Henry Ford’s automobiles (an illustration I stole from Gooding and Lennox). There was no long-windedness on our part, as we were only given ten minutes in some of the classes, so the good news was given in compact form.

We had a nice lunch with the assistant-director, and then we had the treat of watching one of the beginner dance classes perform. After our classroom visits were finished we were shown some footage of the senior classes performing. Absolutely amazing. They would love to come to Canada to perform in the schools.

Potential Facility for the Christians

We also visited a potential facility for the Christians to use as headquarters. The building is in the core area, and the room we’re interested in would be big enough for storing the distribution supplies and for having regular meetings. Tomorrow we will find out what the rental charge will be, which will determine everything. Please pray regarding this.

Meeting with the Christians

We had a really nice meeting with the Christians at 5:00. There were around 20 out and the little room in the bank was filled up comfortably. I spoke first from Philippians 2 on the prerequisites for a group of Christians working together to spread the gospel (everyone putting the gospel first, and everyone putting each other first), and the Malcolm followed nicely with a message on Friendship. He then shared with the Christians our desire: that they all work together with Yaraslav and Halia in the distribution work. Everyone seemed very excited. We hope and pray that the excitement will be under girded by God-given desire.

Helen and I had to say some difficult goodbyes today. Luba, Maria, Lesia, Natalia, Tanya, Marica, and others, we will never forget you, and we will miss you dearly. Helen took down some email addresses / mailing addresses from the young sisters. It brought joy to my heart watching them group around Helen. I would be lost out here without my wife, and I’ll be the first to acknowledge it.

Then we took Natalia and Tanya home, following close behind a delivery van that was bringing them a new washer machine. We (the group) had used funds from the Christians back home to purchase it. They were overwhelmed. We stayed for tea and had a nice visit with the whole family, who were all at home. They are such a nice family.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Ukraine 12 – Days 15-17 (October 13 to 15)

We had a good weekend. Here are some details:


We enjoyed a scrumptious breakfast at Yaraslav’s and Halia’s, although it is not every day we have potatoes, liver and onions, and ham sandwiches in the morning! We had a long chat about their work for the Lord. They are a special couple, and I plan to devote a whole post to them when we get back to Canada. Basically we were trying to brainstorm ways to free them up so that they can spend more time on what their passion is: gossiping the gospel and loving the long-forgotten.

Then we met some of the sisters at the market and bought them all boots for the winter. Little Maria and Wasyl also received new footwear, which they were proud of. In the previous post I said we would be buying 30 pairs. I lied. The 20 pairs of shoes for the kids in the halfway house are being purchased this week instead.

Then Vadym and his wife, Sveta, had us over for lunch. It was obvious that she had gone to piles of work. After this we went back stuffed to Flo’s apartment in L’Viv. It was a treat to see Flo again, and to meet Marcus and Rachel Deloughery who are here from Canada until December. On the way I listened to a sermon by John Piper called “Don’t Waste Your Life”. It was a powerful message that brought a renewed passion to my life for the Lord Jesus to be my chief Joy.


It was also a treat to take the Lord’s Supper for the first time since coming to Ukraine. We left at 7:30 AM from Lviv to meet with the assembly in Lutsk for 10:00. It took some faith to participate in prayer in the meeting; you just close your eyes, stand up, start praying and hope that Sergei will soon follow with the interpretation. Sergei is a gifted young man who understands 15 languages. He also has brain cancer, which, thankfully, is now in remission. Please pray for him. Malcolm spoke afterwards, and Sergei did a fantastic job of translating. He not only translated the words into Ukrainian, but also the tone, gestures, and effect. I believe that Bible translators should try to do something of the same.

The Christians have purchased a facility for their headquarters. Lord willing, when it’s all finished it will have a meeting room, dining area, library, storage room for distribution material storage, and living quarters. I look up to Christians with no end of vision.

We then traveled back to Lviv and had a meeting there. Marcus graciously let me hog most of the time seeing as it was my last chance to speak in Lviv.


We spent the morning at Flo’s. Malcolm kept us entertained while we waited for Vadym to come from Ivano. A couple of times we were doubled over in laughter. One has to laugh to survive in this land. Helen (the other Helen) joined us for lunch. We have enjoyed our fellowship with the other Christian workers every single time we’ve been together.

After lunch Vadym drove us back to Ivano, where we will stay until Thursday, DV. The drive was a long one due to some lengthy construction hold ups.

As you can see, we didn’t accomplish a whole lot today. But time was spent in discussing plans for the upcoming week, and we trust we will be well rested to carry them out in the strength of the Lord.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Ukraine 11 – Day 14 (October 12)

If fatigue dictates the length of this post, it will be a short one!

The Next Few Days

Tomorrow we’re going to be buying enough shoes for thirty kids in Ukraine (or one woman in Canada!). Then we’re going back to L’Viv for Saturday night, so that we can be with the assembly in Lutsk Sunday morning. Then back to L’Viv for the Sunday night meeting, and then back here to Ivano on Monday. Please pray for safe travels for us.

Update on Today

We visited four homes and one halfway house today. The first two visits were with people who come faithfully to the meeting. One woman (Anya) had had eye surgery three weeks ago for her cataracts. Another brother had brought funds from Canada for the surgery. After an encouraging conversation with Anya and her daughter (Marica), we prayed with them and left money to pay for her medications.

Our second visit was to Diana’s flat. She’s about 35 and has Hepatitis C. She has one son, and no husband to speak of. Had a real nice visit with her. We were encouraged to see how well worn her New Testament was, and we encouraged her to read a passage to her teenage son each day. Please pray for her health.

Then we visited a halfway house, which is a place where kids with no homes stay temporarily until a more permanent lodging is found for them. Malcolm has purchased shoes for the kids before, and we are going to do the same thing this trip. We will go to the market tomorrow armed with a list of shoe sizes for 21 little pairs of feet! We gave the kids suckers, balloons, and did a rope trick and talk. The staff were pleased to receive pens and Canadian pins.

Next we saw an old woman with poor health. Her young granddaughter looks after her. The woman cried from start to finish. She says that the hospital gave her a wrong treatment that has completely spoiled her health. Apparently she has cancer, but no one has told her this. We wonder if the “wrong treatment” was actually chemotherapy. How sad. Unfortunately, many religious experts do a similar thing: they never tell the ones who trust their “expertise” about the spiritual disease they possess. At least these Ukrainian medical doctors are trying to administer a cure.

Our last visit was a happy one. Natalia is the mother of five but looks as young as her oldest daughter, Tanya (23). She was too shy to tell us about her needs, and she ordered Tanya not to say a word about them! We left some money with her anyway, which she was very humble about. We told her we felt the same way when our Canadian brothers and sisters gave their finances to us so that we could distribute them to her. When we learned that she has to walk in the dark to work, we also gave her one of our Mag flashlights. She was inexpressibly thankful. Tanya is very sweet. They promise to come to our next meeting on Tuesday night.

For supper we got a real treat. We went to a shish kabob restaurant with character. What a delicious way to end the day! We all remembered how fortunate we were to enjoy a nice meal in this world of hungry people. God is good.

Hmm, I guess fatigue didn’t dictate anything!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Ukraine 10 – Day 13 (October 11)

We sure had an interesting day today. We got to see the Carpathian Mountains, but more on that later. On the way there, we stopped at an orphanage in Yuremcha. The director came across as unwelcoming at first. Sadly, he has had bad experiences with other groups coming with aid. We trust they were not claiming to be Christian groups, but whoever they were, they must have really made a mess of it to put off an orphanage in Ukraine.

The longer our stay, the warmer the director. One thing he said was quite interesting: the kids expect more than aid groups just coming in, dropping off a bunch of clothes, and clearing out. They want a presentation and some interaction. We gave them both. The Lord helped me to do my rope trick and speak to them, and Malcolm showed them the smallest Bible in the world (ca. 3 cm x 3 cm on one layer of microfiche). The 80 or so kids present listened attentively and the interaction was nice. We would love to visit them again. Just to solidify our relationship, we gave the director an extra special Canada pin for his jacket. He was mighty proud of it!

Then we went up to a massive ski resort in the Carpathians. 50 km of trails and 15 chair lifts. One of the owners of the place happens to be Vadym’s friend, so he gave us a ride up one of the lifts. The scenery was stunning. The resort evidently has aggressive plans. The amount of infrastructure going up is mind-boggling. One project is a five level parkade. Hmm, I wonder if they could use a Project Coordinator up there. Work colleagues: don't tell the boss, but I might just get my resume translated into Ukrainian!

We had our first meeting in Ivano tonight. It was supposed to start at 5:00, but we never got there until 5:30 despite Vadym’s fast driving. It was a good meeting nonetheless and the people were very forgiving. I spoke first, but not without struggles, and then Malcolm gave a nice talk. It’s easy to see that the people love Malcolm from previous years!

Helen says that this post is too short—it’s not even worth people reading it, she says. Actually I made that up. And yes, Helen will be posting again soon, I hope.
That’s all for tonight folks. Time for bed.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ukraine 9 – Day 12 (October 10)

Considering this blog is “mikenhelen”, it is high time according to Mike that I (Helen) post one. So this one is written from my perspective as I recline on the couch feeling stuffed with food—we’re definitely eating well here. Too well!

Most of the day was taken up with visiting families that Halia knows are in need. The first couple we visited was Ivan and Tamara. Tamara is a retired schoolteacher and had quite a personality. She was very animated while talking and it was clear she would have been a very interesting teacher. We certainly enjoyed listening to her. Her husband had a stroke a while back and was not feeling up to visiting. As we entered the living room, we laid our eyes on a meal she had prepared of bread, sausage, cheese, pilmenee (like perogies with meat inside) and cookies. I think we all inwardly groaned as we had just finished breakfast not long before. We took a little so as not to offend but Ukranian hosts do not seem to settle for that. I don’t think they have the phrase “I’m full” in their language! They keep saying, “Eat, Eat”. She told us how she had read through the New Testament a few times and now wants to read the Bible all the way through. If she has questions she asks Yaraslav who is a good resource for her. As we were leaving, Tamara stuffed a number of pears into our bags—just in case we hadn’t eaten enough?!

Next we visited a couple that Malcolm has met several times before. He is a deaf mute and cannot get out of bed without help. His wife is his sole caregiver but in the last six months has developed bad rheumatoid arthritis and struggles to take care of him. She had a look of despair on her face as she described the situation. He has quite the string system in his house; from his bed he can open and shut the door, and when the front door opens, a light goes on so he knows if someone is entering the house. We brought bags of groceries to each of these families.

Our third visit was to another retired schoolteacher who at the age of 82 had boundless energy—much more than I have and she’s approx. 4x my age! I sat right next to her and kept getting my knee slapped or her hands put directly in my face as she told her stories with gusto!

Our last visit was for me the most memorable. We arrived at the house and the door was locked. We learned this is because Natalia is bedridden. We phoned her and she pleaded for us to wait until someone came to unlock the door in 5-10 minutes as she was really looking forward to our visit. She would be about 35 years old and has multiple sclerosis. She stays in the house all day by herself but she has such a sweet spirit and joyful disposition. She really enjoyed seeing Malcolm again as he visits her just about every time he comes. Malcolm explained that he might not see her again as we do not know what a day brings and she got really teary. He took this opportunity to explain the Two Roads chart to her and the man that had unlocked the house. They both listened intently and it seemed from her reaction and radiance that she truly knows which road she is on. The man listened quietly and understood the chart. We hope it will continue to speak to him. We left copies there. They set out a bowl of apples and pears and we took one each. They were so insistent that we eat more and when we were leaving he tipped the whole bowl into my bag. He wasn’t going to take “No” for an answer!!

We also visited the largest orphanage in Ivano with about 120 kids. About 30 kids gathered in the library as Malcolm spoke to them using the world’s smallest Bible and Mike did his rope trick. The behaviour wasn’t great and it got a little chaotic at the end while we tried to give out either picture Bibles and New Testaments—depending on age—as well as texts and suckers. Some of the kids seemed to think we were stupid as they came up saying they didn’t get a sucker while their cheek was bulging with the one they had already started! We got through it though.

Although we are not doing too much physical activity, it seems we have no trouble falling asleep at night. I think part of it is being emotionally drained after being confronted with so many pitiful situations. We are only helping a few and it seems only a drop in the bucket when we consider how many people are living in the same conditions. It became real to me when Tanya, a nurse, told me what she makes in a month. I make more before my first coffee break of the day at work. Many of the breadwinners of the families make about the same with a family to support. There is so much poverty everywhere.

We are now over halfway through our trip and the days are flying by. I’m not sure if you’ll hear from me again before the end of our trip as my laptop privileges may be suspended after Mike sees the length of this post. After just hearing how much I’ve written, he said, “People won’t want to read something that long”. I know otherwise as you’ve reached the end of this epistle. Regardless, I wanted to report on a full and fulfilling day.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Ukraine 8 – Day 11 (October 9)

Our patient (Malcolm) stayed at home again today, as he had had another rough night. He was certainly much stronger this morning, though, so we expect him to be raring to go tomorrow.

Vadym took Helen and I visiting today. We visited four different homes. That doesn’t sound like much, but quantity is made up for by quality. We sit down in the home and stay as long as they want us to. I really enjoyed being able to listen to people without any thought of the clock. I think they did too.

The first visit was one of the highlights of the trip thus far (for me). We visited a mom (Luba), her 11 year-old daughter (Maria), and her handicapped son (Wasyl). Maria was such a sweet little girl; she captured a piece of our heart immediately. She sang us a song and read a portion out of her Kid’s Bible to us. Her favourite story is the one about Noah’s ark. We told her that Jesus is like the boat, and just like the people had to climb into the boat, so every one of us needs to come inside Jesus to be safe from the storm that is coming for sure. Luba recently became a Christian, and she is passing on her love for Christ to her kids.

We treasured our visit immensely. Vadym had told us the day before how he had managed to get a picture of himself with David and Victoria Beckham. Many people would die to meet those two, but after our visit I couldn’t help thinking that I would rather see Luba, Maria, and Wasyl again than meet the Beckhams or the Pitts any day.

I’ll just mention the last visit of the day. It was with a young father who is now an invalid, and as such will never be able to support his family again. He looked so sick. His wife is the sole breadwinner, but she only brings home $100 CAD a month. That has to cover food, heat, clothes, and family vacations. Of those four things, they’re doing well to get three of them. Guess which one goes out the window. They have so much against them. He faces the daily frustrations of his inadequacies. They are flying on their last engine; if she goes down, they all go down. And even if she never goes down, there’s the constant struggle for him to find a reason to want to stay up. It makes me sick to think of the times I’ve coveted a larger salary. It makes me sick to think of how I’ve coveted other people’s toys. In the West our greatest fear is insignificance; in the rest of the world people are just trying to survive.

You can appreciate how hard we struggled to find something to say to these people. “Chin up, things will get better some day” doesn’t translate very well into Ukrainian. It hardly sounds good in American. I said two things: (1) I don’t know your pain. I haven’t felt it that bad yet. (2) The biblical writers did know about pain, and they taught us to bank our hopes on the future kingdom of Jesus. King Jesus will rule his kingdom perfectly. There will be no Stalins. And he will rule better than even Yushenko. He will rule with perfect justice and righteousness. Like Aragon in Lord of the Rings, he who can slay with the sword like no other will also be uniquely skillful in bringing perfect healing to all of the wounded. It will be a kingdom of peace, justice, glory, and inexpressible joy. And thus the crucial thing for us in this life is to surrender now to the King who will reign victorious in a coming day, and come on to his side before it’s too late. I think David Gooding wrote something like this once: By dying Jesus dealt death itself the death-blow.

We hope the words were helpful. We think they were. We know the groceries and clothes were; the hugs say it all.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Listen to Lennox vs. Dawkins Debate

These days I'm not doing a lot of surfing online, but someone kindly emailed the following to me. I can't check it out myself with this 31k internet connection, but I trust my sources.

You can go listen to the entire unedited debate posted on the Dawkins' website at:http://richarddawkins.net/article,1707,Debate-between-Richard-Dawkins-andJohn-Lennox,Richard-Dawkins-John-Lennox

Letter (for) Malcolm

October 8, 10:00 PM: Malcolm is still under the weather. He has flu-like symptoms which have persisted throughout the day. He also has a sore back, which is not good when one has to lie down all day. Please pray with us for him that he will get better overnight and be stronger in the morning. We're hoping it is just a 24 hour thing.

Ukraine 7 – Days 8-10 (October 6 to 8)

A lot has changed since our last wave of posts. New city, new living quarters, new driver/interpreter, and new challenges.

October 6
Ruslan (previously I’ve been calling him Rooslan, but this is likely a better transliteration) picked up Malcolm and us on the 6th to take us to our new city of operations: Ivano Frankivsk. Along the way, we stopped to take a couple of pictures of a giant stork nest atop an old church, and of two storks standing in a field. Parents, take hope! We also took some pictures of trees with mistletoe formations. If only some of them had been on trees leaning over the highway. But alas, no excuses for kisses with Helen were provided! Oh well, Christmas is coming.

Ruslan dropped us off at our new living quarters. We’re staying in the second floor of a massive house owned by a man named Roman. Roman is a writer, and he has published at least a dozen books. I’d love to give you firmer figures than that, but he no speak English, and we no speak Ukrainian, so communication is difficult. At first I was a little uncomfortable staying in such a gigantic home. I’ve seen so many people living in such poor conditions, why should we westerners come here and live differently? I was beginning to miss Flo’s humble apartment in L’Viv.

After meeting Yaraslav and Halia, however, and getting a better feel for the situation here, I began to feel more at ease. Yaraslav and Halia are a wonderful Christian couple native to Ukraine. They are set apart full time for the Lord’s work. They had us over for supper the last two nights, and already we think the world of them. They live simply and with integrity. Yaraslav is a great sharer of the Message. Unfortunately, though, his health has been poor of late, and we would have been too much of a burden for them had we stayed in their apartment, so it’s better for everyone that we stay at Roman’s. Besides, Roman’s house might be expansive, but his charge is not expensive. Our expenses for the week here will be less than one night in a clean hotel.

We also have a new driver / interpreter. Vadym is his name. He’s a young man with a storied past. He’s very proud of his wife of close to two years, and his daughter of five months. It’s nice to see this young Christian brother forsaking his previous lifestyle and dedicating himself instead to his family. He spent a few years working in England, and Helen claims to have detected a faint British accent. I’ll have to try set him up to say “tomatoes” or “garage” to validate her claim!

October 7
On Sunday we were picked up at 10:30 by Oksana in a taxi. She’s an English teacher who has worked as an interpreter for the group in previous years. She took us down to the park area where we first walked for 3-4 km around a beautiful lake. Then we went into the nearby park. Very impressive brick/cobblestone walk through towering trees. We walked in the direction of the city centre, and by the time we got there, we must have walked another 2 km or so. We then went for lunch at Best Pizza.

Apparently, Oksana has been translating a booklet for a Christian named Louis. I talked to Oksana about the possibility of translating some books into Ukranian. I’d love to be able to pass out thousands of books by David Gooding, John Lennox, and John Piper in the schools and universities. I want to pursue this when I get back to Canada. God only knows what He might do with books of this calibre circulating amongst the upcoming generation in Ukraine.

We didn’t have any meetings on Sunday. The reasons are complicated, and they don’t need to surface here. We are expecting to hold meetings in Yaraslav’s apartment soon, i.e., this week. Helen and I missed joining with the Christians back in Austin as we normally would on a Sunday. There is something joyful about belonging to a community (assembly) of Christians. Who says church is boring? Going to church might be boring, but being a church is altogether different!

October 8
Monday came, but Malcolm didn’t. He had gone through a rough night, and he did not feel well the whole day, so we left him in bed. Please pray that he will recover soon.

We went to a warehouse today with Vadym and purchased supplies for ten families, whom we will visit over the next few days. After checking up on our patient (Malcolm), and dropping off some drugs for him, we had lunch at Yaraslav’s and Halia’s, and then began to visit homes. It was a little daunting for me, at least, to go visiting without Malcolm, but I knew that a greater-than-Malcolm was with us! We visited a mom with six kids. From what we could tell, they all sleep with mom and dad in one room; the other room is the kitchen. They were very grateful for our little help. We shared with them that the reason we had come from Canada to Ukraine was summed up in John 3:16 (which was written on some pens that we gave them):

16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes
in him should not perish but have eternal life, (ESV).

With a message like that, could someone please remind me why I’m so hesitant to share it with others?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Ukraine 6: Change of Scenery

Tomorrow will be a change of scenery for us. We leave at 9:00 AM for a city a couple of hours away, Ivano Frankivsk. We plan to be there until the following Saturday. Of course, Flo and Helen (a sister from Ontario) will stay in L'Viv. We'll say more later....pray for us on the roads.

Ukraine 5: Absence of pictures

Blogging on our trip has been an adventure thus far. First obstacle is getting connected online. I won't bother going into the difficulties we've had overcoming this problem. Second obstacle is reading Ukraine. Yes, over my here our web browser displays everything in Ukrainian, so you don't know how many times I've clicked a link hoping it was "New Post" when really it was "Sign Out". And with blazing connections speeds of 31 k, you don't want to make that mistake too often.

Because of this, we haven't even tried to post pictures of the trip yet. So here's our first attempt. If it doesn't work, we'll post a bunch when we get home.

[Update: OK, so that didn't work. We'll try again another time.]

Definition of an Optimist

Hmm, that last post reminded me of one of my favourite jokes (I now risk revealing how corny my sense of humour is):

Question: What is the definition of an optimist?

Answer: An accordionist with a pager.

I heard it from one of the Fairfield boys when he was emceeing at a wedding. He had a corny sense of humour too!

Ukraine 4 – Day 7 (October 5)

Just got back to the apartment from another day out and about, and will soon be hitting the showers before the water goes off at 9:00. Yesterday, Flo and company were busy buying as many winter jackets and boots as $1000 can buy; today we got rid of every one of them at a large orphanage of 120 kids. It was something to see. At first, the process went along smoothly enough. The neediest kids were brought in to a room and, one by one, they were fitted with boots and jackets. This was the calm before the storm, however, because soon, despite the best efforts of the staff and us, the kids were surrounding the supplies Jericho-like—minus the silence—and commotion reigned. We took lots of pictures of the kids who came away victorious. Unfortunately, it was impossible to have jackets for every kid who needed one, and one young boy took this particularly hard, but Flo has vowed to return with a jacket for him.

After the dust settled and the kids dispersed, we had a few minutes to ourselves, and then the administrator brought all the kids back into the auditorium, where we had the opportunity to say a few words to them before they did a performance in honour of Teacher’s Day. I did the rope trick for them I’ve been practicing, which went well, thankfully. Once Malcolm had spoken and sat down, we then got to watch their performance, which was fun. Picture a woman playing an accordion with a pile of kids around her singing their little hearts out.

By the time the program was over we were getting really hungry, so we went to the home of one of the staff for ham, borscht, potatoes, and beef. Then it was back in the van for the two-hour drive back with Rooslan at the wheel. As always, this was an event in itself. I have ridden in vans through Mexico City and El Salvador, but I have never witnessed anything like driving through Ukraine before!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Ukraine 3 – Days 4-6 (October 2 to 4)

Background information
We are staying in the apartment of Flo Kancir. Flo is a tremendously dedicated sister. Years ago, she lost her husband, and within two weeks, she heard and accepted for herself the good news about Jesus. She is now committed to spreading the same good news in Ukraine, where she spends six months of every year helping the poor, the sick, and anyone else who is in need. As a result, many have come to know and love the Lord Jesus as their personal Saviour.

The apartment is in the city of L’Viv, a large city of ca. 1 million, situated on the western side of Ukraine. The apartment is filled with boxes, which are in turn filled with all kinds of humanitarian aid for others.

Update on the last few days

Meals Out
In the last few days, we have twice had the privilege of going to dinner in Ukrainian homes. What hospitality! The first dinner was October 2 at Flo’s nephew’s house. We were served a six course meal that included (1) bread, ham, cheese, vegetables; (2) soup; (3) cabbage rolls; (4) shish kebabs, potatoes; (5) fruit; (6) and cake. Each course was a meal in itself and we were warned to go easy. I was excited to learn that one of the boys there was learning AutoCAD, and he showed me some of his drawings. I’m still trying to learn that program!
Then on the 3rd we had dinner at Ola’s home. Ola is the mother of our skilled driver Rooslan (I’m sure he will get a post of his own before this trip is over!). Once again, we ate till we dropped, and in a way that would make my Grandpa Knox proud, we sought refuge in reclining on the couch. I had my first bowl of borscht, and am now looking forward to my second. Also tried some sauerkraut. It too was excellent. The language barrier was not able to prevent either meal from being filled with loud conversation and lots of laughing.

These meals are often self-sacrificing as the hosts themselves are struggling to make ends meet. This woman’s pension is 500 hrivnia (approx. $100 CDN) per month and about ½ to 2/3 of it goes toward rent. The rest is to pay for heat, food, clothes and any other needs they may have. In a way we feel bad eating such a lot of food that they have bought and prepared, but they have done so in love, and the thing they want most is for us to enjoy it and their homes.

Of course, ahem, eating, (cough), only occupies a tiny portion of our time here (sneeze)! I’ll quickly tell you about a couple of visits we’ve made. On the 2nd we visited a family in the small village of Listivchy. The mom left the dad with five children when the youngest child was only three months old (he’s now getting close to five). We brought groceries, toys, clothes, shoes, and Malcolm brought them the good news of Life in Christ, which, like the other gifts, is always free, but, unlike the other gifts, lasts forever.

We visited a family today (4th) consisting of two grandparents, a dad, and one three year-old boy named Dema. This was another case of the mom leaving the dad and child when the boy was very young (six months old). The grandparents were so receptive to us and to the message. Helen and I played with Dema. Over and over we blew up a balloon for him and he’d let it fly out of his fingers.

Great News
Last night we had another meeting in Flo’s apartment. Malcolm gave the main talk, speaking on heaven. I closed by sharing thoughts on the telltale evidence that someone is a student of Jesus: love for others (John 14:22). After most of the group had left, a young woman, Nadia (22 years-old), wanted to talk with Flo. A few minutes later, we were all thrilled to bits upon hearing that she had received Jesus as her Saviour! It was funny to see how surprised she was by our excitement as she received hugs from her new brothers and sisters. It was as if she was saying, “Why would you people from Canada be happy for me?” Kinda because this is the whole point of our coming here!

In other great news, Malcolm finally received all his luggage!

Prayer Requests
- for Nadia, that she will grow in her faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ; that she will share her story with others; that her husband Lupshik (sp?) will also be saved.
- for God to lead us each day. There are a number of things up in the air right now, but we’re hoping to go to Ivano on Sunday or Monday.
- for us, that we will have wisdom in distributing the money and supplies other Christians have entrusted to us.

Ukraine 2: Quick Shout out to friends and family

I may make a distinction between posting on what we’re doing and posting on how we’re doing. This is a quickie on how we’re doing.

We’re catching up on sleep. Last night we did not wake up at 4:30 AM, so I think our body clocks have adjusted to this time zone (which is eight hours ahead). The weather is beautiful here—low 20s (Centigrade), making for comfortable sleeps in the apartment, even though the city hasn’t turned the heat on yet. Running water is only available from 6:00 to 9:00 mornings and evening, but with some minor planning this is no big deal.

The biggest impression Ukraine has made on us so far is how well her people dress. The people here really take pride in their dress and looks. Clothes come first it seems, house and food come second, if that. By their dress, you’d think some of these people lived in beautiful homes. In fact, a couple of times Helen and I have felt under-dressed. Reality is completely otherwise for most of them, however, as they emerge in these clothes from run-down apartment areas that some of us wouldn’t be willing to drive through, never mind live in.

Then there are the really poor people, who cannot hide their poverty in their home or in the market. Such were the doctor and his family. With people like these, one could wear pajamas and not feel under-dressed. One can feel many other things, however. Like re-evaluating all the things I need to buy at home.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ukraine 1: Days 1-3 (September 29 to October 1)

Everyone: breathe easy. Mike and Helen’s voices are finally crackling in the air shortly after re-entry into the blogosphere.

We’ve reached Ukraine, and we’re settling down well here. Our flights out were largely uneventful (which is always a good thing), but long (ca. 27 hour duration, including wait times). Helen managed to catch a couple hours sleep somewhere over the Atlantic, but woke up to the sleep-deprived, bloodshot eyes of her husband.

The only drama we experienced in our travels was almost taking off without Malcolm. We had landed in Vienna (from Toronto) a good three hours before the final leg to L’Viv. Malcolm was to catch the same flight with us, but was coming from London England instead. We waited in the boarding area as long as possible (Brainwave: begin new acronym, ALAP), but still no sight of Malcolm. Reluctantly, we went though the gate, and boarded the bus, which whisked us off to the tarmac. We boarded the plane, where we resumed watching for Malcolm. We were sure all was OK when we saw another bus pull up, but of the handful of people that filed out, no Malcolm. Our hopes were dashed, and we grimaced over the prospect of facing Ukrainian customs on our own. Our prayers were answered, though, when out of nowhere a familiar face appeared in business class. Another bus had apparently come. We were relieved.

Malcolm’s catching the flight meant his luggage missing theirs. He still doesn’t have all his clothes back, but so far, thankfully, our noses know no different!

Won’t go into too much more detail in this post. That night we had a wonderful supper of cabbage rolls, potatoes, and pork, and a long overdue sleep.

Day two was Sunday. We took it easy, but had a meeting in Flo’s apartment at 7:00 PM. I spoke (through a 15-year-old translator) first, telling my testimony, emphasizing that “my story” is more Jesus’ story, because he’s the one who is the hero of it. Malcolm then spoke on 1 Timothy 4:12 on the things that should accompany Christian profession. It was a nice time with the twenty or so present. A young married couple came out. They were our age, and they understood and spoke some English. Always a treat.

Today, day three, was our first real day doing what we’re supposed to be doing out here. We (the group) bought two fridges and gave one to an orphanage and the other to a poor family. Believe it or not, the father (Misha) is a doctor who has traded in the medical practice for woodcarving because the former doesn’t put enough food on the table for his family of six kids and one wife (Tkash). Yes, salary scales are a little different here; he’d likely be better off working in McDonald’s. One of these days, I’ll introduce you to a wonderful young woman here who is a nurse. She puts in 24-hour shifts (no, that’s not a typo) and for her labours takes home $100 CAD a month.

Anyways, back to this family. Very sad story. House is a mess, and all of them are confined to sleeping in its two small rooms. One boy is handicapped (similar to Down’s Syndrome). One young boy (10 – 12 I’m guessing) particularly sticks out. Every time I glanced at him, I caught him watching me with adoring eyes. I just wanted to talk to him and tell him to live his life with Jesus as his hero. He gave me a woodcarving of a rabbit he had done. He’s learning the art from his dad. Misha gave us a beautiful clock he had carved. Later, the boy came out with a leaf plate Misha had carved as well. We are learning that it is hard to out-give the Ukrainians, no matter how little they have.

The orphanage was in Yassapowich (sp?), where we were overcome by the cuteness of the kids, and the sadness of their situation. Couple of times felt some lumps in the throat today; this was one of them. They already had a fridge, but it didn’t work. They didn’t dare throw the thing out, though, because it’s illegal for an orphanage to not have fridge somewhere on its premises. Of course, it doesn’t matter if it works—it just has to be there!

The kids were so cute, a welcome relief from their surroundings and circumstances. They were so excited to see us, and it wasn’t long before we had switched roles; their little fingers shooting pictures with our camera of us hugging their little friends. The workers get little salary; they obviously love the children. This place needs a lot of work. Windows that can’t be cleaned or they’d fall apart, no bathtubs or washing machines, and the toilets leave a lot to be desired. The government provides food, heat, staff salaries (small), and an inconsequential amount for R&M.

In the evening we had a delicious supper of perogies (veronica). It wasn’t hard to be thankful.