We are working to try to catch up on the months in 2015 that we missed, but hope you enjoy reading about what has been happening in 2016.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

December 2014

December turned out to be a crazy, but good month. We studied Russian as usual, found an apartment and moved, celebrated Christmas with friends, and saw the new year in. We started out the month with a normal schedule, meeting with our tutor(s) and studying Russian, but soon that was mixed with time spent looking for apartments.

One of the daily challenges we faced was power outages from about 4:15 PM until about 6:15 PM (give or a take a little on either end). We got caught without keys once, because we always used the garage door opener, but we learned! These were happening all around Ukraine and the villages around Kiev, but not in Kiev itself. Another reason to move to the city!

Denise made different kinds of Christmas cookies and froze them before we moved, so that we would have some to share even when we were really busy.

Hope enjoys being part of the International Church's youth group just about every Friday night.  She has really enjoyed being able to get to know some of the young people there.

Hope got to be the Christmas tree one night at youth group
On one of the realty websites I (Phil) contacted about 12 different realtors about 12 different apartments and was surprised to only have a couple get back to me. The realtor we ended up working with was going to show us an apartment, only to have the landlord decide he did not want to rent to foreigners. She found us other places to look at and we finally settled on the one obvious choice for us. She was great to work with and spoke clearly on the phone so I could understand her. That is significant!

We really had it narrowed down to two apartments. One was less than five minutes from a subway station in NW Kiev, and the other about a 15 minute walk from the same subway. The further one was bigger, but the closer one was nicer. After we took the walk from the apartment to the metro one time to check it out, it was obvious that the closer one was going to meet our needs.

The kitchen is very nice, and even has a dishwasher!
The living room is spacious and bright
This apartment is on the 20th floor of a newer building (built in the last 10 years). It has 2 bedrooms as well as two bathrooms (one is a full bath with a separate shower and tub, and the other a half bath). We can see a busy intersection from our windows, most of which face west (but our bedroom windows face south). The view is fantastic.

Our view in the daytime
Our view after dark
We can even see when precipitation is moving in
We signed the documents on Friday morning, December 19, and started moving our things that afternoon. Moving, even without furniture, is a lot of work. The house we were renting is about 20 minutes from our apartment, so that gave us a chance to rest in between hauling things. Our apartment building has three elevators - a small 2-4 person elevator (the typical size of the only elevator in the older buildings), a medium-sized elevator that will easily fit 8+ people, and a freight elevator. That third elevator is a huge blessing in this part of the world.

We would load up our Speed the Light car (thanks to Minnesota Assemblies of God Youth)  at the house and drive to the apartment building, where we would park close to the door. We would unload the car and stand things by the door, then haul the things inside, then move them to the freight elevator, next get them into the freight elevator, go up to our floor, move things out of the elevator, and then get them into our apartment. After 7 or 8 trips, we were getting pretty tired, but that was about all it took.

We started sleeping in our apartment on Sunday the 21st, after most of our stuff was moved and we had the Internet hooked up. It is so nice to have reliable and fast Internet once again!

On Monday, the 22nd, we were supposed to host a get-together with our colleagues, but between our move and the power outages every afternoon, we decided that was a bad idea. Instead we went to an ornament factory, where they actually blow the glass for the ornaments and paint them by hand. They are fragile, but beautiful.  Afterwards, we went to a restaurant that made some of the best shashlik (shish-kabobs) we have had in Ukraine.

This is one of the glass blowers.  They get the glass tube hot in the middle and then blow it to a particular size.
In their museum, they had some examples of "fancy" eggs made by their partners in Europe
These are examples of their hand-painted ornaments
Sometimes they reproduce another work of art
We finished moving the last remaining load on Tuesday afternoon, the 23rd. That morning we went shopping for some things we needed, which included a desk for Denise, a dining table and four chairs, a step stool/ladder, drying racks (no dryer in the apartment, which is common here), a Christmas tree, and other things. We had enough things that we had to have the table and chairs delivered. They arrived Christmas afternoon (they do not celebrate Christmas her until January 7th), just in time for Christmas dinner that evening.

Denise got our tree up and decorated - with home-made decorations
On Christmas Eve, Hope opened her presents and we watched some Christmas movies.  It felt good to relax after the hard work of the previous week.  On Christmas Day we watched some more movies and prepared for dinner with friends.  We fixed turkey and the fixings, while our friends brought other things to share (bread and dessert).  We had a great time together and we were glad we made the effort to get the apartment ready for company.

Our friends with us around our new table as our meal was coming to an end
On Sunday the 28th, after church was over at the International Church, we went with friends and colleagues to the national Christmas tree celebration.  It was really cold that day and there were many people out and about.  After we took some pictures, we found a small restaurant and enjoyed supper together.

The National Christmas tree near one of the famous, old churches in Kiev
They even had a carousel, as well as someone in a polar bear costume
Here are some things near our building and our building itself:

This is one view of the little ships near the street corner
These are some other shops on the way to our apartment from the above picture
This is looking back towards the corner, and the port-a-potties that you can pay 2 grivna (less than 10 cents at today's rate)
Our building is on the right and, yes, they park on the sidewalks here
Here's the guard shack by the driveway for our apartment complex.  Someone is always there to open the gate.

This is our building.  The entrance is in the middle of the side.
There is a small grocery store on the ground floor of our building, and another one (a bit bigger) in the other tall building
The hallways in our building are bright and clean
This is the door to our apartment.  There is a third lock that you cannot unlock from the outside.
New Year's Eve we watched some movies and worked on puzzles as we saw the New Year in.  There were fewer fireworks than normal this year because of the war that is going on in the east.  But the few that did go off, we were able to see!

The grivna (Ukrainian currency) has gone from about 12 to the dollar when we arrived the end of July to 16 to the dollar.  The economy continues to spiral downward and we are concerned for the people here.  Yes, it increases our buying power, but it really hurts the local people.

January means getting completely settled and continuing our Russian studies.  We look forward to 2015 and what God has in store for us!  Please keep Ukraine in your prayers!

Thanks for taking the time to read about our adventures in Ukraine!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

November 2014

November picked up right where October left off, with us in Krivoy Rog finishing up a week of great ministry.  The rest of the month we were pretty much back to normal, with the exception of our Thanksgiving dinner with friends.

Saturday afternoon the 1st we went to a village - Зелёный Луг - which means Green Meadow, for a service. We have been to this village several times before and in the past we helped them buy the house where they meet and do some remodeling. It was a great service and several people gave their lives to Christ, including some бабушки - babushkas or grandmas. They fed us a light meal that included some fresh honey and milk. It was all really delicious!
Church building in the village we visited
Visiting around the table after the service in the village
Sunday morning we split up and went to three different churches. For the first time, Phil was privileged to preach in Pastor Galina's church (Pastor Gregory's wife who also pastors a church). Our family went together and we had a great service there. After the service we visited with Pastor Galina for a while, and she shared some of what it was like being raised in a Christian home under communism. She could not attend university because she was a Christian. For those of us who live in a free country, we cannot fathom what they went through.

After service we ate our last meal in Krivoy Rog, packed up our belongings, and loaded up the rented van and headed for Kiev. A highlight of the trip home was our stop in Smila, about half way home. We ate at a pizza chain and visited with one of our friends, Pastor Dennis. He took us to see their new church building, which is still a work in progress, but they are using it anyway. They used to meet in a movie theater, so they are very excited about having their own building.

The new sanctuary of the church
Pastor Dennis at the door of their new church building
We got back to our house by midnight and got everyone settled for the night. Monday morning, Denise made breakfast for the crew before most of us headed out to spend the day in Kiev.

As Pastor Brad said, Denise was our hero for fixing breakfast
One cannot visit Kiev without going to Maidan (means square). This is the square where the protesters began standing up against the government of Ukraine one year ago and where most of the fighting took place in February. This was our first stop.  It is a moving place to visit and today they had displays of large pictures that were taken during last November through February.

View from above looking down at the displays of photographs.
Nearly all of the bricks that were used as weapons have been replaced on the steps below.
One of the many pictures - a man throwing a Molotov cocktail during the fighting
A picture of rubble and a burned out building - near where we are standing
From left to right:  Katya (Ukrainian), Tracy (from MN), Phil, Denise, Pastor Brad (from MN), Wesley (from WI)
The building behind us was the press center during the protests
and much of the building was a temporary hospital during the fighting
This clock is a familiar sight
Along the sidewalk on the short wall there are pictures, plaques, and some flowers
for the 100 heavenly heroes (that is what they have been named) who died in the fighting in February
Here's a close up of the central point of the memorials for the Heavenly Hundred
We spent time shopping and looking for souvenirs. We bought a couple of things to send back to America as well as a few things for here while our friends bought things to bring home with them. When we were done shopping, we went into a restaurant to get something hot to drink (it was cold outside).  While we were there, they lost electricity, so none of us could use the bathroom. Such is life.

We decided that we should go into St. Andrew's Church since we had never been inside. You have to climb a lot of stairs, but the view of the city is breathtaking. The church was built in the mid 1700s and it became a museum more than 20 years ago. It has a different style than most of us are used to.

 St. Andrew's Church - outside
View of the city from St. Andrew's Church
St. Andrew's Church - inside 
Before we went out for supper, we made one more stop. This turned out to be the highlight of the day. Because we reached the Motherland statue close to dark, the lights were turned on and it ended up being a great time to be there. The World War II museum here is closed on Mondays (as are most museums), but the outdoor displays were spectacular!

The famous Motherland Statue in Kiev
It is actually taller than the statue of liberty and made of titanium
Her sword was cut off because it had to be shorter than the highest orthodox church steeple
The scenes in the wall were interesting, detailed, and very large!
Check out the size of that hand!
This view of the city at twilight from near the statue was amazing!
After our full day, we headed to a restaurant recommended by a friend - the Tennessee Steakhouse. The steak was really good and, of course, we had to get our picture taken!

Early Tuesday morning, Phil brought our 4 friends to the airport by 4:30 AM in plenty of time for their flight, then went back home and went to bed.

After our busy time of ministry, we were worn out, but got some needed rest and then back to our routine of Russian lessons, studying, Hope doing her school work, and life.

On Thursday the 6th, we spent from 10 to 3 at a local government office regarding our registration. Our lawyer was there by 7:30 and it still took that long. It was horrible. They told us to come back the following Thursday the 13th. We did that and did not have to wait long this time, but the person who talked to us said it usually takes 10 days, not a week. Go figure. So we returned on Tuesday the 18th and finally received our registration. Now we can legally be in country for the next year.

On Thursday the 27th we celebrated Thanksgiving with friends here in Kiev. We had a very enjoyable time together. After we ate dinner, we all shared what we were thankful for this year. God has been so faithful to each of us. It was a special and moving time with some laughter and some tears.

On Friday, we enjoyed a day of relaxation and watched movies all day.  In the evening, we went to the ballet to see The Nutcracker. We parked a block away (for free) and had seats in the second balcony ($10 for all three tickets).  Not bad for a night of great entertainment. We are not ballet lovers, but we all enjoyed it. Phil was captivated by the performance of the orchestra, Denise enjoyed all of it, and Hope loved the costumes.

In December, we need to find a new place to live and Christmas is right around the corner. Our Area Director and his family are planning to return the end of the month. While we looked at two places so far, neither will meet our needs, so that will be our focus in December - finding a place and moving - along with our Russian studies.

As we reflect on the last year, we can say that we are truly thankful for God's help, faithfulness, and provision so that we can serve in Ukraine. We know that He provides through others, so we want to express our thankfulness and appreciation for YOU. We are grateful for your partnership with us - whether in giving, praying, or encouraging!  And thanks for following our adventure!

Friday, October 31, 2014

October 2014

October was a fairly ordinary month that ended with a very full and extraordinary week of ministry. This was a month that we really enjoyed some of the relationships that God has blessed us with. As seems to be a regular occurrence here, we had at least one close call in the car. We are so thankful for God's protection!

We started the month in the general pattern that we have developed. Hope does her home school Monday through Thursday, Friday (and the weekend) gives her time to catch-up if she was not able to finish it all. Friday evening she loves to attend youth group at the International Church. Phil and Denise meet with one Russian tutor twice a week and Phil also meets with a second Russian tutor twice a week. We study Russian. We buy groceries. Denise cooks supper. Hope washes dishes. We study Russian. Denise does laundry. We study Russian some more. We go to church on Sunday afternoon. We communicate with family and friends back home. Phil manages the finances. Life happens. And we study Russian. It is good to feel that things have settled down into something normal, at least as normal as it can be living here in Ukraine!

On Sunday the 19th, we enjoyed sharing via Skype with a church close to Phil's home in Minnesota. It was fun to share an update with them and to see them again! We made some great friendships while we were home itinerating, including the pastors and some of the people at this church.

Originally only Pastor Brad and his nephew, Wesley, were going to come to Ukraine at the end of October, but two ladies from our home church, Sheryl and Tracey, decided to come along. This meant that all three of us would be able to go to Krivoy Rog with them for a week of ministry. Phil spent much of his time during the month preparing for the week of ministry - studying and writing sermons as well as translating a few things into Russian. During their time here we will be split into two groups - preaching/teaching team with Pastor Brad, Sheryl, and myself; and the orphanage team with Tracey, Wesley, Denise, and Hope.

Our friends flew out of Minneapolis on Friday the 24th and arrived in Kiev on Saturday the 25th - on time and with all their luggage (including the extra luggage they brought for those in need). We met them there along with the van (with a driver) and trailer we hired to take all of us to Krivoy Rog, so once we were loaded, the road trip started. We stopped three times in the next 6+ hours, all the while speculating (as always) how much farther it would be. The roads got worse (not because of weather but because of their bad condition) as we got closer and our friends, who were tired from their long journey, talked with us and dozed.

When we arrived in Krivoy Rog Saturday evening, we visited with our host, Pastor Gregori, and his daughter, Anya, who translated, and then ate supper. The four of them stayed in the rooms behind Pastor Gregori's house and the three of us stayed at the apartment of another missionary we know, about one block away. Phil called our contact and only then did he realize that he should have called sooner. Because it was late, he had to call and wait for a taxi to bring him to the apartment. We walked over to the apartment with our luggage and waited near the building door for what ended up being close to an hour. This would have been OK, but it was cold and there was a gusty wind blowing. At least it was not raining or snowing, but we were very glad when we could get inside.

We made our beds and got things ready for the morning, then headed off to bed. This was the weekend that Ukraine went off daylight savings time, so we got to set our clocks back one hour. That was really nice!

After breakfast, the seven of us went to three different churches. Our family went to Pastor Yuri's church where Denise shared a little, Denise and Phil sang a song, and then Phil preached - in Russian! The best part was that they understood him (and he asked several times). Praise God!

When service was over, we headed back to Pastor Gregori's for Sunday dinner and then we enjoyed some time of relative quiet. Phil headed back to the apartment while Denise and Hope went out to look around with Tracey and Wesley. About 5:00, we met up with our former tutor, Olya, This was the day for parliamentary elections in Ukraine, so after Olya voted, we headed to her apartment. When the elevator was not working, we went to our place instead. We had a really nice visit. She has been and continues to be a great help with our Russian, especially Phil's. Our visit was way too short and then it was time for supper. When supper was over, we headed back to our place for the night.

The preaching/teaching group went to the church to teach in the missions college during the day on Monday and Tuesday, and just Sheryl went on Wednesday. Most of these students were fairly new Christians, with a fresh passion and love for the Lord. They were like sponges, soaking in everything we shared, and taking copious notes. It was fun getting to know them and being able to pour into them.

On Monday evening, Pastor Brad and I (Phil) were in Pastor Gregori's office for a meeting. Everything was recorded on video, and this included counseling of a young couple who just were married in a civil ceremony and counseling of a young man who wanted advice, among other things. Pastor Brad was privileged to do an American-style ceremony in the office. Once again, I was the wedding photographer. (My first trip to Ukraine in 2006, I took pictures at a church ceremony for one of the cook's sons. You really have to be ready for anything!

Pastor Brad performing a wedding ceremony in Pastor Gregori's office
On Tuesday evening, Sheryl and I (Phil) went to Pastor Misha's church for a leader's meeting, but when we got there, it was obvious that we were having church. So I preached - again in Russian. When I asked them for the third time if they understood me, one lady replied, "You are speaking just fine!" That was good to hear!

On Wednesday morning, Pastor Brad and I (Phil) met with some refugees from the east (Donetsk region), a pastor, his family, and some of their congregation. For a while there were 22 people living in a very (and I mean very) small house. Now they are living in a group of houses that Pastor Gregori helped build for them. The pastor told us much of what they had experienced and some of what he knew from the east (the Donetsk and Lugansk regions where the Russians are). Basically, no one is in charge in the east and there is almost complete anarchy. He shared one thing that really hit home - "It is a privilege to start over." They left almost everything behind. Their homes. Their possessions. But they still have each other and their faith in God. That was a most interesting visit.

On Wednesday and Thursday, there was a conference at the church with people and pastors from other places in Ukraine. It was a privilege for me (Phil) to be able to preach both afternoon services. And it was so good to see many friends during this time. How we miss them!

Phil preaching on Wednesday afternoon
The pulpit says "God is Love"
Not sure who was more glad to see the other - Phil or Pastor Alexei
On Wednesday evening, our family went to Pastor Ira's church where I (Phil) preached again. What a great opportunity that was! I must admit that I was tired after a very full day, so when we got back about 10 PM, so we just headed to our place where we grabbed a couple of snacks before going to bed.
Phil and Denise singing in Pastor Ira's church on Wednesday evening
We were given a special bread from Pastor Ira's church
It had an apple filling and was delicious!
The orphanage group had a full week as well. On Monday, they went to our favorite place - Boarding School #9 - where we used to go twice a week. (Phil was jealous - in a good way!) How the kids there have changed in two years!

We were so blessed to be able to be a part of the missions team. Hope and I (Denise) were able to visit many hospitals and orphanages during our week. We first went to the rehab orphanage. We met and played with children around 4-12 years old. They loved the attention and physical touch. We went to some hospitals where the children were there long term. I had the chance to tell the story of Jonah three times. I stressed that God loved them, that they can talk to Him, that they need to listen and obey him, and that He is there when they are lonely, hurt, or sad. We played games with them and just had fun. I tried to talk to them in Russian, though I could only ask them their name, how old they were, and if they liked some things. Next time I will add to that. I thought about how hard it is for them to be away from family (if they have one) and to live in a place where they were just given care. We tried to show them love.  We gave candy to all of them and clothing to orphans and to families that did not have much. It makes me think of how much we have. May God bless them by revealing Himself to them as all that they need.

These kids liked taking a selfie with Denise
These girls also enjoyed taking a selfie with Denise
She was wearing a mask because they were at the TB hospital (non-contagious)
Even more kids (and Wesley) enjoying a selfie with Denise
Hope got in on the action
A statue in Krivoy Rog
Another familiar site in Krivoy Rog
One of the highlights for Denise and Hope was to see our "boy", Slavik. He's been through some rough times (his wife left him with their little girl, and more things that I will not share publicly). They had a good visit together and he was thrilled to see "mama" and barely recognized Hope. Slavik and his brother Maxim miss us greatly (and we miss them). They hoped to come to visit us for New Year's, but that is just not going to work with us moving.

Hope, Slavik, and Denise
Hope and Wesley were the first ones to get sick - sore throat and some fever. Hope bounced back quickly and then Denise was sick. She stayed back to rest one day because of her fever, but it didn't keep her completely down for long. Fortunately, no one else got sick during the week.

On Friday (which was Halloween), they went through the "dragon"
Basically it was a maze with scary things (and yes, Hope was scared!)
Friday evening, the entire group attended one of the home groups. It was a really good time together and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Several people were healed - including Phil from the pain in his heel. We took communion before we left and we were all pretty surprised when it was real (cheap) wine and not grape juice. Phil thought the look on Denise's face was priceless.

In November, we'll finish our time in Krivoy Rog on Sunday the 2nd and enjoy a day in Kiev on Monday. After our friends leave on Tuesday, it will be life as usual. We should finish our registration process and receive our Temporary Residency Permits. And we will get to celebrate Thanksgiving with our Assemblies of God World Missions family here in Kiev, as well as study Russian some more.

As always, we appreciate you praying for us as you follow our adventure.