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.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 2014

September was an interesting month with some ups and downs (much like yours) and we are thankful that people were praying for us!

Hope started school on Monday September 1st - no Labor Day holiday here.  She is in 8th grade already!  Where has the time gone?  It seems like just a couple of years ago she was our little escape artist.  She is never excited about getting started with school.

Hope - the first week of 8th grade
this fence is in front of a house near us
On Wednesday the 3rd, 5 of the 10 boxes we shipped to ourselves made it home.  It was almost like Christmas, except we knew what we were getting!  They had been at the seminary waiting for a ride home, and they finally made it!  The other 5 boxes made it home on Thursday the 11th.  So thankful that everything made it.  One tote cracked pretty badly, but they taped a bag around the end to contain the things.  A couple of others cracked a little, but 7 of 10 made it unscathed.  Not bad for $12 totes.
Hope was excited to get her green blanket in those totes
I (Phil) had quite an experience that day, too.  I miss my chiropractor while living in Ukraine, but a massage is the next best thing.  After asking around, someone referred me to a man who is a doctor, but also gives massages.  Not only did he give a massage, but he adjusted me and twisted my legs and body in various ways.  Since I've gained weight, I am even less flexible than I used to be.  When he was done, I almost felt like a new man.  Wow!  That was amazing.  I am looking forward to the next time already.

While waiting for my massage at the clinic,
I saw a sign (in Ukrainian) about Alcoholics Anonymous
The Assemblies of God youth of Minnesota, who give to a program called Speed the Light.  This program buys transportation for A/G missionaries like ourselves.  Without them, we would likely not have a car.  We are so grateful for everyone who gives to support this fantastic program!  And we are thankful for the leadership of Mark Dean, District Youth Director, and the vision that God has given him for STL.

On Friday the 5th, Phil went and put down 5000 UAH (less than $400) on our 2014 Toyota Highlander.  With that, we had one week to pay the rest of the money.  We were planning to have the money wired to Ukraine so we could buy the car.  However, because of the current situation in Ukraine, there was a lot of concern about wiring $40,000 and having it get noticed.  So that left us with plan B - ATM withdrawals.

The week of the 8th was just crazy.  Keep in mind that there are no ATMs nearby and we did not already have a car, which means we had to take public transportation.  Just walking to the bus stop, waiting for the bus, riding to where some ATMs are, crossing the street, getting on a bus home, and walking home from the bus stop could take as much as an hour - even if you didn't do anything.  Sound like fun?  And we are 8 time zones away from our credit union, so we have to wait until 9 AM Central (5 PM here) to call them.  In addition, the largest bank note they have here is 500 UAH.  And we needed over 500,000 UAH.  Let the adventure begin!

All together, Phil spent more than 15 hours out looking for and withdrawing money from ATMs.  And if any of you had known what we were doing, you would have been concerned, as we were.

On Monday, Phil called the credit union after 5 PM to increase the withdrawal limit on both of our cards from $500 to $5,000.  That is good for 24 hours.  Phil went with a friend to an area with some ATMS and was able to withdraw 10,000 UAH twice (one time on each card), but could not withdraw anymore, even on different machines.  We figured out later that each bank has it's own limit, and some ATMs do not tell you what that limit is, so he was trying to take out too much at one time.  So back home we went.  Phil called the credit union again, and they could tell that the requests were not being denied at their level (in fact, they weren't getting them), so we knew that it was the ATM that was stopping me.

On Tuesday morning, Phil, Denise, and our friend went to find a different ATM.  We found one that was fairly close, but it was low on money.  So we went to one closer to downtown that was at a bank.  This particular bank has a 20 note limit, so if they have 500 UAH notes, you can withdraw 10,000 UAH at a time.  But if they have only 200 UAH notes, you can only withdraw 4,000 UAH at a time.  Our friend left, so Denise was lookout as Phil withdrew the money, out in the open, on a busy street.  Unfortunately, even at this bank, the ATM did not have 500 UAH notes, so we ended up doing 32 ATM transactions to withdraw our limit for the day.  We checked with other banks about just doing one transaction on my visa debit, but either would not do that for a foreign visa or would charge me 3% for doing it.  ATM fees are less than that.  We were really glad to get on the metro (subway) where no one knew that Phil had money in his satchel.  That evening, Phil called the credit union again, so that our withdrawal limit could be increased for the next 24 hours.

When we went out again on Wednesday morning, at first they couldn't find ATMs that would work (no paper, no money, bad exchange rate, high fees).  When they found one that did work, we learned the limit had been set back to $500 (it is a manual process).  So we took what we could and went back home.  That took about 90 minutes.  Phil called the credit union again after 5 PM, and the two of them went out again.  This time, the ATM closer to us had 500 UAH notes, so we could withdraw 10,000 UAH at one time, so we only needed to do 12 transactions.  Denise stood watch while Phil did the withdrawals.  We were in a questionable neighborhood, so we were a little wary..

Thursday morning, we went back to the same location we had been successful the day before, and made 12 withdrawals again.  This trip was faster because we went straight to the ATM that had worked the day before.

That afternoon, Phil went with Pavel (a Ukrainian man who helps us with these types of things) to pay about 80% of our car price - cash in satchel.  He has a car, so he didn't have to ride public transportation with that much money.  That was good!  At the dealership, they have a bank where you make payments.  They can only take 150,000 UAH per day, so we had to go to three different banks at three different dealerships in that area to make the payments.  And the bank charges a .05% handling fee.  It's not much, but it's different than in America, that's for sure.  No paying with visa or checks here.  Just cash.  It's all rather risky!

Money, that we no longer have, which was used to pay for most of the car
Late that evening, Phil called the credit union to have them keep the withdrawal limit increased.  It was very important that we be able to withdraw the rest of the money on Friday.

Well, Friday morning, we went to withdraw money again, only to discover that our limit was back to $500.  And we need about 100,000 UAH to finish paying for the car today.  Fortunately, someone had offered to loan us that much for a few days, so we had a back up plan.  Pavel and Phil went to get that money and some documents, then to the car dealership to finish paying for the car.  The original plan was that we would get the car on Monday, but we were told to come back about noon on Saturday to get the car.

We had almost no cash left, and Pavel said we needed to go pay the registration and tax (about 25,000 UAH because the tax was 5%) as well as insurance.  So we decided to go to Pavel's for lunch (about 3:30 PM) and then we left about 4:45 to go to the ATM.  Phil called Denise, and had her call America to increase our credit limit, while he was on the phone.  Within seconds of them making the change, he was withdrawing money.  You have to love technology, don't you?  We went and paid the person who was taking care of everything for us and then Phil went home.

Saturday about noon, Pavel picked us up and we went to the car dealership to get the car.  Our sales guy was trying to make another sale, so we were low priority and had to wait a while, but our car was ready and waiting inside the dealership.  Denise got to see the car for the first time.  When our sales guy was finally done, we got to hear all about the car from him and then we could finally leave.  We went to get our insurance document and we were all set.  The first thing we did was drive over to the ATM to withdraw the money Phil needed to repay on Monday.  That time it took 10 minutes.  We are so thankful!  All the work we did to gather the money was worth it!

Our beautiful new Speed the Light Toyota Highlander
Unfortunately, just 3 days later, on Tuesday, Phil was returning home from a Russian lesson, entered a circle where he had the right of way, and someone in an old Lada (Russian car) drove into the side of the car.  3 days old.  Unbelievable.  Who would have thought!  We waited for the police for more than 3 hours - and after 4.5 hours, he finally was able to come home. It was the other guy's fault, though that has to be determined "officially" by the courts.

Damage from the accident
There are so many things to be thankful for in this. It was a beautiful day, not raining (or snowing), too hot or too cold. No one was hurt. The damage did not leave our new car unusable. Just a dent in the front passenger door.  For that, we are very grateful.

We do not know how long it will take to be fixed, but we know this - it will take longer than in America.  We are supposed to wait for the court to decide that he was definitely guilty.  Even if the insurance here (his or ours) does not cover it, we have additional insurance in America that will.

On Saturday the 19th, we headed for Moldova in our STL car.  It was a long trip, as we left by 8:30 AM and arrived in Chisinau about 6:30 PM.  A couple of hours into the trip, we got stopped by the police.  Phil was going 96 km/hr in a 50 zone.  You have to go from highway speed to 50 very quickly, and he was just figuring that out.  The cop spoke to me in Ukrainian at first, but switched to Russian and some English.  He was merciful, and did not give me a ticket.  But he also did not ask for a bribe.  That is good to see them acting differently than they would have a year ago.

The Odessa highway is a pretty good road, until you get close to Odessa.  Then the roads going west to the border are horrible.  At the border crossing, everything went smoothly on both sides.  After we got Moldovan insurance for the car and paid a road tax, we were on our way.  While we were driving to the home of our missionary friends, Troy and HeidiJo Darrin, we almost had a car accident.  We were in the rightmost lane, and someone left of us decided to turn right in front of us.  We missed him by an inch or less, and the car behind us nearly rear-ended us.  Thank God for His protective hand.

These pictures are things that we saw on our road trip.

Horse drawn cart - something that we see regularly in Eastern Europe
Yes, Dad, there is John Deer equipment over here
Denise was surprised to see a couple of large hogs in this old trailer
On Sunday, we went with our hosts to a church that they worked with on their first term in Bubuieci, Chisinau, Moldova.  There they were celebrating a day of thanksgiving.  It is not a national holiday in the countries in Eastern Europe, so churches pick a Sunday (often different Sundays) in the fall to thank God for the harvest.  We shared a brief greeting with them and then sang a song before Troy preached.

Following the service, we enjoyed a tasty Moldovan meal
(Missionary Troy on left and Pastor Alexandru on right)
Their pastor speaks Romanian, Russian, and English, so when someone was speaking Romanian, he translated it to Russian for Phil.  He was quite pleased that he understood most of what was being said.  That's progress.  That evening we attended the international church there and went out for supper to a place that served shawarma (Middle Eastern meat and vegetable wraps).  Yummy!

Monday morning the 21st, I (Phil) went to the Ukrainian embassy.  Upon arrival, there were a little more than a dozen people waiting.  One lady told me to sign up on the piece of paper on the door or I would be last.  I knew better, but went ahead and put my name there and thanked her for her kindness.  A little after 9 AM, a man came to unlock the door and let in 9 or 10 people.  As he was letting people in, I flashed my American passport and he let me pass too.  Everyone waited at the end of a hallway, while he took my passport, and the passport of another lady, and we went ahead of everyone into the next room.  I knew that would happen because of my past experiences.  He wrote my name in a book and took me to the first window to wait.

My forms were already prepared, so I didn't have to do anything except wait for the person to come to the other side of the window.  I waited about 5 minutes.  Then the man looked over my documents, asked a few questions, gave me a couple of papers to take to a nearby bank to pay for our visas, and told me to return at 3 PM.  Inside the bank (which was closer than the one they used in the past), I had to wait for a lady to create a bill, then go to the cashier's window to pay.  And, of course, they charged a fee for handling the money for the embassy.  But it was less than the old bank had charged.  I went back to the embassy, waited for the man to come to the door again, and gave him the receipts.  At 3 PM, Denise and I went back to the embassy.  The man let us in and we waited about 10 minutes.  A lady came out, wrote our information in another book, then we signed the book, and left with our passports - and visas - in hand.  Praise the LORD!

We left for home again on Thursday the 25th, thankful for a great time in Moldova.  The border crossing was smooth and we got stopped by the police again.  This time was just a random document check.  After a little discussion, we were on our way again.  Our STL car was a huge help in this process.  It is so comfortable, drives and rides great!  Thank you once again!

On Saturday the 27th, it was our friend Vova's birthday and he invited us to his place for his party.  Another friend of his, Sasha, who also had a birthday, was bringing meat for shashlik (shish kabobs).  This was the first time we had been invited to a Ukrainian party - and we had a great time.  The food, especially the shashlik, was delicious, but the fellowship was even better.

Shashlik grilling on skewers - what deliciousness!
Here's how the shashlik looks when it is all done
Vova (left) and Sasha (right) preparing to blow out the candles on their birthday PIZZA
Even with all of these activities, including church on Sunday, Hope going to youth group on Friday evenings, and spending some time with our Ukrainian friends, our main focus is learning Russian language.  We have one tutor that meets with both Denise and Phil twice a week, and Phil has hired a second tutor that he meets with twice a week as well.  Denise is seeing good progress, much better than when we lived here before (we think it's because her thyroid levels are under control, but Hope and Phil have noticed that she is studying more, too).  Phil is determined to learn and many things are starting to make sense.  But it's like peeling an onion, there's always more to it.  Please keep our language learning in your prayers!

Denise makes homemade granola for us regularly - Yummy!!
We went to the store one day and picked up some videos.  Whether they are truly legal copies, we will never know.  They all have at least 2 languages (English and Russian) for both audio and video. Disney and DreamWorks do great with their foreign language videos - even the signs are in the selected language.  Anyway, we picked up Madagascar 2 and 3, Enchanted, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Ratatouille.  How much did we pay? The first 3 were about $1 each and the other two were just under $4 each - for a total of $10.40 based on the exchange rate that day. Makes it an inexpensive and fun way to be listen to more Russian.

In October, we have plans for Phil to join our Pastor and his nephew for a week of ministry in Krivoy Rog, where we used to live.  Because this was actually written in early November, we know that two ladies from church decide to come along early in October, so all of us were able to go as part of the team.  God knew Denise's desire to join us.  We look forward to sharing that adventure next time.

Thanks for praying and for reading our story.

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