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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.

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.

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