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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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

April and May 2015

April began quietly and very normal with Phil working on his project, Denise studying Russian and keeping the home functioning, and Hope getting closer to the end of her 8th grade studies.

We attend an International Church in Kiev and there we celebrated Easter twice - once with the west on Sunday April 5th and again based on the Orthodox calendar on April 12th. Easter is something we can celebrate every day! Here it is always interesting seeing the many items for sale all over the place that announce, "Jesus is Risen"!  Yes, He is risen indeed!

Instead of coloring eggs, this year Hope and and Mom made cupcakes with different pastel colors in them and Hope decorated them.

Hope and her Easter cupcakes (Dad already "tested" one!)
Hope made cream cheese mints - yummy!!
Here's an example of the beautiful skyline after sunset
And another sunset
On Saturday the 18th, Hope had a birthday party with several friends from youth group, even though her birthday is not until May, because we are planning to be gone to Krivoy Rog the week of her birthday. Four teenage girls came before supper, ate Denise's homemade pizza, talked and laughed (a lot!), watched a movie, slept a little, and then enjoyed homemade doughnuts (Krispy Kreme knock-offs, which were delicious!) for breakfast.

Hope and friends at her birthday party
With our upcoming trip to Krivoy Rog the first week of May, we were getting excited and making some preparations for that. I (Phil) planned to preach four times during that week, so I wrote and translated a sermon, then had someone correct it. While I still made a lot of mistakes, the errors were less major than last fall. The progress is exciting - and worth celebrating!

Hope finished 8th grade at the end of April, just a day or two before we left for Krivoy Rog.  All she has left is to take a standardized test this summer sometime.

Saturday morning, May 2nd, we loaded our car and took off for Krivoy Rog.

Our first planned stop was Smila, where we met with a friend of ours, Pastor Dennis, and visited with him while we ate pizza and then took a look at the progress on their church building. It is always fun to hear a pastor talk share the vision that God has given them for their area. (Our visit was short, but we are going to go back there to minister on Sunday July 5th.)

After we left Smila, the roads were horrible and sometimes worse. There were sections that were fine, but suddenly you would be on a section that had more holes than good road, and with no warning. It makes you stay "engaged" as the driver, that's for sure. We literally drove from shoulder to shoulder, depending on whether there was oncoming traffic and what the other lane looked like.  (And always remembering what one lady told Pastor Brad on one of my first missions trips.  "Roads are bad.  Not much traffic.  Drive fast and use both lanes."
The area on the outskirts of Krivoy Rog (iron mining) looks much like the area around the iron range in northern Minnesota
We finally got to Krivoy Rog about supper time. We went grocery shopping and had some fast food (Mister Burger, which looked a lot like Burger King).

Sunday morning came and even though it was raining, we were ready for our first ministry opportunity of the week. We met and followed our friends to Pastor Marina's church, which is on the north part of the city. (Krivoy Rog is the longest city in Europe and is about 80 miles long and 20 miles wide, built along a river and mines.) We had a good time there and enjoyed seeing some friends we already knew and made some new friends.  We visited for a while after the service and headed back to the apartment where we stayed for the week.

After we got back, Phil called our boys, Slavik and Maxim. We had planned to have them over on Monday evening for supper, but because they were both scheduled to work this week, we had to change our plans. That meant they would be coming over Sunday evening instead and that Mama (Denise) would need to make pizza for supper, because that is what they miss the most. Phil went to get them, found their apartment from memory (though it would have been easier on foot), and we enjoyed homemade pizza with the two of them, Maxim's girlfriend, and her little girl. Maxim was very mellow during the evening, but was basically content to sit close to Phil with his head leaning on Phil's shoulder much of the time, while Slavik talked to Denise quite a bit and helped her in the kitchen. Then they ate homemade cookies that Denise baked before we left. When Phil brought them back home that evening, both Maxim and Slavik said "Mama is a master chef!"  To them, she sure is!! We did not realize just how much they missed us and how much it means to these two young men to have someone who cares about them, even when we cannot always understand what they are telling us.

Slavik, Phil, and Maxim
Slavik and Phil
Phil and Maxim
The crew - Slavik, Phil, Maxim, Viktoria (Maxim's girlfriend), and Kira (Viktoria's daughter)
Monday was a quiet day and we enjoyed some down time as well as time spent visiting with our good friend and former tutor, Olya, along with her daughter, Olyechka. Olyechka played piano for us and she is doing a great job. The bargain was that if she played for us, then Phil would play for them.

On Tuesday the 5th, we enjoyed some down time and prepared for Hope's birthday party. Her birthday is on Wednesday the 6th, but because we will be visiting a church that evening, we decided to have her party a day early. Hope wanted a Mexican theme, since it was Cinco de Mayo, so Denise made tacos for supper. We had three friends over for supper, all three single missionaries from North America. Olya and Olyechka came after 7:30 for the gorgeous cupcakes that one of our guests made. Hope went to bed about 9 pm because she was tired (which is not at all unusual for her) and our guests left about 11 pm.  It was really fun catching up with them!

Our friends who came to celebrate Hope's birthday
Hope with her gorgeous (and delicious) present of cupcakes
On Wednesday, Phil worked some while Denise and Hope relaxed. For lunch, we went to McDonald's (at Hope's request) and ate outside.  There were several small birds (sparrows, we think) hanging around that were very friendly and wanted food.

Lunch with some little beggars
That evening, we went to Pastor Colya's church, which is towards the south part of Krivoy Rog, There were only a few that came out that night, but we had a good time and they seemed to be encouraged and challenged by our visit. Pastor Colya has a fabulous testimony of God delivering him from a life of crime. Phil began his sermon in Russian, but then switched to English (with a translator) to give them a break. Hope spent Wednesday night with Pastor Gregori's daughter, Anya, and had a fun time with her.

Phil and Pastor Colya
Thursday was much like Wednesday, except we went to the main church that evening, which had been home for us for almost two years. We had not been there for a regular service since the Sunday before we left Krivoy in February, 2012. We enjoyed seeing some friends that we had not seen for a long time and loved being back "home" again. Again, Phil began preaching in Russian, but finished with a translator.

Hope was part of the worship choir
Denise talking before the two of us sang
A moment during Phil's sermon
Friday was spent visiting friends.  In the morning we were with Olya again, and then in the afternoon we helped her deliver food to a refugee family.  While they were not homeless, their apartment would have been hard for most of us to live in.  A Mom and 3 kids living in a one room apartment - the living room was a bedroom, too.  Her oldest daughter lived with Grandma, because she had physical needs that made it difficult to care for her there.  Even for Hope, it was a real eye-opener.  We spent the evening with the three friends that came to Hope's party.  Hope again spent the night with Anya, along with a couple of other girls her age.

Slavik came and spent Friday night with us after he got off work, so that he could get as much time with us as possible. Saturday morning, we picked up Hope, along with our two Canadian missionary friends, and headed to our favorite orphanage on the south side of Krivoy Rog. We got to see a few kids that we knew and met a couple of others, but they were really tired because they had been up at about 4 AM for some special celebration they were involved in for Victory Day. The ones that we talked to weren't too excited about anything that day, which was a bummer for us.  Phil still keeps in touch with several of our friends from there, who have since graduated, which he really enjoys.

One of the young men at Number 9, who used to be much smaller
Our time in Krivoy Rog had been good and we are thankful for the things that we were able to do and the people that we were able to see. We went back to our apartment, finished cleaning up, went to say goodbye to Maxim, and dropped Slavik off, then headed for Kirovograd.

Fortunately, that was only about 2 hours away, so we got there right about suppertime. It was so good to see Pastor Alexei again, who is one of Phil's dearest friends, along with his right hand man at church, Sasha.  (And we forgot to take any pictures with Pastor Alexei and his family!)

An interesting sculpture in Kirovograd
We enjoyed supper together and then went to Pastor Alexei's for ice cream and tea. It was so good to see his wife, Marina, again and to meet his little girl for the first time. Denise became friends with her before the weekend was over.

We then headed to our home for the night - an apartment they rented for us. It was a real nice place, we had a king size bed and Hope had a pull out couch in the living room.  Total cost was 350 UAH - or about $17.50 - for the night. We slept well and in the morning, after breakfast, we headed over to Pastor's place again. There we prayed for the service and the day ahead, and then headed over to the church, which is on the other side of the city. The last time I saw their building, they had just started working on it. They have made it a very nice sanctuary, and they have plans to convert another building on the property to a Children's Ministry area.  If anyone would like to give towards this project, just let us know.

One view of the room our friends in Kirovograd want to remodel for Children's Ministry
And  another view
The only translators that we had for the day were Sasha and his wife, who know some English, so between them and Phil, we did fine in our communications. Three of the students from the Missions School class in Krivoy Rog that Phil spent time teaching last fall are part of this church, so it was fun to see them again.

The sanctuary was full and the service was great. Phil preached completely in Russian (and they understood him because he asked several times). After the service, one man came up and shook his hand, and wanted a picture with him. Later on, Phil found out that he was actually a Muslim man, who came to church with his Christian friend.

Singing before the sermon
After the service, Phil drove the ladies and some others across town, then came back to the church for a leaders meeting.  The plan was that Marina and Denise would prepare dinner during the meeting.

We met in the room behind the sanctuary where those who are training for ministry live. (Here, it is a wise idea to have someone living on the church property for security reasons.) The room was full and they had some interesting questions for me (Phil). I was very thankful for the help of Sasha's wife during this time.  One question led to another, and then the guy who wanted his picture with me after service spoke up. Soon, I learned that he is a Muslim and his wife is a Christian. That led to some interesting conversation, but God was a help and gave us the right words to say. When the meeting was over, this man invited me to go fishing with him. He wanted me to come back in two weeks. Unfortunately, that did not work for me, but I am hoping to be able to go there this summer.

Another highlight of the day was seeing our friends Eddik and his family. Eddik has had a tough time struggling with drug and alcohol addition, but seems to be doing pretty good now. His wife, Lutfie, is a Crimean Tatar and they used to live in Crimea. While I (Phil) didn't get a picture of all four of them, I did get the rest of the family after the leaders meeting. Their son Adam asked if he could sit in my car. Oh, what delight he had in his eyes sitting in the driver's seat. I think I made a friend for life.

Adam enjoying the car
Adam and his little sister
Eddik's wife and two kids
We finally had Sunday afternoon dinner at 5 PM.  Needless to say, Hope was starving.  We had hoped to leave by 5 PM, so that was not going to happen.  After a delicious meal, we had some tea before we left, but got on our way by 5:45 PM.  Phil had thought he put some Adventures in Odyssey on his iPod before we left home, only to find that they did not copy. While we were in Krivoy Rog, he made sure that they were on his iPod and the trip home went by pretty fast.  We took one bathroom break and got home a little after 10 PM.  That was a fun and fast weekend!

Phil got back to work on his project, while Denise took a little longer to get back to her Russian lessons. You understand how exhausting time away can be.

Early Thursday morning, one of my (Phil's) friends came to visit. I met Vokha when we were in Krivoy Rog last fall.  He was part of the missions school where I did some teaching (along with others).  As I have grown to know him, he has shared about how hard it was to be an orphan. Both parents died before he was 2 (though after he came to visit he learned that his Dad was actually in prison and died from TB recently), so life has been hard. This is the first year that someone celebrated his birthday and gave him a gift. He is 23 years old and gave his life to Christ three years ago, but still struggles with feeling that he has any value.  He has become another one of our sons.  I spent time with him, reminding him frequently that he is special - not just to God, but to me also.

Vokha and I - he had fun with the camera on my phone
Thursday afternoon we went to a water park east of Kiev. Hope brought a friend, so there were 5 of us, and we enjoyed an afternoon there.  Naturally, Vokha (who is not very large in stature but is strong as an ox) enjoyed some tussling in the water, though this old guy got really worn out.

Sometimes you find things that are not what you think they might be. This is a small stand that looks like Arby's, but it is not.

The menu is an interesting mix of Russian and English
Or this food stand near the train station with the character from a Disney movie
If you look closely, you will see 5 guys cleaning the outside of the windows at the upper part of the building
The financial situation has been only slightly better the last two months, though we continue to watch it closely for any signs of change.

Our car is still not repaired, though we continue to work for that to happen. We are not worried about it and know that it will eventually be fixed. Until then, we are just grateful for our Speed the Light vehicle and that it is still drive-able.

Now Hope is enjoying her summer break, while we have been back to business as usual for a while. Phil is working to plan a fishing trip to Kirovograd. We have plans to go to Smila (Ukraine) for a service there in early July, to Budapest (Hungary) for our annual retreat in mid-July, and then to Poltava (Ukraine) for services there in early August.

Thanks for following our adventures and for keeping us in your prayers! We had some great opportunities for ministry in the last few months.

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