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.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

March 2016

March started out with all three of us at a sauna with our friend Phil, his wife Julia, and some other friends. Julia and their friend Anton wanted to celebrate their birthdays in February with a night at the sauna - starting at midnight. There was a very hot sauna (of course), a small and very cold pool, a little larger and warmer pool, a place to play ping pong and billiards, plus a dining room with hanging chairs and a hanging table.

Hope sitting at a very unique table
We stayed until about 2:30 AM, while they stayed until about 5 AM. We had to get home because not only were we very tired, but also Phil had not one, but two Russian lessons on Tuesday, as well as a meeting Tuesday evening. Poor planning on his part, for sure.

On Wednesday the 2nd, Denise went with Olya, our good friend and Russian tutor, to visit an area of modular housing that was set up for refugees from the war in the East. Each family who lives here can tell stories that will break your heart. One mother said that when they left the war torn area, her husband left them and went to Russia instead. The government of Ukraine does very little to help these refugees, so they rely on help from others.

Modular housing for refugees
Unfortunately, Phil started getting sick on the 2nd and ended up being sick for more than a week. He held home group on Friday evening, though he probably should not have, and even cancelled their planned service on Sunday. Needless to say, not much exciting happened during that time, though he continued chatting online with friends to the best of his ability. Once he was feeling better, it still took almost two weeks for his strength and stamina to return.

On Saturday the 12th, Denise and Hope stayed home, while I (Phil), along with Ruslan, traveled to the Kirovograd oblast (state), which is just to the west of ours. We stopped in Kirovograd to pick up four guys, all friends, including my dear friend Alexei (pastor in Kirovograd) and Sasha (my translator). Together we headed to the village of Smolino, which is where I was fishing last June. Back then, they did not have their own building, so it was great to see their fixed up place. They had guests from a church in a neighboring village lead worship and the guys from the rehab center in that village also came. At the end of the the service, we had two ladies come forward and repent.

There was a great turnout for Saturday evening's service
Hope went to church in her 50's style outfit on Denise's birthday
Sunday the 13th was a very special day - Denise's 50th birthday! We talked about this when we made our weekend plans, so Phil made sure to call and wish her a happy birthday in the morning!

Sunday morning was a great service at the church in Kirovograd and we enjoyed some good fellowship before and after the service. We have many friends in this church, including our special friends Lutfia and Eddik (who came back to Christ last year after walking away from God and battling drugs again), along with their two kids. Eddik was sick, so I did not get to see him. Their son, Adam, was glad to see "Uncle" Phil again, and asked me if he could sit in our car behind the steering wheel. Naturally, I obliged.

(Update from Phil - I recently saw Lutfia at a conference and she said that Eddik is struggling again. Please pray for him!)

After we finished dinner at the pastor's apartment, we drove to the village of Alexandria for a 5 PM service. There were 15 of us there, and as I was closing my message, I asked whether everyone there at repented of not. One lady had not, responded that she would like to do so. When I asked if anyone else was interested, another man wanted to repent as well. I led them in a prayer of repentance and two more people became part of the family of God! When Phil arrived home about 9:30, Denise was talking with her Mom.

On Monday morning, I (Phil) baked a chocolate cake - from scratch, of course! Later I made chocolate frosting, also from scratch, and frosted the cake. In the afternoon We did some housecleaning, in preparation for our guests this evening. We went out to eat for supper so no one had to cook and clean up, and then we finished preparing for our guests to arrive.

Mama and her dog, Princess Rose the 3rd (who is almost 6 months old here)
We invited about a dozen friends, and ten of them were able to make it. It was a fun evening and they were amazed that Phil made the delicious cake "all by himself". Phil asked Denise to share some wisdom from her "years" of living and then we prayed for her. We are so thankful for our "family" of friends that we have here in Ukraine. It helps ease the pain of not being able to spend time with family.

Denise getting ready to blow out the candles
Not all the guests are visible, but here they are enjoying cake, ice cream, and punch
One of our "boys" came for the party as well, but he was anxious for everyone to leave. He told me earlier that he needed to recommit his life to the Lord, because he had been doing things that were wrong. It was interesting for me (Phil) to watch him as he patiently waited for the last guests to leave so he and I could talk and pray together. God had convicted him and he wanted to make it right. We love watching God work in the lives of our "boys" and the young men in our lives.

On Saturday the 19th, we left Krivoy Rog about 9 AM. It started to snow just as we were preparing to leave and, within a short time, it was snowing so hard that we could not see very far. The heavy snow only lasted about 20 minutes, but it did snow off and on all weekend. Thankfully, it never amounted to much.

We arrived in the village and the church that we had not been to before just before 12 noon. There I (Phil) would be doing a three hour teaching seminar - but with worship and fellowship, that left just two hours of actual speaking time. They really seemed to like what I shared from the life of Elijah.

We left the church and drove to home of one of the families from the church. This would also be the place where we would be spending the night, so we got lots of visiting in. In the morning we got ready, ate breakfast, and headed to a different village for service.

This was our first service in this church as well. One of our "boys" lives in this village and is part of the church there. He was very glad to see Mama, and even Papa. The service there was great and many people said after the service that they received something from the message. As usual, we prayed for people at the end of the service. We never know what God does in those moments, but it does not matter. We are just obedient to pray and leave the results to God.

The sanctuary and people who gathered for the service on Sunday
They gave us a bouquet of yellow roses and a souvenir from their village
Always glad to pray with one of our "boys"
Denise praying with of the ladies
After praying for people, I (Phil) went over to talk to our "boy", since I had not been able to do that yet. He told me that he had brought two friends with him to church today. When I asked if they had given their lives to Jesus, they said that they had not. I asked if they would like to and if they were ready to do just that right now. One immediately said sure. The other was a little reluctant, but with some coaxing from his friend, they both agreed. My "boy" wanted me to pray with them, so I did just that. I led them in a sinner's prayer and two more young men came to know Jesus. In the eyes of the first young man, I could see that God had changed him on the inside.

Phil leading the two young men (on his right and left) in a prayer of repentance
That makes a total of 7 young men this year, with whom I have personally prayed a first-time prayer of repentance, plus two of our "boys" who prayed a prayer of recommitment with me. God is changing hearts and lives!

(Update from Phil - when I talked to our "boy" recently and asked about his two friends, he said that the first young man had changed most dramatically. He quit smoking, started learning to play guitar with a man from church, and attends church regularly. Praise God!!)

We thought that next we would be going to eat lunch, since it was about 2 PM and breakfast had been a long time ago already. But the pastor said that there would be a leader's meeting in about 15 minutes. And, that meant that Phil would be speaking for that meeting, being the guest speaker. Obviously, we did not know anything about that. Since I (Phil) did not want to preach another message (and did not think that they wanted to hear another message), I simply shared from my heart about a few things, answered some questions that they had, and had Denise share something. Thanks to our "boy", who asked if we would sing something, we ended up singing a couple of songs as well.

During the leaders meeting, some of the kids did some crafts and gave them to us
When we realized that it was 3:30, we now needed to eat and run, because we had to drive an hour or so for our next service at 5:30. There Phil would speak for the youth service in Poltava. These are the friends with which we started the new year at their winter retreat and had an amazing time. We arrived late, but enjoyed part of a beautiful time of worship, then Phil shared for about 40 minutes. We again had to hurry away because we had a four-hour drive to Kiev ahead of us, but it was really great to see our friends again. They are all excited to have us coming to their summer camp in August, as are we!

With our friends at the youth service in Poltava
We arrived at the home of our hosts in Kiev about 11:45 PM, tired and ready for bed, but excited about what God did in the last two days. Monday we were in no hurry to get moving but did get a few things done in the morning, which is easy to get to because it is close to a metro stop. We ate lunch with our hosts and then Phil took off for his visit to the dentist (and he has a minor cavity that needs to be worked on sometime). In the evening, we had a meeting with our colleagues, all of whom we had not seen since Thanksgiving.

On Tuesday morning, Phil met a friend in downtown Kiev for lunch. We had a great visit and got caught up on some of the recent changes in his life. It has been a transition time for him and it was great to catch up with him.

We all three met up again and headed to the dentist for Denise and Hope. They chose a different dental clinic which is larger and where most of our friends go for dental work. It is harder to find and not near a metro stop, so we went by car and finally found it. Because they both need to return for further treatment, they will need to come back to Kiev in the next month or so. We just have to determine when that will happen.

When they finished, we headed to the Evangelical Theological Seminary (ETS), where Phil's dear friend, Pavel, is studying in a modular doctoral program. This was the week that he came to study, so we intentionally planned our trip to Kiev so we could spend time with him. You know that our relationship is special when they named their second son after Phil.

We took him to a music store where he was able to buy something he needed for his church. Because we were near one of Denise's favorite restaurants, we decided to eat there, instead of looking for something else. The Tennessee Steak House is an interesting place. The bathrooms are so small you can hardly change your mind in them, let alone turn around. They play music from Nashville over the internet. The menu has American names for things, but most of them are Ukrainian style dishes. However, they have really good steak (and most anything else that we have tried). You just have to remember to tell them you do not want the shot of Jack Daniel's when you order the steak with that name. What a great time we had catching up with him. We wish it was easier to visit Belarus!

Pavel and Phil
On Wednesday, we spent all day out and about and Denise and Hope were able to do a little shopping. We met some friends for lunch at McDonald's. Pastor Alexei and his family served as Churches of Praise missionaries in Armenia for a number of years, but felt God leading them in a different direction. They are still involved in the work in Armenia, but from Kiev, which is where they have chosen to live. We had a great time of fellowship, all in Russian.

Just one metro stop from where we used to live in Kiev, there is a new Domino's pizza. It is probably just as well that it was not there when we lived there, as Denise would never have made pizza for us. There we met a friend of Phil's who had studied at ETS when we lived in Ukraine before. They got to know each other the times that Phil stayed at ETS when he traveled to Kiev from Krivoy Rog. He moved back to Kiev last fall and is engaged to be married. We enjoyed a fun visit with he and his fiancee, and look forward to keeping in touch. We did a little more shopping and it was time to call it a day.

Had a great visit over Domino's pizza with these two
On Thursday, we left our host's home before 9 AM, ready for our trip back home. First stop was ETS, where Phil had to pay for our car insurance and get updated documents (our car is owned by ETS). About an hour or so away, we stopped to visit our friends Pastors Roma and Tanya, who pastor the church in Mironovka. We enjoyed a few hours of fellowship and good food, then headed for home. Pastor Roma rode with us to Krivoy Rog, where he is from, because he had some business to take care of. We were glad to be able to bless him with a free one-way trip.

Next stop was Kirovograd, because Phil and forgotten his pillow there a couple of weeks earlier. When we arrived at the church there, a men's home group was about ready to begin, so they wanted us to stay so Phil could share something. We dearly love our friends there, but we were really tired, so we only visited a short time (which is really hard to do when they want you to have tea, etc.) while Pastor Roma looked at their building. We dropped Pastor Roma off near McDonald's and we made it home about 8:30 PM, exhausted after the long day but thankful for another safe trip!

Saturday the 26th was a special evangelistic service for young people in the church of Pastor Oksana.  Her church is in the northern part of the city. The turnout was pretty good (about 35-40 people) and I (Phil) preached a simple salvation message. Honestly, I was nervous about this service, partially because they had great expectations and partially because it was out of my comfort zone. As always, God is faithful and He helped me.

The worship band for our service
During my message, I shared an object lesson and needed three volunteers. One of them was great. I asked him his name, as I had not met him before. His name was Valentine. I asked his age.  He was 11. Then I am not sure what came over me, but I asked if he had a girlfriend. Part of one, he replied. Everyone laughed. I heard people saying that maybe he had an arm or a leg of one.

Valentine (who volunteered to help with my object lesson) and Sveta (translator) with Phil
One couple that came and two young ladies (they came in late and missed most of my message) were the only ones there that had not yet repented. When I gave the altar call, no one responded. They just were not ready yet.

After my message, one young lady gave her testimony of how God changed her life. Then the pastor's husband gave his testimony about how God delivered him from his sinful life and he gave another opportunity to repent. The two young ladies that came in late went forward and gave their lives to Jesus. Praise God!

Pastor's husband preparing to lead the two young ladies in a prayer of repentance
We brought four young men with us to the service. One of them was Ruslan, and I had him share his testimony at the beginning of my message. They had all given their lives to Jesus already, though one really has not let God do much in his life since then. They all really enjoyed the service and the fellowship afterwards.

The next day, on Sunday the 27th, we returned Pastor Oksana's church, this time with only Ruslan, because she was hoping that some of the guests from Saturday evening's service would come. Unfortunately, none of them were able to make it, but we still had a great service!

When we entered the church, Valentine greeted me almost immediately. At the end of the service yesterday, he asked me to pray about a need that he had. He was excited to tell me that had already provided a partial answer to our prayer from the evening before. God always faithful!

Just one of the young ladies that we prayed for at the end of Sunday's service
Buildings like this usually are homes for pigeons,
but this one also has a place for the older men to play cards and talk
Man cave, anyone?
While we live in a house, most people around us live in one of these apartments
The smaller building is a kindergarten/daycare
We are so thankful for our Speed the Light car. It helps us be a blessing because we are able to get to some hard-to-reach places. When we share the story of how the Assemblies of God youth of Minnesota raised and gave money so that we could buy our car, the people here often say what a miracle that is - and it is. They are grateful that we have a car for ministry - and so are we!!

Denise does a lot of baking, often so we can bring something with us when we visit somewhere, but always so we have something fresh to serve at home. She loves to serve on this way and the people here lavish compliments on her!

As always, we are thankful for the privilege of serving here in Ukraine and in Krivoy Rog. Thank you for praying for us and for following our journey!

Monday, February 29, 2016

February 2016

February picked up right where January left off, with God at work! Every weekend we ministered in at least one church, encouraging them to reach out to those around them. But this month, what God did in personal ministry is fantastic!

On Wednesday the 3rd, our friend, Ruslan, came for supper (Denise's significant contribution to our ministry to young men is the food she makes!). Afterwards, he and I (Phil) walked over to the church so we could talk and pray together. We have chatted quite a bit and he and Sergei traveled with me to a village in the Kiev oblast a couple of weekends ago. He is 18, came back to God in December, and is excited about what God has done for him and wants to serve God with everything he has. I have started mentoring him and it is a fun process! A few days earlier he told me that he wanted to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So we met, talked about what the Bible says, prayed, and God did the rest!

While he was away from God and living a life of sin, he had friends who did the same things. He has been talking to them about why he is so different because they have all noticed! The other day, as he was talking with his friend, we will call him Friend 1, he was interested in knowing more. So after Ruslan and I were done, his friend came to meet with us. I shared briefly about God's plan of salvation (keep in mind that this is all in Russian, which is harder for me), but he seemed to understand what I told him. I then asked if he was ready to repent. He said yes! So we prayed a prayer of repentance together (bad Russian and all). God saved him and gave him a new heart. We could see a difference in him when we finished praying.

On Thursday, Ruslan told me that he had another friend, we will call him Friend 2, who also wanted to repent. He has seen significant changes in Ruslan and even Friend 1 (after just one day).  All three friends came to church, where I talked with them a little before service. There was no altar call given after the message, so I went over and talked with Friend 2, and then had the privilege of leading him in a prayer of repentance. Again, we could see a visual difference in him when we finished praying.

After the service, the three friends when back to Friend 1's place and met with two young ladies and another guy, we will call him Friend 3. Ruslan led all three of them in a prayer of repentance. After that, he led all six of them in communion. It sounded like it was a very precious time.

Ruslan did all the work and laid the foundation, so the job of praying with his two friends to receive Christ was an easy one. He is doing a great job of evangelizing his friends.

On Saturday the 6th, our first Ukrainian "boy", Slavik, spent the weekend with us, as he often does, coming home from the technical institute. We all said good night late that evening, and Denise and I (Phil) were laying on the bed talking. He knocked and asked me if I could help him. I said I could, but wanted to know what he needed help with. He said that he was ready to pray a prayer of repentance. He had done so in the past, but he admitted that he was not actually serious about it, and nothing actually changed in his life.

However, this time God had been working on him for several days and he decided, on his own, that it was time to give his life completely to God. Those were words that I have waited to hear for more than five years. After we talked a while about why he was ready now, we prayed. He wanted me there for support and did not want to just do it on his own. He prayed a prayer of repentance, with tears streaming down his face. And then I prayed for him. (Update: He did really good for less than a month, but then started giving non-Christian people around him a place of priority in his life. We continue to pray for and encourage him to not give up on living for God!)

Another one of our Ukrainian "boys", Sergei, went on a retreat this weekend. While there, he was baptized in water. We are so excited to see our "boys" following after God!

We visited Pastor Oksana's church (her building is in the background)
From left to right Ilya (Pastor's son), Pastor Oksana, us, Anya (translator), and Misha (Pastor's husband)
On Tuesday the 9th, we had a couple come to meet with us because they had been having a rough time in their marriage. For us, counseling is not our specialty and this was uncomfortable, not to mention this would be in Russian without a translator. For Denise, this was even more difficult, because she did not always understand what was being said. Our meeting was great, lasted over two hours, and God really gave us the wisdom that we needed. They received what we shared as we talked about many different things. When we finished, we prayed for them, their marriage, and their family. When we last asked how things were going, everything was great. Thank God that He is faithful and still in the restoration business!

On Sunday the 14th in the evening, Phil and Denise were invited to be on a Valentine's Day panel for the youth service. There were questions already prepared and then some from the audience, It was an interesting time and we enjoyed being able to share some of our experiences. Several of our friends told Phil that they liked our answers best.

Our friends, Max and Julia, were the emcees for the Valentine's Day panel discussion
On Friday the 19th, we went to a school to help our friend, Julia. She has a European Club where the kids learn about a country in Europe as well as practice their English. She invited Phil to come and share a story from the Bible about jealousy, so he shared about Joseph and how his brothers were jealous of him and mistreated him. They seemed to take some good lessons from the story. We finished our time with them by playing one of their favorite games.  It was a fun time!

Phil sharing about the life of Joseph, which Julia translated into Russian so everyone understood
With the young men coming to Christ, it seemed that God was challenging Phil to do something about discipling them in how to live for God. Phil and Ruslan prayed about it and, after some encouragement from others, decided that we should start a home/cell group. We settled on doing that every Friday evening at 6 PM - starting on the 19th.

For our first meeting, Dima, the youth leader from the main church where we attend Thursday evenings, came as a guest speaker. There were seven "men" (ranging in age from 14 to 25, and then me (Phil)). Everyone really enjoyed our time as well as the conversation we shared over tea and the cookies that Denise baked for us.

This was also a special family day because it is our oldest daughter Laura's birthday. She turned 22 and because of her responsibilities at North Central University in Minneapolis, MN, we were unable to Skype with her on that day. We did catch up with her the next week, though. We miss her!

Sometimes cameras catch just the "right" moment - or not! (with Sveta, our friend and translator)
Denise has a soft place in her heart for the "grandmas" here
Pastor's grandson was cute - and full of mischief!
Phil and his new friend
Pastor Yuri and his wife with us 
On Thursday the 25th, Phil preached at the main church. This time he preached about the life of Joseph from the book of Genesis and how, even though his life was hard, he was right where God wanted him to be in preparation for who God needed him to be. That is not always popular theology in today's Christian world.

Sergei needed a picture with "Dad" before church
On Friday the 26th, we had our second home/cell group meeting, with 5 of us in attendance. Ruslan brought his cousin, we will call him Friend 4, to our meeting. During the time of our study, he realized that he needed to repent. Once again, I (Phil) was privileged to lead him in a prayer of repentance. Then we polished off half of a 9 x 13 pan of chocolate cake that Denise made.

About 10 pm, one of our Ukrainian "boys", Roma, arrived from college for the weekend. A bit later, three of our young friends came over to visit.  These guys finished off the other half of the cake. They all love her baking! Without Denise's ministry of cooking, Phil's ministry would be less effective. We make a great team!

We often get to sing because people love to hear Denise's voice
Denise enjoys praying for people after our services
Sometimes our "boys" go with us and it is always a privilege to pray with them (Slavik here)
I got to pray with Sergei, too
This cute Grandma has spunk and we enjoyed talking with her
As always, we are thankful for the privilege of serving here in Ukraine and in Krivoy Rog. Thank you for praying for us and for following our journey in missions!

Updates from Phil:
In January I prayed with two young men - Sasha and Bogdan. Sasha made some very poor choices and we do not currently know what is going on with him because of them. Bogdan and Phil chat regularly and he has been faithful in going to the youth service at church most of the time. He also comes to our home/cell group as his schedule allows. He is learning English and he loves musicals, so we started having him over to watch American musicals with us. He is a great young man and I really enjoy spending time with him.

While Friend 1 made some major changes in his life after God saved him, he stopped talking with Ruslan. I have no contact with him and while we continue to pray for him, we honestly do not know what is going on there. We do know that his Father was against him going to church and, even though they do not have a good relationship, this likely is part of the reason.

Friend 2 and I have had pretty good communication since we met and we chat online regularly. He seems to enjoy talking with me in person, so once in a while he comes over for tea and cookies (which he loves). It has been difficult to get him to go to church and come to the home/cell group, but we keep trying. We continue to believe that God is working in his heart and life and are starting to see signs of that.

As for the two young ladies and Friend 3, Ruslan has not had any contact with them since the first week or so after they repented. We heard through Friend 2 that one of the young ladies changed a lot, but we have been unable to see that first hand. Friend 3 left Ukraine, so, unfortunately, we have been unable to do any follow-up with him.

Friend 4 and I have also had good communication and we chat online regularly. It is hard for him to come to our home/cell group meetings because he usually works out on Friday evenings. Ruslan and I continue to encourage him in his walk with God.

We understand that we all need to "work out our own salvation" and that for some, it is a difficult process to leave the world behind. Leading five people in a first-time prayer of repentance and plus helping one person recommit his life to Jesus, that is FANTASTIC. Praise God for what He is doing! We know that the devil is working overtime to get these new believers back under his control. Sometimes all we can do is pray and trust that God is at work in their lives. Even when we are not able to follow-up with them, the Holy Spirit can and does!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 2016

We met the New Year with friends from Canada (Chris and Matt). Two of our "boys", Slavik and Sergei, were with us for the holidays, but spent the night at a party at their church. Remember that when we say "boys", we really men young men who have no family, yet call us Mom and Dad. Right now there are 5 that we enjoy hearing that from - Slavik, Maxim, Vova, Roma, and Sergei.

Nearly every Sunday we visit a different church (and sometimes two) from the group of Churches of Praise (our partners). Phil preaches and almost always it is a message about reaching out to those around us. We have found that just visiting the different churches really encourages them.  This is something that we really enjoy doing and consider it a privilege to serve in this way. Sometimes we sing or Denise takes the offering.  Once in a while, we meet with part of the church, like the leaders or part of a particular ministry.

Sunday the 3rd of January we visited a church that we had never been to before and, as is sometimes the case, we had a hard time finding their meeting place. The service started at 12 noon and, though we arrived late, we really enjoyed being with them. Because we were driving to Poltava in the afternoon, we had to hurry away after the service so we could get on the road for our 4 hour journey. We were heading to a town near Poltava for a three-day youth/young adult retreat, where Phil was invited to speak.

We drove home, changed clothes, grabbed our bags and bedding, and left Hope (our 14 year old daughter) and Princess (our then three month old dachshund) with our landlady (who is also a good friend and neighbor). Denise and Phil headed out with two of our "boys" (Roma and Sergei). We had a little trouble finding the town and then finding the building that we would be staying in, but we finally succeeded. A church rents part of an old building and we would be using their part for the retreat.

About 40 of us gathered and there was just ONE toilet - an indoor, flush-able, squatty potty (that means no sitting!) - for all of us. That proved to be a challenge when many of us had GI problems one day.  No shower (except for emergencies and leaders, but we went without, just like everyone else). We did not have to sleep on the floor (on cots), so that was great. The building was cold because during the time we were there, the weather was quite cold (below 0 Fahrenheit), though by Minnesota standards this was still somewhat warm.  Ha.

Our time there was a lot of fun and we enjoyed spending time with old friends and getting to know new friends. We loved being with them and they really accepted the "old people" of the group. Ha. They had a lot of fun activities planned. Every day, Monday through Wednesday, Phil gave a short devotion in the morning and also taught the group of new believers (and non-believers) for an hour, which proved to be a huge challenge. On Wednesday evening, Phil preached at the Encounter service. It was amazing because everyone listened so intently and we all had an encounter with God, including our boys. Roma was filled with the Holy Spirit (he repented more than a year and a half ago) and Sergei wept as God worked on his heart (he repented last summer, so this type of service was a first for him).

On January 5th, it was 29 years since our first date (at Golden Corral)

Phil giving devotions one morning, with his translator, Kate
Denise was ready for the outdoor competition - complete with lots of padding - with Sergei
They actually got Phil to wear this hat
Mama and Roma
Roma and Papa
Roma, Papa, and Sergei (few pictures of him because he had the camera most of the time)
Denise was loved by everyone, but especially the two cooks
The great leadership team for the retreat. We were really impressed them and their heart for God!
After that, the different teams did their skits. A few of them made fun of us (and one of them was mainly about us) and we laughed so hard that we hurt. It was great! They invited us to come to their summer camp, which we will gladly do! When everything was done late Wednesday, cleanup started.  We had to be out about 8 am because they were having a special Christmas service at 10 am. (Christmas here is celebrated January 7th and not December 25th)

We left about 8 am and headed home, only to hit spots of rain, freezing rain, or snow parts of the way. Closer to home, it changed to all snow. After we arrived home, we got more heavy snow, but that changed to rain before too long. As usual, what a mess it is here in the winter!

Sunday evening the 10th we had a couple of young men in our home. They had stayed with us before and have some issues in their lives. One of them has not been ready to repent, but that night when I asked, he said that he was. So before we went to bed, Sasha gave his heart to Christ. He needs to work through some issues, but it is a start in the right direction. (Since then, he has unfortunately made some poor choices and has been unwilling to change, but we believe that God has not given up on him.)

On Friday the 15th, Denise and Phil visited a home group of one of our friends and translators, Julia, and her husband, Max. Their group had been started not long ago to help raise up young adult leaders. We talked about the life of Joseph and how, even though he was mistreated by his brothers, God raised him up to be a great leader. A few of the regulars could not make it because of work, but we had a great time. One young man that was there I (Phil) had not seen for more than four years, and it took me a while before I finally realized who he was. Through God's eyes, I was able to see a great potential in Ruslan, who is 18 years old now. I learned that he had not long before come back to God after using drugs and living for the devil for about 4 years. (In conversations that we had later, he asked if I would be his mentor. After praying about it for more than a week, I agreed. You will hear more about him!)

On the afternoon of Saturday the 16th, we went to the English school of our friend and primary translator, Anya, for an English club and Ugly Sweater party. Phil told the nativity story and Denise shared about her experiences of celebrating Christmas - all in English, of course! It was a lot of fun and Phil won the "most sparkle" category because Denise decorated his sweater so "nicely". No pictures! :-)

At this event, I (Phil) met a young man named Bogdan, 17 years old and good looking. We connected online before we left and later that evening we were chatting online. Eventually, I asked him about his relationship with God.  He asked if it was possible to know God personally. Naturally, I said YES and we made plans to meet. He lives very close to us, so we met nearby and he came home withe me so we could talk. I shared about God's plan of redemption for fallen mankind and how Jesus came to pay the penalty for our sins. He knew most of what I told him, but not enough to realize how he could know God personally. I asked him if he was ready to pray a prayer of repentance and to know God personally. He said yes, so we prayed together and now he is my brother in Christ! (In the two weeks after this, because he was on break, he read more than half the Bible and really enjoyed it.  Proverbs was his favorite book.)

Bogdan and Phil, just after he prayed a prayer of repentance
On Thursday the 21st, I (Phil) visited with a friend, Eddik, when he was in town for special services we had at church. To give you some background, 8 years ago he was a pastor ministering in Crimea when he walked away from God and started to use drugs again. His wife has continued to love and pray for him. In October, a pastor friend of ours was doing a music concert/festival in a city park in Kirovograd, about 90 minutes away. We decided to go and support our friend, and while there, we saw Eddik. I had the opportunity to pray with him and he prayed a prayer of repentance with me. My prayer was that God would use our meeting to start a significant change in his life.

Fast forward to late December. He called me to let me know that God delivered him completely from drugs and even smoking. I checked with our friend and his pastor to verify what he told me, and it was true. When we met today, I was able to see and hear for myself what God has done for him. As he shared his story with me, he told me that the day we met in October was when God started working in his life in a new way. It took a few months, but God did the work that needed to be done. He is so excited about serving Jesus again and we are glad that our God still does miracles.

The weekend of the 23rd and 24th, Phil spent in the Kiev oblast (state) with our friends, Pastors Roma and Tanya. They have told Phil that their church is the fruit of our labor. They strongly believe that our visits there last fall helped light a fire in their ministry and in the life of their church, which has been stagnant for several years. Phil traveled without a translator, but instead brought Sergei and Ruslan. They both loved life in the village, while Phil really missed a few conveniences, like internet.

We had a home meeting on Saturday with 9 of us and then a church service on Sunday in their new location with less than 20 of us (cold weather and sickness kept others home).  After both services, Pastor Roma asked if everyone understood me, to which they all answered yes. Their new location is an old house on the property that they bought in December. There they plan to start building a new building this spring. I even drove Pastor Roma's old Soviet era car, which surprised all three of the guys that I was able to do so.

Ruslan, Pastor Tanya, Pastor Roma, and Phil in their home
Church on Sunday morning inside an old house on their property, but have plans to start building a building in the spring
Through all this time, we had guests in our home, and Denise ministered to them with her cooking skills. Most young men here think that she is a master chef (while we agree that she is not) and they especially love her American cookies. It is great to see how God uses us together to minister to people here. We are thankful for the opportunity to serve here in Ukraine and to live in Krivoy Rog among friends.

We saw even more people come to faith in Jesus in February. Stay tuned for more of what God is doing here! Thank you for following our journey and for praying for us!