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, 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!

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