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!

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