Babushka Blessings

Imagine you are elderly and living in the countryside. You are alone and life is hard. Day upon day requires chopping and carrying firewood, hauling water for cleaning and cooking, as well as struggling to maintain an income to buy food. You are known for selling milk and yogurt and you claim yours is the best, but your only cow is getting older too. You have no husband and your only son is an alcoholic, only coming to see you late in the night when he is drunk and you are frightened to open the gate.

During winter camp we challenged students to work on serving others and to “in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”. (Philippians 2:3b-4) So at the end of the week the girls took a couple of hours to make felt blankets while the guys went out to chop wood. I heard some of the guys provided great entertainment for the locals trying to figure out how to chop the wood, and a few even had lessons from a couple of the babushkas (grandmothers).

Later in the evening we split up into our small groups and each group went to a different home of a babushka in need. We took the newly made blankets along with a goody bag filled with some cooking oil, gretchka (buckwheat) and chai (tea).

The home my group went to was as first described in this blog. At first we were unsure if anyone would answer the gate because we stood and knocked for several minutes before being greeted by an orange tabby and an open door. Our babushka had been afraid that it was her son coming to cause trouble. She was very sweet and extra, extra talkative since she gets very little company and very grateful for the gifts. After letting her chat for a bit we asked her if we could pray for anything and she asked that we pray for her alcoholic son and for the health of her cow, so Helen, one of our Christian students, led the group in prayer.

We walked back down the icy path toward our home for the week as powdery snow began to fall warmed by the joy of knowing a small difference had been made in one woman’s life that evening.

Fighting For Elbow Room

Yesterday I was on my way to meet a wonderful friend for a relaxing evening when I found myself fighting a meltdown moment.

Exiting one metro wagon and preparing to cross lines I melded into the masses. There was no place to go to avoid it. I waddled along, barely able to breathe because I was being squeezed so tightly between people trying to get to the escalators. “This must be what cattle feel like being herded,” I thought.  At one point I was being pushed so hard from behind that I was almost falling into the person in front of me and found myself trying to balance on my toes.

There was no personal space, no elbow room. It was almost an emotional breaking point.

Photo of Crowded Metro Station Zoloti Vorota
Photo by Misha Herzberg

This evening I sat down to read from “My Utmost for His Highest” and found myself reading, “As servants of God, we must learn to make room for Him–to give God ‘elbow room’.”

I forget that I should expect God to show up and so I make my own plans, fill the space with my own agenda, and end up squeezing  Him out. I expect Him to go with the flow that I set, which is often crowded, chaotic and just ends up getting things accomplished rather miserably for all involved.

I also frequently forget that God didn’t place me here for my comfort. It is one of my biggest daily battles because everything is so uncomfortable for me in this culture, and because of this I try to close off my comfort zone and leave God no elbow room there either.

I feel like all around me I’m in a push and pull for control. Physically I get pushed, pulled, elbowed and shoved every time I walk out into the public. Emotionally I find myself in a tug of war of love and hates and I scramble desperately to keep my emotions in check. Spiritually it seems God wants to shatter every comfort zone that is part of my life and I’m reluctant to relinquish my illusion of control.

How about you? Do you find that God has elbow room in your life? Or do you find that, like me, you forget to allow room for Him to show up?

The Life

Honestly I’ve been avoiding my web site knowing that I need to post something. It seems like I have so much to tell until I sit down in front of my computer screen.

This past week was Winter Camp and our theme was 180 degrees: The Life. In small groups we studied the book of Philippians and we worked on learning to be servants and encouraged each other to “Live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ.” No small task. We had twenty students, not as many as we would like but it gave a familial atmosphere and was small enough people couldn’t escape unnoticed.

There was a lot of laughter and fun, but also a lot of serious discussion. Ukrainian students are very deep thinkers and surface answers don’t cut it here. Throughout the week we had questions like, “So why did God create man?”  “What is redemption?” many, many others and a lot of struggles with being able to be forgiven. The staff heard several, “I know I need Jesus, but I’m just not ready yet” type statements. The bright side is that you know they are listening. For those of us who fear not having the answers that are needed, the fact that you are being listened to can also be frightening 🙂

Personally I’m adjusting. We have a staff conference this coming weekend and soon we will be planning out the semester. Tomorrow I am hopefully going to look at a possible apartment and am hopeful, since I would really like to be settled somewhere.  I am also thankful that I know several people here!

I do, however, admit that James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” has been on repeat during most marshrutka and metro rides and while the temperature isn’t terrible it is very gloomy and gray most of the time, and I find I am definitely missing the sunlight. I am already looking forward to spring! 🙂

Prayer Requests:

– that we will be able to continue to have opportunities for those tough and necessary conversations with students
– Wednesday we are having a planning meeting for summer camp so feel free to pray for productivity and creativity
– that I find an apartment… that I can afford (the hard part)

Headed to Ivankiv

In a few hours I will be helping load the van and will be off to Ivankiv, Ukraine for the week.  Please be praying for us during Winter Camp. We have twenty students with us for the week and will be going through the book of Philippians.

I also woke up an hour or so ago not feeling great and my ears are bothering me, probably from the cold wind.

Oh and pray for some snow… seriously! Just none of the blizzard stuff you guys got hit with last week 🙂

See you in a week!

I Cannot Forget

Several times in the past few days my thoughts have wondered back across the Atlantic to the nation of Haiti. I still remember well the shattering news of January 12th’s devastating earthquake. As we sat in the middle of Project Searchlight in Gainesville, Georgia all of our previous concerns with determining our long term goals and dreams turned into crying out to God for a broken, suffering nation that we had all invested in a year earlier.

I knew then that I would return, but never would have guessed how, when or what to expect.

Flying into Haiti I had an overwhelming peace that I was where I belonged even as I fought back tears at the sight of splintered, crumbled communities.

There was the day I walked into a sauna-like tarp home and met Evansbord and his family. I felt too small to pray for such an overwhelming need, but prayed anyway. The team became burdened for Evansbord and spent hours interceding for, playing with and loving on him and his family. By the end of the week he was smiling, responding and visibly changed even if he wasn’t up and running.

I remember overlooking the Marassa tent communities after delivering the equivalent of 15,000 meals of rice and beans. The delivery literally took all day as the truck transporting the precious cargo suffered numerous flat tires as we traversed the city. It was a joyous time as the residents unloaded food supplies. Then I realized that all that food, all that money, all that hard work was only enough to feed each person three meals… the equivalent of one day’s food rations and I could stand on a hill and see the entire community with the knowledge that that these communities stretched several hours in either direction.

There was the day I first stepped foot into the Fleury Foundation and fell head over heels in love with a bunch of orphan kiddos and simultaneously outraged at the injustice surrounding their situation.

I watched God multiply food for the hungry, give hope to the hopeless, give God-sized dreams to participants, heard miraculous stories and worshiped alongside some of the most joyful, hungry for God believers that I’ve ever met.

I cannot forget Haiti nor the people no matter how far I travel from its borders.

On the Lighter Side: Monumental Happenings

Two monumental things occurred yesterday.

One, some friends managed to surprise me. It really is harder than it should be because I have a tendency to either:
a) walk in at the wrong time and spoil the surprise or
b) wander off and totally miss the surprise (World Race birthday – I’m still sorry about that one!!)

So it was a pleasant shock when Dasha popped her head in the meeting room (aka my current sleeping quarters) and asked for my help. I replied as I had all afternoon with a “Nah I don’t think so” as I stood up to follow, half expecting to be dragging out or digging through more boxes in search of needed items for next weeks winter camp.

Opening the door to the library room (I’m sure it has some other name) I was greeted with darkness, except it was completely. A faint glow filtered through the room as I came face to face with half a dozen familiar friendly faces holding a “Welcome Steph” sign and holding sparklers. This was, of course, followed by hugs, greetings, food and Uno.

Which leads to monumental moment #2: I FINALLY WON A GAME OF UKRAINIAN UNO!!!!!!

I may be too excited about this one, but I dare you to give this version of Uno a try. It is somewhat controlled mass chaos and requires speed, concentration and luck (non of which I usually possess in large quantities).

Don’t believe me? Try it!

For Ukrainian Uno Play:
Per normal rules players each begin with 7 cards and the first card on the draw pile is turned over to begin play.
You still play same color or number, but there are several twists.

0: When a zero card is played everyone passes their entire hand of cards to the person next to them in order of play

4: When a four is played everyone must be silent until another number is played. If you talk you have to draw a card. If you have Uno during this time you knock on the table to signal

7: When a seven is played everyone slaps the card (dangerous if you play with people that have fingernails). If you are the last to slap, draw a card

+4 and +2 cards: If I lay down a draw card and you have a draw card in your hand, just add it and the next person has to draw (so +2 +2 = 4 cards) or if they have a draw card they can add it… it just keeps piling up until some unfortunate soul has no draw cards and has to add up all the draw cards and add that many cards to his/her deck

And if you aren’t confused enough at this point add in the rule that if you lay down a card (say a blue 5) and it isn’t my turn but I also have that card (in this case a blue 5), I can play my card if I can get it down on the pile before the next player puts down a card. So in that way you can play out of turn and it gets a bit crazy trying to figure out who goes next when things are moving fast.

Oh and don’t forget the winner’s prize: that person gets to reshuffle the deck for the next game. It’s almost like you shouldn’t even want to win.

Seven hours into the future

Sixteen hours of travel, seven or eight time zone changes and three flights later, I am in Kyiv. It feels oddly familiar but still so foreign. I managed to stay awake for about 30 hours straight before crashing on the couch in the CCX office, my home for the moment until we find me an apartment.

Getting back here has seemed like an uphill battle the whole way. Thanks to delayed postal service and our 14 inches of snow at Christmas my travel plans to DC to get my visa were shot. When I arrived to check in for my flight in Raleigh I was basically informed that I couldn’t travel without proof of an onward ticket showing that I would leave Ukraine in the next three months because I could be fined and deported and the airline could be fined for letting me travel.

Talk about a stressful beginning to your trip!

After a bit of conversation the lady finally called her head office to get approval to let me fly. I had to consent that I understood that deportation was a possibility and could not hold the airline liable if that happened.

Thankfully I am happy to report the rest of the trip was relatively uneventful. My entertainment system on my overnight flight didn’t work so with the help of my iPod Kari Jobe and H Squad helped me cross the Atlantic Ocean and refocus on God instead of my fears and concerns. Also thankfully my seat mate, a man from Istanbul, apparently doesn’t sleep on flights either so I was able to get up and use the bathroom and stretch… it’s the small things in life right?!

On my flight from Frankfurt to Kyiv I actually thought I had reached the point where I could possibly get some rest, but, alas, I was seated next to two kids about five or six years old. The one right next to me, Dima, managed to spill Coke on me, elbow me multiple times and toward the end of our flight fell asleep on my shoulder. Praise God that wasn’t my overnight flight!!!

Making it to passport control, after all the drama in Raleigh, the guy looked at my passport, looked at me, stamped it, handed it back and let me through with no questions asked. There was actually a girl two people in front of me who came as a volunteer with an organization and they gave her a bit of a hard time, but said and asked nothing of me.

I grabbed my bags, thanked God they made all the flight changes with me and also thanked Him for free luggage carts and strolled through customs without even a glance from the officials.

Two of my university friends met me at the airport and called a taxi to get us back to the CCX office. It was so exciting to hear “Stephanie!” and be tackle hugged. It’s good to be back though it seems so weird to know this is my home for at least the next year. It is going to certainly be an adjustment.

I also would like to note that I find it highly ironic that it is warmer here and with less wintry weather outside than in North Carolina and Georgia. Maybe God knew I couldn’t handle but just so much at once. Though there is less sunlight. The sun rises around 8 a.m. and sets around 4:15 p.m.

Pray I adjust to the time quickly since we have  a staff planning meeting tomorrow morning and then leave for Winter Camp Sunday afternoon. At the moment I think we have 22 students signed up for camp and I’m sure it will be a great week. Please be praying for the staff as we prepare for camp (and get over jet lag) and for the students that will be attending.

Love you all lots. Thank you for the prayers, obviously they are working! Thank you also for all the support to get me back here. Looking forward to keeping you informed, amused and on your prayer toes 😉_________________________________________________________________________________________________

I am still short about $150 a month in support. If you are interested in supporting me the information is on the right side bar or here.

Leaving on a jet plane

This will just be a quick update since I’ve been so silent this week.

In about 14 hours I fly out (2:40 pm EST) heading through DC then Germany and on to Ukraine. I’m mostly packed and praying the weather here in North Carolina holds out until I’m out of here.

Hopefully the next time you hear from me I will be in Ukraine safe and sound.

Thank you for all your love and support!


Welcome to random blog #1 for 2011…

Ukrainian flower
Ukrainian flower

1. For anyone wanting to see those photos I promised for support (if you have no idea what I’m talking about see this blog)…. click here for the photos in Flickr.

2. I leave in five days… commence running around like a headless chicken! Please note that rational thinking and/or actions are not to be expected from me for the remaining time in the States. I ask forgiveness ahead of time.

3. The perpetual procrastinator (that’s me) started packing today. Say what?!?! I’m still certain I will forget to think of something and how in the world do I pack my stuff into two 50lb bags?!?!

4. I’m closer to being able to having monetary needs covered but still about $200 a month short

5. UNO turns 40 on the same day I land in Ukraine, seems rather appropriate since it is a huge hit there. And if you are a fan of the game be on the lookout for $1 retro packs that are being sold in honor of the anniversary.

6.  I’m reading Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (you know in my vast amounts of spare time)… and I highly recommend you check it out!

7. If you are wondering how I am personally doing… excited, nervous, thrilled, scared out of my mind, tired, expectant, and a bit of a chaotic wreck.

8. The more I travel the more I realize how insanely blessed I am and how many amazing people God has placed in my life that I am so thankful for.

9. I wonder if this could be the year…

10. I’m accustomed to all these changes but somehow it still isn’t easy

11.  No matter my hopes or fears God is still in control and my identity is in Him alone.
11.1 Sometimes I just need to be reminded