“He restores my identity in Him”

Despite only having met briefly one other time she answered quite candidly when I inquired about how she was doing. She told me about the stresses of her university life and the loneliness she felt there. Then she looked at me and said, “I am just going to tell you. I used to have an eating disorder and I am struggling again.” She spoke to me so humbly in her broken English and I knew God had allowed our paths to cross.

Larisa is an international student from Russia. She is passionately in love with God and believes that He has sent her to Ukraine with a purpose greater than just a diploma.

Ukraine is a difficult place for Larisa though. Her classes are taught in Ukrainian, a language she doesn’t know and is trying to learn, and at the same time she is trying to learn English. Studies that take hours for any student takes her an even greater amount of time because she doesn’t understand the language.

Before finding CCX’s English club Larisa was discouraged and felt completely alone. Not only has she found a place to practice her English with native speakers, but more importantly she has found some solid Christian students that are at her university. They meet together on Friday afternoons to pray for one another and for their peers.

I received an email recently from Larisa, below is an excerpt:

Identity in Christ
Photo by Daniel Y. Go

“I thank God for such blessing for me and I can not  explain how it is important for me. God really uses you for encouraging me in that hard and stressful time for me. Through you God give very much especially now He restores my identity in Him.”

Please pray for Larisa that she will continue to find her identity in Christ and be able to conquer the obstacles that university life here holds for her. Pray also for the Christian students as they meet, pray and encourage one another, that they will also find ways to reach out to their peers in the university.

This Saturday we will be hosting a large group gathering for our Christian students as an opportunity for them to get together from the various universities and build relationships with one another. It will also hopefully be a time of empowering them to reach out to their peers and some creative planning for specific ways to do this.

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On a personal point, please pray for wisdom as I help lead the prayer time, but also please pray that I am healthy by Saturday. I spent most of last night tossing and turning, while also alternating between freezing and sweating, and this morning found me with a swollen throat that feels a bit like I swallowed needles.

The “Busy” Drug

 

So then I end up looking like this lady...

Time management.

 

The artist in me flails and screams obscenities at being managed.

Then I wake up like I did this morning and think, “Friday already?!?!”

Yesterday in English club we showed a NOOMA video (I know there is quite the debate around Rob Bell, but his NOOMA videos create really good discussion with students which is what we want). The Video is called “Shells” and you can watch it on YouTube HERE.

Did you watch it? Because I’m going to ruin the “punchline” for you if not…

“Being busy is a drug that many people are addicted to.”

Strong words, but  isn’t it true?

Time management is important for students to learn. The university system definitely doesn’t treat your average student well (they even have classes/exams on Saturdays here… crazy system!) I have determined that for the most part students don’t sleep much during their time in university (guess I didn’t either) as they try to squeeze in classes, studies and a social life. There is a lot of stress with being a student and it can make you want to dig a whole and hide out.

But how many of us aren’t students anymore and still don’t manage our time and priorities well?

Me, me, me!!! Guilty as charged!

Bell talks about a time when his family was at the beach. His sons were picking up broken seashells along the shore and floating on the ocean was a big, beautiful starfish. His son excitedly ran into the ocean a ways and then ran back and again and again. Frustrated his family was like “Go get it! It’s yours! What’s wrong?” Finally his son said, “I can’t do it because my hands are filled with shells.”

As a missionary I run around doing a lot of “good” but how do you determine between “good” and “best”? I see hundreds of students a week but the truth is that I cannot pour into and build deep relationships with ALL of them. Some days I find myself holding onto shell shrapnel instead of being able to take hold of something big and important.

I struggle to invest in those that I am present with and maintain relationships back home and around the world, all while taking care of myself. A friend recently tried to give me a back massage and commented, “I don’t think all these knots would get worked out unless Jesus Himself came down and gave you a massage.” Yeah it’s that bad.

So all that to say that in this respect I am right there with my students, trying to learn how to manage time and stress to accomplish not just the good but the best.

Plugged In

Summer seems so terribly far away when it is so chilly outside but looking at the calendar it is just around the corner! Every few weeks we have a planning meeting for summer camp, our largest event of the year. I am co-director of program, which I must say is a little frightening!!

Anyway part of my responsibilities has been designing the logo (and brochure). So several years after college graduation and a couple of years since saying goodbye to designing, I found design software and it took a few days to remember how in the world to begin using it again.

Below is the final result of the logo (still working on the brochure, you know, in my spare time)…

“One must work and dare if one really wants to live.”

It’s been almost two weeks so I thought… hmmm people should probably hear from again. Yes?

What to say? While I hear wonderful things of spring in America, yesterday I saw snow! So incredibly wrong!! Though tomorrow it is supposed to be in the low 40s and sunny, so I am still holding out hope that spring really does exist here.

Life just seems to keep picking up the pace here and for an introvert like myself finding time alone is almost the same as requesting a miracle. Yes, I have already put in my miracle request this week and am awaiting a reply.

Last week Dasha and I went to the girls dorm again and this time made varenyky (little dumpling with various fillings). Apparently girls bond over cooking, who knew? It was a wonderful evening and potentially the most I have eaten in a single sitting these past two months. We have good relationships with many girls in the dorm and are talking about starting a Bible study on Wednesday evenings there.

If you are curious what my typical week looks like:

Monday: afternoon staff meetings for English ministry or camp planning; evenings, hanging out with students or working on camp planning

Tuesday: day off!!! woohooo! Though I do admit I am normally awake early to meet a good friend at a coffee house and then return in the afternoon to do laundry and all those necessary things that don’t happen any other time of the week.

Wednesday: English club at Schevchenko, which I help Dasha coordinate. Afterwards we go to a local restaurant for tea and to hang out with students. Evenings we have been going to one of the dorms to spend time with students there

Thursday: English clubs at Linguistics, followed by hanging out at a local restaurant with students, and then off to worship practice

Friday: I try to use the mornings to do work, afternoon is hanging out with students, evening is movie club

Saturday: whatever special event we have planned with CCX. This past Saturday we had an art afternoon and I made earrings, this coming Saturday we have the Interpreter’s Seminar. On Saturday evenings I spend with friends to be closer to church (if I stayed at home I’m over an hour away)

Sunday: I have worship practice at 7:30 (Cathy I’m sorry for every time I complained about 8:30) and we have two services so I am in church until around 1:00. Usually I go out with some of the students or friends for lunch and come home to work.

I spend so much time on public transportation that I’m still praying for the ability to read and not get motion sickness!! In general it is about an hour to get anywhere I need to go (except the office is 30 minutes).

Anyway I am calling it a day and going to bed since if the sun comes out as promised tomorrow then it will give me an early wake up call 🙂

Celebrating Women

Yesterday was a holiday here in Ukraine. It wasn’t just a holiday though, it was a GREAT holiday. It was the 8th of March, also known as Women’s Day.

If any guys are reading this I’m sure I just got a few eye rolls.

Seriously though it was like people were nicer here yesterday! On Women’s Day all women, youngest to eldest, are celebrated and it is traditional to give flowers and candies and for the men to help with the chores for the day. Like I said, a great holiday! I even had a guy give me a seat on the marshrutka ride home.

Oh and since we had a meeting on Monday (which was also a day off for many) my director, Brian, brought flowers for Dasha and me and my colleague, Doug, brought us a cake!

Some days I don’t mind being a woman! 🙂

It was also good though because it made me think of all the amazing women that God has placed in my life, each one unique and beautiful in her own way. Are there women in your life that you need to let them know how much they mean to you?

Below is a photo of the lovely tulips that are now greeting me from my window sill with the morning sunrise…

Pancake Week

Maslenitsa or “Pancake Week” is, as I understand it, both a religious and folk holiday Of course just from the name of it I was more than happy to participate.

Apparently in pre-Christian times the roundness of the pancakes came to symbolize the sun and, therefore, they were made in honor of the ending winter. (Spring is considered to begin on the first of March here, so technically even though it is still below freezing outside it is officially spring!)

For the Christian view of the holiday (as I’ve read), Maslenitsa is the last week before Lent begins. Of course what better way to celebrate your last week of eating whatever you like than filling it with lots of pancakes and festivities. For Orthodox Christians meat is already forbidden during this week, however it is the last week that milk, cheese and other dairy products are allowed. So pancake week becomes a chance to get in your last bit of celebrating before you have to be all prayerful and introspective for the next forty days.

Wednesday evening I joined some of our students in their dorm to celebrate Maslenitsa.

First let me say, pancakes here and pancakes at home are NOT the same. Back home you have huge, thick, fluffy pancakes drowning in butter and maple syrup. Here pancakes are closer to crêpes so they are very thin, they are called blini, and you fill them with fruit, cheese or maybe even meat. Condensed milk is also an acceptable topping and instead of coming in a can it comes in a squeezable bag. Strange, I know!

Everyone joined in the fun of cooking, yes even me, though I may still need supervision to get it right. After lots of laughter, a little competition and a dancing tea kettle, we carried a plate piled high with blini back to the girls’ dorm room and chose between apple, banana, cheese or jam filling. After eating and cleaning up, we played games and hung out until the concern of missing the last marshutka home forced our fun to end.

All in all a great evening spent with the girls.

How Do You Keep From Falling?

One never knows what you may encounter when you step outside.

As Bilbo Baggins so adequately put it, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.”

Well let me tell you, it is hard to keep your feet when you are stepping on ice with a thin blade attached to the bottom of the shoes your feet are in.

After weeks of stalling, I went out with a few of the students to the skating rink. Let’s just say that I am certainly NOT a natural.

What frustrated me most was KNOWING what my feet should do, but my seeming inability to get them to actually DO it. Have you ever felt that way?

I remarked to one friend that it felt like a metaphor for my life in Ukraine. I know in theory what I should do, but then theory and reality meet and some days I feel I’m accomplishing a lot if I can just stand and not fall on my face. She, of course, smiled and said, “You just need practice. Everyone starts out like this.”

правда. (pravda or, in English, “truth”)

That’s when I realized something. I generally don’t put myself in situations that I can predict beforehand that I am not going to excel at. In short I have serious issues with failure and/or humiliation. I like to be Super Woman, but I’m not and I am pretty certain that I don’t have anyone fooled into believing that I am.

Seth Barnes just posted a blog today called “What permission do you need?” One of the four permissions he lists is the permission to fail. Failure is important. We learn from failure, usually much more than we learn from success. While I think others have given me permission to fail, I haven’t given myself that permission.

So I plan to try ice skating again, which probably means paying to look like an idiot at least one more time because I don’t know how to keep from falling, but maybe I will learn that falling is okay as long as you get back up.

Speak Up

It is difficult to believe that it is already March and I feel that there is so much to say that this will probably just be a thought for thought style blog (again). I really miss writing stylized stories, but they take more time than I presently have to give.

The semester is in full swing here in Kyiv and life just keeps becoming busier and busier.

In the past couple of weeks I have led a couple of our English clubs, spoke in front of a first year English class, and I have the privilege of helping lead a class this coming Friday morning as well. Not bad for someone who hates public speaking. One of my responsibilities is to help lead one of our clubs that meets at Schevchenko University.  I think God and my team are determined to get me comfortable with being in front and speaking.

Yesterday was quite the experience as I showed up all alone to lead a class. I’m not sure if I ever mentioned this but I am NOT a teacher. I was rather nervous that since they were first year students no one would talk, but I made them laugh and managed to get many of them to speak and ask questions. In a city of about 3 million people it is surprising to the students to hear that I went to school in a town of less than seven hundred (there are probably that many in my apartment complex).

 

Panorama Shot of Schevchenko English Club
Leading club at Schevchenko University. Photo by Pete Young

 

 

It is difficult to think of summer when you still need to wear several layers to walk outside but we are in the middle of planning summer English camp and I am the co-Program Director. Talk about being in over your head! I’m also trying to design the logo and brochure and must admit that my design background seems a long time ago now as I stare at the program and try to recall what tool should be used for the desired effect. It’s taking a little longer than I like to admit.

One of the students from our Winter Camp, Tanya,  has been attending church with us on Sunday mornings since camp. This past week she brought several other student friends along too. Since camp one of the other staff workers had a conversation with her and she has said that she is following Jesus, is studying John and Romans, and is planning to help with a Bible study group that will be started. Praise God!!

I would also like to say that I have a great church family here as well. I am part of the worship team now and God has blessed me with a wonderful Christian community that I already love a lot. This past Sunday I spent the afternoon at my pastor’s home playing games and getting to know some of the other church members.

As for my friends and family back home, thank you all for the continued prayer and support. You are such an encouragement and I hope you know that. I will try to get more pictures and stories up soon so I can share more with you what is happening here.

Love you dearly