Leap of Faith Day

Leap Day. That intercalary 24 hour period that occurs every four years and makes for a very cool birth date.

I, however, deemed today “Leap of Faith Day” and am contemplating extending it to “Leap of Faith Year”.

Some people are risk takers, but I’m really not someone I would count in that category. I don’t enjoy risk. I enjoy comfort, stability, control. I like to know that when I get in the elevator that it will work. I like to try things I expect I will be okay at, but not things which may make me look like a fool. I like to pay for things and know I will get what I want.

So it is often ironic to me that I live in a foreign country. It is truly only by the grace of God. In the past month I’ve been stuck in an elevator, had my bank account drained, and had a fire in my apartment building. It hasn’t felt very comfortable. It hasn’t seemed stable. And I have felt completely out of control.

Those are crazy things that have happened, but there are other events that are stretching my trust. I find myself in negotiations for a second English club on the remote campus of Shevchenko. I’m working through the book of Proverbs with one of my girls who isn’t a Christian and has the ability to pull out the hardest and most intimidating of questions. We have a World Race team coming in a few weeks and I am the coordinator, the person overseeing plans for their stay with us.

None of this is comfortable for me, but I think God is much less concerned with our comfort than we like to think.

Recently,  I’ve felt like all my fears have popped in unannounced and unwelcomed, and I’ve just wanted to stay home or, better yet, run home.

I’ve known for some time I would have a huge decision to make at this point in the year unless finances changed. I can buy a ticket home and figure out plans from there, or I can apply for a visa and residency leaving me with not much money and definitely not enough to go home if things go awry. It has also been a stressful decision knowing the changes in the law here have caused all kinds of problems.

Hence, “Leap of Faith Day”.

I’ve done a lot of praying over this the last few weeks. Is it faith? Is it foolish? Is my will or God’s will? But the more I pray and the more I look at where God has me right now, the more I am convinced it is not time to go home. It isn’t time to back down or run away. It’s time to take a leap in faith that where God guides He provides.

This isn’t just about finances either. It’s about trusting God for wisdom with new ventures and growing more in learning to lead. It’s about believing that God will give answers to students’ questions and speak through me even when I feel I don’t have very much to offer. It’s about leaping into the arms of the Heavenly Father instead of trying to plan and control every detail.

Are there things in your life that requires a leap day? What’s stopping you from taking the leap?

Smoke and Elevators

I was determined that today would be different. Today would be the Sunday that my alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and I wouldn’t have a conversation with God about whether or not it was really necessary for me to remove my lazy bum out of the bed to go to worship practice and then church.

Alas, I didn’t really have that normal conversation with God today, however, I still proceeded to sleep commute the hour to church and try not to fall out of the chair during service. Despite my best efforts to come home and sleep, instead of my normal 4-5 hours of sleep on Saturday night, I managed to log about two and a half hours of sleep.

Am I really writing a blog just to tell you my sleep habits?

No, I’m writing because today I am thankful for God’s protection.

About midnight I tucked myself into bed. As I lay awake waiting for Mr. Sandman, I found myself annoyed by noisy neighbors. I heard one of my roommates get up. She turned on the light in the hall.

Odd.

Then I heard the keys jingling and the door unlock.

Very odd.

I opened the door into the hall to ask what was happening, but the question was answered before asked. Smoke was coming in under the door and the smell was unmistakeable.

“Great, the one night I go to bed early on Saturday night and I find myself  in a burning building in Ukraine,” or something to that effect went through my mind.

fighting the elevator fire
One of my roomates took this photo of our heroes of the evening.

The girls called the fire department and we waited for their arrival and instruction. We put on warm clothes and grabbed important documents and money expecting to find ourselves shivering in the damp, cold night.

(Perhaps the most disturbing thing is not knowing what is happening, where is the fire, is it safer inside or out? There are no fire alarms to warn you or pre-planned escape routes here. Thank God for my roommates!)

Some time passed and we received word that the elevator had caught on fire somehow. The firemen informed us they were handling the situation and it was best to remain in the apartment on the balcony with the windows open for fresh air. So we stood dressed in coats on our balcony. The funny side to me was that it is the only time I’ve been allowed to walk through the apartment with shoes on.

Somewhere around 2 a.m. things were winding down. We walked into the hall to watch four firefighters spray water down our elevator shaft. Behind them was a police officer, and according to one roommate, some guy taking photos.

The last I looked at my clock it was past 3 a.m. We left the windows open in hopes of getting rid of the overwhelming smell that infiltrated our apartment. I went to sleep huddled under ever blanket I own and with a moist towel wrapped around my face to avoid breathing in the smokey air.

All of that to say that I am very thankful today. I’m thankful for God’s protection, that no one was hurt and nothing in our apartment was damaged. The awful smell lingers, but I know it will eventually go away. I’m thankful for roommates that can speak the language and I’m really, really thankful they were home.

Just in case you are wondering, this is what the elevator now looks like:

burnt elevator
The burned, mangled remains of our elevator

 

Defenders of the Fatherland

Here in Ukraine it is a holiday – День защитника Отечества (Defender of the Fatherland Day). It is the day when men are honored who have served in the armed forces.

I want to focus on a different aspect of defending the fatherland though.

This summer Ukraine and Poland will host Euro2012. For football fans (that’s soccer to us Americans) this is a huge event and a great opportunity for Ukraine’s tourism. However, with the huge influx of tourists there is also expected to be a huge rise in human trafficking.

This country that I love so much is already known worldwide for its human trafficking issues and to think that there are many pushing to change the laws making prostitution completely legal during the games is heartbreaking. I have never met a girl in prostitution that wanted to be in that place.

A friend of mine today pointed out Hosea 4, which contains a very strong rebuke from God to the priests. Basically God tells the Israelites that their plight is because of the actions of the priests, those with the spiritual authority. It says that God isn’t going to judge the women who were prostitutes, but the priests, the men, who took part in this evil whether by physically being partakers or simply by standing by and allowing it.

Human trafficking is an overwhelming problem not just in Ukraine, but worldwide and, yes, that includes America.

Where are the men who will stand up and be watchmen? Who will stand and protect the women and children of our nations? What can we each do to fight this injustice?

I am deeply thankful for those that fight for freedom militarily, but my prayer is for men to rise up who will stand against prostitution and human trafficking, those who will be watchmen over their mothers, sisters, and daughters. In a country where so many are fatherless, let there be a generation of fathers that arise and stand in the gap.

 

 

Faith or Foolish?

Recently I read the Autobiography of Hudson Taylor. He left for China as a young, 21 year old missionary in September of 1853. He was a radical man who believed that God would always provide and tells of many times when just at the last minute God would come through. He believed most missionaries were too worldly and took measures to live as simply as possible.

“I am more than ever convinced that if we were to take the directions of our Master and the assurances He gave to His first disciples more fully as our guide, we should find them to be just as suited to our times as as to those in which they were originally given.”

He took on dressing as the Chinese men to better assimilate into the culture and become more accepted, a move that also wasn’t without its critics. He also studied Mandarin to be able to communicate in the native tongue of the people he worked among. After becoming ill and having to return to England for a time, Taylor gained a vision for a new mission focused on evangelizing inland China.

Upon returning the China Inland Mission (CIM) was born in 1885, a ministry that continues today under the name Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF) International with missionaries in over 25 countries.

Taylor lived by the principle that God would provide everything needed and that debt was absolutely not an option. Those who signed on as missionaries with CIM went with an understanding that they would take all of their needs to God in prayer and that they wouldn’t ask for funds but would be completely dependent on God.

Taylor makes much of missions today look like a cake walk.

So is this what it should look like? Is going with nothing and no promise of anything foolishness or faith?

Didn’t Jesus even send His followers out in similar fashion?

“After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 Then He said to them, ‘The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road.'” Luke 10:1-4 (NKJV)

Where’s the line between faith and foolishness?

It seems to me they often look quite similar.

Matters of Life and Death

I walked toward the Metro with a time frame in mine, expectations, and a plan. Silly me, I really should know better by now.

My goal was to get cash out of the ATM, purchase a few groceries for my complaining stomach, and go home to spend a relaxing evening.

As I exited at Maidan, I noticed several people standing around staring with looks of concern, interest and shock. I turned to find a gentleman, who looked to be in his late 50s, surrounded by a medical crew that was clearly working to revive him. I shuddered a bit but continued on my course.

I waited behind several people before finally standing before the ATM. I’m pretty sure in my head I was imagining a heavenly light and an angelic chorus after the pain of last week. Then instead of delivering money into my hand, the machine mockingly spat out a slip of paper informing me that it could not process my request.

I tried to stay calm. “Maybe it doesn’t have that much money in it today,” I thought. So I went to another ATM machine nearby, it mocked me more with a printed, “Transaction not honored.”

Part of me was fighting tears and the other part was fighting anger. So of course at this point is when I receive a text from my roommate, “By the way, our landlord is coming by for rent tonight.”

Were I in America it probably wouldn’t garner the same reaction, but there is something about being unable to access my money when in a foreign country that just makes me want to cry. When I’m in America the equivalent for me is when something happens to my vehicle. I think both are things I simply don’t know how to fix.

So as I fought my feelings, I did the only thing I could do – I thanked God the machine didn’t eat my card and headed back to the Metro to return home and try to contact my bank again.

Walking back through the Metro doors, I’m not sure why I looked but I did. The crowd had cleared, but as I gazed past a lone security guard I noticed it. A black body bag lay on the floor with a black bowler hat placed atop it.

The man had died.

Whoever he was, whatever happened, he had taken his last breath. A flood of questions filled my mind and with them a reminder of how short life really is. Time is precious, but do I truly live like I believe that?

Money is a huge issue for me, for most of us who are alive and breathing. Of the majority of my fears, most are somehow linked to dollar signs and the fear of lacking. (Some are tied to elevators and well you see how that has gone for me this past week too.)

When we find ourselves at the end of our days, it isn’t really going to matter how much money we do or don’t have. What will matter is what we did with the life we were given and if we spent our time following Christ. And often He simply doesn’t lead us to places that are comfortable, predictable, or in our control but He is still good, just and in control.

What are your biggest fears? How do you give them to God and trust Him with those areas?  How do you keep from taking the time God has given you for granted?

How An Elevator (or two) Caused Me to Question Eleanor Roosevelt

For a long time I have held Eleanor Roosevelt in high esteem, and I have always loved the following quote:

“We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.”

This evening I involuntarily had to stare down one of my biggest fears. I removed myself from my semi-warm blankets into the freezing evening air to go to our weekly Movie Club. After quickly shuffling from the metro stop to the university, I found myself rather out of breath and exhausted, so I did what I never do.

I took the elevator.

Mistake.

Huge mistake.

And so I found myself stuck in an elevator alone.

Soviet Elevator p hoto from Georgia
Soviet Style Elevator from the outside. Photo by David Hovey

As I fought the rising panic, I frantically searched for me cell phone and thanked God to see that I had reception since hitting the call button would do me little good with an inability to speak Russian/Ukrainian. I phoned one of our staff who proceeded to get the guys together to try helping.

After an unsuccessful attempt to open the doors, the guys talked to me through the door as Olya ran downstairs to the dezhurnaya on duty. Olya then served as my translator for what the lady said I should do.

Pressing buttons for another floor proved pointless.

Then she told me to jump, and even the thought made me give a very nervous cry. Did I mention I actually was crying by this point?

I jumped a little and the elevator dropped a few inches. She sounded more hopeful than I did that this was a good thing. Yet still the doors would not open and the big, all too cozy box refused to give up its hostage.

Finally she told me to hit the cancel button, press for the 14th floor and then the close doors button. Easy for her to say since if this didn’t work I would be the one suspended in an elevator shaft alone and 14 floors up instead of just 6.

However, I followed orders and on the 14th floor emerged tempted to kiss the university floor and vowing to never step foot in an elevator at Dragamonova the rest of my life.

The funny thing later was that tonight’s movie selection turned out to be What About Bob?. One of the first scenes is of Bob trying to get on an elevator but his fear gets the better of him and instead he climbs 44 flights to the psychiatrist’s office.

Arriving at my apartment, I talked myself into facing the fear and stepping into the elevator. I pressed 6 and it stopped on 3. Thinking maybe someone became tired of waiting and took the stairs, I pressed 6 again and it then opened at 4. Deciding not to press my luck, I walked the last two flights of stairs. Somehow the dark and menacing (not to mention frozen) stairwell seemed the better alternative tonight.

There is a good chance I will refuse to go out tomorrow… or at least refuse to go anywhere that requires an elevator.

And I’m no longer sure I agree with Eleanor. I do not feel that I’ve gained any strength, courage, and certainly not confidence by looking that fear in the face.

Sorry Eleanor, usually we agree.

Baby It’s Cold Outside Is An Understatement

today's temperature
Brrrrrr

Currently it is 11 a.m. in Kyiv and I’m indoors finishing a cup of Starbucks Via ©  and clothed in multiple layers. My phone informs me that outside it is -13 F and I’m trying to decide if I keep my word to show up at club today since it isn’t a club I usually attend or if I send word to the leader that I’ll drop in and see the students next week. I’m leaning towards the latter.

So far this week has been one of highs and lows, except the temperature which has just been low.

Sunday night I attended the Plastic Theatre here in Kyiv. It is a particular type of acting that uses only movement, props and music to communicate the story. Finally a theatre I can understand because there are no words!! Two of my students went with me to see The Little Prince, based on the French novella by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. (Here it is online in English if you’re curious about the story).

I enjoyed it very much after becoming accustomed to what made me think of dancing mimes. The costumes were wonderfully created and the theatre served free tea to help you warm up. The only thing that saddened me was that cameras were not allowed and there were several scenes that would have made excellent photos.

Tuesday afternoon I discovered that almost $700 was missing from my bank account, leaving me in the negative and unable to withdraw money. A serious issue anytime, but even more so with only about $5 in cash and rent being due this week.  By phone the bank was most unhelpful, leaving only “close the account” as my option after filing a claim. So I contacted mom who graciously dealt with the issue in person at the bank. Thankfully they have credited the money back to my account and are investigating the crime. I also quickly discovered how many good friends I have here in Ukraine who were willing to help until the issue resolved.

So after a horribly stressful afternoon, I left to meet up with my friend Clinton White. He is a former World Racer and has recently returned to western Ukraine as a missionary. Clinton helped show us around during my time in Kyiv as a Racer and it was nice to catch up over a dinner at TGIFridays ©. After dinner I went to a friends apartment to spend time with several of our students and graduates while being introduced to an old Russian comedy Operation Y.

Munchkin addiction
Ridiculous huh?

Shevchenko English Club started back yesterday. It was the students’ first day of classes for the semester so we only had about a dozen attendees, but we enjoyed a game of Apples to Apples © after a bit of discussion on how the first day back was treating each of them. One of the guys was given a surprise by parents who turned off his cell phone to let him sleep in not realizing it was the first day and so he was several hours late to university. Ooops! After club a few of us hung out and played several forms of the slightly addictive game Munchkin ©.

That is the week so far and I have officially been given permission to skip club today and worship practice has  been cancelled! Yayyy I don’t have to leave my flat!!!!