Arrrr!! This Week Aboard the Good Ship Shevchenko

Arrrrr!!!! Did ye know it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day today?

I’m not sure all me mateys at English club were aware either and so they been quite surprised with me speech and outfit.

Arrr! I be Cap’n Steph and these be me crew helpin’ run the good ship Shevchenko!



Would this make you nervous?

So today we talked in Pirate English, discussed some fact and fiction about pirates,  and I shared a North Carolina style Blackbeard legend.

There be a lot of pirates here. Not a bad lookin’ crew! Aye! Best be holdin’ on to yer gold.


Hopefully I didn’t scare too many people away from English club. I promised them a bit less crazy next week.

For those of you in America, I heard Krispy Kreme is giving away a free glazed doughnut if you go in talking like a pirate and a free dozen doughnuts if you come dressed as a pirate. Jealous! Please go enjoy a doughnut for ye matey!

The Beginning in Photos

Last week seemed like an unending marathon, filled with excitement and a lot of hydration to keep going. Photos are always fun so below are just a few from this past week and the beginning of our English clubs for the year.


The beginning of English club at Shevchenko University. We had 56 students for our first meeting!


Finding ways to engage everyone and not have chaos with a group this size is a bit of a challenge. We played a name tag game to get people into conversations and then had a little competition with Human Bingo.


Over half of the club last week were first year students. They seemed to greatly enjoy the club and we even saw a few of them later in the week at our Movie Club.


The first English club at KPI for the year. After a game of Have You Ever, we were doing some introductions. Many of these students are studying engineering and those other subjects with lots of math and science that makes my head spin.


Pete at the beginning of the KNLU club. Please pray for Pete and his family as he had to make an unexpected trip home to Canada this morning because his grandmother is not doing well.


Listening to directions for how to play Human Bingo


Last, but not least, our Friday night Movie club. Inna, one of our graduates and one of my close friends, is introducing the movie Big Fish.

Sometimes It Catches You By Surprise

Last year left me shaking like a leaf on a tree in the middle of a tornado.

First day of Shevchenko club 2011_2012
This was from the first day of club last year (2011). There were even more students this year!

So this time around I was determined to be more prepared. I had a plan. I had a backup plan.

Three minutes before the beginning of English club and I am looking at a room already filled nearly to capacity with maybe four familiar faces.

The deputy director walks through the door making  a beeline to my position. I’m not sure how she can so quickly and effortlessly cut through the crowd that reminds me of the Metro nearing rush hour, but I guess this special power comes with great authority.

Approaching she asks, “How did you get in here without me seeing you? I was waiting in the hall.”

I’m staring at a room full of strangers that I’m supposed to lead for the next hour and she wants to discuss my gift of invisibility?

I joke with her about practicing to be a ghost for Halloween. I’m not sure she’s amused. She informs me that she will introduce us to the students and then we are free to start. Well, I’m not about to argue with this woman.

An hour later and I am sitting in the cafeteria with a few girls that were free and willing to brave extra time with the native English speakers and excitedly they chat with us. New year. New faces. New friends. The joy and hardship of university ministry.

Two hours later as my teammates and I are walking away from the university en route to our next university, one of the guys asks if I realize that I didn’t freak out like last year even though there were more students this time.

Fifty-six students to be exact. That is just crazy, by the way.

And no I hadn’t noticed, but he was right. Last year I panicked, couldn’t talk and had Pete jump in to save the day as I silently mouthed “Pete. Help. Now.” from across the room. I was shaking for hours after and rather unhappy with God for my new position of leadership.

This time it was crazy, but it was fun. There was excitement in the air and the room was abuzz with conversations in English and people making new friends.  I was still nervous in the way one always is before a new venture before you sit back and just enjoy the ride.

One of the girls sent me this note on one of my social media sites today:

Dear Stephanie,
Thank you very much for this Wednesday classes. It was great and I am still under impression. I couldn’t even imagine that it would be so easy and funny just to get to know a girl or a boy I would never pay attention to going along the University corridors. And today we greet each other and smile to each other.
I had a great time and just can’t wait for next Wednesday.( But I know I must)))) Everything was just …perfect, amazing (I can’t even find the proper word)))))

It made me smile. It was encouraging. Students enjoyed the time and made some new acquaintances and so my goal for the day was met. And in the middle of it I found that I too have grown.

Who knows what the year ahead my bring!

Does growth ever catch you by surprise?

(Photos to come as soon as I get them from Pete. I was a little too occupied to take any pictures!)

No Running Allowed

There are days when I want an out. I want to run home to comfort and ease, sympathetic pets to hold and the smell of a home-cooked Southern style meal. Or maybe to time travel back to days of spontaneous songs created on a hunter green swing set beneath the old pecan tree with no responsibilities and the afternoon stretching into infinity, filled with endless opportunities for childlike wonder.

At times I want to argue with God and convince Him that He’s wrong, that He cannot possibly mean for me to be here, that surely my heart and mind deceived me. Acutely aware of my failures and fears, my sin and selfishness, it seems astonishingly imperceptive that He would call me to be a leader, to be (dare I say) a minister, to entrust me to speak into the lives of others. Some days I am overwhelmed  when the gravity of responsibility and the amount of trust involved alights upon my thoughts.

Track shoes
Photo by Lyn Belisle,

Part of me screams to run and hide, get away, get out NOW. Relationships are messy. Navigating questions and theology and life itself is difficult enough, but then to know others are watching, and seeking advice, and expecting leadership. Sometimes I just want to shout out, “I don’t know!” and be okay that I don’t know. Because it isn’t just some strangers, though occasionally it happens, but usually it is people I care deeply about and fear failing in some way or another. The  ones that trust and confide and I listen and pray and hope to God that I don’t say something stupid.

Those are moments when James Taylor’s voice cuts through announcing that I am going to “Carolina in My Mind”. You can carry on without me. Thank you.

But God knows I’m stubborn, and once in a while that is actually a good quality. He knows that, like it or not, I’m a bit sensitive and, seeing pain or hopelessness or fear or shame or any number of things in someone’s eyes can undo me in an instant. God understands my fears, all of them, but He doesn’t leave me there because of His crazy love and the fact that all of this is a lot bigger than me and my fear.

So I’ll go to bed tonight and by the grace of God awaken tomorrow. I will step out of my apartment into the streets of Kyiv. The smiles I pass along will brighten someone’s gloomy day. I will stand in front of a crowded room and lead English club and it will change someone’s life. I will have dinner with a friend and I trust that God will speak through me during our conversation. And who knows what else may happen.

Cookie for Your Thoughts

How would you respond if total strangers offered you a free cookie for your thoughts?

This week was the first week of university for students all over Ukraine. For our team, that meant going to different universities each day, passing out fliers and letting people know who we are and what we offer at their university.

So for a few hours each day, we set up a table, smiled and said “Hello”, received a lot of hilarious responses, and scared a number of students. Stretched across the table was a piece of paper with a large question in the middle and several colored pens scatter. The premise was simple: Answer the question and get a free cookie, which may have frightened some more than the English we spoke.

Some students excitedly approached the table, eager to hear all about us. Occasionally a few would walk past and then when curiosity got to them, or the words sank in, would turn around and come back. Most students looked at us either with great suspicion or wide-eyed terror or avoided eye contact at all cost, giving us a lot of laughs.

Possibly the quote of the week was:

“So what’s YOUR profit?”

She simply could not understand that we are not seeking to make money.

Nothing is ever free… right?

Who can blame her and the others who reacted similarly? Don’t most of us stare skeptically or just keep walking when someone offers something “FREE”, even if it is in our native language?

We instantly hear, “Nothing in life is free.” Or conditioned from years of commercials and advertisements that print out restrictions and exceptions in tiny letters no human could possibly read, we respond,  “Yeah sure, what’s the catch?”

It is a completely foreign concept to our students that we could just desire to do this to help them. That we would be willing to come and live in Ukraine, a country most of them want to get OUT of, and that we love it here and we do what we do because we love God and love students, well it doesn’t logically make sense.

And then it occurred to me…

Just how often this is our attitude with God too.

The gift of salvation and eternal life – Yep, that’s probably too good to be true.

Healing and miracles – There MUST be some trick here.

“I’ll never leave you or forsake you…” –  I’m not falling for that. You can’t trust anyone but yourself.

Many of us are skeptics to the core and I am included in that number. Our view of God is skewed by an infinite number of factors that all relate back to the problem of sin.
He is waiting with open arms to give us freedom from our bondage, having already paid the price for us, inviting us into His Kingdom to show others this love and we keep walking by believing we are better off without whatever craziness He is offering.

Me and my teammates laughed at the reactions we received time and time again this week. It was partially because we all know the feeling of being yelled at in a foreign language, especially when you least expect it. But I’m sure our reactions to God aren’t really laughable because it is over matters much more important than cookies and the English language.

I’ll give you a cookie for your thoughts
(well… whenever I get back to America)   😉

A Glimpse Into the Education System in Ukraine

Taras Shevchenko overlooking the university
A statue of Taras Shevchenko overlooking the university

Working with university students in Ukraine, I find myself keenly interested in what is happening in the realm of education for the sake of our students. After almost two years here I am still constantly baffled by how the education system works in this country.

Realities such as Saturday classes and paying bribes to pass are still completely foreign to my American background.

A few days ago I was having dinner with one of my roommates and she asked if I liked school. I received a look of disbelief when I told her how much I loved school as a kid, but it didn’t take me long to understand why.

As we talked about studies she told me how basically they just read and were lectured, expected to memorize loads of information, and it was almost all theory and no practical. No wonder students hate school and it seems university isn’t any better.

The Kyiv Post released several articles this week on education in Ukraine and I wanted to share with you. If you have the opportunity to read these, I believe it will help you understand a little better how to pray for our students.

The first article is Ukraine leads way in student cheating. It shows the contrast of American schools and Ukrainian ones on the subject of cheating from the perspective of one girl who did a foreign exchange program. In Ukraine she attended Shevchenko University and had this to say:

“Cheating was so advanced at Shevchenko University that it amounted to organized crime.”
Quote from Maryna Irkliyenko

Shevchenko University is where I lead English Club every week and is considered to be one of the most prestigious universities in Ukraine.

The second article, Poor University Choices Lead to Career Woes in Ukraine, has many more statistics and percentages and harder to get through if you tend to zone out with lots of numbers like I do, but it still caught my eye with the following:

“At present, many young Ukrainians go to universities to get any diploma, basing their choice not on personal skills or prospects, but rather availability at popular institutions.”

I’ve talked to many students the past couple of years that really do not care for the subject they are studying. It just happens to be the course of study that they were accepted into and changing your course of study is much more complicated than just walking into an office and signing some forms so they simply muddle through.

The task of being in university has challenges no matter where you are on the planet, but if you have the opportunity to read through these articles I believe it will give you a glimpse into what the students I work with are dealing with on a daily basis.

Monday was the beginning of the 2012-2013 university year for our students. Please be in prayer for them as they face the pressures of university and pray for us as we speak into their lives.

Leadership Lessons with Papa Jethro: Part Three

As Christians, I believe we are each called to be leaders. Now some of us don’t like being in such a position and have no desire to be, but it doesn’t change the fact that we are leaders.

In light of this, I have been looking at a few lessons I picked up from Jethro’s conversation with Moses in Exodus 18:13-27. So far we have talked about leaders being those who listen and leaders as those willing to intercede for those they serve.

Lesson #3: Leaders Must Teach AND Model for Their Followers

“And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.” Exodus 18:20

As a child, I hated morning. (Some things never change) But to make matters worse, I knew that every single morning I would walk into the kitchen and Grandpa would be slurping coffee from his dark brown mug and reading aloud from his tattered King James Bible.

When I was a kid, it seemed like torture. King Jimmy isn’t exactly kid friendly after all. Now that I’m older though, I return to it as not just a precious memory but also a reminder.

There was no question in our household that God was to be an important part of everyday life. It was essential to know the Word of God, and so why wouldn’t you start your day there. Prayer was also important and often I would watch Grandpa wander off into the forest behind the house and hear him crying out to God for himself and his family.

Grandpa was a leader and I was his shadow. I followed him when I could and watched him constantly. I was his “Sweetie Pie” and he was always teaching me and modeling to me a lifestyle built around faith and trust in God. Many of those lessons I find myself returning to over and over now that I’m an adult.

More Than Just a Demonstration

Up until this point Moses had handled all these problems on his own. People would come daily to him, tell about what was happening and he would one by one instruct them (Ex. 18:13-15). That’s not just a lot of responsibility, it’s exhausting and quite inefficient.

This is why it is important that teaching and modeling go together. Moses had instructed people about the laws of God, but they all needed to be taught and to be shown what it was to practically walk it out.

We have all heard it and probably agree that, “Actions speak louder than words.” Right?

Modeling is more than just demonstrating something It opens up dialogue. It invites questions. It says, “Let me come alongside you and walk this out with you until you are able to do this because I believe that you are capable of doing this too.”

Are You Investing?

Teaching and modeling both require lots of time when done well, but it is an investment in the future, an investment in others.

I am blessed that this is a focus in the ministry I volunteer with. Yes, I help students learn English by teaching them things like idioms and slang, but the bigger focus is modeling a lifestyle of living for Christ every day. Helping students move from a place of being fearful to speak to a place of helping to lead Bible study groups is more than enough reward for the time investment. Not only are they learning, but they are becoming leaders themselves and influencing others.

Can you think of someone who was a teacher and model for you? Maybe you could send them a note of thanks and let them know the influence they had on your life. What can you take from that and share with others?

How are you investing in the lives of those you lead? What are you modeling for them?

Mission Complete

Summer English Camp was a great week, as always. We were blessed to have about 60 students to build relationships with and practice English. This year’s camp was spy themed and I think we all had quite a bit of fun with spy missions and games added to the normal camp chaos.

I am still really at a loss for what to say about camp, so below is our final slideshow from camp so you can SEE some of the special moments of the week. If you can spare about 11 minutes of your day, I think you’ll enjoy the peek into the world of CCX camp.

Summer is over for us and university classes begin today. Please pray for us as we have a big week ahead of events and meeting students, followed next week by the beginning of clubs. Please also pray for me, I’m sick and trying not to overdo it as I fight off a nasty cold.