The Dad's Have Arrived!

After 36 exhausting hours of international travel, our dads arrived at the Hope Center 2am Thursday morning.  Thank you for the prayers!  They made all their connections (amazing since 1/2 of the trip was via standby) and made it through Ukrainian immigration without any hassles!  Other than trying to adjust to the 7-9 hour time change, they are doing great.  We are so excited to have them here and ask you to continue to pray for this next week.  There is so much we would love to do and accomplish but such little time.  Campbell had a big smile when he saw Pops and Grandpa and loves showing them and telling them (in his very serious babble) about everything here.  We will keep you posted on the upcoming adventures! 


Happy Birthday Mimi!

As has been our recent tradition, all grandparents get a little homage on their birthday and Mimi is no exception.  We go back a long way, she and I.  The earliest memory that I can recall off-hand is running home with her in my bare feet after having tripped during a walk to the elementary school.  I can still remember that though I ground off half of my face on the sidewalk, she seemed decidedly more upset than I felt.  This is what characterizes my life with my mom - compassion, empathy and sensitivity.  Even when I needed discipline, I always knew that it was a task that she loathed, but must do.  Despite my reputation (I assume), I inherited or learned much of this sensitivity (whether I wanted it or not).

Even with a touch of her in me, I still found it odd how emotional my mom could be about things that seemingly had no impact on her personally.  Over the years, I've come to realize that it is her gift.  She may have as close to the heart of Christ as I've ever seen in a human.  She unselfishly rejoices with strangers, she hurts for distant pain and she weeps for the injustice in this fallen world.  She feels EVERYTHING so much more intensely than I do and I love her for that.  If you have ever met my mom, you know this is true.

Ukraine is country where people can seem pretty cold in public (by American standards and I cannot wait for her to come visit.  The contrast will be so stark as she positively beams the love of Christ from her like a beacon.  They won't be able to resist her charm, her smile, her servant's heart or her giving spirit.

I love you Mommy, see you soon!


Why I Went to College... (and Big Igor)

I spent most of my working life prior to college doing manual labor.  I started by pulling down the glamourous gig of whipping-boy at a fencing (not dealing in stolen goods) company right out of high school.  Not only did I recieve the adoration commensurate with such a position, I also earned the princely wage of $4.25/hour, cash money - more than $2 below the minimum wage in those days.  Since then, I've also been fortunate enough to land such empire-building jobs as industrial painter's assistant, popcorn boy at a movie theater, warehouse chump, temporary laborer, and landscaper (with an incongruous stint as a part-time receptionist) until I lowered myself to accepting a degree in history from the University of Colorado @ Colorado Springs.

I took that supposedly valuable piece of card stock and moved into my second attempt as a warehouseman with Global Action.  Despite being forced into the office (I'm taking artistic license with facts here) for some period, I have finally returned to my first love...digging ditches.
We needed to run about 60 meters worth of 30-inch deep trench to lay electrical cable for 2 new outdoor lights in a dark corner of camp.  The real trick was the rather substantial tree (and the accompanying roots) that stood exactly between the two new light posts.  Everyone here is perplexed by my Lenco West coveralls that say Tim on the pocket, but I know they're just jealous.

All the boys were on the job this week.

Campbell gets to come out and play with the guys sometimes.  Today he was frustrated to discover that neither his drill nor his wrench would be very useful in our particular task.

This is unfortunately the last day that I will be able to work with my buddy Igor.  Tomorrow I will be taking him with me to Simferopol when I pick up Sarah's and my dads.  He is moving back there to take an HVAC job and be closer to his girlfriend.  He was given the nickname Hercules by work team members due to his truly amazing physical strength and he's not a bad shot with a pellet gun either!  I'll miss you, мои друг.


Like "Rudy" but better

If you have ever played, watched, read about, listened to or otherwise enjoyed a sport of any kind (for the sake of argument, I'll even include baseball in this one), you MUST read Aaron's post about the recent Liverpool-Havant and Waterlooville match.  Even if you have never given soccer or any other sport a second's thought, you will enjoy the sheer feel-good nature of this post...


I have rediscovered football

I have been without televised coverage of Liverpool since my move to Kerch and the Ukrainian league are the midst of their 3 month winter break (literally) so I was surprised when Jenya joyously announced that top flight football had returned this week.  The Channel 1 Cup is currently being played in Israel with entrants Shakhar Donetsk, Dynamo Kiev, CSKA and Spartak Moscow, Red Star Belgrade and Beitar Jeruselum.  The play is high enough quality for me and I have enjoyed the games nearly every night this week at 8pm sharp.  I have thus far seen both of the Ukrainian teams play twice each and I have decided who will be my local club...
Shakhtar Donetsk (written Шахтар Донецк in Russian and pronounced Shakhteur Donyetsk) has seized my attention and won't let go.  Earlier in the week, they thrashed Beitar 3-0 and tonight have just dismantled CSKA Moscow 3-1.  Here is what I love about this club:

  • They play energetic, coordinated defense with a lot of strong back-line players that make an impact up front on set pieces.  These defenders are also terrific passers with a soft touch in controlling the ball.
  • Their midfield has many take-aways due to pure guile and hustle.  In both games they gave their opponents fits trying to get across the mid-line.
  • They are fierce on the counter-attack.  Frequently after an opponent's attack is stifled, the central defenders kick the ball the the wide backs who either redirect up the sidelines to their wingers or send a well-placed lob to the central midfielders or strikers.
  • The offensive component of their team is almost entirely comprised of young Brazilians.  They pass through the midfield fluidly with nifty, one-touches and once they are in the box, they are unselfish and heads-up for available teammates...A thing of beauty!
Add to these the fact they are the Pittsburgh Steelers of Ukrainian football (working class with a storied history) and that I can go see them play in Simferopol this spring for $5-$8 a seat...

If any of you are coming in the spring, maybe I could coordinate seeing a game.

Election 2008: Is McCain the man?

Earlier today I made a comment on a great post by Aaron regarding the upcoming election.  He pointed us to a poll which by answering a series of questions, you can determine the candidate with which you most agree.  Since I haven't done much in the way of election commentary (mainly out of indifference), I thought I might expound upon my thoughts.  Because I'm lazy and I think I stated my point rather well the first time, I'll just stick it here:
I noticed that the poll itself is originally from Minnesota Public Radio.  Not that I dislike the programming on public radio (ie. NPR) but if it was high enough quality (as most advocates claim) it should stand on it's own merits in the market.  Quality is created through fair competition and Public Radio is avoiding that issue by being funded (though not entirely) by our tax money.  Advocates also claim that NPR is good hedge against the rest of talk radio, which is largely conservative.  I think that this is one tiny step away from admitting to the opposite bias.  If I concede that the programing plays it straight, the management certainly doesn't.

I only mention this because it is possible to "fix" a poll.  Any opinion poll's results can be skewed by which, how and even the order in which questions are asked.  In this case it can be double fixed because both the candidate and the perspective voter are answering potentially skewed questions.

I am not saying that this is the case here or that John McCain isn't the closest candidate to my position but we disagree on quite a few important issues.  What I do know is that I am pretty darn conservative and I don't see McCain that way at all.  I would rank Romney's current positions as more conservative, but it depends on which source you use to determine where a candidate stands.

I may do a full post on this issue later today....

So here's the rest of my thoughts:

As an interesting exercise, I retook the poll as a Ghingis Khan (or Jinjis Khan if you prefer John Kerry's pronunciation) conservative just to see what would show up.  The poll also allows you to rate how strongly you feel about each answer that you give.  I actually didn't change many of my answers but I did rate everything as VERY important to me.  Strangely enough I still got John McCain.  I am not prepared to claim that there is a link between this result and the fact the "Big Mac" has been endorsed at the acceptable Republican by several liberal mainstream media outlets, but it is an interesting coincidence.

What I found odd - much as Aaron's other commenters did - was who else I was paired with on given issues.  As I suspected, I still disagree with McCain on immigration and I am closer to loony Ron Paul than before.  However, I am apparently more in line with every remaining Democratic candidates on the issue of "marriage" than I am to Romney and Huckabee, the 2 most openly religious people in the race.  The question was regarding whether I agree or disagree with a federal constitutional amendment limiting marriage to 1 man/1 woman.  I think that this is a fairly small component of being pro-traditional marriage and I seriously doubt it accurately places me with a candidate on the issue.  I guarantee that Huckabee and Romney will represent my apprehension about the militant gay movement and its attack on marriage far better than any Democratic candidate.

I also find it suspicious that McCain's real albatrosses when it comes to garnering conservative support are left untouched.  McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform of 2002 is the greatest single limitation to free political speech in my voting lifetime and decidedly NOT conservative and this is not a small issue to most Republicans.  Additionally, the core of our difference on his handling of the immigration debate are not limited to that issue - it was his disregard for the views and wishes of his constituents, the Republican majority and the country at-large.  He did the same thing on the nomination process for qualified federal judges.  I admire his dedication to principles (and obviously his heroic military service to our nation), but it is it those principles with which I fear I disagree.

MPR's possible shenanigans with the poll may be directly or indirectly linked to the fact that McCain is unlikely to develop significant support among rank and file GOP voters (thereby aiding any Dem candidate) and was even linked with a perspective move across the isle early last year.  I am going to try to arrange a YouTube embed (admittedly put out by the ultra-rich Romney campaign) that shows a cavalcade of media regarding McCain's problems among conservatives and his flirtation with the Democrats.

In conclusion, MPR is not necessarily playing with their poll, but it seems that no matter what you believe as a Republican, John McCain's your guy.  If you have some free time, try to play with this poll a little and see if you can find any other weird results.

I have yet to endorse anyone - and really have no right to do so since I was lazy and don't think I can vote in the Colorado primaries from Ukraine - but I will vote for any of the major Repubs over all the Dems in November.

Election 2008: McCain Video

This video is an addendum to the other Election 2008 post...

Compassion Won!

Thanks to all of you who may have voted in the MySpace Impact Awards for Compassion International.  I'm a little behind, but I wanted to let you all know that voting ended Thursday and they won!  It's a great organization and the exposure is always good.


Out of order Fact of the Day: Crimean Tartars

This post may end up being long, but it explores an interesting part of Crimean (the peninsula/region in which we live) history that is extremely relevant to our current ministry in Kerch.  Above is the flag of the self-proclaimed independent nation of Crimean Tatars.  Their history is interwoven with that of Ukraine for the past 900 years and is as pertinent today as it was in the 1200's.  The story of the Tatars is extremely complex and polarizing, thus I have tried to look into it from different points of view, both written and anecdotal.  I'm not the biggest fan of Wikipedia but you may want to use it to get the basic idea on any unfamiliar terms.

First, the Crimean Tartars are a mostly Turkic (not to be confused with TurkISH), muslim people who live predominantly in Crimea (though this is actually their second attempt at populating the area).  They currently make up about 10% of the peninsula's population but this number will continue to increase due to migration and a significantly higher birth rate than the Russian and Ukrainian population.

Tatar roots in Europe can be traced back to the Mongol invasion in the middle of the 13th century (aka the 1200's).  Despite its name, this invasion was not entirely Mongolian in nature.  It is the common historical title given to a period of intense violent migration of nomadic Central Asian peoples to Eastern and Central Europe.  The westernmost portion of this empire was largely Turkic Muslims and they (along with some Caucasian Muslim converts) are the forbearers of the modern Tatars.  As the Mongolian empire collapsed under its own weight (as all empires eventually do) in the 15th century, the nobles in Crimea created an independent "Khanate" under Haci Giray.  Though it was quickly rolled into the greater Ottoman Empire as a protectorate, it maintained a great deal of autonomy and its power grew.  This was so much the case, that Crimean Tatars actually seized and burned Moscow in 1571.  Much of this strength was due to the financial success of their slave trade.  An estimated 3 million Ukrainians, Russians, Pols and Belarusians were seized and sold to the Muslim world.
Tatar fortunes turned in the mid-1700's as Russia increased in power and influence, until Crimea was taken militarily (see my post on Yenikale) and the Ottomans ceded their authority.  It has since been part of the Russian-speaking world.

There are a handful of interesting events that occurred in Russian Crimea between 1774 and the Second World War (including a steady stream of Tatar immigration from Crimea), but for our purposes the turning point came after the defeat of the Nazis in Europe.  In 1944, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin acted with sweeping power to punish the Tatars for the portion of their population that collaborated with the invading Germans.  All Tatars were forcefully and brutally relocated to the predominately Muslim central Asian Soviet Republics.  Upon the collapse of the USSR and creation of Ukraine's independent government, the opportunity for the Tatars to return presented itself.  In the 1990's the government of Ukraine officially invited the entire displaced Tatar community to return to Crimea

Here are the points of controversy:

I have been told that this invitation was issued by the Ukrainian government as a ploy to decrease the power of the pro-Russian contingent of the population that comprises the vast majority of Crimea (and the rest of eastern Ukraine).  There is currently a power struggle between the pro-western, Ukrainian-speaking portion of the country and that portion that is almost entirely Russian (in identity, language, loyalty, culture, ethnicity and sometimes even citizenship).  Here in Kerch most people are the latter and are not supportive of President Victor Yushchenko or the coalition that he represents.  I would not be surprised if for this reason they attribute underhanded, ulterior motives to the official repatriation invitation.

In Ukraine all land is owned by the state, thus we own the Hope Center buildings, but lease the land.  In areas such as Yalta and Simferopol, the Tatars have returned and built a multitude of what look like stone outhouses on very valuable land.  Though this sounds like squatting on public property, their laws state that an existing building cannot be razed, even if its owner doesn't have permission to be there.  This makes the Tatars (they think of this as community property) the de facto owners of this land.  I haven't figured out how they avoid paying for the property but I've been told that their goal is to combine small plots into larger parcels and build hotels or businesses.  This gives them a significant funding base from which to draw for lobbying cash ($ -the official language of Ukrainian politics).  Their stated goal is to eventually recreate the Crimean Khanate (under Sharia Law) via whatever means available.  I've been told by intelligent people here that within the next 20 years, Crimea will follow in the footsteps of Kosovo and Chechnya.  Tatars are immigrating to this region as an impressive rate and as previously mentioned, they are reproducing much faster than the non-Muslim population.

My interest in these people is derived from our constant contact with them in our programs.  Whereas most people within Kerch are Russian, the villages in which much of our compassionate outreach programs are conducted are (estimated) 70% Tatar.  Despite their unique heritage, I am still unable to distinguish an identified Russian from a Tatar.  The former Soviet Union was an EurAsian empire which intermingled people groups from Germany to China, yielding a wide variety of characteristics in those that call themselves Russian (or Ukrainian).  Add to this the fact that a Tatar might be a descendant of an eastern European convert to Islam and it makes the distinction very difficult.

Now that you know the history (those of you that actually read this monstrosity of a post) I hope that in the future when I mention the Tatar community of Crimea, you will have better understanding of the background.  I will endeavor to update or correct this basic overview as I learn more.


Congrats Timmy and Suzy!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, our good friends Timmy and Suzy just had a little baby girl last Tuesday at 4:23PM.  Here is the first shot that I have gotten of beautiful Evie Marie Sherman posing with her daddy and her first rifle.  Of course I love it because she is clearly a cutie and she has nearly the exact rifle that I chose for myself! 


Vote for Compassion!

I just heard from Marshall that MySpace is conducting a poll of organizations involved in poverty relief with the top vote-getter receiving a $10,000 gift and Compassion International is one of the 3 finalists.  It is part of their Impact Awards and according to Marsh, MySpace members can vote once a day for the duration of the contest.  I personally find MySpace to be a reprehensible cesspool of moral decay (my departure from it was the impetus for this blog) but I know many people enjoy it.  I have an "inside man" that tells me that a representative of Compassion will be the next guest on Ryan Dobson's Korcast to discuss the organization itself.  I would encourage you to listen to Ryan and Marshall and, if you are a reprobate MySpace member, to vote early, vote often.


More Shoeboxes!

Here are some more pictures of us giving Operation Christmas Shoeboxes to some children at a school in a nearby village outside of Kerch.  This little boy was told to run home to tell his brother, who was home sick with a fever, that we had one for him as well.  He took off as fast as his little legs would carry him...

...to this little neighborhood down the road.  We had to wait out by the road because we weren't sure where they lived.

Before long 2 little boys came running out to our car.  The sick brother must have been so excited to come that he didn't have time to put on the coat that his brother is holding.   

I think he had his dad's galoshes on too!

Next stop was to another neighborhood a few miles away.  This family has 9 total so along with a few boxes we decided to give them the food we had left over from the lunch we served at the school.  At the risk of revealing too much, I must share that this is a desperately needy and troubled family.  Lack of income and poor lifestyle choices make this warm meal and the belated Christmas gifts one of the few bright spots in these children's difficult lives.


Sad News From Kerch

It came to our attention yesterday that there had been an accident involving one of the teens that comes to our Saturday community education classes.  Apparently he and 6 other boys died when they attempted to walk on the ice from the Crimean mainland to Tuzla Island in the middle of strait and all fell through.  I have been trying to get the full story on this situation (which isn't always easy with the language barrier) but at this point we are asking that you pray for the families and friends who have lost their loved ones.


After a half-dozen different versions, I think I have the real story.  I have been reliably informed by a friend who grew up in Kerch but now goes to college in the northern city of Kharkiv that it was only 2 boys that died though they have not yet recovered the body of one of them.  One was from the church that most of the HC staff attend and the memorial service will be on Tuesday.  We are relieved that the loss of life was not as high as was originally feared but the tragedy is no less devastating for those affected.  Please continue to pray.


An American Ex-Pat's Plea for Information

It has now been 3 days since our friend's Tim and Sue were going in to be induced.  Since many of you that read this also know them, please let me know if you have heard anything...how the birth went, weight, height and most importantly, her NAME!  Any news would be good.  Thanks!

Wow, I beat you all!  Here's the announcement-


We came to the hospital Monday morning to be induced anticipating a baby quickly.  To our surprise, baby was a little reluctant to come.  Finally, on Tuesday afternoon at 4:23, Evie (pronounced 'E-V') Marie decided to join us!  She weighed 7lbs. 8 oz. and was 20 1/2" long.  She is so wonderful!!

Yesterday the doctor had a few health concerns, so she is now being monitored and is receiving some antibiotics.  We will know a little more tomorrow and will try and keep everyone up to date.  For now, we would appreciate your prayers for all of us involved!

Thanks for your love and support.  We can't wait for you to meet her!

Tim & Sue

Congrats Timmy and Suzy!  We can't wait to meet her either!


Ukraine's Gun Control and Hunting

I know of at least a handful of people who read this who are fellow hunters and/or gun enthusiasts so I thought I might inform you about what I've learned regarding these subjects since arriving in Ukraine.  From what I can tell, hunting in Europe is available, particularly in the more heavily forested nations.  The more common and (as you can imagine from the above photo) desirable game animal is the European Red Deer.  The species is sub-divided into eastern and western varieties, of which we supposedly have the larger, eastern type here in Crimea.  Apparently this is one of the larger deer species and actually rivals the elk in size.

Regarding gun laws, a pastor friend told me that everyone can legally own 2 smoothbore weapons, but I have not clarified whether this is a national law or one limited to Crimea which is a nearly autonomous region.  This means that one can own any variety of shotgun (or probably musket) which presumably precludes limitations such as barrel length, type of grip or even magazine capacity (if you are interested why this is surprising, check out the AK-styled Saiga shotguns).  I have to believe that in town it is uncommon to own firearms, but in the villages I can see them being fairly common.  With ownership of rifled firearms (ie. any modern pistol or rifle) being illegal, hunting is probably a challenge, particularly when the game is not as common as in North America.  None of this really affects me since as a foreigner so I'm sure I'm prohibited from owning any guns and if I could, I couldn't afford one anyway.  

The late-breaking news is that I will get a chance to do a little pest-control hunting as the camp is overrun with what I think are crows (they may be ravens; for clarification on the difference, ask Marshall) and I have been entrusted with at least 1 and maybe 2 pellet guns.  I expect this to be an interesting challenge as both crows and ravens are pretty clever, have good eyesight and my maximum range is less than 40 yards.  Tomorrow morning I will get geared up in my camo (yes, I brought some because they are rugged and warm) and out early; much in the same way I am for turkey.  So this is my hunting and will have to accept what I can get.


Our son's personality quirks

In the past few days Sarah has tried diligently to capture most of Campbell's funny things on tape.  She succeeded in getting about half of them and not always his best version but I pulled together what we have into montage of his quirks.  We were frustrated not to capture him saying "cool" which sounds more like "keeeeewl" when he says it, but maybe on a later video.  Hope you find these almost as funny as we do.

I also wanted to add a picture of him wearing his mandatory (according to all Ukrainians) cold weather tights.  They're a cozy mix of thick wool socks and pantyhose and make him look fabulous.  In this shot he's helping wash dishes which in not nearly as helpful as one would hope.


Walk on the Ocean

As a total non-sequitur, I have been trying to ascertain what topics draw people to our blog lately and using a semi-popular song title as the headline for a post seems as good a method as any (thus far my main successes have been the use of a Mexican flag and the Barclays Premier League logo).

On to the main topic....

Sunday the weather finally broke here in Kerch and the mercury hit a balmy +12 C which is mid-40s F.  After an extended stretch of highs in the teens, this seemed like paradise.  We decided to take a walk down by the sea, which we knew was still frozen.  It seemed that we weren't the only ones with this thought and for the first time since we arrived, we heard people laughing and joking in public!  We got a chance to walk on frozen salt water (not that common in Colorado) and get a few pictures as the sun set behind the hills.  Strangely, the ships still navigate the strait (I don't yet know if it remains clear in the middle or they must break through the ice) and the growl of their diesels could be heard reverberating across the miles of ice.  Here's a few shots of our short-lived day at the beach.

Sarah just loved how the sea water froze with such unique patterns.

Cam didn't look at excited as I'm sure he felt.

This is easily the most romantic image that I have of Kerch to date.  You can't tell but the couple are holding hands and seem quite infatuated.

This is just funny cause it looks like their dancing.

Defamation of War Veterans...Again

I know that I haven't done much on politics or the war in Iraq recently but I just caught this on Powerline and coupled with a recent conversation with Mark from Baghdad, I thought it was fitting to pass on.  The gist of this piece is that it analyzes the claims in a story that the New York Times ran on Sunday regarding violent returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  Basically the make generalizations (sprinkled with some specifics) regarding some 121 cases nationwide of war veterans being involved in either homicide or manslaughter since the 2001.

The truly damning portion of the piece is excerpted below, but I encourage you to follow the above link and read the entire piece.  I hope it will be blatantly obvious why papers like The Times are losing readership at a startling rate

"Do the math: the 121 alleged instances of homicide identified by the Times, out of a population of 700,000, works out to a rate of 17 per 100,000--quite a bit lower than the overall national rate of around 27.

But wait! The national rate of 27 homicides per 100,000 is an annual rate, whereas the Times' 121 alleged crimes were committed over a period of six years. Which means that, as far as the Times' research shows, the rate of homicides committed by military personnel who have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan is only a fraction of the homicide rate for other Americans aged 18 to 24. Somehow, the Times managed to publish nine pages of anecdotes about the violence wreaked by returning servicemen without ever mentioning this salient fact."


Happy Birthday Dad!

So today is my dad's birthday and it's time for another tribute.  Earlier today Matt and I listened to a very good podcast by Donald Miller (speaking at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids Nov 11th).  I highly recommend listening to it.  In one part of his message he talks about our life story and whether or not it would make a good movie.  What makes a great hero is someone you can respect... someone who proves themselves in the midst of hardship... someone who doesn't have the perfect life but puts others before themselves.  This got me thinking about my dad's story.  He'd make a great hero.  He's faced many battles in his life and proven himself faithful to his family and to his God.  At the time it probably seemed monotonous and boring, but my dad was faithful to bring home a paycheck so we could eat and have a house over our head.  Sometimes this included driving 3 hours a day to get to and from work, and sometimes it meant staying with grandma during the week and coming home to us on the weekends.  My dad always made sure we knew right from wrong and probably saved us from more than we realize by pointing out the lies that the enemy tries to get us to buy into.  He has always been faithful to his wife and to us as a family saving us from all kinds of hurt and pain that so many families go through.  I have fond memories of my dad bringing home salted bagels, bottled soda, a rented VCR and movies for a fun family night.  My dad has instilled the value of family traditions (although we've messed that all up with spreading out across the country and now world) which will now pass on to many generations.  Thanks dad for being the hero in our family.  I see so many broken families and think what a blessing it has been to have grown up in the stable and (not perfect) but very loving family we have.  I attribute that to you and mom following in God's lead.  Now that my dad is a grandpa and "retired" we've gotten to see a very fun side of him.  We love going down in grandpa's basement to play pool, ping pong, and air hockey!  Thanks again dad for giving your life up for us... many other people could say the same and that's a great legacy to leave.  We love you so very much and wish you a HAPPY BIRTHDAY!


Liverpool Drops More Points

Liverpool FC has yet to bring home a victory in 2008 despite their last 4 opponent's average Premier League rank of 25th.   I know that sounds impossible in a 20-team league, but I place FA Cup team Luton Town at 66th by virtue of the fact that they are on the verge of relegation to League 2 (3 levels below the Premiership).  Even without counting that game, LFC's last three draws have been against teams that rank 7th, 17th and 14th at the end of play today.  Ok, to today's results...

Liverpool 1 - Middlesbrough 1
I was only able to listen to about 25 minutes of the second half of this game live, but by the sound of the announcer, the Reds were absolutely horrible for no less than 60 minutes of this game.  Boro isn't the easiest place to go grab a win, but these are the games we must win if we plan to qualify for next year's Champions League.  Middlesbrough started off scoring as George Boateng netted in the 26th minute and they looked like they were off to the races.  LFC brought on expensive but little used Dutchman Ryan Babel at the half but it wasn't until Spanish star Fernando Torres struck in the 70th that we looked like we even had a chance at a result.  Unlike against Luton, this squad was nearly as good on paper as any that the Reds can field and it is this that has me concerned.

Here's the round up of the rest of the games:

Arsenal 1 - Birmingham 1
Aston Villa 3 - Reading 1
Chelsea 2 - Tottenham 0
West Ham Utd 2 - Fulham 1
Everton 1 - Man City 0
Derby County 0 - Wigan 1
Man U 6 - Newcastle 0


I still love my Dickies belt

This post is a first for my blog.  In all of my previous 148 posts (I just checked that number) I have never reused a photo from a previous post.  That will all change today...

Once again, here is the Pulitzer Prize-winning shot of my own belt buckle, previously used in a feeble post on March 18th of last year.  In that post I extol the virtues of this fine $12 belt and hope that I can come up with some equally worthy thoughts.  After 9+ months and over 100 posts, I now have those sentiments...

Today I was asked to go across the street with Andrey, Sergey and Yuri (which could be anyone as those are the only 3 names available here) to bring a defective hospital bed back to camp.  The bed was donated as part of our ongoing humanitarian aid distributions, which are largely medical in nature.  We arrived to find that this bed is a hydraulic-type lift bed for which the head end doesn't lift, leaving the patient nearly upside down.  Obviously this won't do, so we start wheeling it towards the stairs to return it to the Hope Center.  Though most of the hospital has wide, double doors for obvious reasons, we came to one that was only a single.  This meant having to lower the bed all the way down and flip it onto its side to clear the frame.  Unfortunately every time that we tried this, the hydraulics that were still functional, once relieved of the weight of the bed, proceeded to expand sideways.  Being without rope, we opted to stand around and discuss in rapid Russian - or at least 3 of us did - how to negotiate this door and the flight of stairs that lay beyond.

This is when the Lord brought to mind my wonderful Dickies belt and that it had faithfully held my pants up for close to a year.  To the mild surprise of the guys and a random babushka, I proceeded to theatrically whip off my belt (having no better way to propose my newly conceived plan) in the middle of the hospital hallway.  Quickly seeing the merit to my idea, Andrey and Yuri followed suit (to the growing consternation of the babushka) and soon we had securely belted the bed to its frame, rendering its pesky hydraulics immobile.

After having gotten through the door, downstairs and outside without any Super Bowl-esque wardrobe malfunctions, we were able to reclaim our belts.  At this point Yuri, who has a reputation as a gruff, no-nonsense kind of guy, was profuse in his praise of my problem-solving skills.  He went so far as to ask if I had previously been involved in road construction...(I don't know what that means either but despite the horrendous roads here, he seemed to make the suggestion in a complimentary manner so I will accept it as such).

After the fact, I realized that this single incident will probably be the lens through which all of Yuri's further dealings with me are viewed.  I have passed some vague, undefined test in his book and henceforth we will be much more like peers in the facilities arena (plumbing and electrical excluded) than I ever thought would be possible this early in my tenure.

Just a funny story that I thought I'd share...


I like to share my shortcomings

Recently Sarah and I had been feeling like our apartment was getting colder - despite the heaters being maxed - as the weeks went by but suspected that it was due to the lowering of outdoor temperatures and was unavoidable.  This prompted us to double up on Cam's pj's at night and Sarah to start crocheting a blanket for our bed.  We had sort of despaired of ever feeling comfortable until April by the time our camp jack-of-all-trades Yuri came by yesterday for a routine cleaning of the heater filters (a job that I really should have done earlier).

As it turns out, there is a deep secret to HVAC...no air IN means no HOT air OUT!  After about 10 minutes we had to turn the thermostat down and have been doing so incrementally for the past day and a half.  Just thought you might like to know that usually the most obvious answer is the right one...


Operation Christmas Child Distributions

If you ever wondered what happens to those shoe boxes after you loyally plop them on the table at your church, please allow me to enlighten you...
First they apparently come to a huge warehouse/storage facility in some centrally located city, like this one in Simferopol.  Andrey and I spent the better part of a day picking up the 6-700 shoeboxes that we would be distributing this year around Kerch.  The ice crystals in air really impart the feeling of being there (this picture was actually my second try as my first effort was frustrated by the cloud of my breath in the middle of the shot).

Then the boxes go to some smaller location to be sorted into gender and age group catagories by ultra-hot volunteers like Sarry.  

Then they are laid out to be distributed to the individual children.  Usually this is done in conjunction with some sort of additional program - in our case, a Christmas play.  The plot of this drama was something like "Alice in Wonderland" meets "The Grinch"....it may have lost something in the translation...which I didn't have.
Which predictably can become a bit of a mad-house.  These children came straight out of the auditorium and into our waiting arms.  Here our camp superstar (and former vocational school student) Dima helps the little girls get exactly the right gift.

In the end everyone goes home happy - which is hard to catch on film as they are usually really serious when a stranger sticks a camera in their face.  This little squirt knew me previously from an earlier visit to his orphanage so he was fully willing to pose for this shot.

I must say that it was comforting to see that the turf battles that are so tempting between US Christian agencies were nowhere to be found, despite there being 2 different ministries involved in this.  

Liverpool Results

In case any of you were worried that I may have given up on following some good ol' European-style kickball (aka. soccer), I want to put that fear to rest with an update on my chosen side.  Liverpool has given me some euphoric times and some low moments so here's a review.

In late November, LFC found themselves in a precarious situation vis-a-vis the Champions League group stage.  The CL is a tournament of the top European club teams in which Liverpool reached the final against AC Milan last year.  November saw the Reds on the verge of elimination as they sat in distant 3rd place in their 4-team group and needing to sweep the rest of their matches.  They did this with a flourish, beating FC Porto and Olympique Marseille by a combined score of 8-1.  They later drew Inter Milan, arguably the hottest team in Europe, in the next round to be played in February.

As they seemed to be on the verge of a breakout in European play, in the Premier League LFC have been less than impressive.  December saw the first and second league losses (to Man U and lowly Reading) of a season marked by draws and missed opportunities.  In the past 6 weeks, out of a possible 21 points, my boys have brought home a mediocre 11, placing them in a disappointing 5th with a game in hand.  When set along side an earlier than hoped exit from the Carling Cup at the hands of Chelsea and a lucky draw in this week's match against Luton Town FC, the season is not what we'd hoped.  If Luton don't sound familiar it's because they are a full 2 divisions of English football below Liverpool and are is such bad financial trouble, their players haven't been paid since October.  Not a team that should give us problems.

The bright spots have been:
  • We are still alive, thought tenuously, in the Champions League
  • Fernando Torres (pictured) is proving to be worth the small fortune we paid for him
  • The teams that were picked to challenge for "top 4" status in the EPL have mostly been unimpressive, thereby giving the Reds a little breathing room at the top.

I will try to make my updates more frequent so they won't have to be so long...thanks for reading, Slicky.


Mad Marsh's gone big time and world wide!

My good friend Marshall's 2007 ended with a flourish.  After having cranked up his new job at OC International a few months back, he added to this success by joining up with Ryan Dobson's Kor World Ministries.  If you include his stint as a frequent volunteer with me at Global Action earlier in the year, this makes him a virtual all-star of the various Colorado Springs Christian ministries.  I highly recommend that you either go to the Kor website or check iTunes for the Ryan's Korcast, which Marshall is the new co-host.  I am a big fan of bragging on my friends (see Coach's PaceWheel, Slicky's return to Colorado or Marky Mark in Iraq) so look up Marshall's blog or podcast and you won't be sorry.


Russian bath anyone?

This will be a long one, so I apologize in advance...

Last night I had the opportunity to go with one of our friends to an authentic Russian bath or "banya" (баня).  Since it has been ridiculously cold - or at least has felt that way - the thought of a sauna didn't seem a half-bad idea.  Sergey picked me up from camp, we drove to get another Sergey (I'll explain the reason for this detail soon) and then stopped a few more times for items I didn't really understand before driving through a neighborhood to a big, green gate.

Apparently there are 2 kinds of banyas in Kerch; a public banya, which is a sort of distant, males-only cousin of a public swimming pool, and a home banya, which is cheaper and more private with less rules and hassle.  This time we used a home banya that is both nice and affordable.  Essentially the owners have taken some portion of their property and developed the necessary rooms (a steam room, jacuzzi, sitting room, bathroom and changing room), dipping pool and outdoor area (aka. BBQ patio).

I forgot to mention that though private, the banya is a male communal event and I only knew 1 of the people with whom I was intended to bond.  We arrived to find about half the guys there and promptly changed into our "banya-ing" attire.  Sergey F. (my "in" with this group) introduced me to another half-dozen Sergeys and we were ready to visit the steam room.

I have to take a time out for a thought that occurred to me last night which almost made me laugh out-load.  Have any of you seen the movie "Goodfellas" with Ray Liotta?  There is a part near the beginning of the film where Liotta's character Henry Hill takes his future wife to one of the "family's" Italian Sunday lunches.  Henry is introducing Karen to everyone sitting around a dinner table the size of a destroyer and it goes something like this:

"This is Paul and his wife Marie...and Maria, her husband Paulie, their son little Paul...this is Fat Paul and his wife Marie and their daughter Mary..."  The entire place is named some derivative of Paul or Marie!

Last night I realized that out of 7 guys, 4 were named Sergey and the others had names of which I ALREADY knew multiples.  On top of that, I can count on one hand the number of non-Tanya's I've met in nearly a month in the country.

Ok, back to the facts.  The ritual of the banya is essentially going into a room that feels like a more humid version of the surface of the sun, followed by dips in a pool outside which needed a hole busted through it's polar ice cap before we could enter...and repeat.  The steam room is like a sauna you might see in the US with heated rocks in a wood paneled room.  They bring in a tub of hot water and bundles of beech and eucalyptus fronds which have been carefully dried and preserved since summer.  Once you've been in and out a few times, you return and very somberly beat yourself and each other with the soaked bundles.  This has 2 effects; 1. It burns like a mother on your poor, necked, already heat-irritated skin because the water is almost as hot as the air but conducts the heat much more efficiently.  2. It creates welts so that everyone looks like rejects from an Easter passion play.  Apparently it also invigorates and increases circulation.  

When I say that this room is hot, let me put it simply...after a few minutes in the heat, my hair was too hot for me to run my fingers through it.  The thermostat (which must have been as heat-crazed as the rest of us) registered a high of 120 degrees C...my handy computer conversion widget places that at 248 degrees F!  I'm not sure that this is accurate, but it was seriously hot.

Intermingled in all this, everyone visits the sitting room where there are drinks and both dried and fresh fruit.  One of the Sergeys stayed out more often and cooked up some amazing ribs and in the middle we had a huge, cholesterol-ladened meal.  I loved listening to them discuss everything next to the sun (which was still in the steam room) in untranslated Russian.  It was truly a unique cultural experience and apparently I have volunteered to go again on the 19th of this month.


Sightseeing in Kerch

Earlier this week while we were both without internet and without work around camp, we decided to visit one of the more interesting features of Kerch's long history.  The Fortress of Yenikale (Еникале in Russian) is the impressive remains of a formidable Turkish battlement built starting in 1699.  During this period, Crimea was firmly in muslim hands and Yenikale was constructed specifically to keep it that way.  It guards the Strait of Kerch and thus the ability to move from the Sea of Azov (Russian territory) in the north to the Black and Mediterranean Seas (Turkish territory) in the South.  Any serious naval expedition would have to pass in front of Yenikale's impressive arsenal.  Like the Maginot Line (more history, kids...look it up!) in France, it ultimately proved to be guarding the wrong direction as the Russians invaded Crimea from the west and eventually defeated the fort from behind.

Since we didn't really know how to get there, we took our friend Jenya and hiked around a bit in the bitter cold.  We tried to avoid the graffiti and trash in our pictures but it is always interesting to see how little they seem to value what would be a priceless piece of history were it in the Western Hemisphere.

The fort isn't very popular on days when your spit freezes on your tongue.  We were the only people there and Jenya was able to stand in the middle of the road without impeding traffic for quite a while.

This is from inside the only remaining tower.  Through the gaps on either side of the spire you can just make out Russia in the distance.

This is looking up the hill from the main tower area.  We were later told that Tanya, one of our summer counselors, was born in the house that is just out of view to the right (actually within the fort's walls) - presumably built from stones scavenged from the crumbling fortress.

Campbell and Daddy always makes for great pictures.

Looking down at Sarry and Cam from the top of the "North Wall".

Happy Birthday Grandma!

We can't be in Michigan to celebrate my mom's birthday today so I thought we'd pay a tribute to her.  I'm told that when I was Campbell's age, this is where I was most of the time... in my mom's arms.  She is probably the most compassionate, hospitable, and caring person I know.  My mom didn't have a glorious job that paid her lots of money or gave her respect from the outside world, but every one of her 5 children will say she is the best at what she did and does... being a mom and grandma. 

Here's just a glimpse of her unending resume: 
  • have snack ready when kids get home from school 
  • be available to bring forgotten lunches, books, etc. to school 
  • go to all of kids boring sporting events (even if half of the time she is sitting on the bench)
  • have a strong stomach while cleaning out some nasty looking wounds (even on dad) and yet treat with care
  • pray for kids and read Bible every morning
  • give the best back scratches
  • pamper whining kids when sick and make tomato soup and grilled cheese when feeling better
  • save up extra money (of her own) so that special jacket, backpack, or treat from Burger King can be had
  • never be fooled by anything and always use a strong hand for spanking (okay maybe that's not such a fond memory but it sure made me respect her)
  • keep your cool when kids are screaming and throwing tantrums
  • have no mercy when hiding Easter eggs
  • make every birthday and holiday special with tons of decorations, food, and lots of holiday spirit (I sure missed that this year)
  • treat son-in-law like one of your own
  • drive hours upon hours to help out with arrival of grandchildren (#14 on the way - no not Matt and I) and help with moves
  • spoil grandchildren with with LOTS of love and special attention (and don't forget special toys and yummy food)
  • support children  with prayer and encouragement when God moves them out of state and nearly half way across the world
  • and always Always ALWAYS be willing to sacrifice EVERYTHING (sometimes even Mother's Day)
I'm sure my siblings could add a million others.  I wish more than anything Campbell could grow up next to Grandma... he is certainly missing out... but for now this is the sacrifice God has asked us to make.  And if there is one thing my mom has taught me it's to follow God's commands. Her life has demonstrated how God will bless an obedient and faithful heart.  So Happy Birthday Mom/Grandma!  We wish we could be there to give you a great big hug and kiss.  We love you so very much!
Matt, Sarah, and Campbell


We're OK!

I just wanted to reassure you all, particularly those who talk with us regularly on Skype, that our absence from the internet is not an indication of problems. Due to the vagaries of doing business in Ukraine, the holidays, the different calender, the exchange rate, the tide cycles, the atmospheric pressure and many other variables, the camp has been without internet since Sunday morning. To make this post, I am actually using the director's computer which is connected to a cell with wireless capabilities.

We should be back up Thursday morning (the middle of the night in the US) and back in communication with you. God bless!