Old friends and air travel

Some of our girls from the IVA program came back to visit us on Saturday.  It was nice to catch up with Oksana and Sasha...
...as well as Lena.

Did I forget to mention that we were going to Sweden?  Yes, we are currently here and will be for 10 days.  Other than a brief problem at passport control on the way out of Kiev, everything went well.

We got to see the girls again at the airport.  My old friend Lena (on the far left) brought her twin sister Inna (I think you can figure out which she is).  Of course my new friend Lena (next to me in the back) was there and we had a nice 15 minutes before we had to go through security.  It was Lena and Inna's birthday so it was nice to give them some chocolates and wish them a good day.

Cam and Sarry on the first flight (Simferopol-Kiev)
This is Stockholm.  What a cool city!  It is spread across dozens of islands on the east coast and I have really liked the feel and atmosphere so far.  It is nice break from eastern Europe.
There will be more photos and adventures to follow but for now I have to sign off and go get some groceries.


More of the boy...

We are relaxing today... or trying to in between Cam's tantrums.  He's a bit sick and all week if something doesn't go his way, he loses his MIND!  Nonetheless, a few nice moments slipped in.

Cheesy smile... no seriously, he's actually saying "cheese."

No idea where we got these but they seem to work for him

Just cute.

Like father, like son.... except his is a puffy sticker and didn't require $400 and 4 hours of his time.

Current Events: George(-ia) and Obama

Sorry for the bad pun in the title.  I have 2 thoughts for today:

1.  I came across a fantastic piece on the Georgia-Russia war by Michael Totten.  It is long but I assure you it is worth it for perspective on the conflict.

2.  Ok, this Obama thing....

I have seen some hero worship of politicians in my past 12 years as a voter but I am truly amazed by the degree to which people are nuts about Obama.  I have seen college classmates act like giddy 14 year old girls when Bill Clinton was on Leno.  I have seen kids not old enough to vote volunteering massive hours to the re-elect GW campaign with little or no actual grasp of issues or policies; just a dislike of those with a (D).  But this....

I am going to post an excerpt from a recent blog I read.  I don't see any reason to give the source but I will say that it's someone I know and respect.  If he/she reads this and recognizes their words they are welcome to claim them but since I am being critical, I will just leave them anonymous for now.

i finally get it.

no more petty attacks or judgments on those who are on the other side. we don’t have time, like obama says, to play games and villify those who differ from us in politics, social issues, religion, anything…there is no time and space in the urgent circumstances today to fight about republican or democrat, conservative or liberal…red or blue. we have bigger fish to fry. yes we do! yes we can!

…it’s quite a moment. on the day of mlk jr’s speech about his dreams of black and white joining together as the US of America, obama is on the same thread articulating it in terms of red and blue…coming together as americans who love this country and want to make a change for the better…a new day is surely dawning… 

I really can only say...  
He is just a man!  A significantly flawed and unwise man from my perspective, but surely a man.  He is a politician and he will not change how politics works because he's beholden to the system; it's gotten him where he is today.  His speech last night in the halls of the Greek gods (haha) may have been beautiful but it was only words.

Let's have some perspective.


Moonbats in Denver

Don't worry you non-political folks, this particular video is mostly unrelated to the DNC in Denver.  It's coverage of a protest at the Denver mint and the reporter just kills me!  He's from Pajamas Media, which despite their name, are a good online news outlet.  If you like The Onion, I think you'll enjoy this.

The first couple of minutes are the funny bits so you can cut it off after he starts following Michelle Malkin's heckler around.


Pretty much speaks for itself...

What can I say... plumbers make good money, right?

Update:  I neglected to mention that this is baby butt crack and thus not offensive.  Just wanted to clarify.

LOtD Discussion - Donald Miller @ DNC

I caught the transcript of Donald Miller's (Blue Like Jazz) talk at the Democratic National Convention in Denver and there was a line that I thought was odd and I wanted to see what any of you thought (emphasis is mine):

But as strides are being made on key issues of sanctity of life and social justice, as well as peaceful solutions to world conflicts, more and more evangelicals are taking a closer look at options the Democratic Party are beginning to deliver.

When he speaks of the social justice that Democratic Party is beginning to deliver, I can't really come up with anything significant.  What does he mean by social justice anyway?  By the strict definition I assume it would encompass things such as proportionate and sensible law enforcement measures, ensuring equal access to quality education/employment or protecting property rights.  These are areas of justice/fairness; areas where the Dems have not been particularly productive in my opinion.

I suspect that he was referring to what is known as the "social gospel" but used what he considered a more inclusive word.  This is a set of ideals in which care for the poor, disadvantaged and infirm is of the highest priority and government programs are a preferred method.  Since I largely agree with these tenants but differ on the means (government programs are HORRIBLE stewardship, Biblically speaking), I must disagree with Miller on this point.

The Democratic party (to a greater degree than the GOP) has long advocated the use of tax dollars to fund social programs.  While it's debatable whether or not this is a good idea, it is clearly not "justice."  It is seizing - upon threat of prison - money from more productive members of society (the ones who pay taxes) and giving it directly or indirectly to less productive members.

If we are going to have legitimate discussion and productive communication words have to mean something.  You cannot take a word that is admirable and throw it into a phrase to elicit support.

What do you guys think?  Am I nitpicking semantics?  Am I just imagining the whole thing?


Encouraging sightings

The other day I was walking to the market when I spied a familiar piece of equipment.  In super-sneaky fashion I as able to get this shot from my phone (from the hip).  
It's a guy using one of the walkers from our humanitarian aid shipments.  We get these by the ton and while I know they are very useful, this is the first time I had seen someone using one outside the hospitals.  This particular model has 4 thick, soft rubber wheels (very important on these sidewalks), a cargo basket, a seat for when the user gets tired and hand breaks for control... absolutely perfect for this man.  For a society that largely walks where they are going and shops in outdoor markets, these walkers are a God-send for the elderly.  Thank you Salvation Army - Sweden!

Posting this reminded me that I hadn't posted on my visit to the mental hospital down the street.  We also provide equipment to them and I had a chance to tour some of the ways it was being used.  Sometimes Andrey uses my American-ness as a smoke screen to get us photo access to places that don't usually allow it.  GA is a US-based organization and thus the people who receive our aid have a vested interest in being hospitable to our American visitors.

Here is a shot of the hospitals picking up some of the beds which go....

...directly into hospital rooms like this one.  This is at the mental hospital and the bloody cloth on the left of the photo is a clue of what a difficult place this is.  Andrey said his last visitor got a full tour and promptly went outside to vomit.

This young man was very sweet and understood that posing for this picture was a good thing for the hospital.  For his efforts he got a tender kiss on the forehead from our tour guide;  a very nice lady.

We also provide furniture, office equipment and lab items like this rolling cart.

Andrey told me the other night that we are the only entity in Kerch that doesn't pay property tax and it is a direct response to our constant community involvement.


A little hope in the midst of a hard day at work

For fear that you won't be able to catch all that I experienced today, I am putting in lots of pictures.  Hopefully, you will be able to grasp what a normal day is for these kids and what a treat today was for them.  

In an earlier mass email I had mentioned three children who came to our Hope Center for summer camp.  It wasn't really until today that I can fully appreciate what it must have meant for them to have 10 days of people loving on them, filled with fun and exciting games, and no work!  

One of the team members from camp 3 sent some goodies for two twin girls, Natasha and Sasha.  When we stopped by the house, the mother greeted us (quite graciously this time) telling us that they were out in the fields working.  These girls at age 9 work 6 days a week herding cows from 6am until 7pm. And not for money mind you... for food.  Their story consists of so much more, but I will not go into that here.  Their mother told us she was just about to go give them their lunch, so we told her we would take her if she would show us where they were.  We drove a decent ways through rolling hills and valleys before coming to this place here.

When we crested over the hill we saw two small figures separately sitting down and looking rather bored.  Once they saw us, however, they started sprinting toward us.

The first thing they wanted to do was show us what they had made with their "cow play-dough". Kids will always be kids whether they have toys or not.  You can't see it very well in this picture, but there are some nice flowers decorating a table of "food".  I was quite impressed actually with their creativity. 

Tanya showed them the bag of goodies that was sent for them and they lit up even more.  It was like Christmas for them.  They loved their stuffed animals and held on tightly to them the whole time.  

Like proud little workers they wanted to show us what they did.  One of the girls ran over and smacked a cow in the butt to show how she could get it to go and then quickly ran over to another to get a picture by it.  

They rattled off every name they could remember from camp 3 and wanted to make sure we said hi to everyone.  So "Hi!" from the girls.  After only a short time of being in the sweltering heat Tanya and I were ready to trek back to the car... although, sad to leave the girls again.  We are certain that we will continue to visit them on a regular basis. 

The next stop was to find their cousin, Sergey.  The girls said he was in the fields working with his mom and gave us "directions" (using their arms and fingers) in where we might find him.  After about an hour of driving up and down hills and valleys, and talking to a few random people we finally found him!  Matt's mom and dad wanted to get him a "going to school" surprise, so we found a nice backpack and filled it with all kinds of fun school supplies.

I think he was a bit overwhelmed with us being there.  His posture when he came out of the house was like this and did not want to look us in the eye the entire time.  Very different from when he was at camp.  

We were able to get a smile out of him eventually.  This little boy is 10 years old and also works hard and experiences things that no person should have to witness.  Again, I will not go into detail with him but please say a prayer for him tonight along with these girls.  Only God knows how to minister to their souls.  We just gave them a little hope for the day.  Can't wait to see them again.

Evil Empire

I had some great pictures of all of my birthday gifts from last week but I must have deleted them off the camera before they made it to the computer.

Two of the coolest were my CCCP t-shirt and matching beach towel.  In the motherland (as I think I'll call the US) the USSR was called the evil empire.  So in the grand scheme of towel evilness, which of these is worse?  This...
... or this?

I think my facial expressions shows how I feel about it.

HopeCenter Profiles: Andrey, Tanya and Alosha Shpigunov

I conducted a poll and got a good response about having profile posts for the people we work with.  I am going to try to catch up so that future posts will give you readers to ability to click a link and read up on any person mentioned; complete with photos to put a name with a face.
To start at the beginning as Andrey did the other day in a camp team meeting, "I was born in Kerch on December 27th, 1972.  It was a very foggy night..."  That pretty much sums up how he deals with most things; turn it all into a joke.  

Andrey and Tanya are technically the boss(es) around here but we think of them much more as friends than superiors.  

Andrey is the camp director which means, in true Ukrainian fashion that his signature and stamp must go on EVERY document.  He labors tirelessly to make sure the HopeCenter continues to function under tough conditions and tight budget.  He began as the head of security when GA bought the camp in 2002 and eventually became director in 2006.  He knows more about the physical camp than almost anyone.  He does formal meetings with commissions and officials and then turns around and does concrete finishing, plumbing and welding.  Sometimes he has to drive the 6 hour round trip to Simferopol multiple times a week.

He is also one of the most good-natured people I've ever met.  He is great fun and shares my love of kvas and shashlik.  Some of my best times with him involve driving across Crimea, watching the UEFA Cup final (a Scottish team vs a Russian team) and generally joking about EVERYTHING.  He is, unfortunately, really bad at teaching Russian.  Just about the time you think you have figured out a word or phrase, he switches to Russian prison slang, Ukrainian, German, Spanish or any other language which will confuse you again.  It's a small price to pay for having such a good friend and capable leader.

Tanya on the other hand, is nothing but helpful.  She is to programs what Andrey is to the HopeCenter camp.  She keeps all the programs, camps, outreach, humanitarian aid and general social schedule under control.  We work very closely with her to make sure that the international guests are cared for and have their concerns addressed.  She is great at incorporating us into the various projects that are always going on here.  Tanya is always trying to improve her English and we have fun trying to explain some of the subtleties of the language.

The Shpigunovs do all this while raising 6-year old Alosha.  Little 'Losh is always a funny part of HopeCenter life with his strange antics and elastic facial expressions.  This was the first year that he was really old enough to participate in summer camp activities.  He still slept in the room with Andrey and Tanya but was out and about from dawn until well after dark.  I know that Campbell is going to miss him when they move back to their flat in town.


Sad day

We took our last team back to the airport in Simferopol today.  It represented the official end of the camp season and last American visitors for quite some time - though most of this team was actually British.  We had a great few days with them following the end of camps and I actually volunteered to ride along on the 7 hour round trip to the airport.  They were fun, engaging and had a real intellectual curiosity about Ukraine and it's people.
To make matters worse, we also had to say goodbye to our intern/next door neighbor Judith.  She's been a staple of our lives for the last 6 weeks and we hate to see her go.  She has promised that if at all possible she will return as soon as she can.
The last strange aspect of the day was seeing this girl at the airport.
This is Lena.  She was my favorite kid from last summer but was unable to make it to camp this year.  It's hard to see from this angle but she is really little, thus I was surprised to learn that she will be 15 in a few weeks meaning that she is outside the age-range for campers now.  In reviewing the post I linked to above, I see that I guessed she was only 10 last year... way off.  Tanya said that she really wants to volunteer here so maybe she'll be around next year.


New Features

2 items in the right-hand column I would like to draw your attention to:

1.  I have a poll regarding an idea for improving the reader's understanding of my posts about the HopeCenter; please vote!

2.  A little further down is a link to my new YouTube channel.  It's basically just a page that displays all of my videos.  Currently is it just the 2 most recent but I will progressively upload videos from earlier posts to make it a more comprehensive collection of the homemade videos that have appeared on this blog (plus a few more).  It's actually easier and more efficient to export a video project directly to YouTube than to my own hard drive.


Breakfast foods, curse words and political commentary

I've been meaning to post on this one and I keep forgetting.  Well, the forgetting is over and I hope it's worth the wait.  As with every story, this one starts at the beginning...

In working with Sergey (the lifeguard/IVA counselor/laborer/everything else) over the spring I began to pick up his most common Russian phrases.  His favorite was the word "beleen" or something like that.  Actually it sounds more like "b'leen," but its actual meaning is a breakfast food like a crepe (usually used in the plural form, "b'leeny").  When said in disgust it sounds similar to a common Russian curse word; somewhat akin to our use of dang or shoot.

I picked up on this and use it frequently.  There is a funny variation on this in which b'leen inserted as the given name of a recent US president... as in "B'leen Clinton."  Not being a huge fan of the former Commander-in-Fornicator, I find this particularly humorous.  I still have no idea who started this or the roots of the joke.

Appreciating my delight in this, Andrey has now taken to just uttering "Clinton" instead of the full pejorative.  To make it even funnier, I was told by a friend that his grandma used to think that b'leen was actually Bill Clinton's first name.  Funny stuff...


Cam Pictures

I was just noticing that we had a backlog of unshared pics of Cam that I thought you guys might like...

This is him with Misha.  I don't really know how to describe Misha to you other than he is like a crazy and awkwardly young uncle for Campbell; one who came though not invited and never got around to leaving.  He is 13, from Kerch and was a camper last camp along with his older brother Sergey.  When Tanya agreed to allow Sergey to stay as a volunteer (even though he's younger than several of the campers), Misha sort of tagged along.  Ostensibly he is supposed to be cleaning up the grounds but that only really happens a few hours a day.  The rest of the time he is a self-appointed babysitter, housecleaner, marriage/parenting counselor and generally a pre-pubescent Russian version of Doctor Phil.  Since it's hot and he doesn't want Tanya to send him home, he spends most of the day in our air-conditioned apartment trying to prove that he is useful.  Campbell loves him and he is oddly likable in a lovey, pestery kind of way.

If this doesn't sum up Misha's quirkiness I don't think any picture will.  He went out of his way to find a flat soccer ball to use as pillow, though Campbell didn't really want to lay down.

Kids are always cute when they sleep and this is a good shot of the calm before the storm

...kinda hard to describe.  He must have come in to sleep with us at some point during the night and the next morning was the last one out of bed.  I don't imagine that the nightstand is that comfy but he chose to stick with it nonetheless.


Happy Birthday Matty

Yup.  Today is the big day for Matt.  As I write this he is sacked out for an afternoon nap... I guess the age is catching up.  Throughout the day he has been showered with love and gifts from kids to counselors and staff members.  Gifts ranging from soviet memorabilia, candies, coffee, flowers, photo albums, coffee mug and the list goes on.  He even got a very special gourmet omelet from the ladies in the kitchen.  It's left Cam and I with an out of tune Happy Birthday song early in the morning and a sad little post to hopefully let him know that we love him so very much.  I feel rather guilty though because each of his birthdays are really more of a gift to Cam and I.  We are so very lucky to have such a patient, loving, sacrificing,  and safe husband and daddy.  We take it for granted more than we should, but after being around these campers and hearing their stories I've been hit with how privileged we really are.  The other day one little boy (while hanging around Matt's neck) made him promise to never hit me or Campbell... and with tears in Matt's eyes he said "Never!".  First of all, it made us so sad to think that this is what this little boy fears, but then it made me realize that we really do have a great little family.  Despite all of our flaws (and believe me we each have our share :)), God has really blessed us with real love for each other.  Thank you Matty for always forgiving, being so very patient with me, being such a loving father, sacrificing time for Campbell and I (putting us first), making us laugh, and making sure we are safe.  We love you so very much and our proud to call you ours!  Sorry we couldn't spoil you with gifts today.  We'll send you off to a Shaktur game as soon as we can... you have it documented here.  


Premier League Table Picks

Ok, I arranged with Slick to post my 2008-2009 English Premiership table predictions at midnight GMT the night before opening day.  After some quick math, I see that equates to 2am tomorrow morning in Ukraine and 6pm today in Colorado.  Assuming I am clever enough to use a drop-down menu, this post should hit at exactly midnight GMT while I should be happily snoring away.

I see no reason to explain these picks and if you have a disagreement with my placement feel free to make your case in a comment.  I'll give you new-comers a quick guide to what places mean what.  

First, the top 4 places are the most prestigous as they qualify for the Champions League (with the higher places getting early round byes).  

The next 3 are also potential European competition qualifiers.  In short, number 5 qualifies automatically for the UEFA Cup with 6 and 7 only doing so if the winners of the 2 domestic cups (Carling and FA) in England have already qualified for Europe.

The competition to be outside the last 3 is actually just as important since they are relegated to the second tier of English football (called the Championship); being replaced by the 3 top teams (after a mini playoff) from the Championship.

So finally, here is the definative work of semi-educated guess on how it will look in May.  I have been buoyed by excellent summer signings by Liverpool and Aaron's boys Tottenham (including us stealing THFC's captain) but I just don't see things changing as much as we would hope.  

1. Chelsea

2. Man United

3. Liverpool

4. Arsenal

5. Tottenham

6. Portsmouth

7. Aston Villa

8. Everton

9. Man City

10. West Ham

11. Blackburn

12. Sunderland

13. Middlesbrough

14. Bolton

15. Fulham

16. Newcastle

17. West Brom

18. Wigan

19. Stoke City

20. Hull City

Cam the Rocker

Honestly I try not to be the type of father that assumes that everything that my son does is exciting for everyone else but this morning we recorded what I think is comic gold.  We sing some subset of the same 8 Russian songs every morning for camp so Campbell has many of them pretty well memorized; words and hand motions.  There is one called "Tam Tam" in which he does a fantastic imitation of the kids singing into the microphone.

The video is a little long by virtue of the fact that I included a lot of footage for the sake of our family who doesn't get to see him much.  That said, if you have a little time to get it started (ie press play) and then pause it until the buffering gets about halfway, you will LOVE Cam's performance that starts about 3:30 into it.  The whole thing is pretty funny but maybe only if you realize that he knows the words pretty well for a 2 year old American.  You also can't see very well but he simultaneously scrunches up his face like he ate a lemon while sticking his lower jaw out.  It's priceless.

Tell me he doesn't look like he is planning to go into punk rock once his voice changes....


Was that a hole, man?

The following event occurred on the same trip as the visit to the zoo, but I thought it deserved its own post.  We had to swing by Andrey's grandma's place on the way home and after a lovely hello, I started to take off.  I surveyed my options on this typical rubble-strewn street and spied a little dog running straight at us down the middle of the road.  As I began to ease LEFT to miss it, Andrey began with ever-increasing intensity to urge me to go RIGHT.  By the time I realized that he was referring to an issue other than the dog, it was too late to miss the uncovered manhole (hence title of the post) directly in front of us that I had been unable to see over the hood of the car.  In a final attempt to divert me away from the hole, Andrey gestured emphatically, punching a spidering crack in the windshield.  No damage was done to the car (other than the passenger side glass) so we decided to get some good pictures.

The funny part about these pictures is that although they are posted in what seems to be a logical chonological order, this is actually opposite of how we took them.  I went from all smiles near the wheel to staged disbelief to faux agony at the steering wheel.

Andrey told me that the reason I hit it is because an American driver would never anticipate that many manhole covers would go missing; stolen to be resold as scrap.

I like petting zoos

Just before dinner today Andrey asked me if I would join him to help with an aid distribution and shoot some pictures (which are always needed for reporting to our aid supplier).  I agreed and threw on a GA shirt for good measure.  Our load was 3 beds and 2 boxes of clothes, all to be taken in our hatchback camp Chevy.  In order for the beds to fit, we had to move both front seats all the way up with their backs leaning almost forward.  I literally almost had to get out of the seat in order to flip down the sun visor.

The folks were great and we were pleased to have a chance to help them.  The woman was already sporting one of our electric wheelchairs.

As you look at the gate and the beds we delivered, you can't tell that directly behind me is....

...the yard of the little internaut.  These are the little hellions from an earlier camp and the entire time we were there they chanted my name or "idi suda"(come here!).  I don't use that term lightly; the boy on the far left is Artem, who I personally witnessed assaulting 2 boys, 1 girl and a counselor within a span of 4 minutes.  They clamored against the fence, forcing their filthy little hands (dirty not because they are orphans but because they are 8 years old and playing in the dirt) through the gaps I am sure they have created by years of escape attempts.  It was like an Amazonian petting zoo where all the monkeys, ocelots and alligators know your name.  After 15 or so minutes we bade the family farewell and stepped over to the fence to say hi.  The boys rewarded us with 2 of the most interesting gifts I have ever received...

...a flattened beer bottle top and a napkin which Artem assured me smelled "tasty."  Yeah that's right, a beer top beaten flat by a rock (internaut arts and crafts) and a uniquely smelly napkin... you gotta love that, right?


Ranger video

I have a couple of thoughts regarding this video.

-As I watch myself drive embarrassingly slow, I must tell you that this vehicle does NOT coast.  Once you let up on the gas, it stops... dead.  Some of this is probably under-inflated tires but I also think it's the nature of the transmission which can go 0-42 mph without the need to shift.  It just takes some getting used to, that's all.

-Despite my tendency to refer to the Ranger as "my baby" and the metaphorical "birthing" of the vehicle from the trailer (in breach position) I can dispel any notion that you might have that today was a happier day than the birth of my actual son.  That said, seeing the joy in Cam's eyes riding with his daddy with the wind in his face made it that much more fun.

-As you watch this there are a few funny portions.  One is the nearly constant rapid-fire Russian instructions.  There is a portion near the end where if you listen closely, to my left Jenya is telling me that I am clear and should give it the business (my words, not his) while Andrey is saying choot-choot, urging me to take it slow.  Once I did make it down, Jenya sprints for the passenger's seat and quickly buckles in for the ride.  Funny stuff....

The day has come

This must have been one of the best days since I arrived in Ukraine.  Finally after months of delays, false starts, logistical hang-ups and a few months sitting in a warehouse in Sweden, we have received our Polaris Ranger UTV.  Prior to its arrival I got the impression that I was the only one excited to have it here but today I realized that this was only because I was the only one who really knew what it was and what it could do for all of us.  Once we finally got to the front of the trailer and exposed it, the staff was as giddy as I was.

This is what our first view looked like

I suspect that it will henceforth be known as Matt's truck (it's how everything here works) and as such I was the only one allowed to back it out.  In the absence of a loading dock, we resorted to using our stage and a few pallets as risers.  Most everyone was dubious about my claims that I could drive it straight down the stairs once it was out of the truck but were delighted to see it happen.

Campbell believes that this is his person chariot and was the only one that Andrey allowed to ride with me on it's inagural trip from the stage to the storage building.  As you can see, the customs guys were kind enough to allow us to use it briefly to bring the pallets back.
I am about to post a video or 2 of the unload but they should show up below this post.


Premier League predictions

I have decided to post a full table of predictions (as opposed to my top 7 European qualifying spots prediction from last year) for the up-coming Premiership season.  I suspect that there are 2 or less people who read this that will care even a little but I wanted to warn you all that the season will be starting soon.

If anyone else wants to post their picks let me know and we can arrange a time/date for them to go out... in the interests of fair play and added drama.


Ukraine drawn into Russian-Georgian war?

I can't recall where I first read about this (I suspect it was one of the several American-in-Ukraine bloggers I read) but I just found this AP story recently.

In essence it says that Ukraine has threatened to bar Russian warships headed to Georgia from re-entering the port of Sevastopol until the conflict is resolved.  Sevastopol, on the other side of Crimea from us, was the headquarters of the Soviet Black Sea fleet and is currently under a tenuous lease to Russia until 2017.  Were Ukraine to do this, it would further exacerbate the tensions between the 2 nations and I hope it doesn't indicate that this conflict is going regional.


You were warned....

The recent news of war in our general neighborhood between Russia and Georgia (not the Bulldog variety) reminded me of predictions made earlier in the year when North Albania (AKA Kosovo) was torn from Serbia by the UN.  While I previously stated that in that case there really wasn't a good guy, I thought it set a bad precedent.

As it became increasingly clear in February that the US, UN, EU and all other 2-letter entities were going to back the independence of North Albania, Russia argued vehemently on behalf of their Serbian slavic brothers.  One of their main "sticks" (they really didn't offer any carrots) was that if Kosovo was allowed independence, the west would have no logical argument to the similar break-away Georgian regions in Russia's backyard.  Abkhazia and South Ossetia are both making similar demands for independence.  Russia has decided that what is good for the goose is good for the gander (is my mom the only one that uses that line?) and is holding firm on its support for what they see as fellow countrymen.

On August 8th Georgia sent troops into South Ossetia to retake the capital, reportedly killing and injuring a number of Russian peacekeepers.  Primarily this was a stupid move by Georgia with Russia still itching to flex its regional muscle after the Kosovo thing.  Conversely, in Georgia's defense, I am under no illusions that the Russian "peacekeepers" in South Ossetia were anything but frontline troops who were ordered to go toe-to-toe with any Georgian military units.  This was demonstrated by how quickly Russian tanks rolled onto the scene, backed by modern fighter aircraft.

If I had to make a prediction I'd say that the world, US included, will have no stomach to try to step into armed conflict on the Russian boarder.  Since little Georgia has no chance in any kind of military match-up, this means that South Ossetia will probably have an independent New Year for 2009.


Scary Orphan Statistics for Ukraine

The other day we were going to the sea with the Shpygunovs and the topic turned to the status of what I guess would be called "post-institutional orphans".  These are children who have been through the orphanage system and have graduated, but are still technically the responsibility of the state.  Even though they have left the orphanage, theoretically the bureaucracy still must care for them until their 18th birthday; finding them housing and assuring that they are provided for.  Unfortunately this is not the case.

The past 2 years we have been a part of a nationwide orphan festival in the spring which shines light on the plight of orphans and encourages Ukrainians to be proactive in caring for these children in their midst.  It is all overseen by an organization in Kiev who work full-time in this arena.  As part of their efforts they commissioned a survey of orphans aged 18-22 in Kiev and the surrounding areas.  They checked in on 3500 young folks and even they were startled by the statistics.  The numbers were so dire that the Ukrainian government - very sensitive to negative publicity as they work towards EU membership - has banned them from making them public.  Since I am not constrained by this ban (and my blog isn't exactly CNN) I wanted to share a few:

-the suicide rate is 10%

-70% of the females are or have been involved in prostitution.

-60% of males are or have been in jail

Tanya couldn't remember the exact rates on drug and alcohol abuse but recalled that it was at least a plurality on the former and sizable majority for the latter.  Seriously, the drab, loveless orphanages where these kids grow up are nothing compared to the horrors of joining the real world after they leave.


More HopeCenter Camper stories

Here is another installment in our stories of the kids that visit us here.  I know it's long but I got very favorable response from my last post, so get out the hankies and read every word.  This is taken directly from Andrey's email updates which I will soon be helping to write.

On July 12 the 3rd camp started.  85 children from Russia and 5 different part of Ukraine gathered of the bank of two seas  - the Black Sea and the sea of Azov.  International team (lead by Bob Bender) was comprised of people of different ages and professions, but were joined by a huge desire to give children the saving message of Jesus.  From the very beginning of the camp the quality of the team was evident.  Well-organized activities as well as bedtime stories made the time interesting and unforgettable for each child.
Members of the international team organized cheerful morning activities for the kids.  The girls danced and the boys worked on strength and stamina. Every day  Bible lessons were an interesting event for each child.  Both adults and kids took an active part in the Bible lessons, beginning with the singing of joyful songs.  They not only sang and danced, but also listened to songs about God, prayer, kindness and love.  Each child received a new Bible to bring with them to every lesson.  It was not only a very important gift for the children, but also a kind of lesson book for the week.  Kids were making their first steps in their understanding of God.
Different crafts: origami, painting, drawing and making masks and bracelets were much loved by kids and adults.  Every one could make their own unique item; demonstrating their talent.  The music station was the most popular among the interest stations.  At this station children could learn to play the recorder and dance to the tunes of skilled  guitar-player Jacob Boyd. As usual, the game of "biffer" was enjoyed by all.  Children enjoyed new rules which made the game more dynamic.  All ten days of camp were action-packed.  Children were impatiently waiting for the talent show to demonstrate their skills.  Dances, songs, skits and recitation were big hits with the audience due to their passion and originality.
Children were deeply moved by the skit about the sacrifice of Jesus as a demonstration of God’s love for us all.  The tears on the children’s faces testified that the process of spiritual birth had begun.  During bedtime stories the children shared their impressions and many gave their hearts to God, accepting Jesus became their personal Savior.  It was a true victory!
We would like to tell more about children who stayed with us.  Every child has his or her own unique story and we would like to share some of them.

Russia, the Vladimir region

This group of kids from Russia came to the Hope-Center for the first time this year.  These children, ages 10 to 14, are part of a specialized school for mentally handicapped children. At first the teacher, who brought these children to our camp, worried if they could adapt to a new environment of the Hope Center.  Their fear soon disappeared.  The children lived in different wards, in different rooms and were surrounded by unfamiliar children.  It was very important for them not to withdraw into themselves and to their own circle of friends, but to communicate with the other kids.  The friendly atmosphere and attentive concern of the counselors and international team helped these children not to feel different from the rest of the children and take an active part in all the activities.


Two boys Sasha and Vanya are rather aggressive in their school. They argue and fight with the other children.  Knowing the story of Vanya’s family helps to explain his behavior.  Both his father and grandfather were in prison, where his father died while serving a sentence for murder.  The boy has grown up in an atmosphere of physical violence between his relatives.  But here in our camp, both boys began to change.  They were so interested in all camp’s activities and they were trying to take part in all of them; visit each of the interest stations, play tennis, basketball and football.  These children were in.  Thanks to the special approach to each of them and a favorable environment without emotional tension, these children felt that they could flourish as unique individuals.


The majority of the kids from Russia come from families broken by alcoholism.  When she was only a little girl Diana lost her father.  Her mother resorted to drinking, eventually losing her home and becoming a vagrant.  When the girl’s mother was deprived of her parents rights, Diana was taken to a specialized school.  Her mother wrote her letters infrequently but recently arrived at the school to visit after three years apart. Diane was shocked at what she saw.  Her mother was dirty with no teeth and wearing only rags.  The child was deeply impacted and she worries about her mother very much.  Diana often has nervous breakdowns which often lead to her cutting herself.  She has many scars on her right arm as evidence of her emotional instability.  At the beginning of the camp Diana was locked inside herself during nightly discussions in her ward.  She kept silence and paid no attention to us.  After a few days however, she would come up to tell us good night with real pleasure.  It was the beginning of her transformation.  At the end of the week, when we asked during bedtime storied who has invited Jesus in their hearts, she raised her hand with the other girls.  It was right after the salvation skit.  It was a victory for love over disappointment and emptiness.



Children from Lviv have been coming to our camp for a few years.  They are all from a rehabilitation center for social orphans whose parents cannot or will not care for them.  Children are of different nationalities – Ukrainian, Russian and Gypsy – but they all lack parental warmth and care.


Roza is very sociable and cheerful Gypsy girl.  Her mother is in prison for dealing drugs.  Roza’s sister moved to Kyiv where she is engaged in prostitution. The girl lives with her uncle, who is not even her guardian.  She does all the house work only to try to please him.  She comes to the rehabilitation center to be with people who understand and can help her.  It is her second summer in our camp and here her eyes burn with joy and happiness.  Her adult responsibilities are a thousand kilometers away and at camp her childhood is returned, leaving grief and sorrow behind.   Roza loves singing during Bible lessons.  Her natural artistry and musical talent compelled her to get involved.  As she left camp, Roza cried silently.  In her eyes we could see the sadness that everything was over so quickly.


Ruslan is 11.  His sad diagnosis of cerebral spastic infantile paralysis as a result of birth trauma is belayed by the boy’s joyful attitude.  From the very beginning of the camp, Ruslan shone like a little sun.  He was so happy to find new friends, be by the sea and to have people who protected and took care about him.  Ruslan especially enjoyed outdoor games.  He spent plenty of time on the basketball court  playing with his new friends.  At home his mother has been drinking heavily for the past few years and his father is being treated in the T.B. prophylactic center.  He has many problems he does not want to think about.  Ruslan impatiently waited for the bedtime stories, as this was the time when he could ask the questions that developed while reading his new Bible.  Ruslan is sure that God can and will cure him and he will be able to achieve more.


The children’s rehabilitation center for orphans and street children as existed for several years.  Currently, 25 children live there permanently and 15 of those were brought to Hope Center for a summer vacation.  Many of the kids lived on the streets for years and it is very difficult for them to forget about the law of the street so quickly


Kristina is a recent addition to the center and she arrived with serious psychological trauma.  At the age of six, she suffered not only from physical, but also from sexual violence.  Her mother, being a chronic alcoholic, did not care about her three daughters.  The children were not only suffering from hunger, but also at the hands of the men in their mother’s life.
In the children’s environment, Kristina always tried to get the adults’ attention.  She often yelled, acted out and beat the other children.  This was followed by remorse and desperate cries of: “No one loves me and no one wants to be my friend”.  Very often, she spent time in her room playing with her invisible friend and talking to herself.  Adults saw what was happening with this child and they prayed  for her every day, played and talked to her, tried to help her understand that she is special and that she has a friend –Jesus - who is always here for her and who loves her so much.
We were interested to note that Kristina always asked to eat.  Even during bed time stories, when members of the international team came, she would ask if they had food.  But as time passed “wild Kristina” became completely different.  She regulated her relations with other children and she met her new friend Luda, who she playing with all the time.  By the end of the camp she had stopped taking bread from the canteen and asking the adults for food.  The salvation skit and message about Jesus brought a lot of questions to mind and she was always trying to ask adults about them. The slow process of spiritual healing has began.



Maxim’s story is a tragic one.  He became an orphan less than a month ago when his mother and father died in a car crash.  His father suffered heart problems while driving and caused the accident that killed them both.  At the young age of 12 he and his older brother and sister lost both parents in one day.  His brother took the boy to the camp in a tragic emotional condition.  The boy was hiding behind buildings and crying.  Members of the international and Ukrainian teams, full of God’s love and compassion, didn’t abandon him without attention and very soon Maxim started participating in singing during the Bible lessons.  He enjoys singing and has a good voice.  At the closing ceremony he (together with the international team) sang his favourite song.  Everyone fell in love with him.  After the camp, he still comes to the Hope Center to visit his new-found friends as God helps to overcome his grief and loss.

God gave us the privilege to affect children’s futures, serve them and bring Word of Salvation.  For those who are exhausted, hungry and grieving about irreplaceable loses; for those who look for and can’t find love; to the children who don’t know God but yearn and seek Him: your prayers can do wonders.  Don’t miss your opportunity to take part in the redeeming of souls for God.

Since our last post on Maxim we have hung out with him 4 times and have arranged to start reading the Chronicles of Narnia together in our own languages.