...and Jenya

Jenya is Tanya's brother.  As I understand it, she took care of his through some very tough times growing up - even when they had to live on the streets for a period.  At about 5'4", he may be the toughest little guy I know and I always use him as a resource when it comes to safety concerns.  He was originally security at camp based on his previous experience as internal police for the steel plant in town, but now he does lectures, camps and other programs too. 

When I first came to camp in 2007, he only spoke a few words of English but now he's even capable of some simple translation jobs.  Tanya says that he never was motivated to learn English until I came.

Our original connection was football and we have enjoyed some great games together, culminating in the Shakhtar game last week.  I'm so glad we were able to take that trip.

I packed 4 liters of cold kvas onto the train.  That seemed like a good idea until I learned that some train lines have 'sanitary zones' which leave the restrooms closed for hours at a time.

As you can imagine with his high strength to weight ratio, he proved adept on the climbing wall.  It was his first time and I'm glad Sergey talked him into trying it.

This is in downtown Kharkov.  If there is one thing that I love about this area it's that they never let you forget about the sacrifices made in war.  There are memorials everywhere, some of which are quite beautiful.  Conversely, this is us being irreverent on top of a GERMAN tank.  This is the same strange model that is used in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. 

I don't think he ever did American-style senior pictures so here is a good one in front of some very impressive graffiti in Donetsk.

I love this picture.  There is actually a steel man right behind him and it looks like he has a steel girlfriend.  This park was full of these sculptures.

The Donetsk Boys: Sergey....

I haven't really even given an introduction of the guys that went to Donetsk with me last week so I'll do that now with some pics from the trip... the proverbial 2 birds.

Sergey is 18 and grew up in Kerch.  He lived with his mom and grandma just down the road from the Hope Center and was worked here as a volunteer for about 4 years.  After high school he and his mom moved to Kharkov and lived with his paternal grandmother while he went to university (Kharkov's like Boston - jam packed with colleges).  He continued to come back for summer camps as an interpreter.  He has a great ear for English (especially American) and he's probably the best common-language interpreter I've met here.  He's had his run-ins with Tanya about long hair, tattoos, piercings, etc., but has been a great asset to the Hope Center over the years.  Due to my inspiration, he now blogs here (in English).
Maybe if more of you visit we can convince him to use the built-in spell checker.  Sergey reads my blog so he can feel to correct the record if any of this is incorrect.

This is us at the Ukrainian restaurant in Donetsk where we ate breakfast and lunch and then hung out for a few hours playing Phase 10, the official card game of the Hope Center.

He was absolutely convinced that we needed to play this DDR game in a Kharkov arcade.  He was wrong.  We got annihilated even with one person only being responsible for 2 step pads.

Here we are outside of Olympic Stadium before the game in Donetsk.  Our mix of English and Russian communication always confuses people and right after this some bystanders were still unsure as to whether we were Ukrainian or English (the only 2 options).


Transfered Debate

Today I was reading a post over at Slick's blog regarding social networking in which he links to an article that is making the rounds on the net lately (it's the second time in past few days that I've been directed to it).  This coupled with Carlos Whittaker's (one of the top 5000 most read bloggers in the world) recent indefinite hiatus from the cyber world, has peaked my interest in the general feelings toward online social networking's effect on individuals and society.

I figure that around 75% of people who read this post will be facebook members and since Slick (admirably so) dislikes having a debate on his site, I figured I'd ask you all what you think....

I'd rather a more subtle discussion on this one (ie. NOT 'facebook as the harbinger of the apocalypse' vs. 'facebook as the single greatest leap in human evolution').

So the basic questions: 

Do facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. serve to cheapen and 'superficialize' relationship by boiling friendship down to carefully crafted profiles and narcissistic status updates?


Are they just a slicker and more accessible method for superficial people to behave superficially?


For all their faults, are they good ways to connect and reconnect with people who you would be otherwise unlikely to locate?

If you are a user or not a user... lets get a little introspective on this.  How has it changed your relationships?


Mom, Dad and TK (Updated)

Update: I've been given special dispensation from Tammi to post the below photo of her at Anfield.  Thanks Tam.

Through all of this traveling stuff, I didn't get a chance to post on 2 very important events of last week.

February 20th marks the 38th anniversary of the relationship which has defined most of my life and the birth of one of my favorite people.  My parents were married that date in 1971 and my lovely sister Tammi was born exactly 4 years later.

There's no another date that encompasses more of what has made me who I am that February 20th.  I have benefited to no end by having stable, loving, supportive parents who encouraged me to excel in everything I tried.  I always joke with people that due to my dad's constant support, I was 14 or so before I realized I wasn't the best at every sport ever invented.

Of course my mama backed me to the hilt in everything too, often helping my teachers figure out how to deal with my 'special' personality - without ever letting me avoid responsibility for my own actions.

And of course Tammi...
Another famous family story is that when we were little, my mom could give us each a cookie and leave the room, only to return to find that Tammi had both cookies and I was happier than when she left.  What a great example of true leadership!  

Tammi tends not to like pictures so I'll honor her preference and leave visualizing her beauty to your imagination.

Our family isn't and hasn't been perfect over the years but I love these 3 (and of course Joy but her anniversary's in October and birthday's in December so she has to wait for her turn) and can't over state how much being part of it has formed me - in a good way - into who I am.

Upcoming blog formats

I try desperately to avoid 40-picture, 5000-word blog entry essays on this site.  I deeply appreciate all of you who read this and give us emotional support over here and thus I try not to slam you with too much at one shot.

Still, I want to share some interesting stuff that I saw and experienced this past week of traveling so I will do so with shorter 'postlets'.  A pic or 2 and a blurb about a small bit of the trip.


What job?

This magazine has been sitting on my bed stand for months and I had never noticed this tag on the cover for an article.
Who was the cover editor on that one?  There are so many ridiculously offensive (and some humorous) ways that could be interpreted that I'm not even going to start....  ok, I changed my mind.

You know those folks who think that AIDS was invented by the white man to destroy the [fill in the ethnic group of your choice]?  Doesn't this title seem like an article in white supremacist magazine related that alleged plot?

Well, that was mine.  Not really funny, but the clip just hit me so I had to throw it on here.

Oh by the way, here's the full cover.  In context it does makes sense... but still.


The Game

The Shakhtar game was great!  We jumped and screamed (only in Russian, of course) and sang and cheered on our team.  With the exception of the disappointment with the folks behind us - who were fairly unhappy with us wanting stand the whole match - the atmosphere was just what I wanted.

We have to go to to the train for my 3rd overnight train trip in as many days so I am just going to do a basic overview of the game and I handle the city of Donetsk later once I've sorted through the pics.

This is Olympic/Locomotiv Stadium in Central Donetsk.  We went in a little early to see if the security would let us in with our travbel pack.  There was almost no one there even 20 minutes before the game.

This guy was not only there early, but he'd also clearly put in some serious time preparing his blood alcohol level before he arrived.  He was sort of a cross between our section's official chant leader and a court jester.  A lot of poeple came over just to take pictures with him - most of which I think his pickled mind will be very surprised to see today.

This is the fans and Ultras section.  At the ticket booth there was literally a sign that showed the rules for those who wanted to sit near the Ultras.  There was to be no horns, silly hats or painted faces.  This is serious event for them and they couldn't risk being distracted by mere amatures.  They also state that if you don't know/sing the songs and chants, you are no longer welcome.  We saw one of their 'business cards' on the gate outside which said, "For you it's a game, for us it's life" - and I think meant it.  Aside from the violence that comes with Ultra culture, they were fantastic.  They were formerly greated by the PA announcer and were absolutely organized and jacked all game.  You may notice that the riot cops were perpetually between the fans and the pitch.

We were rocking our particular section and Jenya was one of the instigators of a lot of our chants.

After the game we got jammed on a trolly bus to get back to the train station for our departure and the fun atmosphere continued with the fellow occupants in great spirits.  We even sang a few songs in the bus, much to the consternation of the non-game passengers.

And of course we won.  2-0 is a good score line and Aaron's point that Spurs ignored this competition doesn't take away from my enjoyment of the game.  Our boys looked pretty good considering this was their first cometitive game in almost 2 months.  I look forward to being able to follow their UEFA Cup progress and the UPL as it restarts on TV from Kerch.



I just re-ordered these pictures and then realized that my memory wasn't right... the events protrayed did not occur in this order.

We got to look around Kharkov today and I really enjoyed it.  I don't have a ton of time since we leave for the train station for our 10:30 PM departure, so this will be very brief.  All pics are photoshoped by Sergey.

Graffitti on some wall.  AIDS awarness art.  Jenya does lectures on AIDS in schools so we thought we needed some shots with the wall.  
We are positioned to have wings... wings that were origianlly on flying condoms.  Very weird.

This is an anti-Yushenko/anti-American rally by the communists.  I did feel a bit uncomfortable was we walked around taking pictures with Sergey and Jenya speaking to me very loudly in English.  They had a donation box to send President Yushenko to the US - and it was pretty darn full!
Beautiful orthodox monestary downtown.  We got some good shots and ate tastey treats baked by the monks.

And what tour is complete without a pic of a huge Lenin statue.  It's not actually John Lennon but Sergey liked the idea that it could be.


On my way

By the time this posts, I will just be getting on the train for Kharkov.  

Jenya and I picked out our food stash for the train (obviously we need to eat at some point over the 12 hour ride) which I get to carry in my larger pack.  It consists mostly of cholesterol and 4 liters of kvas.  

Jenya's bringing a brand new copy of Phase 10 and I'm stocking up on football podcasts for the down time.

I think I should be able to post from Sergey's place in Kharkov and Sarah my take the time to post from Kerch too.  I'll try to share as much as I can about this little excursion while there and after I return.

Peas out!

Where you at (even more forcefully)?

I'm not posting again until you guys fulfill your end of the deal and get the comment count up there.  I can name at least a dozen folks who've commented before but haven't chimed in yet.  There are no exemptions from this!

For my own peace of mind, before I embark on this trip, I need to know something about who reads this blog.

Leave a comment with:
  • Name (real or pseudonym that I can know you by)
  • Location
  • Your website or blog (if applicable)
  • The single best trip you've ever undertaken
This is non-negotiable!  Everyone who reads this post must comment with one or all of the above items.


Donetsk was Hughes-ovka

Wow, that doesn't roll of the tongue quite like Istanbul and Constantinople, does it?  Hard to believe that you could fine a pair of city names that are harder to get into a song than the 2 that 'They Might be Giants' chose.

This is Donetsk:
I started looking into the city of Donetsk today because there is one potentially fatal flaw in our planned trip...  We only have about 40 minutes after the final whistle blows in the Shakhtar-Tottenham game to travel about 4 miles back the train station for our departure.  I was checking out the map and discovered there are some amazingly interesting things about this city.

  • Shakhtar play in a stadium with 2 different names.  It is either called Locomotiv Stadium or Olympic Stadium.  Even weirder, they don't actually play in Shakhtar Stadium which is just a few miles from there - the other team in Donetsk does!  This is like the NY Mets playing at a place called Yankee Stadium.
  • The city of Donetsk was founded by a Welsh guy!  His name was Hughes and it was originally called 'Yuzovka' for that reason.  It was renamed 'Stalina' in 1923, derived from the word for steel - the city's major industry.  It's only been called Donetsk since 1961 when it was "De-Stalinfied.'
  • It used to be the capital of it's own Soviet Republic.
  • It was the site of a Nazi concentration camp in which 92,000 people where killed, mostly Slavs.
  • I have compared Shakhtar to the Steelers before and lo and behold, Pittsburgh is one of Donetsk's sister cities.
  • In 1970 the city was called the world's cleanest industrial city by UNESCO.
  • It is the home of world record pole vaulter Sergey Bubka - quite possibly the most dominant athlete in the history of sports.  Bubka broke the world record (usually his own) 35 times in his career and has held it unchallenged at 6.14 meters since his retirement in 2001.  No other athlete has yet been able to even reach 6.10 so his record is likely safe for the foreseeable future.
How about all that for a list of truly interesting facts!


Visiting 'the girls'

They live in a small village called Ivanovna but go to school in Bagerova, where we saw them today.  It was great to see the girls with hair after we needed to shave their heads in the summer due to lice.  I honestly can't tell the difference between them but the mischievous looking one on the right ran up and gave us hugs as soon as they saw us - which is always a good feeling.
We saw their cousin, little Sergey too but he's a bit camera averse and not nearly so photogenic as the girls.

This is Sarah now....
 Earlier in the year, I got a chance to see the girls.  Once a week we take fruit and snacks to about 25 kids at the school, and these girls and Sergey are included in that.  I know a lot of you from Camp 3 grew attached to these kids so I wanted to give you an update.

Tanya told me that the teachers are amazed at the change they've seen in the girls.  Last year, they were extremely shy, had poor hygiene, and did not know how to play with the other kids.  They were thought of as "weird" because they would hide and did not know how to interact with others.  This year is completely different.  They are now the popular ones in school.  When I got there they seemed very confident in themselves, giving us lots of hugs and pulling me everywhere to find the room I was supposed to be in.  They have big smiles and seem very happy.  The difference?  They went to summer camp.

I got to see Sergey too.  I wish I could say that he was doing just as well.  It's hard to say exactly what's going on inside because he's so shy and doesn't like to make eye contact.  Keep praying for him.  I know his home life is very difficult including violence from his mom's boyfriend.  The most we saw him smile was certainly at camp.  I can't wait for him to come again!  


The other night we had the treat of having Roman, Oksana and Rita over for dinner.  They got us hooked up with a Christian-owned place around to the corner that has these sweet massage beds so it only seemed fair that we reciprocate with a little homemade American food.

Here's our group shot on the couch that doubles as Cam's bed.


New header

I switched the header graphic from a simple and amateurish one with a good shot of the remains of the Turkish fortress of Еникале (Yenikalea) to another picture that I took of Fortress Kerch last spring.

It should be obvious that a higher degree of skill went into the editing of this photo for me so make a comment let Sergey know how you like his work.  Also tell me what you think of the new photo choice.

You love me! You really love me!

I wrote yesterday about the difference in our travel regimen this year as compared to last but today I was thinking that our presence here also seems to have greater affect on our friends over there.

Last year, outside of teams we were visited by only 4 people we knew (and 3 of those were our parents) and had 2 part-summer interns.

This year the numbers are staggering.  As best I can figure we are expecting visits from at least 10 friends and will have no less than 8 (possibly more) interns as varying points during the summer.  4 of those interns will even be here outside of the actual summer camp period - either before or after camps.

We may also end up with 4 groups or individuals who come to work on the camp itself, as compared to 1 last year.

Contrary to the title of the post, I don't really think it's our continued presence that has caused this.  I honestly don't know what the difference is.

I heard once that economic downturns tend to have an effect on charitable giving by the middle class - an INVERSE effect.  Apparently when faced with news or experiences that shake us out of our comfort zone, we tend to actually give more generously.  I don't know if we are seeing an example of this, but hearts have been opened to the ministry here and it's a huge blessing.

Thanks for your efforts and God bless.


I don't usually do this...

....but you have all got to see this.  

I typically avoid throwing up random YouTube clips since I'm usually the last one to see them anyway, but this one is so far beyond awesome that I just had to.

Travel to travel

When we were here in 2008 we did almost no travel.  I could count the number of cities I saw on one hand and only our 36 hour trip to Yalta was for fun.  In fact, our only legitimate attempt at seeing what Europe has to offer resulted in our being banned from re-entry to Ukraine for 4 months.

This year all that is going to change.  Here is the line-up for the next few months:
  • Next Tuesday Jenya, Sergey and I are going to see Shakhtar play in Donetsk.  The trip also involves a day in Kharkov (Ukraine's second city), coming AND going, plus almost an entire day in Donetsk itself.  All of these are firsts for me.
  • Soon after I return, I will be going to Kiev with Andrey to the embassy of Belarus to work on our visas for.....
.... our missions trip up north!  I call it a missions trip because Belarus is almost as inaccessible as Russia, particularly for Americans and we are taking our staff and volunteers to run a camp.  For many of them it will be the first time outside their own culture (though not that far outside) and it will give them insight on how the internationals feel when they come to the Hope Center.

For those of you who want the practice, Tanya is planning to blog the trip in Russian!  For the rest of you, I'll be doing it in English as well.

For the other trips, you'll just have to wait till I get back to hear updates.


Here we go again

I neglected to post some photos of the Ranger at work which I explicitly promised to some folks, so here you go.

We used it to unload our latest humanitarian aid shipment - the same shipment that ousted the Ranger from it's former garage.  These pallets usually weigh between 250 and nearly 500 lbs so unloading them by hand is a tough task.  The decision was made to slide them out of the truck into the Ranger like so...
....and so......
....and then drive them either into the storage or to the door if it's too tall like this one.

It's a good use of the vehicle and they were all excited to be a part of using it.

I was also able to figure out the wiring problem that the winch was having and get it corrected so we can use the plow.  It turns out that you can push dirt almost as easily as snow.  More to come about how that is utilized.....


I got a new job....

....and in this economy!

Here at the HopeCenter, this type of view is going to be a lot more common.

I have been asked to help fill in as security through the month of February.  The head of security, Igor is heading on vacation so his shifts will be covered by one of either me, Jenya or Andrey.  This is big deal for me because it indicates faith in my competence and capabilities.

Here, being security involves welcoming our guests and discouraging the unwanted.  Strangely I'm more worried about the former as it requires language skills that I don't think I have yet.  It's easier for me to yell at trespassers in the dead of night than cordially invite a guest to speak with some of our staff.  At night I have 2 scary shepherd/rottweilers to help me with the yelling part.

I'll have to let you all know how this experiment goes...  I think my[our] first shift will be Tuesday.


You just never know

We've been getting some flack for not updating you on life here at the camp.  Lately, I've been feeling guilty for this, and wondered why this is so hard for me to do.  I guess it's just because life seems so... normal here.  We don't have any miraculous stories to make you feel good or to make it sound like we are doing "God's work" overseas.  But God reminded me that he works in the "normal" of our days.  

So here is the "normal" of our day.  Since last summer we've gotten connected with two boys who live near the camp... Sergey and Misha.  Nearly every weekend these two come to visit.  I'll be honest with you... some days I just want to be by myself, but every time God changes my selfishness and shows me that it was worth it.  

Here's a little background on the boys.  Sergey is 15 and Misha is 14.  We've been told that their mom died in childbirth with Misha, and their grandparents did not want them living with their dad so they took them in.  Although for the first 11 years, it was hard for them to provide for boys so they went in and out of the orphanage.  The last 3 years they have been solely living with their grandparents.  When I first met Sergey at our summer camp, I thought he was a punk.  He strutted around with his friends, and when I first said hello he shook out his wet hair in my face.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Misha and Cam)
Misha is always coming over drinking all of our powdered drink packets and (now that we are in winter) all of our hot chocolate. :) But, now that I've gotten to know these boys, I love them like they are my nephews.  They are very sweet and Sergey has shown himself to actually be very polite and considerate... and even tries to teach Misha to do the same.  Misha is always helping me to clean and loves playing with Campbell.  They have become fast buds.  

Last Saturday, we went to see Sergey compete in judo... of which he took first place in all of Crimea!!  They came over on Sunday... we made cookies.  Yesterday they came over again and we hung out... and yup, now that it's Sunday, they are coming over again.  With our limited Russian and their limited English our hangout times are just that... hanging out.  No deep theological training... no life changing revelations... just hanging out and laughing. 

What is God doing through this?  Not a clue.  Will I ever know?  Probably not.  Hebrews 11 talks of all the "greats" in the Bible... Abraham, Moses, Isaac, Jacob... who were given promises from God.  "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." (Heb. 11:39) It all happened outside of their lifetimes.  So who knows what will come out of the normal of our day.  God has just asked us to befriend these kids, to demonstrate Christ to them... and only through our actions.  

I will try to keep you updated more on our "normalness".  Who knows, maybe it will encourage one of you, and at the very least you'll know what we've been up to.  All I know is that when I am conscious that God is working in everyday things, the days become more purposeful.  Take captive every normal aspect of your day... you just never know. 


Again with the Ranger

I know that some of you are about sick and tired of hearing about our new UTV but there's some who are interested to see how it's doing, what we use it for, etc.

I just put together this video really quick regarding out parking/security situation that exists until we can finish our carport/garage where it will sleep.

Also, we are still trying to come up with the funds to cover the import tax that we were forced to pay unexpectedly last week.  If you had thought about helping us cover this, please remember to get your gift into Global Action and indicate that it's for the "UTV fund".  Thanks.


Caption please!

Koala trying to escape from 100+ degree temps in a bucket of water on someone's porch.

What's he saying here???

Best comment gets a..... umm...  high five in 8 months.

Wheelchair master

In between humanitarian aid recipients today, Jenya and I raced wheelchairs around the camp and I am making an official statement - a part of my platform, if you will - that para-olympians are studs.

By tomorrow morning I will likely have little or no use of my upper extremities and the amount trunk control that wheelchair power entails will probably render me unable to sit up in bed.  Oh well.... I won 4 out of 5 races and that's what's important, right.


Today's big game

Here's my take on today's big game....

How could one not pull for the boys in red?  They have struggled unsuccessfully to climb to the top of the league for decades.  This year offers their best chance to finally reach the pinnacle and longtime fans are holding their breaths for today's matchup.

Since it's already 9pm in Ukraine, I'll tell you how it ends.

The Reds scored twice in the final minutes to defeat......

...the billionaires of Chelski.

Today was the second meeting this year of these 2 powerhouse sides.  Liverpool won last time at Stanford Bridge - halting their record-breaking undefeated home streak.

This time, back in Liverpool Fernando Torres scored twice in stoppage time to break a scoreless game against the 10-man Blues.  It was torturous to follow it online but luckily Tammi was actually in the grounds and gave me updates over mobile facebook.  It was an awesome victory that broke a run of draws and bad form.  What a relief......

What, you thought I was talking about the Super Bowl??  Tomorrow morning check which game had more viewers.