We're back

We've returned from our foray into the forests of the north and survived. It's after midnight and I didn't sleep well on the train last night so I'll just throw out these impressions of Belarus to wet your appetites (assuming anyone has hung in there through our week's hiatus).

I couldn't have been more surprised at how different 2 countries who have only been separated for less than 2 decades could be. A common language, culture and history and yet there are noticeable differences, even for a foreigner. I'll get into it more later but it really has opened by eyes to the problems which Ukraine seems to bring on itself.

The Ukrainians who went made me feel so much better about Americans abroad. For having come from a relatively dour (publicly) society, our team was every bit as goofy and embarrassing to be around as any from the States.... and I loved it.

OK, off to bed. More later.


We've Arrived!

I'm going to keep this short since I am on borrowed time and a borrowed сomputer. We arrived this morning -- had a really good trip on the train and even made it over the border! We're just hoping we have just as much luck coming back. Campbell seems to be doing really well with Andrey... keep praying, but it's looking like he's going to make it the whole week -- me too. So far we've met with the director of the center where we will be. She seems nice aтв the center is very nice. We will give more details later. (For some reason this computer will not let me write and in the previous sentence) Ok... we are doing well with ouк Russian and we are having a great time with the counselors. They are having a good time being tourists. I think they have a better understanding of our crazy Americans that come to Ukraine now. We even took them ice skating for the first time. Well, that is all for now... prayer requests... continue with the previous requests from before, also I am fighting some kind of Montezuma's revenge here, and our Bibles are in hostage at the border still (along with a bunch of presents we mailed). We love you all and am thankful for the prayers. They are already being answered.


Kiev... just in time

Since we leave for Belarus in less than 24 hours, I snuck this one in just in time before I would obligated to start posting about that trip. Here's a couple pictures of my trip to Kiev with Sergey last week. Since I already posted on the game, most of these will be of the city itself.
I was surprised how few songs we have which aren't sappy... even the punk stuff! So I had to go with the Beatles.


Going on a missions trip

Yes, it may sound funny to those of you who consider us missionaries here in Ukraine to be "going on a missions trip", but that is indeed what we will be doing this Sunday. There will be 8 of us going to our northern neighbor, Belarus... Tanya, Jenya, Matt and I and 4 of our summer camp counselors. Yes, you read right Campbell will not be going on this trip. He will be staying in Kerch with two of his favorite people - Andrey and Alosha (pictured above).

Andrey approached us with this idea saying "God told me that Campbell is to stay here with me while you go to Belarus." It took me almost two weeks to agree with him, but I really do think it is the best thing. Part of this trip is for Matt and I to better connect with the counselors and in order to do that and be of as much help as possible we really do need to be Campbell-less.

So please be praying for the following... that I will be able to trust Campbell into God's care (as I should always be doing, but here is the real test), that Campbell will do well with the goodbye (I don't think I could handle the leg grabbing and sobs), healing for Campbell as he has been fighting a nasty cold/flu this week, and that Campbell will do well for Andrey. Why is it that the week before this all is to happen, Campbell comes down with the worst of his colds, decides he's going to start spitting and hitting people when they tell him no, wakes up 2-3 times a night with nightmares, and refuses to eat? My guess is we are getting the attacks early. So your prayers are very much appreciated.

Ok... so the trip. We will be gone for 9 days - of which 2 of those days will be spent on a lovely train. For 5 days we will be doing a mini summer camp for kids in Belarus. The place we are going to is not quite an orphanage... not sure what it is called exactly, but it is where the kids go while their paperwork is being finalized in becoming orphans. So great moment in their life. We will work with the 3-6 year olds in the morning and the school aged kids in the afternoon and evening. Pray for strength for us, health (I'm already getting my third cold), creativity and most of all broken hearts for these kids. Pray for the kids to be open to what we have to say and for lives to miraculously be changed with just some simple messages in these short days. I know it can happen, because God does it here at our camps. And then finally, pray for the unity of our team. Matt and I are really hoping that our language skills improve over this week and that we will be able to really connect with these team members so that our ability to liaison with the US/England teams will be that much better.

We are hoping to update the blog while we are there, but if we don't we will certainly fill you in when we get back after the 30th.


Apture Me!!

I'm gonna test something here. If any of you have added Apture to your sites (and thus have an account) try to add content to one of my posts.

Apparently I have set it up to allow you find your own related stuff and link it to my site. If you do it, leave a comment to let me know which post and where.

LotD - James Lileks

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make ironic: [Former Chairman to the Federal Reserve] Ben Bernanke's childhood home sold - after foreclosure.


I caught this from him via Twitter. If you're a Tweet, I recommend you follow him... he's brilliant.


UEFA, my new drug

First, a disclaimer... the fantastic post a few days ago which some have thought was mine was actually written by Sarah. In case you misunderstood that, I suggest you re-read it with her in mind and you will see another reason why I love her so much (or 'too much' as Campbell calls it).

Unfortunately for those of you who are desperately interested in my trip to Kharkov and Donetsk, I have been on another trip which will now begin to receive coverage on the blog... at least until we go to Belarus at the end of the month.

I guess that last line gives away part of the information on the trip - yes, we did get our visas for Belarus... or will once our passports are returned to us this week. For as much as we joke about Belarus, it must be said that their embassy staff was extremely friendly. They were easy to deal with and basically gave us our visas (after we forked over a small fortune in fees and payments) with no questions asked. But I digress, let me go back to the beginning....

Sergey and I took the 23 hour train ride to Kiev from Wednesday to Thursday. As soon as we arrived we checked on return tickets for a return Thursday night, only to learn they were sold out. This meant that we needed a place to stay that night and it also meant we would be in town and unoccupied for.....


How awesome is that. We got to watch fierce national rivals Dynamo Kiev vs. Metalist Kharkov in a European game that will decide who represents Ukraine into the next round. I've developed a soft spot for Metalist due to their tough play and workman like squad, but this support was tempered by the overwhelming and very vocal Dynamo fans who surrounded us. I guess our problem was solved by Kiev's 1-0 victory which left little to cheer about.

I got a glimpse of how English fans must have felt at last years CL Final in Moscow... I had no idea one city could have so many cops. On my way along the main street, through a plaza and into the stadium I was frisked 4 times... though no one really checked my ticket. As we exited we were herded through a gauntlet of police until we had left the stadium area. I just checked on Google Earth and it was 1/3 of mile worth of black-clad riot cops shoulder to shoulder, two rows deep on either side. Once we got onto the main street there were still more cops stopping people from crossing the street and occasionally a literal busload of emergency responders also in riot gear.

All of this to quell any outbreak that might have been caused by the few hundred Metalist ultras clashing with the entire city of Kiev. They had their own entrance and exit procedures, presumably guarded by a similar contingent of officers.



When Slick made the point that facebook is a self-centered medium, I begged to differ and yet here I am making a blog post on pretty much the same information that I posted to facebook and Twitter.  If this redundency doesn't exemplify a silly sense of self-importence, I don't know what does...  touche sir, touche.

So me and Sergey are in the train stop city of Jankoy at an internet cafe (though there is no hint of any edible food products or coffee) getting caught up on things in which I really hadn't fallen behind.  I desperately needed to put in my predictions for the English Prem games today and take a look at the new facebook.

So I have now updated you on how I have updated you on the non-events in my current travels.  Pathetic, I know.


I am weak.

Today Campbell was singing "Jesus Loves Me" and the words "I am weak" struck a little too close to home.

About a week and a half ago we were told that we would need to leave Ukraine three months early (the beginning of July)  because a new law came into effect.  It pretty much comes down to wether you have a visa or not, you cannot stay in country longer than 180 days... and need to leave the country in the middle of that.  This got resolved for us rather quickly.  God came through in the next couple of days and we were granted an extension.  Through this time, I was fully at peace and thought "no big deal, God will work it out".   I'm glad he did work it out, and although it showed me his power, it didn't really increase my faith.  Was I asking for more faith?  I don't recall this, but... 

Then we started having trouble getting money out of the ATMs.  In fact we were not able to get any money out, and after trying for several days and going to several banks, still no luck.  Again... "not a big deal... God is in control... something will be figured out".  This by the way is still not figured out, but we at least have some cash on hand to exchange in the mean time.

Round Three... We need to get visas from Belarus (Matt is actually on his way now via train to Kiev) in order to go to our trip in 2 weeks.  (We will post more on this trip shortly.)  This of course involves paperwork in triplicate with many applications and money and pictures and letters... you get the point.  The invitation letter we were supposed to have received last week did not come until late last night.  We thought for some time that Andrey was going to have to make the ever famous 6 hour trip to Simferopol to pick it up for us.  Without this letter... no visa.  Yesterday was filled with unsuccessful trips to banks and unsuccessful attempts at filling out the application online.  

At which around this time God gave me the Round Four... no electricity.  This meant no water as well.  I'm starting to get a little more upset at this point, but figure "this happens quite often and they say it should be fixed by evening so let's not freak out yet".  Of course this hasn't really become a learning experience for me yet so it didn't actually get worked out by evening.  "Ok... take a deep breath... not much we can do about it... God will work it out."  After much convincing Tanya got us over to her place for the night where we were kept warm and fed and were able to get some showers in.  Matt still needed to figure out how we were going to get the paperwork done and printed out, get some money exchanged, and get some food before the train left at noon.  

We got back to the house... and that's when it all started to hit.  Campbell being very tired insisted on having milk (which didn't smell so good) in his McQueen sippy cup (which happened to be dirty and could not be cleaned with having no water), and Matt asked me to close the door because I was letting the cold air in.  That's when it all came out.  I really thought I had it all under control but actually I was just stuffing it... I came to realize.  And poor Sergey was in the middle of it all.  Then I heard how we were not going to be able to have the kids here for our after school program and the parents' responses to that... well it showed how little care they get at home.  Then I started to think "There are real problems in this world.  Real hurts and real needs and I lose it over this?"  How cush of a life have I lived where this is my breaking point. 

So I was reminded today that yes... I am weak.  It took some time for God to get through my pride but I am glad he did.  I have a feeling this was just the surface layer.  We now have electricity and water so my mood has been lifted.  I am thankful for the short inconvenience.  When it comes down to it, I don't like that deeper layer or what it takes to get down to it... but in some ways it's refreshing to get a wake up call.   



I've been told that the Apture app that I introduced on the last post isn't working for some folks. Can I get some feedback? If you're on my page, can any of you access the built-in links?

If you can't see it on mine, check out this Andy Braner post and let me know if they work for you there.

Honestly people, letting me believe that I have just shared a pearl of wisdom with the world when it is doing absolutely nothing is the cyber equivalent of letting me do a speech with my fly down....

Where are my real friends?


The Newest Thing

My blog theft tends come in waves and this post is no different.  A few posts back I snagged Brian Welch's testimony from Andy Braner's blog and today he has opened my eyes to quite possibly the coolest blog bling (oh yeah, I said blog bling) I have ever seen.

Apture is a bit of code that you throw on your site that allows all the little linky things you see in this text.  It allows me to quickly add all sorts of content by just highlighting the word(s).  It automatically searches the web for any related content and I just choose what I want.

All you have to do is let you cursor rest on the link and Apture will give you the goods.

I can't wait to come up with a post idea that shows off the feature.


News from Hope Center - March Edition

Here's the latest newsletter from Hope Center (the format may be a bit goofy after I copy and paste):

After School Program 

Early this year we started an after school program for at-risk children and those who needed a safe place to be during the critical hours in the afternoon.  It is focused on boys and girls, ages 7 to 14, from extremely poor or dysfunctional family situations.

The children arrive at camp sometime between noon and 2 pm, when we serve a hot, nutritious meal.  Before lunch they are free to play table games or go outside for other activities.  After they are fed, they return to their classroom to complete any homework with the help of our staff and volunteers.  Throughout the week, this time is also used for individual English tutoring.  Once finished with their classwork, they have free time until our instruction time begins at 4pm.  We use this period for lessons and lectures in English, Bible, psychology, rudimentary economics and other assorted interesting topics.  The children are then given a snack and sent home by 5:30pm.

During their time at camp, their health is consistently monitored by our resident pediatrician Dr. Olga who also administers vitamins and medication as needed.  We also provide coats, clothing and shoes from our humanitarian aid supplies.

In order to fully appreciate the impact of this program it is essential to know a little about the children who are involved.

Masha (14 years old)

Masha’s parents divorced when she was 10 months old.  Her mother raised her in a single parent situation until she was 10 years old, when she disappeared without a trace, leaving Masha parent-less.  Her mother was frequently drunk and it is suspected that this may have had something to do with her disappearance.  Masha now lives in a tenuously rented apartment with her aunt who can barely support them both on her meager income selling fruit.

Masha is frequently sick in the winter and Dr. Olga suspects that it is related to her lack of warm clothes.  We allowed her to choose from our selection of high-quality coats from Sweden as well as some warmer clothes and shoes.

Daniel (8 years old)

Daniel’s family life is as tragic as it is confusing.  He lives with his grandparents along with 7 other children - all of whom are his relatives.  He comes to camp with his uncle Dima, who is 12 years old and also in our program.  Daniel’s father committed suicide last year and his mother died of a blood disorder.  His younger brother is in the small orphanage near the camp because their grandparent can’t afford to raise him as well.  His alcoholic grandfather cannot work as he only has one eye - which has very poor vision.

Daniel is a constant challenge as he struggles with his temper.  He is extremely aggressive towards other children but we have noticed a marked improvement in him within the structure of our program.

Oleg (6 years old)

Oleg is a recent addition to this program.  He is the oldest of his mother’s 3 children and they all live with the father of the youngest child.  Neither his mother nor step-father work consistently and drunkenness is the norm.  Oleg’s mother does not want to stay with this man but is left with little choice with 3 young children to feed.

Oleg is severely stunted in his development.  In trying to teach him simple English, we learned that he didn’t even fully understand concepts like numbers, letters, shapes and colors in Russian yet!  Dr. Olga has prescribed medication for the chronic bronchitis that his parents are both unable and unwilling to have treated.

Denis (13 years old)

Denis is also a child from a broken family.  His parents divorced when we was 2 years old and his father subsequently went to prison for robbery.  His mother remarried but with an ultimatum from her new husband that she would abandon Denis.  She left the then 3 year-old boy with his grandmother and moved to Israel.  She still calls occasionally to talk to him but has no intention of returning for him - even though she has since divorced again.  Denis still loves her very much and faithfully defends her to those who might imply that she is a bad mother.


Summer camps funding update

I realized today that I haven't given a recent update on our fundraising efforts from while we were in the US during the fall.

As of today, faithful donors have given exactly $11, 406.12 towards summer camps in 2009.

We are staggered by this number and are so blessed to have been able to be part of this effort and to have been allowed to share our heart with all of you.

As you can see on the right, the link is still available if you would like to contribute towards summer camps this year.



Sometimes I feel bad re-posting content from another blog.... 

...but then I realize that if there's little overlap in our readership, I am almost obligated to spread the reach of great info, ideas, etc.

With that in mind, here is the YouTube video testimony of Brian "Head" Welch, the co-founder and former guitarist from Korn - leading candidates for America's Most Vile.  It's a bit long at 7 minutes but it'll choke you up when he talks about his daughter.  From Andy Braner


Kharkov/Donetsk Tidbit

I promised no long posts about the Donetsk trip and since this one is 9 pics, I'll make it up by making the text sparse.

The communist party of Ukraine was taking donations to ship their unpopular president to the US.  Not the most loved moment I've felt since I've been here.

Umm...  that's obviously Freddie Mercury graffiti.  Not sure what else to add about that.

Some of the figures from Ukrainian history at the base of the statue in central Kharkov dedicated to Taras Shevchenko - arguably Ukraine's greatest poet/artist.

I have issues with their teachings but there can be no arguing with the Orthodox church's sense of the aesthetic.

Yup, that's an Italian restaurant.  Nothing like the Ukrainian version of ethnic sensitivity.

Street kids in Kharkov.  They were literally fighting for scraps of food and change with the dog.

Jenya said these cars are from about 1947.  

Donetsk still has their classic Soviet manhole covers.  Being in Kerch, I'd never seen one as they were stolen to sell for scrap long before I got here.

A statue of the Welsh founder of Donetsk John Hughes.

Was that fast enough?  Ok class, any questions?


The definition of awesome

I hate to brag and I'm sure you all (mistakenly) feel the same way about your families, but my wife and boy the absolute greatest family a guy could have.

I found these pictures on the computer tonight I had to share them with you guys.