Gotta be on guard

A few days ago I noticed this scrawling on a wall near the camp.

Though it appears to say that Ahtoh + Capa = Love, transliterated from Cyrillic it says that Anton loves Sarah. Due to Sarah being a very uncommon name here and the graffiti's proximity to camp, I am guessing that this is indicating MY Sarah.

I'm a big enough man to let this one slide but Anton better be careful....


Camp 1 highlight

This is a picture that will always have a special place in my heart. It's a long story but I'll do my best stay on track...

In this photo, left to right, is Sergey (camper), Sergey the translator (who will be called Seroja for the rest of this post), Kolya and me. The two boys are from Vasilkov orphanage and came with the toughest groups of boys I've dealt with at the Hope Center. Directly disobedient and constantly disrespectful... even the young boys would laugh at you and run off if you asked them to follow the scheduled events. They actually booed pictures of people they didn't like at the final slideshow - a universally (so I thought) loved event.

For these reasons and others, I am nearly always asked to adopt the oldest boys at most camps and these were some tough boys. Sergey and Kolya weren't much different for the first week they were here. That was when Seroja started taking an interest in getting them to follow the rules.

Initially it started with some butting of heads, raised voices and threats of being sent home but gradually there was a softening. A few days before the end of camp Seroja and Kolya took a long walk around camp and talked about life and what I had been sharing (through Seroja's translation) with the boys. He encouraged Kolya with what he knew of the Bible and advocated for accepting Christ. Here's the weird thing...

Seroja wasn't a Christian. He'd heard the gospel message ad nauseam at camp over the years but never really made a serious commitment.

After this talk and some deep soul searching on Kolya's part, the boy accepted the Lord with open arms. It was a beautiful thing to hear him talk about the strength and peace he felt for having made the decision. Seroja was so moved by this that he accompanied this group of orphans to the train station. As he was saying goodbye to Kolya, this young Christian encouraged Seroja to also make a decision; "You're ready, I can see it in your eyes," he told him.

It was at this point that younger Sergey came and asked Seroja and one of our interns to pray with him to accept Christ as well.

If you're following this, my boy Seroja has now played a major role in leading 2 people to Christ - prior to having accepted Him himself!

As you can imagine, this made for an amazing 24 hour period, but it gets better. Last night I was honored to pray that same prayer with Seroja as he finally let down his barriers and accepted the Lord himself.

He spoke on the phone with Kolya this evening and the young orphan told him, "I'm praying for you and Matt and you need to pray for Matt too."

What do I say? Shocked, humbled, broken, rejoicing, weeping... all at once.

Can't wait to see what the next camp has for us.


Street Kids

I wish I knew where this video was from so I could give credit. It features some street kids from Moscow but it is a story that could easily come from Ukraine as well.

These are the types of backgrounds that we are faced with on an almost daily basis in our programs.


Anniversary and Cam

As I mentioned on a few other media, today is our anniversary. 6 years today and 4 of those have been spent in another country doing ministry (one of those, we were in separate countries). Romantic time together and celebration is not something we've come to expect.

Today at dinner the kids, staff and international team serenaded us and showered us with bouquet after bouquet of flowers, congratulations and kisses. It was one of the single most touching times since we've been here. Birthdays are special but to share this occasion with Sarah makes it... well, perfect.

Here's the kitchen table with our flowers. We had to borrow two of the 3-liter juice jars just to fit all our gifts.

Caution: Sudden and unrelated topic change!

Last night we handed out the Bibles to the kids and took some time to write a short encouraging note in the inside cover. It turned into a yearbook-style book signing and even Cam got into the act.

The kids would bring him the Bible and Cam would look at them thoughtfully - as though contemplating what would be best to inscribe - and then scribble some chicken scratches. He always concluded by slapping each Bible shut with a very Russian 'oh-pa!' and sending the child on their way. It was freaking hilarious. Here's my phone camera picture of it...

Monday's Photos from Cam

Campbells' become pretty adapt at using the camera so I thought it was time that he got his own post on the blog. He specializes in stuff that affects his everyday life...

The lovely face of his Mommy or at least half of it.

These are his jammies, laid out for him to get ready for bed.

His Daddy

His potty, a major topic of conversation these days

A very close shot of the wheel of his tractor, always a major topic of any conversation.

His aiming has improved significantly but he still struggles to keep his fingers away from the flash and lens.


Hope Center Video redux

Today camps begin in earnest and we'll have kids here consistently until the end of August.

I figure today is a good time to re-post the Hope Center video that we made last year. It uses pictures from last summer and tries to express the need in Ukraine which makes these camps so valuable.

Already I've met a boy whose father died, leaving his mom to decide whether she could feed him or if he should go to an orphanage. We've welcomed a group of hardened street boys brought by a local church. We have boys and girls who have suffered from all manner of trauma and abuse. It's not too late to donate on their behalf to fund this valuable program (see the link in right-hand sidebar).

At least watch the video as it explains exactly why we believe we were called here.


2 points to the blond in the heels... (LoTD)

I love news aggregators. Unlike watching cable news, you can just scan headlines and click on what you'd like to know about, ignoring what you don't.

It's by this method that I've been vaguely aware of a story involving same-sex marriage and Miss California. Here's the summary if you missed it...

Original Miss CA, Carrie Prejean (I'm sure there's a Levis joke in there somewhere) was tossed out and 'de-crowned' for saying that she believed - like a majority of Californians - that marriage is defined as between 1 man and 1 woman. She was replaced by Tami Ferrell (runner-up maybe?)....

...who apparently holds the same belief.

The line of the story is from Ferrell, who shows commendable humor and perspective in saying:

"You know, I think it's hilarious right now that the world is turning to beauty queens for the answers..."


Summer begins

I've not written much lately. It's not so much that I've been busy - though I have. It's not so much that nothing's happening around here - there is.

I'm just not in the mood at the moment.

Regardless of my mood as it relates to blogging, the summer will officially begin tonight at 8:10 pm tonight when I show up at the Simferopol airport for round 1 of teams pick-ups. It's gonna be quite a ride with some small teams, some huge teams and a whole smorgasbord of interns. I'm hoping to talk Sarah into posting more about camps so we cover all the bases.

Also, in the coming weeks I'll link to any of the intern or team blogs so that you can get that perspective as well.


My little blessing

Meghan came to us the beginning of May to start her summer internship here at the Hope Center after an exciting semester in Egypt and the Middle East. We've known her since she was a freshman in high school. All through high school she was a part of my small group during youth ministry... and man was she a pest. ;) (just kidding Maggy) In all reality though, it's been amazing seeing God grow this girl. It's so cool how we've gone from a mentoring relationship to now friends. And God knew just the right time to send her.

This has been somewhat of a hard year for me... for many differing reasons, some even unknown to myself. But since Meghan got here, she's been such an encouragement to both Matt and myself. She kept me going on those hard potty training days... not letting me give up when "really, I am ok with changing diapers for another year" thoughts popped into my head. She's always giving out encouragement and even lets Campbell steal the food right out of her hands. And then today she gives Matt and I a free morning on the town without the boy... ahhh. It was amazing to actually have conversation and to walk as slow as we wanted. We plan on taking her offer up again soon!

We love you Meghan... and I know it's not just for the grade either. ;)


Care package fail

For those who might be interested in sending a care package to any overseas friends, take this advice...

Donuts are not necessarily the ideal gift to send and certainly not without enhanced packaging. After nearly a month traveling through a series of postal depots (and we believe a misdirected trip to Russia first), this gift sent to our intern Meghan was a bit the worse for wear.

I think the slogan "Everyone's got a favorite" is probably accurate but not really applicable in this case.

Disclaimer: I realize that this gift was only semi-serious. I get the humor and enjoyed eating the remains of these donuts with a large soup spoon.