Farewell Blog: All Good Things Come to an End

Wow. This has been a journey of around twelve years of writing “the early years of our family’s story as a young missionary couple headed to Lviv, Ukraine”.

There are several reasons why our season of blogging has come to an end.

  1. The straw that broke the camel’s back is that we just became non-residential Ph.D. students with Indiana Wesleyan University in Organizational Leadership. We are on a 5-year journey that leaves little margin for “nice to haves”.
  2. When you have little margin, some things in life must move to the “Things to Stop Doing” List. This blog, unfortunately, is one of them. But I mourn not, because 12 years was a considerable stretch – material to write a book from some day, no doubt.
  3. The little margin we do have must be devoted to the main things that we truly love:

    • Leading the Epokha Team together. These people represent not only “work”, but community, local church, a deep love for teenagers, and a love for God.
    • Serving God through the greater Josiah Venture network. This past week, we both got to teach at the JV HR Leadership Academy (my own title for it), and God so gently reminded me that not only am I a full participant in this organization, but that my opportunity to inspire, bless, and invest in leaders of all shapes and sizes has no limits right now. God revealed to me a year ago “Go Wide” and therefore I will.
    • Our kids. They are growing up more and more everyday. Dylan’s getting ready for 1st grade. (We do Saturday school instead of formal kindergarten, b/c that concept is different here.) It was a privilege to take them with us on our 15-year wedding anniversary cruise because we love being a family. This is us:
    • Staying Sane. The margin left after serving God, ministering in Central & Eastern Europe and caring for team and family, we long to care for our souls – relaxing and enjoying the short days on earth that God has willed us. This is us –  celebrating 15 years of incredible marriage and 11 years in Ukraine. These once-in-a-life-time moments, like floating past Pelican Bay in St. Maarten, observing the destruction behind us of Hurricane Irma, which took 8 lives on this small island back in the fall of 2017, are literal reminders that life is short. Nothing is guaranteed. Christ is truly all we have.
  4. Work Hard, Love Hard, Play Hard

There are only 168 hours in the week, and they are currently wrapped up in other things. There is a season for all things under heaven, and this blog has just come to its end.

All glory be to God from this part of our journey. Until next time…

Once-Every-Two-Year US Observations

It is inevitable – traveling fairly seamlessly between cultures still makes for some interesting discoveries/observations while being back in the US. I apologize ahead of time for the sarcasm. It is always a bit strange to come back. Even my kids experience interesting moments, like visiting a public library for the first time. I know that most suburban mothers live for this place. Please do not tell DCFS.

Sad note – no more Macaroni Grills in the Chicago suburbs. I mourn my former work place.

True confessions – I don’t get a US SIM card when I return to the States, so it is an extra bonus to be off internet and social media for the most part while here. This means that I don’t take my phone with me everywhere I go, which means I don’t take photos. So my time in the US has been slow in that realm. Definitely not on my work game, either, but I’m trying. Being on the go with no internet, no office, no desk, living out of my rental car and 4 suitcases and staying at parents or in-laws every other night equals lack of productivity. Don’t judge until you have tried this lifestyle. Not conducive to administrators or students or international team leaders, which we are all of the above.

I was jetlagging really badly (and good-ly) while in IL this season, so I’m in the “get up at 5am, go to bed at 10pm” mode. I hate it (my kids feel the need to get up with me and bother me while I am trying to work; I cannot watch tv to save my life at night b/c I just crash) and love it (devotion time with God is at an all-time high on length and quality, thank you Holy Spirit and JV Board Member, Don Christiansen, as is hairstyling and make-up application, b/c I am not running out the front door, late like a crazy lady) at the same time. I am no longer working until 12/1 am. We’ll see how long this lasts. Class begins in 3 days…

I am writing this in the Downtown Wheaton Starbucks – old stomping grounds LONG before there were ever any Starbucks in the neighborhood. An employee approached me, saying that she remembers me from junior high. Oh my word. She asked me my maiden name. I had to think. It has been 15 years now! I remember her. I didn’t think I’d run into people I know, so it just slipped out “you are still here?”. Oops. I think she was insulted. I am looking for my 14-year-old self and acquaintances when I come back, so I’m not searching the faces of the balding, overweight dudes, wondering if I’ll run into any of my classmates. We were in Costco last time and my sister says, “hey, you went to high school with that worker” – I’d never have imagined. Shouldn’t everyone be living downtown in the Loop? Since I can’t, maybe I should just buy the Bed, Bath and Beyond painting for $20. Speaking of 20, our 20-year WNHS reunion is just around the corner. Oh my word.

Why I prefer being on the Magnificent Mile over the suburbs (see below):

Honestly, everyone in this Starbucks is driving me bonkers. I can hear EVERY SINGLE CONVERSATION. People speak so loudly. They speak about nothing, like their pets’ names. The older guys behind me are talking about colleges for their grandkids. Another guy is talking about tiger sharks (mind you it is -12 degrees Fahrenheit here.) The employees are communicating at full volume. I despise cursing and can hear it. Too much. I thought we Wheatonites were perfect(!) Yet I don’t want to complain because I think it is much easier to share Jesus with people when they are friendly and chatty, but when I am trying to read the stimulating (not) book “How to Read a Book”, I cannot concentrate to save my life. Did I mention that class starts again in three days. Trying not to panic.

Instead I am choosing to be thankful for bffs like miss Kate here (my only friend pic), and Annie and Bob and Lexie to keep us sane and grounded. And of course, it has been a blast to spend way too much money at Costco and at strip malls and be with our families over the holidays, but I will save that for another post.

Thanksgiving and Early Dec. Holiday Videos 2017

(These are all videos prior to our home assignment in the US.)

It’s always a joy to spend Thanksgiving with friends when you can’t be with family. We sometimes celebrate in Ukraine; sometimes we make the trip to Czech Republic (we had a brutal border wait on the way home that sometimes makes the CZ option far less appealing to me…like I want to spend Thanksgiving weekend in the car. NO.) But perhaps it was worth it as the kiddos did their first 5k “race”. Dylan ran some. Marissa ran less than some. That means that Ben and I also ran less than some. Oh well. They were adorable nonetheless.

JV Thanksgiving Turkey Trot – Dylan and Daddy’s Finish Line

There was also an annual JV talent show that the kids had been preparing for. These are our children, live. I don’t know how else to describe it. Simply endearing. Sesame Street’s “We All Sing with the Same Voice” was my absolute FAVORITE clip on that entire television show (with the crayon-making factory bit a close second, and the lady bug picnic song an easy third), so when Marissa was born, I hunted down this book and CD. I wanted the sheet music, but couldn’t find it. Little did I know that we’d have an incredible piano teacher many years later who would arrange it for us. The kids were a hit (and incredibly brave!), and it is a fun environment for them to showcase their talents! Over 150 ppl were in the crowd!

We All Sing with the Same Voice (from Sesame Street) performed by Marissa and Dylan from KristineLynn Williams on Vimeo.

Lastly, here is a little video from our Josiah Venture Ukraine (EPOKHA) team at our holiday party on December 13th. We are thankful to have celebrated with them as well. It is a great team. We pray that 2018 will unite us even more.

Merry Christmas from Team Ukraine 2017 from KristineLynn Williams on Vimeo.

JV Mini Videos: Part 2: Why Short-Term Teams Are Amazing

JV does over 120 camps a summer, and we are always in need of short-term teams. *Warning! Uwaga! This is not your typical short-term missions trip! Peer evangelism for teenagers in your youth group takes youth ministry to another level!

Thanks to churches like EVFree Fullerton, CA, who are faithful to equip their teenagers and send them overseas year after year. Robyn, Zach, and Courtney – JV values you and we are so grateful for your investment in God’s Kingdom! These three came as high school students themselves, served as summer interns at some point (some several times!), and now take their own church’s high school youth back to Ukraine. The cycle of God’s grace continues! I’m overjoyed by stories like these.

A little side note, cheers to me and Ben as we celebrated 20 years since our first JV short-term mission trip (Pisek, CZ, 1997). God is so faithful to keep teams coming back, even twenty years later!

Short-Term Team Experience from Josiah Venture on Vimeo.

A Series of JV Videos: Part 1

Josiah Venture is blessed to continue developing its Communications Team. This summer and fall, there was a team of very talented young artists who created some new video series for JV. I am crazy about anything JV releases, because these are faces that we know. These are young people who are part of the movement of God in Central and Eastern Europe. God is on the move, people! Enjoy the series!

** By the way, this video is taken in the mountains near Ukraine and honestly, the landscape could be one of our summer camps for the past 10 years. It feels like Ukraine, and the things Bianca and Darius are talking about are also transferrable to Ukraine.

Darius & Bianca Bocsa – Josiah Venture Missionaries – Romania from Josiah Venture on Vimeo.

Love Has No Boundaries

“Friends come in all shapes and sizes,” I remind all new foreigners who join our team. When you move overseas, the concepts of friends greatly changes. You become kind of a free agent, and you also recognize that you may not find 100% of the characteristics or qualities that you more easily could have when in your home country.

Some people sacrifice deep conversation, because the friendship is in a second language of at least one of the two. Some people have to go outside of their typical age categories (ie. youth leaders have younger friends than most). Some people have to actually settle with having acquaintances for a long time. Others have to become friends with their missionary team and national organization, which ends up meaning things like your bosses know far too much about your personal life, and the boundaries are fuzzy between when they are wearing their “work hat” and their “friend hat”.

Here is a picture of some friends. Leaders from church whom I would consider my dearest community. There are a few people missing, but the truth is that these leaders/co-workers/dear friends serve their hearts out and are simply incredible people to live life along side. Yes, we mentor some. Yes, we do work evaluations on a handful. But over the past years of being on Syava’s senior youth leader team with these people, I have grown very fond of them.

Merry Christmas, faithful ones. These have been challenging times. It is a privilege to be in this together with you, Andriy, Andriy, Adrian, Syava, Sasha, Yulia, Olya – serving with you, although our meetings are less and less frequent, still remains a highlight of my ministry life.

Lunch at Yale with Dr. Powell, Anyone?

If I could be anywhere for work on December 6th, this is where I would like to be. I’ve already blogged about this book. It’s great. I’d love to publish a book like this about my findings of partnerships with churches, teenagers, and public schools for holistic youth development…someday. But until then, I can dream and drool when these Lunch and Lecture notifications come through my email from Yale Youth Ministry Institute.

I don’t know Dr. Kara Powell; I don’t know Dr. Kenda Creasy-Dean. But I do know that they are rocking women who get rave reviews in youth ministry circles. One is from Fuller; the other out of Princeton Theological Seminary. One day Ben was sitting on the couch, and he said, tongue-in-cheek, “I have big dreams for you. Do you want to take on a challenge?” I sarcastically answered “sure, cause I need more stress and anxiety in my life.” He said, “No, seriously. This is a good one. I think you should try to get Dr. Kara Powell to mentor you. She’s Fuller. You’re Fuller. Why not go for it? We are supposed to be expanding our contacts as our stretch leadership goals.” Well, he has a point. And I did get Laurie Berglund as a mentor now many years ago! That was an intimidating stretch goal that has been one of my DEAREST relationships ever. Love you, Laurie! You are a spiritual giant to me! So it is possible, technically…
But until my courage and insanity kicks in, I’ll just admire Dr. Kara Powell from afar.

It’s All Grace and It’s All God’s Money

When on vacation in Malta, I was rereading Ann Voskamp’s “1,000 Gifts”. It is one of my lifelong all-time favorite books.  One of my favorite parts is how she deeply ponders, if people who are spared by tragedy can proclaim “It’s only by God’s grace that ____”, then what do people who face deep tragedy have to say? Does it no longer become God’s grace??

She comes to the conclusion throughout her book that IT IS ALL GRACE. Every moment we have on this earth is a gift (Hence “1,000 Gifts). Every dollar. Every morsel of food. Every friend. Every tear. Every great day. Every terrible day. IT IS ONLY BY GOD’S GRACE that we even exist in the first time. This is a life undeserved, regardless of the joys or trials we are born into or gain along the way.

So, if it is all grace, then aren’t all the finances and resources that we have all grace from God as well? My money is not my own; it all comes from God and belongs to Him. I am only a steward. So, I am sitting here pondering Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday, and oh, darn, now it is Wednesday, and my holiday and year-end list is already a mile-long. And I’ve bought nothing thus far…but perhaps that is okay, because I was most interested in buying for myself anyway.

Since becoming missionaries over a decade ago, we have lived on the Daily Bread of God’s supernatural provision for overseas workers. We have asked for much. We have been given SO much. We have given much away. God meets every need. That is the way it works in God’s economy. Money comes in as a blessing and goes out as a blessing. We keep open palms instead of fists so that the funds can flow. Now THAT is grace.

So, no, tonight I don’t know how contacts will respond to our year-end giving requests. I don’t know if we’ll make up the deficit from the annual supporters who stop giving to us. I don’t know if we’ll raise 2018 funds for a big monthly humanitarian and evangelism push near the front lines of fighting in Eastern Ukraine, where no Christian is investing in youth in a city of 170,000. I don’t know if JV will find the remaining funding for its Event Center that will be so precious to the 350+ of us in Josiah Venture, as well as to all the believers in this region of the world who gather there. I don’t know if it is “go time” for our own local organization to also purchase office space, and from where the funds for that will appear. I don’t know if my friends, who happen to also be our newer staff members, will reach their 2017 goals to be fully funded at $1400/month. Those are HUGE faith goals for these modest families. I don’t know when the right time is to commit to one or two more Compassion children so that Marissa and Dylan can get in the spirit of caring about others. (Is there ever a “good time”?) I don’t know if it is better to donate to an org air-dropping Bibles into the world’s most hostile-to-Christian nations where the Word is forbidden unto death, or to an org smuggling printing presses into Allah-loving countries so that the True Word can go forth boldly. I don’t know which JV National Workers need the most financial help. I just know one thing: I want to be on God’s agenda.

THERE ARE SO MANY NEEDS! Yet isn’t it all grace?! And isn’t our God the only god ALMIGHTY enough to break into these financial questions and lead the way? This holiday season, as we officially started listening to carols and kicked off movie nights with Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch” and Veggie Tales’ “The Star”, may I hold on so loosely to the funds themselves, remembering that it is God’s grace. And may I meet Him and His grace directly in it all.

While Translating a Legal NFP Document…

Who are we really?
This is a question that many school administers and parents ask when they see the work of our national organization, Epokha 2.2, in Ukraine. Here are just a few blurbs from our legal charter/document/statute that help put some structure around our activities in this nation, where investment in young leaders is desperately needed.

This organization takes part in educational training among Ukrainians, particularly youth, who desire to change themselves on the basis of holistic development in various spheres of activity in society on the foundation of moral and spiritual awakening.

Our organization does the following tasks/activities:

  • We assist in the practical implementation of local government, regional, city-wide, and international programs that are focused on the improvement of the social-economic environment.
  • We assist in the development of the personality and identity of children, youth and young families, based on Christian and spiritual values, irregardless of a particular religious denominational affiliation.
  • We assist in the development of culture, which includes the implementation of programs related to national/cultural development, available to all levels of society, particularly to the unfortunate or impoverished, in the areas of cultural values and creative and performing arts.
  • We assist in education and development, also offering help in developing the talents and creativity of young people.
  • We assist in the holistic raising of moral, cultural, educational and spiritual standards in Ukraine.
  • We assist in the holistic, well-rounded educational and cultural development of children both in Ukraine and abroad, and also in the improvement of their conditions of life.

Josiah Venture Fall Conference 2017

The JV Fall Conference 2017 was one of the busiest 9 days of my life. I keep asking myself why? It was “just another trip to Czech”, for we make several trips to eastern Czechia (new name for their country!) every year. Same old, same old. But this time it wasn’t. We were leading master classes, Ben was helping MCs, we had national, international, local team meetings squeezed in between typical conference schedules. Then we are just scrambling to get in a cup of coffee with old friends from JV who we don’t get to see very often. In a sea of almost 400 people, that is a challenging job. In a team of 38 from Ukraine who came, that is a hard job. Needless to say, I was glad when that whirlwind was over. It was a huge blessing to be with our greater JV team that week, and here are some big pieces of the 9 days, in photo form:

We praise God for Ben’s mom flying out to spend quality time with the kiddos and get to know their 2017-2018 schedule. They were both sick for some of the time, so we are blessed that Kathy has a hang of Lviv and is confident to make it through the 9 days.

One of the reasons why we are in Czech for so long is because of pre-pre-pre, pre-pre, and pre-meetings. Ben has the pre-pre-pre and pre-pre and pre-meetings with his country coaching and country council meetings. Mine are here, with the international camps representatives from each country. Although I do less and less with camps, from a strategic perspective I still attend these meetings.

Yulia, one of our dear friends and staff members, was selected by Dave Patty, the president of Josiah Venture, to share a testimony of one of our core focuses over the past few years, which has been “From the Harvest to the Harvest”. This means equipping young people quickly to be ready to share Christ with friends. Yulia is part of a four-generation chain of girls who are making disciples who are making more disciples and growing in love with Christ.

This is a fraction of the 38 of us who came to conference to represent Ukraine. Each year right after the conference is over we do some sort of team building together. This year it was bowling. Our bus driver (in his late 50s) bowled for the first time. We rented this little Czech place out, ate fried cheese and french fries, and had a great afternoon after our heads were FULL to the brim with information about How to Teach Like Jesus, our theme.

Maybe you recognize Michael Faithchild (and Junior is somewhere in the way back on drums) – this was our EXIT Tour band who blessed us 10000-fold back in the winter for our first official Exit Tour (preventative program and rap concert in schools). They came back to sing at the JV Fall Conference and get many of us excited about their next appearance in Eastern Europe for our fall EXIT Tour!! Look out, Lviv!

Here is Team Ukraine (38 of us, plus two Norwegian guests and Dave Patty, sitting on the table up in the front) up on floor 3 of Malenovice Hotel in Czech. We always do 24-hours of Ukraine-specific training together right after Fall Conference. We all look so forward to it. We raised the heat on the importance of evangelistic opportunities with their youth, where teens don’t have to be Christians and have it all together to come safely into our midst. Here we are talking about Adaptive Leadership, based on Ronald A. Heifetz and Marty Linsky’s book “Leadership on the Line”. Wow, Dave teaches this material in an incredible way that gives us Biblical perspective and hope when leadership problems do not have a technical solution.

Here Dave Patty is granting the Ukraine EDGE (sports leagues doing discipleship) team leaders the award for “Indigenous Empowerment” because of the ways they are equipping tons of coaches across Ukraine to use floorball for discipleship means for guys, ages 13-18. Andriy, Tomasz, and Andriy, we are so proud of your steady faithfulness. God is blessing this ministry thoroughly. (And we are seeing some great interest coming out of Moldova, so you can pray for our team’s work spreading there, too. Who knows what God wants to do for those who are willing to humbly obey and step out in great faith.)

Getting 38 people back into Ukraine with TERRIBLE border lines, on top of all the EXIT Tour professional equipment that was purchased for our organization…it’s a giant puzzle. This time around, the guards did not even open the doors to the vans where the equipment was stored. We appreciate God’s grace to get us in without customs issues.

Everyone loves international worship times, as we sing to our great God in Ukrainian, Latvian, Estonian, English, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Croatian, Hungarian, German, Serbian, Polish, Bulgarian, and Romanian. Always a taste of heaven.

And we end with this blessed group of individuals who, together, form Josiah Venture Ukraine (also known as Epokha here in Ukraine.) God knows how important team/friends/co-workers/co-laborers in Christ are to weary workers in the harvest fields.