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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.

Indian Summer Days of Hope

This week finally had some Indian Summer days. October 17th…we’ve been waiting long enough for it. Why do we love Indian summer days? Because they lift our spirits, change our moods, give us hope that winter hasn’t sunk in just yet.

Indian Summer days also point us to the fields and give us another look before everything shuts down for winter. Some seasons are for scattering seed. Some are for watering seed. Some are for weeding out the bad in order to save the good. Some are for harvesting the crop. Indian Summer brings warmth even when the outlook is bleak. (Our first snow last year was around November 12th, so I am bracing myself…)

I need Indian Summer days in my life right now. These are reminders of God’s unending love, no matter what the circumstance. This video came unexpectedly to me, yet it, too, is Indian Summer sun, bringing warmth even when the outlook feels bleak.

Best Summer Moments: Something Just Like This

Our family loves FUSION, the rock/pop choir ministry that invites teens into a music community and also shares love and Christ with them. They spend the school year rehearsing rock and pop songs (in their national language, as well as in English), as well as a few Christian songs. They get the chance to not only perform in local schools in the city where their Fusion resides, but once in a blue moon, they are so blessed as to be able to go out of town in order to launch a new Fusion choir!

Next week our local church’s choir is heading to the East! God is doing great things in Kharkiv, a city of at least 1.5 million. Josiah Venture will launch its newest Fusion there very soon, AND I’M GOING!!!

Here is the back story: Over the past few years, one of my top 3 summer moments is related our rock/pop choir ministry, Fusion. But this summer, due to seminary and JV guests, we were able to visit New Life Fusion Camp (our local church) for only about 48 hours, not the 4 days like I’ve done the last few years. However, that didn’t stop Fusion from still making my top 3 this summer. This was it:

Fusion rock-pop-choir New Life Lviv performing “Something Just Like This” from KristineLynn Williams on Vimeo.

The Chainsmokers/Coldplay’s “Something Just Like This” is an incredibly catchy song sung by a couple Fusion soloists who rock our world. Camp this summer was big; the choir was big. God was glorified. I never cease to be amazed by His work through Fusion.

And now, after my soul-searching August/September on a question-asking journey with God, I felt Him telling me to join Fusion for a few weeks and head to Kharkiv with a bus of teenagers. I don’t know what exactly He has in store. I just know I want to share Jesus and support the incredible young people and youth leaders in our midst. This past year of studying adolescent development at Fuller Seminary, my heart has grown exponentially for working with teens. How desperately they need adults (I prefer the term “youth leader”, but the truth is, I am an adult and twice their age…) in their lives who love unconditionally and listen to their hearts. And then, on top of all that, I get to point them to Jesus?

Yes, please. Stay tuned for details on this trip of a lifetime!

Another Round of Bibles

Are you familiar with the Jesus Storybook Bible? Many Christians who have something to do with children are familiar with this bestselling children’s Bible.

We got it in English from my elementary school best friend, Rachel Warner, when Marissa was born. We read it often. It’s not an easy-to-read Bible, so Ben and I still read it to the kids. It’s precious and I recommend it to all. It places Jesus in all the Old Testament stories presented, which is a skill even more mature Christians cannot do.

(Rant: It totally irks me to constantly hear people, young and old, talking about how boring and distant the Old Testament is. First of all, there are a million resources to educate yourself about the purposes of the Old Testament and how to fall in love with it. Ben loves to recommend thebibleproject.com for beginners. I loved “The Bible Jesus Read” by Philip Yancey. A good commentary is a cheap or even online option. A trip to Israel with a Christian tour group is an expensive but life-changing option. Or how about simply praying to God and asking the Holy Spirit to reveal Himself to you while reading it? If all else fails, people, get yourself a Jesus Storybook Bible. At least something.) 

This is me exactly one year ago, never tiring of Israel, the Bible, the Old Testament, the New, whatever it takes to better understand God, love Him and try to be like Him.

So you can imagine how I rejoiced when our nanny found it in Ukrainian years ago. We ordered a stock of them. I think I still have a few copies for baby shower gifts in my Lviv closet. I bought it in Russian, too, just for kicks. It is still in the cellophane. Yes, I am still studying Russian once a week, and looking forward to using it in Kharkiv (Eastern UA) next week. Yet if it is hard for my kids to understand in English, the Russian version is not for me.

After Marissa started school, I started searching for the same Bible in Polish. I was thrilled to find it back in May. We got 20 and finally just today, I was able to send an email out to all the parents in her class, letting them know that Marissa and our family wanted to gift this incredible Bible. We got it for the teachers and the Sisters (nuns) who teach the Christian ethics class in our schools, too. I told them that it was our favorite, that we bought it at a popular secular bookstore in PL, and that it was interdenominational, so that hopefully they don’t freak and think it is JW garbage.

As Christians, we are seed-scatterers. We sow the Word of God wherever we go. We are the aroma of Christ. We are salt. We are light. We beg God to use us from start to finish, but often we are just part of someone else’s spiritual journey. Sometimes He is just asking us to share, share, share about how Jesus has changed us, and then leave the rest of the process in someone else’s life up to Him. I pray that these 20 big seeds sown will produce a harvest 30-60-100 times what was planted. God is faithful to do His part. May we faithfully do ours.

Mark 4:8 “And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:26-29 “ And Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. The earth produces by itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

The Bibles Are Here!!!

Praising God today for the fact that 5,000 Ukrainian/English dual translation New Testaments are here! Thanks to incredible contacts through teammate Edik Kurat (Ternopil), we found drivers willing to drive them in with their trucks and with the status needed to bring things into Ukraine (like Bibles) without having to pay an import tax.

Pray for wisdom as we give them out and as we find campers in order to get them into their hands. May youth all over Ukraine be like these young people from our 7th and last Credo “I Believe” Bible study of summer, who raise the Word of God high, honoring it, and not being ashamed to proclaim “I BELIEVE”.

When the Blog Was Young

I saved this photo for an “epic blog post” that I was going to write, which never got written. I was going through a Disney phase. And I was really loving my phone (even though I broke my screen in line for a long-awaited Dr. Pepper at EuroDisney.) I even have a half-written blog still in my WordPress draft folder from 3 years ago, titled “Disneyland Theology” because the only thing I hated about our Disney circuit was the message that it is all about your dreams coming true and your efforts, rather than God’s dream for our lives and God’s Spirit working strongly in us.

Recently I have felt weak. Not physically, but emotionally weak. The start of September is always my lowest point in the year. So many expectations. So many unknowns. About 2 months ago, I started laying it all on the line. Everything. Holding it all on the alter, saying, “God, I surrender every single activity I have in my life to You. If you don’t want it anymore, then take it away, or at least make me aware that I need to do away with it, even if it will be hard.”

This blog represents one of the million things in my life that could constitute a full-time job in my life. I was talking to my loving, encouraging, incredible mentor, Laurie Berglund, for whom I am eternally grateful, and she and I came to the conclusion that I currently have about 25 things on my plate that could legitimately constitute a full-time job. AND YET I KEEP PILING ON.

This season I am asking God to curb my passions, to cut them in half, to remove any guilt related to hanging on to things. My loving, encouraging, incredible friend, Aleisha Stephens, when she was in town in July, helped me to see that, over the past decade in Ukraine, I KEEP PILING ON, without removing anything else. The nostalgia for the way that we’ve always done things (prayer breakfasts, language lessons, attending everything related to youth) will no longer suit us in a new stage of leadership and life.

I must remove. This blog is one of the things that sits on the altar. It could be removed. I really don’t need to worry about disappointing people if I ceased; the world has enough noise without mine added. Instagram and the JV Prayer Room can easily replace it. And it’s not like this blog has always been God-honoring or painted the picture that now, ten years later, I’d want to paint. I’m also becoming anti-nostalgia, simply because I live at such a pace that I rarely breath enough to look forward, let alone look back. I was even thinking – wow, if I had to flee Key West or Marco Island, I wouldn’t even care to take all those logs of pictures and scrapbook boxes that I’ve been gathering over the past 25 years. At the same time, I’ll keep it up, just in case 😉 Maybe just not as fresh. Just as the Spirit leads, just like everything else should be in my life.

I don’t have time to look backward. God is calling me forward! This is not a bad-attitude thing! This is a rejoicing in the fact that His mercies are new every morning and I believe He is working out above and beyond what I could ask or imagine for my future. Life is too short to keep doing things the old way, to keep looking back. I’m looking forward in this season. AT JESUS. I’m not looking at my peers to the sides, although comparison is always quite tempting. I’m not looking back at old ways, although it is often safer. I’m not looking forward into the unknown. I’m just looking at Jesus.

This is who Jim Carey sees when he paints Jesus (fascinating little Christ-in-culture clip).

Jim Carrey: I Needed Color from JC on Vimeo.

This is who I see when I close my eyes to look to Jesus. Isn’t He beautiful?! And He is strong, and able, and the Judge of all. He’s got it. He’s not surprised by my future. He leads me to green pastures. He is the epitome of strength and gentleness. Laser-sharp vision on Him is what makes us stronger and braver than we could ever imagine. Oh, how He is the answer to my challenging falls, to my 25 full-time jobs, to my emotional outbursts, to my discontent, to the chaos in my church, to the uncertainty of my future. Oh, how I love Jesus, and that He is enough. Every time.

 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest. The hair on his head was white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire. His feet were like bronze glowing in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of rushing waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and coming out of his mouth was a sharp, double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. Rev. 1:12-18

The 2017 Credo Group

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We hit an all-time record of 47 people in our apartment last Thursday. (Check out the floors.) I loose track of the parties and fun we have in our flat, but I am pretty sure we’ve never had 47…although that one New Life/15-intern lunch of 2014 might have been pretty close…

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The following Tuesday we tried again, but “only” 25 showed up. Only! Then we had 30 the next lesson, and 20 this past week. Honestly, this is larger than many churches in Eastern Europe. Some can only dream of a youth group so big.

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Thanks be to God, who gives us not only campers, but those who are willing to grow in their faith with Jesus. I don’t have time to share all the stories of where we are seeing God work, but I can ask you simply to pray for Khrystya, Khrystya, Sofia, Sofia (that’s easy), Diana, Kyryl, Severyn, Daniel, Alla, Vlad, Vitalik, Anya, Yuliana, and a few others who honestly have the chance to change their lives and others’ because of Jesus changing them.

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Summer is coming to a quick close, and teens come to a fork in the road. Pursue this Jesus thing and remain a part of the youth group community, or return back to school, to the world, to the way life was before summer? We are trusting God that He will keep His children close. Looking forward to fall!

The Emotions of August

The end of August always brings two feelings.

One is pure bliss! Camp season is over; God got us through with great camps, short-term teams, interns, lots of lessons learned along the way, and tons of teenagers with whom we got to share Jesus. In August, schedules slow down. Summer vacation is right around the corner!

blogbathroomtearoutThere is space to get a few personal things done, like waiting in line at the phone company to cancel an old home phone number (this must be done in person with a passport in Ukraine; I’ve been putting off this project for 9 months now…). Or ripping apart a wall in the bathroom due to some shoddy craftsmanship from 8 years ago, now causing our hot water heater to switch off…(sometimes as team leaders we forget that we are also people, and that maintaining a household and sanity in the home is of critical importance. Whereas some do house projects every weekend, our lifestyle does not provide such a luxury.)

 

The second feeling is sheer panic in my heart. I am super struggling with what to do with my fall, and am seeking God intensely, even purposely picking the 5am JV Prayer Room slot, just so that I have a few hours in the early morning to pray and sit, well, more like wrestle, with God, about my next stretch. The way things are playing out it appears as though my life schedule is more empty than it has ever been before.

Due to certain life circumstances, it appears as though I have more freedom and space than ever before, yet at the same time this is terrifying me, because I need more boundaries, I need more clarity than every before. I like having a set project or task before me, because it keeps me grounded and from chasing down 100 other shiny things that catch my eye and I want to be involved in. This is a serious problem of mine. And this is the fall where it is going to stop.

This June and July, due to a seminary deadline, but nonetheless, I felt that God was asking me to commit just to just three things:

  1. Love your kids. They’re out of school and without a babysitter for the summer.
  2. Love teenagers.
  3. Work on the dissertation every single day and turn in those 50 pages.

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(Marissa’s little lake birthday party. Turning seven.)

Update – this summer worked out! I did these three things. I felt some stress when dealing with things outside of this list, but I felt great joy in doing these three things. I would call that a successful summer.

However, here we are entering fall. I am seeking God daily – “God, what do you have for me? What are my best yeses this year? What are my best nos? I only have 168 hours in a week and I am tired of chasing down what I think I am supposed to do. I want a role, a place so badly. I need You to intervene, stop me in my tracks, and draw me into Your awesome, prepared-in-advance good works for me to do each day, which will bring contentment and not send me looking elsewhere for identity and ministry.”

Honestly I have not heard much from Him. I have heard my own heart’s desires speaking, but they are fickle, sinful, always changing with the wind, untrustworthy. God has got to intervene here. But this is what I hear and know thus far from my faithful Lord.

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  • If you can’t love your team, your ministry is nothing, so you need to start there.
  • Your children are precious and are worth investing in.
  • In September 2016, you wrote “Daily die to self, so that I might be among team and family as one who serves”.
  • In September 2016, you wrote “Radically testify to that which I have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
  • You will glorify ME through your Fuller Seminary studies.

This doesn’t help me much regarding an hour-by-hour schedule. This doesn’t help concrete investment in a particular ministry. Honestly, I will just work on these points until God frees up something else. It is a privilege to have God on my side, my Heavenly Father who cares about every detail, and who promises never to leave me or forsake me.

I Got My Mind Set On You

As a child of the 1980s, this George Harrison song was one of my all-time favorites. But I am realizing its significant spiritual component as this message “setting our minds on” pertains to Jesus Himself.

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When you commit to being a youth leader – a discipler of the next generation – you are signing yourself up for entering into a battle with them of the sins of the flesh. In my experience, the biggest areas of sin and temptation for teens in my context these days, both Christian and non-Christian, are drunkenness, promiscuity, lying, disrespect to parents, cheating, pursuing money above all things, depression, gossip, disillusionment with the church and laziness. If you are a spiritual mentor, you will enter into this arena more than you ever wished.

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I praise God that Jesus, too, entered into such arenas with His own disciples. The grace, patience, intense intercessory prayer, and forgiveness that he extended to Judas, Thomas, John and James, Peter, and Matthew. (I’m sure to others too, but these are the ones I see in Scripture hurting/disappointing Jesus the most.)

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These dear young people are just that – young and immature in Christ. They are newer Christians. They do not have a solid foundation of Scripture; they are not faithful in time with Jesus above all other priorities. They do not spiritually feed themselves in such a way as to protect themselves from the temptations in this world.

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My heart breaks for them. I sit and pray for God to protect them, just like Jesus prayed against Satan when he asked to sift the disciples like wheat (basically to destroy them.)

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said, “Lord, I am ready to go to prison with you, and even to die with you.” But Jesus said, “Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” Luke 22:31-34

I thank God that His word and promises are so faithful. In my Bible reading today, I came across two similar verses that I am praying, just like Jesus did, for the disciples. We take our example from Him. He is so relevant to TODAY’s YOUTH!

Romans 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Colossians 3:1-2 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

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God, may our young people transform their minds. May they submerse themselves in the truth of the Bible, so that it becomes easier to say no to sin and yes to You. May they think about life with you in the future that will have practical implication on everything they are doing today. May they see the lies and the emptiness in saying yes to the flesh, leaving us only empty, guilty, unsatisfied. Please, God, intervene radically and rescue them as only You can. Thank you that forgiveness, restoration and repentance are just around the corner at every step. You are so kind! ~ Amen

Friends Who Go The Distance

“Good morning, August 1st. You have been looming for quite some time now. I’m thankful that you are now in my past.” August 1 was our Year 1 paper deadline for our Fuller program. Honestly, writing a forty-page stab at the first section of a dissertation has been probably the hardest academic thing I have ever done – maybe because it is not just one 40-page paper, one time. This is one of many 40-page papers. I feel so small, so uneducated, and super unworthy to be on this journey! Yet at the same time I’m so filled with joy that I can participate in God’s kingdom with this tiny contribution.

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Yesterday our family went to a new pool to celebrate completion of Year One. (Dylan’s behind us; Marissa’s on top of the colorful bubble.) This was truly a day to celebrate because I personally have battled several internal giants while writing this paper, including my issue of avoidance (which only leads to anxiety), the new disciplines of “Two Awesome Hours” and daily investment in reading. I have changed habits, hopefully for life! This is so life-giving, I am shocked. Hard, but life-giving. And lastly I’m learning where to set the bar for myself as I look at up to all these incredible, brilliant scholars, who I will never be. There is something so healthy about standing on the shoulders of giants! I have loved every minute of this, even in the hardship, which is the confirmation from God to keep going.

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In the midst of all the academic stress, late nights, drafts and re-writes, joys and frustrations, we not only had New Life English Camp and a New Life Fusion Camp visit, but we also had a different kind of visit. Our dear friend Aleisha Stephens came to town. She and Brian are our dearest friends, hands down, in this season of life. Unfortunately Brian’s dad ended up in the ICU in Florida, so Brian ended up flying there instead of to Ukraine, but Aleisha’s visit (with two of her dear interns) was perfect timing. I just lied – of course it was the worst time of year for them to come: this paper was due in less than 10 days! But honestly, it was the best time for them to come. We don’t have many people in our lives with whom we can be totally open, honest, vulnerable, and free with. And I have felt particularly lonely since re-entering Fuller, so I needed this.

God knowns our needs and puts people in place at just the right time. I’m thankful to be on the other end of this August 1st deadline, but the lessons I have learned and the time I got to spend with Aleisha during this time will have ripple effects for me into the next decade of life and ministry, no doubt.

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