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Blog

Reformation 500-Year Anniversary – Live from Wittenberg!

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Protestant churches all over the world are gearing up for the celebration of 500 years since Martin Luther hung his 95 theses on this church door to make a statement against the inconsistencies he saw between Scripture and the practices in the church in 1517. Can you imagine? That was FIVE HUNDRED YEARS AGO! And it was certainly a statement that transformed society.

The effect that the Reformation had on Christianity still reverberates to this day.

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Therefore it was a huge blessing to be in GERMANY in 2017, and to get to visit the sites where the Reformation began! Imagine our surprise as we trained in to see this GIANT Bible with every single chapter and verse represented! “The Whole Bible On One Page” states the caption.

We saw where Luther lived; we visited the churches where he preached. We got to see the door where he personally hung the 95 theses in order to condemn the selling of indulgences. (This was so problematic because people were falsely made to feel safe that they had their “ticket to heaven,” which gave them carte blanche to live and behave however they wished until confronted with death. This is one of the scenes from the 360-degree panorama room created for the occasion. You can see the Theses hanging!blogPanoramicSceneWithLuther

blogMarissaLutherPanoramaThis is our second year in a row visiting Germany after our Josiah Venture annual Spring Conference. After we get refreshed for a week with the second-culture (serving in a country that is not considered your home country) missionary team of Josiah Venture, we drive a few more hours to Germany in order to do “country coaching”.

Country coaching is one of Ben’s Josiah Venture-level roles. He is assigned Germany, Latvia, and Estonia. Thus far in 2017, Ben and I were both in Latvia for a leadership conference; then Ben went up with Jack Webster, one of the JV Board Members, to Estonia for a visit with the JV Estonia “Koma” team for a few days. Then it was time once again to visit Jim and Lina in Germany.

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We had a great time there last year, seeing the city of Leipzig and visiting their youth ministry and refugee ministry. The kids had a blast for the second year in a row and now want to learn German. (Marissa told her classmates this week that it is okay that she won’t get her education paid for in Poland because she does not hold Polish documentation – it’s okay because she will probably study in Germany!) The kids know the word “eis”, which means ice cream, and kinder, which sounds like the beloved Kinder eggs, and are planning on eating lots of eis and kinderegg, now that they have finished almost a month of healthy eating.

EXIT Tour Round 2 with New Life!

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blogCrossfyaflyerAfter two months “off EXIT Tour”, we were back on. Our local church, New Life, in Lviv, where we have served for 10 years(!), was up next in line for an EXIT Tour. They had booked a band out of England, Crossfya, which was the same group that came last year and did a similar project. However last year we were granted only 2 hours in each school, and the tour was not promoted by the Dept. of Education in Lviv. Now we have more officially developed our program – we have even hired a full-time Ukrainian staff person, Nadya Vorobyova! Congrats, Nadya! (See the redhead next to Ben in the photo.) You are rocking it! Plus, June 15th-ish, Lee and Katie Humerian are moving to Ukraine to help further develop this program.

EXIT Tour ended last Friday, and we are still thinking about it. It is a huge commitment, and it will wipe you out physically, but the fruit that it produces and the connection of teens to a local church is so well worth it. On this tour I got to teach another 12 rounds of Personality Testing and Conflict Management with Classmates. It was so fun. Yulia and Yara from church were my translators. I really enjoyed teaching with them.

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Praising God for the 14 new kids that came to EXIT Club #1, for the 67 new kids that came to EXIT Club #2, for the 325 people in attendance at the final Friday night concert, and 62 new kids for the afterparty follow-up on the day after the conference. At the first Fusion rock-pop choir rehearsal after EXIT, there were 15 new teenagers. At youth group on Friday, we had 5 new kids.

Our teenagers at New Life have done a great job of building new relationships and staying connected in new peoples’ lives. We trust that this will bring about many new kids who find hope and joy in Jesus and a new group of friends who will build them up and share life together according to the way that God has created us to live.

Here are some photo highlights of Exit Tour Lviv New Life:

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“IT IS NOT FOR SCHOOL BUT FOR LIFE THAT WE ARE BEING EDUCATED.”

One of the schools chosen for us by the Dept. of Education was Gymnasium 85, which was ranked in the top 10 secondary schools of Lviv! It also made the top 50 schools in Ukraine! That is a huge deal. Therefore, I wasn’t as surprised when the main sign out in front of that school was in Latin!

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86 schools eligible for our programs (this means that 7th-11th grade is taught in their school) never ceases to amaze me. On tour, Yulia reminded me of how many schools already have partnership with us and our programs. We are chipping away at this number, one school and one face at a time…

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I love this picture above because this was at our second Exit Club, when 67 new kids came. We played a lot of games and hung out, but we also did a sharing time. Tim, from the Crossfya band, had a chance to share his personal story of why and how he chose to follow Jesus Christ when he was 16 years old. We pray that many teens were inspired, transformed, and saved because of Tim’s willingness to boldly share Christ in front of many. Syava also helped in sharing the Gospel, and we would be no where without Olya’s amazing translation skills, which often bring the Christian message from English into to Ukrainian THROUGH HER. This is a joint effort. Like here, where Olya, Christy and Chris are all on stage, bringing their personalities into light in order to bless large bodies of students, not even caring if this is an event for their local church or someone else’s. It is all about the shared effort we in Josiah Venture Ukraine play in order to make Jesus known.

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We praise God that He was glorified during EXIT tour. I had key conversations with two Rostyks that I have known for many years from School 51. I love the fact that we didn’t even intentionally do Exit tour at 51 this year, yet the seeds planted from our work many years ago are budding and growing. One Rostyk finally accepted Christ after all these years! Another agreed to start playing floorball and reconnect with our church after a long (and he confessed, lonely) period away.

What kind of love is this??
God never stops drawing people to Himself. He died so that we might have life. Which life will you choose? It is up to each person individually. Choose Jesus! 

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Dual Language Bible Project

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For the past two years I have been team Ukraine’s representative for a dual-language Bible printing project with Josiah Venture. A very large donation was given so that any country where Josiah Venture serves could order 5,000 modern-translation Bibles in a dual language format. This means English plus the national language spoken, for example, Ukrainian.

We had to go through rounds of permissions, rounds of discussions with publishers, lots of editing and proof texting, etc.

This was a huge joint effort. The guy in the picture is my Czech contact who is incredible at coordinating large-scale projects like this. My teammates Yulia, Olya and Chris were key in design and edits. Yulia was in contact with the Ukrainian Bible Society in order to get us permission and access to the Bible translation that we wanted. God was kind and Yulia must have made an impression, because they gave the file to us, whereas with other countries in JV, their permissions are still hung up in bureaucracy.

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This Bible project has been an absolute joy. There are thousands of Ukrainians whose lives will be changed by reading the Word of God. There is only one nuance…we have five pallets of these, and they need to get into Ukraine! It’s far more poundage than we could ever imagine. Pray for creative solutions and God’s favor over His Word. It never goes out void.

All Staff In a School for Spring17

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Recently Ben and I have pushed “All Staff in a School” ministry philosophy. These are two of my schools that I pray for often.

“All Staff in a School” is a phrase we came up with, based on our JV President, Dave Patty’s saying of “All Staff on the [Disciple-making] Path”, meaning that every Josiah Venture staff person should be discipling younger believers at different points in their relationship with Jesus. Every staff member needs to be investing in non-Christians, in new Christians, in experienced disciple-makers, and in leaders of disciple-making ministries.

We feel that every staff person in Ukraine also needs to be committed to a local school or two in order to be building trust with the administration, teachers, and grades 7-11 in that school. The easiest way for this to happen is for a foreigner to take a Ukrainian staff member who speaks English, and head to English classrooms and teach 45-minute English lessons. Native speaker exposure is a need that almost every school has in Ukraine. So the doors are very open. Then, once we have built relationships in the schools, we invite all the kids to English, music, and sports camps. We invite them to EXIT Tour rap concerts. We invite them to English clubs and June picnics.

Imagine if every staff person in our organization had their own school where they were investing. That means 20 staff, so 20 different schools. It is harder for Ukrainians to find their own in, if it is not done through English, but music, photography, social justice/health/child development/teen psychology/emotional healing lectures are just as effective. We praise God for open doors!

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The Kids Surprise Me Every Day

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I have not written in so long about the kids. It is hard to believe that we recently experienced our first ever Spring Break with a school-aged child. It was not a super eventful week, but Marissa is thrilled to “sleep in” (meaning getting up at 6:30), not doing homework (although she still does her workbooks), and getting a few hours with her babysitter, Nadya, while Dylan still goes to preschool.

(We prefer to do our  family “spring” vacation later in June, when we know there will be no school. Unfortunately in Lviv they do not usually appoint breaks in a timely manner. Often the Dept. of Education decides weeks before the actual holiday/vacation…no year-long school calendar planned a decade in advance here…)

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These pictures are from the kids’ most recent performances. Marissa was an angel (clearly) and a old wife (Baba) sending her husband to the store for ingredients for soup. However, the old husband, Romek (see photo) was not listening (shocker) and heard he needed to buy tools, screws, etc. It was precious and all done by memory. Recently we were at a birthday party, and they were both there and did an impromptu performance for us. Bravo!

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(Dylan and Ruza – with the purple glasses – are in the same preschool class, but they are honorary members of Marissa’s class and get in on the treats when the opportunity allows.) Here Dylan and Ruza have their own performance to attend:

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Here are Marissa’s best friends: Olya, Zosia, and Dylan:

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Here, Marissa’s class went to the theater. Dylan came along, of course. It was The Emperor’s New Clothes, in Polish. The man was in a wacky wig and old-fashioned George Washington era underwear. The kids loved it.

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Right now, some of the family drama has been related to Luka, a naughty boy in Dylan’s class who bites and goes potty on other kids; Dylan has been kissing the girls; the temptation for Marissa to break the rules on our “healthy eating” regime is very strong (sin crouches at her door in the form of M&Ms). We are working on separate baths, separate changing rooms, and the need for privacy. It is not going very well.  Dealing with bickering and losing privileges was hard, particularly in the month of April, when we committed to no sugar/no treats. What else do we take away, when tv and iPad use are already at a low?

But really, they are doing great. They are growing in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, or so I hope. That statement comes from Jesus’ life, and we pray that it is the same truth that will apply to our kids’ lives.

Easter and Salvation

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Happy Easter from Lviv, Ukraine!

We had a wonderful, true holiday weekend. No plans. We went to Thursday and Sunday church services, and we attended a small team dinner on Sunday night, but other than that we had 3 full days of rest.

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The kids were doing “healthy eating” through the month of April, so the 48 hours of Easter treats that we allowed were very carefully chosen. Have you had Mamba gummy fruits yet? Yum.
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We dyed eggs in record time. Each person got five eggs. By the time Dylan, Ben and I had dyed all of ours, Marissa was completing her first. They were so funny. But if anyone has an extra Paas clear wax crayon, we are in great need! Ours did NOT do the job!

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This Easter was more about songs for the kids program than poems. Marissa had a short poem; Dylan had just singing. They are far left on stage. Dylan is dapper in one of his many suits. (Last year my mom splurged on a bunch of discounted vest/dress shirt/tie/dress pants sets, so he almost has a fancy outfit for every day of the week. Luckily he doesn’t mind them, but we better start wearing them more often because otherwise, he’ll grow out of them.)

The best thing to report is that repentance has come to our home! On January 8th, Dylan responded to a Christian story and said that he wanted to join God’s family and be with God forever. Marissa declined and wanted to think about it. On April 1st, Marissa said that she was ready to become God’s child and be a follower of Jesus. These were truly special moments for our family. Pray for us and for wisdom as we continue to parent. Pray for the Holy Spirit to convict them in the way that they sometimes speak with disrespect and treat each other poorly.

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Easter Break Reading List

Reading has taken on a new meaning in our household. Besides having the two kids, who are reading more and more every day, including my text messages from my phone and other personal things they should not see…, my perspective on reading has recently changed.

After having from November 1-February 15 to read 19 books on youth, child development, church, and family, I realize that personal reading is now entirely achievable without stress or effort.

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So upon returning to Ukraine after turning in those 19 book reports to go along with those 19 books we read, I was curious if I was burned out on reading. It has been one month since we’ve been realistically back and able to pick up reading material again. Honestly, I didn’t expect myself to be craving books, but because anything seems feasible after doing such a marathon seminary list, I have conquered four totally different books over the past month.

One was for Fuller and for research. One was a requirement for my youth leadership team in Ukraine. One was recommended to me twice in 24 hours, which to me is always an indication from the Holy Spirit that I need to pay attention. And one was/is (because I am not quite done, but will be SOON!) a treat for reading three non-fiction.

Enjoy my March/April 2017 Reading List!

Growing-Young-6-Essential-Strategies-to-Help-Young-People-Discover-and-Love-Your-Church“Growing Young: 6 Essential Strategies to help young people discover and love your church” from Kara Powell,  Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin at the Fuller Youth Institute: We’ll have to read this for seminary eventually, and it is a hot church topic right now. Plus, we sat in on a symposium of discussion around this book while we were at Fuller. You want a vibrant church filled with intergenerational ministry? Read this book!! There were so many practical things your church can do to utilize, partner with, embrace, and be blessed by younger generations in your church. My favorite two chapters were handing over the proverbial car keys of leadership to a younger generation. How do you entrust and equip young people so that they can freely take full ownership of their ministry area? I also loved the chapter on loving your community. The younger generation is attracted to causes and philanthropy. They want to make a real difference on society, not just spiritually, but also by meeting needs and fighting for social justice. This chapter was helpful to me for my research in figuring out how to better link churches with public school needs.

blogChurchDisciplineThe Handbook of Church Discipline by Jay Adams: Let me be honest – I liked this book far more than I expected to. It is a short read. It comes across as “scary” and worthy of skepticism because people in general do not understand what church discipline is in the first place. I was worried it was going to be uber-conservative and a complete turn-off. However, Adams explained all the Scriptural backing to the book and shared that it is a practice foreign to most Christians, even though there are many passages in the Bible, both from Jesus and from Paul, that talk about what to do when professing followers of Jesus Christ are choosing to live in sin and not repent and change their ways. What are our obligations to them as brothers and sisters in Christ? What does it mean to have to “hand him over to Satan”? These are strange Biblical topics that are addressed very well by this author. Of course God is the judge and law giver, but in the Body of Christ, we play our part in holding one another accountable to God’s Word, and sometimes we have to “expel the brother or sister”, but how do we do this with grace and compassion, allowing them to be sinners and accepting/loving them through their rebellion? Sticky situations! Good, quick read, particularly the parts about forgiveness and accepting the sinner back into the flock of Christ without going back to past sins.

blogtwoawesomehoursTwo Awesome Hours by Josh Davis, Ph.D.: Yes! I loved this book. Time management is my most relevant topic, both spiritual as well as practically, so I was eager to see what I needed to know about better work habits.
On our very last day at Fuller for our cohort, I looked around the room and made an educated guess at who the classmates are who will faithfully work each week on their first run at their dissertation, faithfully reading a book a week in order to reach that magic number of 100 books read, which is key for your literary review in defending your dissertation. I knew that I would not be one of those people because big projects like this make me anxious and always get crowded out by my family, my Josiah Venture tasks, and other priorities in life. How do we actually find time to work on “High Importance/Low Priority” (Covey’s 4 quadrants) projects in our life, when everything else seems to be so Highly Urgent? How do we dedicate the proverbial two awesome hours, our best hours of the day, to undistracted, dedicated focus on things that require our highest levels of brain power and focus?  I’m thankful that we have an organizational president like Dave Patty, who cares about these things, and who recommended this book. Pray for us, that we will dedicate more awesome hours to things that matter to God and in expanding His kingdom. I don’t want to waste my time on things that will not last.

blogRedeemingLoveRiversRedeeming Love by Francis Rivers: Last but not least, an oldie but a goody, and oh my word. Every woman Christian on the planet has recommended this book. Since 1991 it has become a classic in the library of female Christians, but I never got into the cover! I know the Bible book of Hosea, off of which the story is based, but the story line of marrying a woman who lives a promiscuous lifestyle and doesn’t want to marry him anyway just wasn’t all that interesting to me. However, I knew deep inside that I had to read it. So I threw it in my Amazon basket and finally picked it up. I was taking a long time in reading a few other books on my book list, so I honestly opened this one for a pick-me-up, knowing that reading fiction after so many other types of books would be encouraging to my pace. Since we are just today coming off a short Easter “break” – a nice long weekend, which allotted for personal reading time, I am happy to say that, yes, I love the book. Yes, it is totally captivating. Yes, I want to see how Michael Hosea melts Angel/Mara’s heart. Yes, I find myself filled with compassion for the women in this terrible, degrading lifestyle that seems to have absolutely no end or exit in sight. And, yes, it is encouraging to read a hundred pages in one brief sitting because the book is just that enthralling (not because I am speed reading and forcing myself because of some deadline).

That’s all I have for now, but I know that I have a Meest (courier service to UA) delivery coming with 8 Fuller Seminary must-reads for the summer. Plus two Christian biographies about people dying for their faith in the Middle East. I can’t wait! Even Marissa went to Miss Karilyn’s library (fellow missionary family in our city) and grabbed a handful of great girls’ books for 7-year-olds, so welcome to another reading marathon for the Williams family!

Never Before Have I Felt So Inspired

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Inspire.

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This was the name of our Josiah Venture Fall Conference back in September 2016. There we were inspired and changed by the stories of the first century Church. Jesus ascends to heaven, and the Apostles and disciples go out and bring Christianity to the ends of the civilized world in one generation after Christ. That is inspiring, and our team keeps thinking about it. Boldness. Radical prayer. Spreading God’s kingdom further than we could ask or imagine. 

Inspire.

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Inspire – also the name of our Josiah Venture Ukraine annual leadership conference, which we hosted March 10-12. Two thousand years later we continue the charge given by Jesus to teach people about Him, baptize them, and make them disciples of the Master. What a privilege. What a charge.

We heard stories of how God is on the move, particularly in Asia, where our speaker, Benjamin Francis, is from. We praise God for his organization, Big Life, and for the rapid spread of the Gospel, leading to thousands and thousands of small-group-styled churches across India, the middle East, Asia, and Africa.

A few years ago, Benjamin felt God calling him to go and take his disciple-making practices to Europe, a place that desperately needs an increase in followers of Christ. Yes, Europe was Christianized once, but right now statistics show that only 1-2% of all youth in Central and Eastern Europe follow Christ. Therefore, we remain inspired, asking God for endurance to fulfill His commission and press farther and farther into the charge to reach the nations.

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In Preparation for Easter

blogEasterJesus Christ came to seek and to save the lost. 99% of Central and Eastern European teenagers do not follow Christ. Many of them do not even know Him, the Messiah, the Christ – the one who laid down His perfect life so that we might be made right again with God, and live – today and for eternity.

We celebrate Easter this weekend because we believe with our whole being that King Jesus came, died, rose again, ascended to the right hand of God the Father, and is coming again someday to judge the living and the dead. His kingdom will have NO end, and we want to be a part of that. But it is not just about some future hope in the resurrection of the dead and eternal life. No, Christ came to transform our TODAY. This is why we came to Ukraine, to Josiah Venture. This is why we work with the 1% of teenagers whose lives have also been transformed by this powerful Good News. And this is why we can’t stop thinking of the 99% who do not yet have this transformation.

2 Corinthians 5:16-21 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.

HAPPY EASTER. JOIN THE MOVEMENT.

Two Week Countdown to EXIT

Yesterday we had an organizational meeting about our next EXIT Tour, which starts in two weeks. April 18-21st. I am so excited. This is an incredible project with teenagers. I have blogged much about EXIT since mid February, when we launched the ministry. Also in March 2016 we did something similar with a band, Crossfiya, and lectures, and 4 high schools. I blogged even more about that!

Well, tonight my countdown begins. In order to get excited and to show some live moments of EXIT Tour so people can get a better understanding of what a day looks like, let’s take a tour ourselves.

Photo credit for my dear Olya, who I have been discipling for the past 4 years. She is super talented.

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I had to show Olya, but this is the very end of the Exit Tour. So back to the beginning…

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A school (5-11th grade usually) being welcomed to EXIT Tour!

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Lots of selfies with the band. This is the school’s AM welcome assembly.

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Teens attend 3 lectures (this year’s are on bullying, personality/conflict management, and internet addictions)

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Then they head to the gym for group games and small groups. It gets wild in there.

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In short small groups, teens can ask band members and our youth volunteers questions about why we do what we do.

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Then we end with an big assembly with more rap music and entertainment. We are all wiped, but it is only 1:30 pm. We get fed lunch in the school, clean up the gym, and head for coffee and an hour or two of down time before…

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EXIT Clubs! These take place wherever and however the local youth group plans. They are from 6-8pm after each day of EXIT in a school. Usually around 70-80 people total gathered. This is Hosannah’s youth group and guests. It is a privilege to work with them. They were brave to take this project on. It shows the trust we are trying to build with our national organization.

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Sometimes the local churches need help…so I suddenly had to translate Michael’s (from Faithchild (the band from London)) testimony into Ukrainian for that crowd above. I highly doubt I was the most capable dual language speaker in the room, but sometimes Ukrainians panic when having to translate formally, or for someone with a strong British accent. Even I, as a fellow English speaker, had to ask for clarification!

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And then we wake up and do it ALL over again…

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Another school. Another round of the same lecture 4 times! I did mine 12 times in a row, 4 per day for 3 days. Then Christy Owen, my teammate, took the last 4 so I could monkey around in the gym. (See a few photos above)

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Each day did feel somewhat different. For example, on this day, the Lviv television station came to film a short segment on international projects for teenagers. Nadya is in charge of EXIT Tour for Ukraine. You can watch the clip in a previous blog if you are interested. They didn’t nearly capture the fun that we had! (Go to F B and search for Exit Tour Ukraine. You’ll see all the fun there.)

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We had tons of help and helpers that week. Scott and Tim are from Orange County (EVFree); Petyo, Drahos, and Hudson are from Slovakia/Josiah Venture. The CA guys came on a survey trip; the Slovak team came to help us with pretty much everything. It is not a simple project.

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We couldn’t do this project without local church volunteers. This is another church that we love and value very much. Christ Fellowship. They’ve been close partners for years. We are grateful for their love for God, youth, and JV.

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We finally arrive at Friday, the big concert night. We rent out a hall. Fusion Christ Fellowship was the opening act.

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We shared different parts of the Gospel message throughout the evening. Here Junior is sharing about sin and choices.

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We are all here for the music, and Faithchild puts on a great show. Look them up.

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Syava knows that the cross, ie. the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is worth smiling about. He boldly challenged people to consider their relationship with Christ.

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We closed it out with a big thank you on stage to all the organizers of EXIT Tour, which is our local team, the JV Slovak team, and the band. What a tour! Can’t wait for the next one.