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Blog

Our Blog Turns 10!

Happy Birthday, dear blog!

Oh how I remember the day the blog was born! Here is its first home! It was at missionary training in North Carolina in late August 2006! We had so much free time on our hands it was scary for us, because training would last until only 2-3pm each day. We’d just finished our masters’ degrees. We’d quit our jobs with Lockheed Martin just weeks before. Everything was happening so fast as we prepared to move life to another continent.

So we decided to start a blog to log the journey. Here was its inception. You can see the WordPress screen up on Ben’s Dell.

950 posts. Almost 100 posts a year. That’s one every 3-4 days for ten years. 

I am so glad that Ben came up with this idea. He still manages the blog, even though he’s only written less than 50 of the posts 😉 He is gracious to me like that. And our blog is gracious to me, too, especially since its younger sibling, Instagram was born. Instagram gets far more of my attention these days, but the blog doesn’t need to be jealous. It still has its place in our ministry. And how it has taught us to be disciplined and faithful, too, in recording the journey.

But really it is to God be the glory for this endeavor. He is faithful. He was at the beginning of this. He is at the 10-year mark. He will be there when the blog someday comes to close. But today we testify to a log of God’s faithfulness, recorded every 3-4 days for the past 10 years. Pick any one in the archive, and it will give a glimpse of God at work around us, in the good and in the bad.

We are eternally grateful for these stories.

Elements is 10 Years Strong

Strike while the iron’s hot. This idiom is used when you see an open door and it is critical to take advantage of the opportunity given to you. This is particularly true about post-camp activities.

Just being honest, emotions are high immediately post-camp. Even for me I felt a challenge reentering into daily life after camp because camp itself was a microcosm of a perfect atmosphere. Constant fun, parties, games, laughter. Constant community, including serving side-by-side with most of my dearest friends in Ukraine. Constant love. Constant distraction. Constantly being cared for (ie. no cooking, no cleaning, our sitter helped care for the kids.) Constant emphasis on the Bible, on prayer, on the church, on Jesus Himself. We were equipping leaders and sharing Jesus with campers.

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Basically, we were doing everything we felt called to do, just on a small, 91-person scale(!)

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Which leads us to Elements, the 2006-07 JV-produced course of 10 key building blocks of the Christian life. It is for campers who have made a decision to follow Jesus (or for those who are curious about what composes this Christian life).

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Last summer we saw great need and usefulness in providing a weekly Bible study that would last through the start of the school year and give kids some spiritual “meat” throughout the summer. Many do not have any Christian disciplines in their lives, so this starts them out on the right track. Out of the 120+ different kids and leaders from camp, we have a 20-to-25-person turn out each week. This is a 16-20% turnout, which may not seem really high, but there are constant new people. And considering that it is summer vacation season, and that there are campers who actually are not interested in doing a Bible study, we are grateful for the consistent showing that we get!

JV has moved on and promotes many of its other great intro courses, but Elements is a classic, and most of our kids have never been through it. It is a privilege to teach and facilitate our youth group in this way! I love this role. This is serving in my sweet spot…Bible study for teenagers who want to learn…

Here we are, watching one of the videos of a girl named Jitka Ehlova, who actually came to her first English Camp with me in 2002 in Lovosice, Czech Republic, and after that summer, gave her life to Christ. May we in Lviv have many more Jitkas in the next few months!

Cool EDGE Floorball Video

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This summer we had our second floorball camp for EDGE Sports here in Ukraine. Our teammates Tomasz and Andriy were responsible for it. (Just an FYI for people who follow our ministry closely – at the the end of June, our teammate Roman Romanyshyn decided unexpectedly that he was finished working with our organization. We are sad to see him go, and hope that he will be blessed and find what he left searching for.)

There was a 2-person team from the Dakotas that came and did video for the floorball league. There was also a team of professionals and coaches from Czech that came to help with the technical and skill part of the camp. Ben and Dylan visited for what was meant to be longer than half-a-day, but after a severe arm fracture, Ben and Dylan ended up driving a kid back to Lviv for an emergency orthopedic surgery…

Nonetheless, enjoy the video. It’s great!

EDGE Camp from LaserEye Studio on Vimeo.

The First Last-Day of Summer

Yesterday marked the official end of the Josiah Venture summer internship, which is always the first of two “last days of summer”. (The second one is August 31 because of school starting officially on September 1st every year.)

Four American interns flew home. (One stays as an Extended Summer Intern through Thanksgiving; another prematurely went home early.) Our Czech and Slovak trained back into the EU yesterday morning. And this morning, our 5 Ukrainian interns scattered back to their city of origin (Lviv, Rivne, Ternopil).

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Bye, English Intern Team and Outdoor Intern!

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Bye, European Union interns, Anichka (CZ) and Marianna (SL)!

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Bye, Fusion Ukraine intern team!

And in the dust cloud of their departure, our Josiah Venture Ukraine team heads to a 2-day retreat to relax together and debrief summer a bit before everyone scatters for some serious summer vacation rest before September First. We haven’t been together formally for months, so this is a much needed time.

So, as everyone heads their separate ways, my prayer for this transition time into autumn is that we would be like the radically demon-possessed man who experienced a radical healing by Jesus and received a new life of physical and spiritual freedom:

Luke 8:39 “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.

Comparing Girls’ Growth from 2015 and 2016

Just yesterday I spent the whole day with these two girls. They were working for us some of the time, but we were definitely spending that day in community. In my head I was comparing the girls’ physical and spiritual growth from 2015 and 2016.

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My prayer for Zlata is that she would find deep Christian community as she returns to Kiev for her second year living there, away from all of us at New Life. Marta officially committed her life to Jesus at our English Camp this year and is now praying that her whole family would repent and follow Jesus in a deep way. Last night at our Bible study on prayer, Zlata responded to my question, “when do you start praying to God with your own words, rather than just repeating ‘Our Father’ and other ritual prayers?” with this: “well, probably when I first met you guys (referring to New Life Church youth).” God is working in our midst. He is changing lives.

One other amazing thing is that they have been or are being mentored by one of my mentees, Olya Verbna (see photo.) The chain of disciple-making grows…the movement strengthens…

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The next photo comparison is of Jasmine, Nastya and Sasha.

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These are girls from last year who prayed with me individually at Fusion Camp 2015 to accept Christ. Over the past year they have each been growing up, both in Christ, as well as in life, since last year. I’ll be honest…I’d love to see more evidence of daily walking with Jesus in their lives. Their journey is up and down, but I pray that 2016 has strengthened them and given them a new inspiration to make Jesus the Lord of ALL in their lives.

These are the girls in 2016 who prayed with my in our small group to accept Christ:

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Marta from School 51, Diana (a cousin of one of our youth leaders) and Oksana, a new contact from the law high school. Pray that these girls would get deeply rooted in Jesus. May they truly understand the commitment they made.

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Then add Natalya and Liza, also brand new campers, and this is my small group from this year.

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I can compare this will my small group from last year. There is real growth, stunted growth, some lack of a conviction to be deeply rooted in a Bible-teaching, Christ-practicing church, and everything in between. But what can I do? I pray through the soils from Luke 8. I believe that God is at work. We wouldn’t see them come back often if God wasn’t working on them, but I do hope for stronger conviction in their hearts. These 16-18-yr. old years are a real test to see who is committed to the purity of Christ, and who will be tossed and turned by the patterns of the world, who will be choked and loose root in Jesus.

There is great joy and great heartache in pointing people to Jesus. Pray that we would never grow weary of doing good, but that we would pray without ceasing that God would transform their minds, neither turning to the left or to the right, but producing a harvest of righteousness and bearing 100x the fruit of a life in Jesus. This is why I labor and strive here.

SO THANKFUL FOR GOD’S 2015-2016 WORK!!!!!!!!!

JV Latvia Grobina, JV Germany-Leipzig, and EVFreeFullerton Join Us

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It is unbelievable the way that Josiah Venture Ukraine has been blessed by different  partnerships.

As I was typing this (now a while ago!), Terry English and members of his church from Ostrava are on their way to serve at a Fusion camp; there are 8 Czechs in the Carpathians teaching our young people more floorball skills than ever before. And just a few days ago, a team from JV Latvia and two from JV Germany were with our local church, up in the Carpathians for our Fusion music camp.

And the JV Ukraine – EVFree Fullerton (CA) partnership is almost 10 years strong. EVFree is actually doing a “Love Europe” campaign, which allowed them to send not one, not two, but FOUR short-term teams from California to Eastern Europe through Josiah Venture (two teams to UA, one to CZ, one to PL, all doing summer camps with teenagers who need Jesus!).

JV Latvia – from Grobina. What a group of humble servants they were! For being such a young team, it is clear that their leadership from David Kingdon and Andrej (both JV missionaries) is just excellent. It was also really fun for our Ukrainian church to meet other European kids. Half their team could communicate in Russian, which was helpful.

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JV Germany – on each side of this photo is one person representing Josiah Venture in Leipzig, Germany. They are Jim Miller (from the right) and Kelsie (from the left). They came because they are only doing one camp right now in their country, and they wanted to observe other ways of doing camp. (They also got pegged to teach an English master class here.)

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It was a joy to have Jim over, as well, since he and his wife, Lina, hosted our family back in May in Germany.

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JV Latvia brought a rap session that was one-of-a-kind. We appreciate new talents being showcased at camp. When Andrej (above) and Mahomed rapped during the Fusion concert, it was incredible!blogUniqueLatvian

Last but not least, here is the EVFreeFullerton CA English Camp Team! (I must differentiate, because they have an EVFree Fullerton CA Fusion team that is also in Ukraine right now, but unfortunately they flew in and out of Odessa and are in the care of our other teammates, so we won’t get to see them! But we’re so thankful for this partnership! Expanding for the kingdom!)

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It has been amazing to be in these CA girls’ lives for the past years. They love the kingdom of God and missions. I know God has more in store for them and Ukraine. I pray He will reveal His will for them, as they pursuing coming back as interns, short-term team leaders, or even someday as full-time missionaries. The fields are ripe for harvest, and we keep asking the Lord of the Harvest for more workers.

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When Young People Get Baptized

Just before our six slots of camps began, our church went on a picnic a few hours away. This is an annual June tradition. There is always a big lunch; there are often a handful of people who get baptized as well while we are there. Usually it is our busiest camp time, so we can’t attend. This year we could. And it was timely because all three who got baptized were youth from our youth group.

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These teens boldly stand for Christ and are not ashamed. One did so under threats from a mother who is mortified that their child would denounce their traditional faith. There is much embarrassment and fear in families when their kids make a stand for Jesus and begin attending church where they see true life in Christ. Jesus warned that following Him would cause division in families. We feel it here…a lot.

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Look at the rain! It started pouring down just as these teens were sharing their testimonies and declaring that they were ready to make such a big step. It was cold and rainy as they “died to their old life”, but within just a few minutes of finishing all the baptisms, the sun came out, blazing, and we stayed for hours at the river, just celebrating as a church family.

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This guy, Mahomed, is from a different background. He is SUPER zealous for the Lord, and we pray that he grows and matures to become a great leader someday.

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These young people can’t help but testify what they have seen, heard and experienced in the family of God. We are so thankful to be a part of a church that loves teenagers and will do whatever God is calling us to do to help them see Jesus for who He really is. What a great summer we’ve had with this particular “branch” of the Body of Christ.

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3rd Fusion Camp for New Life

blogDressRehearsalI just returned from Monday-Friday at our local church’s Fusion summer camp. Think “School of Rock” straight for 6 days, along with a bunch of performances, talent shows and anything else to showcase how awesome they are. Seriously, what a crew to hang out with! I get much energy from their creativity. I see God alive in them.

This year our New Life Fusion team did an exceptional job. Three of these leaders (Rodion, Dasha and Marina) were brand new to serving in Fusion. Sasha, Yara, Roman, and Olya did a great job of leading the troops, especially since losing Sasha Strashko’s presence from the team (she married a Czech last month and moved to Brno, CZ). The rest are younger leaders, strong and brave and leading the next generation for Jesus. We are very proud of them.
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The following pictures are particular shout-outs from the week. I don’t want to forget these people and their amazing service for the Kingdom of God.

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Summer interns! This is Christy Owen’s summer Fusion intern team. Rodion, Christy, Rebecca, Yustia, and Alecia.

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The girls I led a Survival group for! We were rudely awaken at 4:30 and did a 5-hour hike and station game! Nothing like youth ministry for a kick in the pants. These girls had awesome attitudes! Great job leading them, Olya and Nastya! (I was adopted into their group because I didn’t have a small group. I was there for only 5 of the 7 days.)

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Lastly here is Olya, Solya, Tanya and Christy. Solya and Tanya are from Skelya Church in Rivne. This church has been praying for years about starting a Fusion. They are still on the fence in many ways. Pray that God would show His will if they are to launch Fusion this fall. It is a big commitment, but a fruitful endeavor in youth ministry. May their church, under our friend Sasha Dubovik’s care, know how to proceed.

Incredible Marriage Video

blogYouAndMeForeverMy friend Aleisha Stephens used this video in her family’s missionary update this June. It was powerful and I keep thinking about the radical things done for God’s kingdom that bring light and refreshment to all around them. We are meant to serve God!

A girl I disciple, Vika, and I finished doing a study of an oldie but real goodie for people who are the beginning stages and maturing stages of their walk with Christ. Vika was really moved by the week of study on Serving God. This Francis Chan “You and Me Forever” video happens to be about the same thing, serving God, in the context of marriage. These are stories of people with very bold faith. I?m still thinking about this video today, and I watched it weeks ago.
Enjoy, and remember, if your marriage is in a rut or stale, please read this book, You and Me Forever, by Francis Chan. It paints our marriages in light of eternity, which is a pretty significant was to look at relationships. The take away is that we need to obey God by serving together. It is an incredible way to give refreshment and life into your relationship. Serving takes eyes off self and puts them on God and His heart. God is so faithful like that.

You and Me Forever from You and Me Forever on Vimeo.

Education Changes for Us

We have some random educational updates I’ve been wanting to share.

  1. We utilized our first ever SHARE services (educational services for expats living in Europe ~ https://www.shareeducation.org/) for Marissa and Dylan in April 2016. We have no educator background, so allowing other, more experienced people to speak into the lives of our family is really important. Our friend Karilyn arranged it so all the expats in Lviv who needed the services could get them. We tested Marissa and Dylan in the K-2nd grade Early Reading Assessment. Let’s just say that I’m glad we did! Nothing humbles Mommy more than seeing all the areas that we don’t know we don’t know regarding kids’ education. In a nutshell, the kids scored highest on sight words and early reading, which is the main area in which I’ve been working with them. But there are key pieces of phonemic awareness that they totally bombed. I mean REALLY bad. They didn’t understand rhyming words, syllables, and their vocabulary level is low (which is the case with most third culture kids growing up in a language outside of their home language.)

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This has forced me to try and do more hours of “homeschooling” with them. I’d appreciate prayers because it exhausts me. I don’t have anything against formal homeschooling, but it is not for everyone. Even just doing an hour or so of worksheets or crafts with the kids takes discipline for me. Pray it will get easier.

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One area the instructors really emphasized was reading chapter books together. We read with them every day, but only at their level, not really at anything higher. So I dug out the 3 old classics I had for a 4-5-year-old…Ramona the Pest, Alice in Wonderland and The Wizzard of Oz. It was S-L-O-W going at first, but they’ve finally gotten used to a book without pictures. Plus, Ramona and Alice live interesting lives, so I am thankful.

2. Marissa graduated preschool! What a dear time we have had there!

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Congrats to our grads! Above is half of M’s graduating class ~ Marissa, Ostap, Zosia and Olya. Below are 7 from her graduating class, with Dylan insisting to be in it, at the Polish Consulate to receive their free 1st grade school bags as a generous gift from Poland. At least one person in our family is in most of the pictures on the Polish Consulate in Lviv website about this event, if you’d like to peek at it. http://www.lwow.msz.gov.pl/pl/aktualnosci/wyprawka_dla_pierwszakow

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3. This leads to the exciting announcement that Marissa was accepted into the Polish school (grades 1-11th) for the 2016-2017 school year!!! There was a lottery, and she will be in class “1-b”… with our favorite people from the preschool. Seriously, I am shocked by God’s favor. We’ve been blessed to get to know Olya, Zosia, Ostap, Julian, and all their parents over the past two years. I couldn’t ask for a better company – kind kids, kind parents…a mix of Ukrainian, Polish, and English-speaking culture and background. Several of us live in the same neighborhood. I am amazed, and how we all jockeyed to get into the same class. The teacher is young and new, which some are worried about, but I’m going to trust that God has been paving our way.

This is another reason why we will go with the national school option. We’re pleased with the preschool and the elementary school where Marissa and Dylan attend/will attend, so we feel comfortable allowing those institutions to be the educators for the kids. Supplementing subjects and topics such as Bible lessons, learning to read in English, and American culture will forever be our responsibility, which is already plenty overwhelming for me. We’ll have to undergo some other logistical changes, such as D & M not being in the same school, Marissa’s class ending at 12:30, and no more possibilities for Monday as our day off/Sabbath. Stay tuned for more school updates.