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Fun September Happenings

I really do (DID?) love September, but now I don’t know if I can, with a clear conscious, title this post “Fun” September happenings, because the chaos of having a school-aged child feels UNENDING!

For example just today at 11am I went to check my email. (On Thursday mornings I get kids ready until 7:30am, then do discipleship meetings at a 24-hour cafe down the road with my sweet Vika from 7:30-9am, and then I have Russian language lessons from 9-11. Only at 11 do I have a spare second to sit down.) In my inbox was an email from Marissa’s 1st grade teacher, titled “wa?ne” which means “Important” in Polish. Basically it was telling me that she needs to get picked up early today, as in, in 1.5 hours from when I am reading the email.

For the past 30 days, God has been daily pounding it into my head that His movement is mission critical, and that caring for my family and being available to them at any hour of any day is also mission critical, on a much smaller level. I had been praying about starting certain ministries or getting involved in different ways, but I feel like my kids and husband need me to be all-in to help serve them. As much as I am 100% committing to the movement of God, I am also committed to the individuals around me. It is amazing how clear the Lord speaks when we are open to His leading:

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here!

For I am among you as one who serves.  (Luke 22:24-27)

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I was hoping that by September 29th, the “September Tsunami”, as my dear NJ friends Laurie and Susan name it, would have died down, but I guess it is still early for that wishful thinking! It doesn’t help that each September we go away for 9 days for our annual Fall Conference affairs. Maybe if I tack on 9 more days into October, I’ll feel a bit more stable! But oh, wait, my parents will have just arrived for their 60th birthday celebrations! It is time to take myself out of the center and be among people as one who serves.

So the bass keeps runnin’, runnin’-in’, runnin’, runnin’-in’…

Learning From Barnabas: Fall Conf 2016 Prep

Our organization, Josiah Venture, is preparing for their annual Fall Conference from September 19-23. We actually go from the 16th to the 24th because of our different JV responsibilities. We are so thankful that Grammy (Ben’s mom, Kathy) has come to serve us for three weeks and help with some of the September insanity (see previous blog post!). This will be the first year we are leaving the kids in UA for a fall conference. 6 years of memories of figuring out what to do with them so that I could be a mom in full-time ministry things like that. But now we are in a different stage!

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Anyway, Ben has been a part of the execution team for Fall Conference for many years. It is a conference for over 300 missionaries and main youth leaders in this region of the world. We LOVE Fall Conference! Ben does a great job teaching and helping to shepherd the conference from the stage. I love sitting up close and watching him. This year the team asked me to help. I play a small role in preparing small group leaders to lead their country teams to certain decision points and action steps for after the conference. I also will help host a session, serve on the Camps Lead team, etc. It is always a very full week. Plus, I get to help care for these guys:

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This is just a part of our broader Ukraine team. As it has been in the past few years, we’ll have 26 JV Ukraine staff and local partners with us, studying about the inspiration of the Book of Acts in the Bible, and how God continues to move across the world since the first century.

Which leads me to Barnabas. Look at this little section of 5 verses of Scripture about one of the earliest church leaders, Barnabas, whose name means “Son of Encouragement”. Already you can tell there is something special about this guy, which is why I this week I want to learn 12 key points from him and his ministry. I was asked to lead a short Bible time on Monday. I’ve chosen this:

Acts 11:21-26
And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch (1). When he came and saw the grace of God (2), he was glad (3), and he exhorted them all (4) to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose (5), for he was a good man (6), full of the Holy Spirit (7) and of faith (8). And a great many people were added to the Lord. So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (9), and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch (10). For a whole year they met with the church (11) and taught (12) a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. 

1) The main church in Jerusalem deemed him a worthy leader to be sent. He had the trust of other leaders.
2) The grace of God is everywhere. Do you see it? Especially in places that are culturally different than yours?
3) Joy of the Lord is a marker in great leaders.
4) Exhort is also a form of encouragement. Barnabas is living up to his name. The Church needs encouragement always.
5) Faithful in the big and small things. Steadfastness. Perseverance. Do what you are called to do. All key leadership qualities.
6) Self-explanatory and don’t we want people to notice that about us?!?
7) Acts is rocking my world right now, showing that without the Holy Spirit the Church cannot grow.
8) Bold faith award. It wasn’t easy to go to this foreign town and be a missionary there, for over a year. He was faith-filled.
9) Friends, Saul was a recent convert and Christians were terrified of him. Did he really change? Barnabas wasn’t afraid to mentor this previous Christian killer!
10) God is on the move! Earlier in this chapter, there was a great scattering of the Church because of persecution. God’s okay with this. So must we be.
11) Barnabas and Paul lead others. It is not forever, but for a key amount of time to build the right foundation. Train the trainers.
12) Teaching. They did a great many things, but they got to still serve in their gifting, for which all leaders are grateful.

May we be like Jesus and learn from Barnabas (and many others) this week.

Nervous To Start School

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It is hard to believe that we made it through 2+ years of preschool and preschool graduation for Marissa. Dylan has completed one full school year at preschool, and was also eager to get back…

But just when we hit the 10-year-as-missionaries mark fairly soon, I realize that there are still major milestone markers that we are NOT prepared for…

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Starting first grade and a new school is one of them. After a week in this September Madness I had a mini breakdown and just started crying. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, but I DEFINITELY felt God humbling me and bringing me back to the early years in Ukraine. When everything was new and no one took time to explain it to you. And even if they did, it was in a foreign language that you could barely understand. For me, this is my experience in the Polish school. I went to a parents meeting this week, and after 1.5 hours of instruction about European school systems (and boy is THIS foreign to my Wheaton-Christian-Grammar-School K-8 background), I went home and just went to bed. I was so frustrated about little things like having to sign up to be a cleaning mom in the classroom TWICE A WEEK, about how they end at 12:30 sometimes and 1:30 other times, about how they have to change for gym as first graders, and that they have to wear specific clothing for gym, about the weirdo list of art supplies and general supplies, including trash bags, toilet paper, bulletin boards and carpet.

I feel much joy and inner calm about being here, but all around me if feels like a tornado has blown through.

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We are at a legal, public school in Ukraine. Kids must take Ukrainian language each day and will have to take Ukrainian “SAT”-like exams in order to complete school (which only goes up to 11th grade here). But that is where the similarities to Ukrainian public school end and Polish school begin. There is mass. There are nuns. All other subjects (except 4 days of one Ukrainian lesson and one English lesson) are in Polish. There are strict behavior guidelines, dress code guidelines, etc.

Marissa is in class with some of our favorite kids from the preschool. We have high hopes and expectations that this is going to be a great fit for Marissa. She has a new, young teacher. Her class size is 15. Many parents would kill for such a small group. She walks to school each day; just 15 minutes (for her little legs) from our house. After school she heads to ballet, swimming or piano. (Dylan was deemed too young for tennis lessons, so we are putting that on hold for a year or two.)

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There is a crazy list of medical exams she had to complete, including an EKG… There is a crazy list of school supplies, many of which you would not find on a list in the States…and yes, my Polish sucks (according to my own 4-hr./week standard), but

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ready or not, here we come! And God is good.

Yes, I’m nervous, but I am also amazed by the way that our God has paved this way. We started this process before Marissa was two. And now here we are. Doors have opened. We’ve courageously stepped forward, knowing that God has so clearly called our whole family to Ukraine. And guess what?! Marissa’s not nervous or stressed even one bit. Her Polish doesn’t suck. When the teacher mentioned at a parents meeting that some kids have very weak Polish skills, I went to inquire and she said that she was not at all referring to Marissa. Marissa loves the kids in her class. She went to Saturday School for a whole semester to get her ready for this moment. She’s not afraid of the unknown. She is trusting God, and she knows that God has got this one!

Plus, a little side note. She started ballet with her friend, Zosia, that week! What’s there not to love! She’s in a beginner group, so she is the oldest and the tallest, which is funny because she is only between 25-50 percentile for height and weight for her age!

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Hello, BarTHelona and Menorca

When our summer vacation destination is chosen and it turns out to be Spain, I am NEVER disappointed. Spanish. Sun. Latino flare. High-energy culture. Water all around. Bright colors. More Spanish. Tapas. Paella. Sangria. Repeat.

blogBalearicIslandsA huge thank you to Dave and Karen for blessing our family with yet another remarkable vacation. After a few days in one of my favorite cities in the world (Barcelona), this year we headed to Menorca, a little island next to Mallorca and Ibiza.

I am constantly blown away by the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea. I love that this sea has a front seat location in many Bible stories. I love that God’s heart for the whole world culminates around this particular body of water.

Here are a few things that we did.

We unplugged. Entirely. No email. No social media. Frankly, Scarlet, I don’t give a *(*& what the rest of the world is up to this week. I’m taking advantage of the distance. If I don’t get filled up physically, emotionally and spiritually while away this week, I will not be able to pour out and invest in the lives of those in my ministry this fall. This vacation is mission critical for our well-being.

We read. And read. And swim and read some more. I took 12 very outdated (yes, 2014, 2015) Health and Christianity Today magazines that I never got around to reading because of seminary and life. I brought “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell and “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Scazzero. On my iPad I have Covey’s classic leadership book and “Love Does”, just in case I read through everything, which I won’t because I want 8-9 hours of sleep. And I still have to watch my kids in the pool. Dylan’s still only four…

We play with our kids. I went a little crazy on the iPad app downloads, mostly because I finally found a website that I liked with very trustworthy and unique recommendations. educationalappstore.com ~ my favorite are the games that teach your 5 year-old how to do primitive computer programming! So fun! But I think that a pool and daily ice cream will be more than enough.

And now, on the other side of the vacation, I can say that it was EXACTLY as I expected it, expect that the kids were even better deep end (1.7 meters, so about 6 feet) swimmers than I’d ever imagined. What a blessing. Here are few pics, in no particular order.

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Departing Day. Experienced Travelers. Dylan is circa 1930s here. 

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One of the coolest things in Barcelona. That archway is larger than life.

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“When you get tired in the pool, just lay on your back and a do a starfish.” ~ Advice from Pani Maria, our Ukrainian swim instructor. They take her advice after having swam from 10a-7pm on many days…

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Karen had a milestone birthday this summer. We celebrated it by FINALLY shopping at Desigual, whose home headquarters happen to be in Barcelona. SUCH UNIQUE STUFF THERE!

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Father and Son off Binibeca Beach in Menorca.

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Pop-Pop with his favorite fish.

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Seriously struggling with the selfie stick at Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, but loving life, nonetheless.

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This scene reminded me of LBI or somewhere on the Jersey Shore. Love the two coolest guys in my life.

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Again, a big THANK YOU! to Dave and Karen for the 10th year of above-and-beyond memorable summer vacations. We are eternally grateful, as not only our bodies but also our souls get rest when exploring these one-of-a-kind places. Mucho amor.

Marissa Justine Turns 6

It all started with a haircut…

Marissa celebrated her 6th birthday!!!
She got this awesome owl from Dylan, plenty of “Calico Cats” accessories, chapter books, clothes and a few Legos and educational apps. In a nutshell, that is what Marissa is into these days.

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She’s counting down the days until she attends first grade at her “big school”. There are huge milestones these days for our family!

Dylan is a pistol, like always, and of course got gifts on Marissa’s birthday. He got a long-awaited Spiderman bathrobe and Batman clothes. And a watch. They each got a watch and are S L O W L Y learning how to tell non-digital time. (I love how some educators are saying that there is no need to learn to tell time off a clock or learn how to write with handwriting…why would you not want kids to be well-rounded and be able to write AND type, or recognize digital and analog format? So dumb…)

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Ways that I can tell Marissa is 6 ~
1) She no longer wants to talk about Jingle, her old, now non-existent invisible friend. However, Dylan’s version of this, Milan, is always appearing at most family events.
2) The tantrums have tamed 100-fold. She is not so emotional, not so prone to anger. Some of this is due to our exerted efforts in this area, all of it is God’s answers to our prayers, but a little bit of it may just be “Mom, I’m growing up.”

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3) She wants to be a big girl. Going on errands. Coffee shops. H&M. IKEA. Make-up. Cell phone. She knows that she can start thinking about marriage after she is 20…it is so endearing, and also a reality check.
4) The kids’ interest in spiritual things is growing a lot. We have lots of talks about the Catholic church compared to the Protestant church (hence the visit to the Catholic church here ON HER BIRTHDAY!!!), and about praying to Allah, Mary, the saints, etc.

Oh my word – we don’t have preschoolers anymore.

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And thank you, Dylan, for gracing us with your bowtie on Marissa’s special day.

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!!!!!!!!!