Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Eight Years

It's no surprise that I was wide awake at 1:30 this morning. I'm a night owl to begin with but of course there's more to it than that.

About 1:30 this morning marked the 8th anniversary of Kim's passing.

Last night I lay in bed thinking about my current surroundings. I'm in Sochi, Russia. The Winter Olympics were held here a few weeks ago. The Winter Paralympics is happening right now. Everyday I ride a CableCar up a mountain where athletes are competing for medals.

I lay in bed last night thinking about a February or March 12 or so years ago when Kim and I took some of our high school seniors and some college kids snow skiing in Glorieta, NM.  Skiing was one of Kim's bucket-list items. She wasn't very good at it; neither was I. But she was so happy to be there and to try it. Truth be told, she probably would have been content just to travel there and back. She loved flying and we enjoyed going places together.

All this snow and winter sports reminds me of that week. I remember being afraid for her and being protective of her and feeling like a good husband because of my concern for her. I also remember the guys- David Redd and Cory Rodgers being equally protective of  her when we were on the slopes. I remember how well she loved Emily and Laura and how equally well they loved her.

Eight years sometimes feels like yesterday. Sometimes it feels like 100 years ago or like it never really happened. I wish I had more pictures of her; of us.

Not to change the subject but last night I read about an Orphanage in Crimea that had been commandeered by the Russian forces occupying Crimea. The kids were taken home by volunteers and orphanage workers.  If a shooting war starts next week in Ukraine there will be more orphans in both Ukraine and Russia. Even without a war, the current and foreseeable economic situation is going to make things worse for those kids.

Kim and I had an opportunity back in 2005 to spend a couple weekends with some Ukrainian Orphans that we're being hosted by friends in Birmingham. If not for her health condition I have no doubt we would have adopted.

Here's one of the few pictures I have with me right now- it's Kim and one of those kids in Birmingham.

This blog is everywhere.  Honestly, I feel numb. Maybe I'm always a little numb this time of the year. Five or six years ago I thought I'd probably marry again someday. Five or six years ago I thought maybe I'd still have kids someday. It could still happen but it seems less likely with each passing year and this day, March 12, marks the passing of years for me as much as my Birthday or New Years.

He gives and He takes away, still I will say Blessed be the name of The Lord!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

If I were writing a screenplay about all this stuff....

I wrote the other day on Facebook that maybe leaders in Ukraine are a lot smarter than I am. They are exercising remarkable restraint against the provocations of a hostile foreign government that has illegally invaded their territory. I'm sure part of the reason is just the realization that bloodshed hurts everyone and their desire to keep diplomatic channels open.

In my heart I know the best action to take, especially from someone like me is to pray for a peaceful resolution, encourage others yo do the same, and minister comfort, reconciliation,and the Gospel when and where I can.  But part of me just wants to fight.

So maybe I'm not smart enough to lead a country (although I have beaten Risk at the expert level on my IPad countless times!)  But maybe I'm smart enough to write a good movie screenplay.  The climactic scene in the final 1/3 of the movie might look something like this:

The American President takes his place in front of international news media for an important announcement.  Think Bill Pullman from Independence Day or Harrison Ford from Air Force One.

He clears his throat and says: "Today I'd like to announce an historic meeting that will take place Friday. Almost 70 years ago the leaders of the free world gathered in Yalta to discuss re-drawing the map of Europe at the end of WW2. This Friday the PM from England, myself, and the President of Russia will meet again on those historic grounds for the same purpose. Actually, we forgot to invite Vlad, but if you're watching this on tv, feel free to come to the meeting. It will be in your best interest to do so. And actually, we won't be drawing any maps...we already did that. The map in question will look very familiar; it's the same map of Ukraine we've grown accustomed to these past 20 or so

"The US and UK are guarantors of a treaty signed in Budapest to protect Ukraine's borders and sovereignty. The Acting President of Ukraine has invited us to Ukraine (unlike the bully who is there without an invitation) to enforce the treaty."

"Vlad has repeatedly suggested that their presence in the region is to protect their citizens.  Our Ukrainian partners are at this minute issuing a declaration that Dual Citizenship Passports are no longer allowed in Ukraine. You can be an ethnic whatever-in-the-world you want to be but if you're in Ukraine you can only be a citizen of one country. If you're a Russian National, then pack your bags and go home. This week. Before Friday. Failure to do so will result in confiscation of all assets and immediate and irrevocable expulsion.

"Vlad made it a rather big deal last week when he called for a Snap Military Drill to see how quickly
he could mobilize his forces.  Good job. You showed the world they can move quickly. That's a good thing because you'll have 24 hours following the close of Friday's meeting to withdraw all forces and hardware from Ukraine. This is not an empty threat. Beginning midday Saturday A-10 Warthogs will make scrap metal of every truck, tank, personnel carrier and riding lawnmower still in Ukraine."

"And as for the premise of protecting your naval base in Sevastopol; it is no longer yours. Your blatant disregard for Ukraine's sovereignty and that Budapest Agreement makes that lease agreement null and void effective immediately. If your ships and sailors aren't sailing out of Ukraine's water by Saturday afternoon we will sink them where they berth. If you interfere with our ships in international waters deployed to enforce this ultimatum then we will sink every ship you have in the Eastern Hemisphere.  We know your Subs are stealthy but you know we can make it dang hard to ever come up for breath!"

The final scene features Ukrainians at peace looking at social media and newspaper headlines of Maidan-like uprisings in virtually every quarter of the Federation.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Copied from my newsletter..and some more.


I think one of the reasons I've resisted writing and blogging about what's happening in Ukraine is that it is an overwhelming subject.  Unless you've been following my Facebook feeds then you might not even be aware of the turmoil that has enveloped this country over the past 3 months.  As I understand it American media has been too busy with Justin Bieber to pay much attention to an epic struggle for freedom here in Ukraine.  One political columnist put it this way: "Ukraine gained it's independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 almost by accident; now they are having to fight for it."  

A rough time-line goes like this: Near the end of November Ukraine's President was purportedly close to signing an Association Agreement with the European Union which would strengthen trade-ties between the two entities and pave the way for further integration down the road.  At the last minute, the President rejected the agreement much to the dismay of many Ukrainians, particularly the university crowd who began protesting in the streets.  Protesting in the streets is kind of a "thing" in Ukraine; it's not unusual at all.  But the last night of November, authorities did something crazy: someone ordered brutal attacks in an effort to dispel the protesters.  That order did not have the desired effect: the next day more than 300,000 Ukrainians took to the streets.  The weekend crowds swelled to more than a million!  Authorities again used lethal force in early December and then in mid-December a series of terribly repressive laws were rammed through Parliament that outlawed the protests.  

The "movement" has long since been about something more than integration with the EU or about the whims of university students.  Since that bloody night in November it has been about Ukraine's desire to be free from a mafia-like government.  In January it seemed like the tide was turning towards the people.  The Prime Minister resigned; at least some of the repressive new laws were overturned.  But this spiritual warfare.  In the heavenlies a battle is raging and on the ground it is being manifest in loss of life, injuries, and missing persons.  At least 6 people are dead and 30 or more are missing, hundreds have been arrested (many taken forcibly from hospitals where they sought help) and thousands have been injured.  The country is split by language, history, barricades in the streets and party-loyalties.  And still... God is on His throne.  Keep praying for Ukraine.

This coming Monday marks a government mandated deadline for protesters to vacate some structures that have been occupied for several weeks.  There's no firm indication yet that they will give-in to those demands.  Most, if not all, the previously detained protesters have been released from captivity, but it appears that their "charges" are still on the books...that's not Amnesty...that's Blackmail.

And... I'm tentatively visiting Maidan, the epicenter of this struggle, next Saturday.  Pray for Ukraine!

Here's a great online article from The Washington Post about what's happening in Ukraine, click here.


Monday, December 30, 2013

Unpacking a Busy December

Ever since arriving in Ukraine in January 2012 I've kept a daily "log" of the main stuff I've done that day.  This December has been CRAZY busy.  Here's my log for this month!

Dec 1- Sunday- Church; Led worship at Youth Club
Dec 2- Monday- Met with ICA Mission Team; Band Practice
Dec 3- Tuesday- Chaslivtsi Orphanage with Kyiv Team
Dec 4- Wednesday- Lunch for Kyiv Team at my house; Visit Chaslivtsi Orphanage; Band Practice
Dec 5- Thursday- Long Day! Staff Meeting; Retrieve letter at Nehemiah; Trip to Svalyava Orphanage; Pizza with Orphan Team.
Dec 6- Friday- Slept Late!!  Shopping. Led worship at Night Prayer.
Dec 7- Saturday- Early morning to Krasna Dontsiv Bazaar; Hosted Messianic kids at home for dinner
Dec 8- Sunday- Led worship in am and youth service.
Dec 9- Monday- Slept late; cleaned house; Band Practice. Saddened by protest in Kyiv.
Dec 10- Tuesday- Met with Doug about Radvanka; Doug and I met with Lola Kulchar And Volodya Sergochov.  Met with Sydney about Chaslivtsi; Going away get together for Anka and Sven, Bowling.
Dec 11- Wednesday- RD Staff Meeting; Trip to Svalyava Orphanage.
Dec 12- Thursday- Met with Anya and Rudik and Katya to sort clothes.
Dec 13- Friday- bought furniture; led worship for Alpha Course Conference.
Dec 14- Saturday- Went to Kiev for Euromaidan
Dec 15- Sunday- EuroMaidan Day of Dignity in Kiev.
Dec 16- Monday- Returned from Kiev; Band Practice
Dec 17- Tuesday- IT Staff Mtg; Toured Lola’s Ministry Center in Radvanka; Met with Orphan Team
Dec 18- Wednesday-Met with Andrey and Sasha about Apt; Staff Mtg; Met w/Orphan Team
Dec 19- Thursday- Met with Dima at Apt; Met with Orphan Team to look for Christmas gifts; Saw Sonya dance; met with Dima again.
Dec 20- Friday- Met Stephen and Heidi at train station; Band Practice
Dec 21- Saturday- Showed Stephen and Heidi around town a bit.
Dec 22- Sunday- Led worship. Lunch with new kids; youth service; bowling.
Dec 23- Monday- Shopping, Banking, Cooking and Staff Christmas Party at my house.
Dec 24- Tuesday- signed apartment contract; shopping; Katya’s house for Orphan Team get together.
Dec 25- Wednesday- Hallenbacks, Stephen and Heidi, Kent and Inga, Jason for Tacos at my house.
Dec 26- Thursday- Trip to Svalyava Orphanage and then pizza afterwards.  Long day.
Dec 27- Friday- Packed stuff; Finally got the key to the apartment.
Dec 28- Saturday- Moved two taxi loads of stuff; bought a bed; waited all day for furniture.
Dec 29- Sunday- Led worship; lunch at Vertep with Katya, Anya, Roma, Stephen, Heidi; Youth Worship.

Dec 30- Monday- Got more stuff for the apartment; long day!
Dec 31- Tuesday- early morning at Krasna Dontsiv Baraar; Meet ICA Team at Train Station; Chaslivtsi Orphanage; Youth All Night New Year's Eve Party (leading worship at midnight).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

I love you. Goodbye.

We were blessed to visit the Regional Baby Orphanage again today.  A newlywed couple- friends of a friend- went with us.  They got married about a month ago and apparently it's a Ukrainian "thing" to receive lots of flowers at your wedding.  But instead of receiving all those flowers, they requested that their guests bring stuffed animals that would be delivered to needy children.  How cool is that?  So today we went with them and presented the orphanage with probably 50-100 new, stuffed animals.

And since we didn't get to see the children last week (see the last couple of blogs- last week we just met with the Chief Doctor to iron out some protocols for visiting) this was the first time we've seen the kids in 2 weeks.

For the first several minutes we were missing this one little boy- Pasha.  We were wondering if he had been adopted.  We keep hearing that it could happen any day now.  He finally showed up but we were again told that it could happen pretty soon.  We absolutely rejoice in that.  It's what we want.  It's what I want.  I want these kids to find forever families and if they are Ukrainian then I think that's even better.  Praise the Lord.

But that doesn't mean we won't miss them when they're gone.  On the way out I kissed my little favorite girl on the forehead and told her I love her and that Jesus loves her.  I've been doing that for at least 3-4 months with this one particular kid.  She never responds in-like.  She doesn't say, "I love you, too" or thank you or anything.  That's ok- I don't say it so I can hear it in return.  I say it because someday she'll understand what it means and she'll remember.  Someday she'll start hearing about Jesus and she'll remember that Uncle Clinton always told her that Jesus loves her.

And then on the way out today it really hit me that every week when we could be the last time we see some of these kids.  They'll either go back to live with parents or other family, or they'll be adopted, or they'll eventually "age-out" of this particular orphanage and move on to another one for older children (and by the way, we have been working on getting into the next-level orphanage so we can effectively follow these kids through the system).

But any given week presents the possible last time to see some of these kids.  That makes me not to ever want to forget to tell at least one that I love them and Jesus loves them.  It makes me want to remember to earnestly pray for them and over them.  It makes for a hard goodbye.

And it helps me understand what it must be like to be an Orphanage Worker.  It APPEARS sometimes that some of them are stern- cold- hard.  Of course we're not there except for an hour or so a week- but it seems like we never see them in the floor loving on the children. I would almost bet they didn't start that way. I bet some of them get as attached to the kids as we have but they've watched those kids leave for whatever reason over and over and over and over again.  It must be hard on them.  Unless they really are that stern and hard and cold.  But after spending the little bit of time that I have with these kids I'd have to say, "no". No one can be that stern and hard and cold.  So I pray for myself and for them to not be hardened by the process.
How about this sweet guy?  He's in the "invalid" room; I'm not sure what his diagnosis is for him to be there but he is one sweet, little dude.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Well, that worked out pretty good!

Here's an update on last week's post about what happened to our team at the regional children's orphanage.

There are some details I won't share publicly to keep from embarrassing anyone.

Last Thursday night I wrote a 2-3 paragraph email to the Chief Doctor at the Orphanage.   I thought it was pretty tactful (my friend who translated it told me she could tell that I was "mad".).  In any case, it had the desired effect.  Yesterday the Doctor called one of our team members and expressed a desire to continue having us visit the children.

Today one of our regular volunteers and I met the Doctor for coffee.  It was a good meeting.  We agreed to some protocols that should protect him and us and make the relationship a little more formal than it has been.  If we can meet the simple protocols then we should have no problems in the future with any of the other staff.

Among ourselves...the volunteers... we've already discussed the need for us to work harder at building relationships and serving the staff- especially the nurses that spend the most time with the kids.  There's no doubt the nurses are underpaid and under-appreciated and probably over-worked.  We'll try harder to love them from now on.

We hope to resume our visits next week.  Thanks so much to everyone that prayed about this situation.  There was a lot of of heartache on our part last Thursday at the thought of not being able to visit those kids regularly.  Today the Doctor told us he thought one of the things we do is help the children learn to interact with people (people not wearing white lab coats and being constant disciplinarians) and that helps them when they eventually transition into a real home.  I like that his outlook is that he expects them to find families eventually.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Thanks for holding the ropes for me

A Ukrainian friend asked me tonight about how I raise support and how I can live here and do what I do.  I gave her the short answer...that friends back home give me monthly financial and prayer support. I told her that my list includes family and of course, friends...and even kids that grew up in the youth ministries I served.  So tonight I came home and did a little math and here's what I found:

In this chart you can see that 77% of my support is monthly.  Monthly giving is the life-blood of a missionary.  To be fair, some of my "one time" supporters give large amounts which is pro-rated and distributed on a monthly basis.  One-time support accounts for 9% of my supporters and then 14% of my supporters give occasionally- ie, not every month but throughout the year.  Again, some of that is pro-rated and distributed monthly.  The frequency of the gift doesn't reflect the amount...I didn't check to see how much of my budget I receive monthly or occasionally etc.  I will say this: My biggest supporter so far this year is a "One-Time" supporter. Also, the amount of money that comes in every month has no bearing on my "salary"- it is determined at the end of each year and will remain constant regardless of monthly intake (unless of course it drops to a level that won't support my salary...which hasn't happened so far).  It's a lot cheaper to live here than in the States but in case you're wondering...I take home about 1/4- 1/3 of what a Mississippi School Teacher takes home...and I pay US Health Insurance rates!

This is where it gets really fun!  The largest group of supporters this year (23%) are either kids that grew up in one of the youth ministries I served or the parents of kids I ministered with.

The next group is old and current church friends...but mostly friends that were church members in either Aberdeen or Gulfport, MS (20%).

Family accounts for 18% but that includes money that is given every month in the name of ALL of my great nieces and nephews.  But let's just say my immediate family- parents, brother and sisters, and nieces and nephews all help me serve in Ukraine...and they take care of a lot of "business" for me back home!

11% of my Support Team is former World Racers- people I served with back in 2007.  That's pretty huge!

10% is from friends of friends mostly or people that I've really only recently met- maybe someone that heard me speak in a church or something.

9% is former and current ministry friends- mostly my old youth minister buddies.

9% is friends I went to college with at Mississippi State.

And I currently have 1 church back in MS that sends monthly support.

I probably should have saved this post for later in the month...for Thanksgiving...because I'm definitely grateful to them and to God for these friends and family.  I pray often that their trust in me is well-spent.