Thursday, August 21, 2014

Slow Down

Finally, a week that hasn't been too crazy.

I've essentially enjoyed a little "Staycation" this week.  Our Ruka Dopomogy leaders have been out of town on vacation so no RD Staff Meetings this week.  Doug has been sick so no ITeams Staff Meeting.

Our Church is hosting a great conference led by a couple of Brits this week and even though I haven't attended most of the sessions I have made a couple of appearances to help lead worship.

Monday night during Band practice I got a call from our Pastor and was asked if I could host a young guy from Budapest who was in town to attend the conference.  It was a pretty quick turnaround but I said yes and a couple hours later I had another "tenant" at the Clinton Hostel.

Earlier today I got a FB message from a friend wanting to know if I could host a mutual friend that was passing through town for the evening...so I went home early (had been in the office doing some writing) and cleaned my room for her and made arrangements to move into the bunk room for the night with Budapest Ben.  Turns out she missed her train and couldn't make it after all but the rest of us got a nice big meal out of it and I got clean sheets on my bed!

Having 2 (well, one extra) guests during the week got me thinking about how many folks have stayed in my apartment since moving here back in January.  I think there have been about 18 different people that have spent one or more nights here.  A whole World Race team stayed a month.  One Intern lived here for 2 months, and 2 of them for almost 3 months.  I had some friends stay here for 3 weeks before I even had boxes unpacked.  Today I bought a nice blank book to use as a Guest Register.  Wish I had thought of that back in January!

And that's why I wanted my own apartment. My own place to hang my own pictures.  I'm still an introvert (probably more than ever before in my life) but I do enjoy hosting. I enjoy preparing meals and giving people a comfortable place to stay (maybe that's a holdover from my World Race days!).  I actually don't know where exactly this enjoyment comes from.  I don't think I have a Spiritual Gift for hospitality per se.  Rather, I just like to cook and I like to serve (sometimes...don't go thinking I'm saintly or anything- I'm not!) and in terms of hosting teams, I like being in the background and setting them up to be successful.




Thursday, August 14, 2014

I'm back

So, it's been a long time since I last blogged.  I really need to get back into the habit!

Where to begin?

It's overwhelming.  It would probably be overwhelming even if I had been blogging religiously all summer.

Ukraine is crazy.  It's still, just, crazy.

I've said this a hundred times...just when you think things are turning for the better politically it seems like it doesn't.  There was fear back in February that Russia would launch an invasion of Ukraine and dadgummit that fear is still there.  The latest of course is the 280 Truck "Humanitarian Aid" Convoy that Russia is supposed to be sending to Ukraine.  Many believe they are Trojan Horses in the form of 18 wheelers.  Many feel that either they will be used outright to bring in troops, or they will be targeted and thus used as a provocation to allow Russia to enter Ukraine or lastly, they could just be humanitarian aid.  Nobody knows.

And that's  life here in Ukraine.

Here in the West there's no real threat even if there were an invasion but that doens't mean the effects aren't being felt here.  We're supposed to be having a meeting in the next few weeks of most of the Pastors in the community to assess how we're dealing with Refugees.  I suspect that every church is doing ministry but what I haven't seen is any coordinated response.  That's what I hope will come out of our meeting.

In other news- I had 3 Summer Interns all summer.  They were fantastic.  I couldn't have asked for anything more or better.  They set the bar high for future summer workers.  Another 2 month short term volunteer arrives in 2 weeks and then a 2 year team member is scheduled to arrive in October.

I have worked at 5 summer camps this summer and will probably help at another one next week.

I'd love to take a vacation but I can't afford it right now.

A refugee is living with me right now.  I don't like referring to her as a refugee; she's a friend.  We met in 2009 when I worked in Lugansk, in Eastern Ukraine, which today is a war-torn near ghost town.  Her parents and grandparents are still there so everyday I know is tense for her.  She wants to go back; to help rebuild...but no one knows when that will be an option.  So for now she's thinking of putting down some roots here, trying to find a place to work and minister. Say a prayer for her...and the 100,000+ in her shoes right now in Ukraine.


I leave you with a picture or two from an awesome Children's Camp sponsored by my church here in Ukraine.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Guest Post from Summer Intern- Karah

Karah is from Illinois and is a student at Spring Arbor University in Michigan.  She's studying Psychology and Urban Studies which is a really interesting cross-discipline approach to urban development.  I wish we were further along in our "Transform Uzhgorod" project so she could really dig in to the "psyche" of the people in our community, particularly with the Roma people and help us figure out how to go about seeing this community and lives transformed by the power of God.

In the last month that I have been interning with International Teams, I have learned so much. I have learned that serving overseas is a lot like living in the States. It require diligent faithfulness each day. There are moments of joy and moments of tiredness. I have laughed and cried with the people I serve with. I have seen God moving powerfully in the churches here and have felt pain as I have seen the poverty of the Roma communities. I have built deep friendships with the two other interns who I am serving with. I am so thankful for those girls. They challenge and encourage me; their enthusiasm and devotion spurs me on as we serve together.

Serving as an intern here in Ukraine has provided me with the opportunity to work hard, but to also take time to develop friends with other Ukrainian young adults. Our days are not only filled with visiting orphans, holding abandoned babies and serving at day camps, but also with coffee dates and cooking parties as we get to know the hearts and lives of the people around us. I often stop and look around me and am struck with how blessed I am to be here. I feel that I have been poured into more than I could ever pour out. I have felt the arms of God keenly through the people I have met here. It is so encouraging to see the ministries that are being implemented and to hear International Teams long term goals for Uzhgorod. The journey so far has been incredible and I am excited to see how God shows up in the month ahead!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Guest Post from Summer Intern- Anna


Here's a guest post from one of our summer interns, Anna from Mississippi.  Anna is the oldest of 7 and the daughter of a college friend.  Her parents (and 5 of her siblings) are missionaries in Swaziland in Africa.  Anna is studying Criminology at Our Lady of Holy Cross College in New Orleans.  She was the first to arrive this summer and she'll be the first to leave in just a few weeks.  But as you can see below...this might not be her only trip to Ukraine!

I had been praying to come to Ukraine for years. I'd never been set on doing missions work in any particular country--wherever I went was fine with me--but I'd always had a particular fascination with the USSR and its former territories. I imagined that some day I'd come up with an excuse for going there, but I'd never planned on doing missions work there per se. 

Despite that, for years I had been praying to come to Ukraine specifically. My mom knows Clinton from college, so I'd heard him talking about Ukraine on visits to the U.S., and had read the newsletters my parents got from him about Ukraine the entire time he's lived here. He'd even mentioned to me a few times that I should "think about coming to Ukraine". And I had. But after four years of seriously praying about it, and always hearing "not yet", I'd almost given up on coming to Ukraine--at least for missions work. 

Last summer, as I was praying about what to do this summer, God finally said, "It's time. You can go to Ukraine." 


As thrilled as I was to--finally!--be going to Ukraine, I really had no idea what to expect from it. I had done some reading, and was religiously following the Maidan movement, but perspectives on Ukraine and its current climate where skewed at best, and many were biased. I've only been here a month, and will sadly be leaving in three more weeks, but I've already come to learn more about Ukraine and this Slavic region than I could've ever dreamed of. I don't know what the years have ahead for me, but I know this won't be my last time in Ukraine.     

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Home, Hectic Home

Did I mention that my return "home" to Uzhgorod was a little hectic and a real slap to my all-too-often lack of faith?

Let's go back to the Thursday morning that I left Atlanta.

I printed my boarding pass from a Kiosk and while I was there I had an opportunity to purchase a Day Pass for one of the Airline lounges which I thought was a good idea since I had about an 8 hour layover in Chicago.

Once I got to Chicago I got... confused.  I was flying KLM from Chicago to Detroit to Amsterdam to Budapest but it turns out that KLM flies out of two different terminals in Chicago, from both a domestic terminal and an international terminal.  I assumed I was flying from the international terminal so I went there and discovered that the ticket desk didn't open till noon...and I was not in the "secure" area of the airport because my ATL-Chicago leg was a separate ticket/ separate flight....so I was lugging my baggage around with me and I couldn't access the lounge area that I paid for because I couldn't get a boarding pass to enter the secure area!  Frustrated yet?

So I sat in the cheap seats until noon and then learned that my flight actually originated from the domestic terminal in which I could have received a boarding pass for earlier that morning had I know.  Once there, I promptly either sat my IPad down or it fell out of my backpack or it was pickpocketed...I don't know.  I just know I lost it and the Airport Police were most unhelpful.

With the help of another passenger we were able to track my IPad to a part of the airport but we couldn't find it so I boarded my flight thinking I had seen the last of my IPad.

Oh...I almost got bumped from my flight...thought I was gonna get a voucher for a free flight...but ended up getting bumped to first class on another flight and going through Paris.  Ok, Business Class was nice...but with the last minute change, the airline lost my baggage.

And then, instead of delivering my bag to the hostel in Budapest where I spent 4 nights, they delivered it to Uzhgorod and almost couldn't deliver it because I wasn't there.  Fortunately, I was able to contact my friends in Uzhgorod and they were able to get my baggage for me.  Whew!

Thanks to the IPads recovery software, I got an email from an airport employee who found my IPad...we were able to get it mailed to one of our Interns in time for her to bring it to me when she arrived a few days later.

Crazy!!

And then when I finally go to Ukraine there were 6 young ladies from the World Race staying in my apartment.  I was really glad to be able to bless them with a free place to stay (since I wasn't here most of the month anyway) and they certainly were a blessing to a lot of people in Uzhgorod...but still...6 of them, plus two of our summer interns means I shared my apartment with 8 girls for a few days.  Never a dull moment!!

I'm glad to be back though.  I have good friends here and Gods work is visible and tangible.

The Presidential Elections went off pretty well I think and it appears that a lot of the trouble in the East is perhaps starting to simmer down.  Hopes are a little higher than usual I think...although it doesn't take much.

I went to my first Ukrainian School Graduation tonight...maybe I'll write about it in the next few days.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Countdown To Ukraine- 3 days

I'm sitting at a Starbucks in Birmingham, Alabama in what is a pretty typical day for me over the last few weeks.  I'm catching up on some computer work, drinking a White Chocolate Mocha, and waiting on an 11:30 lunch get-together with an old friend.

Yesterday I drove my Jeep on the Interstate from Gulfport to Birmingham.  Think of driving a riding lawnmower really fast!

I spent last couple of nights with great friends...also typical of the last few weeks. I spent Friday night with Stik at his parents' home. Saturday night in Gulfport with David and Lindy before speaking at Bayou View Baptist Church yesterday, and last night with Charles and Paula.

Gulfport is always a mixed bag. Some bridges have been burned, some by my own hand and others that weren't.  Yet I can definitely see that I'm blessed with great friends. I saw it in Gulfport, I saw it last night, and I've seen it the whole time I've been home.

At the same time I also have a home in Ukraine.  And as crazy as this sounds...with all the turmoil that's going on there, this is the first time I'm taking a lot of personal things back with me...pictures and art and books...stuff I want around me in my "home".

You know, often times I stumble over the simple question, "where are you from?"  I've lived several places; I have significant ties in several places, but I really don't have a "home".  Living the way I have, especially the last several years makes me very cognizant of the fact that this world is not my home.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Countdown to Ukraine- 6 days to go

Countdown to Ukraine

This coming Sunday morning will be my 12th speaking engagement in my 6 week trip to the States.  I remember telling friends in Ukraine before I left that because of how fast things are changing in Ukraine these days that it was likely that my presentation would change from week to week. And in some ways it has.

I could probably write a blog about each speaking engagement.  I've spoken in churches that I previously had no relationship with and I've spoken in churches that have been really important in my spiritual formation.  This weekend I'll speak at Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport where I was the Associate Pastor and Student Minister for more than 12 years.  A few weeks ago I spoke at Holly Bluff Baptist Church near my junior high and high school hometown and saw schoolmates I haven't seen in 30+ years!  I've spoken mornings and nights, Sundays and Wednesdays, to adults and to youth and children.

I've seen a lot of friends but not all of them by a long shot.  I never was at any one place more than 2-3 days so it was hard to get settled.

It's been fun. I've driven about 4000 miles and I'm not as tired as I feel like I should be.  The first two weeks back in Ukraine look a lot more tiring to me right now.  I will return next Thursday but I will need to meet and escort three summer interns from Budapest to Uzhgorod over a 2-3 week period beginning less than a week after I get back.

I think in one of the next blogs I'll touch on one or two of those speaking engagements in more detail.  Today, at this very moment I'm sitting in The Country Fisherman, a seafood/catfish buffet in Prentiss, MS waiting on one of those lifelong friends.  I'll spend the night tonight and then I'm headed to the MS Coast tomorrow.