Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I'm not what I once was and now I know, I'm not yet what I will be.

One of the things I miss most living here in Ukraine is the chance to do something with my hands- to work on something, to tinker.  Earlier this year I moved into an unfurnished apartment and almost immediately set to the challenge of building some corner shelves and a coffee table.  

I REALLY enjoyed it.  And it was a challenge.  I didn't have any tools here.  Back in Mississippi I still have a storage unit FULL of tools. Back in Mississippi I've got enough tools to rebuild a car or build a house.  Here in Ukraine I think I had a screwdriver and a pair of pliers before I started building furniture.

I still don't have all the toys I need (or want) but I have enough stuff now to not have to go completely Amish.  

A few days ago I noticed a pile of double pane wooden window frames, most with the glass still in them piled outside where someone in the apartment is obviously remodeling; probably upgrading to plastic frames and fancy insulated windows.  I grabbed two of the smaller windows frames; I'm going to build matching glass-top, shadow-box end tables with them.

As I began this week chipping and sanding decades of white paint off the frames it looks like there's nothing special about the wood underneath.  It was probably the cheapest utility wood that would do the job back in the 70's when this building was built.  

But I have a feeling I'll be able to bring some new life to them.

I know "reclaiming" old stuff is a fad these days.  I'm ok with that.  It makes sense to re-imagine and re-use stuff.  And it has so much more character than anything (EVERYTHING) from Ikea, right?

And there's that whole redemption thing.

I've got a bunch of layers on me.  Some of them toxic, really.  I wouldn't be surprised if this paint I'm chipping and sanding isn't lead-based.  (One of the benefits of being a 50 year old single guy is that I don't give a crap about the safety hazard!  But I digress.) 

There's something beautiful about chipping away at all that junk though and exposing something that's been lost for years: The grain of the wood- even if it's the cheap stuff, the craftsmanship of tongue and groove and nails instead of whatever those things are that hold Ikeacrap together.  And all that newly exposed wood takes on new life and new beauty with some fresh coats of Stain- not layers of lead-based paint that masks everything (the beauty as well as the flaws), but Stain that gets absorbed so as to intensify and accentuate what's there rather than cover it up.  

And doesn't that piece of furniture look so much better when you spent hours sanding it by hand or when you added a layer of Stain and a light sanding everyday for one or two weeks?

My life is stained for sure.  Stain is difficult to remove. Stain is absorbed and becomes a part of who you are.  Removing it takes a LOT of time; you have to cut deep to get it out and by the time you do that you might just destroy what you're working on.  Stains aren't all bad then. Like I said, it intensifies and accentuates the character; actually, it contributes to the character most of the time.

One more thing I like about this reclamation fad is the idea of re-purposing.  I like the idea of taking something useless and giving it a reason to live again.  I can do it with a piece of wood; God can do it with a living, human being.  I think only He really knows what our shelf-life is supposed to be and until that time comes we might be a window frame for a while and then a table and then who knows what.  He chips away at what we're hiding behind and we drape ourselves in it just about as fast. He chips away some more and eventually reveals what's underneath.  The stains we absorb, the dents and scratches and scars become a part of us for better or worse.  

Ah the stories my little end tables could tell.  I started out as a tree in Hungary and I watched the world at war around me.  Then I became a window to the world below me and a window into the lives of countless families peering through me for 40 years.  One day I was tossed aside to be replaced by something newer and prettier but then I was rescued. Some scars were too deep to be repaired but scars are just tatoos that tell a story.  The next thing I knew I was a table that held food and drinks and family pictures and housed personal treasures.  One day I was tossed aside expecting to be replaced by something newer and prettier but then I was rescued. I'm not what I once was and now I know, I'm not yet what I will be.

Check back in a few weeks to see how it turns out!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Five years ago on June 6, 2009 (D-Day + 55) I wrote this blog in honor of my Daddy (born on June 6 just 12 years before the famous invasion of Europe in 1944).


Today, my brother and sister-in-law are driving him from his beloved Mississippi to Georgia where he will, tomorrow, become a resident of a nursing home.

Several weeks ago- not long at all-he started suffering severe delusions and hallucinations.  He had already been "seeing things"- something we thought had more to do with his progressive Macular Degeneration and subsequent loss of sight.  But a few weeks ago things apparently took a nosedive. He was admitted at a hospital where he diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

None of us saw it coming.

None of us are able to give him the specialized care he needs.

None of us live in a safe-enough environment for him to live even if we could be at his beck-and-call 24 hours a day.

And so this morning he was finally released from the hospital; by tomorrow he should be a new resident of a nursing home that's as nice as nursing homes can be.  It's a place where my oldest sister and her husband- and even my mother- have volunteered for years and so they already know the staff and many of the residents.  I even spoke there about Ukraine when I was in the States this past Spring and found many of the residents there that evening to be very knowledgeable about current events.

In the weeks that he's been in the hospital I've heard about the good days and the bad days and the atrocious days.  Hopefully properly balanced medication and a safe environment and a routine will eliminate the atrocious days.  On those days, as I've heard about them, it seems his shell is the only vestige of who he is; who he always has been.  On the good days of course, it's still Daddy inside and out; albeit quite confused about what's happening to him and around him.

At this point we're not entirely sure he understands what's happening today; what will happen tomorrow when, at the end of the day, my brother and sis-in-law take their leave and go back to Mississippi.

Daddy won't be alone. My sister and brother-in-law and Mom are nearby.

And you know, if you read the blog I wrote 5 years ago you might see that, my Dad is the most social "introvert" I've ever known.  Being around people; being able to tell stories- even if they stem from an Alzheimer's induced delusion- might be good for him.

I have felt so bad for my sisters and brother over these past several weeks.  I hate that they're the ones having to make these hard decisions; having to make this tough drive today.  I hate that I'm thousands of miles away.  And at the same time- I hate that I'm sometimes glad that I am thousands of miles away.

I'm hoping and praying for good days for my Dad.  I'll get back to the States in December I think and I hope to be there for some good days.  

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.


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.