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 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.

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 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.

Countdown to Ukraine

Since it's been so long since I wrote a blog I figured I'd try writing a blog a day until I leave for Ukraine this time next week.

I actually have a LOT to cover but I think I'll start with this Renovation Project.

Is it any wonder that my favorite American TV Shows are the DIY and HGTV shows...this Nicole Curtis girl that renovates homes in the Minneapolis area is pretty awesome.  and pretty.  If anyone knows her, how about asking her to come to Ukraine and help us with our Ministry Center!

But I digress.

Last year the church I work with the most in Ukraine, Church of the Living God in Uzhgorod started renting space in a very centrally located building downtown.  It turns out that a lot of space adjacent to the building was available so our ministry, International Teams, decided to rent that space for the purpose of creating a Ministry Center and Coffee House.

We are trying our hand at Crowdsourcing.  That is, we want to harness the power of social media to raise funds to complete the renovation.  It's our first time.  You've probably seen crowdsourcing before in the form of KickStarter or Razoo.  We chose because our Team in Spain recently used it successfully.

One thing you'll notice if you look right now is that we appear to only have raised about 16% of our goal of $10360 but in reality, because of "offline" funds- checks that have been sent directly to International Teams have not been credited yet.  In reality, we've raised almost 50% with 17 more days to go.  We can do it! But we need your help!!  Check out our CrowdTilt!

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!