The following was written by Kyle and Katrina, but I thought I would share it with you all. It gives a day-by-day look at our ministry activities.
Ukraine Missions Trip: Daily View
Sunday, July 1st – Wednesday, July 11th
Sunday, July 1st
After second service at Capital City Church, we went to lunch spots with our church family to eat before heading to the airport. Jen Shields, Chelsea Brundage, and Brian & Carolyn Williams drove our group to Dulles where we waited for a little over an hour in line to check in. Thankfully we made it to our gate 10-20 minutes prior to boarding. We had a great 8 hour, overnight flight on KLMAirlines. Most of our group watched movies, read, and dozed off from time to time. We spent an hour and a half in the Amsterdam airport, walking around, getting snacks or coffee, and exploring the shops. Our second flight was around 3 hours in a slightly smaller airplane. Again, many of us rested if we were able to, knowing we would be up early and on the run Tuesday morning.
Monday, July 2nd
When we arrived at the airport in Kiev we had the opportunity to meet Leann and Amanda, American missionaries, who were our translators and guides for the trip. We rode in a pale green “marshutka” (large van). This is when we found out how good our roads are in America as we bumped our way south on the road to Krivoy Rog. Three hours into the trip we stopped for pizza in Smila. We had our first experience with “squatty potties” – just as it sounds…and had a chance to walk around a little bit before continuing another 3 hours to our destination. We arrived around 10pm and split into our apartment (Mike, Aaron, JJ, Phil, Kyle & Katrina) and the cottage ½ mile away (Quinn, Caleb and Ashley).
Tuesday, July 3rd
First day of camp:
Tuesday we met at the cottage at 7:30 am to ride over to the orphanage summer campgrounds. For the first day we helped run the camp with guidance from Katia, a local, originally from Russia, who was overseeing the camp. The kids we were working with were ages 7 – 16, with volunteers at the camp ranging from 16 – 27 years old. The beginning of each day at camp the volunteers lead the children in a few songs, including a devotional song entitled, “I Have Decided to Follow Jesus”, and a Hillsong Kiev song about Jesus being greater than superheroes. Caleb led an “animal game” where we circled up and took turns making an animal noise & face, then repeating all those done before you. It was a great way to break the ice and start to see the kids personalities.
Next came the day’s Bible story. JJ narrated the story of Jesus calming the storm and Peter walking on the water. We learned that most of the orphanages will be shut down next year and many of the orphans will experience a “storm” in their life from those big changes. The story was very timely. JJ was able to share his testimony and showed how God can calm the storms in our lives today. During the skit, Mike played the role of Jesus while Quinn directed and created the sound effects, getting the children to participate.
For arts and crafts, Quinn led the group in making paper hats out of newspapers. Then we played soccer with the kids. Many of them played barefoot or in shoes that were beginning to fall apart. We quickly became covered in dust and sweat. The kids loved to teach us Russian words and we got to teach them some English. After soccer, we broke into small groups.
The volunteers at the camp led small group discussions on making good decisions in life and how that will lead you to having a better life. At 1 pm, camp was over for the day; the kids walked us to our ride, holding our hands and giving us hugs, saying “spaceeba” (thank you!) and “paca” (bye!). We rode the “marshutka” to McDonald’s for lunch where we met Maxim, a local Pastor and friend of Caleb and Ashley from their first trip to Ukraine 7 years ago. After lunch we split into groups for 3 hours.
Baby Orphanage (Quinn & Katrina):
We went with Amanda to her apartment to talk and relax until the baby orphanage took the children outside so we could play with them. We had the chance to ask a lot of questions, learn more about Amanda, how she was called to missions in Ukraine, things she has learned along the way, and the degree of difficulty and neglect the orphans were experiencing in the government run orphanages. Amanda told us that we should avoid holding children too much because the workers at the orphanage don’t appreciate it. The children cry after being held and they do not have time to hold all of them.
As we walked to the baby orphanage (ages birth-5 years old) we learned that the orphanage also accepted children with disabilities. When we walked over we found 3-4 play areas with sandboxes, toys, climbing rails, and an aide at each of the play areas that were in use. The workers appeared to not be paying attention to the kids; one aide was having a conversation with an adult and after a child was crying for 2 minutes she turned to the child and said something to make the child stop crying. It was a very different perspective to child care and eye opening to see the lack of touch and attention the children receive.
In the first play area, Quinn settled down at a sandbox with two small children, who were around 2 years old. One child continued to stop while walking, put a hand over each eye, then slowly peek through to focus. Quinn realized that it was a vision problem that is limiting interaction and playing, which could probably be solved with glasses. Due to the lack of care, no-one had addressed the issue.
Katrina went to play with the kids in the next play area. As soon as she walked up, two small girls (maybe 3 and 4 years old) came over in their underwear, grabbed Katrina’s hands and started dancing. They kept running around and loved to be chased and tickled. There was a small boy, 2 years old, in the sandbox. He played in the sand a little, then wet his underwear; no diaper. Again, this was an eye opening experience to see the conditions and lack of attention and resources the kids were living with, with little hope for change.
Childrens Rehab Center (Aaron, Phil, JJ, Kyle, Caleb, Maxim):
Meanwhile Aaron, Phil, JJ, Kyle, Caleb, and Maxim went to a children’s rehab center. On the ride to the rehab center, Maxim stopped at a local store so we could pick up ice cream for all the kids. Back in the car, Maxim told us about the center. The center was founded by a missionary several years ago to rehabilitate children found on the streets, even in sewer systems, who were huffing glue. It is a serious problem in the Ukraine and children are found, passed out with bags over their heads, often times glued to their heads. Maxim one time found a child who was passed out in the sewer. The child blacked out on a hot pipe and burned most of the skin off his face and side.
The center was taken over by the government, which it can legally do for centers that care for more than 60 children. It is now a closed facility, but Maxim, because of all the work he does there can still go in and spend time with the kids.
When we arrived the children came out and greeted us just as warmly as the orphans at camp in the morning. They were really happy when we handed out the ice cream. We sat around and talked with them. Some spoke a little English and taught us more Russian words. After digesting, we split into two groups, Caleb stayed with a group where we were to play Blokus, the rest of us and a handful of kids went to play soccer. We played one game where the teams were mixed with Americans and Ukrainians. Then we played a game, Americans vs Ukrainians…. The game ended with the 4 Americans doubled over, gasping for breath at half time and the Ukrainian kids with huge smiles, wanting to keep playing. The score was somewhere in the vicinity of 10 to 0. After catching our breath we regrouped and said good bye to everyone.
Market (Ashley & Leann):
Ashley and Leann went to the Market to get groceries for the week and prizes for the orphanage camp.
Mike went back to the apartment to doctor 2nd degree burns from playing soccer in bare-feet on hot sand and was a great resource for many of the guys who came back with blisters on their feet.
We met later that evening at our apartment and as a group cooked dinner and discussed the day.
Wednesday, July 4th
Second day of camp:
Wednesday we met at 7:30 am and joined the local volunteers to ride to the orphan camp. We started by playing games, singing songs, then played volleyball and learned they played with very different rules and as many players that could fit on the side.
Phil shared the story of the day talking about Jesus and the disciples multiplying the fish and bread for 5,000 people as our group acted it out in a skit. He then shared his testimony of God doing miracles in his own life as we passed out rolls of bread and pieces of dried, salted fish (fish jerky).
Following the story we acted out a skit to show the kids the principle of sowing and reaping in modern terms. Hiding behind a sheet with a sign that says you reap what you sow, was Phil who would hand back items as we “gave them to God” by placing them over the sheet. We pantomimed giving what little we had, for instance sowing a few coins, God multiplies it and we would receive several paper bills. JJ on the other hand, spit over the sheet and Phil dumped a bucket of water on him. After the short skit, Kyle explained the principle and encouraged the kids to follow the example.
4th of July Picnic:
Following camp we walked with the leaders from the camp 2-3 miles to hike to a picnic spot to celebrate the 4th of July. It was very hot and we had the chance to practice Russian/English with our new friends. We hiked down a very steep hill and walked around .75 miles to a shaded region overlooking a quarry. The quarry was once mined for coal and was now filled with very clean (filtered by the rocks) spring water. It is the best swimming spot around. We built a fire and cooked “hotdogs” – Ukrainian sausages, served on a roll with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, and spicy Korean carrots. Before we ate, Aaron gave a brief history on the US and why we celebrate July 4th. We ate and enjoyed talking with the local leaders.
Despite the many areas of broken glass, many people in the group went swimming in the quarry, jumping off a 25 foot rock platform overlooking the quarry, while others discussed leadership and life in Ukraine.
(Katrina): I had the chance to walk down & sit by the water with a local girl Alona. She did not speak much English but from what we did talk about she expressed how much she wanted to get out of Ukraine, she wanted to go to the US, she said the US is beautiful & relayed the lack of hope she had if she stayed in Krivoy Rog .
As the picnic wrapped up, Caleb, who had been watching local guys jump off a 50 foot cliff into the water, decided it had to be done. They watched 1-2 of the local guys run 10-15 feet before throwing themselves off the cliff, then it was go time! Caleb took the lead, running, jumping, and falling far below into the water. Next, Kyle took the run, praying as he jumped off the cliff into the water. Our group watched, thankful to see both of the guys surface.
A walk to the Market:
We rode back to the apartments for 1-2 hours to shower & relax before meeting as a group in the evening. Phil, Kyle, Aaron, JJ, Caleb, and Katrina went to a nearby market to get drinks and see the local foods. On our way walking there, we passed a man asking us for a light for his cigarette. By our response he realized we spoke English and began a conversation in broken English with Aaron, then the group. We found out that he used to be part of the local church and rehab center about 2 years ago. Since then he has returned to drugs and alcohol and was having a tough time. As we spoke we saw the cuts on his wrists and the sadness in his eyes.
As we spoke, a local woman walked up and began speaking to him in Russian. Although we did not understand her words, it was clear she wanted him to stop talking to us. She knew English as she asked Caleb if the church we were talking about played guitars; when he responded yes, she pointed out our American, casual clothes and told the man to get away from us. It was clear to see by her response and the necklace she was wearing that she was part of the Orthodox Church and wanted talk of other thoughts of God & religion to go away. We invited the man to come out to the service we would be helping with Thursday night so he could receive the help he needed, then continued to the market.
4th of July Dinner:
Wednesday night we had 3 other Americans join us: Greg (missionary, speaker, businessman, and very silly guy in general) and two women on their first missions trip, Sarah & Stacey. We ate and enjoyed each others company while listening to patriotic songs on an ipod. There was a flag hanging over a rail of the ceiling, and a stuffed eagle as the centerpiece. We all shared what we were most thankful for in America. The list included having loving parents, freedom of speech and the ability to speak about God in public, equal education and opportunities for children, toilets and clean water, and hope for a future.
Thursday, July 5th
Third day at camp:
Thursday we had the opportunity to experience what the camp volunteers do every day to get to & from camp by taking public transportation. What had been a 45 minute drive previous days, became an hour and a half process of walking to the bus stop, changing busses, walking some more, and occasionally not having seats. The local volunteers take the 3 hour trip each day to serve the children. It showed another level of their dedication to being the love, and providing hope and joy to the kids.
When we arrived, we started the day by dressing up in silly costumes to play a game. You will have to refer to pictures to get the full scope of how silly the outfits were! We were given a tag with a number on it, and told to hide so the kids could find us. The kids got points based on the number on our tags. We all had a lot of fun with the game. Next, we formed a chain of people by holding hands; half of the kids were blindfolded. Katia lead the chain of people all around the grounds. We weaved between trees, along buildings, up and down steps and hills. The activity was one of trust and having a better understanding of the difficulties of being blind.
Karina narrated the story of the day, which, in fact, was 3 stories: the 10 lepers healed, the blind man healed, then Lazarus raised from the dead. The children played roles in the story to help act it out with our team. After, Katrina shared her testimony and we split the kids into 3 groups to talk about healing and to pray with them for friends, family, or their own ailments. We focused on letting them know that God’s healing was not just for special people, but for everyone….for them too!
After small groups, we had crafts and game time. The craft was creating a plaster hand while others played soccer.
(Kyle): I realize now that soccer, or futbol (football), is a language all its own. Despite not being able to speak the language, we could communicate teamwork, encouragement, and humility on the pitch. By Thursday, it was great to see the change on the field, as the kids moved from being individualistic to passing more, and encouraging each other.
Following camp we took the bus home. One of the most memorable moments of the bus ride was Greg dancing at the front of the public bus, while lip-synching to the Russian pop music. It was especially amusing because Ukrainian busses are usually very quiet, most people do not even talk. It was fun looking around the bus seeing faces of Ukrainians as they began to smile and laugh as Greg continued his show.
Church Service: Krivoy Rog – Church of Praise
When we arrived home we quickly took showers and changed to go to an evening service at the nearby Church of Praise, led by Pastor Gregory (the head Pastor of the churches we partnered with). We walked carefully avoiding puddles through the humid air and met with Pastor Gregory and one of his ministry leaders before the service. We had prepared to have 3 people share testimonies , Aaron to lead 1-2 songs for worship, and Caleb to preach. We soon learned it was a night to practice flexibility and “jump in.”
Our team was announced to the congregation and sat front center. During worship, we did not know the songs or words, but could feel the presence of God as we praised Him in our own way along with the church. After 2-3 worship songs, Pastor Gregory called our team up on stage to sing with the choir on the risers. They handed us extra microphones to sing with the worship band, then called Aaron to lead a song in the middle of worship. Even without having practice time or knowing the order of what was happening, Aaron stepped up to lead worship, and Stacey played keyboard and sang. Then we sat on stage on the risers as Quinn, Mike, and Kyle shared their testimonies and took our seats as Pastor Gregory announced Caleb as the speaker.
Caleb preached on “Making Good Decisions” by 1) focusing on experiencing God for yourself so you can share God with others and 2) not comparing yourself but doing what you are called to do. The service was amazing and we left full of faith and energized.
After the service we returned to have a group meal and met a new friend, a missionary from Holland who ministers to prostitutes. We took time as a group to reflect on our favorite memory of the week.
Friday, July 6th
Final day at camp:
Friday was our last day at camp with the orphans. We meet at 7:30 am and rode in cabs/cars. We sang our usual morning songs and Stacy told the story of God healing the man’s son who was possessed. She shared her testimony and we broke into small groups. We prayed over each child that they would be blessed, know God’s love and presence, and that they would walk in good decisions. It was a moving time to see the kids soaking up the prayers and being touched by His presence. We don’t know if any of them ever had someone pray specifically for them.
The craft of the day was making a bracelet and the activity of the day was a water balloon toss (with a blanket) over a rope. Then we played a few games in a circle, team challenges, and single elimination games – it was a lot of fun for us and the kids with a lot of teamwork. We shared ice cream cones with the kids. There were multiple relay races with water, water balloons, and potato sack races. The guys and girls split into two groups at this point to talk. The guys grouped together and share practical advice for life as a man and opened it up for the kids to ask any questions they may have had.
To end the day, our team awarded prizes to each of the three teams of kids for their accomplishments that week. We took group photos then had to say our goodbyes. Some of the kids cried, and we all received many hugs. A lot of the kids told us “come back soon.” Many of our team members tried to hold back tears having to leave the kids we had already come to love in 4 short days.
Home for Adults with Disabilities:
We went to lunch at a pizza place then headed to a home for adults with disabilities. As we pulled up guys from the home came up quickly, excited to see people coming to see them. They came up and shook our hands and gave us hugs. Many mumbled and motioned and we were not able to understand what they were trying to communicate because of their disability. We walked around handing out bananas and candy to everyone. We were able to enter one of the homes for people who were bedridden. Before entering, we were warned that it would not smell pleasant and many of the people may not be covered or properly dressed. Aaron played guitar as we took the bananas and candy into rooms. Each room had 2-4 people, all pale, thin, but still smiled to greet us. Each room we prayed for the men and women for healing.
(Katrina): One of the rooms I passed I saw Quinn sitting beside a woman who was curled up in her bed, she was feeding her bits of banana while talking to her. I had the opportunity to pray with a few of the people. Maxim, Leann, and Amanda translated when possible, others we still prayed with even though they did not understand what we were saying. I asked one man “what can I pray for.” He thought a minute, then replied “a normal life.” This gentleman was in bed, looked like he hadn’t moved in weeks, and sounded and appeared to be perfectly clear in his mind. I prayed with him, and couldn’t help but think “if he was in the same condition in America, he would have done physical therapy like many of my patients. He probably could be mobile, use a wheelchair, and have a normal life.” Because of where he lived and the lack of resources, he is now laying in a bed, seeing a hopeless future rather than getting medical care and rehab to return to family or a job. This moment really impacted me as I could see so much potential and so little hope.
In the home there were around 100 people, and only two workers. Part of our group sat down to thank them for the work they were doing, to encourage them and pray for them. We went into all the rooms they would let us, but there were four doors that remained shut. They told us we were not allowed in, the people were too aggressive. We headed outside to a different part of the facility where we found a large cage with over 50 people sitting along benches. As we walked up they did not move, they looked at us with broken spirits. You could feel the hopelessness even as we passed out bananas, candy as we prayed for them, and sang along with Aaron on the guitar.
As we left we found out that the cage they were in all day was “an upgrade.” They used to have a smaller confinement with concrete walls, no seats, no bathroom, and no roof. Missionaries built the current cage to provide the ability for them to see out, sit on benches, and have one bathroom in the cage. The people were placed there because they were “aggressive” – basically, there are not enough workers to take care of the people, so they make them go in the cage every day. As we walked back to our cars it began to rain heavily; we took in the poverty and injustice of the situation, praying for hope and change.
We went home to clean up then met as a group for dinner. Over dinner we shared the most tear jerking moment of the week or the memory that would stay with us the most in the next 5 years. Each person had something different to share, all devastation and injustice we pray will change.
Saturday, July 7th
Village Ministry: Greenfield
Saturday we slept in! Quinn and JJ went shopping with Maxim to get food and supplies for the village we were going to later in the day. They toured the meat market and had the chance to try a local favorite: salted fat (yum….). We met up around 11:00 then headed to the village shortly after. It was a 45 minute drive to the village and we stopped along the way to pick up leaders from a local church to help us out. When we arrived at the village we split into groups of 4, each group with a translator.
We walked down the street and called out “hazien” (master of the house come out) to speak with the person in charge, to invite them and their family to join us for an outdoor service we were partnering with down the street. We offered gifts of food and supplies, and prayed for anyone who would let us.
(Katrina): The translator in our group was a native of Ukraine, his wife the pastor of a nearby church. One of the houses we went up to, we were greeted by a “babushka” (older woman) who introduced us to her family and a guest from Germany, who was visiting to work on a memorial project nearby. She went in her home and returned with cheese filled bread, then brought out “compote” (juice made from local berries, sugar, and water). She also kept filing our hands with berries to eat, inviting us to come back and stay at her home. We had the opportunity to pray for her and another woman in the house who was having kidney issues. We invited them to the service, but only their guest joined us.
As we arrived back at the service sight, worship had begun and 15-20 people joined us from the town. Aaron played guitar and lead us in a few songs, Phil and Katrina shared their testimonies, and Kyle preached on the character of God. As he challenged people to make a decision, the majority of people shot their hands in the air, asking to accept Christ and have prayer.
(Kyle): It is amazing how, even in a small village in Ukraine, at an outdoor service with a few people, God shows up in a tangible way and changes lives. There were multiple miracles that day. One you’ll read about later. Another, as we prayed for the man from Germany, who had known God most of his life as a big God but one who he didn’t want to bother with his problems, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. I explained to him that God is omnipresent and cares about him. He truly understood and thanked us all for coming and praying.
We were able to pray for each person at the service. The guys helped a neighbor of the church carry bails of hay to the back of his house and got to use a Ukrainian village outhouse.
We headed back to the city for dinner. On the way Maxim stopped us at a local technical school dormitory, run by the government, supervised by one woman. On our tour, Maxim showed us the recently government “remodeled” guys’ bathroom, which was worse than the outhouse in the village. He also showed us the work that he and a group of people had done to remodel the girls’ bathroom, which was exquisite. Apparently they have worked out a system so the guys can sometimes use that one too.
We were greeted by a few of the guys who live in the dormitory, Sergey and Vlad among them. They were overjoyed when Maxim told them Kyle, JJ, Mike, Phil, and Aaron would play soccer with them. They were so happy to have fellowship with other guys. As they went off to play, the rest of the group brought in what was left of the food and supplies.
Maxim, Leann, and Amanda shared the situation that the people live in there… They have to walk half a mile down the road for every meal. It used to be that they would eat in complete darkness, having to feel around for their food as they ate. Recently, Maxim had the lights turned on, which was good and bad. Good, because now they didn’t have to eat blindly and they could see others. Bad, because now they could see what they had been eating – worm and insect infested food.
Amanda and Leann shared a little about what they do in these dormitories as well. They go all around Krivoy Rog teaching Bible studies and courses, including Alpha. At this particular dormitory they had taught Alpha 2 years ago and are thinking of doing it again.
(Kyle): The children living in these dormitories need the Gospel. The work that Maxim, Amanda and Leann are doing is opening hearts and providing resources for them to receive Jesus. Maxim was telling us that there is a state of lawlessness in the dormitories. Since there is only one person in charge, who really doesn’t care, they children do what ever they want. Boys and girls sleeping in the same rooms, etc. However, there are times when the woman in charge gets upset and the punishment is having her husband come beat them. We only got to play soccer with the guys for a little bit, but as we were playing, more and more flowed out of the dorm to come play. They were so happy to spend time with other guys and just have fun.
After, we went to a “Mexican” restaurant in town called, “The Potato House” (Caleb’s favorite), where you could order burritos, but instead of cheese, they used shaved carrots and a cream sauce. Still quite tasty though. Saturday evening we packed up and cleaned the apartment as we were meeting early the next morning to leave Krivoy Rog and travel North to Smila.
Sunday, July 8th
Church Service: Smila
We met the “marshutka” at 6 am to ride into Smila for a church service with a Church of Praise daughter church there. We were greeted by Pastor Dennis and a group of women who had prepared hot tea and sandwiches (ham on bread). We gratefully accepted and were glad to join them in the movie theatre they were renting for service. Worship was great. One thing that really stood out was the worship band did not have a drum set, but they used the keyboard to play drum beats. The worship team was full of passion and we could feel the presence of God in the theatre.
Caleb had the opportunity to preach and spoke on coming alongside the pastor and leaders to do the work God has called you to do. He spoke on how we are ALL called to be the body of Christ, and for the church to function together. He challenged the congregation that for that region of Smila to be changed, it will take everyone taking their place, carrying the burden of the church/leaders. Following Caleb’s message, Pastor Dennis came up, thanking Caleb, confirming that this is something God was speaking to him about for the church.
Gift from Capital City Church:
As they took an offering for the church, Kyle went forward to pray for the offering and to present Pastor Dennis and the church of Praise with $4,000 from Capital City Church. These funds were raised to bless the church of Praise to help them purchase land and build a church of their own. Pastor Dennis was blown away…his face showed it, and his lack of words confirmed it. $4,000 gave them the additional money they needed to put start the paperwork to purchase the land they have been praying for immediately, which needed to happen. The government is leaning towards deprivatizing land, which means that they will have authority over the owners. Buying the land now will ensure they get it privatized. It was a huge blessing to be about to seed into what God wants to do in that city, through that church!
After the offering, we were able to pray for a number of the congregants. A woman came forward who wanted prayer for her son who wasn’t there, who had a hole in his heart and didn’t know Jesus. She also had a headache stemming from a bump on her head the size of a knuckle. As we prayed, God healed her headache and we felt the bump go away.
After the service, Pastor Dennis and a few leaders from his church joined us to head to our next village service. We stopped by the property they were planning to buy, a large corner lot on the main street. It will require a lot of gardening, remodeling, and additions, however, you could see the joy in his vision of calling this land “home.”
Village Ministry: “Chigorine”
We went out for pizza then headed to our second village. As we pulled up, we arrived to find 25-30 people gathered outside, under the shade of a few trees, worshiping beside a home. It was very hot, yet that did not stop anyone from joining in, singing, dancing, and praising. The worship leader and pastor, Sergei, was filled with energy, and his rocker voice brought a new life to the crowd.
Aaron preached on not being a victim, rather walking in God’s peace and love. Worship and prayer continued as we had the opportunity to pray for healing and people to be set free from hurts of the past. One man chose to accept Jesus as his Savior. The crowd slowly dismissed, giving us an opportunity to check out the garden, the food cellar, and say hello to a crate of young chickens in the yard.
We stayed in this location for a homemade local dinner, by a very sweet babushka. She called the women to help her carry the dishes to the table, then as we ate she continued to watch us from an upstairs window so if we needed anything she could send it out. We had so many plates of food set before us, potatoes baked in butter, tomatoes and cucumbers, meat and cheese, cheese filled dessert cannoli-like things, and everyone was served a bowl of borscht (a traditional European soup with beets and vegetables, a staple food of the area).
The best part about this meal was having a chance to learn from the local pastors, to find out how they lead, what their responsibilities are, and to see their passion for God and the church. Pastor Dennis oversees 19 local churches and continues to help plant churches around the area. The Pastor Sergei, pastors 5 churches and works full time to provide for his wife and two children. At the end of the evening we thanked the babushka for making us feel right at home and providing so much food. She genuinely thanked us for coming to the town, and sharing with them.
Host Homes in Smila:
We drove back into Smila and were dropped off in small groups of 2-3 to host homes.
(Home 1): Our hosts were members from Pastor Dennis’ church. Kyle, Katrina and Leann stayed together with a really sweet woman. She lived by herself since her husband worked and lived in Germany, and her children were both grown, married, and living a few hours away in Kiev. She offered us her own bed, but we reassured her we were very thankful for sofas to sleep on.
When we woke up in the morning, despite Leann telling us, we were still amazed by the amount of food on the table for breakfast. Half our plate was 2 inches high with freshly made mashed potatoes, 2 meat patties and the other half chopped tomatoes and cucumber. On the table she had made deviled eggs, and put out cookies and candies. When she asked if we wanted tea and we responded yes, she turned to the counter where she had already prepared tea for us. We had the opportunity to hear her testimony and what God was doing in her life and her kids lives.
The rest of the team split into their host homes and spent time talking to the families and making friends.
Monday, July 9th
By 9:30 we were ready to hop on the marshutka and head to our third village church for a Monday morning service. It was close to an hour’s drive north from Smila. As we pulled up to a small building, we were welcomed by a small group of people, shaking our hands and thanking us for coming. We gathered in a house, filling one room, spilling into the next room. Here there was one man playing a keyboard and one person singing on a microphone for worship. It was close, passionate, and sincere. It was great to hear them singing songs in Russian. We joined them by harmonizing in English.
JJ led the service with Aaron sharing his testimony. Katrina co-preached with JJ, speaking on walking in the purpose God called us to and JJ brought it home preaching on the condition of the heart. We had the opportunity to lay hands on people and pray for them. Many wanted prayer for their hearts to be right before God, some for ailments, another for her son and that she would become a leader of a small group in her home. Even though we had just meet, this group felt like family.
We drove a few blocks away to a restaurant for a traditional Ukrainian meal. We sat around a large table as plate after plate of food arrived at the table. Many of the same foods as the night before, with added savory, meat blintz. After lunch, we hit the road in the marshutka traveling 2 more hours to Kiev. Many members of the team fell asleep, while the back row played Blokus on an ipad. We stopped about 45 minutes into the trip to explore one of the many beautiful sunflower fields and take pictures. Then Caleb, our ordained minister and group leader, re-married Kyle & Katrina (who have been married 2 years) in a field filled with sunflowers with the missions team as the bridal party.
First night in Kiev:
We arrived Monday evening at a seminary in Kiev where we spent the night. We quickly learned the air conditioning did not work, but were thankful for cool showers and great company. We walked ¼ mile to the metro to travel downtown for dinner at McDonald’s, then headed to a nearby mall to watch “Spiderman” in Ukrainian. It was a great way to relax in the air conditioning while gaining a better understanding of feeling out of place because of a language barrier. It was surprising how much we picked up on in the movie from body language and tone. But it was more fun making up what we thought they were saying.
We headed back to the seminary and spent time as a group discussing the week and praying for those we met during the week, that God would continue to move and grow the seeds that were planted. That evening, Maxim got a call from Roma, a leader from the orphan camp. He was also at the first village we went to, playing with the worship team. He was born deaf in one ear and we had prayed for him after the service to hear again. He called Maxim to say he has full hearing in BOTH ears. He waited to say something as he thought maybe he was imagining it, but now all doubts were gone; God had restored his hearing!
Tuesday, July 10th
Tuesday was our free day. We slept in, then left around 11:00 am to travel downtown to eat lunch together then split up for the afternoon. We went to a restaurant in a large mall, with an a-la-carte line with Ukrainian food. It was fun to pick out foods that were new to us, then share all the different dishes. After lunch we broke into three groups to explore Kiev.
(Group 1: Phil, JJ, Quinn, Kyle, & Katrina): Our group went to “Andrews Market” an outdoor market along sidewalks with t-shirts, WW2 jackets, hats, fur hats, trinkets, and many other items. We walked by many beautiful Eastern Orthodox Churches – all with bright blues and greens, adorned with gold roofs. We stopped at a local coffee shop to re-energize, then metroed to the mall we were at the night before for a little shopping. Phil has the winning item from shopping – a pair of leopard shoes (each shoe had a tail); picture necessary to see.
(Group 2: Caleb, Ashley, Amanda, Leann, Maxim):The second group also explored the market and churches, taking time to sit down with the local missionaries, Amanda and Leann, and Pastor Maxim to talk about church leadership.
(Group 3: Mike, Aaron, Aaron’s friends):The third group met with Aaron’s friends from college who are stationed in Ukraine with the Peace Corps. They took a mini historic tour of Kiev. They got to see a church that has been around for over 1,000 years. The tour ended at the same street market where Aaron bought a Soviet military officer’s cap.
We met back with our group at 6 pm to walk to T.G.I.Fridays for a quality American meal (thank you Pastor Dennis & Donna!) and quality time sharing about what we found during the day. While walking back from dinner to the mall, Aaron wore his newly purchased soviet dress cap. We didn’t make it very far before a man in a wheelchair began following him, yelling at him in Russian. Needless to say, the hat went away until we returned home. We spent a little time walking around the mall then headed back to the seminary for our final night.
Wednesday, July 11th
Wednesday we were up early, packed and left for the airport at 6 am. We made it to the airport in great time. We were able to get coffee and relax before checking in. Another eye opening moment is when Maxim reminded us that the price of our group’s 10 coffees was the same as an average Ukrainian’s monthly income.
Thankfully we made it through check in ok. The airport added a few letters to Ashley’s name and the check in attendant was very concerned Calebs guitar, which was being checked, could be dangerous. Our first flight was uneventful, in a small plane. But we arrived in Amsterdam over 30 minutes late for our connecting flight. This led to a nice run through the airport from gate B2 to gate F4. Thankfully they held the flight for us! We dozed off and on, watched movies, and an ipad was passed with a game of Risk. We arrived in DC to find our checked luggage did not make the connection. It took a little time to fill out paperwork for the luggage to be delivered, but all spirits were high as we were so thankful for God’s provisions throughout the trip. We all made it home & were able to continue without our bags for a few days.
We saw God work in many lives, people healed, and people experiencing a new passion for God. We were able to be a part of loving the unloved, working to show the people of Ukraine that they have a hope and a future. This was a life changing experience for each of us. One we will not soon forget. Complaints that we once voiced, fade in comparison to what the kids and adults we visited were facing. We experienced opportunities to step into leadership and teaching roles, to jump in and land on our feet as we listened to God’s guidance on how to love people, how to communicate, and how to pray.
Thank you to everyone who has been supporting this team through prayer and donation. You have impacted our lives by sending us, and many more lives in Ukraine by allowing us to be the love of God to them, to hug them, tell them they are special and have a hope and purpose.
We challenge you – don’t stop here! Now that you have read the stories and have a picture of what we have seen, there are ways to make a difference, to give them a hope and future.
– Pray for Maxim, Amanda, and Leann who are continuing to work in in Ukraine to fight injustice and see people’s lives changed and made whole!
– Pray for the orphans. Pray that they seek God and know who they are in Him. That they have opportunities, and favor. Pray that there are adoptions and safe houses built to give them a family and life skills to survive.
– Pray for the adults in disability homes. Pray that they are healed; pray for the workers to become believers and to be passionate about what they do.
– Pray for the Church of Praise and it’s leaders. Pray that the leaders continue to grow, church members would be planted and an active part of the body. For finance for buildings and outreach. For the villages to be reached by God. And for the Kingdom of heaven to expand from people there giving their lives to God.
– You can send donations small or large to allow these kids to go to school. To send an orphan to college and pay for their living expense is $100/month for an average of two years. THAT IS SENDING A CHILD TO COLLEGE!
– You could also be a part of building safe houses to help kids live in a family environment while going to college. They would have the opportunity to learn from an apartment “mom” or “dad,” learning life skills, what a family is, and how to live successfully rather than taking up drugs, alcohol, or prostitution.
Links to follow the work being done in Ukraine:
Amanda Gage: http://www.facebook.com/amandagage
Leann Peterson: http://www.facebook.com/leannp
True Hope Ukraine: http://www.facebook.com/truehopeukraine