Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Humanitarian Aid


This last weekend, David and I rode an overnight train (14 hours) to the capital city of Kiev to attend a conference for Humanitarian Aid. Simferopol Baptist Church has been receiving Humanitarian Aid from an American organization for about 12 years now. Since we have been working in this church for two years and since we are still "learning the ropes" of all of the ministries here, we decided to attend this yearly conference to learn more about the "whats," whys," "whos" etc...

An organization "Christ for Humanity" located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, contacted Bob and Judy Van Sant 12 years ago, wanting to know if they could help them distribute used clothing, shoes, and medical supplies. The Van Sants agreed, which was the start of a yearly distribution of humanitarian aid here in Simferopol. Of course, all distribution is done in the name of Christ, under the leadership of Simferopol Baptist Church. This has been a tremendous way to show concern for people in our community, thus giving them an open door to attend church in order that they will hear how to receive Christ as their Savior.

I would like to share an interesting story that Mrs. Judy told me today that brought tears to my eyes. Many years ago, three large crates of used shoes were sent for distribution. She and Pastor Bob spent an entire day sorting through the shoes and pairing them off. They were left with a large box of unmated shoes. They felt frustrated that Americans would be so rude as to bother sending "rubbish," when, moments later, a man walked in the door and explained that he was in need of single shoes for people in the amputation center he worked in! Wow! God knew several months earlier that people in Ukraine with only one leg were in need of shoes too.... and that they only needed one of each! She shared that they both wept and thanked God for using them to distribute single shoes to such needy people. I am constantly amazed at how God works in very mysterious ways!


The conference we attended was helpful in teaching us about the new laws that have been passed in Ukraine for receiving and distributing humanitarian aid. Several representatives from Ukrainian congress spoke to us on that subject. Then, a few representatives from Counterpart International (the humanitarian aid organization) spoke to us on how to work better with our donors in America, in order for us to be more efficient on our end of distributing. The U.S. State Department provides grants for humanitarian aid organizations to send this aid to third-world countries; therefore, they too sent a representative to speak to us about these grants. It was a long day of meetings, but well worth our time and effort. Counterpart International paid our train trips, put us in a hotel for the night, and fed us a nice dinner as well. We learned that we are allowed to make specific requests, and they actually strongly encourage this. I am excited about this new information because I plan to request children's clothing and shoes for our orphanage ministry! God is sufficient to provide for all our needs!

We plan to continue receiving and distributing humanitarian aid for many years to come, or as the Lord allows. If only one person receives Christ because their needs have been met through this ministry, all of our efforts will have been worth it!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy 7th Birthday to my Davey!



The much-anticipated day finally arrived.... May 21st... Davey's 7th birthday! He had been counting down to this day for at least two months, and I began to worry.... I mean, it's just one day on the calendar, right?, and he had so many expectations that turning seven was going to be the greatest day of his life. Would I be able to make this day what he hoped it would be?

We started out the morning with presents and birthday cards. In one of his birthday e-mails, Davey found out that his Mimi was sending $20 to his Daddy's bank account. So, we loaded into the car and headed straight to a toy store. Now, my Davey is a very sentimental guy (as you could probably guess from the counting down of days), so choosing the best toy in the store for his money was no easy business. From the toy store, we headed to the zoo, which in Ukraine is a zoopark. We actually got there a little early, so we let the kids choose a ride (set up kind of like the fairgrounds) while we waited for their friends to arrive. They chose bungee-jumping for kids (about $1.25 per kid for 3 minutes), and Davey actually got to do a flip in mid-air, and I got it on video!

When the Hess family (missionary family we work with) arrived with their four kids, we entered the zoo (entrance fee was about 70 cents per child). The kids looked at the animals really quickly and then just enjoyed playing on the playground toys that were located in the middle. They've all been to this miniature zoo many times, so we didn't mind. (And the lions - the main attraction - were sleeping).

After the zoo, we headed to the one and only McDonalds that we have in our city. We had rented the "birthday room," and for an entire hour and a half, the kids had their own room plus a McDonald's worker to entertain them with songs, games, balloons, etc... Now, where else can you get a birthday party (full meal plus entertainment and clean-up) for just $5 per child?! Well, I don't know about Davey, but this was the greatest birthday party I have experienced yet! And, no kool-aid spills and popped balloons to clean up! What a fun day it was for all of us!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Happy 13th Birthday, Simferopol Baptist Church!

We had a great day at church yesterday, commemorating the "birth" of our church 13 years ago. We had 78 in attendance in our hearing services and 59 in the deaf services for a total of 137 in church! To God be the glory! Here are pictures of the two groups:



Pastor Bob and Mrs. Judy are on a five-month furlough to America. They are in the middle of that trip right now; however, they returned to Ukraine for 12 days, especially to be here for our Anniversary services. It has been a joy to have them back. Since they are sharing their home with us while ours is being built, we are all living together for these 12 days as one big, happy family. (Did I mention we live with three dogs here, too?!)

We had two "birthday" cakes... one for each church service. They turned out beautifully, so I wanted to share a picture of them with you. Also, my Davey is celebrating a birthday this week, and will be turning seven. He has been looking forward to this day and counting down for about two months now. I sure do hope his day is as special as he has been anticipating. We are planning a little party at McDonald's and the zoo with another missionary family here, the Hesses, that have four children. Should be fun!

So, Happy Birthday to Simferopol Baptist Church.... I wish you many more years of growth, salvations, baptisms, and lives changed and given to service for God. We love having the privilege of serving here! And, Happy 7th Birthday to my sweet treasure Davey!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Orphanage Ministry

Nearly five years ago, the Lord allowed us to begin an orphanage ministry outside of the capitol city of Ukraine. That experience was life-changing in numerous ways. We were able to raise money for a van, specifically to be used for bringing those orphans nearly an hour away to church. We saw many of them saved, and even took a handful of them to teen camp and saw the Lord do a mighty work in their lives.

We are now living in southern Ukraine, in the Crimean peninsula. There are orphanages all over this country, but specifically in our city of Simferopol we have found one for children from the ages of three to eighteen. Currently, this orphanage houses 33 children.


Before I go further, I need to define to you what the term "orphan" means in Ukraine. We Americans think of an orphan as a child who has lost both of his parents to death. In Ukraine, an orphan could be a child who has lost his parents, but many times the "orphans" here do indeed have a parent, maybe even both parents living. When a parent has been deemed unfit to care for his child and there is no one else in the family who can fulfill the parent's role, the child is then sent to an orphanage to be reared by the government. Due to the unbelievably high rate of alcoholism in Ukraine, countless children have been left to the streets, found by police, and placed in these orphanages. Outside of Kiev, we met an entire family of four children who were found in a dilapidated shack out in a field. The parents were unconsciously drunk and the children were looking for food and shelter. The youngest child was two or three years old at the time and the oldest was only nine or ten years old. Sometimes friends or family members will report abuse and investigations will lead the police to find the children being locked in rat-infested basements. So, though many would not consider our Ukrainian "orphans" to be true orphans, many times their lives have been just as scarred as one who has lost both parents.

Last year, a young lady by the name of Nelya moved 12 hours south to our ministry, wanting the Lord to use her in full-time Christian service. One of the things we had been praying about was starting back up a ministry to the orphanage here in Simferopol. In the past Simferopol Baptist Church had ministered to the orphanage, but this ministry ceased for lack of workers. It has been Pastor Bob's desire for quite some time to get this ministry started back up. We felt excited that the Lord was sending Nelya to us especially for this purpose. She is an extremely talented young lady with an incredibly tender heart, and she has basically been in church all of her life and wanted the Lord to use her in a special way. Nelya began visiting the orphanage on a weekly basis, opening the door to our church to begin a full-time ministry there once again. While we were on a five-month furlough last year, Nelya continued going into the orphanage, doing what we could not do due to being away.


When we returned to Ukraine in January, we began renting taxis on a weekly basis to start bringing the orphans to church. We began only with those ages 11 and older, knowing they would need to be trained how to sit properly in a church setting. In the last three months, the Lord has been blessing in spectacular ways, and we have already seen four of them saved. One 11-year-old boy, Victor, who was saved three weeks ago, had been contemplating suicide before his salvation.


The Lord has truly given the dear people of Simferopol Baptist Church a heart for their country's orphans. The joy of this ministry has been to see many of our own church people start attending our "Bible clubs" at the orphanage. Many people have brought bags of clothes to give to them, and several times we have sent our rented taxis away from church and back to the orphanage full of happy children with arms full of goodies. On Easter Sunday, we had an "egg decorating contest," and all of the eggs and candy that were brought in were separated into 33 baskets and given to the orphans for Easter. All of this was done by our church people.


Unfortunately, the money that the government has alloted for their orphanages gets sifted through so many hands, that very little actually ever gets to the director to buy food, clothing, school supplies, bathroom products, and other items for the children. At the present, the orphanage director shared with us that she is only receiving 40 dollars a month per child from the government. This divides into just more than a dollar a day to take care of each child. As a mother of three children myself and knowing the economy here in Ukraine, I would guess it would take closer to five dollars a day to properly take care of these children (and this would be without any "extras"). It breaks my heart to see the scandal that is taking place here, but this is reality all throughout this country.

The orphanage director seldom asks us for help, but on a few occasions she has desperately asked if there is any way our church could help with shoes, clothes, and even laundry detergent for the children. In addition to this, we have helped with some school supplies and even scraps of material for the young ladies who are learning to sew. We have a personal policy never to give money to the orphanage, though we do use what we can from our own pockets from time to time to go out and buy what they need.

A man in our church by the name of Yuri is the director of all of our "Second Hand" (thrift) stores in Simferopol. He has generously offered to let the orphans go into one of his stores and choose some needed clothing. So, for more than a month now, David has been picking up the orphans and taking them, three or four at a time to the thrift store to choose a few needed items. David always comes homes with stories of giddy, giggling girls (and sometimes boys) and their excitement at their "new" clothes.

More than anything, the greatest gap we need to fill in these children's lives is their need of salvation and spiritual guidance. But, we also want to help with their earthly needs as well. I am reminded of the verses in Matthew 25 where Jesus says, "For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not...... Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me."

How I wish I could just adopt all of these children and take care of their every need! But, if you add the 33 in the orphange to my 3, a household of 36 children just would NOT work out! So, please pray for us to have wisdom in how to help these children... that the Lord would provide finances and wisdom in how to help, and that God would direct our every step in leading these children to salvation and training them how to serve Him.