Monday, August 30, 2010

Missionary Monday - Bridal Shower in Ukraine

Of course, the number one goal of missionaries is to bring people to Christ. But, what then? Well, we have many secondary goals as well, with one of these being to see young people marry other like-minded Christians, have Christ-honoring Christian homes, and start Christian families.

There will soon be a wedding in our church, and excitement is at an all-time high in these here parts. Two of my children will have special roles in the wedding.... Nate (our 6-year-old) will be the ring bearer and Brianna (our 3-year-old) will be the flower girl. And I {excited giggle} get to fix the bride's hair on the day of her wedding!

"Towel cake" made by Vera, our hostess

Something that is not a Ukrainian tradition is bridal showers (baby showers either, for that matter). And, by the way, have you ever tried translating the word shower to explain what a wedding/baby shower is to someone who has never heard of one?! Even though not everyone completely understood the significance of a wedding shower ("Yikes... does this mean I have to give two gifts?" was heard as well as, "Why should we give gifts to the bride only and not the groom?" or "Why should the bride open gifts separately from the groom?"), we decided it would be a fun tradition to start in our church anyway. I mean, who doesn't love to spoil brides-to-be?!
Mrs. Vera Mitchum, also a missionary's wife here, graciously hosted the bridal shower in her home, and we were all pleased to see that nearly 30 ladies showed up for this "strange" event! (Maybe they were just curious?!) Vera did an excellent job at preparing the event, and Lena, the bride-to-be, left a couple of hours later with her arms loaded with gifts and a big smile on her face. Success.

Our pastor's wife, Mrs. Judy VanSant, gave an excellent devotional about having the proper "ingredients" in a marriage, and I had the fun job of running the game. I searched online and came up with the simple idea of separating the ladies into teams, giving each team 3 rolls of white toilet paper, and letting them "go to town" in decorating a member of their team with a "bridal gown." They had 15 minutes to decorate their "bride," and I was so incredibly pleased with the results! Talk about creativity from our ladies! I would definitely recommend this game to any of you.
Our bride-to-be had the difficult task of judging the winner, and she graciously chose her own mother (center, in picture above). What a sweetheart!
And, by the way, have I ever mentioned that Ukrainians take their shoes off at the door before entering a home? The nearly-60 bare feet was funny, but I guess it would have been funnier to get a picture of the shoes piled at the front door! This is one tradition that we ourselves follow, even in our own home. However, when we go back to America we get strange looks from time to time when our kids walk in a door and immediately take their shoes off. This is usually one of the first things we find ourselves explaining about Ukrainian culture when we are guests in an American's home.
Igor and Lena

So, guess who will be living in our home for 5 months while we are on furlough? You got it! Igor and Lena! Just two weeks after they get married, we will be leaving. Our home (which has an open floor plan) still has unfinished, concrete and sheet-rock walls in the living room/kitchen/dining room/office, which is actually just one, large room. While we are gone, Igor (who works in construction and has worked in our home already) will be finishing this room. Even though I have seriously gotten used to looking at the drab, gray concrete, the more that I think about it.... I can already hardly wait to return home next March!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

First ultrasound

I had my first ultrasound here in Simferopol, Ukraine, at 16 weeks. I was rather surprised by the nice equipment. I was in a private clinic, but still... just $20 for an ultrasound?! I will be going back in a couple of weeks for a blood test (which I thought I would never do here, but now I feel better about it after seeing the clinic) and then returning again in 4 weeks for my second ultrasound. In just 5 weeks, we head back to America to begin our 5-month furlough, which has been planned around this baby's birth.
And, speaking of this little darling's birth.... I had estimated that treasure #4 was due around Valentine's Day, but was taken back when the ultrasound showed that I am due around January 28th. We have already scheduled two Missions Conferences back to back during that time, and guess what? This little "attention seeker" of mine is due right between those two Conferences!I have no "tummy pictures" to show you yet because there is still nothing to show for my 18 weeks of pregnancy. But, I am not complaining about that, for sure! I also made it through the first trimester with flying colors... no nausea or sickness. Thank you, Lord!
Ultrasound documents... can't wait to show these to my American doctor! {wink!}
It is incredible just how much I am excited about this little one! You would think by the time you are on your 4th child that it would just be "old hat." But, not so! I think there is even more excitement this time around because there are more people to be excited with me... not only Daddy, but also two big brothers and a big sister. Oh, little one, we can hardly wait to see you, hold you, and love you!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Missionary Monday - Transportation

Most of you will never come to Ukraine {though I wish you would!}, so "Missionary Monday" will also be dedicated to teaching you about the culture and things we see here.

For example, in a church that runs about 120 in both hearing and deaf services, there are less than a handful of people who own cars other than the missionaries. In the picture below, you can see our church and church parking lot... Still looking for the church parking lot? Well, we don't have one! And, we don't need one! Our church is located on the corner of a neighborhood block, so we just park along-side the church building and have never once... not ONE Sunday.... had a problem with not having enough parking spaces!

Most of our people depend on public transportation, which costs about 40 cents to ride. We have taken public transportation hundreds of times, and we even lived almost an entire year without a car. (This was by choice. We were rookies to the mission field and wanted to be immersed amongst the people to learn their culture and language.)
We have owned several different cars since living in Ukraine. Now, before you start thinking we are rich, you have to understand that buying/selling vehicles in Ukraine is also very different. When you drive a new car off of a car lot in America, it immediately devalues by several thousand dollars. Here in Ukraine, that is not so. In fact, vehicles actually gain value with time here. We have bought several cars here that we drove for a couple of years and then sold for nearly the same price we bought them for. Not bad, huh?
The car we currently own in Ukraine
Now, Ukrainians have a different taste and style of vehicles. One popular type of car here is what I call the "boxey" car. About 1 in 5 cars here {yes, I have counted... while hubby drives, I look around and observe!) is a "boxey" car. It is hard to tell without getting close if the "boxey" cars are old or new because each year they keep making this same model without updating the look. So, you can be sitting in a parking lot with cars that look exactly alike but are 30 years different in age. Even though our car is not one of the "boxey" versions, it is certainly a Russian-made brand. These cars are much less expensive for us than the European vehicles, the parts are much easier to find, and mechanics here are much more familiar with these cars. I do not know if we will ever own a "boxey" car, but we will most likely always drive a Russian-made car here. Vehicles are driven very much past their "expiration date" here. Certainly there are laws about safety of cars on the road, but clearly these laws are not fully enforced.
Sometimes we get quite the entertainment out of watching vehicles ride down the road. Just a few weeks ago, though, after eight years of "vehicle observation" even I was even impressed at a new sight. I was driving and pulled behind a car that was completely without windows or tail lights. In fact, there was a two-liter bottle sticking out of the place where one of the tail lights was supposed to be. My American guest, Tiffany, and I gawked at the sight. Even I couldn't believe it! However, when I pulled around this car, we both burst out laughing when we realized that, even though this car had a driver, someone was pulling it! Whew, was I relieved...

Even though we do see fine equipment from time to time, it is more common to see an old "grandpa" tractor like this, still working hard: And, how about the time we went to a Ukrainian wedding and followed behind the groom's brothers to the reception, who were both riding together in their finest clothing like this?: Below is the bus that comes out to our village three times a day (about every 5 hours) during the winter months. During the summer months, a larger bus comes four times a day (about every 4 hours). I am looking forward to showing you our bus stop here in the village in a future post! Can you imagine having to depend on transportation that only comes by every 4-5 hours?!
Yes, and sometimes you even see very expensive cars here, like the one below (a couple of our church ladies are posing by it... and drooling...!)
The only transportation law we have here for kids is that they have to be in the backseat until the age of 10, I believe. Seat belts are optional.... except in our car where Dad and Mom make the rules.
And should I even tell you that when the Thompsons (family of five) were our guests last month, that we squeezed all ten of us into our car on several occasions?! Ah, yes... the men sat comfortably in the front while the two Mommies and our six children squeezed into the backseat. Were we comfortable? Hmmm.... let's just say that we were all enjoying the air conditioning in the car, which is the only place we have air conditioning. We enjoyed the slight relief from our 100 degree Fahrenheit weather and the great fellowship so much, that we barely noticed we had all "gelled" together once we reached our destination!
(By the way, Tiffany... you won't believe me when I tell you how much it has cooled down here already... in just one week. I am even wearing socks and have a blanket over my lap as I type this evening!)
One of the things on our "to do" list before our October 5th departure to America for a 5-month furlough is to sell our car. (We just bought our tickets today!) And, our reason for selling? We are outgrowing our car! Our family of 5, which will soon be 6, is going to need a mini-van when we return! Hooray for baby #4!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Anna's Blog

Blogging is becoming a family pasttime! My sister-in-law Anna has started a very beautiful blog which she has named "Just Behind That Mountain." She writes about her adventures in Mexico as the wife of Andrew, a Mexican Indian, who now serves his people medically and spiritually. Andrew was trained under the ministry of Anna's father, Dr. Thomas Sloan, who was an Independent Baptist missionary for more than 30 years. Anna also writes about her godly heritage, which we can all learn multitudes from. So, without further ado, please go visit Anna, become a follower, and sign up for a subscription. You will be so glad you did. Anna is a natural at writing and has a way of taking the reader along on her journeys. Enjoy the ride!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Missionary Monday - Continue On

My friend Angela, also a missionary's wife, sent me this beautiful encouragement today called "Continue On:"

A woman once fretted over the usefulness of her life. She feared she was wasting her potential being a devoted wife and mother. She wondered if the time and energy she invested in her husband and children would make a difference.

At times she got discouraged because so much of what she did seemed to go unnoticed and unappreciated. "Is it worth it?" she often wondered. "Is there something better that I could be doing with my time?"

It was during one of these moments of questioning that she heard the still small voice of her heavenly Father speak to her heart. "You are a wife and mother because that is what I have called you to be. Much of what you do is hidden from the public eye. But I notice. Most of what you give is done without remuneration. But I am your reward. Your husband cannot be the man I have called him to be without your support. Your influence upon him is greater than you think and more powerful than you will ever know. I bless him through your service and honor him through your love. Your children are precious to Me. Even more precious than they are to you. I have entrusted them to your care to raise them for Me. What you invest in them is an offering to Me.

You may never be in the public spotlight. But your obedience shines as a bright light before Me. Continue on. Remember that you are My servant. Do all to please Me."
-Roy Lessin
These words were timely. As a young missionary wife who is expecting her fourth child, most of what I do on the mission field is rather mundane. I am afraid you might be rather unimpressed. I do not go out and knock doors from morning to evening, seeking to bring the lost to Him (though I DO get to go on regular visitation as well as serve in the orphanage ministry). I do not prepare beautiful lessons to teach women and children on a regular basis. Even though I get to enjoy taking part in these exciting ministries from time to time, these are not part of my main work. My normal routine actually looks more like this:
Cooking (mostly from scratch).
Washing dishes.
Hanging laundry outside to dry.
Washing little hands and faces.
Putting band-aids on "owies."
etc., etc., etc....
Not too impressive, right? However, to reach a world for Christ, I have to start right here in my own home. What good can I do in the world if my own children are neglected and do not know and understand Christ's love? So, while Mr. Missionary (hubby) is out winning the world or preparing another fine sermon, I am contentedly working at home to teach and prepare my own little flock of sheep. And, one day, when the little sheep are a little more grown and less feeble, we will be a much stronger and more effective witness out in the world as a family... a prepared family.
So, little Missionary Mommy, do not be discouraged when you are mopping sticky floors again and hubby is out visiting the lost more often than you get to. Pray for your man, pull your hair back, put on some Christ-honoring music, and enjoy teaching those little ones whom you have been left to care for. Enjoy these moments at home because your time will come soon. Faithfully Continue on in the task God has given you today. Your reward will come when you stand back one day and watch your little sheep following in their daddy's and mommy's footsteps... when you watch your child pray for God to lead them to a lost soul that needs Him. That is the reward I am looking forward to!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Nate's 6th Birthday

My sweet Nate is the kind of kid you just can't help but love! And, it is hard to believe that this charming boy is already six years old. We celebrated his birthday last month, but I am just now getting a chance to blog about it.

If you have been following this blog for any length of time, you will most likely notice that there is a trend to our birthday celebrations. In comparison to America, there are very few things to do here for a child's birthday. However, we make the most of it and only go to these places for special days (and, shhh... don't tell my kids because they don't know they are "missing out" on anything.)

The following pictures, as well as a few comments by yours truly, show you how we were able to celebrate our darling's 6th birthday:
In Ukrainian culture, the birthday person always "hosts" his friends.... at school, Sunday School, etc... So, we bought a cake and took it to church for Nate to share with his Sunday School friends.
Nate is Mr. Artistic, hands down, in this family. Here you can see him painting a ceramic piggy bank that was given to him by some members of our church (Mommy did help with the designing and outlining, but he did all of the painting.) He is super excited about the thought of one day being able to use his artistic abilities to be a web/sign designer in a church one day (but, of course, that will have to wait until after he has been to the moon a couple of times, been bungee jumping, and fought a couple of battles first... yes, he is also an extreme thrill seeker!).
Daddy set up a treasure hunt, and Nate was running and giggling from clue to clue to find his birthday gift

There it is! (And, yes, it's true... Mommy did not get it put into a gift bag before the treasure hunt began).
He absolutely LOVES this game! It practically stays out of the game closet since it gets played with every day.
First stop of the day: Alina's house. We are so grateful the Lord arranged it so that our Nate could be born on her birthday, even before we knew her!
Here the kids are, at Alina's house, enjoying cake, candies and juice that they so sweetly insisted on sharing.
We gave a bag full of beautiful hair pieces to Alina, and her family, in turn, had surprises waiting for Nate!
Then, with the money Mimi and our special friends in New Mexico sent, we were able to go to the "zoo park" and ride on many of the rides! Here, the kids are high in the sky, on a ferris wheel
Daddy and Nate, Dallas Mavericks fans
I hope he never outgrows loving his Mommy's kisses! (I know he will, since his 8-year-old brother already has, but let me keep on hoping...)
Bumper cars
Bumper boats
Bouncy house
Then, McDonald's Happy Meals for lunch!
Talking to Mimi through Skype
Eating his requested dinner meal... grilled hot dogs with chili and cheese toppings
Blowing out his silly birthday candles (the kind that you can't blow out!)
Gift from Igor and Lena, members of our church
Thank you, Jesus, for this amazing little boy You have given us to rear for You! He shows an incredible amount of energy and talent, and I want to give it all back to YOU...