Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Replying to comments

Okay, this post is for other bloggers only.  To my other readers, I apologize, but here is a little something for you too....

{Below} This picture was taken last summer at a bus stop, during those few months we did not have a car.  But, you see, we had each other and we had a lot of fun!  Unposed (is that a word?) pictures are always the best.  They show the natural playfulness and love between siblings that you just can't capture when you are asking them to smile at the camera.  After all, a camera is not a person.  Can't you just see the friendship between these two?!
And now, for my blogger friends...  I found a tutorial online that teaches you how to add a "reply to comments" option on your blog if you are using blogger.  Unfortunately, blogger does not come with such an awesome gadget, but there is a way to add it.  Since comments are very important to me and I take each one of them as a sign of love and affection from my awesome readers, I try to answer most of them through e-mail.  But now there is an easier way to do it.  Unfortunately, the commenter will have to go back to your blog to check for your reply, but this is better than nothing.  It also shows your other readers that you care to answer questions, as in the example below:

Two things I need to mention.  First of all, the tutorial is a bit outdated, but the instructions are still relevant.  Secondly, you will have to change your comment location settings (under your Settings tab) to "embedded."  It does not work with a pop-up window or a separate window for comments.  

And, please... anytime you make changes to your HTML, save everything to a Word document before you start making changes.... just in case.

In case you missed it above {smile}, click here for the tutorial.

I really hope that this works for you!  Let me know if it does!

***March 2, 2012 UPDATE***
Just found out that Blogger has recently added this feature.  Click here to read a tutorial on how to activate it.  

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Just a piece of candy

(My daughter Brianna, just 6 weeks before her 4th birthday)

Why is it that children {usually} just absolutely love sweet things?  My children have the old movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) and are convinced that Wonka brand candy (like Nerds, Fun Dip, Gobstoppers, Pixy Stix, etc...) is the best candy ever invented.  And, thanks to my sweet missionary friend Donna Schepers and her family, my children have been enjoying some Wonka candy lately.  Big thanks and lots of hugs, Donna!

As a child, I was pretty convinced that candy was a big deal too.

After all, candy is the reason that, as a four-year old girl, I got on a big yellow bus all by myself to ride to church.

All I was promised was a piece of candy for coloring a flyer advertising a free bus ride to church.  I just had to show it to the bus workers to receive my prize.   And color it I did.  Then I received my piece of candy...

...and, oh, so much more.

Because of a piece of candy, I learned that there is a God in Heaven.

Because of a piece of candy, I learned that God sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross to take away my sins.

Because of a piece of candy, I learned I was a sinner, in need of a Saviour.

Because of a piece of candy, I asked Jesus to come into my heart, save me from my sins, and take me to Heaven when I die.

It was all because of a piece of candy.

And I wonder, who else is in need of some sweetness today?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Teaching their own

For us, the greatest joy in the ministry is seeing the Ukrainian people teach their own.  All of these pictures were taken over the last year of various activities and ministries of Simferopol Baptist Church (hearing church).  The one thing these pictures all have in common is that they are of Ukrainians teaching and ministering to Ukrainians....  

(In all honesty, there are actually some more helpers who could have been included in this post but were not because I do not have a picture of them.)

{Below}  Igor teaching the teens the story of Goliath
Many, many thanks to our wonderful Ukrainian friends who see the need to reach out to their own.  Since the VanSants started this ministry 16 years ago, many have been trained to teach, disciple, and share the Gospel with others.  It is such a joy to stay busy for the Lord here! There is so much more and so many more that we can reach because of the Ukrainians who have been saved and become  faithful to teaching their own!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

In her Father's Arms

Please be in prayer for the Matthew Cretzman family that was involved in a car accident early yesterday morning.   Click here for the Fox 8 news report.

This young couple, whom I have never met, were missionaries to Cuba, on deputation raising their support.  The car accident proved to be fatal for their 3-year old daughter Azlynn Noelle.  The mother, Lana, was airlifted from the scene, and her condition is fair.  The father and baby girl were both treated at a nearby hospital and released.  Just last month they were in our home church's Missions Conference.

{Below}  Beautiful Azlynn Noelle, now in Heaven

Oh, how my heart breaks for this family and their loss!  There simply are no words to describe it.

To leave them a message of condolence, go to their Facebook page here or leave a comment on this blog and I will be sure that they get it.  They need an outpouring of love and prayers like never before.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Valentine's Banquet 2012

I haven't posted about many of our church activities in awhile.  Mostly, that is because the events we have are yearly, and since I am into my third year of blogging, I find myself thinking that you have probably seen all of our activities.


I also want you to know that, despite its yearly repetition, our church calendar stays full of events!  So, even though we repeat activities (like every church does), there are always new faces, new decorations, new food, and new games to see and hear about!  
Our theme for this year's Valentine's Banquet was "Charity Never Faileth."  Hubby and I organized this banquet together and enjoyed brainstorming as a team.  We also enjoyed shopping for accessories on our weekly date nights leading up to the banquet (and learned, ahem, that holiday items for days like Valentines do not come out earlier than a week around here!)
{Below}  Beautiful centerpieces that were given away as door prizes and rewards
{A box of chocolate covered cherries for each couple}
{My Valentine, running the banquet}
We had 22 couples attend our banquet this year.  Including our deaf interpreter, there were 45 people in attendance!  Despite the few who were sick and could not come at the last minute, I think this was a great turnout!

{Below} Our guest speaker this year was pastor Vlad (pictured with his lovely wife, Maya) from a city in Ukraine about 15 hours north of us.  
{Below}  And these are the beautiful couples I managed to get a picture of:

{Below} And yes, there's little 'ole us!

A game we played that was really fun was "Is That My Husband/Wife?"  We gave each person a form to fill out that included questions about themselves.  The only stipulation was that they were not allowed to show their answers to their spouses.  The papers were collected and then read.  If you thought your wife or husband was being read about, you had to stand.  Imagine the laughter when several people were standing at one time and also imagine the embarrassed looks when they found out they did not know their spouses as well as they thought!

It was a great evening, and I am so grateful for the many years of marriage that were represented by our church at this year's Banquet!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Happy Valentines!

We don't claim to be great singers. 

But we do love to sing about our Savior, His love for us.... and our love for Him.

This is me with my sweet little family.  And, oh, how we love to serve our Saviour together!  

Though we're not super talented, we give everything we have to Him.

Happy Valentine's Day, friends!  This truly is With Love from Ukraine.

Monday, February 6, 2012

what did you say?!

Did you ever speak "pig latin" as a kid?  You know, the "language game" where you take the first letter away from a word, add it to the end of the word and say "ay" with it.  (For example, my name would become "olene-Jay.")  I played this with my friends and cousins as a kid, and it made me feel smart... like I really knew another language.  It sounded so foreign and was just silly, childish fun!

Fast-forward to the adult years and sitting in language school.  Let me tell ya, the process of learning a language is not that simple!  In fact, the teachers in our language school did not even speak English.  (Unless you want to count the word "adjective," that they mispronounced.)

So, how do you go about learning a foreign language when you can not even understand your teacher?  From experience, I can tell you that it is complicated!

As a continuation of this series The Missionary Wife's Perspective, I want to list some things I have thought, observed, and taken note of in the last ten years on this topic.  These thoughts are not words of wisdom, by any means.  They are just a recording of a missionary wife's perspective on surviving learning a new language.
1.  How many of our supporters and prayer partners give much thought to the need of the missionary to learn a language?  If you silently agreed with me that you are in that category, I can assure you that I was there at one time too.  When I thought of becoming a missionary, I thought that language learning would go a lot like this:

Bible college?  Check.
Deputation?  Check.
Airline tickets? Check.
Learn the language?  Check.

It wasn't until I was "in the trenches" that I realized how many missionaries get stuck on that last point.  A surprising number of missionaries never do really learn the language of their people.  This point alone is such a source of discouragement, that many have packed up their bags and gone home, feeling like failures for never truly adapting to their field.  So heartbreaking!

2.  To me it seems that the missionary's wife usually faces the biggest discouragement in the area of language learning.  This is especially true if she has little ones at home to care for, or if she is homeschooling.  While her husband is out mingling with the people, she is home and unable to see much progress in her own language development.

3.  For us, we feel it is better to learn a language from someone who does not know your native language.  Now, I could have really argued this case with you years ago whenever I truly thought our teachers needed to know English in order to explain themselves to me.  However, I have since come to see the benefit of being forced to understand them.

4.  Spend your first year on the field dedicated full-time to language learning.  Don't jump with two feet first into the ministry that first year (just "one foot" is sufficient in the beginning).  The results will be so much better in the long run.  We were advised to do this and are so grateful!

5.  I remember our first few weeks in Ukraine, sitting in a park, observing people speak Russian.  We just could not believe how beautiful the girls were... until they opened their mouths and started speaking.  Russian sounded gutteral and harsh to us back then.  Obviously, we don't think that anymore now that we speak it.  I remember wondering how difficult it must be for mothers to comfort their babies with such rough words.  And how did boyfriends propose to their girlfriends with gentleness?!  [On the other hand, ask a foreigner what they think English sounds like, and you just might be amused to hear their answer!]

6.  What is the hardest language in the world to learn?  The one you are studying, of course!  I checked with Wikipedia, and their experts claim these languages to be the hardest to learn:  Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean.  I'm pretty sure that Russian was supposed to make that list!

7.  Any missionary can tell you that, over time, we seem to forget some of our own native tongue.  Not only do I find myself grasping for the right word in Russian, but when I visit "back home," I find myself drawing a blank when I'm looking for the right word in English!  Apparently our brain storage for language capacity can only hold so many file folders per language!

8.  Learning a new language can be very humbling.  Here you are an adult, trying to speak, and you can almost feel someone reach out and pat your head with a sympathetic "good girl, at least you are trying" touch.  Just like a baby, you are starting at the bottom, and unfortunately, for even the smartest students (which is not me!), there is the "toddler stage" that we all have to go through.  Stringing three or four words together and hoping with all of your heart that they formed an intelligent thought is completely normal!

9.  You will never speak with your family the same way.  Your words and sentences will always be sprinkled with "flavors" from both languages.  How much richer your vocabulary becomes when you have more than one "language dictionary" to choose from!

9.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.  For every new word you learn or for every grammatical ending you learn to say correctly, you are that much better because of it.  So, little mama who is at home with her little ones most of the day, baby steps are steps.  Don't give up!  Nearly 10 years into this journey, I am still learning.  Like learning to play the piano, it is a long process and we all have different rates at which we learn.

10.  Being that "little mama" at home, I learned to face the fact that my home situation was not going to change.  I am going to be needed at home for many, many years; therefore, language school was only an option for me for a short while.  But, I learned to overcome this setback in a different way.  I hired a young lady to come to my home (one who did not know English) and work in the house with me and talk to me as we worked.  (The key here is that she is not a maid, but rather someone to work and fellowship with.  Busy mamas do not have time to "just" sit and study, but this method is so much more effective anyway.)  "This is a broom and right now we are sweeping the floor."  "This dough needs to rise for 30 minutes."  These are the types of conversations that have taught me to speak Russian.

11.  Some of the very dearest friendships I have in this world are with those who do not speak English.  All of our conversations take place completely in Russian.  And my life is so.much.richer because of these friendships.  Was it worth those long, frustrating hours of learning?  Oh, you better betcha!

12.  When I am "back home," I now have my own secret language.  No more childish pig latin for me.... I can speak a real, foreign language!  And, best yet, I can share the Gospel in another language!

So, prayer partner, pray fervently for your missionaries who are learning a foreign language.  And missionaries, don't get discouraged, even if your language was not on Wikipedia's list either.  {smile}

You can do it!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

A Balancing Act {with video}

One thing that we have always rejoiced about is the fact that we live in southern Ukraine.  Even if you are living in a northern country, if you are living in the south of that northern country, you are bound to have the warmest weather that is possible there!

Since we are on a peninsula, we have always referred to our area as the "Florida" of Ukraine.  Okay, so our weather is definitely not Florida weather, but it does have a nice sound to it.  Our village has also been jokingly named "The Bahamas."  With those names tagged to us, it sounds like we are living in the tropics, don't ya think?
Nonetheless, we are still pretty north in this world, which means we get cold winters.  (See the comparison between Ukraine and the US/Canada in the map above?  Hopefully this will give you a clearer picture of how north we are.)  And yesterday, our high temperatures were still below zero fahrenheit!  

{Below}  See the snow/ice around the inside of our front door?!

It has been a balancing act for hubby to keep our home warm.  In a village with low electricity, no gas, and the prices to fill a gas butane tank being very high, he has had to get smart.  So, what do we do?  We use a little of each of our resources!

{Below}  These butane tanks are filled with gas and used to heat our bedrooms.  Because this is the most expensive route for heating, we keep these on very, very low.
{Below}  Water heater under the window.  We have one of these in each of our three bedrooms.
{Below}  Hubby keeps our wood-burning stove going at all times of the day.  He keeps a pile of cut wood in our garage and brings it in as he needs it, allowing time for the moisture to dry out of the wood.  He gets up throughout the night to make sure the fire does not die out, and we are ever so grateful for his hard work!
{Below}  The floors in our main room are heated by water pipes running underneath the tiles.  The heat in them is produced by electricity.  We have learned that our home gets/stays the warmest when these tiles are working on high energy.  Since our electricity in this village is quite low, we allot as much electricity as possible to keep the floors running on high.  This means that we are only able to run one appliance other than the refrigerator.  So, we make choices throughout the day... either the washing machine, the stove, the boiler (to heat water for showers), the microwave, vacuum cleaner, etc...  Yes, it is a balancing act and if someone forgets to turn something off before turning something else on, all of the electricity shuts down.  But, if we balance it all just right, we are able to keep our house cozy warm!
Normally, the heat from the tiles is sufficient for keeping our main areas warm, but in extremely cold weather like we are having now, we have to burn wood for warmth as well.

We are ever so grateful for a warm home.  I am truly thankful for a husband who works all day and even through the night to make sure we are comfortable.  And, so far, not one of us even has a cold!  How's that for a miracle?!

Speaking of balancing acts, guess who started walking yesterday?  Since I am so proud of my just-turned-one-year-old, I wanted to share his first, sweet, tottering steps with you, my friends!

If you are reading this through e-mail or through a reader, click here to see the video.