Saturday, November 24, 2012


This Thanksgiving, I realize that I have a lot to be thankful for.  Although this has been a very hard year, it has been filled with life and love.  This is a tremendous blessing.  This year for Thanksgiving, I wanted to invited over some of the people who helped me get through these last four months.  In the wake of the tragedy, I needed a tremendous support system.  I needed strength and encouragement so that I could share strength and encouragement.  I needed some level of normalcy.  I found comfort, friendship, and a constant listening ear in these people.  I love them dearly, and it was a great joy to have them over for a Thanksgiving celebration.  

Olia Kryvytska is one of my closest friends in Ukraine.  She is a constant.  On the day of the accident, she was at work - and several times during the day I ducked into an alleyway and called her and asked her to pray for me.  She would take a "cigarette break" and step outside and pray for me over the phone.  I can't imagine the horror of that day without her prayers on the other end of the phone.  

Erica Oliveira (on the left)  is our new intern.  It was helpful to have someone new come from our organization so that there would be someone for new students to interact with.  Olia Reiter (on the right) leads an international film festival here in Lviv.  She is brave and strong, and being around her can cause you to catch the infection of courage.  I needed a lot of courage these last few months.  

The entire meal was a lot of fun to cook.  Everything except the corn was from scratch.  The turkey came from the village of Nova Skvaryava, and I picked it out last week when I was there.  The mushrooms came from my flatmates village.  I'm glad I learned how to cook while growing up! And my friends are glad, too.  

After the Thanksgiving meal, we set up Christmas decorations.  In this picture, the Americans grab a picture as we oversea the workers.  Haha.  On my right is Emily, who works in the country of Georgia, but has many friends here and flew here for the holiday. 

Valya (left) is someone I met back in 2008 in San Diego.  She was on the leadership team the first year I was here.  She has been a constant in my life for the entire time I have been in Ukraine.  She knows how to get things done, and often when I encounter a roadblock, one phone call to Valya will turn up someone she knows who can help.  She knows everyone in the city, and is a major trendsetter.  Den (middle) is a relatively new friend, but honestly one of my closest friends in Ukraine.  He can always improve my mood and help me through a difficult day.  Valya and Den both work for the international film festival Wiz-Art.  

Olya cleaning up a spilled drink.  Every picture of Olia is just a treasure!

The whole group together around the Christmas tree.  These are wonderful people to have in my life and I am so thankful for them.  It is nice to have the tree up and to enjoy it each day.  

And last, but certainly not least, Mefodyi greeted me at the door after every single challenging day these last four months.  He stole a turkey leg and ate the entire thing and went into a Tryptophan induced semi-coma.  Everyone played with him because he was so sleepy and droopy that he couldn't even respond to people.  

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

I love serving this community.  Of course, these last few months have been some of the most challenging I have ever faced in my life; but in the end, I just feel so blessed to be with this wonderful group of young people.

Volodya, Andry(Erika's husband), Erika, and their daughter Marta.
Please continue to keep us in daily prayer.  There are still tremendous daily challenges, and facing them just saps our staff of so much energy.  My co-workers are so dedicated and so phenomenal to work with, and please especially pray for them.  Even though we are all over the map, and all doing different things - it is still a joy and we look forward to being all together again. :

Erica Oliveira currently in Poland trying to get her visa straightened out.

David and Shannon, Jesse and Jeremiah.  I love and miss these guys so much.

Pastor Lyubomir and family at Marta's baptism

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Nova Skvaryava

I took some vacation days to go to the village and have a rest.  I read lots of books, took long walks every day, translated some Ukrainian poetry into English, and wrote a lot.  I stayed with my friend Valodya's family.   
Walking to church.

An ancient wooden church in nearby Jhovkva.

This is one of the best preserved wooden churches in Ukraine.

I went to the local school and visited English classes. 

I love village life.  

A dancing dog and Valodya's mom.  A perfect week in the village. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

My mom keeps writing me emails about things I could blog.  On the other hand, I've been trying to convince her for years to start a blog of her own.  She is a great writer, and I think a lot of people would follow her blog if she had one.  Maybe I'll blog when she does!

In the meantime, here is some of what she wants me to blog.

In the aftermath of the tragedy we suffered this summer, we have spent a lot of time in prayer.  To be honest, it has been tremendously difficult to pray some days.  There has been so much to do, and so much pain and heartache that prayer has not come naturally these last few months.

It seems incomprehensible that the accident happened less than four months ago.  It seems that we have all aged so much.  Our weather here has been so crazy, that it seems we have cycled through summer, fall, winter, and spring many time over these last few months.  Months of putting one foot in front of the other bring you to a different destination, but the journey is usually a blur.

We are slowly beginning to bring our focus back to the journey we are on.  At Pilgrims, we will begin a short sermon series on Micah 6:8.  And the book of Micah is set up as a giant trial.  This young prophet goes to the stone pillars where court was held and he begins a mock trial of the ages.

You can feel the crowd pressing in as he lays out the years and generations that have brought his people to this place.

I volunteer at Ivan Franko National University.  I teach translation studies majors.  It's a tremendous amount of fun, but from time to time I am asked to recite poetry in English.  Reciting poetry is big in Ukraine, and as much as I protest that it's just not something we do so very much - as a native speaker they really do want me up there.  This month I must recite some verses by Lord Byron's poem, "The Destruction of Sennacherib."  The poem feels a bit forced to me, and, honestly, it sounds like something an angsty teenager could have written.

But, theologically, the poem just grinds my gears.  Lord Byron might not have read Micah.  Or, more likely, he didn't read Micah with the knowledge that Micah was from one of the small towns destroyed by the Assyrians.  Byron's triumphant declarations of the destruction the Lord brought about is an odd companion with Micah's desperate, prophetic plea that someday, "They will hammer their swords into plowshares And their spears into pruning hooks; Nation will not lift up sword against nation, And never again will they train for war.(4:3).   Micah, who lost his entire town, was able to see beyond the ends of war to see the goodness of God's great vision of the world.  Thousands of years later, Lord Byron is still looking for the wrath of God to defeat his enemies.

And Micah, a small town boy - just a refugee in the big city - stands before all of these important people begins the trial; the trial of his people's faithfulness before God.  And the climax of the trial is the famous verse, "He has shown you, O man, what is good.
    And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
    and to walk humbly with your God."

And this is the great moment in the trial when the prosecutor brings out the bloody knife with perfect matching fingerprints - and at the same time this is the great moment in the trial when the defense attorney grills a witness and gets her to confess to staging the whole thing.  This is that moment that makes court TV so intense, the reason we tune in to Judge Judy every day - this is one of those moments that rarely happen in real life, but always happen in scripted trials.

All of the case is before the jury, and the guilt is overwhelmingly obvious - and then this verse is pronounced.  It is a taste of the grace that Jesus (born in Bethlehem as prophesied by Micah) will come to fulfill.  Micah calls his people to renewed faithfulness to God.

Justice, mercy, humility.  If we lived with these three guiding principles, our churches would be packed each day.  Our gospel would be as irresistible as when Jesus first proclaimed it.  And our churches would be underground, despised, and persecuted.  You can't live this way and expect everything to stay the same.  These ideals - justice, mercy, and humility - they stand in direct contrast to what our world teaches.  In the last election, did you think about which was the most humble candidate before casting your vote?  In a society focused on justice, my home country would be paying for the atrocities of war we have committed for decades.

This is the point in the trial where everyone in the courtroom gasps in shock.

To a crowd of people who have been slaughtering baby lambs for generations to earn God's favor and to keep God's wrath away - the idea that all God requires from us is these three little things is a revelation of gigantic proportions.  To a crowd today who tries so hard to just be good enough for God's favor, for a group of young people trying to figure out what we did wrong to deserve this - these words are also a shock to the system.  They echo the Gospel of Jesus Christ long before he walked the earth.  They foreshadow his vision and his truth.  And to this day - these words continue to instruct us in how we may life.

We are called by our God to go forth into this world.  To act justly.  To love mercy.  To walk humbly with God.

But what do these three things mean?  What do these three things mean for us today? As young people in Lviv?

[Ok.  I went way off the path I had planned for this post.  I started writing my sermon for next week.  But, I think everyone will just be glad I blogged something :) and no one will complain!]