Thursday, August 4, 2011

I guess pictures are first...somehow they ended up here and there are too many of them to move...

A dose of Redoxon to hopefully stay healthy around all the sick people...has worked so far!

Anette driving the big van--what skill!

30 food boxes for families we are visiting

Grace was so excited to buy this rose from Teresa...Teresa was overwhelmed by it

Family visitations

Guess who found a kitty?!

Poor boys in the quarantined room...Erik and Joma have both been sick this week

Chocolate fondue at girls' night :)

Roma camp kids

Singing a song about Noah's Ark to us

Checking out Vasya's garden

"I'm driving!!"

Calvin admiring Vasya's camera collection

Shishkabob round 2--also I can't even tell you how delicious that salad is...

Enjoying dinner together

Making ID tags in roma camp

Massive tan lines and mosquito bites

Lillian's artwork when she's you can tell by Andrew in the background, she started a trend!

Pip, Squeak, Wilbur...diving for the markers

Robyn had really tiny teammates!!

Baking cookies

A wee bit overdone...

Finishing out the batter

One of the cutest kittens I've ever seen...

Kids from one of the families we visited

Kristina and her puppy

Ruslan, immediately opening the box...

...climbing a tree...


Sorry for the long's been a long week and I'm just now catching up...

Monday, August 1, 2011
            Today was the first day of the Discipleship camp here at HOM. It did not start until 2, so we had a bit of downtime before beginning the camp. In the meantime, Anette, Grace, Crystal, and I went to the market to buy non-perishable food items to make food boxes for the families we will visit this week. We had a budget of $10 USD per box—it was amazing to us that we were able to purchase so much food at such a low price! This same amount in America would not pay for half of the food we bought for each box. So for about $300, we were able to purchase food for 30 families that will last for at least a few weeks. During the discipleship camp, the kids were able to choose a skills class to attend. Their choices were cooking, sport, or media. I am helping Grace and Crystal in cooking this week—ha! Today the kids made two different salads; on Friday we are making lunch for everyone, so they will pick their favorite and make it for everyone. It is nice for the kids to be able to learn practical skills for life—we even have two boys in our class! In media, the kids are working with Calvin and Lillian to make storybooks, and in sport, Robyn and Kenny are teaching the kids to play volleyball.
            After discipleship, we all went to visit some of the families of the children who attended camp last week. It was nice to visit all of them; we gave them each a food box and prayed with each family. It was a little difficult to see some of the situations the kids come from, but in these cases it was good to see that they had caring families and that the kids are happy despite some of their circumstances. There was a family whose apartment was a balcony—only room for one couch; very narrow. There were at least five people living in this small space. The girl who came to camp makes flowers and jewelry out of beads; Grace bought a beautiful rose from her and she was so touched that she did that for her. We visited one girl who witnessed her mother’s murder at a young age and now lives with her grandmother. These kids come from such tragic places, and knowing them from camp—so happy and lively, you would never know. The good news is that many of them have hope—one of the families we visited lives in a new house that was built for them with support from Norway. I am thankful for the people who are always here trying to help these families.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011
            Today was the first day of camp in the Roma camp; we surveyed the area on Saturday and the team decided to purchase gravel to spread around the open area to make a more smooth surface for camp; it looked much nicer when we arrived today. When the children were gathered, we sang songs and told the Bible story about the Samaritan woman, illustrated with a skit from our helpers. There is some conflict in that village, so the story was an appropriate lesson even for the adults. The gypsy culture is also largely rejected by the Ukrainian people; there are a select few who accept them and try to help them. This story was a message to them that Jesus doesn’t care what others think about you; he loves you unconditionally. The kids were really excited about singing, but it was a struggle for them to sit still and listen to the Bible story. Part of the difficulty is that some of the kids do not understand Ukrainian well; they have a dialect of their own that is a mix of Ukrainian and Hungarian. It was just a struggle in general to try to implement structure in the camp; this is not a structured culture and it cannot be achieved in a few hours.
            After the camp was finished, we took pictures of the kids for an ID tag craft on Wednesday, and then our helpers returned with 90 hot meals that we passed out. We had enough for all the kids, as well as many extra for some of the adults in the settlement. Everyone seemed really appreciative of the food and of our time.
            When we returned to HOM, we had lunch and discipleship camp with the kids here—today in cooking we made fries—I was so happy! I’m so looking forward to the lunch with everyone on Friday J
            Tonight was a very special night, but a little bittersweet. For dinner, we all went to Vasya’s home for shishkabob- round 2 for me since my arrival in Ukraine! Dinner was sooo delicious but even more than that, the whole night was so much fun. It was bittersweet because it also served as Anette’s farewell dinner. Vasya actually lives in a duplex-type house, and the other half of the house is where the foster kids are housed. So, the night was shared with our helpers as well as all of the kids who lived there. After dinner, we played a game that is not recommended for after dinner! Everyone stands in a circle with a partner behind you on the outer circle. Two people are picked to start; one is chasing the other. The person being chased can step in front of one of the partner sets, in which case the person in back must now be chased. If the chaser tags the other, they become the chased. There is a lot of running back and forth and no moments of stillness in this game—a lot of running on a full stomach! So much fun though. I don’t think anyone stopped laughing during the whole game. After burning all the calories from dinner, we were fed homemade cakes by Vasya’s mother—they were so delicious!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011
            Today was the last day of camp in the Roma settlement; we brought a carpet to roll out so the kids could sit down comfortably—what a difference! This way we were able to keep them all gathered together and they were more comfortable to sit there longer. After singing (and letting the kids teach us a song about Noah’s Ark) we passed out the ID tags for the kids that were here yesterday. They were really proud to have something that gave them some identity; most people in these settlements do not have official papers—no passport or anything to prove to the government that they even exist. Throughout the camp I just looked around and took in the settings—most of these houses are built of scrap materials found in the garbage, and there are piles of garbage lying around. I mentioned in an earlier blog about the toxic water leaking from the large garbage pile, but the general lack of cleanliness is enough to pose a risk for sickness. There are dogs running around everywhere, and they do their business wherever they please. Kids step in these piles without a thought and yesterday I saw a kid with his shoe in his mouth. Even besides that they are touching their shoes with their hands and putting hands in their mouths. People are clothed, but they are wearing the same tattered clothes as yesterday, and some of the kids aren’t even wearing anything. Some of them only have a shirt, no underwear or shoes. It is really sad to see how these people live, and it seems there is no way out for them. We passed out food for them and left, and I’m not sure how these kids’ lives will turn out, but I hope to see them again someday. I hope that the little bit of time we spent there will plant a seed and provide a bit of hope for their lives.
            After camp, we returned to HOM for discipleship camp. Today Crystal was teaching Kung Fu in sports, so Kenny helped Grace and me in cooking. We made oatmeal raisin and sugar cookies today—and we learned that cooking in an oven you are not accustomed to can pose some difficulties! There were two different ovens—one baked the cookies very quickly, while the other one took much longer. The first batch was a little overcooked, but the cookies were still good. When we wrapped up discipleship camp, we went to visit several more families. It was a highlight for us today that we went to Ruslan’s and Katya’s house—we just had to see what the kids were like at home! Within ten minutes of our arrival, the box we brought was already ripped into, Ruslan had climbed a tree, and a branch holding the laundry line was broken. We found out that Ruslan’s older sister died a couple of years ago unexpectedly—she was about 18, and was working to help the family. I think this provided some background that could explain some of the ways of the family and some of the behavior of the kids. We also visited a family of boys who were invited to camp, but didn’t come. Both parents are alcoholic and often leave the boys alone. They live in very poor conditions near the railroad tracks, and the boys often play on the tracks. When I heard this, I thought it probably isn’t that bad because trains probably don’t come very often. Then, within two minutes after we crossed the tracks ourselves and went in the house, we heard a train pass by—we didn’t hear it beforehand, so it would probably be very easy to get distracted and not hear the train coming while you’re playing. We prayed for the safety of the kids while they play.
            Today was a very long day, but eye opening once again as we saw even more difficult situations that the kids live through every day. I just pray that somehow, life will improve for these families, and that they will know God’s love.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday, July 31, 2011
“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God…made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8 –This is at least the second time, if not third, I have heard this scripture reference while I’ve been in Ukraine. It is a reminder to me that when I go home, I should find ways daily to be a servant to others—not only while I’m on a “mission trip.”
            Today was a very “chill” day. We attended church in the morning—3 sermons today! :) In the period of inability to understand the preachers, I tried to flip through their Bible and figure out the translations of the names of the books of the New Testament. After this summer, I have empathy for small children in church…when you don’t understand what is going on, it’s difficult to keep yourself occupied and not fidgety! During the service, the kids who attended camp sang “As the Deer” for the church. We sang this song at camp in Ukrainian, and it was nice for them to be able to sing in front of the church.
            We are in prayer for several on the team, as well as a couple of the kids who are not feeling well right now. We pray that everyone will feel fully better tomorrow and that it will not affect our purpose here. Tomorrow will be a day of planning/practice and then the first day of our discipleship/peacemaking training with the kids here.
            After church today, we had lunch with several friends and helpers and then a brief planning meeting with our translators this week—Lera, Valya, and Andrew. There was a funny moment when Crystal gave the materials for the training to the translators and asked if the wording of a cartoon made sense. They took once glance and there was a unanimous “No…” Unfortunately due to Google translation, the wording did not make sense in Ukrainian, and apparently it was quite comical. As Lera put it, “We can understand what this is saying, but…some of this is a bit…wrong.” We were all giggling at their reactions. At least the team tried to make less work for our translators—it was a good effort!
            For the rest of the day, we were able to rest a bit after a long week. I was able to Skype with my parents and Mike, and even Charlie and Chloe! It was nice to see a little bit of home, even though Charlie and Chloe (dogs) don’t understand the concept of the sound being connected to the face on video, haha.

Group photo in front of the church...note that the majority of the girls wore black and white--not planned! Maybe it was the rainy day...

Anette and me

Crystal and me...

Lillian and me!

Planning...discussing the translation
Necklaces for the girls as thank-you gifts from the GoMercy team
Canadian maple syrup for Andrew

Ha...retrieving a lost do what you gotta do...
Deep in conversation...notice Natalka's new casts on her legs. She is still young enough that they can be straightened; we are praying this will happen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011
            Today was a busy day—some things were difficult to experience, but there was some fun sprinkled throughout the day as well. We began the day by traveling to a nearby town and visiting a hospital in the area—I cannot include many details because of the hospital’s wishes. We saw several kids who have been abandoned by their parents—suffice to say it was difficult to see those beautiful babies who are unwanted by their own mothers and fathers. There was a baby who was just lying in his bed, sobbing. He wanted so badly to be held and loved by someone. Another one was just a few months old, maybe younger, and was upset when he wasn’t held. There just aren’t enough nurses to provide the proper care for these babies. When we came back for lunch, Vasya was telling us a little about the government system and the birth of a baby in a family—when a baby is born, the family receives money from the government. With each additional child, they receive more money. Vasya was saying for the third child, you receive $1000 (all monetary figures will be USD) when the child is born and an additional $150 every month for three years. This may not seem like much when you consider how much it costs to raise a child in America, but to put it into perspective, the average salary in Ukraine is less than $200 per month. Usually much less than this—the doctor in this hospital today was telling us that an average doctor in Ukraine makes only $100 per month. To compare, that is like saying in America, a doctor would be making a teacher’s salary—the people who are performing surgeries on a daily basis! So, in Ukraine, it means a lot to receive this money for a child. It would seem logical for the family to stop receiving money if they give up a child, but according to the law, the parents only have to visit their child in the orphanage once every 6 months to keep receiving the money. This is only one example of the corruption here.
            Today we also went to Mukachevo to tour a castle that has been there since the 9th century, I believe. The view was spectacular, and you could look in several directions and within just a few dozen kilometers were the borders of Romania, Hungary, and Slovakia. It was nice to tour something so historic and interesting.
            After the castle tour, we returned to HOM for lunch. I’m not sure they could have prepared a more tasty lunch—borscht with sour cream and crepes—two of my favorite Ukrainian dishes! Смачно! Tasty!
            Our last visit of the day was the inner city Roma camp—a different settlement than the one I visited on Sunday—I thought I was prepared for this, but it was still heartbreaking to see the conditions. When we arrived in the van, I wish I had my camera ready because the kids began chanting, “Vasya, Vasya!” It was so sweet to see that they recognize and love him. We came today to scout out the area where we will hold camp, so we could know what kind of space was available to us. People immediately wanted to show us their houses, presumably to make the needs known to Vasya. I was shocked at the filth these people were living in and around; in one corner of the settlement there was a large trash heap. Children were playing on top of the trash like it was just any other dirt hill and the people were telling Vasya that the heavy rains have produced a river of poisonous water running through the settlement and into homes. I thought I would be prepared after visiting a different settlement earlier this week, but in the other place, it was dirty just because it had rained and the mud was deep. This place, though, was covered in absolute filth. I cannot imagine having to live in these conditions with the risk of diseases that these people face. I am looking forward to having camp here; I had a chance to play with the kids while the Canadian team was planning for the camp and I think it will be so fun to play with the kids. They were just so happy and had beautiful smiling faces, just wanting to hold hands and have their pictures taken. I wish we had more time in places like this.
            Tonight when I went down for dinner, Joma put his arms up to me to be picked up, and he started singing to me, “I like to move it move it…” It was so cute—he is still learning how to speak clearly, so it was just a mumbled jumble of words. It made me happy to know that these kids are so well cared for here, and so happy despite their situations. At dinner, two kids prayed before the meal; Vasya says every child here, in every prayer, prays for Natalka’s (Natasha) legs and Joma’s back. How sweet that they care for one another so much.
Sweet baby

So tiny...big brown eyes

View from the castle in Munkacs

Team picture with Vasya

The dog looks as if he's suspended in midair :)

Interesting statue...too bad it's pagan (maybe? Our unofficial guide wasn't sure...)

Interior of the castle grounds

And then the monsoon came...started out just a little trickle...

Then a small waterfall...

Then a full blown waterfall down the steps...

Poor bride had to make a run for it while it was only slightly pouring...


...and crepes...with strawberry jam...this meal couldn't get any better...

Can you find the kite? Wayyy up in the sky...

The water these boys are standing in is toxic; poisoned by...

the trash heap these boys are playing on

Posing...such a pretty girl for such an unappealing backdrop

Crowding in for a picture

And again

This little girl followed me around so she shows up in a few...Donya is her name I believe

Vasya said the cross at the top of this Orthodox church was struck by lightning and fell down...maybe a sign from God?