Saturday July 13
We had a fairly smooth travel. Took one flight to Chicago, then to Dusseldorf, Germany.  I packed all my clothes in my roll-aboard carry-on, with the express purpose of knowing my checked luggage could get lost, so at least I would have my clothes in my carry on. But no. They had to take my carry on from me in Chicago, which then got lost, and I didn’t see my clothes again till Tuesday! We also sat on the runway in Chicago for almost 2 hours which put us way behind for the next flight.

Sunday July 14
We got to Germany much later than expected and just missed our connecting flight to Kiev.  It was the only flight going to Ukraine that day, so they rebooked us to fly to Munich, and then to Kiev from there. It ended up being a good detour because once we got to Munich we ended up meeting and being on the same flight with Tim and Evan, another father and son who are on our team.  Thank goodness we were told to wear our team shirts, or we might not have even known it was them! (My dad and I have never met any of the 6 other people who are on our missions team.)
From there we met the rest of our team in Kiev… after 30 minutes of trying to find my lost luggage. It was great to finally meet everyone. From there we took a bus ride for about 30 minutes to the train station. It was so good to be in Ukraine! I love this country! We got to the train station and grabbed some McDonald’s before we had to get our overnight train to the region.  We totally looked like Americans…dragging our 15 suitcases around the brick streets and into McDonald’s.  When we got there, Kyle, our leader, ordered cheeseburgers for everyone… but there was some miscommunication and we ended up with wayyyy more than we wanted.  It was hilarious and a great way to break the ice with our team that had just met.
Tim & 23 cheeseburgers
After our last “American” meal, we headed to the train station and jumped on the awesomely but not intentionally historic Soviet slow train.  I’ve heard horror stories about these stifling, uncomfortable train cars… thankfully our experience was great.  For a little while, all 8 of us piled into one room for our first team meeting, then we split up into our 2 separate rooms to be rocked to sleep by the clicking of railroad tracks. I was loving this experience already!

Monday July 15
The sun set and then rose again and we were still on the train.  After about 10 hours total, we made it to the city where we would be staying.  Pastor John, missionary at New Hope, was there to pick us up. It was so great to finally meet him after communicating via Facebook and email for over a year.  He’s an incredible man with a passion for God and the people and orphans of Ukraine.  We loaded up his van with all our stuff, went out for breakfast, and grocery shopping for the team.  I loved being in the city that I was only able to visit for half-a-day in 2011 and where my parents stayed during the adoption trip. My dad definitely remembered his way around and pointed out where they stayed and ate and hung out with Sasha. 
After about a 45 minute drive, we made it to village where we would be staying.  The small village has the New Hope farm and trade school as well as 2 group homes for orphans studying there.  Our job for 2 weeks was to work on construction in the new bedrooms, bathrooms, and kitchen that are being added to the boy’s house.  Within a few hours of arriving and getting settled, materials were delivered, moved, and the team got to work… and dad sliced open his finger!

Tuesday July 16
Such a fun day.  I had to go back into the city with Kyle because I needed to be there to receive my lost luggage. We took the public bus into the city, which is over an hour ride with frequent stops. It is so cool to really live the way people do in this part of the country.  Then we traveled the city on foot, making a couple stops, and visiting the New Hope Center in the city.  This is the original center of the ministry, a drop-in center for older orphans who attend the local public trade schools and other ministry.  This was where my luggage would be delivered and where Kyle arranged to meet up with some of the boys he taught and ministered to when he lived in Ukraine 2 years ago.  It was so cool to be along for the ride and see him reunite with so many boys he had gotten to know.  He had helped them move into their trade school when they first left the orphanage 2 years ago and it was truly one of the highlights of my trip to see how well they are doing…working, taking care of family, and taking final exams to continue on in their education.  While we hung around the center waiting for my luggage, I got to play ping-pong and foosball with some of the guys and met Max who is the director of New Hope trade school.  After my luggage came (praise the Lord!) Kyle and I took 6 of the boys out around the city to do some errands and treat them to ice cream.  It was hilarious to be walking with them through the sidewalks and streets as they kicked and tossed a soccer ball together.  They tried to teach me how to spin it on my finger, so in the process, I was guilty of having to chase after it a few times too. 
One really cool moment was when we were at McDonald’s sitting outside eating ice cream, and an elderly lady came by with a cup asking for money.  In all honesty, I tried to ignore her, but it was difficult with her right on my shoulder.  The guys tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t leave.  Then one of the boys reached for his wallet and gave her some money.  He didn’t seem to think much of it, but to Kyle and I it was a powerful moment.  The orphan giving to the widow… it could be a post all on its own.
As we were walking through the city, I couldn’t help but think of how these guys are 17, 18, 19 years old… they’ve already been out on their own for 2 years… and they are still kids!   They are managing fairly well, but it hurt to think they are doing it without any parents to check in on them, help them buy books, make sure they studied for their tests, take them out to eat at the end of the school year, help them move into a new dorm in the fall…none of that.  We only spent part of the day together, but I was so blessed by our time together and couldn’t wait until they would come to work with us in the village on Thursday!

Kyle reuniting with one of the guysNew Hope Center  Yeah I love them already

Wednesday July 17
Not a whole lot happening on Wednesday.  The guys worked on drywall and I had no womanly tasks to do yet besides taking pictures… the perks of being the only girl on the team. Winking smile 

But I did take a trip to the sunflower field at the edge of the town, they go on and on as far as your eye can see.  Just another thing I love about Ukraine!
A little droopy but still beautiful!

Thursday July 18
On Thursday, John brought 6 of the boys we met on Tuesday from the city out to the village to work with us!  They all went to the orphanage where Kyle served 2 years ago and are now in the government trade school, not New Hope, so this was a cool opportunity to keep them connected with the ministry even when they aren’t a part of the academic program.  We had so much fun with them and they worked very hard.  We spent a lot of time together in the big garden behind the house. We would weed, rake, take a break.  One of the boys ran out to the sunflower field behind the garden, plucked a huge flower off the stalk, cut it up into quarters, and we ate the seeds right off the flower! I couldn’t resist anything they offered to me… tiny unripe apples and apricots off the tree, or tomatoes from off the ground…. and they weren’t that bad!

At lunch time, we were all eating together, and I looked around the huge table and realized something big time.  There were 7 other guys from our team, 3 Ukrainian men who led the construction project, 6 boys from the trade school, and me. The only girl. I must say, I was completely in my element and loved every moment.

One of these things is not like the other
After lunch we worked some more, took the boys to the village store for the daily afternoon ice cream break, watched them play soccer with the local kids.  Two of the boys weren’t able to spend the night, but the other 4 did.  After dinner, we hung out and played Uno. It was such a great day of having them with us and including them as part of our team!
Dad made stilts, we had fun trying them out

Video from Thursday–get a tour around the home, garden, and meet some of the guys.

Friday July 19
Friday, I volunteered to help Kyle with breakfast, so we woke up early before everyone else.  I must say, I felt somewhat motherly that morning, especially after seeing the guys still soundly sleeping in their beds around the house.  It was fun to help make breakfast for everyone.  Since I was feeling especially motherly, I made sure fruit was included in our meal, which had not been very common when traveling with 7 men.  It was a cool pre-motherhood moment when the boys got up, enjoyed their breakfast, and even ate all the apples I had cut up. Winking smile
We spent more time working in the garden in the morning.  We were kind of done weeding potatoes, so before I got out there, the trade school guys started on the corn.  When I got out to the garden, our favorite neighbor lady was there telling the boys that the corn was not worth weeding because it was pretty much already ruined.  (The garden hadn’t been kept well at all this spring.) Before it could even be discussed, one of the guys left and came back with the tiller and started chopping down all the corn.  We had intended to try and save it, but by the time Kyle saw, it was too late and most of the corn was gone.  It became another joke of the trip…not so funny at first, now I look back and laugh.
Before we knew it, it was time for the boys to go back to the city.  It was hard to say goodbye.  They made working so much more fun.  I really hoped we’d see them again.

It was sad and quiet after the guys left.  But our work continued and I spent even more time in the potato field… which will be a new blog post in itself! 
That evening, I called one of Sasha’s best friends, Y, who was hosted with him and graduated one year ago.    Y and I chat pretty regularly online and once he knew we were coming to Ukraine, he really wanted to meet up with us.  He’s currently working pretty far from where we were, but he said he wanted to meet with us anyways and he would come to us.  I really hoped he would! 
Meanwhile, I had been trying to call Sasha too… however the number I had wasn’t working for him.  However, on Thursday night, I got another number for him and it worked!  We sent a couple texts, then I couldn’t help myself and had to just call him.  It was so great to hear his voice.  It was the first time I talked to him on the phone in over a year! (In the past year we have only been in contact on Facebook, and sending letters and messages through friends.) He sounded so great, was very glad to hear from dad and I. He really wanted to see us. Made my heart happy to hear him say he misses us, "I love you" in English, and said he always smiles when he’s with us – which is a new one!  We didn’t have exact plans yet to see him, but we had already come so far, we had to figure out a way to see him one way or another!

Saturday July 20
Saturday was a break from working day.  We got to explore the city all on our own.  Some of us went to a market where they sell absolutely everything….hardware, clothes, kitchen gadgets, food… you name it, you could find it there.  It was huge, we could have spent hours there…and we kinda did.  We stopped at a stand on the street to get a shawarma roll for lunch.  They looked awesome, and mine was pretty good.  We later found out that they are not know for being the best food out there, there are jokes about them being made of cats, dogs, and pigeons… think the US equivalent of a street vendor’s hot dogs.  But hey, we did it, we enjoyed it, and we survived to tell about it! 

That night, Vitaly, the contractor who was leading our contruction project, and his wife Vika, invited us over for banya and shashlik – aka sauna and shishkabobs.  It’s a big part of the Slavic culture and I was so excited for this special evening.  I didn’t last long in the banya, one quick trip was enough for me… but my dad loved it! And the dinner was wonderful.  It’s been so cool to be so welcomed by everyone we meet.  Thank you God for the relationships and partnerships that are being built in our midst!
Vitaliy cooking up some sashlikDad's ready for another go at the banya

Thank you so much to everyone for your support and prayers! We have another week of work ahead of us. Stay tuned for more updates!

Check out my Facebook page for more photos and videos!

Ukraine 2013 Photo Album –

Videos –