Destination Ukraine 2013–Thank You!

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Thank you so much to everyone who made our trip possible.  Whether you prayed, gave financially, or shared our story with your friends, you have made a difference!

Our missions team spent 2 weeks partnering with the ministry of New Hope Center .  We worked on renovating a home for aged-out orphan boys to call home while they are attending trade school at the New Hope dairy farm.  The New Hope team said our work was a great encouragement and put new wind in their sails to keep them going in their ministry.  

Your support has blessed…

…my dad and I: by helping us to get there and knowing you are behind us all the way

…New Hope staff: by encouraging them and sending them the help they needed

…orphans and house parents: who will live in a home that should be updated and livable by the start of school in September

…aged out orphans: who we met and encouraged in their lives as they study at a government trade school

…the village of NP: who got to see what can be accomplished when believers work together for the orphan

God is doing great things in this ministry and with the Trade School in the village!  They are in the process of purchasing a 3rd group home for more students and have dreams and plans of expanding the trade school to offer more programs and reach more orphans.

Thank you from us, from them, and from all those who will be touched by this ministry in the future!

If you have missed any of my posts along the way or are just joining our story now and want to hear how this trip came about, here is the full list of blogs about our trip.  I am amazed at how God put everything together for us in just 3 months!

04/13/2013 Destination: Ukraine!

05/11/2013 Fear of Fundraising

05/18/2013 Praying Them Home

06/08/2013 Double Your Donation!

06/15/2013 Sale – Everything Must Go!

06/29/2013 Why Give?

07/13/2013 Destination Ukraine – What will you be doing? – video

07/20/2013 Destination Ukraine – Week 1 Update

07/23/2013 Reunited with Sasha!

07/27/2013 Destination Ukraine – Week 2 Update

08/10/2013 For the love of potatoes – Part II (coming soon)

08/17/2013 Join the MovieMent (coming soon)

08/24/2013 Aging Out Day – 2 Years Later

 

Destination Ukraine–Week 2 Update

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Sunday July 21
Sunday was another great day, our day of rest, worship, and exploring the city.  In the morning, Pastor John came out to the village to pick up our team and drive us into the city for Sunday morning service at New Hope Church.  My parents got to visit the church when they were here for their adoption trip last year.  And over the past year the church has grown so much that they have moved  into a new building!  The service was filled with our team, another missions team from Canada, and some other North American visitors, but there were still a lot of the usual attenders which included those who work at New Hope and graduated orphans who now attend New Hope trade school or live in the group homes.  I was so blessed by the worship and the great message that was spoken.

Pastor John & Max interpreting from the 2012 adoption trip Sunday morning worship during our visit

After lunch we headed straight to lunch.  From there we went on a much longer walking tour of the city.  We visited an outdoor market, neighboring an old orthodox church.  I love these iconic places of worship all across Eastern Europe.

The new... ...and the old

From there we went to visit New Hope Center.  I had already been the week before with Kyle, but this time we got to go with our whole team.  It was a good time to relax and also hear about the ministry of the center from Max, the trade school director.  He explained the main components of the ministry-the drop in center for the aged-out orphans, group homes in the city for orphans attending government trade school, the trade school in the village with their group homes, and a new mentoring program for orphans still in the orphanage.   Max shared all of this with us as we were sitting in the meeting/counseling room of the center.  He said this is the main room they use when planning and dreaming for the ministry and when orphans visit the center and a need a place to talk or some counseling, they bring them into this room.  Who knows how many lives have already been changed because of the conversations that were shared in this room.  I prayed that in the near future, Sasha would soon be visiting New Hope and be able to have some meaningful conversations in this very room, in his own language, with the wonderful servants who have given their lives for these kids.

Dad & I in front of New Hope New Hope (in Ukrainian)

After visiting New Hope, we were recharged and ready for some more exploring. 
While we were exploring, Kyle asked if we had made plans yet to see Sasha.  We still did not.  Our days were numbered and I hoped Pastor John and his team were still working on getting us permission to see  him.  I called him to check in and see if they had any news yet, but they were still waiting for confirmation from his boarding school.  They could say ‘no’ or have a dozen different excuses why we could not see him.  I prayed and prayed that we could see him before we left, we only had 5 days remaining!
We visited some other landmarks and special places in the city… including the ‘red river’.  Manufacturing is probably the biggest industry in the city, there are factories of many kinds. And with the standards not being similar to those in the States, there is this one waterway that literally is reddish-orange because of the pollution.  From there, we visited some more sites, had dinner at a French/Italian restaurant called “Fiesta”…things in Ukraine confuse me sometimes. c; We spent our long day of rest in the city walking, but it was a nice break from our work, we were re-charged and ready to go for another week!

The team!

Monday July 22
Time to get back to work!  Monday was another day of work at the group home.  We were joined by 2 new guys this time who have been graduated from the orphanage for just 1 year and are attending government trade school and living in a New Hope apartment in the city.  It was so great to have them with us. 
I was still hanging in suspense waiting to hear if Sasha would be able to come stay with us in the village. We still had not heard anything from Pastor John and started to worry if that meant it was a “no”.  Then, while I was working, we got the news that he could come!!! Pastor John got permission for us to pick up Sasha from his camp, he could stay with us for the rest of our time in Ukraine, then after we left, Pastor John would take him back to his summer camp.  I was so excited! They said all they were waiting on was the official letter giving us permission from his boarding school director, and then we would be good!  The only thing left was we did not know where his camp was exactly, so they wanted me to call Sasha and have him give us directions.  Me? Get directions?  In Russian? From a kid who probably pays no attention to directions at all and has no idea where we’re coming from or how to communicate that to me in my 3-year-old level Russian vocabulary? Sure!  At least that meant I could call him and tell him the good news! 
I called him and he answered right away.  When I told him we would see him tomorrow, in amazement he said, “Vow! Klasna!” (Wow! Cool!)  He sounded just as surprised as I was that we were actually going to see each other tomorrow. He was so excited.  I tried to get some idea of where the
Me "nesting" - cleaning up for Sasha's arrival!camp was, but was rather unsuccessful.  I beckoned Anya to help us understand.  She tried her best too but still had a hard time understanding.  We got the most info we could from Sasha and knew we would figure out how to get there somehow.  Tomorrow! I can’t believe it!
I spent the rest of the day very excited and sort of stunned that it was actually happening. Before we knew it, we got word that Pastor John had the signed and stamped letter in hand.  We made some other phone calls and Google searches and figured out where the camp was.  Then I started “nesting” – cleaning up random things to get ready for Sasha to come.  …like sweeping the outdoor eating area, which was actually a perpetual mess, like sweeping a dirt floor. But I didn’t care, I was going to see my Sasha in 24 hours!
Once everything was in order, I jumped back into the rest of the team’s activities.  That afternoon we planned to actually visit the farm where the trade school students learn the ins and outs of dairy farming.  In just a short 15 minute walk to the other side of the village, we were  at the farm.  It was really cool to finally see the place I had heard about for the last year.  Growing up in the suburbs, I don’t know a thing about farming, and I have been pleasantly surprised by all the things that go into training these students – it’s a serious and involved career!

Welcome to the New Hope Dairy Farm1 & 2 day old calvesThe 'teenage' cows

The boys who spent the day with us were really looking forward to seeing their friend who is a student at the trade school.  Although classes are not in session for the summer, he was able to stay and live and work on the farm.  Garry, the owner of the farm and trade school instructor, explained that when M started, academics was not really his strength, but he has proven to be one of the hardest workers in the program.  We saw this to be true when we visited.  Even when his friends came over to chat with him, he did not skip a beat and kept working as they talked… he even showed them how to do what he was doing and put them to work! C;

M did not skip a beat while chatting with his friends

One of the boys who came to spend the day with us, wanted to buy some milk from M to take back to the city.  For them, it probably seemed like nothing, but to me it was a big deal to witness this exchange.  Statistically, these boys should be living on the streets or stealing, they should be wasting any money they get on things that are only going to destroy their lives.   But what I saw that day was 2 lives that have been changed by a ministry – doing honorable work and learning how to actually live.  I cannot say I know exactly what their futures hold, but I do know if their adulthood is beginning like this, their futures should be all the more brighter than the enemy intended for them. 
On our way back from the farm, we did a prayer walk.  We individually prayed for New Hope, the students, the village, and all the plans God has for this ministry as we walked from the farm to a new home they are in the process of purchasing.  When we got to the soon-to-be House 3 for new students to live in, we circled up to pray together.  It was one of the most serious times of the trip.  I could sense God’s presence and felt that the works we are doing and seeing now are just small seeds and this is only the beginning.  As we were in prayer, a local lady approached our circle.   Rosa introduced herself in English and asked if we are Canadian.  (New Hope is a Canadian ministry and get Canadian visitors often in the village.)  In her broken English she said she is a Christian and prays too and thanked us for coming.  Wow. That was huge.  It is especially rare that older locals are open to visitors, missionaries, and the Gospel.  Rosa approaching  us and sharing that with us was incredible.  It was one of the clearest affirmations of the trip that God is really doing a work in this small village, not only for orphans, but for everyone.
Soon-to-be House 3We prayed for House 3, that everything would go smoothly as the old owner moves out and New Hope takes ownership.  We also pray for the funds that will be needed to renovate the home, and for the house parents and orphans we do not yet know who God is drawing to live here. 
After that, we walked to the other side of the village to visit House 1, the home where 4 girls who attend the trade school live.  We met the house mom and her older children who live there in the summer too.  It was a beautiful home and you could just tell by the warmth, photos hanging on the walls, that the girls are being nurtured and loved in this home. 
While we have been working hard and hearing a lot about the ministry of New Hope, today was really the day so many facets of God’s blessing on this ministry came to life for our team.

Tuesday July 23 
On Tuesday, we were finally reunited with Sasha!  It was a day that took my dad and I on a rollercoaster of emotions… and deserved a blog post all on its own.  Click here to read about our day with Sasha.

Wednesday July 24
Dad, Kyle, and I got back very late from visiting Sasha. By the time we got to the village, everyone else on the team was already asleep.  That plus the exhaustion of running the full gamut of emotions made me sleep in a little later than usual on Wednesday.  This was the last full day we would be together as a team and we still had a lot of work to do!
I spent a lot of time with these little plants!While we were gone the day before, the guys had gotten a lot of work done.  The guys said the finished working the potato field yesterday, but I had to go out and see it for myself.  I spent most of my morning continuing to weed and make it look as clean as possible… plus it was therapeutic to be alone with my thoughts in the huge garden on my own.  I felt really accomplished when I was finally able to walk away knowing I did the best I could with the sad plants that had been neglected most of the spring.  Plus I had a lot of metaphorical ideas of this whole thing that are going to be a follow up post to my Potato Post I wrote about my missions trip to Estonia in 2010.  C;
While I was working on that, my dad and the guys worked hard on a new fence between the driveway and the small garden in the front yard.  Before, there was barely a fence to be seen.  It was not even half the length of the driveway and it was hardly standing.  Within a matter of 2 days, my dad led a project that made a brand new one… entirely out of leftover wood found around the property.

Dad & the fence before Teamwork rebuilding the fence

Before & After

It is small things like cleaning the garden and fixing broken fences that make a big difference for New Hope’s reputation in the village.  If the home were to stay in disrepair and the garden to remain overgrown, the locals develop a very negative impression of the ministry and the work ethic of those who live there.  It is so significant to the ministry and the village to visibly represent honorable living modeled after Christ’s example.  It is our prayer that the work we did in these 2 weeks will mend some negative impressions that were created over the last year and get the new house-parents and boys off to a good start for this upcoming academic year!
After our time of work, we finished our last full day together as a team with a little reunion with the boys we met the week before.  We had hoped that they would be able to come and work with us again, but they had more final exams at the trade school that they could not miss.  I am honestly impressed at how committed they are to their schooling.  So instead, Kyle planned for us to get a ride into the city to meet up with them for a goodbye dinner.
Masha, who works at New Hope as the interpreter for trade school classes, was able to join us.  It was a huge blessing to meet her and to have her help in communicating with the boys.  Only 2 of them were able to make it, but it was still a really good time.  The boys were able to give us insight into their lives and what it is like in the trade school.  It was so cool to hear the dreams they have and the professions they are passionate about.  One of the boys just finished his second year.  Some students can choose to stop studying after 2 years and begin to work.  But he is choosing to continue studying.  The other boy has been studying for 3 years and this year he beings what sounds like an internship program, where he is still considered a student but will be working most of the semester rather than attending classes. 
This boy is so determined and I was so incredibly blessed to meet him and hear the stories Kyle shared about him.  He works very hard and cares for his older family
members.  I met him the first time we came into town, but he was unable to come work in the village when the other guys came.  He spent the weekend at the sea with some friends (it just so happened to be the same city where Sasha’s camp was.) While he was there, he bought Kyle a magnet and a cell phone charm for me and he gave them to us when we sat down to eat.  I was so incredibly honored.  Kyle said he thinks the boy was almost crying when he gave the gift to him.  I don’t know him nearly as well as Kyle does, but Kyle said it meant so much to get this from him.  He has very little and yet thought of us and wanted to bless us.  I immediately put the shell and beaded charm on my phone… and I don’t know if I will ever be able to remove it.  I love the constant reminder of these boys and pray for them every time I see it on my phone… and am honored to share their stories whenever someone asks about my beloved Eastern European cell phone accessory.    
After dinner, Kyle talked with the boys, with the help of Masha.  He gave them some more words of encouragement and blessed them with a gift as well.  We hung out with them a little more and ventured across the city for our favorite McDonald’s ice cream cones.  Before we knew it, it was time for our drive back to the village and we had to say our goodbyes.  I’m so glad we got this extra time with these two.  Although our time together was short, I have been able to stay in contact with both of them online and can’t wait to continue to hear how things are going in their lives and support them however I can from back home.

Thursday July 25
Thursday was our real last day together as a team.  We got some work done in the morning, and then half of the team had to leave after dinner.  I can’t believe it came so fast!
The men were still working hard in the house hanging drywall, mudding, and sanding it and I only went in the construction area to take pictures.  c; My dad thought that we could spend the day cleaning out the garage.  While it was not glamorous or vitally necessary, it would be just another way we could help the new house parents and future construction teams on their way to improving the home.  While the other young guys on the team and I looked at the garage, we wondered if there was even any hope for it.  But we just took it one step at a time and were able to finish the entire project before dinner.  Emptied out the entire space, swept seemingly decades of dust and scraps out, reorganized and move everything back in, and dad made a shelf out of the final leftover pieces of wood.   It was actually pretty cool to see the place transformed in a matter of hours!

BeforeEverything moved into the yardEmptiedAfter!

Over the course of the two weeks we stayed at the house, we got to know the neighbor lady who lived next-door.  We started to call her Mrs. Wilson because she was like Wilson on Home Improvement who would stick his head over the fence to talk, just like she did. She loved to bring us food… potatoes, apricots, and even rolled an entire wheelbarrow of corn right into the kitchen.  She blessed us with food and many laughs!  Since it was our last day there, we wanted to give her a gift to remember us by and as a thank you for all she shared with us.  Anya went over to the fence, got her attention and told her we wanted to give her something.  I don’t know why, but it was just so funny to us, we laughed a lot.  We gave her some special things we brought from the US and she was so grateful.  Later on in the day, she came over with a piece of fabric full of a pins her son had collected over the years.  There were so many cool ones from the Soviet days, various "Pavilon Rossi - Leningrad"Olympics, childhood cartoon characters, and souvenirs he collected from various cities.  She let us take as many as we wanted.  It was such a cool way to show her thankfulness back to us.  I chose a pin from Leningrad, as the modern-day city of St. Petersburg was called under the USSR days, which is the first city that made me fall in love with Eastern Europe.   What a cool memento to remind me of where God has brought me since that first trip 9 years ago.
After our work, and fun with Mrs. Wilson, we had a final dinner with everyone. 
Pastor John & Ev – the missionaries from Canada – joined us, as well as Max & Anya and their daughter Katya – directors of the New Hope Trade School – and Vitaliy & Vika – the contractor who worked with us the whole trip and his wife is the psychologist for the orphans at New Hope.  We spent time with each of them throughout the trip, but it was great to have everyone together.  We shared some goodbye speeches, thank yous, tears, and a big beautiful cake! 
We had such great hosts on our trip and I am amazed at how God is using all of them together in the ministry of New Hope.  Each of their own talents and passions is being put to work for the sake of reaching orphans with God’s love. It was not long before Pastor John & Ev had to take Kyle, Steven, Ben, & Michael to the train station and the rest of us stayed behind.  We created some great bonds as we worked together over the past 2 weeks on this mission.

The whole team & our hosts/partners! 

Here’s a before & after video of the construction project!

Friday July 26
Friday was kind of a weird day after half of our team had already left.  The way our plane tickets worked out, they left one day before us.  With them gone, it didn’t feel the same, but I sure enjoyed the time I had left in Ukraine!
We did some final work cleaning up the garden in the front and other touches to the rooms the guys were working on in the house.  We took one more walk around the village to our favorite convenient store and the hardware/housewares store.  The ladies at the stores took a little while, but eventually warmed up to our team and our weird American behaviors… oh you know little things like smiling, laughing, buying 10 ice cream bars daily, and asking to purchase their abacuses.  C;
A few things to note about the photo below – over the course of the trip my dad bought out their whole stock of sweet iced tea “ice tea” in Ukraine, so he had to give in and start drinking iced green tea; I purchased a little waffle cookie which I took out of the package by hand, and then it needed to be weighed to determine the price… who knows how many hands touched it or when was the last time the scale was cleaned… but it was delicious!; and the wooden abacus which the ladies still use to calculate the total for every transaction! Tim & Kyle both bought 2 old ones from them because they were so cool.

I spy... an abacus, 2 bottles of green tea, & a cookie on a scale

We had one more great lunch thanks to Anya and Vika.  The ladies were so wonderful and made us the best meals all week!  I had so many of my favorite Ukrainian foods which are always so much better when they are homemade with love.  Right as we were finishing up, John arrived to drive us to the train station.  We had a short time of some more goodbyes, loaded up the van, and were headed to a neighboring city to catch the train back to Kiev.
It was so sad to be leaving, but I knew the time had come.  Pastor John was so great to take care of us and help us around and get us to the train station, to the right platform, and all of our stuff loaded on the train.  Another quick goodbye, then it was just the 4 of us Americans left on the train to make our way back to the airport. 

The final 4 - headed back to the US 

The fast train was just about 1 year old and so nice!The ‘fast train’ was so nice! It was less than 2 years old and was better than some planes I have been on!  Even on the fast track, we were on the train from about 6pm until right after midnight.  It really didn’t feel like 6 hours, especially when I spent most of the daylight time enjoying the sights of Ukraine countryside, not wanting to waste any minute I had left in this country.
Before it got too late, I wanted to call Sasha to let him know we were on our way home.  He asked when we would be back and it was so hard to say “Ya ni znayu” (I don’t know).  I jokingly asked him when he would be coming to America and he said he really wants to come back.  We chatted a little about the rest of his summer and I got a better idea of what his future will be like this fall.  He moves into the trade school to study car mechanics at the end of August, he doesn’t know where he will be living yet, he said he’s glad to be going but will miss some of the younger kids at his boarding school.  He really wants us to start calling him again, so I’m looking forward to hearing from him regularly like before he said nyet to adoption.  We hung up after a few more I love yous…
It’s still so difficult to process everything that has happened on this trip.  But I can say that words can’t describe how thankful I am that my dad and I were able to reconnect with Sasha.  We did not come here for that purpose, we did come to help New Hope and invest in the ministry to help them reach orphans like Sasha.  Before Sasha knew we were coming, I had no idea if he even wanted to see us.  Over the past year, we have only heard from him directly a few times.  By last September, we already knew he regretted his decision to turn-down adoption, but that did not guarantee that he was still interested in seeing us or maintaining a relationship.  And some people in our situation may not have been interested in maintaining a relationship out of bitterness or fear of further pain.  But I love him too much to not keep trying, and I know my parents feel the same way too. 
With all that in mind, there are so many things that I am grateful for about our time with him: he wanted to see us, he was genuinely excited to see us, he was not embarrassed to have us around, he gave us hugs-which were not common when we hosted him, he wanted to spend several days with us-which he didn’t want on the adoption trip, he cares about our family at home, he wants to go to the US again,  he says he always smiles when he’s with us-and he has the biggest smile in the world, he still calls my parents mama & papa, he didn’t run off-like hosting-and stayed around for a long goodbye and let me hug him and cry, he always answers my phone calls and puts up with my terribly butchered Russian conversations, he’s 17 years old and ready to be on his own and not too proud to want to have us in his life, he always replies he is praying for us too when I tell him I am praying for him…
I think I could go on and on…

Saturday July 27
We got into Kiev a little after midnight.  I had a horrible time dragging my 49 pound Late night dinner at McD'ssuitcase through the train station, up and down stairs, and through cobblestone streets with a broken wheel.  I don’t think I could have done it on my own!
Our plane did not leave until 5am, so we had some time to kill and went to McDonald’s for midnight dinner and last chance Wi-Fi.  You’d be surprised how packed McDonald’s is at all hours of the day here! 
After a while, they closed on us and we were just in time to take the shuttle to the airport.  But this time, it was about 2-3am.  The lack of sleep, plus the emotional exhaustion of the trip, and various changes of time zones really put me in a semi-conscious state for the rest of the day. 
We took our flight from Kiev to Frankfurt.  Still very exhausted with lots of time to kill we found another McDonald’s and I pretty much slept there.  My dad and I thought we had lots of spare time but should at least check to see if our flight was on time.  We left Tim & Evan with plans to come back and hang out with them, but when we got to check on our flight we realized it was already boarding!  Got on the plane just in time!We were almost the last ones on the plane. Thank God we got up to check on the flight when we did!  The only bad thing was we didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to our other half.  :C
The trans-Atlantic flight from Frankfurt to Newark seemed to go pretty quickly, considering I was still not fully awake or asleep.  It was bittersweet to land back in the USA.  I was glad we traveled safe, but I would much rather have been in Ukraine than in the US… and felt that way for a long time after returning.  
After 1 more flight from NY to OH, we were finally home.  It was a total of 36 hours between the time we left the village until we landed at our final destination.  I was exhausted but my heart was full.  I am never ready to leave Eastern Europe and always ready to plan another trip.  I don’t know when my next will be, but you can be sure you will know about it when it comes!  

Thank you so much to everyone for your support and prayers!
We could not have done any of this on our own!

Check out my Facebook page for more photos and videos!
Ukraine 2013 Photo Album –
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.900656744656.1073741835.15504408&type=1&l=7bfd82b095

Videos –
https://www.facebook.com/JenelleAC/media_set?set=vb.15504408&type=2

Wordless Week–Oceans

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Why Give?

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We have been supported by so many great partners along this journey already!  Lately I have been thinking back to my first post about this trip – Fear of Fundraising.  I had so many fears about why this should not work out… but it has in so many ways! 

I’ve been so blessed by everyone’s willingness to partner with our mission.  It’s so great to get a donation, but in the last few weeks I asked some people what specifically prompted them to give. The answers have been so encouraging to me… just to see how each person’s generosity came from a different place in their heart. 

WhyGive01

WhyGive03

 

WhyGive02

WhyGive04

This is just a little glimpse at the heart behind some of our supporters! We still have several hundred dollars that need to be raised by June 5th! Will you join these friends in helping us get to Ukraine?

You can give easily and securely online –http://fnd.us/c/5W3p3

…and feel free to comment explaining why you give. =)

 

Fear of Fundraising

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Let’s just get it out there – “Hi, my name is Jenelle, and I’m afraid of fundraising.”  There.  I said it.  The elephant in the room has been addressed. 

When I first committed to going on a missions trip to Ukraine this summer, there was not any hesitation in my mind.  This is something that I need to do.  I must do this for Sasha.  I must do this for my God who gave everything for me.

But now, reality has hit.  It’s time to get to work and actually make this thing happen.  Together my dad and I need to raise $4,000 plus several $1,000s more to go towards the building & ministry we are working with…. in less than 2 months. 

Now all these questions and doubts come to my mind:

-Where will this money come from?
-Everyone you know has their own financial needs to worry about.
-It’s hard enough to raise the money for 1 person, let alone 2 people.
-Everyday that passes just means the airfare will get more expensive.
-You can’t rely on people to keep helping pay for trips that you keep going on.
-It’s too late, you should have started doing this months ago.
-Everyone will just ignore your pleas for donations.
-Didn’t you just ask people for a ton of money for an adoption 1 year ago… that didn’t even work out?

…and honestly, fear sets in.  The easy thing to do would be to give into that fear, give up, back out, and not go.

But giving into fear is not going to please God.  Giving into fear is not going to give hope and future to orphans.  Giving into fear is not going to communicate to my forever Ukrainian brother in one huge (and possibly final) way that I will do everything in my power to show him he is loved.

And so here I am, ready to say ‘no’ to fear and ‘Use me Lord!’ to The One I know who will provide for my every need. 

Today starts a faith challenge for me, a challenge to trust God to provide $2,000 for me to get back to Ukraine, to build a place for orphans, and my brother, to call home.  I will not rely on other people to get me there, I will rely on God… God working through my believing brothers and sisters, to get me there. 

If you feel led to let the Lord use you to help me get to Ukraine, there are 2 things you can do:

  1. Download our Support Letter by clicking here and read how to give directly to our trip.
  2. Bid on something in my Facebook auction! It is a collection of items I have purchased new or ‘upcycled’ in a new crafting kick. In this auction, you type your bid in the comments and the highest bid on May 27th will be the winner! Get something for yourself, to decorate your kid’s room, classroom, homeschool room, or as a gift for someone who loves that part of the world! Click here to see items up for auction!

Cool stuff goes to the highest bidder!

Thank you for your support and prayers as God continues to grow my faith through this challenge!

For I am the Lord your God
who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear;
I will help you.
Isaiah 41:13 (NIV)

Wordless Week–“Kings & Queens”

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Guest Post–What Christmas Means to Me

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Today, I have my very first guest post!  This post is from Katie, one of my fellow NHFC volunteers.  This post she wrote a few weeks ago was very insightful and inspiring.  I have thought of Christmas in a whole new way since reading it.  Enjoy!

Everyone who knows me tends to associate me with Christmas. I get random texts that usually go something like this… “I saw a blow up snowman at Lowes today and thought of you.” Or “I found Christmas cookie cutters at a yard sale and thought of you.” Or “You’d be so proud of me. I bought a Christmas present for someone, and it’s still only August.” It’s common knowledge that I adore Christmas and celebrate it year round. My iPhone has a Christmas countdown app on the main screen, so I will ALWAYS know how many days are left (crucial information). I listen to my Christmas music from January to December. I watch The Nativity Story in August. I sing “Oh Christmas Tree” in the shower. I leave several pieces of Christmas decor up in my house year round, simply because I can’t bear to put it away. My family believes I may have issues… I believe they may be right. But it’s ok… I’ve made my peace with it and embrace who I am :-)

The question is WHY do I love it so much? Most people get exhausted just thinking about Christmas and all the stress it brings (the shopping, the social schedule, the twisted lights, the excessive commercialism, and all sorts of other things that stress people out during the season). They wonder how a celebration of Joy, Hope, and Peace so quickly turns into stress, heartburn, and depression.

Christmas evokes powerful emotion from me for reasons that may come as an interesting surprise to some. When the enemy convinced Adam and Eve to turn away from God in the Garden of Eden, perfection shattered, and we were separated from God. The enemy danced in victory and caused all manner of carnage and destruction on earth and in the lives of all the people that God created and loves. But just at the right moment in time, Jesus came into the world in the most unlikely and shocking way to bring man back to God and bridge the gap. The element of surprise. A swift and decisive “checkmate” out of nowhere. A landed invasion. Nobody expected it. Certainly not the enemy. Christmas is a celebration of that amazing piece of history that shifted the course of humanity and offered hope where there was none before.

Decisive surprise victories draw visceral responses from us. When James Bond looks as though he has lost and suddenly delivers a surprise blow out of nowhere and walks off calmly into the distance as the enemy is seen stunned and plummeting to his doom, we fist pump the sky from our theater seats. When a chess player appears to have lost but suddenly moves a key piece into a decisive checkmate and cracks a slight smile knowing what he was doing all along, we get thrilled. When a football team calls a “Statue Of Liberty” trick play and wins the game to the shock of their opponent and the entire stadium of fans, we throw our bowl of chips in the air and excessively celebrate in our living rooms (Shout out to Boise State fans). When Frodo finally destroys the one ring and Sauron’s freaky eyeball goes wide with shock and utter surprise as his tower crumbles and topples in defeat, we rejoice. When a poker player lays down a surprise royal flush and laughs as a Mount Everest sized pile of chips moves from the opponent to him, we laugh along with him. These are all things that evoke wild delight, cheering, and hysteria out of us. They are things that make us leap out of our chair and scream “YESSS!!!!!!” (Or if you’re a calm, rational individual very unlike myself, you remain in your chair and clap in a dignified poised manner).

THAT is what Christmas means to me. And just as we throw our Superbowl parties, celebrate victories, and gleefully call up all our friends the moment a new Bond movie comes out, Christmas is a massive celebration to me. Sure, snowmen and reindeer have nothing to do with Jesus birth, but hey…. showering confetti and giant foam #1 gloves have nothing to do with the game of football either. It’s just all part of the ecstatic celebration. I do it in fun and as part of the joy of the victory and the ramifications of that victory.

I listen to The Nativity Story soundtrack a lot while I’m working in my home office, and by the time I get to “Is There A Place for Us” (otherwise known as Ring Christmas Bells. Track 17 if you care), as Jesus is just about to enter the world and change EVERYTHING, I’m usually up out of my office chair looking something like this…

REVERSE THE CURSE, BABY!!!!!

That’s what Christmas means to me. “The Lord your God… turned the curse into a blessing for you, because THE LORD YOUR GOD LOVES YOU!!” -Deut. 23:5

He wrote Himself into our story and became human and reversed the curse on humanity and gave us hope and life! The ultimate hero!

So what am I going to do to celebrate this Christmas?? Well, I’m going to host an orphan through New Horizons for Children and celebrate my absolutely favorite holiday by giving hope and joy to a child who has lived far too long without it. I am going to share the JOY and give it out freely instead of confining it within myself. I’m going to bring clothes, food, and HOPE to those in my local community who have none. You can tell me I’m overboard and to calm down, but you can’t stop the wellspring of victory celebration from spilling out of my heart and my smile. You can’t wipe the smile off the face of a fan whose team just won the Superbowl… and you can’t wipe the joy off my face either.

This Christmas, I encourage you to find what God created you to do and go do it with JOY in celebration and revelry that we are NO LONGER without hope! Perhaps you can join me in opening your home to an orphan and shower them with the true meaning of Christmas. Most of them have never even heard of this extraordinary love the Father has lavished on us!

70 days till Christmas…

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night…

If you would like to read more from Katie, you can visit her blog here – http://summer4anastasia.wordpress.com/

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