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zhenya kostyaRecently, I went to a birthday party. Igor turned 30-something and invited all the guys in the church to gather at a dacha in a nearby village. We cooked up chicken and potatoes and opened a couple of bottles of preserved tomatoes and pickles and took it in turns to dehydrate in the sauna. It was a special afternoon.

Just before we ate, I looked around at the men, (23 of them), and felt deep appreciation for that way in which God has blessed me with brothers who love Him, and then for the fact that all but one of them seemingly love God and are giving Him glory with their lives. There is little doubt that some of them will leave our Lord’s side. But I still felt as if this group was like an American Pit Bull Terrier - powerful and already spiritually muscular. I’ll enjoy seeing what the Lord does with them in the future.

These two guys to the right are doing great.  They are both now in the third stage.  Kostya looks like he should be a thug… but he’s been working and serving and is a funny guy liked by all.  We expect to soon bless his return to Odessa where he will hopefully click into a good group of brothers down there.

Zheka, (in yellow), is normally a breath of fresh air.  He is always talking about God and God’s Word and loves encouraging everyone to love God and do right. He says he feels as if God called him as a child, and he responded, but when he was a young man, he chose to live according to what his flesh desired.  After many years of that, he came to an end of himself and after a period of humbling, now loves God so much.  I feel privileged to have him as a friend and I glorify the God who has “prepared him for service”.

It feels as if Ukraine has had enough of quarantining restrictions. A few remain in place – but it’s pretty easy to live with them. People still wear masks when they need to go into a store… but most walk around outside without.

IMG-2060As a church, we are meeting all together and seem to be regularly reaching what must be our “all-time-high” attendance for Sunday mornings. For the first time this last Sunday, the thought came to me that perhaps I’d overestimated the size of the main hall… and we were going to have to somehow address the issue of needing more seating.

I’m pretty nonplussed when a person is introduced to me by one of our members and is told that I’m the pastor of the church. I regularly reply, “One minute… who is our real Pastor?” (Most people in our church know my feelings.) Recently it happened that I was in a building supplies store when the Orthodox priest walked in, followed by a New-agey/Buddhist sort of bloke. (We were prime subjects for a joke!) The Buddhist had heard about me and this time recognized me. I think in his mind, I must have some sort of deeper spiritual power or something to be “the pastor” of all these people. I shook his hand and realized that he didn’t want to let my hand go… and was trying to sense exactly what sort of power I had.

I wish I was the one in our church who was holier than everyone else. (That would be a nice gift to present to Jesus in eternity.) But I fear I may only number in the top 90%. And as far as being especially connected to God goes… I love God with all my heart, but I’m nobody special. Gifting? Ahhh… With no false humility here: I can determine no uniquely strong gift in me. I’m sure that my Buddhist friend was disappointed. :) The poor priest was ignored…

Pris is still doing physio in Kiev. From a pain-relief perspective, we are a bit disappointed that she is still experiencing pain in her shoulder. It is different pain from before… and we are hoping that somehow it is related to her physio. She got an MRI done on her shoulder yesterday… which didn’t show anything unusual. We continue to trust the Lord… and do exercises.

A couple of night’s ago, I got a call from a bloke staying in the third-stage house saying the house was burning. I jumped in the car and whipped over there… thankful not to see any smoke when I drove up. Apparently, one of the guys had put a plastic bag in the fireplace and it had melted and found some cracks down through the clay and bricks. The plastic eventually carried the fire to the beam under the floor. It caught well alight before Petya smelled smoke. By the time I got there, the house was thick with smoke and we could see flames under the floor. We threw snow on them as well as all the water we had and then set to cutting and chopping a hole in the floor. God was gracious and we put the fire out before it became uncontrollable. I’d prefer not to have too many more of these incidents though!

Today, I’ll pick up some fire-extinguishers which I ordered a few days ago.

Recently, in a large city in the east, a number of elderly people burned to death in a private un-registered home. The government since then has been checking up on homes like that… and our men’s home is supposed to be checked on soon.

Whoops! I was going to ask you to pray about that. But I just got a call that the checkup is already done and dusted. No problems at all. In all seriousness, our two homes are nowhere near reaching the safety standards of homes in the west. But the rep. from the fire department was impressed with the fact that we don’t charge anything for the guys living there and seemed to be content to go through the motions of doing his job properly.

In truth, we don’t really have a rehab facility. We don’t have doctors or psychologists on staff and aren’t registered with the government in any way. We do open up our home to drug addicts and alcoholics who want to escape their addictions and be introduced to God and His Word and who cannot afford a special clinic. There… that sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it? 

God is merciful and gracious and loving… and we are grateful to be in His will. Thank you for your prayers!

2021

IMG-20102021.  Has it occurred to you that this number will be nowhere near as satisfying to type as 2020? 

We enjoyed ringing in the New Year as a church. This year, we requested people come in a hat… any hat… and had fun seeing the results. Being the church in a small town is great. We are one big family who enjoy pretty close relationships with each other and seem to fit in a good measure of “silly times”.

We have the weirdest winter I’ve ever seen in Ukraine. Zero degrees Celsius in winter is a joke here! We still don’t have the heating set up properly in the church building, so I’m quite happy with the “weird”. At the start of the winter, I determined that if the temps dropped to -5 or below, we would stoke the furnace up and heat the building. I expected we would need to do that for most of January and Feb… but no. It’s hasn’t been happening… until a few days ago. Today, we have -18 and it’s “ooh-hoo-hoo” cold.

The Renault van broke down last week in Germany. I left with Sergei, a policeman, at midnight on Friday to pick it up. We drove the next 8 hours on fairly good roads but in dropping temperatures to the border. The trip back was way more adventurous, or perhaps better put, audacious. We shouldn’t have risked it. But we did, and God had much-appreciated mercy on us.

We ended up leaving the border at 8:30 and towing the Renault back with a car on its tray for the next 14 hours. Perhaps due to the freezing temperatures, we drove for over 10 hours before the police pulled us over. (Admittedly, what sane policeman wants to stand outside in -15 for more than a few minutes?) Thankfully, Sergei was able to talk with them “as one cop to another”, and they let us go on. The next policemen to stop us advised us to try to go around Kiev so as not to run the risk of the Kiev police stopping us once we reached Kiev where they wouldn’t be able to be so “friendly”. The next two hours saw us wending our way through back streets on slippery roads with deep appreciation for google-maps, but extreme tiredness definitely mitigating our gratefulness.  imageWe finally reached our destination… and took a minute in the deserted yard to thank God for His blessing.

Oh! We came upon a bus on the way home which had conked out. (Diesel fuel, if it hasn’t been treated, gels up at about -10C.) The poor driver had managed to fill up on some cheap untreated fuel… and was himself nearly frozen. It was a pleasure to help the poor bloke.  Needless to say, we all slept like the dead Saturday night.

Church yesterday was a cool one. I don’t know what the temperature was in the building, but even with the furnace stoked up and the fires going and four powerful blow-heaters blowing… we weren’t warm. I had everyone stand up and sing and pray three times during the sermon… just so that toes didn’t freeze.

Considering what is happening in some countries around the world, we are grateful we don’t need to consider governmental restrictions on churches when we decide how to meet. (The laws allow us 100 people in our building.) Remaining unified in the face of different members having different opinions about the importance/need to “comply” has been a bit tricky… but covered in God’s grace. I’ve been impressed and thankful for the wisdom of different members of our church family on this head.

On the 5th, we celebrated Elle’s 16th birthday. She had a few friends over and we went to Kiev, skating. It was an outdoor rink and had been decorated beautifully. The word on the street was that “everything would be closed from the 8th of January – quarantine”. As it turned out, quarantine WAS introduced again… and perhaps due to this reason, every lad and his girlfriend was wanting to skate! We had to wait for three hours until we could actually get on the rink. But it was worth it. (Although Cheryl surely wishes she’d stayed on the sidelines and not broken her hand!)

School is on quarantine for two weeks, and we gathered up a group of Elle’s friends and took off for an hour of sledding on a super-hill in the village before coming home to warm up with some borsch and buns. I walked off for a bit and looked out over the rolling hills and just shook my head at the creativity of God. We live in a beautiful part of the world.  Don’t you just wish you were here for a week or so?

 

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Keep or Send Away

clip_image002Do we keep him or send him away?

That is the question we have to answer. Last Wednesday, we picked up a man who had been sent to us from a city in the south. A pastor had been told about him by a volunteer in a Christian mission and he asked if we could take him in. We said yes, and picked him up Wednesday morning. He sat by the fireplace in the church building all day as we worked around him and gradually realized this was going to be a unique experience.

It became clear that somewhere along the line, some deception had occurred. Orist wasn’t a man in his 40’s. He wasn’t really interested in being helped with his “heart-problems” and we have questions about his mental capacity. He seems to understand fine when it involves food, but he seems to lack the understanding that blatant lying isn’t something that will be accepted. He has been living on the streets for over 10 years. He has a serious incontinence problem that went to a whole new level today. He has a top speed of 1km an hour. And he is quite happy that he didn’t need to spend the winter on the streets!

We have eight men in the first stage of rehab right now… these men spend several hours a day in study, prayer and discussion around God’s Word. Orist poses some problems. He isn’t interested in doing that.  And our rehab centre doesn’t exist as a hospice for the handicapped… hmmm… 

clip_image006On the upside, he provides the perfect opportunity for all the guys to see and learn sacrificial agape-love. One of the guys in rehab, “Zheka,” asked if he could have the responsibility of caring for Orist. It’s quite inspiring to watch him. For emphasis: It’s quite inspiring to watch him.  He speaks kind words to him, helps him with his wet clothes, makes sure he doesn’t get lost on the outer-edges, and is patient with his “blankness”.  God is glorified.

I’m advocating right now that we keep him for a bit. I like working on the premise that God allows unexpected things into our lives for a reason… normally for His glory and our good. (Admittedly, I don’t have to sleep in a room that reeks of human waste.)  We shall see…  Update: I typed this a few days ago… and, much to the other 7 guys in rehab’s delight, he’s been dry for two days! Smiles all round!!!

We’ve had our last “working bee” on the church building for the year. This coming Wednesday, we will have a “celebration-day” for anyone who gave time to working on this project where we will relax and have a fun day together before eating chicken and pork shashlik. God has really blessed us and we’ve done a lot over the past few months, in particular. Each week when many of the “non-workers” come into the building on Sunday morning, they look around and smile as they notice the progress.  “Thank you, Lord, for your gift!”  And again, thank-you to those who gave towards it!

Pris was meant to go to Kiev this morning for an MRI and some physio stuff, (which is going well), but when we woke up at 5:00, we decided to cancel the appointment and go later. There were hundreds of accidents in the past 12 hours in our state due to the ice on the roads. We tried to drive down to the bus station about an hour ago… and gave up. Too slippery to get up the hill, (see the last picture to understand). We will try again in 20 minutes and see how we go. (…well, it worked. This is when it is such a blessing to have a Pajero.)

Elle noticed oil on the road where I had stopped for a minute to check the ice ahead. It looks as if I’ll need another trip to the mechanics this week.  I’m really hoping it will be no more than a leaky pipe! 

Last night, we were meant to have a van and trailer returning to Rzhyshchiv from Europe. Rain, just the other side of freezing, fell for much of the afternoon and the roads are about as treacherous as they ever get. We told the driver, who had made it back into our state, to find a place to park and wait out the night. It’s just too risky driving.

We are still buying and selling cars. The profit from this project will offset the costs of running the 2 rehab centres.  Different percentages of the monthly profit will be divided up and go towards several different ministries and needs.  (Church building, day-care/after-school care for kids from crisis families and for our church kids, an account for a new bus for the rehab centre, support for the main people working in the rehab ministry, an account for supporting other good ministries we know about, as well as some other needs.)  It will be exciting to actually start using the profit for these different needs.

clip_image004This last week, we actually had a minor disappointment in that we had to sell a car for only a $260 profit in order to pay for taxes on another car we brought in. In a sense, it was a big relief to even sell it… as the year is winding up and the end of Dec and first half of January have a reputation for being real slow. So… relief and disappointment rolled into one bundle.  Due to lack of free funds to buy more cars for ourselves to sell, we will send the drivers to Lithuania to bring back some cars for clients early next week. All good.

This last Sunday before Christmas, I’m preaching from Matthew 2 – a Christmas themed sermon. I don’t normally title my sermons, but if I did title this one, it would go, “How to wait well”. As I’ve been letting the subject percolate, I’ve realized how often people need to wait.  I’ve also realized how often I don’t wait well – I manage to NOT give glory to God while I wait. I’ll enjoy thinking more about it and then ultimately encouraging the church next Sunday. 

If you are one of the readers who has got this far in the blog…  may God bless you with love, joy and peace in your life!  (A small reward for your perseverance and patience. Smile)

Gross Fly Paper

IMG-1864Minus temperatures are coming this week.  Talking with someone yesterday, I said that I appreciated the wildly different seasons of Ukraine… until I had to work outside when it is –10.  It’s comin!

We are “moving again”. We have in our “possession” 8 cars. Three of them are getting worked on so that we can sell them for a slightly bigger profit. One is for sale. Four are waiting on documentation that was being held up for some reason. We advertised them anyway, and people have been ringing, but we couldn’t sell them until the Ukrainian documents were processed. We just heard that they’ve been processed and we should have those valuable pieces of paper by tomorrow.

We still haven’t taken any of the profit out of the business for other uses… apart from US$600 to pay off an old loan. We have been making on average US$522 profit per car and have sold 7 cars in the past two months. It seems to be working well… but is certainly not without hiccups. (Three days have passed since I started writing this and I’m just about to post it. Over the past three days, we managed to sell four of the cars recently imported. May this sort of progress continue as we trust God and work responsibly.)

We finally moved Petya out of rehab into the adaptation stage! (Petya is the one closest to the mug on the bench.)  It’s been a long time coming. This is the second time he “made the leap” and we sincerely hope it will be the last. He has been with us for 18 months or so now… a considerable long stretch. He’s grown in the Lord though and has actually been lovingly helping the other guys in rehab with sound Biblical advice and wisdom. If he can stay out of the doldrums and keep on prioritizing his relationship with God… I can envision some beautiful days ahead for this young chap. We actually have him working on the cars we’ve been bringing in cleaning them up and even doing some body-work.  I enjoy spending time with him.

I had an interesting Saturday. I listened to a couple who joined our church 12 months ago work through their 25 points of offences they had and things they didn’t like about me and our church. It was quite an adventurous four hours… and I fear rather pointless, in the end. (It felt very much like they just didn’t want to leave the battlefield without firing their guns.) Anyway… it looks as if this imperfect, but special church will continue without them and their two young children. In all sincerity: it is a mercy of God to have people who criticize, judge and reject - from the perspective that it kind of keeps my feet on the ground. For many years now, I’ve been leery about “thinking of myself more highly than I ought.”  And when a lot of people begin to foolishly think I am somehow special… it’s far to easy for me to start thinking that they might just be right.  “Soli Deo Gloria” is not just an old refrain for the theologians. May it be the attitude of my heart, at the very least!

IMG-1867We continue the work on the church building. Yesterday, we had 18 people come out to help with the different tasks.  (I snapped this pic of 6-foot-something Bodya bent over under a big pillow of leaves we raked from the front of the yard.)   Just before nodding off last night, I thanked the Lord for His blessing in this project. I realized that when there are 17 extra hands pushing forward towards a goal… the goal is achieved so much quicker… and strike, was I thankful that I don’t have to do it all myself! 

As a church, we have been meeting in two groups for the last couple of weeks. It works OK for now, but our government health minister has said that the new quarantine measures are expected to continue through until April. “All hail the great Covid!” (Let the reader understand.) Ukraine is only experiencing about 200 deaths a day from this virus for now. With our hospitals at 70% capacity though, surely that is going to go up considerably as we head into December/January.

We realize that until someone from our church dies or goes into intensive care… it all kind of airy-fairy. Personally, I’d like for everyone in our church to live sprightly until they are all 80 years old… but I trust the Lord for His perfect plan to come about… and am half-expecting to do a funeral for one or two of us.

Psalm 145  -  Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.

God always perfectly knows what He is doing in His world. His greatness is unfathomable. And if I truly understand what this means and remember it when I encounter sadness, I am “blessed indeed”.IMG-1851 

Talking about death…  I noticed this week that the guys still have their fly papers up.  Gross?  Yup.  But it made for an interesting photo.