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Not talking about C.

Would you mind terribly if I mentioned nothing about COVID-19? I believe I’m likely not alone in feeling that I really wouldn’t care a smidgen if I had a break from the subject.

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viber_image_2020-10-24_08-54-22_thumb[9]Max was back! (Far left in the photo).  He was here a few years ago and eventually “graduated” and went back to his home city.  He came back here five months ago for a brief stay before sneaking out at night to cook up some drugs - something that quite naturally ended his rehab stay with us. We didn’t think we would take him back, but four months and a lot of methadone later saw him again humbled and desperate for help… at least, that’s what we hoped. The lads proceeded to watch him NOT go through withdrawal… and knew something was up. A number of them warned him that he was not being honest… but it took 7 days before he was caught with drugs that he had smuggled in. Yesterday morning, we sent him away again. Max, Max!!! He assured us that he was going to go to another rehab centre. May God have mercy on our desperate friend, Max.

Oleg, pictured in my last post working in the church building, left us a few weeks ago. He had been with us for a few months and didn’t ever seem to get out of 2nd gear. He knew God’s Word and thought of himself as a Christian, but sadly, he chose to commit suicide a week after taking off. Of course, whenever something like this happens, it shakes up the guys who are left behind. It is a warning of what can happen if they go back to their old lifestyle. As I processed the news, I just felt numb – not the numbness that comes because of emotional overload, but the other sort where I didn’t really feel anything. Oleg is my fourth drug-addict friend who has committed suicide after going back to drugs. Surely he won’t be the last. Succinctly: “sigh”.

Pasha is again in the Netherlands. He’s waiting for the car market to open soon with hopes of buying a few cheap cars to bring back. Our other van is on its way and will arrive later today after being turned back by the Polish border officers because they were feeling temperamental. Kolya, the driver, waited several hours and then tried again. Easy done. We managed to sell two more cars, (our nicest), this past week, which was a big relief as we needed the funds to keep bringing cars in.

Edit: The market is open and we are one of many hopeful buyers.

For the car lovers: We just bought a Renault Scenic 2007 for €1300. And we are haggling over a Toyota Corolla Versa 2007 for €3400. That’s a bit more than what we normally like to pay, but we stand to earn well on it. And lastly, we just now picked up a Honda Civic Hybrid 2007 for €2000. That’s the most exciting buy of the day. It was all we had left. If we’d had more, we would have paid more. Thankfully the owners agreed to sell. 1603366624357603_thumb[9]God has blessed.

As a church, we have been going through the Apostles’ Creed at our mid-week gathering. I’m amazed that people are really enjoying it. It isn’t exactly presented in the most captivating format, but it is good teaching. Last week during the discussion time, the room was lit up with a question and then three different opinions. 1. Baptism is for believers no matter their maturity. 2. Baptism is for believers after they have been tested and proven faithful. 3. Baptism is covenantal and is for infants as well as for adults. For me, one of the best ways to learn is to listen to opposing opinions publicly critiquing one another. I hope that all but two of our church members now believe that Baptism is for believers no matter their maturity. J

We have two guys getting baptized this Sunday.

David, (with the kids in the photo below), is the youngest guy we’ve had go through rehab. He was introduced to drugs by the son of a pastor in a church his mother attended. After a while, his mother joined him in his addiction. After he’d been here several months, she also came down and went through rehab. David is working, living with brothers and being faithful in the Christian disciplines. Praise the Lord.IMG_1834_thumb[2]

Andre (“And-Rambo” – as many of the guys now refer to him), is 52. He told me recently that he got into crime at an early age and as a 15-year old, was earning in one day what would take both his parents a month to earn together. He’s been arrested by the KGB, nearly killed countless times, served in the army until he got concussed by a mortar round… became an alcoholic, then was introduced to Jesus. He’s a likeable chap and it will be a privilege baptizing him on Sunday.  When he noticed the ladies trying to jump start their “automatic” after a ladies meeting, he decided to get involved.

IMG_1833_thumb[54]I have no idea how many alcoholics and drug addicts live in Ukraine. I’m convinced that the number is enormous. I’m part of a group that discusses different questions regarding this area of ministry – and over 120 pictures, (I put together 39 for you), have been posted during the last 40 days of men and women needing to be placed in a rehab centre or leaders wanting information on new people who are seeking help in their centres. God will be merciful to some of these men and women and they will be granted the same wonderful privilege that you and I have – to worship Almighty God with our lives.  That is incentive enough to keep on going when some of them give up.

May God bless you with peace and joy and a deep trust in Him. P.S. You'll have to click on the large photos to view them properly.  

 

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Am I a glory thief

Psalm 115  Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory…

Here’s the quote:  “Men are glory thieves.”

All men? Am I a glory thief?  Yes.  And quite properly, it bothers me. 

Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth that God wants something different for some of us – namely, “God wants us to live for His glory”.

How many times have I heard that phrase!!! How many times have I said it, prayed about it, thought it!!! And yet I still catch myself far too often saying something or doing something that proves I still don’t get it. The older I get the more I understand just how often I live for myself and for my glory. I pulled myself up yesterday as I started to mourn the delivery of a sermon I felt quite good about when it was on paper. Did I feel bad about it because it made me look “sub-standard” or weak or foolish and I liked looking suave? If that was my concern, it was an sure indication that God was not my focus and that I was preaching, (partly, at least), for my glory. I’ve begun thinking more about it as I get older and have men showing me honor.  It scares me, for I know my heart.  May God have mercy on me so that I respond with revulsion when I realize I am stealing glory from Him. 

kidsdanFor the first time in months, we met inside again as a church yesterday. We’ve actually been loving the setup where we drag everything needed for a meeting out the front of the church building and sit in the shade. (We’ve been doing kids talks during the service for summer.)  Yesterday, much to my surprise, within 2 minutes of church ending, 90% of the congregation was standing in the sun outside!  We don’t know yet what we will do when we have quarantine imposed again.  We are considering a few different creative options, and may alternate between them for the weeks/months quarantine is in place.

Our “evening meeting” happened at the stadium last night. About half our church turned out to watch and chat as about 10 of us run around in the dust for a couple of hours. Being part of a close church in a small town is such a privilege. I love the fact that we do this.

We have marked out the area in which we want to rebuild our sauna at the rehab centre. The sauna is another thing that also provides great means for 20-30 men to sit around and have good conversations. We don’t think we’ll get this one up and going before the snow sets in… but you never know – we might be sharing sweat before the year’s out. That would be a dream come true!

I just got a call from Dima, whom I spoke about in my last post. He left us to go back to his family a few weeks ago, but has since moved up to Kiev again. He’s going to church and hanging out with Christians. He left us without our blessing, (something the guys in the adaptation stage agree not to do), even though we would likely have given it. It was a bit of a disappointing goodbye… but we are glad he’s a part of a church in which we have contacts. May God continue to show mercy to my friend, Dima.

viber_image_2020-09-20_14-06-23The other guys in rehab are doing well. Right now, I’m spending two days a week with them, (+ Sunday), and really enjoying their company. It’s kinda funny, listening to them talk about different jails and the hardships they faced in the jails. I’m very much “out of the loop,” and feel a bit like a choir boy from a titled family in comparison. In this illustrious company, I’m the guy who’s lived a sheltered life!

Pris is still recovering well from her operation. She just said that her voice is nearly back to normal… but still a bit scratchy. Tomorrow, we go to a clinic to start the physio she has been champing at the bit to get stuck into. All things considered; she’s been doing pretty well.

For the first time since we started the project, (nearly three months ago), we don’t have a car for sale in Ukraine. Hooray!  One truck is on its way to Europe, while the other is on its way back, so we’ll soon have more cars for sale. (I don’t think I mentioned that we were given a loan to buy another truck and trailer… which we did last week – pictured.) God is blessing it and we pray that this project brings Him glory as we fund different ministries that we, (and others), are involved in.

IMG-1709The work on the new building continues… The guys from the rehab centre are a big help… but also several people from the church have been volunteering. We hope to have the new chimney attached and the new furnace fired up by this Wednesday. If it works, it will be an exciting development.

Thank you for your prayers for this part of the world. Thank you for your prayers for those who are a part of God’s family here. And thank you for your prayers for us.

May God bless you.

Soccer in the Rain

IMG-1512_thumb[8]I was out walking a couple of days ago when it hit me… now is the time to start my yearly habit of dreading the onset of winter. In actuality, we are only now hitting the straps for the peak of summer, so I’m way early. Am I becoming more morose in my old age? That’s a way scarier thought.

On Sunday, I played soccer with the lads again. Dima and I are the old men on the field.  When he realizes some youthful skill on the field, I give him a yell, “Go, grandpa!” His quiet faith is a great encouragement to me, but also to the guys still in rehab. He is in the 3rd stage, working, serving and glorifying God. (He is 4th from the right in the photo).

Priscilla’s recovery is going well… we think. She still hasn’t got her voice back yet, but there’s nothing unusual about that. She just went for a walk to visit a couple of ladies she tries to meet each week… and is getting noticeably stronger with each passing week. An interesting thing about replacing discs in the neck which no one told us about is that Ibuprofen isn’t a drug you should be taking as it inhibits the screws joining properly with the bone. Ibuprofen is off the table… and so, we replace it with Paracetamol.  She half-jokes every now and again that she’ll need to go to rehab after everything settles down.  I’ll encourage the special lady to write some words for this blog when she gets home and will tack it on the end of this blog.

We are enjoying the blessings of God with the importing cars project. We keep moving forward and I find myself waiting for the “catch”. After all the months of not seeing success with the trucks… could it be that it is this “easy”? Last week, two new drivers took the truck/trailer to Germany.  We gave some precise instructions about coming back in to Ukraine that were ignored… which has put a bit of a spanner in the works as far as us trusting that particular driver.  (It all turned out fine, but could have resulted in some very serious repercussions.)  We will see how we go moving forward with him.  But for now, we’re a driver down – something the other drivers are benefitting from, as they will have more opportunities to work.

Here is something that encouraged me.  Many of you have read of Igor whose arm God allowed to be taken away a year and a half ago.  Last Wednesday evening we hosted a short Bible Study and volleyball in our yard and he sat down and began chatting to the lady whom I was sitting beside, recounting how God had blessed Him in so many ways by taking his arm--including the many opportunities to witness because of it.  He shared that he was in the local photo shop talking to 'Nina' about Christ and she said, "Oh, you are one of those people."  She told him how two years ago a man named Daniel had been in her shop during the time when there are tons of flies everywhere.  As she was serving him she commented on how annoying they were.  Then she said that later, he came back to her business and gave some netting for her door, (which she pointed out to Igor), to keep the flies out.  She linked that simple kindness to the Jesus whom Igor talked about.  Perhaps it will be within our Lord’s plans to gift this lady faith… that would be an even greater encouragement!

IMG-1514_thumb[8]After a good long stint, the pump in our well finally packed it in a couple of weeks ago.  Our well is about 20 meters deep with a meter and a half of water at the bottom.  The man who dug it over 15 years ago was an alcoholic, and if you look down it, you can see that it curves a bit as it goes down.  But if memory serves me correctly, I think I saved about $10 by using him rather than the more professional blokes.  (What wonderful logic!)  Anyway, Mitya helped me bring up the old pump and attach the new.  The homemade ladder you can see the top of in the photo allows me to go down the couple of meters necessary so that I can unscrew the pipe at the 90° angle and bring up the pump.  In my younger years, I would just skinny down there bracing myself with feet and back.  (That craziness is long gone.)  Our reservoir is again filling up with good water and we are grateful.

We said goodbye to Artyom on Saturday.  Poor Artyom had a weak moment and bought himself a gin in the local store.  He was nearly finished the adaptation stage in rehab and was doing so well.  This was his “second strike” and the guys know that we will not permit them to stay if they do drugs or drink alcohol while in rehab.  He was so regretful that it happened… but we have hope that this experience will ultimately be a blessing to his life.  Actually, we really hope that he follows our advice and joins himself to a rehab centre up north for several months before coming back to us to live… that would be an ideal scenario.

Last week, we drove down to the sea for five idyllic days of sand and salt-water.  Priscilla’s parents and a couple of friends joined us for this special time.  For some reason, the traffic police were out in force down there… and stopped me twice just to check documents.  The license I have in my wallet is out of date right now.  (My new one is in Australia until Shane and Jemi get back – I don’t trust the international mail right now.)  Thankfully, both times, the officers were more interested in the holograms and design of an Australian license than in the actual details on the license and after chatting for a bit, they sent us on our way… a car full of grateful holidayers.

 

Priscilla:

IMG-1577_thumb[3]Igor's attitude and acceptance of God letting his arm be taken has been such a blessing to me as I recover still from the neck surgery.  (Dan talked about him above.)  I am healing at a slower pace (at least it seems that way to me) than in the initial weeks.  It is an adjustment to have no more than a slight hoarse voice.  Quite possibly those paralyzed nerves, (which frequently happens with this surgery, but is usually better within days), will begin to function again.  Meanwhile, I recognize that my voice is the LORD's.  I would love for Him to heal it and at times have to push away fearful thoughts of living without a voice, but one definite blessing is that another woman in our church has stepped up and offered to help teach the wives in the autumn. I am also listening differently - and I hope I 'hear' better too, whether it is lessons about God or pressing into Christ or hearing people's hearts.  It is a learning process.  I am glad to be in this time - hopeful that I will be patient enough to learn and not just keen to have it 'pass'.  =) 

Thank you for your prayers.  They are a great treasure.

Still wearing masks here in Ukraine

Normally, at this time of year, we are gearing up for Camp 120 on the island. (“Thank you, little virus, for the cancellation this year.”) We may do a “half-camp” with just the folk from our church yet, (in August)… but the chances of that are slimming. In lieu of that, tomorrow, Pris, (brave lady), and I are taking several of the young people out to the island for a few days.

Priscilla’s recovery is going pretty well. She’s still speaking in a whisper and tires very quickly. She also has very tight muscles in her neck and shoulder area which give her “a bit o’ curry” – especially in the nights. But it’s all to be expected, and thus nothing to cause concern. I dare a guess that she won’t be doing as much as she normally does when we go camping.

1594022630463178Elle is happy to be finished studies for the summer. Because of our trip to Australia, we shuffled around her study time a bit and she kept on studying while her friends were already on holidays. Actually, it feels a bit like a lot of kids here have been on holidays for the past several months. Doing school over the internet is one thing in the city, but quite another in villages like ours. Els has again started up the Sunday club for kids from difficult homes. She is reveling in the responsibility and loving the kids. It’s nice to see.

I talked with Mim today. She is still “stuck in Australia”… along with Shane and Jemi, working with “Uncle Josh” doing initial cleans on houses. She says that the earliest she could get back here is August… she thinks. But that is assuming she can get a visa and I think that’s where the rub will be. She is thinking to “detach” herself from heavy involvement in the ladies’ rehab and to give herself more to the ministry to children in crisis and general children’s ministry.

We have been taking the rust out of her car while she’s away. (Today, Pavel, the spray-painter, showed me a couple of new tricks of the trade. Perhaps we can get it to a condition in which it will do another 15 years… that’s likely wishful thinking).

Talking about cars… Pasha didn’t have any problems at the border bringing in a VW Beetle and a little blue Mercedes. Now we just need to sell one of them so that we can repeat the process and bring in another couple of cars. God has been blessing this project. We have started to count our chickens before they’ve hatched a bit and are even talking about expanding the ministry and bringing in more men who need God in their lives. May God give us wisdom!

IMG-1496Right now, we have six guys in rehab.  Interestingly enough, four of them have gone through rehab before and even taught at rehab centres. One of our volunteers was talking with me the other day and said that it’s a bit intimidating doing a Bible study with this particular group of guys. They’ve read a lot of books and spent a lot of time in the Bible… their knowledge outstrips that of half our volunteers. I easily understand the feelings of intimidation.

On Saturday, several of us went to the wedding of Ghenna, who finished rehab with us last year. It was a nice wedding, with both him and his wife giving glory to God for His grace in their lives. The guys who went with me were talking and said that about 90% of the 60-odd guests were former addicts. What a beautiful stat. And there were a number of very special people there.

Every now and again I feel an overwhelming sense of delight at the glory that a particular person gives to God through their demeanor, words and actions. There are a lot of us ordinary Christians in the world, but most of us never really reach the heights of the “uniquely beautiful”… that small percentage who are graced with the ability to somehow exude love and humility and peace. What an interesting thought, eh?  Another one:  Could I become such a person?