without bombs, gas chambers, or concentration camps

Just about the time the United States is celebrating Thanksgiving in a warm atmosphere of family and delicious food, Ukraine commemorates a tragedy little known in the west, also related to food.  It is called the Holodomor, which doesn’t translate directly into English, although the basic idea is of a man-made famine or, as one article puts it, ‘extermination by starvation.’*

A famine, technically, is more along the lines of a food shortage due to crop failure or natural disaster, which is why this term doesn’t quite fit.  The harvest of 1932 itself is not the primary factor, although it was only about 60% of the previous year’s harvest.

The precise causes of the famine are still under debate, because some scholars attribute a portion of the famine to the forced collectivization process, changes in the crops planted during the collectivization, and dreadful supervision of the changes. Ukrainians were not eager to submit to collectivization, so some scholars and historians point to evidence that the crops were confiscated by Soviet leadership as an attack on Ukrainian nationalism.

That food was confiscated is not disputed, however.

One very telling fact points directly to a specific intentionality behind the food confiscation:  one region would have people dying of starvation and a neighboring region would not.  The only thing separating these regions was a political border.   One author writes that the famine which existed on the Ukrainian side of the border didn’t exist on the other side of it, and that population growth in neighboring areas radically differed.  It is also clear that urban workers had food when people in the countryside did not, indicating a specific strategy of keeping the new socialist ideals on track while forcing changes of old ideas.

When rations were finally cut in the cities, workers were shown propaganda films depicting farmers as trying to keep grain for themselves.  However, the peasants and farmers were already starving when the urban rations were cut.  Photos from the period are profoundly disturbing.

Whatever the actual cause or causes of the food shortages and mass deaths, the Soviets hid the events of that year from the outside world, denying the existence of the famine at the time and for more than 50 years afterward in a carefully planned strategy of deliberate dissemination of false and inaccurate information.

The unavoidable fact that makes the events of this year+ period a monumental tragedy is that millions of people died, and in a very short period of time.  Estimates vary quite a bit, ranging from 3-10 million, but many scholars settle on a number of 7 million, based on analyses of information available from that time.

Even if the figure is 3 million dead in about 16 months’ time, this is over 6,000 dead per day, without bombs, gas chambers, or concentration camps, people dying slow, painful deaths.  That’s two September 11ths per day, for more than a year.  Or half the total of the Holocaust, but in a year and half.

As we begin to think about the upcoming season of celebration and joy, may this November 22nd Day of Remembrance here in Ukraine serve as a stark reminder of the “indictment of Christmas” as the Desiring God** folks put it in their 2012 advent book:  Sin is real.  Sin destroys.  We need to be saved from it, completely and for all time, and only God himself, becoming material, can meet our desperate need.

I invite you to let this atrocity help you to see the reality of the sin in your own heart.  Sin is real.  Let us deeply grasp the depth of our sinfulness.  Sin destroys.  Let’s struggle and wrestle with how truly bad we are without Christ (and then how truly bad we still are as we submit to his transforming surgery of grace in our hearts.)  Otherwise, we reduce the upcoming celebration of this wondrous salvation from that hideous destruction to a merely sentimental rehearsal of happy nostalgia, with extremely high hopes of another successful performance again this year.

*much of this information was taken from the Wikipedia article available at the time this was originally written two years ago.  I apologize here for not properly citing that information at the time, and for not being able to find the exact quotes and proper citations for this usage.
 **again, I cannot yet locate the original material, so I don’t know if I’ve properly given credit for the words (perhaps) borrowed here.

 

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

Tuesday, April 22nd

Praise the Lord with us that he has thus far kept Ukraine intact and progressing forward toward a healthier way of governing.  Please pray urgently for his continued mercy.  Even today terrible reports are coming in from the east.

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

playing catch-up, 7

All through June, we began work with our Ministry for Those with Disabilities team to get ready for camp in July.  One of the nice things about summer is that we can give more time and energy to being part of the team; during the school year, we really feel the need to balance how much we are serving versus how much time we are at home spending time with the girls.

L SvetaI was blessed to be able to spend more time with some of the gals on the team, just getting to know them better, and hearing about how the Lord is working in their lives.  Sveta is a jewel.  She is a 30-something single mom, living with her parents and her teenage daughter.  She works two part-time jobs, and has been a big part of the ministry team.

At camp, she officially serves as the camp nurse – a big job in a camp for folks with disabilities – but also as unofficial ‘second-in-command’.  She had Sasha have a lot of experience working together, understand the multitude of issues at hand in any given moment, and do a good job of shepherding the mainly younger single adults who make up the majority of the team.

This year, she and I teamed up to put together the crafts for our two weeks of camp.  It was nice to have started early and to have time to consider different projects, go out and price materials, and just not feel a crunch to pull it off.  It also meant that Sveta and I could just spend time together, which proved meaningful to both of us.

Mark worked with Sasha to negotiate some of the logistics of camp.  For the most part, we have had our core group of people come to camp, mainly from our Sunday group here in Kiev.  We’ve also had a group join us from the small town of Velika Dimarka not far outside of Kiev.  This year, Sasha had an idea to invite some folks he’d long been wanting to reach out to, but completely new to our team.

DSC05888

Alyona

So the first week, we had our core group and the Dimarka folks.  The Dimarka folks left on Saturday, feeling like a week during prime growing season was as much as was feasible to give to camp.  And on Sunday, the group of new folks arrived, all eight of who were either in wheelchairs or using walkers.

Although it made for some crazy times, it was a rich time both weeks and our core folks responded very well to the changes to the usual schedule.  We held all of our plans very loosely, trying hard to to keep our eyes on the Lord and not let little things become big hindrances.  The Lord really blessed.

Below are some photos from camp in general.  It was a great time for everyone!

Kolya enjoying a little visitor

Kolya enjoying a little visitor

Mark and Zhenya having  fun.

Mark and Zhenya having fun.

Artur painting faces

Artur painting faces

Anya and Mark reading together

Anya and Mark reading together

Anya and mom singing one of our camp songs (they all had fun motions

Anya and mom singing one of our camp songs (they all had fun motions)

Mark and Sergei Nikolaeivich

Mark and Sergei Nikolaeivich

Posted in Handicapped Ministry | Leave a comment

playing catch-up, 6

May was big in our family, for many reasons.  Mary was cast as Anne in the school play, The Diary of Anne Frank.  It was an amazing experience and the kids did a great job.

anne frank play photo

 

Anna traveled to Kenya for the month to take part in a research/ministry team from LeTourneau.  She said it was an amazing experience.

anna in kenya

Abby, Mark, and Benjamin finished a very full semester, with Benjamin landing an incredible job as a summer intern at Baylor College of Medicine.  I traveled to Germany for some additional medical testing, which gave my neurologist here some information she could not attain otherwise.

Kiev Christian Academy celebrated 20 years of ministry, we saw a Ukrainian step up to take responsibility for chairing the seminary’s women’s conference planning committee, and a few hundred other things happened in there that would be tedious to recount.  We were blessed, but also overwhelmed.

In June, we were looking forward to a little bit of down time, as well as to meeting and beginning ministry with our summer intern, Arthur Koutsenko.  What we hadn’t planned on was spending the summer literally beginning June 1st tracking down why Mark’s blood pressure was spiking.

This had happened once the year before, and once the year before that, so it was rather unsettling to have it return.  The Lord blessed in that we were able to get very good medical care and testing, and Mark was able to make some big changes to bring his blood pressure down and keep it down.

Posted in Family Happenings, Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

playing catch-up, 5

No, I didn’t get de-railed – completely – just yet.  But yes, we’ve had some demonstrations and political stuff, and, well, a lot of other stuff since I posted #4.  I’ll keep going here, but, Lord willing, this’ll get up to date real soon and then we can come back to the present!

So, we had a special treat in March – Ron and Margaret came to visit us here!  Mark’s parents had really wanted to visit Mark’s sister Rachel and her family, who moved to South Africa last year to be missionaries.

I should back up here a bit and say that Ron retired from his pastoral ministry at Katy Bible Church this year, preaching his last sermon there in March.  So upon his retirement, they took some time to visit Rachel and Joel and the grandkids in Johannesburg.  They are getting started in orphan ministry there, and you can read more about it via this link:  http://www.thekirbyfam.com/

So, being already across the Atlantic, Ron and Margie decided to finish up their trip with a week in Kiev, especially as they had to connect in Europe for the South Africa flights anyway :-).

We’ve been so privileged that they visit, taking a lot of time and effort and expense to do so.  We had noticed, though, that they were less interested in visiting when it was cold here… which made it quite a visit when we had the biggest snowfall/blizzard we’ve ever had in our 15 years here… two days before they were to arrive!

For the first time in our 15 years here, buses and streetcars didn’t run because the the streets were not cleared.  Stories abounded of abandoned vehicles, people trapped away from home, and more.  We spent the better part of two days digging out our car so we could go to the airport.  The snow had fallen so quickly and in such quantity that it wasn’t light fluffy snow we were shoveling away, but heavy, heavy packed snow.

We park our car outside our building, in a little circular drive running next to one side of the building.  Thankfully we were only about five cars into the circle; any further in and it wouldn’t have been possible to dig it out.  Not only did we need to un-bury the car, but also had to free up about 200 square feet of driveway to get the car out of the circle!

Thankfully Ron and Margie had seen a lot of the major sights in Kiev from past visits, and thankfully as well, they always love to come and help with any projects that need doing.  So we made our way over the paint store and bought supplies to paint the girls’ rooms, and Ron sat in on Mark’s Church and Society class at the seminary.  [He taught two different modular courses in March.]

I’m trying, unsuccessfully, to find some photos from that time, but as we’ve taken tons of snow photos in the past, and tons of photos with the parents, I think any that we have are probably on their camera – yikes!  Actually, if you look at the photo up at the top of this page, that was taken the first week of December last year, and although it’s in a park downtown, it’s very much what we were looking at in those days of Ron and Margie’s visit.  The nice thing was, being the end of March, the minute it stopped actually snowing, then the lovely processes of spring kicked in, and it began to melt in short order.

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

playing catch-up, 4

February did have another thing of note, namely, in my role as Parent Teacher Fellowship Coordinator at KCA, I kind of head up planning and pulling off the Teacher/Staff Appreciation Banquet.

I should say here that KCA – Kiev Christian Academy – is a pretty cool place.  Officially speaking, it’s “ an international K-12th grade school started in 1993 for the purpose of educating missionary children in Kiev, Ukraine.” 

What I love about it, though, is captured in another statement from the website:  “We are a unique community of missionary families, teachers and Ukrainian staff that work together not only to educate children, but also to care for their emotional, social, physical and spiritual development.”

It is a unique community, and as my neighbor is always pointing out to her friends when she, rather humorously sometimes, tries to describe something I’ve been involved in at the school, there are definite marks of a close, caring community.  [She’s still impressed that we try to specifically value our teachers, but that’s a story for another time.]

We do really try to show our appreciation for this group of faculty and staff all through the year.  Many are missionaries serving specifically at the school as their primary ministry.  Others are involved in some other sort of ministry here in Kiev and give some of their time to KCA.  Sometimes, we’ll have parent volunteers who come in for either a particular task, or for season, whether substituting or working in the library, or manning the front desk.  We do have some Ukrainian staff and faculty for which this is a paid job, but they give just as much heart and energy to it as do those who are not being paid by the school.

But the banquet is designed to have a special time where we recognize our staff and teachers, pray over them, and just tell them thank you.

Some schools have teacher appreciation weeks.  I haven’t really investigated them and done research;  I figure it’s a good idea that’s probably been around a while.

Our week of appreciation came into being in my tenure as PTF coordinator when someone suggested after my first year of being responsible for the banquet, that instead of having a banquet, we could have a whole week of different things that would show our teachers and staff that we appreciate them.  Seeing that it would involve the kids more – the banquet has always been a parent/teacher evening affair – it sounded like it would be great move.

Some people felt like they missed the banquet, because the week’s activities take place mainly at the school, and the banquet is usually off-site and with parents.  So this year, we did both.

It was a really great week and I think we were able to involve a lot of people for a wonderful, wonderful  celebration of the folks who work and serve at KCA.  For a humorous moment from that week, I’ll send you a post I wrote and then didn’t publish, if you’ll let me know you want it.  I’m still new to this blogging thing and want to make sure I don’t misstep in posting something that was certainly very funny to Mark and me, but which might be seen differently by someone else.

Posted in Donna's Stuff, Family Happenings, Kiev Christian Academy, Words & Thoughts | 1 Comment

playing catch-up, 3

[We really are trying to get this going!  Thanks for your patience; Lord willing, we'll get caught up before the next year begins! - D]

So the conference was wonderful.  It was.  And when we got back, it was February.  The year really did kind of get started without us.  Such is the nature of things.

Something that was big on our minds at the time, and which we did not post here were some things going on with my (Donna’s) health.  Looking back, I did post it on my blog, but what I’ll say here may explain why it was kind of crazy there for a while.

To back up a bit and give it some context, during Anna’s last year of high school – the 2008-2009 school year – we had a pretty crazy time.  We had just returned from a year furlough and were doing all of those things you do when you’ve been gone for a year.

One thing that had been planned was some fix-up/repair work here in the apartment.  The wallpaper was torn and cracked in places, and the plaster underneath was basically being held in place by the wallpaper in other places.  So we learned that tearing down old wallpaper and putting up new is not as simple as it may seem, seeing as it involved removing the broken plaster under the wallpaper and completely resurfacing the walls.  I won’t get further derailed here into a description of that chaos, but suffice it to say that it became a very, very large project that stretched over many weeks, taking place all while we were living in the apartment.

Now we have known periods of fairly significant stress in our lives over the 24 years we’ve been married, so somehow when the symptoms of stress showed up, we kind of took it in stride as, you know, one of those times.  Abby and Mary were both in their first year of Ukrainian school that year, too, so it was really one big circus at our house.  The Holidays came and went, and we hoped to settle into a somewhat pleasant glide into Anna’s last months at home.

‘Pleasant glide’ is not quite what happened, as is just the way of the world, but somewhere long about April or maybe even the end of March, I was kind of dizzy and tired a lot, and we didn’t have a good explanation for it.  Ok, stress would have been a good reason for it, but humor me here when I say that I had actually been taking the spring a lot more slowly and had been trying to get more rest, naps, etc.

So after the school year finished with a bang and we looked up for air, we weren’t surprised that the dizziness and now accompanying spasm-like sensations in various body parts hadn’t gone away.  Thankfully the summer was going to be very low-key, so we kind of thought it would all sort itself out given enough time.

By the end of August, though, not much had changed and so we started to get some medical testing done, etc., etc.  Insert discussions of a lot of different things, testing, watching, and a couple more years of, ‘Well, we really don’t know, let’s keep an eye on that’.

Last fall – that is, of 2012 – when we headed into The Holidays – it’s a pretty extended period here in this expat life in that you just combine the two cultures’ seasons – starting in late November or maybe early December, I kind of had the odd sense that I didn’t quite have my right mind about me.

Now that sounds kind of strange, I have to admit, but it was just odd.  People who know me well tend to see me as a bit hyper, maybe, doing a lot of things, lots of lists, etc.  One thing I’ve developed over the years to keep from crashing mid-day is to take a little cat-nap, anywhere from 20-40 minutes doing the trick.  Now I was finding that my cat-naps weren’t cat-naps, but deep, two-hour sleeps, even when I’d gotten a good amount of sleep I’d gotten the night before.

I couldn’t concentrate or make decisions very well, either.  There was a little of that spasm-ness, but not like before, so it wasn’t like we had a return of or progression of some of the old stuff.  The kicker, if you can call it that, was what seemed like a strange, unnatural apathy.  Some have wanted to call it depression, but there was no sadness or despair or anything like that.  I felt cheerful and fine, but had not one iota of interest in tackling any of the things calling for my attention, from various school projects, to just going out and getting the groceries on time.

So I checked in with the neurologist after we got back from our trip.  She suggested that we do an MRI for good measure, and armed with almost four years of tracking this and a new image, decided that we were, indeed, dealing with one of the forms of multiple sclerosis.  I have to be honest and say I was so glad she didn’t think I was crazy or that she was just humoring me.  My family was not so glad.

So that was big on our minds as we worked on all that was going on at that point.  I think Mary had already been cast in the play, The Diary of Anne Frank, by that point, and was also running around  basketball courts all over town.  Abby had gotten into the groove of life at KCA and was just doing what you need to do to get through all that sixth grade throws at you.  Mark had finished the January Greek class and had somewhat survived the return side of the trip, getting his head into the right place for the lineup of classes that were still on slate for the rest of the year.

We were also all still getting used to not having Benjamin here.  I know it seems like we would have gotten over that already, having Anna leave and it already being six months since we’d left them both at LeTourneau.  But what can I say?  The cat we got for Mary’s birthday in December, while being quite a presence in his own right, didn’t quite fill that space that now felt really empty with the both of them gone.

Generally speaking, life was pretty good, actually.  We did get to connect with the older two kids on Skype every now and then, we had this cute kitten we were getting used to and having a great deal of fun watching, and we were looking forward to having some visitors come to Kiev this year.  Things at the seminary were perking along as they do and we were all relatively healthy.  We were and are thankful.

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

playing catch-up, 2

The conference we were required (ok, that’s too strong a word, but we really needed to be there) to attend in January was a real blessing to both of us, so much so, that I thought it’d be good to just do a post on that.

Each year, our mission, WorldVenture (yes, there’s not supposed to be a space between the two words) holds a conference for our mission family with the specific purpose of gathering for renewal.  Yes, there are other activities possible, from additional training sessions to board meetings, but the core of the meeting is for our mission family to gather for spiritual renewal.

Can I just say here that I love our sending organization?  We have been so blessed over the years, and we continue to be amazed that the Lord would direct us to be part of such an amazing group of people.

Anyway, it’s a cool meeting for a number of reasons.  Reason numero uno for me, though, is the fact that we spend the first two whole days in prayer.  Having experienced this a number of times now in our 17 years with WorldVenture, it is just an amazing, glorious, overwhelming thing, and we are so awed that our organization has not changed one whit in keeping this a priority.

For one thing, this living-overseas-cross-cultural-spanning-several-worlds experience tends to mess with your mind a bit, and to be in a large room full of other people who have had the same kind of experience – it’s a powerful, powerful thing.  There is a sense of belonging, a sense of understanding, a sense of rest that’s hard to put into words.  And that almost our entire leadership team has been there, too, before changing gears to come and serve in the home office – that is also profoundly meaningful.

(Yes, we have associations in an astounding number of places around the globe, doing an unfathomable variety of things in those places, so we’re certainly not feeling like everyone knows what our experience is in that regard.  But that we’ve all walked a similar path, well like I said, it’s hard to express.)

We set off for this adventure having arrived at the airport at 4:30 am here in Kiev, the norm for any of our treks that direction, because all of the flights heading in that direction leave in the same time frame.  I don’t list the time here to be dramatic; we’ve come to the place that it’s kind of an excitement thing to know that that 6:30 flight means big doings on the other end.

I will tell a little bit on Mark here in that, usually, he just cannot get his body to jump into ‘new’ mode as fast as he commands it to, and so he’s not been planning his whole life to take lots of little short trips where there’s a 9 hour time difference for only a week’s time.  Let’s just say that that’s not his go-to preference for travel/entertainment :-) .

But the Lord blessed him immensely this trip with the ability to throw himself easily into the new time zone, the weather, the jarring other-worldness that is the change from Kiev to the U.S., and he plopped himself in the driver’s seat of the rental car eager to find a place we’d talked about before heading to a yummy place for dinner.

I should say that the time zones between here and there work out such that you start out in the morning and just end up on the other side in the afternoon/evening of a rather long, single day.  If you think too much about all of the planes and meals and transfers and security checks in between, it’s not good for you; but if you can leave the one place as it was, mentally be in neutral for the in-between stuff, and come up in the other place where it’s at, you can usually do ok.

I’ve thrown off the chronology a bit and will stay off track for a minute longer to say that we went to a local church for church the first morning there, as the conference didn’t officially start until Monday morning.  To be in the beautiful sunshine of the Colorado Rockies, enjoying the fellowship of believers who also call on his name, and to spend the afternoon walking around in the mountains – folks, it doesn’t get much better than that!

Anyway, so after the two days of prayer, we settled into the general session with worship time, seminars and the other sessions we’ve come to know.

WorldVenture does what to me is unique (but I don’t know, maybe other organizations do this, too) in that this meeting has quite a diverse group of people in attendance.  Any missionaries who are on furlough are asked to attend, and at any given time during the week, you’ll see a good percentage of the home office staff as well.  Board members also attend, often traveling from all over the U.S. to participate, as well as new appointees, usually tacking the conference on to some pre-field training time at the home office.  Missionaries do travel straight from the field, as we did, but it’s not the norm.  And something that we so appreciated when we were getting to know WorldVenture is that there is also a group of “Invited Guests”.  These are folks who have expressed interest either in missions in general, or in serving with WorldVenture in particular.  Spending a week with new and older missionaries, with board members and staff, and with every kind in between, it’s just an amazing opportunity to ask questions and interact with folks from literally all over the world with a fantastic wealth of experiences.

It’s a joy to welcome those who are just starting their missionary experience, and a treasure to hear the testimonies of those who have come to the end and are retiring.  We hear news of the organization and participate in the ceremonies that mark the life of a family, this time, the installation of a new president.

And the stories.  Oh, the stories.  Maybe it’s just that I love a good story, but I am so touched when I hear someone’s personal story!  One woman who’s been in her place of service for many years related the story of a praying for a family member – I’ll never forget her hilarious statement recalling this person’s fit-ness for a short-term missions trip, ‘Well, not unless you want to take the mission field with you’ – and her encouragement to never stop praying.  (They did take the person with them, and it was through the unusual experience of being on a short term mission trip, hearing the testimonies of other believers, that this family member met Christ for themselves.)

Another man related how he’d had challenged the small group of businessmen who attended an early morning Bible study to fully comply with the legal tax requirements as a testimony to their trusting the Lord.  They were certain he didn’t understand how business worked and that their businesses would certainly fail if they did as he was suggesting.  Stepping out in faith, they did, and their witness was visible in places they’d never even dreamed of:  at a chance meeting of the man and a government tax official where the tax official was questioning whether there were any ‘real’ people who were Christians, the man related the names of some of the men in his group.  The tax official knew instantly who they were, blurting out, ‘They’re the only honest businessmen in all of A—a!’

I could go on and on, but we were so blessed.  The jet-lag on the other end – well, not so much, but we don’t need to go into that now :-) .

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

playing catch-up

One of the prayer requests listed on our prayer calendar for this month goes like this,Pray for us as we work to keep up the various modes of communication/contact with our supporters.  As means of communication change, we are trying to incorporate these into our routines so that we can effectively speak to and hear from those who make this ministry possible; it’s sometimes hard to keep things up to date.” 

Combined with the fact that the last date listed for a post on this blog is nine months ago, it’s maybe not that hard to see what I was thinking when I put that out for prayer!

In my prayer time this morning I thought of that and realized that I have some time and energy, and I thought I’d jump on the opportunity to write while the impetus is there and the creative juices are flowing.  So many things came to mind, especially after having let so many months go by.  Then it occurred to me that it might just be ok to go back and talk about what I didn’t talk about all those months, what’s been going on in our lives here.

So here goes at an attempt to do that, desiring to catch you up on what’s been going on with us, and to honor the Lord in the process.  Oh, and a note here is in order:  Although this is our family blog, I’m sure it’s evident to most of you who read it that I, Donna, write most of the posts here.  Read nothing sinister into that, please.  Mark actually started this blog way back, but we both recognize that we are able to contribute to it differently, at different times, and that, most of the time, my voice will be the one you’ll hear, even though what I may bring up will definitely reflect something we’ve both been talking about or thinking about.

That said, I’ll go back to January, since that’s the last time that I posted anything here.  Looking at what I did post there, I want to insert another note:  Both Mark and I had hoped that this blog would be not only a newsletter of sorts, telling you about what’s going on in our lives here, but also a place where we could put up articles of interest, talk about things we’ve been reading, etc.   In reading back over that post, I am still awed at the thought of doing something like Mr. Sugihara did.  But I’m getting distracted…

In January, it felt to me like we sort of stumbled into a new year.  I think I wrote it in a letter to my father but it captured well what we sometimes feel, that is, the feeling that the cycle of holidays here makes us feel a little out of synch with the rest of humanity (a definite generalization on my part).

Our American sensitivities are still fully tuned (it’s hard to turn off, really) to the idea that ‘The Holidays’ starts with Thanksgiving back in November, and sort of officially comes to a quiet little close with the anti-climax of New Year’s.  Some folks get into New Year’s in a big way, others don’t, but we all know and feel that the holidays are officially over when you wake up in the morning on January 2nd, even if there’s still a bit of school vacation left.

Here, ‘The Holidays’ are just getting cranking about December 28th, where all of the big anticipation and excitement is focused on December 31st.  New Year’s here has all of the bling and fervor of Christmas, with fun, presents, parties, a tree, guests and family, decorations, and lots of food.  Christmas proper is celebrated on January 7th, in a certainly more muted tone, but nonetheless a holiday of note.  Then, in theory, school starts again, but no one really feels like we’ve gotten back down to business until Old New Year has passed on January 13th [being called Old New Year due to the difference in calendars that were in use in earlier times].

By this time, everyone allows the last little lingering glow of the holidays to fade as the reality of winter in its ongoing-ness walks up and shakes your hand and says he’s here to visit for a good while.

For us, Mark and I had planned [read that, ‘needed to’] to attend a required conference in Denver at the end of the month, so with school back in swing and the holidays finally over, Mark had a two-week Greek class and then off we went!  This was going to be a first for us, in a couple of ways.  For one, we were going to leave school-aged children on one continent while we spent a planned, extended amount of time on another.  We were also going to visit the U.S. without visiting any family, and we were going to do it in a dash, meaning that we left here on a Saturday and left there the following Saturday.

As this is getting a little long for a blog post, I’ll bring it to a close, but I’ll continue the story in our next post.  Happy October 25th!       [Oh, and I'll change the header photo at some point - the snowy bench photo was taken in the first days of last December -  but who knows, by the time I'm done, maybe it'll look like that outside and it'll suit!]

Posted in Donna's Stuff, Family Happenings, Mark's Stuff, Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

in his own image

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.”

I was reading an article on Wikipedia a little while back, inspired by an acquaintance’s post about a WW II hero, Irena Sendler, and I ran across another hero I’d never heard of.   His name is Chiune Sugihara, and he helped save 6,000 Jews during the war.

Maybe you could call it a kick I’ve been on lately, but I like to think it was something I learned from a book about godly affirmation.  The basic idea is this:  we catch glimpses of the glory of God, of his character, when we see manifestations of his character in people, whether they are believers or not.  God created man in his own image and I think this means we reflect his character, we reflect him when we manifest those qualities of his that he gave us.

So when I read Mr. Sugihara’s story, and read his own words explaining why he did what he did, I saw a man who valued people regardless of what ‘kind’ they were, who had compassion on them, and acted to spare their lives.  Here’s what Hillel Levine records about Sugihara’s reasons for doing what he did:

“You want to know about my motivation, don’t you?  Well.  It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes.  He just cannot help but sympathize with them.  Among the refugees were the elderly and women.  They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes.  Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo.  Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.

“People in Tokyo were not united.  I felt it silly to deal with them.  So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply.  I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future.  But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do.  There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives…. The spirit of humanity, philanthropy… neighborly friendship… with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.”

He died in 1986, unknown in his own country for his heroism, and he did suffer consequences for his actions.   And amazingly enough, one author records, ‘”Only when a large Jewish delegation from around the world, including the Israeli ambassador to Japan, showed up at his funeral, did his neighbors find out what he had done.”*

I was overwhelmed by this man’s story.  You can access the story I read on Wikipedia via this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chiune_Sugihara – I highly recommend it.

I started off with the reference to being created in God’s image, because I think I forget about that when I think of people in terms of whether or not they are believers.  But the thing is, everyone is created in God’s image.  Those pesky folks we don’t like, ones who commit horrible atrocities, and even just the ones in our everyday lives who are outside our own personal boxes.  And I get to see God in them because he created them that way.

I would sure love it if people could see his glory in me, but I want to acknowledge that he made it so that I can see his glory everywhere, and not just where I say it is.  As a believer, I think I’ve been saying, inadvertently, that it’s only believers who reflect his glory and character – which I’m certain we can and do.   But if everyone is created in his image, then I shouldn’t be surprised when I see it in places that are outside my boxes.  Lot of food for thought there…

*  Lee, Dom; Mochizuki, Ken (2003). Passage to Freedom: The Sugihara Story. New York: Lee & Low Books.

Levine, Hillel (1996). In search of Sugihara: the elusive Japanese diplomat who risked his life to rescue 10,000 Jews from the Holocaust. New York: Free Press. ISBN 0-684-83251-8.

Posted in Words & Thoughts | 3 Comments

it’s three degrees out

It’s 3 degrees out. That’s in Fahrenheit. In Celsius it’s -16 degrees. But sometimes, like, when dealing with foreign currency, that number just doesn’t really register.

Winter came a little earlier this year than is typical, and so did the snow. Yes, winter means snow and cold here and we are used to that, but this year, it’s one of those years when it came in with a blast, and a month sooner than is typical. The thing is, I’ve kind of tried to not make a big deal out of this in my own mind. One, because I don’t like to have a complaining attitude and two, because we kind of chose this.

But you get reminded of the extremeness of it when you see it through the eyes of a guest, who is not used to this kind of cold. The conversations are running, ‘Oh wow, it’s cold out there! Today is the coldest it’s been so far. And with the wind chill its even . . .’

What struck me this winter as has sometimes come to mind before, is that people here just live normally when there is weather like this. They don’t stay home deciding not to drive in these conditions, putting life on hold until its more manageable. If that were the case, they wouldn’t get out until March. But life isn’t like that. They just live and keep on living.

And to consider life in these situations in times past, when there weren’t radiators and electric heaters, and subways, and modern fabrics… and people just lived. The ancestors of these people have been doing this, living, and now this generation continues. Wow.

I guess it’s another one of those times when perspective is the key. For whatever it’s worth, I am thankful that I get to experience a different way of living, and here’s a little post about it.

For some pictures, if you’re interested, check out the album I posted in Facebook for Benjamin (he said, when we were talking about it, ‘Send pictures’). These were taken about a week after the snow first fell, but which had continued to fall almost every day or night that week. [I laughed when he said to send pictures; this isn’t new to him, and I’m sure the photo album in his memory is full of these kinds of pictures, but that’s the topic of another post :-) ]

Posted in Words & Thoughts | 2 Comments

a bright spot

We have a young woman visiting right now as a result of her winning the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship award, so we are looking into her topic of study, how non-governmental organizations help those with disabilities.

Among the many possible folks we’ve spoken with, we decided that it would be an interesting idea to visit the school for children with hearing disabilities that Kiev Christian Academy rents space from.  Wow.

Yes, this is a government school, so it’s not specifically within the scope of her study, but it was still a wonderful visit.  When we first arranged for a visit/interview, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.  By virtue of the wonderful relationship our KCA administration has developed with the school, Ludmilla readily accepted our request for a visit.  And when we stepped into her office, we were very warmly greeted.

I should say here that in trying to set up other interviews and visits, many people have been somewhat hesitant to have an unknown-to-them outsider come in and ask questions, and understandably so.  I have striven at each turn to assure them that this is a) a student who is pursuing a research project of sorts * and b) nothing formal would be published or broadcast without their seeing it first.

So Ludmilla’s warm greeting was an unexpected pleasure.  She first took us to a room she designated the school museum, a wonderful room rehearsing the history of the school since its founding in 1900.  What a cool room!  Complete with photos and original textbooks and equipment, we traveled through time and saw how some amazing men and women strove to help completely deaf children not only gain an understanding of their world, but also get a solid education so they could go on to be independent adults.  [Ludmilla said the room is a wonderful aid for her new teachers, helping them to understand what the school's all about.]

As we’ve seen in our experience with our church’s ministry for those with disabilities, this kind of assistance has not always been either available, or a priority, especially as independence, economic, and political uncertainty have caused many priorities to fall through the cracks.  Ludmilla did say that there are just 35 such schools in all of Ukraine, in an overall population of 45 million.

After the museum, we visited several classrooms, where the class size is held to no more than 8 children.  This is significant.  In our experience – when Anna, Abigail, and Mary went to a local public school – the class size was never fewer than 30 children; Abby’s had 37 for her four years of elementary school.

There are 250 children total attending this school, so this has meant a challenge of finding a large number of qualified teachers who are willing to work for a relatively small salary.   Although it is a public school, the extent to which is funded is limited.  Ludmilla has, like many school directors, sought out sympathetic partners to help her round out her program. And as we saw in Abby’s and Anna’s experience, the parents are asked to help with most of the upkeep or renovation projects in the individual classrooms (in Abby’s class, we all contributed to replacing the drafty windows!)

It was a delight to our guest to see the kids finger-spelling their names to her, or, for those who’ve learned speech, reciting a poem they’ve learned.   She delighted them by identifying with them and showing them her own hearing aids, which drew repeated comments of, ‘How small they are!”

After we visited the kids, we stopped back in the director’s office and just asked questions. One thoughtful question – What are some of your dreams for the future? – elicited the response, ‘I dream of being able to open a whole center where we could have people of all ages come in and where we could help in all areas of their lives, whether job training, social assistance, or counseling.’

After living here for as long as we have, and after our own experience in a typical public school, and after learning what we’ve learned about the profound (and too often unmet) needs of those with disabilities here, this governmental school was a bright spot among the many here who desire to meet those profound needs.

This week, we hope to visit with some ministries who are doing an amazing work with children with Down’s Syndrome.  Lord willing, I’ll be able to share some of that with you soon.

Thank you for your patience in my dereliction of duty in keeping our blog up to date.  We do so desire to keep you informed on what’s happening here!

*The Thomas J. Watson Fellowship is an interesting scholarship which you can read about here:  http://www.watsonfellowship.org/site/what/what.html

Posted in Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

October prayer calendar out

It’s a thin post, content-wise, but we just wanted to let you know that there is a new monthly prayer calendar available.  If you’d like to receive it, drop us a note at jmmcdonnel@aol.com or contact us via facebook.

Posted in Church, Donna's Stuff, Family Happenings, Handicapped Ministry, Kiev Theological Seminary, Mark's Stuff | Leave a comment

the sustenance they require

I (Donna) have been re-reading Isobel Kuhn’s Green Leaf in Drought, which is her recounting the story of Arthur and Wilda Mathews and their last days serving in China.

I remember being struck by a number of things when I read it the first time, but in searching for a particular section that had been meaningful the first time I had read it, I ran across this, which blew me away, and which I’m still trying to process [from a letter Arthur wrote to Bob Ament, March 12, 1952]:

We are certainly learning that the man who really lives does not live by bread alone…  In our Lord’s temptation the point was to assail Him along the line of complete, willing submission to the appointment of place, circumstances, and methods of God’s will… which, coming down to our level, means that for us… to deny ourselves that complete submission and sheer trust is to deny our spirits the sustenance they require, and will reduce us to living by bread alone – which is not living, but starvation.

To deny our spirits the sustenance they require is not living, but starvation.  And that sustenance being complete, willing submission…  I think I may have been choosing starvation, not even realizing it.

In another place (the one I was looking for when I started re-reading), Arthur was telling of how he had been submitting, but with less than willingness, and that he had realized he wanted to delight in submitting… To delight in submitting – yes, the analogy of living vs. starvation is vivid indeed.

Posted in Donna's Stuff, Words & Thoughts | Leave a comment

rediscovering leonard ravenhill

It’s great to be back at the seminary and see so many good friends again. I also was able to visit the library. The Lord has been leading me to learn more and apply more with regard to holiness. And in my looking for a few books on the topic in the library yesterday I rediscovered a crazy, wild-eyed, preacher evangelist person that I had not heard from in a long time. Leonard Ravenhill wrote a number of books about revival that came from his overwhelming burden for holiness and prayer. In his later years he hung out quite a bit with Keith Green in Lindale. Two examples of his books are Revival Praying and Why Revival Tarries. The only problem is that in his zeal for the glory of the Lord, he can sometimes be downright impolite. In fact, when you read his books, be prepared to get your eyebrows singed. The thing is, that “slap me in the face to get me to pay attention” is exactly what I need. Pray that I will be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in these studies about holiness. I have along way to go.

Posted in Mark's Stuff | 1 Comment