Sunday, February 22, 2015

One Year Later

I clearly remember walking the streets of Kiev a year ago today.  I remember writing a blog post on that day, filled with optimism and feeling very hopeful about what was next for Ukraine.  It seemed there had been a victory.

I remember thinking that the madness and death were finally over.  Little did I know that it was only just beginning.

On this day last year, huddled with the crowd of mourners on a cold February night, I remember looking up at the sky and seeing a drone overhead. It was likely filming the crowds that had amassed in the center square, memorializing the 'heavenly hundred'—the hundred plus fallen men.  For a brief moment, looking up at that drone, I clearly remember thinking, ‘what if the Russians do something in response to all this?’  And then I quickly dismissed that thought, telling myself it was over- the victory had been won.  What could Russia possibly do?
Famous last thoughts I guess….

I walked the streets of Maidan Square again today, on this day of remembrance.

The masses were fewer than a year ago, but there was still a feeling of solidarity among the people and Ukrainian flags flying everywhere with pride.  People are not giving up hope. 

February 22, 2015--one year later
On St. Michaels Square tanks and recovered rockets, had been brought in to make a display of sorts. 

Little boys climbed on the tanks and the military cars, curiously exploring these artifacts of war, brought in from the east.  It felt eerie watching these little boys climb about on this war paraphernalia and ‘play war'- knowing that war is the reality that thousands of young Ukrainian men are facing right now. 

I never thought this is where we would be one year later. And yet, here we are. Tanks and all.

People keep asking me if I feel safe in Ukraine.  I have to say that there are many things that feel odd about living in a peaceful city but knowing that a brutal war wages less than 400 miles away.   Life in Kiev seems normal for the most part, most cafes still appear full and people still go about their day-to-day lives.  Some shops seem to be closing and the economic crisis is starting to hit people’s bank accounts and pockets. The grivna a little over a year ago was 8 to the dollar.  Today it is hovering close to 30.  Prices continue raise daily and that is beginning to take its toll on people—especially those living on minimal salaries and pensions.  

Yet all the while we are living our ‘normal’ or 'safe' lives in Kiev, people remain hiding in basements in some parts of the east. Others remain without water, gas, and electricity or access to regular food. Dozens of elderly have died of starvation or cold.   These facts are devastating.

I am comforted in knowing that we are doing what we can to help, with regular food distributions going in to outlying towns and helping with evacuations when our team can go. I’m blessed to be a part of an organization that wants to be on the front lines offering real relief and real hope.  I know that this situation isn’t nearly as personal to everyone as it is to those of us living here--- but if you feel led to give, please know that 100% of your donations will go relieve direct needs.  You can see videos, pictures and stories, and give through this link to help thousands in Ukraine's east:

It’s been quite a year…but I’m still clinging to hope and trusting in my God who sees the bigger picture.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Happy New Year!

2014 was a challenging year in many ways...but also one in which I got to see a LOT of the world...and for that I am extremely grateful!

So happy 2015 from 'my family' to yours!

Hoping to write more in 2015!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Bread Lines & War

Today I met a little girl and her grandma as they stood in line to get bread in Krasnogorivka. As I bent down to see her face I was met in return with these piercing blue eyes.  I told her they were angelic, and then learned that her name was Angelina.  Apparently I was not the only one to have seen the face of an angel in this girl.

She couldn't have been more than 9-years-old, and yet her angelic eyes reflected signs of the war her childhood has already seen.  There was a piercing sadness behind those beautiful eyes, a sadness I so desperately wanted to remedy. I handed her a candy, which seemed a trite gesture, but it managed to produce half of a smile.  Getting much more chatter out of her proved difficult. 

Her grandmother instead chimed in and spoke of the months of fighting they've been living through in Krasnogorvka. No gas, no heat, no money.  And now the cold season has set in and the city is covered in a blanket of snow.  Grandma Tanya, like the others in the line with her, are living on prayers and the kindness of the few who show up with offerings of help.

Though our ministry has been making numerous trips in to deliver goods since late July, this was my first time stepping into what has been deemed the 'anti terrorist operation zone.'  I'd seen the pictures and read the reports our team was bringing back, but it still felt quite distant and I wanted to go and participate and see for myself.

Today as I stood and observed the line forming around our van filled with bread, 'there' suddenly became 'here' and 'them' became Angelina and her grandma Tanya
Today the war felt real as I heard the sounds of artillery blasts in the distance.

Krasnogorvka was a city of 12,000 before the conflict began in May. 
Today less than 8,000 remain.  Those who can, have fled.
Fighting continues to surround the city daily as they are caught in the cross fire of the Ukrainian army and the separatists. Hundreds of homes have been destroyed and badly damaged.

Since July, we (Orphan's Promise) have been partnering with a local church in Krasnogorvka to meet the most basic needs of food, making multiple trips in a month to bring truck loads of bread and other needed supplies such as diapers and formula.

One of the women I spoke to in the bread line spoke of having nowhere to go, and no money to get anywhere even if she did have an option.  “I have the roof over my head, so as long as that stays in tact I will remain...where else could I go?” 

There is no way to gloss over the heaviness of what I saw in that bread line, and the hundreds of individual stories that were represented in each loaf of bread that was taken. As I spoke with people it became clear that our presence let them know they were not forgotten, because most of the time that is what they feel. 

“Thank you that you keep coming and that you have not forgotten us.  Thank you for your kindness and for returning.” These sentiments were echoed over and over again.  I was humbled that even a loaf of bread mattered and was not taken for granted.  I had eaten mine that morning without a second thought about where my next would come from.

“Please tell others about us and our needs so that people will know,” one woman said.
“Okay,” I answered,  “I will.”  
 So this is my feeble attempt.  

I know this is the season when every ministry and charity is asking for funds and also when most of us are feeling strapped for cash as we look at the names of friends and family we have on our gift list.   I also know that I live in Ukraine and feel this more personally then you probably do as you read these words from behind your computer screen.

I was reading today Paul's second letter to the Corinthians where he is encouraging them in their giving by referencing a body of believers in Macedonia. 

Paul writes,  'For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints." (II Cor 8:3-4)  Their giving was to to bring relief to the saints, and they gave beyond what they thought they could give.

So I write this in part to say GIVE!
Give so it hurts this holiday season.  
Give to something that God lays on your heart...and if that happens to be Ukraine and the needs here, I promise you those funds will be put to great use. 

Today I saw the difference a 25 cent loaf of bread makes in the life of a family with not a dollar to their name.   Today I saw that every dollar matters.

If you would like to partner with us in what we are doing here in Ukraine, you can give designated funds to Orphan's Promise via our direct giving site:

Funds will be used for bread, food, medicine, warm clothing,  supplies for soldiers and school supplies for children.

Thank you for standing with us as we do what we can to bring hope and meet needs in Eastern Ukraine.

Below are more photos from the weekend...

destroyed roof
back packs for kids at a school in Krasnogorivka
pictures from my friend's daughter's class for the soldiers..

Monday, October 13, 2014

Helping Refugees on Ukraine's Eastern front

Ukraine seems to have fallen off the radars of the western news media, but that doesn’t change the severity of what is still currently taking place in the country.  Though a shaky cease-fire is being reported in Ukraine’s east, the fact remains that the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced people have come to a stand still. To date, more than 3,600 people have lost their lives in this conflict.

Russian backed separatists continue to have strongholds in 2 regions of Eastern Ukraine and life there is anything but normal.  Many are living in refugee camps outside of this area, and some have fled to ‘calmer’ cities in the same region, but are lacking some of the essentials to make it through the winter ahead.  Most of the people in this region are now out of work, as business and shops have closed, meaning people are no longer getting a monthly income or pensions.  Additionally shops are limited to what food supplies they have and electricity and water only come on for short periods of time in the day. People truly wonder where their next meal will come from.

I am so blessed to work with an amazing organization that is standing behind those that are in their greatest need.
  Currently we are sending a team into Eastern Ukraine about twice a month to bring the most basic supplies.  Our staff has brought truck loads of bread, food bags, clothing and school supplies to children.  Additionally we are helping to rebuild about 6 homes that were destroyed and a children’s home as well.

In the next couple weeks we will be making several more trips in to help these families, who are continually waiting for our deliveries.  Would you please consider making a contribution to these efforts? Any amount will help to buy basic things like bread and other food and get warm clothing to families. 

I plan to go to the store in coming weeks to purchase coats with these funds and will also be contributing it to our funds for food supplies.   All donations are tax deductible.

I have an account set up to receive charitable donations through a group in Washington called CoLink.  Here is how to make a donation:

Po Box 82188
Kenmore, Wa 98028
(make check payable to CoLink and write Acct #751 in the memo)


Through PayPal via:  (Indicate my CoLink Acct #751)

Any amount will help meet the needs that exist and all will benefit people directly.  We know it is God that is supplying these needs and our team is just so grateful for the ways he has provided thus far!  Please also remember Ukraine in your prayers. Parliament elections are in less than 2 weeks, and that will be a pivotal moment for this country.  

Thanks for partnering! 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Celebrating 10 years!

“Sometimes life takes us places we never expected to go, and in those places God writes a story we never thought would be ours.”

My sweet mom sent this little note in my birthday card last month.  Upon reading it I stared at the words, realizing somehow they are the epitome of my life (apparently she thought so too!).

Today marks 10 years since I first arrived in Ukraine.  A country I had to find on a map before booking my travel adventure.   Has one decade really passed?  I did fly with a paper ticket (remember those?), so clearly it’s been awhile.

Lately I see anniversaries posted of friends’ weddings on Facebook celebrating a decade or more of marriage and I find it hard to believe how quickly the time has passed. It seems like just yesterday I was watching them walk down the aisle and say ‘I do’ and now they are celebrating 10 years! 

So today I guess I am celebrating my unlikely marriage to this nation that has oddly become my home.  Perhaps I don’t get to show my cute- 20-something self in my wedding dress—but a cute short haired version of myself holding a stray Ukrainian kitten will have to do to commemorate the moment. 

As the quote so brilliant states, this is not the story I would have ever thought to be my own, and yet I so clearly see God’s fingerprint in my life and the lives He has intersected with mine while living here.

I guess the marriage analogy fails when comparing my relationship with Ukraine, as I don’t know that I ever really came on this adventure saying ‘I do’ for the long hall.  Those, after all were the ‘missionaries’ that scared me! I remember chatting with one dear friend early on who had come with her husband and children on a 5-year commitment.  I thought that was amazing (or insane) at the time! Who could ever commit to any country for 5 years before even arriving? Certainly not this girl here

But God has a funny sense of humor with me.  Like with many things in life, we can only bite off one small bit at a time.  If we knew what was around the corner, we might start running the other direction, and so in His wisdom, he just shows us the little bit that we can handle.  For me that’s been just one year at a time.  One year at a time that has somehow managed to add up to 10 years.

Last year I wrote a similar reflection on 9 years living in this land.  Call me a romantic or sentimental, but dates and anniversaries of events have always meant a lot to me and cause me to reflect…and sometimes get a little sappy.  Perhaps it has something to do with the growth the years mark or the memories represented in the middle of the dash.  Or maybe it’s simply because I have a memory like an elephant…or so I’m told! 

When I was reflecting at this time last year I never would have dreamed in a hundred million years that one year later I’d be living in a country that’s in the midst of war and turmoil.  I never would have dreamed that our daily efforts at work would switch from adoptive families towards refugees.  To me that word always referred to people living in Africa or the Middle East…. but refugees within Ukraine? I wouldn’t have believed it.

Sometimes I still have a hard time believing it, even though it is our reality.  My heart breaks when I think of all the death and destruction that this nation has experienced in the last 10 months, and even more when I know it hasn't ended.

It has been a trying year for me in many ways. Like living on high alert. I can honestly say I’m glad I didn’t see the full picture when 2014 began.  Just like I am glad I didn’t see the 10 years on the horizon when 2004 began!   I don’t know that I could have stomached the picture.

Through the challenges of this year I am reminded now more then ever that in a world of so much uncertainty I am so thankful for the certainty of our God.  In the midst of the war and sickness and the broken hearts and relationships I see around me, God is still God and He is still at work and He will never leave me or forsake me.  And I don’t say these words tritely.

"Things which sound like platitudes become vital, living and powerful when you have to learn them in dark tunnels"- Elisabeth Elliot

The dark tunnels of this year have taught me that the only certainty I have is the Lord. In the midst of the chaos, it is really only in Him that I can find an inkling of peace.
“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the vines produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, YET I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will be joyful in God my Savior.  The Sovereign Lord is my strength, he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights.”   Habakkuk 3:17-18

Habakkuk had eyes of faith to see beyond his circumstances, beyond the reality of what his natural eyes were seeing.  That's the kind of joy that doesn't make any sense to the world.  Habakkuk recognized that joy and strength were found in the Lord not in his surroundings or circumstances.   This is currently the sermon I need to hear most often,  so I'm preaching to myself and pressing repeat.

I don't know what the next year holds or the next decade for that matter, but I’m so glad I don’t have to know.   It helps me exercise my trust muscles a bit more. And Lord knows they need some strengthening.   

So here is to celebrating 10 years, and trusting God with the next part of the story.  For my beloved Ukraine, and in my own life as well.

took me 10 years...but now I finally have the look!

Monday, June 9, 2014

Going home

Over the past several months there has been a prayer request that has been uttered on my lips like a broken record.  “Lord, let Roma and Natasha, and Nastia and Marina go home with their families.  Please Lord, let them get out.

It was a prayer uttered in faith, but behind it my heart wrestled with doubt- recognizing that with an ever changing climate in eastern Ukraine, nothing was a guarantee.  After all, I’d just seen Crimea ‘annexed’ to Russia and adoptions close. So when things grew tense in the East...I grew nervous.

These 2 adoption stories are especially personal for me, as they are children that traveled to my home church with me last summer for hosting.  Kids that I don’t think would have ever considered adoption by American families, had they not first hand experienced what family is like. 

Roma and Natasha, two teens that once seemed so stoic and reserved came to life in the US and blossomed in their host family.   At a farewell dinner at my church, Roma was asked what he had learned while he was in the US, his response was simple, yet carried with it deeper meaning, “I learned to smile here,” he said.   I knew without a doubt that this kid belonged in this family, because I’d finally seen him come to life.  I was overjoyed when I learned they were moving forward with the adoption of Roma and his sister, along with another family from my church adopting the sisters they had hosted.

So when the country went to chaos and war broke out in the east, not far from the kids' orphanage, we all became a little nervous and we all were on our knees a bit more.   Never in my wildest dreams had I envisioned families from my hometown traveling to a war torn region to adopt children they had hosted. Not in my Ukraine. 

The last 3 months of these families’ adoption journeys have been nothing short of a roller coaster—with one family having to travel to Slavyansk (the heart of the conflict) to do documents and the other having to cross the Russian border for a birth certificate.  Prayers were uttered with greater urgency….Lord, see these children brought to safety, see these children brought home.

Over the last week I’ve seen these countless prayers answered. 
 Roma and Natasha became American citizens this weekend and Marina and Nastia will be headed that way with their family soon.   

On Friday night I sat around a table with these 2 newly formed families and gratitude swelled in my heart.   The tangible answers to those prayers were sitting in front of me.  God is gracious and kind.

He places the lonely in families (psalm 68:6)

There are so many moments when I ask myself ‘what I’m doing in this country?’ But that night, sitting around the table, seeing smiles radiating on the faces of those 4 kids and the faces of committed parents, my doubts dissipated.  

God had ordained this moment, and we were all exactly where he wanted us to be.  A moment that was not in the 'game plan' for any of us a year prior-- yet here we all were, God intersecting our paths and writing a bigger story.  

I don’t know the answer to why these 4 kids got out, and others remain in a region that is currently closed to foreign adoptions.  But asking that question never seems to get me anywhere.  Its a never ending circle.

Instead I’ll keep on living in the tension of the ‘why?’, and keep praying in faith for peace to come to eastern Ukraine and for God’s spirit of adoption to continue to pour out on this nation and around the world.  Because as the Holy Spirit touches hearts, and the Church as a whole responds, more Natashas, Romas, Marinas and Nastias will also go home. 

Roma and Natasha's homecoming with their adoring brothers and sisters

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The 2 month review!

Well all I can say is it's been a whirl wind of a last 2 months!  Though I would like to sit and give extended thoughts to each and every wonderful moment...let's face it, there's just not time for that!

So instead I'll just provide a pictorial review and some brief highlights of how April and May were spent.

Strengthening Families Conference  

April began with our Strengthening Families Conference for 100 Ukrainian foster and adoptive families.  It was seriously a miracle that we had the event when we did, as if we waited any longer, many families from eastern Ukraine would have not been able to attend due to the continuing conflict in Ukraine.  It was a blessed weekend and many were encouraged through our workshops and gifted speakers.

3 days in Armenia

The day the conference ended I flew with some of our US Orphan's Promise staff to Yerevan, Armenia.  I oversee our Armenian projects for OP and it was a chance to film some great stories and connect with our team there.  Its a beautiful place with the kindest people, and I'm so happy it is now an area I will be visiting more often.

Easter at home

From there it was a quick touch down in Kiev before heading to Seattle for Easter. My first Easter at home in 10 years!  It was a chance to celebrate my grandma's 85th birthday with almost all of her grandchildren present.

I also forgot how beautiful the spring is in the Pacific Northwest.  I was able to make it to see the Tulips up north in Mt Vernon.  Simply spectacular. And my niece made for the perfect subject against this stellar background.

Staff Training and CAFO

From there it was off to Virginia for Orphan's Promise staff training and then as a team we flew to Chicago to take part in the Christian Alliance for Orphan's Conference (CAFO).  What an amazing event to be a part of. 2,700 people all passionate about Jesus, orphan care and adoption-- doesn't get much better than that!

Little Women at KCA

Touch down back in Kiev and it was time to put on the finishing touches of the play I direct every year at Kiev Christian Academy.  This year we took on "Little Women" and it was a huge success! I had the added bonus of having my mom fly over to help me and be my amazing assistant for the week.  She is a blessing in my life I thank God for every day.


After we wrapped up the show, KCA finished off the school year with graduations celebrations and my cousin and I went to London for a long weekend! Ever since we did Pride and Prejudice together (the show we did 2 years ago) it was our dream to see England together. So off we went! Thanks to my dear friend Jenny, we had a wonderful place to stay in the city and got to have some sweet time with her as well. It was a wonderful trip. We managed to see 2 shows, 2 museums, drink lots of tea and eat lots of cake and enjoy some London sights and rain (a lot of rain!).


Then I landed back in Kiev to my 2 newest house guests that are in my care this week. Some friends of mine from Seattle are at the end of their adoption process of 2 kids from Donetsk region (so glad they got out!), but had to head home for their daughter's wedding before they could finish the adoption process. So thus I became caregiver to Roma and Natasha this week.  We are having fun exploring the city and me trying to teach them a bit of English (trying!)-- today's adventure included a bike trip to the island on the Dnieper River.

And that my friends is why I've not blogged in so long!!

Hope to write more soon and also share a bit more about the current situation in Ukraine and our work with coordinating refugee efforts.   Please keep praying for Ukraine and for peace...there is so much need right now.