Friday, December 26, 2008

Philadelphia and Denver?? And a very WHITE Christmas...

The last 5 days of our Christmas tour had us based out of Philadelphia. We even had a performance in New Jersey-- giving us a grand total of 7 states that we visited. Not bad bragging rights for a group of kids from Ukraine! They loved adding to their "state" count along the way. I managed to get a quick tour of the city

before we flew out on Tuesday night. A nice young man took me on a quick 3 hour blitz tour, showing me the city's highlights- including the steps that "Rocky" ran up (yes, I ran them too) and the Liberty Bell. Then it was off to airport with our group of 20 people and 40 perfectly (so we thought) weighed bags. Over weight bag charges are crazy these we were determined to make every bag weigh in correctly-- and these kids had a lot of stuff! One bag was 3 kilos over and the guy was was going to charge us $150- until we pulled the "orphan" card on him and he finally let it slide (and really, guilt is not one of my favorite tactics...but that is what we did--please forgive us). Thank you kind Lufthansa man for your baggage mercy.
After we went through security I departed from my sweet kids and traveling companions of the last 3 weeks with promises to visit them in Kherson once I get back to Kiev in January.
I then headed to my own gate for my flight bound to Seattle......via Denver. I had been a little worried about getting there with all the bad weather out in Seattle lately- but little did I suspect that it would be a broken lavatory and not snow that would become my problem. The hour and half delay fixing the lavatory caused me to have all of 5 minutes to make my connecting Seattle flight. Of course I'm at the back of a very full plane, making getting out a challenge. I go running to my gate and see my plane---thinking- yeah- I made it! But no, they had shut the door and were letting no more late people on. What?? It's Christmas!! I try and plead with the gate lady to let me on--but this time I don't have the orphan card to pull and there is no mercy to get me on the plane. Bye bye Seattle...hello Denver! :)

This little mishap however turned out to be a BIG blessing. I have a group of friends in the Denver area that have become very dear to me via email- but I had never met them! Kris and Clarke Stoesz are a part of a ministry called Ukraine Orphan Outreach and I have worked with them and others over the last year to bring groups of kids to the US for a hosting/camp program. They are a great couple and I communicate with them a lot-- but had never met them, and my missed flight allowed us to finally meet. They were so sweet picking me up at the airport at 11:00 at night and bringing me to their home and then getting me back at 7:30 the next morning for my flight. Thanks Kris and Clarke!! You guys are wonderful and it was a blessing to finally meet you both!
I made it home Christmas Eve morning to the whitest Seattle I've ever seen. Where my parent's live it is like a mountain pass. We have over 2 feet of snow...and we had even more falling this morning. It is pretty...but it isn't allowing us to go anywhere! So Christmas was a little different today as we weren't able to see my brother's family. I did feel a bit like a kid today though-- my mom and I went sledding and made a snowman!

My mom and I with our Snowman Jose

We had our I'm ready for it to go away!! :)

I pray you had a wonderful Christmas!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Around New York

Well we've been in New York for a week- and praise God all our kids are now healthy! Thanks for your prayers-- all was looking better after we arrived in Rochester last Thursday night and a good night's sleep did everyone good. For the last week we were based out of Rochester, NY and made trips to Syracuse, Utica, Buffalo and Binghamton. If I said we were doing a lot of driving that would be an understatement. We are doing a LOT of driving. Did I mention several of our kids get car sick easily?
After our performance in Buffalo we made a trip to one of the wonders of the world- Niagara Falls. It was pretty spectacular and also pretty darn cold. We lasted for all of 10 minutes enjoying the beauty of the falls before we dashed back to the car to warm up. For many of the kids it was the first time ever seeing a waterfall, let alone one of the wonders of the world! So great.

Tomorrow we head on to our last stop...Philadelphia. 4 more performances and then we fly out on Tuesday- the group back to Kiev, while I'll be heading home for Christmas with my family.

As you can see I've "re-vamped" my blog a bit. I had a few hours on my hands tonight and figured I'd get creative. I've also given my blog a new title- "beauty from the ashes"-- this reference comes from Isaiah 61, and is a passage I memorized with my small group this fall. It reminds me of who Jesus is - how he is actively restoring beauty to the hurt and the dark places in all of our lives. Perhaps I see that hurt and darkness amplified in these children as I hear their stories, and the evil things their eyes have already seen- and the utter abandonment that they feel. So thus I am drawn back to this passage again tonight, reminding myself of the work Jesus has called me to and the promises he has for the least of these. I pray that Jesus not only provides families, but brings healing to their lives...and the others around me.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the LORD
for the display of his splendor.
Isaiah 61:1-3

Friday, December 12, 2008

Car Sick...Air Sick...sick more sick!!

So we are currently stuck for awhile in the JFK airport as we await our flight to Rochester NY-- and has it been a day and a half!!!! Praise God we are all still alive and continuing to function...though some of these little ones just barely it seems.
Our day started off at 8am, meeting at the church to load into the cars to make the trip to the airport in Charlotte- a 2 hour drive. When we all met up we saw instantly that little Nika and Oksana were both very sick with high fevers and did not look ready to face the long day before them. Just three of us adults (the women) were flying with the kids, so we divided up all 11 kids into 3 cars to make our way to the airport.

Car #1-- That's the car I'm in with the two fever girls....20 minutes into the trip-- throwing up into plastic bags. Oh Jesus- let this trip be over soon.

Car #2-- This car contains Alla, our little girl prone to motion sickness-- we arrive at the gas station for a potty break...Alla throws up.

Car #3-- This car is being driven by a younger guy who is from the is raining and young guy is driving a little too spins and gets in an accident. Everyone is okay- but two kids hit their heads and 2 are throwing up everywhere...over all their clothes. These kids arrive to the airport in desperate need of a clothing change...but nevertheless in pretty good spirits.

Flight # 1-- Little Alla, again the motion sick one, is sitting by me...and we quickly get moved to the front of the plane when the flight attendant realizes she is about to throw up. Apparently he doesn't want to create the "school bus" effect....I can only imagine what that might mean. No thank you! So I sat by her holding her hair back...getting my first lessons of being mama to a sick child. (Makes me thank my mother for all that hair holding way back when). Two other kids in our group were throwing up on the flight as well...I'm sure we entertained those around us.

So anyway.... not to have a totally gross out of a blog entry...but these are the things I'm thinking about as I'm sitting in the airport surrounded by 11 children...several of which still don't smell too good. We were delayed in getting here so missed our connecting flight- so now we are stuck waiting for almost 5 hours for our next flight...which will be all of 50 min long and will get us into Rochester close to midnight! And to think our day started at 8am!

Please please pray for our little ones...Oksana and Nika really need their fevers to break. These are the moments that make you really remember about why these kids need families. All of them. Kids shouldn't have to be sick, crying and tired without a mama near by. This is what breaks my heart the most. We praise God for His protection today and that all the kids were safe.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A taste of the south...

So the last week has consisted of home stays and performances in the Atlanta area and in Asheville, North Carolina. We are getting our miles in that is for sure. The kids are getting a bit tired though...I think they would rather stay put. We are having lots of fun --even if we've eaten enough pizza to last us the rest of our lives. At first the kids were excited at the sight of they are turning up their noses to it. Pretty funny. Tomorrow we are packing up tomorrow and heading up to Rochester, NY.

In Atlanta I was able to be reunited at one of the performances with a dear family who I helped with an adoption last year and have stayed in contact with. It was so wonderful to see the boys, who are now 17 and 19 and see how great they are doing and how their English is coming along great! It's fun to be traveling to places that allow me to reconnect with people I've met over the years. Even tonight in Asheville, NC- a woman who used to be a missionary in Ukraine and led a small group I was in, came to our performance. I didn't even know she lived here now! Such a small world.

On dasher on dancer on prancer on Vixen....
now on to New York....

Alla, Zina and Oksana

Sasha (R) learning to drive with his new little friend Eduard

with the girls at the "Bethlehem Walk" in Atlanta

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Florida Fun

Our week in Florida went by fast! We began with home stays in Tampa- and a trip south to Sarasota for an afternoon at the beach and a performance in the evening. On Tuesday we headed north to Jacksonville where we were hosted by another large Slavic church. Just one performance in Jacksonville and a free day to explore the city- including St. Augustine- America's oldest, longest inhabited city (apparently I slept through history class, as this was new information for me.) The kids are doing great so far, especially considering all the time on the road and the fact that we have been living in several different families. It obviously helps that we have been staying in the homes of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, so language has not been an issue.

So far we have had 4 performances of The Old Russian that leaves 16 more to go! Whew!! I'll be singing these songs in my sleep by the time we are done. We made the trek from Jacksonville to Atlanta yesterday-- talk about a temperature difference!! Time to dig out those winter coats we had tucked away. It's Atlanta till Monday and then we pack up again to head to Asheville, NC. I'm beginning to feel like a true roady...just with 11 children in tow! We are continuing to praise God for this opportunity we have been given to share about our ministries and to expose these kids to families and a special holiday experience. We have been so blessed by the people we have met.

These are two of my favorite pictures from our time in Florida. This is the first Santa I've ever seen on the beach- in a Hawaiian shirt at that. And with the sign...I'm still trying to figure out what it means to molest an alligator?

Now on to Atlanta....
With my sweet Oksana on the 6 hour bus journey...

Monday, December 1, 2008

30 suitcases, 11 kids, 9 adults, 7 hour lay-over and a partridge in a pear tree

We made it to sunny Tampa Florida late Friday night and so far we are off to a great start!! The kids did great on all the flights-- despite the every ten minute question of "when are we going to get on the next plane?" And then once on the plane, "how much longer till we get there?"

Before... After....

They slept on the flights which was good and were all eager eyed when we landed in America--and even more excited when they realized we got to ditch the winter coats.

Our first day consisted of a trip to Payless shoes to purchase new shoes for all, a tour through the Botanical gardens, a trip to the beach- and swimming in a pool. Not a bad first day for these kiddos!

Yesterday was our first performance and it went great! We have 2 more Florida peformances before we head up to Atlanta.

Stay tuned....

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Starbucks...Ukrainian style

Just another friendly barista ready to make you a cup of coffee on your way to work! Nice and hot...but be careful or the cup will burn your hand.


The 10 kids that will be traveling with us to the US this week arrived in Kiev yesterday and got straight to work practicing the Shoemaker play. We divided the kids among our staff for "homestays" while they are in Kiev, and my dear sweet Zina, who I've known for quite some time, got to stay with me. We had a fun night of cooking dinner, making a cake, and watching a movie.

It was so sweet to see Zina as she watched me cook. She had never seen packaged chicken before, nor many of the things I used to cook and bake with. Just another reminder that though these kids are provided for in the orphanage, they aren't given the opportunity to experience simple things such as helping out in the kitchen. She was excited, though a little nervous when I let her crack the eggs for the cake!

The Roges

I always love being involved in the adoption process, and when the family becomes dear friends I count it as a double blessing. I got to have my friends Heidi and Felix stay with me for their first week in Ukraine as they began the journey to adopt three children. Well they ended up adopting from the Kiev region so they got to stay with me a little longer than planned- which made for a fun week of dinner guests and late nights! Thanks for the fun guys! Heidi and Felix are adopting three kids from Boiarka- about an hour from where I live. And that's not all...they'll be back in prayerfully the near future for 2 more beauties they met on a hosting trip last year- once the girls are registered. This is one family you won't want to mess with-- they are raising up a small Ukrainian army!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The numbers

Yesterday my team in Kiev had a very encouraging meeting with some of the key leaders in Ukraine who are working in the realm of orphan rights, foster care and adoption promotion. There were 12 of us meeting and we are praying about the ways that God will unite our efforts to bring the highest impact to reforming the system in Ukraine and bringing families to children.

Here are some interesting statistics and numbers that were shared yesterday--

*30,000 official orphans in Ukraine (these are kids with orphan status)

*Over 70,000 children who are in orphanages or on the streets and without official orphan status (meaning no potential for adoption)

*29,000 registered churches in Ukraine

*2,750 official orphans in the city of Kiev

*Out of the 2,750 orphans in Kiev- only 470 are in orphanages-- the rest are in foster care or are living with guardians.

*There are 1,500 people who have jobs because of these 470 orphans in Kiev (teachers, directors, admin, etc)- which totals 5 million dollars of expense per year.

*In the city of Kiev there were 100 abandoned babies last year. Only 23 of those went into the official system. The others were adopted by Ukrainian families. Of the 23 that were not adopted half were HIV + and half had downs syndrome.

These statistics are sobering to some degree. Especially the fact that there are practically as many registered churches as there are registered orphans. It seems only a little too obvious about how those numbers could work together. The statistics for Kiev are obviously not reflective of the rest of the country- I did find them interesting though. Kiev has the goal of having no orphanages within 5 years- which is very possible, given the fact that there are only 470 in the system now. But the ministry of education here is also resistant to this plan- as you can see by the 1,500 people that are employed. They are fearful of losing jobs. Numerous jobs have been created to perpetuate the orphanage system in Ukraine, and many do not want to see the end of this system. The idea of foster care and adoption is still foreign to many.

Ukraine still has a long way to go- but be encouraged that there are some passionate nationals here that have a heart for the fatherless and vision to see change. I was in their midst on Friday and was very humbled to be dreaming along with them. God will bring justice to His children. He is raising up an army.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


So this past weekend I had the unique opportunity to travel to Venice, Italy and spend some time with some now dear friends! I knew Kristina in college through another friend, but hadn't been in touch with her in years. Well turns out Kristina and her husband Chris are in the process of preparing for an adoption from Ukraine, so when they heard about me living over here and my involvement in adoptions, they invited me to come spend the weekend with them in Venice--where they are stationed with the military- so that they could learn more about Ukraine and the process.

Kristina and I on the Morano island

It was an amazing weekend! I was so blessed by Chris and Kristina and their hospitality, their hearts for the Lord, for adoption, and Ukraine. It was so awesome to spend the weekend talking about all my favorite things with people who were really interested in it all! We spent a day in Venice walking around and weaving through the canals-- so cool. I also got to attend their church with them and meet some other friends interested in adoption! Needless to say, I left refreshed, encouraged and blessed by some new friendships. I can't wait for them to come and visit me in Ukraine-- please pray for them and that this will be soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

One Door Closes...Another Opens

While we were in Kherson region 2 weeks ago, we had planned to visit both of the orphanages we worked with at summer camp. We had the afternoon on Friday in Stari Zburivka (see post below) and then the next day planned to drive to an orphanage in Kalinenska. Well after a 2 hour drive on a road to what seemed like nowhere (I seriously wish I'd taken pictures of this road) we arrived at our we thought. After an 8 hour drive from Kiev to Kherson and then the 2 hour drive to the orphanage we were more than ready to see these kids.

We show up. Door Closes. The director apparently never got the message that we were supposed to come (gotta love the power they like to use) and said the children could not have visitors--they had other things to be doing. There was lots of begging (and praying), even telling her about the gifts we brought. Nope. Still wouldn't budge. This was one of those "this isn't fair" moments that seem to happen too often in life...sometimes even more it seems like in Ukraine.
So here we were, 9 of us from Kiev, wondering what we should do. Drive back to Kiev after all this time and money spent getting here? This was not the plan!! Then through two missionary girls we met in the village (serving with a partner ministry of ours) we learned of another orphanage in this same village. One small village- 2 big orphanages--again-- something else that just isn't right. Now honestly, at this point we were all still pretty disappointed, as we wanted to see OUR kids-- not drive all this way to just "show up" and be with kids we'd never met.
But that in the end is what we did. We showed up- pulled out some basketballs and soccer balls and just started playing. The kids loved it! We were quickly their new best friends. We played for about an hour or two with the kids and then it was time to get back on the road to Kiev, as we wanted to head out while there was still some light. Anya and Boguslava, the two missionary girls begged us to stay the night with them in their little home (remember there are 9 of us). The new kids we befriended at this orphanage were begging us to stay as well. But common sense was telling us to get on the road (and my mind was thinking of my comfortable bed back in Kiev!). So that was that, we said our goodbyes and all piled back into the van.

As we were driving down the road away from the village of Kalinenska, I couldn't help but think deep down- why did we come? What was the purpose of this trip? Maybe we missed something. Maybe we were supposed to spend time with the missionary girls- or more time with the kids. I turned to my friend Galina, "were we supposed to stay?" I whisper. She looks at me, a smile widdening on her face. "I think so." "Well is it too late to turn around?" We tell the driver to stop driving and then turn to our other friends in the van-- "guys, I think the Holy Spirit is whispering something right now...I think we are supposed to go back." (This is the best part)-- my friend Anton smiles and says, "you know, I was thinking the same thing-- I was just thinking of my warm bed back in Kiev and how I wanted to be comfortable-- but I think we are supposed to stay too." "Okay Kolya, turn this car around- we are going back." We called our missionary friends and said to set the table-- we were staying after all. Squeels of joy came echoing out of the phone. To say they were excited would be an understatement. Turns out there aren't any Christians in this village- so these girls really don't ever have a chance to fellowship with other belivers.

So we stayed. We headed back to the orphanage just in time to watch their fall festival and competition for "Miss Autumn"..too bad it wasn't "Miss Spring"- maybe then I could have won! (I know- bad joke.) Anyway, we had a wonderful evening with Anya and Boguslava and were so blessed by them and their ministry. They live in this middle of nowhere town to minister to the needs of the orphans and are doing so with such joy! I was really encouraged by their faith and their hearts.

I slept really good that night too--probably better than I would have in my "comfortable" bed in Kiev!

Enjoying a meal at the home of Anya and Boguslava

Our team with Anya and Boguslava

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

3 Months Later...

It’s easy to write about the success of our summer camps- right after they have all taken place. There are always wonderful stories to share, happy children to show and testimonies to give about how God was at work.

But what happens to these kids later? How do these moments in the summer influence their future lives? How do these seeds of hope continue to grow? Do we stay in touch with them? Do we see them again? Do their lives really change? As you can see…a lot of questions remain.

Last weekend I went with 8 of our volunteers from summer, back to one of the two orphanages to pay the kids a visit and bring some encouragement (along with bags full of candy and some warm socks!) It was so great to see the kids—even if only for a couple hours.

I was especially excited to see Igor, one of the older boys who I hadn't gotten to know pretty well when we brought him to the US last year, and then even better through the summer camp. I brought him a book I thought he might like and we talked for awhile. As Igor reminisced about the camp he shared something that I thought was cool. He said that after the kids were at our camp they went on to another camp, and while they were there the staff didn't even learn their names, plan activities or teach them things. He said he enjoyed the camp we put on so much because it was obvious that we cared. Praise Jesus for this! Sometimes you wonder if the work really does make a difference, if the kids even notice…and then they go and have a total opposite experience, and you realize that yes, Jesus is working through us and the kids can feel the difference.
Another boy, Sasha, also from the same orphanage, has since gone on to a local trade. He heard about our visit and was really sad that he missed seeing all his “Kiev friends”—but he told my friend Yulia on the phone that he is still reading the Bible that one of the leaders gave him and that he is praying for us! Wow—he is praying for us!! He asked us to pray for him as well—a good reminder to be on my knees for these kids—if they think to pray for our team in Kiev, how can I not be reminded to pray for them?

So the answer to the above questions is in many ways yes. I can’t say that every child changes, or that every child sticks with the decisions he/she made. But I saw with my own eyes that seeds are growing, and kids are being encouraged and for that God deserves all the glory!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

UK Blitz

A couple weeks ago I had the wonderful opportunity of meeting up with my dear friend Becky and her friend Heather in England. After a quick day in London we headed up to Edinburgh Scotland and stayed with some friends of friends (gotta love connections) for 2 nights. Scotland is simply charming and we had so much fun exploring the streets, castle and cafes. Here are a few highlights.

Becky, Heather and I in the classic phone booths

The tower bridge at night

In trifalgar square with the Lion

A beautiful day in Edinburgh

On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

You never know when you will find a collection of bagpipe players in kilts!
He said something nice...

The Castle at night

We were excited to spot Mel Gibson!!