Thursday, April 22, 2010


Time is winding down, and I am getting very anxious to be home! But, I must say, I have been enjoying these last few weeks more than I thought I would. Emily and I have been pretty busy with classes, English club, our new English worship service, and loooooong overdue Russian lessons!! Back in October, we met an English teacher from the Kherson art school. We have helped her edit papers and met with several of her English classes. About three weeks ago, she suggested that, to return the favor, we should study Russian with her. Emily and I emphatically agreed, and now we meet with Natalia (and her cat, Mura) three times a week. It would have been sooooo helpful to have found someone to study with when we first arrived, but better late than never! I feel like, just in the past three weeks, I have learned as much Russian as I learned the first 7 months! We also go to class with her about once a week and talk with her students about American culture and whatever else they are interested in. It’s been nice to have something besides classes to plan for and look forward to each week.
In the beginning of April, Ruslan asked Emily and I to start an English worship service on Sundays in place of Bible Study. I was a little unsure about how it would work, but in the end, the service has turned out to be very similar to Bible Study. For the most part, the same people attend, and their level is English is such that we still need a translator. We teach them a lot of English songs and memorize a new text each week. The people seem to enjoy it, which is what I had hoped for. Unfortunately, the only day we have available to do this service is Sunday, and the people we are trying to target (non-Adventists) are in their own churches pretty much all day. We are still advertising, however, and making connections with non church members through our classes and English club. We keep praying that God will use our programs to bring people to Him!
I’ve also continued meeting with Irina once a week. Things I have learned from this time:
1. Witnessing to someone who already has their own beliefs is a lot harder than witnessing to someone who knows nothing about God. 2.The things that Adventists believe really do make perfect sense! 3. Having to explain your beliefs to someone else forces you to understand/be sure of them yourself. 4. I am unbelievably thankful that my parents sent me to a school where I was able to learn more about and study the Bible. 5. God more than compensates for your shortcomings. When you don’t understand, or don’t have the words to say, He gives them to you! If you give yourself over to God and let Him use you, even the circumstances you aren’t really sure about can be a blessing.
As an SM, I constantly hear people say “God is using you!” and in the back of my mind, I know it’s true. After months of seemingly fruitless work, however, it’s easy to get a little discouraged. So, needless to say, watching God work in Irina’s life is more than a little exciting.
A couple weeks ago, Emily received an answer to prayer; word that she landed a job in the States. The job, however, requires her to be back a little earlier than she was expecting. So, in two weeks, I’ll be saying goodbye to her and finishing the last couple of weeks on my own. I’m very glad that I will be busy those last few days, because being here alone would leave a lot of opportunity for homesickness. I am a little jealous….but comforted by the fact that I won’t be far behind her. :)
I am still really enjoying my beginner conversation English class. Although the language barrier has been difficult, I am getting to know my students better and better. I’m becoming rather attached to them! I am particularly fond of an older woman, Valia, who is a member of our church. She makes me laugh daily, and reminds me a lot of my own grandmother, which I’m sure accounts for most of the affection towards her. I thought that I wouldn’t enjoy teaching older people as much as I did the younger students; but I think I like it just as much, if not more!

Friday, March 19, 2010


The second half of my time here in Ukraine has been flying by! Now that I have only a little more than two months left here, I’m starting to think of all the things I want to do but probably won’t have time for! It is apparent that I am running out of time for things like, a trip to the Crimea (and other assorted places), visiting the Nikolaev zoo, and semi-Russian fluency. As anxious as I am to get home, the reality of leaving here permanently is setting in. 9 months was(is) long enough for me too sorely miss my family and friends, but also to fall in love with my new ones. May 24 will be a bittersweet day, indeed.
In the middle of February, Emily and I finished our first set of classes. I enjoyed teaching English 2, but I was definitely ready for something new! We took a week to regroup, and then at the end of February, we started our new courses. Emily is teaching the advanced class and I’m teaching the beginners!! I was a little nervous about teaching a class full of people who know hardly any English at all. How do you teach a group of Russian speakers when you, yourself, don’t know Russian?! In the end, I decided to reorganize the class a bit. Instead of teaching a beginner grammar class, I am now teaching Conversational English, and loving every minute of it!! I find this class to be much more rewarding as far as the students’ progress is concerned. It is so exciting to hear them using the phrases and words we have learned in class. One thing I do miss about my English 2 class is the relationships I was able to form with my students. It is much more difficult to get to know people when the only things you know how to say to each other (thus far) are “Hello! How are you?”, “How was the weather today?”, and “What is your favorite color?” It has been a challenge for me, but one I am enjoying. My Russian is improving fairly rapidly (although I am nowhere NEAR fluency). I usually have one of Emily’s advanced students come in to translate for about 10 minutes each class in case my students have questions, but for the most part, I am doing it on my own….with the help of my Russian dictionary. Instead of teaching three formal classes a week, Emily and I are only doing two, and on Wednesdays, we have a free-for-all meeting of sorts. It is a chance for our students to come and practice with each other, ask us questions about anything and everything, and just to get to know each other better. I wasn’t really sure if people would come to a more informal class, but it has been really effective so far. It has also been an opportunity for Emily and I to discuss with them topics such as health and morals. Our students have been very receptive and interested, and we are grateful for a more discussion-type meeting to talk with them.
After the longest, coldest winter that Southern Ukraine has experienced in 15 years, it is FINALLY starting to warm up!! The snow has melted, the sun makes an occasional appearance, and some of our winter clothes are being stored away. Everything is starting to look/feel/smell like it did back in October, and being outside isn’t a miserable experience anymore! I never thought I would say this, but I am definitely looking forward to a long, hot, even humid summer in Tennessee :)
Several weeks ago, we celebrated Women’s Day here in Ukraine. Why this holiday has been restricted to mothers only in the United States, I’m not quite sure. But since I have now lived somewhere where it is observed, I will be celebrating Women’s Day for the rest of time! On March 8, all schools and most business close down in honor of the population’s finest. Flowers, balloons, and candy are bought; Cakes, bisquits and sweets are baked; and women are given well deserved rest and recognition for the day. Emily and I were surprised at English Club the night before with our own flowers, chocolate, and lotions. The next morning we were both greeted by Stas, Ira and Lena with a cheerful “Happy Woman Day!” accompanied by a glass mug with each of their names and faces painted on in pink fingernail polish. I can’t help but smile every time I use it :)
At the beginning of March, I took a weekend vacation over to Nikolaev. Thanks to the snow/ice damaged roads, the hour mashrutka ride was nearly twice as long, but other than that, the getaway was very relaxing and much needed. I stayed at the conference office and had many entertaining (only partially understood) conversations with the watchman (who insisted on stuffing me full of borscht and bread), made a trip down to McDonalds for the free wifi and French Fries, explored downtown a bit, and just had some enjoyable time to myself.
Our Bible Study and English Club are continuing as normal. More and more people are attending English Club, which has been a huge blessing. One of the biggest struggles we face with our programs is that we have a hard time getting church members to attend. Once we are gone, we want the people from the community that we have connected with to have contacts within the church, but it is hard to make those contacts when church members rarely participate in the programs. We are still praying that the connections will somehow be made so that after we leave, our new friends will still have an avenue in which to see Christ.
I have started meeting with the mother of one of my English 2 students. Her name is Irina, and she teaches English to elementary schoolers. She called me a few weeks ago, wanting to talk about some more advanced grammar concepts and to study the Bible in English. After meeting with her, I discovered that she has a very interesting religious history. In her teens, after being brought up a semi-practicing Catholic, she became an atheist. Soon after she started studying at a university, she starting attending services at a Jewish synagogue, and soon moved her two small children and husband to a new city in order to stay close to the synagogue. Her husband didn’t approve of her religious affiliation, and soon left her (pregnant with a third child) to raise the kids on her own. Long story short, Irina found herself, new boyfriend in tow, disregarding many of the Jewish customs and laws, and soon found herself attending a Baptist church near her home. So, another atheist husband and two children later, she still attends this Baptist church, and is searching for the truth about religion and Christ! I have had the opportunity already to discuss with her laws about the Sabbath, laws about unclean meats, and some of the difference between Judaism and Adventism. She is extremely hesitant to study the Old Testament because of her Jewish past, so talking with her was very interesting. I am more than excited to keep meeting with her, and am so thankful that God has given me this opportunity to witness for Him! We are going to meet every Friday to study the Bible together. Please pray that she will continue to be interested in learning more about God and that I can be an effective witness to her!

Sunday, January 17, 2010


It’s kind of hard to believe that another year is here, and that four months have already gone by since I first got to Ukraine. While in the moment, those four months seemed to drag on FOREVER, looking back it seems like I only blinked and then they were gone! It’s strange how time works that way…

So much has happened since I last posted! Emily and I started our English classes in November after being postponed yet again due to swine flu. I cannot even tell you how nice it was to finally have something to do!! I am teaching English 2 and Emily is teaching English 1. She definitely has a harder time with her classes for obvious reasons. It is extremely difficult to teach English with little knowledge of the native language of your students. I must say, I don’t envy her at all. We have nearly 40 students total, ranging in age from 12 to 77. I have 22 students in my class and I love love love teaching! Im not sure if it’s because I simply have something to do now, or if I would like anyway, but I am so grateful to be enjoying my time here a little more. Most of my students speak far beyond level two English, but they love getting the practice and its allowed me to be a little more creative with my lesson studies. We have discussions, write papers, play games, and on occasion, I even make them sing. Although it was more than frustrating to have to wait this long to start classes, I can see the way that God used that situation! Over half my students signed up for the class in the two weeks that we were postponed, one of whom we have been having bible studies with after class once a week. It’s been exciting to see where God has opened doors for us to witness for Him! We will start a new set of classes in the middle of February, and hopefully those will please me as much as these do!!

When I left for Ukraine in August, I had no plans to return home until May. Long story short, things worked out for me to come home for Christmas, and I’m so glad I did! It was great to see family and friends for a little while and of course to be back in the US! You just don’t realize what an amazing life and home you have until you are away from it. What blessed lives we live! Before we headed back to the States, however, Emily and I spent a few days in Prague. It was glorious!! Prague is the most beautiful city I have ever been to. It is so old and regal-looking. I would have loved to spend more time there, as I know we only experienced a small portion of its awesomeness. :) We went to the Prague castle, walked across the Charles Bridge, spend some time in the Dvorak and Smetana museums, visited the Astronomical Clock and Old Town Square, did some shopping in the Christmas market, got slightly confused by the metro…., ate amazingly cheap food, located the biggest metronome in the world, got snow flurried on, climbed the clock tower to watch the sunset, and overall just had a truly fantastic time. For any of you planning a trip to Europe, Prague is a must see!!! The rest of my vacation was spent relaxing at home. All the traveling I could have been doing, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. :) It was the perfect two weeks.

Although leaving home was extremely hard, I was excited to see my Ukrainian family and friends again! It was fun to see everyone again and to start classes again! Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long to start work again. We are still holding our Bible study and English club once a week, and English Sabbath School is going strong as always. I am starting to become more and more glad that I chose to come here this year. Although it’s been pretty tough and frustrating, I can see the ways that God is using me here, and it’s so exciting! It’s also amazing to look back and see how much I have grown spiritually. If I could say nothing else positive about this experience, that would be enough!! Nothing will strengthen your spiritual walk like realizing that you have nothing else except your God. It’s quite humbling.
Of course, the winter that I spend here would be an uncharacteristically snowy one….I hate snow. This last week has been cold and icy (not an element conducive with the uncoordinated)! And when the snow melts, everything is a muddy mess. Snow seems so charming when it’s falling from the sky….but it so isn’t!!! It’s wet, and cold, and slippery. Did I mention it’s cold?! I absolutely cannot wait for it to go away!! The good news is, as spring approaches, the sun is going down later and later! All the darkness is very discouraging so I can’t wait to spend more time with the sunshine! Plus the onset spring promises more fresh food!! One can only eat cabbage and potatoes for so many meals before they become less than appealing. We have been seeing a lot of apples lately, however. So that is something to be grateful for!

In November, as I’m sure most of you know, we got some horrible news about our fellow SM Kirsten Wolcott. While serving on the island of Yap, she was found, murdered, in the woods after a morning run. I had only met Kirsten once, but her death shook me pretty badly. And of course, serving as an SM myself, it hit quite close to home. What a sad way to be reminded of how short and precious life is! But what a wonderful way to spend the last few months of her life; serving the Lord!!