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Smile House with Windows

Last Friday (November 9) we visited Smile House to see how things were going. As we started up the narrow road that leads past a small lake we were pleasantly surprised that we no longer had to dodge deep potholes. They had all been filled in. As we emerged from the trees more surprises awaited us-several dump trucks, a paving machine and crew and steam rollers were laying asphalt just beyond the building. We had not thought this possible–and it was very nicely done. Also, the windows were just about all in. By that evening, they were probably finished.

As we looked out of the upstairs windows we realized why the road was paved. Lots are being sold for a new housing development down the street in the once quiet apple orchard. In the past few months several huge mansions have been built and the neighborhood is evolving into a haven for the wealthy. We were astounded. Having watched building crews working throughout the summer, we knew that some new homes were being built but actually seeing the finished products took our breath away. Smile House is in the middle of a high class neighborhood. How this will impact the fate of the ministry remains to be seen. All we know is that this is God’s project and His plan.
We watched the movie Facing the Giants last week for the second time. In the movie a godly man tells the coach a story about two farmers who prayed for rain. The difference between the two was that one went out to his fields and prepared for the rain. He was the one who received it. I feel it’s time for us to start praying and preparing for God’s blessing on this project, for His leading and for His completion. Please join us in this prayer.

Dental Outreach to Camp Dream and Requests

We just returned from a dental outreach to the far eastern border of Ukraine, near Lugansk. I have written an account on http://www.smilealliance.blogspot.com/ . Over the next two months, Richard will be traveling to Uhzgorod on the western border of Ukraine, Zhitomer in the central part, and Ternopil in the southwest. He will join the Mercy Truck ministry dental van on these trips. Dr. Inna will also be going west on alternate dates. There is a huge need for more dentists this summer and throughout the year to help staff this. Our dentists are also working at the Operation Blessings Emmanuel Clinic when not helping with the Mercy Truck ministry. The Smile House Project is more less on hold until additional funding is found or we have confirmation that we should rethink the project. Please pray for guidance.

There are some real needs for dental materials and supplies in order to continue these outreaches. Many things can be obtained here but there are a lot of things which must be sent from the US. If you know of any dentists or others who would like to help with these projects, please contact me at vickig@smilealliance.org ASAP. Thanks so much. Vicki

Using an Umbrella in the Bathroom

I wanted to share this story from our first weeks of living in Ukraine in April. Typically apartments here have two separate rooms for what Americans call the bathroom. The toilet is in one and the bathtub or shower and sink are in the next. I kind of like the arrangement.

A few days after moving to our apartment, we discovered water pouring out of the ceiling and straight into the toilet. The wallpaper on the ceiling was starting to hang down as well. For the next few days I carefully checked before using the facilities. Then one day, I was in a big hurry and sat down on very, very wet seat. Ugh! I didn’t know where the water was coming from and it was quite unsettling. In fact, there was water everywhere. We had our friend Yura get in touch with the landlord but it took him a week or so to come. The flow of water got worse each time this happened which was about every four days. So I started to use an umbrella each time I had to be in there.

When the landlord finally came, he visited the upstairs neighbor who said there was no problem in his apartment. Later that day, the man came down and explained to us that it wasn’t his problem. (This was all explained very loudly in Russian so I can’t tell you for sure that is what he said but it sounded like it.) So the next time it happened, Richard and I went upstairs together and knocked on his door. He again told us it couldn’t be his problem and threw open the door to his toilet room. We were greeted by about several inches of water on the floor. He was appeared to be very surprised.

Again we called the landlord and this time we went up and talked to our neighbor. He found out that this happened when the man took a shower. He had put in a new shower and hadn’t sealed it so it was leaking. Fortunately he only showered every four days. (We try never to share an elevator with him.) He promised not to shower until it was fixed and eventually it was. We now have new ceiling tiles (instead fo the traditional wallpaper) and no more leaks.

My mom got a real kick out of the story (she wanted a picture of me using the umbrella but I declined) and I have giggled many times thinking back on our introduction to apartment living. It was definitely a unique way get acquainted with the neighbor.

Divine Appointments and Boxes

Time to share a quick story. On August 2nd we celebrated our thirty-sixth anniversary. We decided to visit some places in Kyiv which we had not seen in the past. We took the metro to a beautiful park in the suburbs of Kyiv, a place called Babi Yar. There is a memorial to the over 100,000 Jewish Ukrainians and their sympathizers who were killed by the Germans in 1941, their bodies dumped and buried in a deep ravine. (See http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/babiyar.html for more information.) We took a wrong turn at the metro station and wandered through the park for quite awhile before ending up at the memorial. It was lovely and relaxing. We found another memorial erected by Israel which is closer to the actual site than the one erected by the Russians after the war. The actual grave site was bulldozed over and many apartment buildings constructed on top of it.

Later in the day, we went to the downtown area and a huge memorial that sits on the edge of this area. I will write more about these sites in my living in Ukraine blog at a later date. What I want to share is that as we were walking down the hill to go home on the metro, I heard some people speaking English. And being the “shy” person that I am, I spoke to them. Mary, a lady around our age, from the Midwest, had been visiting Ukraine for a number of years. Her adult children were with her for a few days and she was enjoying sharing the sights of Kyiv with them. I believe she had come with a team originally in the late 90’s but had returned on a regular basis to help a hospital in a town about three hours south of Kyiv. Like so many people we meet, there are many, many stories of need and those who are helping to take care of the needs. We talked briefly and exchanged phone numbers and email addresses.

A couple of weeks later she called. She had several boxes of things she had sent over that needed to be distributed and wondered if I could find people who could use the items. Through several subsequent calls, she made arrangements to bring the boxes to Kyiv on her way to the airport. Consequently, on the day before we went to the YWAM retreat, Mary and her taxi driver friends delivered 15 boxes plus some bags of items to our apartment.

A couple of days before I received the boxes, my friend Tanya asked me if we had any clothing left from our humanitarian aid shipment. She explained that there were several very poor families in her church who needed desperately needed clothes, especially larger size dresses and men’s clothing. The things we had sent on the container were mainly for children and there weren’t many things appropriate for adults. Plus, they have all been distributed. But I told Tanya that I would check out what Mary was bringing. So after Mary left the boxes I spend the day sorting through them. I called Tanya for information on the church members, sizes, ages, etc.. And. . . again, it is so much fun to watch God at work. When the sorting was complete, four large boxes were filled with beautiful dresses, men’s clothing and children’s clothes—all in the correct sizes. There were enough things for each person to receive at least one outfit. I am always amazed and amused at God’s timing and provision. These boxes had been sent many months previously and to an entire different location, yet they arrived just when they were needed for specific individuals.

Yet the blessings in Mary’s boxes don’t end there. Five other large boxes were given to the YWAM ministry for the orphanage in Makarov. I am hoping to get there when we get back from our trip to the states. School is starting soon and clothing is in short supply. Another box full of fabric will go to Mostysche for their sewing program. Also, Mary’s boxes contained macaroni and cheese, tuna fish and other foods which she wanted some kids to enjoy. I am thinking that the ministry of Karitas would be a fun place to show the cooks how to make tuna casserole. This is where they feed very poor children a meal a day. Other practical kitchen and personal items will find their homes as well. And I am the reciprocant of largest blessing of all because I am able to enjoy the fun of seeing the joy and wonder when people receive these gifts sent by this incredible lady.

Richard and I had asked for a divine appointment on the morning of our anniversary. I wonder how often I miss out because I don’t ask. PTL!

Recycling Ukrainian Style

We have some new friends, Forrest and Darcy, Nicolas and Natasha. They have only been in Ukraine a week but took the time to have us over for dinner the other night. Now that’s hospitality. They are dear people and will be taking the DTS (Discipleship Training School) at YWAM in September. They moved here early so the kids can get started in their new school. After selling everything in America, they moved here with a commitment of at least 10 years. Five years ago, the children were adopted from an orphanage in the Eastern part of Ukraine. God has been putting it on their hearts to come and serve ever since that time. Lovely family!

Anyway, Darcy mentioned that she is so used to recycling that it is hard for her not to do so. It looks like there is no such thing here. At least, it looks like that at first glance. I was able to share our recycling secret. Her name is Baba Halya. She’s maybe a little older than I am—but that’s hard to figure out. She works outside our building early in the morning and late in the evening. She cleans around the front stoop but her main function is to sort the garbage. She has quite a system. The cardboard boxes are neatly folded and bundled—I don’t know what happens to them after that. Glass bottles are put together. Used clothing and shoes are sorted and the good ones go into a little building. I think she may sell some things out of it—I saw a lady getting a purse there one day.

She also takes a little cart and picks up junk around the building. She is always cheerful and greets us. She tells me that I must learn Russian so we can talk. One day she had picked up a bottle of beer and was drinking the little bit that was left. We “chatted” as we walked together toward our entrance. She told me how much she loves Ukrainian beer. I am including a picture of her. She was thrilled to have me take it—I just wish she had still had her bottle of beer with her. She is a kick.

So that is my recycling secret. It just goes to show that things are not always as they first appear.

Mercy Trucks and Dr. Ina

The Mercy Trucks web site is now up and running http://www.mercytrucksua.org/ . Jeff and Greg Colker will be in the US for almost two months and during that time will be talking to churches and organziations in order to help raise support for the Colker Family www.colkerfamily.org and for the Mercy Truck ministry here in Ukraine. Richard and I will also be in the US for three weeks and during that time will talk to a couple of churches. There will be a fundraising picnic in Cle Elum, Washington on September 10 in support of the Smile House project. Please keep these projects in your prayers and if you are impressed to help with any of them, donations can be made through Smile Alliance International P. O. Box 240 Cle Elum, WA 98922.

Dr. Ina has been helping get the Mercy truck ready for ministry when we return. In the August 1 post I told some of her story. God has provided some funds for her support but the monthly pledge of $220, although really wonderful, is a small amount to live on in this inflationary economy. Please keep her situation in your prayers as well.

Shopping for Food can be an interesting experience


Shopping for food in Ukraine can be a real experience. I talked to some new friends today who have been here less than a week. They were saying they’d like to tag along with us sometime so they can learn about some of the items that a person can find on the shelves. They had just found some wieners that their kids were ecstatic about—they said they tasted just like Oscar Meyer wieners. Makes a person want to break out in song.

A Ukrainian friend told me that when she was a little girl (she is in her mid-thirties), her mother would get her and her twin sister up at 5 AM so they could stand in lines to get things at the store. The more people in a group, including the kids, the more you could get. I can’t imagine what it was like. Sometimes they would stand all day and then the store would run out of whatever it was you were waiting for.

Today, there are things absent from the shelves—at least the things that I want to buy—like peanut butter. Very few people like it here. My problem is that I want things I am used to America. I am spoiled. Rang Hee from Counterpart International sent a jar of Jiffy to the Counterpart office in Kyiv for us. We got a call saying there was some kind of butter in a jar waiting for us. They were wondering if it would spoil if we didn’t get it immediately.

It took me a long time to find baking soda but I finally did so. Cornstarch seems to be non-existent. There is potato starch that we can thicken things with—it just makes really spongy lumps which are a little unappetizing. There are shelves full of mayonnaise and ketchup. It is difficult to find a plain one of these two items though. Meat flavored mayonnaise seems to be the favorite. There are also many other flavors, each with a unique taste. Same thing with the ketchup. Plain potato chips don’t seem to be available except for some boxed ones that are more like pressed strips. Chips come in ham, cheese, chicken, mushroom, shrimp, and several other flavors. We have found very small packages of corn chips at our closest grocery store but that is the only place we have found them. I can make “haystacks” and which I have always loved. Yeah!

The fresh produce in the spring and summer is fantastic. There are a lot of little open air markets as well as little ladies who sit along the street and sell produce. We have even found lettuce in a few places—it’s not very popular except for a garnish. Right now peaches and melons are abundant and cheap. A form of zucchini has been a staple in our diet for a few months. I really love the produce and it is inexpensive. I am sure that will be different during the winter months. I can’t bring myself to buy chicken or any kind of meat in the markets. You can see Richard in the picture and what looks like rubber chickens next to him. This was taken on a very hot day. And NO they are not rubber chickens.

Tomatoes and cucumbers have been beautiful and plentiful throughout the spring and summer. Cabbage and potatoes are also staples. And many different kinds of fruits are available if you are willing to pay the price. Ukrainian chocolate is great. We really like the 76% bars and some of the other dark, dark candy. Yet we have never found chocolate chips. Also, no liquid flavorings are available. You can buy powdered vanilla in very small packets but it is very bitter so if you don’t get it all mixed into a recipe it can ruin it.
I will write more about shopping at a later date. Just suffice it to say that it is interesting and can be a very daunting experience as well.

August 15 Pictures and Update on Smile House


Last Tuesday, our friends Ted and Virginia, took us out to the Smile House project so we could take pictures. The builders are really going to town. They are doing an excellent job and have the front section almost built. They are raising the roof a little more than a meter. You can see this in the pictures. It is always great to see the progress.

We just found out that we have to buy a transformer for electricity and it is needed ASAP. It will cost almost $11,000. The funds for the building hopefully will pay for a roof. If you have any ideas of how we can get funding or if you feel inspired to help, please write to me at smilealliance@yahoo.com or Smile Alliance International at P. O. Box 240 Cle Elum, WA 98922. Donations to SAI are tax-deductible.

Thoughts on YWAM Leadership Conference Ukraine


We just returned from a weekend retreat, leadership conference for Youth With a Mission for of all Eastern Europe. We were invited to attend as volunteers for YWAM. Held in a beautiful setting in the woods, the facility had plenty of room for the 200 plus participants. Typical camp food served in large quantity was provided three times daily. The beds were really hard, but I’m getting used to this at the camps. The building which housed us was very large and we had our own bathroom. That was a treat.

But fellowship, worship, and encouragement were the highlights of the weekend. In my last posting, I admitted my vulnerability. I had thought of removing the post, yet it is part and parcel of who I am and where I am at in my walk with God. I believe this weekend was a gift from a loving Father who wanted to encourage not only us but the many young leaders who have been serving for a long time throughout the former Soviet Union. There were many young families, single adults and several people our age and even older. Armenia, Moldova, Russia, Georgia, Ukraine, and Belarus were well represented. These leaders had sacrificed their time and resources to attend. (I believe these conferences are held every two years.) The leaders from Perm, Russia traveled by train for 38 hours to attend. There were others from Siberia. One of the base leaders had sold his car in order to come. I’m sure there were many other stories of sacrifice that I did not hear.

What touched my heart was the dedication of these young people, dedication to their work of spreading the gospel to unreached people. Mega-talented individuals and teams led worship, presented their ministries, played and prayed at the meetings. And so many of them, if not all, showed signs of discouragement and stress from the many challenges they face daily. (One young lady talked to me about the frustrations of trying to start a ministry and how she saw her dream disappearing.) These issues were very real and were addressed by Kelly H. and the older YWAM leaders, Jerry and Al, who were present.

The different ministries and approaches to them were amazing to see. (The young man in the picture is a rapper from Belarus and he is always smiling. I don’t understand Russian but it was very cool to hear him doing rap and hearing the name of Jesus throughout it.) The stories of lives touched and changed, the pictures of those helped and encouraged, and the shared visions of future work were beautiful. It was a time to network and see where we could help. There were invitations for us to visit many different bases. It was fun.

God gave us so much encouragement through Jerry P. who took time to talk to us and pray for us. Also, his message on Sunday morning was a big highlight in the weekend. My friend, Tanya, told me that she could not stop crying as she listened to it. I saw many others who were affected the same way. Jerry’s message essentially was one of encouragement. He talked about different stages that our faith goes through and he encouraged us not to let the enemy rob us of our faith. He prayed that each person present would be blessed and that the Father would restore to them what the enemy had stolen from them—faith, joy, truth, etc.. (The picture is of Jerry.)

These are the best of times. These are the times when we can see God at work and know with a certainly that He is in control, that He loves us and that He has called us to be here. I am willing to say, “Yes, Lord” and to keep saying, “Yes”—even through the times of vulnerability and when I can’t see what is ahead.

Reality

Sometimes it’s not easy to be upbeat. Sometimes being in ministry is difficult and emotionally challenging. Dare I be vulnerable? Do I have the right to feel sad and lonely? Can I share in my blog the struggles as well as the joy? I probably shouldn’t in case my mother reads it and begins to worry. Or what if someone is thinking about ministry and it discourages them? But if I only share the joy, I am not telling the true story and that is important as well.

In all the books I read about God’s provision and leading, things always seem to happen where you can see the Father’s exact leading. But in our life, this has been a struggle. How does a person know what God wants? How does one do His will or even seek to know it?

So today, I am sharing a struggle. We have been living on the left bank in Kyiv and I like our apartment even though the landlord still has a lot of stuff in it. With our things, it is crowded. Yet I realize that there are many people who live in Ukraine that have so much less room and so many more people in their space. In December, I felt God was showing us that He was going to help us find a house which we could buy. That had not been one of our original plans, but through a series of circumstances, it looked possible. The practice had not sold and we felt we could not even think about buying until this happened. Just before we came in February, the sale of the practice was final. The house God had shown us was still available and we thought it might be where we were being led. But the day before our arrival it sold for cash. We had asked God for guidance and though it was disappointing we knew that this was His answer.

So, we moved to Kyiv in April and God provided us with a great apartment, in a nice neighborhood. We can see how difficult it would have been to have moved here right to a village. It has been a huge blessing to be near the Youth With a Mission base where we have been welcomed and supported emotionally and practically as well. So we have been very happy and content here. I hadn’t thought about a house for a long time. In fact, I have been getting so I like city life and its advantages. The main problem is getting to the other side of town, the Smile House project and Mostysche Orphanage—it is 56 kilometers from here. We have looked and looked for a vehicle that we can afford but so far it has been a frustrating experience.

Then on Monday, through a series of events, it looked like we were supposed to go house hunting again. I wasn’t really enthusiastic but agreed to look. Our new and dear friends, Ted and Virginia, offered to take us in their van and our friend, Svyatislav, who is working in the real estate industry, went with us. The two places we looked at were horrific and close to $100,000 each. (The picture on the left is the shower setup in the first house we looked at for $85,000.) But the agent mentioned that there was another house in the village for sale although the owner’s were asking $140,000. We knew that was beyond our price range but thought we might as well look. As a renovation of an older house, it was the nicest we have seen in this country. It was extremely clean, about seven miles from Smile House, had a garage and a lot of land. The second floor was not yet finished but it would be perfect for storing all the SAI boxes and there was another out building for storage. It had its own well and on top of it all the furniture was included. I didn’t want to even get my hopes up because I knew it was out of our price range. If our dental laser had sold, we might be able to do it but it was still more than we could spend and still have enough to live on. The agent said it had been for sale for awhile and the owner was willing to reduce the price.

So, we went home and prayed about it. We only want to do what God wants us to do. I tried not to think about it and to be stoic about the whole thing but then I began to see so many things I liked about the house and many advantages to it. Yet, we both said that we were not here for our pleasure or benefit. We are here to serve. This is not about us. We prayed for direction from God either through a word from a friend, Godly council, the Bible or any other way He wanted. Nothing! In fact, the past couple of days my email inbox has been very, very empty. A friend from America did call but about something else, and there has been total silence in all respects. The amount of $125,000 came to Richard’s mind and stayed there.

We viewed the house on Tuesday afternoon. Thursday, Svyatislav called and said that someone had stopped at the house without an agent and offered the owner the full price. The owner had worked with the agent for quite awhile and said he would sell us the house for $135,000 so she would get her commission. We knew that was impossible and we offered $125,000 and told them we just couldn’t go any higher. We were stretching our budget to offer that much. We know the house is worth the asking price (two years ago houses were about 1/3 of the prices they are now) and it is only fair for the owner to get it. It was nice that he offered it to us for less but we have to be obedient. We have had no confirmation and the price is out of range. So. . .

No, it doesn’t make it easy. The hardest part was that I was happy where I was living and I had not been thinking about a house. Then this all came up. It would have been better never to have seen it—just like at Christmas time. Why? Why do I have to be tested like this? On top of it all, I realized that yesterday was exactly a year from when our house sale in Cle Elum had been finalized. Perhaps, I have never grieved for what we have given up. Is that why I haven’t been able to stop crying since yesterday afternoon? Perhaps I have felt in my heart that it was wrong to grieve but you know, I think God wants us to be vulnerable. It isn’t always easy to give up a lifestyle. The hardest part is giving up the family connection—getting to see our children and grandchildren. The things aren’t as important and I don’t know why this has hit me so hard because it really doesn’t matter where we live, just that we do what God wants us to do.

I guess to conclude this, I must say that we are still willing to go anywhere and do anything that God asks us to do. He did answer—it was NO. It is not easy but it is okay. Our purpose here is not for our comfort or our good but it is to glorify God’s name and to be His instruments. I may not ever understand what this is all about, I just have to be willing to put one foot in front of the other and to say, YES.

Update as of August 23, 2006. The realtor called yesterday still wanting to sell it to us for $135,000. It was tempting to go ahead and say Okay but we have done this all our lives–paid more than we said we would and it took us into deep debt for many years. God gave us the grace to say NO–we can’t go above $125,000. So she said she would show it to other people–apparently the offer for $140,000 didn’t materialize. It’s okay. God may still let us have it for the price we can afford and if not, He has a better plan. I feel there was a victory of sorts since we stuck to what we knew we should do. Thank you God for the grace to do that.