Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Prophets and Poo

So this week we travelled to Lutsk to attend the YWAM Ukraine conference. This was a week of networking, worship and hearing about what the other bases are doing. We got to meet some wonderful people and followed said wonderful people around like needy puppies, because it's nice to make new friends. We're the only Brits and as such get sucked into much banter re Aussies, scones, the royal wedding and the fact that WE INVENTED THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. 

So the conference was good. Trilingual worship sessions. Some...interesting food. 

We had an extra day in Lutsk before we had to catch our night train home, so we hung out with a missionary couple and their two adopted kids. John had possibly the best man day of his life thus far - sauna, go karts, beer marinated shashlik (BBQ) and a plunge pool in the garden. He was pink with glee the entire time. It was lovely. 
We left to catch our all night train and by this point I was feeling pretty rough, but didn't think much of it as was pregnant and tired. We got on the train and it was pretty cool - we had our own cabin thing with bunk beds. Like ex soviet harry potter. We sat around and chatted and played card games until we were randomly joined by this guy from south africa who we'd briefly met earlier that day. He just happened to be on the same train as us. I don't know his real name because everyone just refers to him as 'the prophet'. Meaning that he's got a gift of knowing what God wants to say directly to people, and he has the guts and obedience to share it with them. 

So I must confess I was pretty moody about having to make polite conversation with this guy. I was feeling hot, sicky, squashed and my back was hurting something rotten and I just wanted to go to bed. I sulked a bit and then decided to go for a lie down, but as I got up this guy grabbed my hand, looked me in the eye and asked when my baby was due. 
Well, as soon as he touched my hand I knew I wanted to stay and hear what he wanted to say. 
It was fairly epic, and was completely bang on for me. Stuff this guy could not possibly have known about my heart, my fears and my dreams all came out of his mouth and it was saturated in love, love, love. God really loves us. Enough to grab us on a train in Ukraine and prove it. (He also told us a few things about our daughter. Which is nice.)
Then the prophet guy did this to a few other people in the group - tissues got passed around - and by the time he left we all had peace and giggles coming out of our ears. 
So that was pretty epic. I love how God just springs fun stuff on us, stuff we could never have achieved for ourselves. 

We all kind of peeled off to bed, but then Daniel ran to bathroom and threw up. And then I ran to the bathroom and threw up. Then Daniel did again. Then I did again. Then Tanya followed suit. The night pretty much continued like that, with explosions from both ends. 

It's horrible having food poisoning but I would like you to picture this: You're lying in your bed which is moving about a lot because the train appears to have been built by angry monkeys. You are fighting down the yuk because you are so exhausted from running to the bathroom, but it's no good and have to make a dash for it. You make it just in time and when it's passed you realise you are in a metal, unventilated, filthy box and you're in bare feet. Which for some reason are now wet. And you have to find a flush which for some reason is on the floor (?!) and then try to turn taps on without touching anything with your hands. And you left your toothbrush somewhere in the dark. And when you get back from your cabin you are joined by a new passenger who apparently loves beer and ciggies, but not soap. So you have to run to the bathroom again. 

Yeah. Not funsies. But mercifully, John escaped the bug of horrid and was able to get me home, feed me tiny sips of water and stroke my head as I whimpered pitifully. (This is also nice for him just because i'm glad he didn't get ill. Am not completely selfish human. Sometimes.)
Then commenced 24 hours of sleeeeeeep and toilet, but this morning woke up feeling much better. Can handle toast. Nice toast, nice comforting toast with your crusty goodness. Toasty friend. 

So it was the best of times and the worst of times. And you have not truly experienced Dickens until you have heard Vova reading this passage out loud. Complete genius. 

Other thoughts:
- Have got some contacts now of people looking after girls trapped in the sex industry, we might be going to Kiev on the way home to do some research into that. It's not an easy thing to get into here because the church are apparently in some denial (translator at the conference wouldn't even translate the word 'prostitute') because of the shame culture here. I like being YWAM. We have no shame/ social boundaries. Bit like Jesus. Hopefully.
- First English club went well, I was at home poorly sick but John said it was great. We didn't have permission (i.e. annoying paper work) to do it so the boys snuck into the uni and did it anyway. The students themselves had requested the club so...
- Orphanages stuff is developing well, and we've got loads of ideas to bring home to church. The problems are overwhelming but with God 'impossible is nothing'. I think I just crowbarred a Nike advert into the Bible. 
- Andrew, having got to know us, for some reason still thinks we'd be good as house parents for the home for graduated orphans so we need to do some serious praying about this. 
K John is home and I must go because he's rather interesting as a human. 
p.s. Oksana just told me that one of the girls at the orphanage is pregnant. She's about 14. 

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


I wish there was a way to paint with words, to show you everything here in a way you could actually feel/ smell/ taste. But this is quite difficult, so I’ll just tell you as best as I can and you can engage your imagination…if facebook hasn’t killed it…

Where to start? With three hours of church in Russian, because the service got somewhat hijacked by a blind group telling their testimonies and singing Ukrainian songs on the accordian. For an hour. Southover would have had a siezure, collectively. 

Or we could discuss at length the first orphanage we visited – and are going back to tomorrow – where the kids were so excited to just play games for ten minutes before they were called away to do more work. And the director said we can visit every Wednesday, as long as we pay to get some of their windows fixed. Which is kind of normal for getting into state run institutions here, you make it worth their while and they’ll let you do their job for them. 

Hmmm, I think I’ll focus more on the disabled orphanage we went to yesterday. First, some background: Stalin’s perfect society did not have any room for anybody with any kind of disability, so they built ‘orphanages’ miles away from anywhere and put all the ‘unhealthy’ people in them. Twenty years after Ukraine gained it’s independence, these places are still the main destination where people send their disabled family members.

On arriving our OM friends Gert and Ira took us into the new room of the orphanage that their Dutch church had paid for, a space big enough for ten people to play and learn in. When we walked in the children were beside themselves with wanting to hug and play. I just said ‘da’ to everything they said to me, so apparently I have agreed to buy one of the girls a doggy. And they have a ball pit.
The second part we visited was the section that had been rennovated by an American church, for the children who had been rated ‘the best’. They were seen as able to learn and they had their own classroom. Then we went through to the main area where the rest of the 90 children hung out all day.
As a team we just discussed how on earth I’m going to communicate this over a blog, and we’re all bewildered by the weight of it all. So I’m just going to tell you some facts;
-          The ‘kids’ ages range from about 7 to 30 ish years old.
-          There were 3 staff for around 50 disabled ‘children’.
-          They all just mill around all day in the concrete yard.
-          Nobody knows what disablities people have, they’re just classified as ‘unhealthy’ or ‘autistic’.
-          Nobody is separated from anybody else, regardless of age or gender or disablity.
-          One young woman doesn’t like clothes so she wasn’t wearing any.
-          There was a lot of rocking, screaming and shouting. The staff were concerned about me being there because of my bump and the unpredictable violence that can happen there. Many children had bruises and scratches on their faces. (I was fine, they were all very gentle and loving towards me and bump.)
-          At night the staff lock the residents in their bedrooms, which we weren’t shown, and go home. There’s one person around in case anything kicks off. Did I mention this is all age groups together?

So that was the disabled orphanage. They’re not orphans, but they may as well be.
And if we didn’t have a heart for this country, we do now. 
I think we're convinced that this is where we are meant to be based for the forseeable future. Our brains have already adapted into 'when we come back to live here' mode, and i'm sad about having to leave our friends here for six months. But i'm also very excited to come home because I miss everyone and cannot wait to meet our daughter! Hurry up January...
Here are some photos for your eyes

This is a fire upon which we cooked Shashlik (Ukrainian BBQ) at a rehab centre in the country.

 And this is Senya and Vova pretending to kill a chicken. They did not actually kill it. 

ok, lots of love, byeeee xxxxx


Monday, 12 September 2011

We are not epic like proper missionaries.

"Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring"
           - Jesus
 So many stories already to tell you, but i'll try to focus because one must not ramble.

So we got to drive into the country to visit a rehab project run by an American couple called Mark and Laura. Mark and Laura are large, solid and hard as nails. You would not mess with either of them - he was an addict for thirteen years before becoming a pastor, and she has been in the army and also a guard in prisons.
We arrive and they bring out their clients to say hi, one of whom has the worst burn scars i've ever seen. I don't know why. He was nice, and had already been there for a year. Most clients stay at the centre for two years. When I say 'centre' I mean 'farm' because that's what it is; a few ramshackle concrete buildings, pigs and chickens everywhere, an outside shower, no running water, a drop off loo (think slumdog) and a cellar full of suspicious looking pickled goods. We got the full tour of the yard, John got to chase a chicken with a stick and I got to hear all about how Mark artificially inseminated a pig by hand. 
Did I mention the toilet and shower are outside, in wooden shacks? In Ukraine. Where winters would cause the average brit to panic buy tinned goods and start shrieking about the state of the roads. The sheer grit of these people was...humbling. I stopped my yuppie worries about how I was going to raise our daughter in Ukraine - at least we'll have running water!
To illustrate the balls of this couple, i'll just let you know that the Police turned up drunk one night to cause trouble. After trying some intimidation tactics (Laura found this hilarious), and generally poking about, the Police demanded the van. Just 'cos.
Mark said 'fine, as long as I can breathalise you first'. When the Police failed the breathaliser test they were told that no, they may not nick the van. So they left.

I'm glad we're living in the city. It's grey and grim and a bit different to Lewes, but we are in community and I don't have to face down scary officials in uniform.

Corruption is a huge problem here. When we come back, renting an apartment is a scary concept because a contract doesn't mean much, so after you've fixed it up (and they need fixing up) the landlord can decide he likes it and just kick you out. You have no rights, and to involve the Police can be a bit counterproductive. We've heard quite a few stories about dodgy stuff happening with landlords, but we've got our Ukrainian friends to help us navigate all this. And for now our biggest worry is how to read the labels on food packaging.

On a nicer note, the team here are fantastic. Our main prayer was that in these two months we'd be able to tell if we fit in and if this could work interpersonally, and I know it's only week two but I think we can say that yes yes yes this is good. We ate as a team last night and laughed a lot. My kitchen was described as 'better than Disneyland' and I shall be embroidering this on a cushion. Andrew said that we're 'his kind of normal' i.e. not at all sane but in a good way. The team are genuinely lovely, and we feel like we have proper friends already even with the occasional language barrier.

Other info:
We have been dubbed the John and Fritha Show. Again. Why does this keep happening?
People here speak Ukrainian and Russian mixed up, so i'm not sure what language i'm learning words in. Occasionally lapsing into Arabic.
We did some stuff with homeless people and addicts this week. It was fairly harrowing. Will be reporting back on ministry stuff properly when we're back at church - can't fit it all into a silly blog. I'll just say that the needs are immense and it's not like being homeless in England.
Pregnancy is, as far as I can tell, going well. I am a bit useless to the team as we're doing a lot of practical stuff involving heavy lifting, and I have to sit on a cushion and watch. My feminist pride is vexed. But at the same time, it's nice cos people bring me cake and juice.

Right, going to go now. Thank you so much for all the praying - we need it! Love. xxxx

Monday, 5 September 2011

This is quite a long entry.

Greetings from quite near Russia...

So we’re in Vinnitysa, Ukraine. Not sure where to start so I’ll start at the beginning, which is unusually logical and I’m sure will quickly descend into confused nonsense. 

We went on DTS for 5 months in an effort to hear from God about what he wanted us to do with our lives, and we thought it would be nice if this plan could somehow include Eastern Europe, orphans, stopping people traffiking and ‘evangelism’ (whatever that word means).
So we made friends with a guy called Vova, and his parents who are pioneering a new YWAM (for explanation of all these acronyms, see earlier entries) base in Ukraine. With the following aims: to work with orphans, to show people God’s love and to build a community here in the city of Vinnitsya. It also happens that Ukraine is a massive center of sex traffikking, and is next to Moldova where the problems are even worse.

So this two month trip is to hang out with the missionaries out here and to see if we fit. If we can actually be helpful and of real use to the city, the intention is to move to Vinnitsya long term. Vova’s parents are called Andrew and Oksana – Australian and Ukrainian – and when I asked Andrew what the purpose/goal/ why we’re doing this is, he just looked at me and said ‘orphans, orphans, orphans’. 

Works for us.

We arrived here on Thursday and were greeted by Vova and Andrew holding up a sign for ‘Fernando’, or something, and giggling. We climbed into a van and they drove for about 4/5 hours on roads that were sometimes great and sometimes a little death-trappy. As the sun went down and we travelled closer to Vinnitsya, we had good times chatting and getting to know each other a bit better. Oksana met us at about midnight to let us in to our very own flat (we are a bit confused by all the personal space and keep avoiding the lounge because it scares us because it’s big and grown up), and she is really rather lovely. And I like her dress sense. And she is a qualified sewer lady. And she brought us banana and cranberry muffins the next morning, and they were still warm, and she also wants a turquoise blue VW bug same as wot I do. I like her. 

So we’ve had a brilliant first few days gradually getting our bearings. This is difficult because everything is so different, we’ve never before felt such culture shock, or felt so vulnerable. Which is weird but I think it’s to do with the following:

Language – oh my goodness, this is hard. You think you’ve grasped a word and then it turns out you are stupid and should stop trying. Having to learn new sounds like ‘dy’ and ‘svf’ makes everything so much harder, and we are realising that this is going to take some time. Also, everything is written in mystical symbols that tell me nothing – shopping for food is an exciting adventure and we haven’t yet braved public transport on our own. Did manage to get medicine from a pharmacy by ourselves! Such triumph! 

Culture stuff: There's a lot to be said about how different it is here, like how people don't stand in line (RAGE) because in Soviet times you couldn't afford to be polite. There's just a whole worldview going on here that i've never experienced before - the history of this place coupled with everything going on now makes it really interesting. Ex Soviet meets fast food and Mothercare.

But yes, we're getting the hang of everything taking longer because we don't know what we're doing. Small every day things are such a challenge! The team here have been so, so wonderful and supportive that we don't feel lonely or scared. We feel like this is a family we are already part of, and I keep finding myself looking for apartments for sale... we like it here.

Right, practical stuff. We are going to be involved in the following ministries:
- Working with homeless people, starting at 7.30am so we can talk to them while they're sober.
- Two orphanages, doing games and teaching ethics ('drugs are bad') and all that stuff.
- Helping out poorer families in the area, through contacts with Social Services.
- Rehab projects which are run out of the local church we go to. (Delirious in Russian is a fun experience and would make Chris Steynor giggle a lot.)
- We're starting English learning clubs at the local uni, which should be fun! I shall teach them the naughty words...

Other interesting things that have popped into my mind:
- Andrew has a tshirt press so we can make our own cool clothes! (John is happy)
- A couple from Kiev are moving here in two days and that's really exciting because they sound like legends.
- There are burritos here that will rock your world, but the yoghurt is weird.
- According to our friends here, there are four types of people who travel to Ukraine. These are businessmen, missionaries, men looking for Ukrainian brides and sex tourists.
- That is all. For now.