Sunday, July 24, 2011

In His Time - Part 2

After writing my last blog, In His Time, I was blessed to hear from so many people who were touched by that story.  I am living the story and even I am amazed.  Remember, Slavik is 18 and is choosing to be part of our lives.  We are glad to have him, believe me!  God's Word is true - He does make all things beautiful in its time.

Some of you were close to tears.  Others were filled with joy.  Some commented how much Slavik looks like me or that we have similar profiles.  (When I shared that with him, he really liked that!).  Someone said, "great to hear you're a Father again."

One dear friend of mine shared this - "You are definitely the person I envisioned you would be, all those years ago.  Be the 'father' to many and enjoy the blessings." That is just one way (of many) that God has confirmed to me that I am doing the right thing at the right time - in His time!

Just so you know, communication is challenging because I am still learning Russian and he knows little English, though he understands more than he speaks.  It is very good Russian practice for me because this way I can listen to Russian and speak in Russian, and he can correct me when I need it.

The other day, we went to visit the #9 orphanage camp with an American friend and Slavik.  When we got there, he introduced himself as my son and as a brother to Laura and Hope.  That surprised me, though I did not mind.

Later that day, I asked if he had a good day with us.  His answer was "Every day I am with you is a good day.  Your family is so great.  I just love being with them and being part of a family."  Wow.

Just yesterday he said, "I have always wanted to have sisters."  Later on, it was, "Sisters.  It's great.".  Naturally, the girls are still adjusting to the idea of having a "brother" around.  That is normal.

His story, as I understand it, is that he went into the orphanage at the age of 7 because his Father had died in prison and his Mother died giving birth to a sibling.  He has some family, but seems to have only a little contact with them.

When he is with us, he loves to go where we go - even shopping.  He willingly helps carry our purchases out of the store.  He has already told me that he will help us move to our new apartment this week.

The other day at church, the speaker (who is from Canada) made a couple of references to his son.  One time it was about how proud he was of his son.  The other time it was to mention the special relationship between Father and son.  Both times, Slavik looked at me with a big smile on his face.

We do not know what the future brings, but we do know that I have an incredible opportunity to show him love, to invest time, and to provide advice and counsel like a Father would do.

One other interesting talking with him, we learned out that he was born November 25, 1992.  Denise and I had one miscarriage - Easter Sunday 1992.  We were expecting our first baby sometime in mid-late December, so he is really close to the age our child would have been.  Isn't that just like God?  That is another way that we believe He has chosen to make all things beautiful in His time.

Psalm 30:5 ends with these words "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." (NLT)  I would paraphrase that as "Sorrow will last for a season.  When the seasons change, in God's time, joy and beauty will replace the season of sorrow that seemed to last for so long."  I have experienced seasons of sorrow in my life.  But it is in those times that I have learned to trust God and have grown the most.

During the season of joy and beauty, I need to maintain my relationship with God.  God teaches me things in that season that will prepare me for the season of sorrow.  Our pastor in America says something like this: "God wants an every day relationship with you every day."  God is not just a genie in a lantern that we call on when we need Him.

Are you in the dark night of sorrow?  Keep holding on to Jesus.  Trust Him.  He has promised to go with you.  Keep growing.  The season will change.

Are you in the bright morning of joy and beauty?  Keep holding on to Jesus.  Trust Him.  He has promised to go with you.  Keep learning.  The season may change.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

In His Time

The song "In His Time" has meant a lot to Denise and I over the years.  For those of you who do not know the song, here are the simple words:

In His time, in His time,
He makes all things beautiful in His time.
Lord, please show me every day,
As You’re teaching me Your way,
That You do just what You say, in Your time.

In Your time, in Your time,
You make all things beautiful in Your time.
Lord, my life to You I bring,
May each song I have to sing,
Be to You a lovely thing, in Your time.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 is where part of this idea comes from. The King James Version says "He hath made every thing beautiful in his time", while the New Living Translation reads "Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time." The first eight verses in this chapter remind us that there is a season for everything.

As we waited for God to bless our family with children, it was only for a season.  God blessed us with two beautiful daughters in His time.  As we prepared to move to Ukraine and waited to sell our house, it was all in God's hands and took place in His time.  We have more examples, but this is only the foundation for the story that follows.

Looking back to 2008

This was the year of my third trip to Ukraine.  It was a great blessing for me to have my wife come along with me (her first time) that November.  It was the first time we had part of a team ministering in the orphanages.  One afternoon, I had some time where we were not doing any speaking, so I decided to go along with the orphanage group.  Honestly, I was afraid to spend time with the orphans because I would want to bring many of them home with me, and I knew at that point it was not possible.

We got into the rented marshrutka to go somewhere.  Unknown to me, our friend Max brought along a couple of teenaged orphans with him that day. When I introduced myself to one of them (in Russian), he responded (in English), "My name is Slavik."  This picture was taken that afternoon in the marshrutka.

I cannot describe what happened to me at that moment, but as a Father, my heart immediately loved him, and it broke my heart because I knew he would not be able to be part of our family.  I only spent a little time with him that afternoon, but that does not mean that I forgot him.  I have never forgotten him.

Jump to 2011

We lived here for more than six months before I asked Max how Slavik was doing.  I was glad to learn that he was doing well.  We lived here for almost a year before I saw Slavik for the first time since 2008.  One day we went to a local pizza place for lunch.  We saw Max and some of his boys there, including Slavik.  He and I spoke little, but I enjoyed that meeting and it confirmed that my Father's heart had not changed.

In June, when a team from our home church was here and doing a day camp at one of the boarding schools here, Slavik was helping there one of the days.  Again, he and I had only a little interaction that day.  I wanted to be a friend to him, if possible, but I was not sure how.  I did not know if he wanted to be my friend.  I told Max that sometime I wanted to get together with him, but left it at that.  Slavik does not come to church very often, but he was there a few weeks ago.  After church, I was greeted with a big hug when his friends just gave me a handshake.  I thought that was interesting.

On Monday July 4th, Denise, Hope, and I walked to the church cafe to get some ice cream and to see who was there to visit or to play ping pong.  Slavik and one of his friends were there, so we sat and visited for a while.  He does not know much English, but his friend does, so that helped some when we were struggling to communicate.  I asked him if he would like to come to our place sometime and he said he would.

That Wednesday, Slavik came over in the late morning.  We played some Wii, had lunch, and went to the gym together.  He liked it so much and said that he wanted to come to the gym with me every time.  That works just fine for me (though I made sure to tell myself that it may or may not happen).  He had supper with us and we played some more Wii.  I went to help him do something, but it was too late, so we went to his apartment instead.  His girlfriend and her friend were spending the night at his place, so he asked if he could spend the night at our apartment.  I was definitely willing to help him out because he was making the right choice by not staying there with them.  This picture was taken that evening.

On Friday night, Slavik came over for homemade pizza (he loves Denise's cooking).  He was later than planned because he was helping Max with some ministry activities that day, so I texted him and said "Mama wants to know how long until you get here."  He responded "Tell Mama 30 minutes."  After supper, we watched a movie together, at his request.

He was busy all weekend, but he hoped to come over on Monday because we were leaving for Simferopol that evening.  That did not work, but he called about 6 PM, after we were on the train and had started our journey, to apologize for not being able to come see us before we left.  Not a big deal, really.  Later that evening, I sent him a text basically to say hi and to let him know we'll see him when we get back.

Just a little bit later, I was totally surprised by the text message I received from Slavik.  It said, "Papa.  I love you.  Thank you for everything.  I miss you."  I was just about in tears.  Even though he is a young man now, he felt the same way for me as I did for him.  And I had not said anything to him about how I felt, but I think he was responding to the love that he felt, even if it was not spoken.  I also made sure that I told him, when I called several times while we were gone, that I loved and missed him, too.  He was anxious for me to come back home.

On Sunday afternoon, when we were about an hour away, I called Slavik to let him know and he sounded excited.  Once we got home and I called, he was very excited and was over here in less than 45 minutes.  I asked him why he missed me.  He responded, "because I love you" and gave me a big hug.  When I asked him why he loved me, he told me that he had not had a dad since he was 7.  I shared with him about how I felt three years ago.  He spent the evening with us and our guest, Esther, and we had a good time playing Wii, eating supper, and watching a movie together.  Both Laura and Hope get along well with him, so that is an added bonus.

While Slavik may not officially be "our" son, it is going to be a blessing to have him be part of our family.  I believe that God has plans for his life (just like he has plans for you and for me), and that is part of why he gave me that love for him nearly three years ago.  It is amazing to see God at work in our lives and in the lives of people around us.

God loves you with an everlasting love.  The Father's heart longs to have a relationship with you.  Have you responded to him by saying "yes"?  He is the only one who can make your life beautiful.

Maybe you are in a season of difficulty.  Remember, God makes all things beautiful in His, and its own, time.  Trust Him and He will bring you through this season to a new season.  He is always faithful.  And many times he surprises us.  I know I have been very surprised as I been part of this saga.  What a joy to know that we are where we belong so that we can be a blessing to others.  I need to keep that in mind as I go through life.  No matter what I am going through or doing, am I a blessing to others?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Looking Forward

Several of my blogs have been focused on the past.  This time, while we are spending a week relaxing in Crimea, I decided to write about looking forward and to share about some of what I see in our future.  It is hard to believe that we have less than 11 months left on our two-year commitment to minister in Ukraine.

Before we go back to America next year, we are trying to focus on five areas of ministry:
  1. Language and culture acquisition - is the most important and is foundational to the other four areas.  This is considered ministry because we cannot learn these things on our own.  We need to be with other people and to develop relationships if we are to be effective learners.  This is something that is never completely finished, we are just able to spend less time on it as we continue living on the mission field.
  2. Church ministry - includes being involved in the various aspects of church life - music, prayer, speaking, preaching, and building relationships with people inside the church.  I believe we all need to be part of a body of believers that we participate with on a regular basis.
  3. Village ministry - includes reaching out to the people in villages, especially through preaching and speaking in services there.  Many villages have no churches and most people have never heard the gospel message of Jesus and His love.
  4. Care ministry - includes reaching out to the orphans and under-privileged by spending time with them.  Our city has more than twelve orphanages, several dorms (for those too old for the orphanages), and other facilities for those without families or in need.  We enjoy spending time and building relationships with them.  God's heart is for the orphans and widows - those without families.
  5. Relationship building - specifically cultivating relationships with those outside the church.  We need to be salt, creating a thirst for a relationship with God, and light, shining God's love in the dark places.  We want our friends to know that we care about them and that we are there for them when they have a need.  We all should be building relationships with people outside the church so that God can use us to reach them.
Last year, I received my Certificate of Ministry, the lowest level of ministerial license with the Assemblies of God.  I have already started the process to become a Licensed minister (the middle level with the A/G).  I just have two more courses left to finish as well as the rest of the paperwork process.  The licensing would be effective next spring (2012).  That will put me on track to be ordained in the spring of 2014, after completing several more courses and another application process.

After we return home next year, we plan to itinerate (visit churches who have supported us to share what God has done as well as new churches to share what God has called us to do) to raise our support so that we can return to Ukraine.  I am convinced that this is what I was born to do - and love this even more than the job that I left in 2010.

In our family, Laura will graduate from high school next spring.  We will celebrate her graduation after we return to the states.  She is already considering what she wants to study in college.

We do not know where we are going to live when we return to the US next spring.  At this point, I will only say that I am confident that God will direct our steps and provide the right living situation for us.

I believe that it is wise to take time to evaluate where you are at and where you want to be (as a Christian this would include where God wants you to be) - and then make any necessary adjustments to your path so that you are heading the right direction.  Many times God will intersect our paths and cause us to take a major turn, just like He did with me.

I have known people who do not plan beyond their current activity.  Those people are usually the ones that are late for everything.  As a planner, I will say that there is a place for not planning, but it has a very limited place and should not be the norm.  Most of the time, the lack of any sort of plan will lead to some issues.  Maybe it will not happen right away, but things will eventually fall apart.  It is even more important when other people are involved in or are affected by what you are doing.  Remember the old adage, "Fail to plan, plan to fail."?  It is true.

Are you taking time to evaluate your life and the direction it is heading?  God has a plan and a purpose for your life.  Are you following that plan?  Last spring, when we were getting close to finishing our preparations to move to Ukraine, I heard one of the announcers on K-LOVE ask, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"  Fear of the unknown, fear of leaving our comfort zone, fear of what others will think, or fear of many other things will often prevent us from taking a risk and doing what we know we need to do.  Maybe it's time to take Nike's advice and "Just do it!"

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It Is Not About Us

We had an interesting weekend.  About two months ago one of the pastors invited us to come sing a few songs at their church and for me to preach.  It was both an honor and a privilege to be invited to to do that.  This pastor and I have developed a special friendship, even though communication is difficult.

When I saw him about a month ago, he asked me to share about my call.  Following God's call is not about us.  As I prayed and started pulling thoughts together, God led me to the scripture about Elisha's call to follow Elijah.  There are three simple verses at the end of I Kings 19 that paralled our experience of following God's call:
  1. Like Elisha, we needed to say goodbye to our family and the familiar
  2. Like Elisha, we needed to share our call publicly
  3. Like Elisha, we needed a time of preparation that would prepare us to fulfill God's call, once He said "now"
From my own experience and what I have read, sermon preparation normally takes about 5-6 hours on average (though some would argue that each sermon is developed through a lifetime of experience and study).  In a country where they speak another language, preparing the sermon in my native language is just part of the work (the easy part, I might add).  It took me more than six hours to translate everything into Russian (I'm only a beginner!).  Next, it took several hours to have someone review my translation.  Then, it took several hours to update my sermon document with all the corrections.

Finally, I read through the message (about 30 minutes long) outloud at least four times.  My guess is that I invested close to 18 hours in that message.  Needless to say, it was not possible to wait until Saturday to write it.  I had to prepare ahead of time (which is normal for me).  I had it all written at least a week ahead of time and the rest of the time was spent translating and reading through it.  That was a lot of work!!  But it is exactly what I came here to do.

The pastor and his wife were in Krivoy Rog for a wedding on Saturday and they would be riding the same bus with us to travel back to their city on Sunday morning.  Our family was up about 5:00 AM so we could leave home about 6:10 AM to reach the bus station in time for the 7:45 AM departure.  Hope said "This was too early, even for an early person."  (She is the early riser in our family and is often the first one up.)  I reminded her (as I reminded myself and the rest of the family), this trip is not about us.  Sometimes it is easy to forget that.

We had hoped to sleep on the bus ride, which would take close to three hours to go 120 kilometers (about 75 miles).  Yes, we stopped several times to drop off and pick up people, but the bus never goes very fast because of the bad roads.  Between the slow downs/speed ups and swerving to miss potholes, there was no sleep for me on the bus (though Hope did get a little nap).  When we arrived a little after 10:30 AM, Laura and I went with the pastor and one man from their church to go see the house of prayer that they had purchased and were working to remodel, while Denise and Hope were able to go to pastor's apartment and rest.  The pastor's wife and our translator friend (who also travelled with us and attended that church while going to university in that city) worked to fix lunch for us.

After lunch, we headed over to the auditorium that they have their 2:00 church service in.  They had a few challenges that day, but our three hour service started just a few minutes late. We enjoyed the worship time (they have two exceptional guitar players) and they shared a few special songs.  Denise and I sang a song (could have been better), then I sang a song in Russian before preaching my message.  There were some words that I butchered, but I was glad to know that, for the most part, they followed what I was sharing. The pastor was thrilled with what I shared and really believed that it was something his people needed to hear. That was very encouraging.

Preaching the sermon was both interesting (and challenging) for me because I had to read it.  I do not like to have every word written down.  When I play piano, I add and subtract notes at will, and I like to do the same when I speak.  However, at this stage it is better that I trust God's inspiration in my preparation and not during the actual preaching, because my Russian grammar is not ready for going "live" just yet.  It is good to know that it will only get better, however!

After the service we had tea and cookies, then headed back to pastor's apartment for supper.  We talked for quite a while, then he and his wife left to go to someone else's place to spend the night so we could have their apartment to ourselves.  We would have their bed and the girls had an air mattress in the living room floor.  We were willing to go home on the night bus, but they would not hear of that.  We slept pretty good after watching "Sarah's Choice" starring singer Rebecca St. James (it was a good movie).  They returned about 9:30 AM to fix breakfast sandwiches so we could be to the bus station for our 11:00 departure.

We made it home about 2:15 PM.  We were exhausted from the travel.  It had been somewhat frustrating (communication is such a challenge when you are still learning the language, but we were thankful that our friend was there to help us).  But the time, effort, and travel was so worth because it was so rewarding to hear the pastor say that is just what his people needed to hear.  We were an encouragement.  And it is great to know that we were doing just what we came here to do.  It was not about us.

Do you, like me, forget that it is not about you?  God has a plan and a purpose for each of our lives.  Only when we are doing what He wants us to do will we be truly fulfilled - because it is all about Him, not us.