Kids, Spiders, & Frogs

Matthew 19:14-15, “14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”

The first week of July, I had the privilege of serving at a VBS in Nataline, a village 535 miles from Lviv….a 20 hr. train ride away.  Our church has been sending teams to serve at this VBS for the past 6 years.  A lady in our church and one of our youth are from Nataline.  There is one protestant church in this village that is made up of  about 6 people, but despite their small size, they each save their money individually and are committed to doing this VBS each year.  They open up the camp to children from their village and also a number of other nearby villages, and they usually end up with about 50+ kids.  This year, we had 54 kids ranging in age from 6 – 14 years old.

We arrived Saturday morning and had that day to rest.  Sunday and Monday were spent planning and preparing, and on Tuesday the camp started.  Our days began with Bible, music, and craft, groups.  The kids were split into 3 groups – oldest, middle, and youngest – and they rotated between the stations.  After lunch, we had game time and team time, and in the evening we had an evening service to recap the Bible story and sing songs.

Game time!

I was in charge of games – 2 hours, with 54 kids and games appropriate for the entire spectrum of ages we had.  I’ll admit, it was a challenge!  But it was so fun!  I actually only had to plan games for 2 days, and on the 3rd day we did a photo scavenger hunt.  This was the first time the kids have played a game like that, and they loved it!  They had so much fun running around the village and looking for the different things on their list to take pictures of.  I do believe that might be a new traditional game.  On the last day, the camp leaders had planned another type of scavenger hunt game – each leader was a character from Esther, and the kids had to find each leader and fulfill an assignment they were given  The kids had lots of fun, and thankfully we made it through all the game times with no injuries! Praise God!

On our last day though, one of the older boys – about 13 or 14 – was playing on the swing set, fell, and hit his leg really hard right below the knee.  No on actually saw it happen, but one of the other leaders found this boy, Sasha, in the bushes sobbing.  He got him to come out, we found out what happened, and then he began to tell us, “I can’t feel my leg below my knee.”  Someone began to explain to him that he was in shock and that the pain was going to get much worse before it got better.  After talking with him a few minute, I asked him if I could pray for his leg, and he said I could.  After praying, nothing seemed to have changed immediately.  Everyone moved on to different things, and about 15 minutes later, I see Sasha up and walking….barely even limping!  I found it a little curious, but thought he may just be hiding the pain and trying to look strong.  But, the next morning when we arrived, I noticed he was up, walking without a limp, and even running!!  I truly believe God healed Sasha’s leg, cause I never saw it get worse before it got better….it just got better!  Glory to God!!!

In addition to leading the games, I also got to help each day with craft time, and one day I helped out with music – teaching them the English

While painting posters, the kids decided to do some face painting as well.

version to one of their songs.  It was such a blessing to serve these kids, to see how they grew to love us more with each day, and to see some of them realizing the Bible is an interesting book.  One of the girls went to the camp director one day and told her, “I can’t wait for tomorrow to find out what happens in the story!!! I didn’t know the Bible was this interesting!”  Now that we have all returned to our homes, I’m praying that the seeds that were planted would be watered and grow.  God spoke to me one day about how important these kids really are – they are the future of these villages, both physically and spiritually!  I’ve already ‘reserved’ my spot on the team for next year. 🙂

By now, you’re probably wondering what on earth spiders and frogs have to do with camp.  Well, those were the not-so-lovely little critters I discovered in my room!  I had a great little room all to myself that was off of the summer kitchen.  This room is apparently not lived in very much and the spiders have moved in.  For those of you who don’t know me very well, I hate spiders and usually have to get someone else to kill them for me.  Well, the first night there, when I went to pull back the covers….something big and black went scurrying across my blanket!  Being that I was alone, I had to muster up all the strength I had to fling it off the blanket and kill it.  God is a good and understanding Father though, and I never saw anymore spiders in my bed.  I actually didn’t see many more spiders in my room at all!  Then one night, as I was sitting in my room, I looked up to discover a frog on the floor!  Being a city girl, I have no clue what to do with frogs or how to get them out, so thankfully my friend came to my rescue and got it out….but not without some shrieking from both us.  It was great week though, seeing yet again how people live differently.  There were no indoor toilets – only outhouses – and even the showers were outdoors.  A little wood or brick structure, a plastic barrel on top, a shower head inside, and voila – you’ve got a shower!  The only problem, the spiders take over those places too.  But, I got used to them.

Camp leaders (well, most of them)

Camp toilet and shower. The blue building is the outhouse, the white tarp is the shower.

Ingenious makeshift 'sink' for the kids to wash up in, since there was no indoor plumbing at the camp. You unscrew the bottle cap a little bit, and you get a nice flow of water.

Thank you again for your prayers.  With each step of this journey, I am so grateful to know that I have people praying for me!  And with each step of this journey, I am grateful and humbled by the knowledge that I am only here because of the financial support y’all have given.  If it weren’t for those 2 things, there would be no way for me to be here.  I am constantly amazed, with each new opportunity that God gives me, that this is really my life.  I absolutely love serving my God and I am so thankful He finds ways to use me.  I am so grateful that our God loves to use us, His children, and puts each of us exactly where He wants us.  He is so good!!!  Thank you also to those of you who have sent or contributed to packages.  Each small item in the boxes we receive are such a blessing and bring a smile to our faces!  We are so blessed by y’all and so thankful to call you our friends and family!

Honored, humbled, and grateful,

Krista

P.S. I’ve added some more pictures to the post “Unexpected Blessings“.

To Kyiv & back again

(written by Bria)

Wow!  What an unbelievably blessed whirlwind the last few weeks have been.  I love how we never know what each new day is going to bring!  One such day was June 14.

That day started out like most other days.  Woke up.  Cup of water.  Cup of coffee.  Some facebook time to find out what amazingly exciting things had happened Stateside while I’d been alseep.  Some Jesus time to find out what amazingly exciting things He’d been waiting to tell me while I’d been alseep.    And at some point during that amazingly exciting morning, I got a private message on facebook from a young woman, Rachel, in Kyiv.  Years ago, my sisters had been very involved on a website for missionary kids, and they had “met” Rachel there.  She’s now living in Kyiv, working for a mission organization, & at the time she wrote me, she was in the middle of helping to organize a youth festival called Without Walls.  She remembered hearing from my sisters that I do music, and managed to find some of my videos on YouTube.  After watching the videos, she and the other organizers decided that they would love to bring me to Kyiv to lead worship for the last session on the last day of the festival & then have me do a mini-concert of my original music after the session!!!  I was…flabbergasted (that’s the most appropriate word I can think of to describe my emotions).  I had never been invited to do music before by anyone whom I didn’t already have a personal relationship with.  And here was a group of people whom I had no relationship with, not just inviting me to do music at their festival, but also offering to cover travel expenses to bring me and a band of my choosing to their city, AND pay us a generous amount on top of that for coming!  Wow, God!

The only catch: the festival was only 2 1/2 weeks away from the time I got the invitation!  Gaaah…freak-out time!  I had no band, not to mention the festival organizers requested that I do all of the worship songs in Russian – and I barely speak Russian.  Oh dear.

But, when God is involved, why do I even waste the energy on worrying?  Psha!

I called some good friends of mine, who also happen to be very talented musicians (how blessed am I?), and voila!…I had a band in no time!  Including my very own Lindsay, whom I pulled in to not only sing back vocals (which she can do with her eyes closed), but also to make her public debut on the clarinet (which she was a bit terrified about, considering she’d only started learning 6 months ago…but I knew she could do it).  What with schedules and all, we somehow managed to squeeze out a grand total of 5 rehearsals, in which time we pulled together 8 worship songs and 5 of my original songs!  Wow, God!

So, 2 1/2 weeks after being invited, I boarded an overnight train with my 5 band mates & our instruments (including Lindsay’s clarinet – yeehaw!), and we were off.  All aboard…out of Lviv at 8PM & welcome to Kyiv at a very bright & early 6AM.

After being picked up and driven to the festival location, meeting Rachel in-person, going over some last-minute details, eating some breakfast, and an hour or so of down-time, it was time for a quick set-up/sound check, and then…let the worship begin.



(photo credit: Sergey Avramenko)

I tell you what, one of my favorite things in the world now is leading worship in a room full of young people who are completely excited about Jesus!   If we could all be consumed with that much passion for God…and keep it…we would have the Kingdom of God here in no time!  🙂

The worship was so sweet, and then once the final session had been wrapped up, they welcomed us to the stage to play a few Bria songs.  Which we did.  And for only 5 rehearsals it went great – the band did an amazing job…including Lindsay on her clarinet!  Yay, Lindsay!  And even though I was singing in English, the young people seemed to really love the songs, so that made me happy.

The best part, though, was talking to a particular young lady after the concert.  She approached me about my song, Love as a Means.  A couple of years ago I watched Born Into Brothels with a friend – it’s a documentary about the children that are born into the brothels of Calcutta, India.  My heart was so broken, and my life so impacted, and this song came out of that:

So, this young lady came to me and said that my song meant so much to her; she’d cried all the way through it because…she had been a street kid!   Oh my goodness!  I NEVER imagined that my song would ever be heard by anyone who could actually relate to it.  Thank God, this young lady is now in a rehabilitation home and her life is being completely changed by the love of Jesus!  And I am soooo blessed by that short meeting with her.  It was unforgettable to get to give her a big hug and bless her in the beautiful name of Christ.  Wow, God!

And as if all of this wasn’t more blessings than I could ever ask for or imagine, before we left the festival grounds that day, I had 2 more invitations in my pocket to come do music at other youth events – one in Cherkasy (another region in Ukraine), and even one in Minsk, Belarus!  WOW, God!

The festival’s last session had begun that day at 12 noon, was finished by 2:30, and we were on a train and headed back to Lviv by 5PM…it was definitely a whirlwind…but more wonderful and blessed than we could have ever dreamed of!

Isn’t it absolutely amazing that the Living God uses little us to do His work on this earth?  Whatever it is – whether He asks us to sing at festivals or feed the poor or serve in the nursery at church…whatever it might be, as long as we just say ‘yes’ to Him, He can do anything with us!  Wow, God!

…and speaking of saying ‘yes’…

Stay tuned for an upcoming blog entry from Krista, who is, at this very moment, on her way home from serving at a camp in a village far, far away.

Unexpected Blessings

2 Tim. 4:2 – “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.”

Group picture before leaving

As we wrote in our previous blog, last Monday morning I unexpectedly packed a bag and was out the door within 15 minutes. When Jeremias, our friend from Germany, and his team of 4 Germans and 2 Ukrainians showed up at our door Sunday night, I was expecting a few hours of nice fellowship, overnight guests, and then to send them on their way the next morning. Never did I dream that God had sent them here to pick me up!!! When Jeremias suggested that I go with them, I first laughed it off and figured it was out of the question. But then he kept saying it, telling us how he really felt that God told him to come here and that it was for more than just fellowship. He kept telling me, “Krista, be spontaneous!” So, all evening I was praying about it and thinking about it, and I began to feel a stirring in my spirit and felt like God was saying, “Yes.” We woke up the next morning, sat down to eat breakfast, I ran upstairs to throw some clothes in a bag, we loaded up the vans, and hit the road! I was so excited to see what God could have planned for this unexpected (well, unexpected for me, not for Him) trip.

Jeremias comes to Ukraine to work with Chesed, a Jewish community center/social aid organization that has branches all over Ukraine and Europe. He has been partnering with them for many years, coming to help and minister to holocaust survivors. Chesed does what it can to help the holocaust survivors, but they don’t have much themselves that they can give. Chesed is an Orthodox Jewish organization, but they all know that Jeremias and his teams are Christians. And that is part of his ministry as well; letting these people know that we honor them, our spiritual older brothers, and recognize that our Savior was a Jew, and that Judaism is the root of our faith. Each home we went to heard about our faith in Yeshua (Jesus) and of our love for the Jewish people.  We recognize that our words aren’t enough though, so along with our testimony of love, we also left some sort of material help with each family we visited.

Yevhenya - the first lady we visted.

Our very first stop was to visit Yevhenya, a lady who lives outside of a town called Uzhgorod (where we were heading). She was a very friendly woman and gladly welcomed us in. As we began to talk with her, she told us that she never leaves her apartment anymore because she can’t walk well, and so she is just waiting to die. One of the guys on the team asked her if she knew where she would go when she died. Her answer was, “Well, Heaven or Hell, those are the only two options. So, we’ll see when I die.” We then told her that she could be sure of her destination, shared about Yeshua, the Jewish Messiah, coming, dying, and resurrecting for her, and asked her if she would like to put her faith in Him. I was concerned that she would scoff at us for suggesting that she, a Jew, put her faith in Yeshua, but she responded with a, “Yes.”!!! So, right then and there, we prayed with her and saw her accept salvation through her Messiah, Yeshua! Praise God!!! What a great start to our week that was!

From there, we continued on to Uzhgorod, arriving sometime late that evening. After staying up until 2:00 a.m. the night before and driving all day Monday, all I could think about was sleep. But, Jeremias had warned us that our host’s wife knows one way of showing love – cooking. 🙂 And sure enough, when we arrived, we had a full 3 course meal waiting for us. So, we sat down for another evening of food and fellowship….and again went to bed at around 2:00. But the evening had been such sweet time spent with new friends, I don’t think any of us minded going to bed late again.

Our team with the mom and daughter we were visiting.

The next day we visited a number of people. One family we visited is no longer able to receive help from Chesed, because the ladies mother had died, and the daughter is no longer eligible to receive aid (unfortunately, the aid that Chesed receives from their sponsors isn’t enough to help everyone, so they have to have eligibility rules to limit who they can help). This woman lives with her husband, daughter, and grandson who is 3 yrs. old. They seem to be somewhat forgotten by others, so it was such a blessing for us to be able to visit them and remind them that they aren’t forgotten by God. No one had reminded Jeremias of this family, he just remembered them as we drove by their village, and decided that we would make another unplanned stop to see them. I am convinced that just as He did with us, it was God yet again reminding Jeremias of them.

This blog would be a novel if I told you of every family and person we visited. Each person was so special and a joy

Listening to a survivor's story. This is the lady who hid in the closet for 2 years.

to meet. We met a woman who shared her experience of spending 2 years in a closet during the holocaust, thanks to a neighbor who hid her and her family. For 2 years they lived in complete darkness, coming out only at night. Because of this, her biggest fear after the war was light. Every time a candle was lit, she would put it out because it scared her. We met a man who has lost both of his legs and can’t afford to replace his broken prosthesis. He has spent 15 years in his 3rd floor apartment, unable to get down the stairs to go outside. We met a man who has been named among the Righteous Among the Nations (this is an honor bestowed upon Gentiles who hid and aided Jews during WW2). He told us his story of hiding a Jewish boy, getting forged documents, putting the boy on a train to send him away to safety, and having Nazis come to his home that night to search his house after someone had betrayed him and turned him in as someone who was hiding Jews. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is! The Jewish boy did escape that night, survived the war, finished school and university, immigrated to Israel, and came back a couple of times to visit the man who had saved his life.

And the last story I want to tell you, is about a couple who was so shocked to see people who believe the way we do. This was the last family we were going to visit. The wife is Jewish, the husband a Ukrainian Gentile. They are both very intellectual people, and neither seemed to be very ‘religious’. We fellowshipped with them for awhile, and then one of the team members, who spoke Russian, began to tell them about our faith in Yeshua and how we believe that Judaism is the root of our faith. He and I both shared about our churches, and how we celebrate the Jewish Passover. The wife looked at us with shock and asked, “But aren’t you Evangelicals?!” We told her that yes, we are Christians, but we recognize that Yeshua was a Jew and that the very first Christians were Jews – therefore, to fully understand Christianity, we have to understand Judaism. We continued talking with them for awhile, her husband starting a discussion about whether or not God even exists, and then it was time to go. As I hugged them goodbye, the wife looked and me and said, “Thank you. I have never seen a faith like this. Your faith contradicts hate and war and is about love. I wish more people could believe like you do, then the world would be a better place.” Wow!!! What a compliment and proof that God’s love really does work!!

The sad part of that conversation for me and the team, was that people are shocked when they see people living by the Bible. We weren’t there representing different denominations, doctrines, or nations, or anything else. We were there representing God, speaking the truth that is in the Bible, and this woman was surprised by what we were saying! Shouldn’t Christians living what the Bible says be a normal thing? Shouldn’t Christians whose faith contradicts hate and supports love be normal? Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case in today’s world. We were just so honored and blessed that God would choose us to show this wife and husband His love!

For my part on the trip, I got to be 1 of 3 translators. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to translate as much as I wanted to – because apparently in that region of Ukraine, they speak a whole other language! Seriously, these older people were speaking a mix of Russian/Ukrainian/Slovak/Hungarian….all with their own pronunciation and accent. My brain was definitely on overload. 🙂 Sometimes we ended up with a translation line that went something like this – the local would speak, one of the Ukrainians on the team would translate into Ukrainian for me, and then I would translate into English for everyone else. Whew! It was so fun though and I enjoyed every minute of the trip. God truly blessed us and I felt like I had gained 5 brothers by the end of the week (the German team was made up entirely of guys. Aside from me, there was one Ukrainian girl). God really connected all of our hearts as we worked together to show His love to His people. Thank you for all of your prayers!

Please remember us girls in your prayers this week as well. Bria and Lindsay will be leaving this evening to go lead worship at a youth conference in Kyiv. I’m leaving this afternoon to go to a village in Eastern Ukraine with a team from our church, to lead a week-long VBS. We know we couldn’t do all of this without your support and prayer!

With a heart full of gratitude,
Krista