Refugees

Today I’m writing from a church in Kaufbeuren, Germany. We are in the little playroom and Evie is playing with her bag of toys that she brought from home. When fleeing from a war zone, it is recommended to bring along a bag of Barbies, FYI.

Last Saturday, March 5, 2022 we made the unimaginable decision to leave our home, not knowing when we will be able to return. The bombings in our city were becoming more frequent and it was becoming more and more clear that the Russians were targeting civilians. Nowhere in Ukraine is safe anymore. We agonized over the decision, as we had been determined to hunker down at the Homestead and wait it out, but the nightly low-flying planes over our home and airstrikes that shook the house and set off car alarms made us rethink our plans. We are responsible for some of Ukraine’s most vulnerable people and our boys couldn’t tell us how the war was making them feel. They could definitely feel our tension, see the fear in our faces, but their understanding was/is lacking. They couldn’t ask us to please bring them to safety, so we had to make the call for them. I’ll tell you what, I never in a million years imagined I would be crouching in the hallway in the dark with my children as our house shook from explosions a few miles away. I never thought Jed and I would be agonizing over when it might be “too late” to get out safely with our kids, should the fighting move even closer. I never ever dreamed we would need to flee from the home that we worked so hard to make a safe haven for all who entered the front doors. But, here we are, a week later, refugees in a country where we understand nothing and have no idea what our future holds. It’s unbelievable to us all.

There are 36 of us here in Germany together. That group includes 10 people with disabilities, and 14 of our group are teens and children. The rest are our team members and family members of our team. We are living all together in a church. The church body here has opened its arms to us and shown us such incredible love and generosity. I don’t know where we would be without them. They really made our evacuation possible because we knew we had a safe place to land. We will be forever grateful to them.

Back in Ukraine the rest of our team is busy on the Homestead taking care of each other and working with our city and village councils to distribute humanitarian aid to our region. We also have 3 moms with adult sons with disabilities from our big Wide Awake family who are living together at the Homestead. I’m so proud of our team both here and in Ukraine. The work they are doing is important and necessary.

You know before, when we lived in the US, I encountered a lot of refugees. I guess I showed them kindness, but to be honest, I didn’t really give them a lot of thought. I think I assumed they were just happy and grateful to be in the US. I knew they needed assistance getting their physical needs met in the beginning, but their emotional state was completely off my radar. I had no idea how emotionally devastating it is to be a refugee. I’ve never experienced such deep sadness before in my life. I don’t know how else to describe it, except that I am deeply sad, devastated at the loss, and unsure even how to begin to grieve and move forward. I’m stuck in my sadness of losing what was. Yes, I worry about the physical things- our house, the duplex, our dogs…but more than that I grieve the loss of the life we had that I know will never ever be the same. I remember the night before we left our home I was sitting on the couch with my Hava and she was crying. She said, “I’m just realizing that our lives will never be the same again.” Right as she ended her sentence our house shook from an explosion in the distance. Yes, we had definitely crossed over into a new reality: a before and after. One day we were celebrating another birthday party in the duplex with our big Wide Awake family, kids were heading off to youth group on the bus, doing homework together at night, dropping Evie off at preschool that she loved oh so much, grocery shopping, and planning IEP’s for our boys…and the next week we were seeing the sky light up as buildings in our city were destroyed by Russian missiles. In a matter of days, we went from planning the next fun outing for our boys to planning the evacuation of 36 people across the border. It still doesn’t feel real.

To be a refugee is to put all your hopes and dreams on pause, never knowing when or if you will get to pick them back up. To be a refugee is to fully and completely rely on the kindness and generosity of others. To be a refugee is loss and grief and pain. It is relief that your children are safe, but also guilt that you left so many behind. It is coming to terms with the fact that no one will understand how you feel because you can’t even understand yourself. It is realizing that your church is spread out across a continent, and not knowing where everyone is and when or if you will ever be all together in one place again. To be a refugee is to reassure your children that all will be fine, even though you know you have no business giving them that promise. Life has already shown you that everything is not fine and will not be fine for a long time. We had something so beautiful and now it is gone. So, we try to recreate what we had here, in this new place. We do this for our boys, for our children. We go on picnics and make borscht and play games. We hug and reassure and comfort. We try to live, not to just exist, not to just wait for the moment we can go home. Therein lies the struggle.

But, we do believe we will go home. We believe that Ukraine will be victorious. We believe that light will conquer darkness, that good will overcome evil. We believe that our soldiers are the bravest and strongest. We believe that our President is the best there ever was or ever could be. And, we believe that the work God began in Ukraine will continue. So we have hope.

Thank you for loving us, for praying for us, for donating, and for reaching out with contacts and offers of help. Please remember Ukraine. Pray for her victory and that it would come soon.

BeLOVE[d]

I didn’t make this video, it was sent to me. But I think it’s important, so I’m sharing it with you. 👇

BeLOVE[d]

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A Week to Celebrate

This week has been one for the books. It has been a week in which dreams have been fulfilled and what once seemed impossible became possible!

This week the duplex has a family! It’s no longer just a building site, but this week it became a home. We are so thankful and so excited.

For a while we had been thinking about and praying about the possibility of Anton living in the duplex with Max and Morgan. We are still waiting for Sasha’s guardianship to become official, and we felt pretty strongly that Anton would be happier if he lived in the village, closer to us, and in a place with more support. Lesya and Masha have lived with Anton in an apartment since June and they have done a wonderful job with him. He is healthier and stronger than ever. He is also more emotionally healthy. Still, living with him is plenty challenging, and everyone agreed it would be more sustainable for all if Anton was in a place with larger net of support.

So, this past weekend Masha, Lesya, and Anton joined Max and Morgan in the duplex and we are all just really, really happy about it. The girls have agreed to live in the duplex till the summer, in order to help with the transition of Anton, and later, Sasha. They are helping Max and Morgan learn how to live with our boys, and also helping them with all the language needed to communicate with the boys. It seems like it will be a great fit. Ruslan moved into Anton’s old apartment with Luda and Nazar, and that’s great too, because Anton’s old apartment is nicer and bigger. Win win!

I can’t even accurately describe to you how it feels to have life in the duplex. We have dreamed of a community like this for so long. We have an amazing community in our team, but to have community, right here, out our back door is a literal dream come true. We are living life together, with our boys, as friends and family and it’s just so beautiful. I’m sure it will have it’s challenges- because…humans. But, I really feel God’s smile on this. This is the life our boys deserve.

The timing seems just about perfect too, because today Jed finally began the guardianship classes required to bring Sasha into the family. We have been waiting since September for these classes to start. FINALLY!!! The classes last until mid-March, and then hopefully all will be in order for Sasha to move into the duplex. That gives Anton enough time to get adjusted to his new digs before Sasha joins. We are all eager to see Sasha again and bring him from darkness into light. So much love awaits him!

Thank you, thank you, thank you to each one of you who has prayed and encouraged and given money over the past years. The dreams are becoming reality. It’s such an exciting time to be a part of this work. Wahoo!

PS: If you haven’t heard yet, we are doing a BeLOVE[d] t-shirt/sweatshirt fundraiser! It ends on March 2. 100% of the proceeds will go toward finishing the second side of the duplex. Click the link below to buy a t-shirt 🙂

BeLOVE[d]

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Reflections on Home

The most elusive word to most expats is probably the word “home”. I actually put quite a bit of thought into my use of that word. It’s not one I throw around lightly. When you up and move 6,000 miles away from your home, and suddenly every single thing is unfamiliar and difficult, you wonder if you will ever feel “at home” again, and the word takes on a power and meaning all its own.

For several years after we moved to Ukraine I considered Oregon my home. Oregon represented comfort and familiarity and friendship and family. Ukraine represented frustration and difficulty and loneliness and hard hard hard. Ukraine was where we lived, but it was not my home. I never let our kids know that though. Even though Jed and I didn’t feel the feels, we were always super careful how we used the word “home” with our kids. Right away, after moving to Ukraine, we called it our home. We wanted the kids to recognize that we were in Ukraine to stay and we wanted them to start to put down roots there- physically and emotionally. We may have longed for the US and all it’s familiarities, but we didn’t want our kids to do the same. We didn’t want them pining for their old life. We wanted them to jump in to their new life- and we tried our best to do the same. When it was time to visit the US we told the kids just that- that we were going to visit the US. We never referred to those visits as “going home”. In hindsight, I’m really glad we did that because it helped all of us in keeping a perspective of permanency, regardless of our feelings.

Words are powerful, but they are still just words. The heart feels what it will feel, and no matter which words I used, it still took a loooong time for me to feel like Ukraine was my home. For several years I would just about die of excitement when it was time to leave Ukraine, and cry allllll the tears when it was time to return to her again. I knew that I knew Ukraine was where we were supposed to be. I had zero doubt of our purpose and calling there, but that didn’t make the reality easier. I was dying of loneliness and life was just so.dang.hard. Yes, there were many beautiful moments, but it still just felt super foreign.

But, sometime over the past couple of years, those feelings changed. I’ll be honest and tell you that this trip is the first one when I really felt sad to leave Ukraine. As much as I was excited to see our family here in the US, I still cried saying goodbye to our boys, our team, our neighbors, our house and our pets. I felt a sense of loss that life there will go on and we won’t be a part of it for a few weeks. I felt a sadness of leaving my home, my people. And I as sat back and recognized those feelings I felt so much thankfulness and joy. We’ve crossed into a new season, a new reality. My people-pleaser self wanted to immediately feel guilt over that and my “disloyalty” the US, but I decided not to go there. I think it’s good and right to feel at home in the place where you live. I see this new feeling of belonging as God’s gift and I’m only thankful for it. During these past 7 years I’ve learned that it’s okay to have your heart in both sides of the ocean. It’s okay to miss my family in the US, while also being content with our family in Ukraine. It’s okay to be excited to visit the US, but also sad to leave Ukraine. As an expat, that tug on my heart that stretches it across the sea will always be my reality. Like I tell our kids when they cry over leaving someone they love, “We are the most blessed, to be loved by so many people all over the world.”

Are you signed up for our newsletter? I shared all about our flight to the US there. Sign up today!

BeLOVE[d]

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Help is On the Way

I have the most incredible news to share with you! A wonderful couple from the US has decided to join our team as Live-In-Assistants!  I still can’t believe I actually get to write that. I kinda thought it would never happen. My smile is so big right now. It’s more than a little unbelievable that something we have prayed for for so long is actually happening- and right on time. But, I actually shouldn’t be surprised because that’s how God has worked in every step of this journey. He rarely sends what we need early, but he has yet to ever send it late. His timing is absolutely perfect. 

I am so happy to introduce you to Max and Morgan Martinez. Max and Morgan are a newly married couple that we actually met here in Ukraine. About a year and a half ago, a team came to visit us from Vineyard USA’s Heroic Leadership Institute, and Max and Morgan were on that team. The Heroic Leadership Institute is a discipleship program that lasts a full school year, and ends with an outreach overseas. Their team was sent to Ukraine for their outreach and spent about a week with us here at the Homestead. They helped us in the garden, played with our boys, spent time at Romaniv with our interns and made us laugh for basically the entirety of the week. 

Max and Morgan were deeply affected by their time in Ukraine and over the past year and a half, the work here hasn’t left their hearts. They just haven’t been able to shake it. That often happens with people who come here. Our boys and our team just have a way of grabbing on to your heart, and they don’t let go easily. Sooooo if you’re considering a visit, proceed with caution. 🙂 Max and Morgan got married this past spring, and as they looked forward into their future they found themselves talking about Ukraine and wondering if someday they would join us here. At some point the conversations became less “Maybe someday” and more “Why not now?” They are in a time of transition and find themselves as free to adventure as they’ll ever be. We are so honored and happy that they have chosen to adventure with us.

 At this point they are beginning to gather prayer support and the funds necessary. It’s an exciting time and a faith-building time. Max and Morgan are hoping to join our team around the first of February. So soon!!  It’s really perfect, because our family will be in the US for the holidays, and then once we return to Ukraine we’ll have a bit of time to prepare for them, and then it will be go-time! They will live in the duplex, helping us bring boys out of the institution to live with them there. Our team will work together with them to help our boys learn the love of family. It’s going to be awesome and hard and beautiful and stretching. The current plan is that Sasha will be the first boy to come live with Max and Morgan. He will be one blessed boy. Then as he adjusts, and as the team feels ready, we will add three more boys, one at a time, over the course of several months. We always feel a sense of urgency, but we refuse to rush. All will be done prayerfully and we will follow peace in the process. 

At this point, Max and Morgan are committing to living in the duplex for one year, and as time passes they will prayerfully consider another year. Again, no rushing out ahead. We are all really trying to move forward prayerfully, knowing that God will give wisdom as it is needed. 

Max and Morgan are beginning to reach out to their community for prayer support and financial support. They will need to raise money for plane tickets, visas and residency costs, translation help, and then just personal money to have on hand here for their days off, for time to take care of themselves and such. The total needed for one year will be $8,000. If any of you feel like you would like to help get Max and Morgan here you can give a tax-deductible donation at the link below. The funds will be separate from the Wide Awake General Fund, so 100% of your donations will directly support the Martinez family. 

Thank you to all of you who have joined us in praying for the right people to come along to help. God hears our prayers and he loves this work. He is always for us and we are just in awe of his provision. Exciting times are ahead!

PS: We are still in search of people who would like to join our team here in Ukraine. The need for Live-In-Assistants will be ongoing- forever. Ha! As we finish the second side of the duplex and plan to bring more boys to live there, more willing hands and hearts will be needed. If you are interested or have more questions, please do reach out! 

BeLOVE[d]

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My McDonalds Alter Ego

Yesterday I had McDonalds for lunch, and it was delicious. Big Mac Meal with Coke, thank you very much! Don’t mind if I do. 😋

Something interesting has happened to me over the past (almost) seven years of living in Ukraine. I have developed an alter ego when it comes to McDonalds. This change came upon me almost immediately upon moving to Ukraine, and while for some years I was embarrassed to admit it, I now fully embrace the McKrainain version of myself. No shame. No hiding. This is me- with ketchup.

Let me explain.

I feel like the US has this thing going on where everyone publicly denies their love for McDonalds, and yet McDonalds thrives and thrives. Last year they reported a revenue of more than 7 BILLION dollars…in the US alone! Soooo…as much as we might hate to admit it, someone’s gotta be eating all that McD’s…

I get it, I get it. It’s not necessarily the cool place to be seen at. I mean, if I was at McDonalds in the US and someone I know walked in, I’d feel like I kinda owed them an excuse. “Ummm Jed just really loves McDonalds. Of course I think it’s gross, but he’s just gotta have his McRib! I much prefer Chipotle, but you know…anywaysss…” (It’s so much easier to throw Jed under the bus, since he’s literally impossible to embarrass. Not that I take advantage of that. Ahem…) 🤷‍♀️

I have a friend who lives just up the hill from McDonalds in our home town in Oregon and I feel like I would do just about anything to make sure she never saw me in the drive-thru. Is it just me? Why all the McShaming? You gotta admit their fries are the besssssst. Come on, don’t be shy!

So yeah, when we lived in the US I was totally on the bash-McDonalds-bandwagon. But then, something about moving 6,000 miles away from everything familiar made me shift my perspective. Can’t imagine why.

In our city, McDonalds is the only American chain restaurant to be found. It’s also the only drive-thru, so there’s that. A couple hours away in Kyiv you can find KFC (but no biscuits or coleslaw, so yeah, not the same), Dominos, and maybe a small Baskin Robbins? But I think that’s it. And in our town, McDonalds is all we’ve got.

Upon our arrival in Ukraine with 4 littles and zero language skills, those Golden Arches spelled “HOME”. Once the jet-lag wore off and we kinda began to realize we were here for good, we couldn’t get there fast enough. Anytime we felt homesick or sad or helpless or stupid, a double cheeseburger and fries was what the doctor ordered. The food tasted the same. The menu was super similar. We could order basically in English and they could “mostly” understand us. In those early days, McDonalds not only filled our bellies, but it reminded us that we were not just the dumb Americans who couldn’t even grocery shop without feeling stupid. We were smart people with friends and family who loved us and a whole history of not-stupidness behind us. Seriously, Guys, nothing brings on humility stronger and faster than moving to a foreign country where English is not the official language. It’ll bring you down about 50 notches in the first 10 days. Ouch.

Evie and Daddy on a McDonalds Date

Over the years we’ve come to rely less on McDonalds to ease our pains, and it’s become more of a special treat. We take our kids there on dates. On the rare occasion when Jed and I are in town together without kids, we go there and it feels like our special secret. It tastes like home, even though we rarely ate it till we moved away from home. Oh the irony.

Another thing to note is that McDonalds is a totally legit place to eat in Ukraine. You would never be embarrassed to find one of your friends at McDonalds in our town. McDonalds is always a good idea here. It’s something special and it’s different than any other restaurant in our city. I feel zero McShame while in Ukraine. Bring on the burgers!

But, the minute the airplane touches down in the US, all that changes. I instantly become a person who wouldn’t even consider McDonalds. I am so high above McDonalds I can’t even be bothered to watch their commercials. All that grease! Why I never!

Is it because I don’t want to waste my time eating food in the States that is readily available in Ukraine? Is it because I’m surrounded by so many much tastier restaurants in the US and McDonalds isn’t special there? Or does the high schooler in me so readily succumb to peer pressure that I slide back in to my old prejudices as soon as I return to my old stomping grounds?

I could dive deeper into how all the parts of my personality shift from one continent to the other, but I’m not in the mood for introspection today. Let’s just say, that my McEgos are just one facet of the confusion that comes with living cross-culturally. What is widely acceptable to me in one place, does not always make the cut in the other. We’ve all become part chameleon over the past 7 years, I guess.

What about you? Have you ever traveled overseas? Did you have a hankering to eat at places that were familiar to you? Did the Golden Arches beckon? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments on food as “home” and on McDonalds in generally. Because, why not? 😆

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