Radio Silence (+ Mustache Bonus Feature)

Tomorrow we set out on a big adventure!

Our family will be participating in Mission to Ukraine’s (MTU) two summer camps and tomorrow the fun begins.

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Every summer MTU holds two different summer camps for children with disabilities and their mothers.  The first camp is for young children and the second camp is for teenagers and young adults.  The children and youth each have varying levels of needs and abilities and all are welcome.  These are all kids who receive services at MTU, whether it be special needs preschool or physical therapy or occupational therapy or life skills classes. Not only do the kids get to have a blast playing games, doing crafts, and learning about Jesus at camp, but the moms get a week of respite and fellowship with each other.  We’ve heard it’s just amazing and we can’t wait to see for our ourselves.  🙂

The campers are put in to small groups according to their ages and then each camper is paired with an adult volunteer who helps them and cares for them during all the camp activities.  During the first camp Jed will be in a group with the little little kiddos.  Havalah and Seth will also be in his group.  How cool that all our kids get to be campers too!  Addy and Ezra will be with their age groups.  I’m not exactly sure how it will work with our kids during the second camp…but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.  Twelve older, high functioning boys from Romaniv get to come for the second camp.  YAY!

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Originally I was supposed to be with kids, but there was a surprise need for someone to work with the moms, so I’ll be doing that.  There is an American woman who has come to camp faithfully, for like 12 years straight and she always serves the moms, but she was unable to make it this year.  Sooooo…I guess I’m up!  Every morning I’ll    be doing a small group with some of the moms of the campers.  I feel pretty nervous and completely out of my element, so it you could pray for me I would so much appreciate it!!!  I really just want to hear the Lord and His heart for these moms.  I can’t even imagine how it is to raise a child with special needs here.  It must be so isolating and difficult.  I don’t know all that these moms need, but God does and so I’m just praying He speaks through me.  Who knows, I might even make some new friends in the process!  🙂  I hope so.

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Our goal for this camp is just to be the hands and feet of Jesus to these families.  May they experience joy and love at every turn.  May they be refreshed and their hearts filled to overflowing.  May those who don’t know Jesus meet him during this camp.  May each person truly understand the they are seen and they are known by God, and if they will only glance in His direction, He will meet them there.  By the way, did you know those things are true for you too?

We’ll be out at camp pretty much until the end of the month with only a couple days home in the middle of the two camps, so we won’t be posting any updates during that time.  Email responses will also be delayed, FYI.

Radio silence commencing….now.  Catch ya on the flip side!

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*So, we got some mustaches in a package from the US…and one thing led to another…

 

 

 

 

Coffee Chat

On the eve of tomorrow’s presidential elections here in Ukraine, there is much that could be said.  Things are getting more and more crazy in the East.  I can’t even keep up with the news properly.  People on both sides of the conflict are dying and no one knows what will happen next.  Please join us in prayer for tomorrow’s elections!  Pray that people would not be hindered from voting.  Pray that there would be loads of courage and wisdom on each person who decides to make their voice heard.  Pray for honesty and that corruption would be far away from these proceedings.  That almost seems impossible, but we are praying it anyway.  God is doing a new thing here and we choose hope.  

Let’s chat.  Let’s pretend you and I are sitting down for a nice, hot cup of coffee and you just asked me, “So, what have you guys been up to?”

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We’ve been great!  I’m so glad it’s almost summer break.  One more week of school and we’re done!!!  Addy and Ezra had testing last week in reading, writing, and math and they both did fine on all the tests.  Yay!  They both recited poems in their class program and did awesome. FIVE MORE DAYS!!!!!  Good thing too, because it’s really hard to think about school when it’s 80 degrees with blue skies and all the neighbor kids get to stay out playing till after 9:00 every night.  🙂

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Speaking of neighbor kids, we have a couple that have started to come over faithfully to invite the kids to come outside and play!  They are sweet little girls that are both 11, and they really enjoy playing with the kids.  They usually bring an assortment of siblings and other tag-alongs with them.  One day they were so desperate to communicate that one of them actually ran inside her apartment and came out with an English-Russian dictionary!  Thank you Jesus for fun kids to run around with.

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The little girls made our kids this picture as a gift. Notice the bottom, “Set, Hava, Ezra, and HARRY” Hahahahahaha!!!! Looks like Addy’s got a new nickname!

So, in case you didn’t know, Ukrainians have a thing for hedgehogs.  Everyone loves hedgehogs here.  You can find candy named after hedgehogs; they are a super common theme in kids’ books; many families have stuffed animal hedgehogs in their houses, and the kids have homework that involves hedgehogs at least once a week.  I love it!  I don’t get it, but I enjoy it.  Well, a couple nights ago there was a hedgehog on our street!  I’d never seen a real one before!  Coooool.  One of the neighbors lightly kicked it until it rolled in to a ball and then he picked it up. I’ve got to admit, I’m becoming a fan!

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We had our second Youth Night at MTU last week.  It was karaoke night and we all had a blast.  We got to be outside, we ate food, chatted, sang, laughed, bowled.  So many smiles…I am absolutely in love with Youth Night.

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Jed even pulled out the air guitar. Intense.

Last week classes at MTU ended for the school year.  Now we enter the summer schedule, which is shaping up to be pretty stinking fun.  I’ll do a post about that later.  Over the past couple of months my friend Tanya and I had the best time meeting with some of the moms whose kids are served at MTU.  Normally while the kids are in classes, the moms meet with Olya, a staff member of MTU.  They chat, pray, and study the Bible.  Olya is pretty busy, so Tanya and I took a couple of her groups and have met with them several times.  We had such fun!!  We drank tea, prayed, chatted…I absolutely loved getting to know some of the moms of the children and youth we serve.  These are some awesome, strong, brave, and loving women.  I adore them!

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Mommies and Me

Today was such a fun day here in Zhytomyr!!  They hung up a record-breaking, HUGE HUGE HUGE Ukrainian flag on a building in our city center.  There was a big gathering today at the flag to hear from some important people in the city, to hear some beautiful music, to sing the National Anthem, and basically just to show support and love the for this wonderful country.  Many, many people were dressed in traditional clothing, there were flags everywhere…it was AWESOME.  I was so thankful we got to be there to participate!  Zhytomyr, as a city, has honestly been a bit sleepy when it comes to all that has been happening these past few months.  But now, a few days after the attack and deaths of some of our own Zhytomyr soldiers who were fighting in the east, Zhytomyr is sleeping no more.

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The view from the other side of the city center. Massive!!!

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University students in traditional dress marched and chanted in the streets.

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Johnson kiddos feelin’ the love…

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Our dear friend Olya helping Havalah in the sidewalk chalk competition. Kids were supposed to draw something to symbolize their love for Ukraine.

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Addy, hard at work. Her writing says “I love Ukraine” -in Ukrainian! Nice job sis!

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Showing our flowery support with traditional hairbands 🙂

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Some of our favorite people: Oksana, Nastya, Tolik, Victor, Katya,Olya, Oleg, Tanya, and baby Zakhar. (Seth was sooooo done. Haha)

Thank you for loving the Ukrainian people alongside us.  May God have His way and may many hearts be turned to Him during this time.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.  Ephesians 3:20, 21

Six Months!

Today marks 6 months in Ukraine.  Happy Anniversary to us!  YAY!

The past 6 months have flown by, yet so much has happened and so much in life has changed in that time that I can hardly believe we’ve only been here for 6 months.  Crazy.

My heart is so full right now as I look back at all God has done, and as I look at what He is doing right now.  I think about the ones who helped send us here, and continue to send us and I am overwhelmed with love.  All our friends, family, and supporters that are so far away- we love you so so much.  We cherish every email, every Skype/Facetime date, every Viber message, every Facebook message, every postcard more than we can even express.  THANK YOU for your continued prayer and encouragement.  It is necessary and such an enormous blessing to us.  We know we aren’t “out of sight out of mind” and that means a lot to us.  🙂

Then I think about all our wonderful friends here in our new home and I get all gushy and teary-eyed again.  How is it that we can be so blessed??  I’ve decided that we are just stinkin’ spoiled rotten.  Our Ukrainian friends love us and our children so very well.  Our lives are so much richer because of your presence in our lives.  THANK YOU for loving us despite our toddler vocabulary.  You are too good to us.  We love you!

Okay, I’m done with my speech now.  I could say so much more, but it’ll get all mushy and you all don’t want to read that.  Let’s just say, God s good and saying YES is worth it.

Annnnnnd for your viewing pleasure, here are some of my favorite pics of the past few weeks, just because I can.  🙂

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First S’mores of the season

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Romaniv Sweetness

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“Mama Nina”

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Fun at our friends’ farm, i.e Seth’s Heaven

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Football!! (Soccer)

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Addy and Hava helping babysit Zakhar, their fave Ukrainian baby doll 🙂

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Fun with friends

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Flying kites with cows. Hahaha

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Free-Range Sethers

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Making friends in our neighborhood. Slowly but surely!

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Ezra found a pet at the park…meet Slimey!

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Bob, a Vineyard pastor in California, came to visit and we made a great new friend. We can’t wait till you come again!

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Olya, my Ukrainian Mama 🙂 Я люблю тебе Оля!

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Semi-scary ooooooold carnival rides are right up Ezra’s alley

I can’t wait to see what the next 6 months hold.  Woohoo!

A Weekend in Pictures

We spent the weekend in Kiev getting our love tanks filled up by good friends, good food, good worship, and fun fun fun. Our kids get spoiled so bad in the big city, it’s no wonder it’s their favorite place to be. Whenever we visit Kiev we leave feeling so loved and encouraged it’s like balm for the soul.

Here’s some pics of our time:

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Of course there must be plenty of food!

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Men cooking AND doing the dishes AND making us delicious coffee? Woohoo! Thanks Maks, Andrey, and Jed 🙂

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Pillow/tickle/wrestle fight = my kids’ heaven

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Taking the metro to church

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Seth and Olya

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Seth and Anya, chillin’ at Sunday School

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Hava and Anya, walking to lunch. They are the cutest together, like twins separated at birth. Ha!

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Sergei bought the kids donuts!

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Please keep praying for Ukraine.  Being in Kiev was bittersweet.  We love that city and we love the Ukrainian people more each day.  Please don’t forget Ukraine.  Thank you!

A School Story

Big news folks.  My sweet Addy and Ezra are starting school on Monday.  Hold me.

How did this come about?  Wanna know?  Okay, I’ll tell you.  🙂

During Christmas time my friend Tanya told me about a gymnastics class at our neighborhood public school.  The daughter of one of her family members attends the class and she knew we were on the lookout for some sort of activity for our kids where they could hear language and interact with other kids, so she asked if we were interested.  Sure! Natasha, the mom of the girl attending, asked the coach if some crazy Americans could try out her class and she said yes!  So we did.

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Oh the hilarity that ensued.  Seriously, to be a fly on the wall.  It is VERY entertaining.  I think Tanya and I laughed nonstop during the first class.  Picture a very old gym with bare wall, barred windows and dirty mats.  Picture flexible Ukrainian kids flipping and cartwheeling and doing the splits and the bridge like they were birthed on to a balance beam.  Then picture the Johnson children (minus Seth) entering with all their clumsiness and lack of coordination (I’ll take all the genetic responsibility for that); not understanding a lick of the language, not able to cartwheel, but doing their very darndest to follow along.  Then picture the coach calling out orders in loud Russian.  It’s like a three ring circus I tell ya.

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Believe it or not, the kids LOVED gymnastics class and continued to attend all during the school’s Christmas break.  Technically the class is only for the students of that particular school and is free for them.  But, the coach likes our kids (she is so kind) and said she would ask the Director of the school if he would allow them to continue in gymnastics once school was back in session.  She even said Hava could stay in class, even though she’s technically too young.  🙂

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We were in Switzerland getting our visas when Tanya emailed to let us know that the director had agreed to the kids continuing gymnastics!  Woohoo!  He had also asked why they don’t attend school.   Everyone had been telling us that the schools wouldn’t accept our kids because they don’t speak but a few words of Ukrainian and Russian.  As far as we know, our kids are the only foreigners around, so the schools are not at all set up to work with non-native speakers.  The director said that was no problem and that he wanted to talk with Jed and me when we got home from Switzerland.

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A couple days after we got home from the visa trip we went to the director’s office for a chat.  He doesn’t speak any English, so the school English teacher translated.  He asked us the ages of the kids and where we live.  He asked if we plan to be in Ukraine for a long time or just short term and if the kids are vaccinated.  Then he got on the phone and talked about the situation to a higher up at the Ministry of Education.  At the end of the meeting he told us the kids are welcome to attend his school if we want!

We are a homeschooling family to the core.  We love homeschooling.  Addy went to kindergarten at a Christian school in Oregon where my mom teaches, and Ez went to one year of preschool there, but otherwise they’ve only been taught at home.  Homeschooling has just become a way of life for us and we have never thought we would do anything different.  If you’re curious why we homeschool I can talk about that in another post.  I LOVE to talk all things homeschool, so don’t be shy!   All that said, things got a bit tricky once we got to Ukraine.  Our kids’ brains are wired for language learning right now.  Everyone says “Your kids will learn the language so fast!  You won’t believe it!”  That’s probably true, but how can it happen if they are home all day?  They certainly aren’t going to learn it quickly from me!  Ha!  We put them in gymnastics, and they attend Awanas, and Sunday School, all in Russian and Ukrainian.  They have picked up quite a bit, but it’s slow.  They need to be immersed in the language while their brains are in this forming stage.  I wish I had that opportunity! We don’t really know of an option for a tutor that can teach them as many hours as they need here at home, so we were at a bit of a loss.  We were asking the Lord what to do to help our kids with the language.  We considered checking out the two local, Ukrainian Christian schools in town, thinking maybe they would have the ability to be more flexible with us, but they are both pretty far from our house.  Then this school fell in our laps.

On Thursday Jed and I went back to the school to check out the classroom they would be in and meet the teacher.  We asked the Lord to guide us and give us peace if this was the way to go.  What can I say?  It was great.  We decided to give it a go.  The school is about a 5 minute walk from our house.  Addy and Ez get to be in the same class, and school only goes from 8:30-noon.  Totally do-able!  The director wants to put them in first grade because they need to learn to read and write in Ukrainian, and those students are still learning those skills. Most of the students in the class will be 7, so Addy and Ez will be older than them, but we aren’t worried about that.  The main goal here is language acquisition,  and having them with kids younger than themselves will probably help take away some of the social pressures that would distract them from learning.  Plus, first graders get to do more fun stuff 🙂

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The thought right now is that they will attend school from 8:30-noon, and then come home to continue plugging along in their normal homeschool work.  We’ll only focus on the basics when they get home, like English and math, since I know their brains will probably be a bit fried when they get home from school.  Their school is taught in Ukrainian and their teacher speaks no English.  This school also specializes in Polish, so they’ll be studying Polish three times a week.  Oh my…this should be an adventure!

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Our Teacher

This is the plan that seems most peaceful right now.  We’ll finish out this school year and then re-evaluate for the fall.  I most definitely don’t want to abandon homeschooling, since the reasons why we school at home haven’t changed.  I guess we’ll take it a year at a time and see what God says.

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So, Monday is the big day!  School books have been purchased and the kids are excited to go.  I’m excited for them…but also quite nervous for them.  I’m so extremely thankful they get to be in the same class.  Praise God for His kindness.  He opened this door when we weren’t even looking and totally paved the way.  We are praying that this leads to divine relationships and open doors in our neighborhood.  We are excited to see how God plans to use this for His glory.

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If you would pray for us on Monday morning (Sunday night in the US) we would appreciate it so much!!!  I’ll let you know how it goes!