On Contrasts and Soul-Feeding

Tuesday was a day of HUGE contrast.

 

We spent the morning at Romaniv, as usual, and then in the evening we had our second Youth Night. This night was for our second group of graduates from Mission to Ukraine (MTU). As MTU focuses more on providing therapy for children, we are taking on the adults who have aged out of their services. There are about 40 graduates all together and we have them broken up in to two different groups, according to developmental level and interest level. The purpose of the Youth Nights is to provide a social opportunity for these young men and women, and for their moms. These guys and gals have grown up together at MTU, and this group of moms and their children are like extended family for each other. They just need a place and time set aside for them to be loved and valued and treasured for the the beautiful people that they are. They need a place to be with their peers where they are accepted and known.

 

We are more than happy to provide that for them.

 

I can't even accurately describe to you my love for this group of grown children and their moms. It felt like my birthday and Mother's Day and Christmas all rolled in to one as I anticipated Tuesday night. Most of these guys we hadn't seen since camp and we have missed them SO MUCH.

 

It's like God has planted them so deeply in to my heart that I am just bursting with love for them. I just want to squeeeeeeeeeze them all! And I did! Hahaha

 

As our awesome volunteers arrived to help set up one of them mentioned that there was a big group of people all huddled together down the street a ways, “Do you think that's them?” He asked. I said I would go check.

 

Oh.My.Word. I ran outside to find a group of like 15 of our youth and their moms all huddled together, in the freezing cold, 20 minutes early, not exactly sure where to go, waiting for everyone to arrive so they could come in together. I ran up to them to invite them inside, and seeing the excitement on their faces was absolutely priceless. SO PRECIOUS!!!!!

 

When God first made an opportunity for me to work with moms at MTU I was hesitant- and not that excited, to be honest. Then at camp He made another opportunity for me to work with moms, and again, I was not that excited (slow learner maybe?). But, He always knows better. Through those times of working with moms I grew to love them deeply. God knew we would be caring for these moms and their kids and He started preparing our hearts for it many months ago. These groups are just as much for the moms as they are for the kids

 

Work with this group is what brings me joy. More than anything else we do here in Ukraine, this group is the most life-giving to me. It feeds my soul- deep, deep down. I love Romaniv. Duh. I adore our Boys there. Duh. But Romaniv is also hard. It is painful. It is joy and sorrow and hugs and pain all at once.

 

This group is just joy. Pure and simple childlike joy.

 

God knew we needed this group just as much as they need us.

 

To go from Romaniv, where the boys are left alone in bed for hours, till we arrive to take them out, to young men and women being lovingly cared for by their mothers is like night and day. To go from Romaniv where Boys are not seen as individually valuable and special, to watching a mother's eyes light up as she watches her daughter laugh with her friends is like icy cold and cozy warmth. The contrasts between our morning and our evening are too many to count.

 

This group is like a salve on my soul. It reminds me of what is possible with love. It fills me with hope for our Boys. It is like a ginormous bear hug that lasts all evening. It makes my face hurt from smiling so big.

 

Thank you Jesus for this group. Thank you Jesus for knowing what we need. Thank you Jesus for the immense privilge of loving and knowing these families.

 

I'm just so happy. Sigh.

 

 

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

Fantastic Game Night

Okay, so a day late, but better late than never, right?

If you follow Wide Awake on Facebook, you probably saw that I promised to share about the very special night we had on Tuesday.  I have to say that “special” is an understatement.  I put off writing about it because I was still so giddy about it’s wonderfulness, that to sit down and try to write about it just seemed tedious (plus we’ve been busy little bees around here).  I just wanted to smile about it.  But, I want you all to be able to smile about it too, so it’s time I share!

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Mission to Ukraine (MTU), the organization we serve here in Zhytomyr, has several branches of work they focus on.  One of these branches is the education of children with disabilities.  There are preschool classes, school-readiness classes, and life-skills classes that are coupled with Bible lessons.  There’s also beading, drawing, and other crafty classes for the crafty type (NOT ME).  🙂

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There is one particular group of people that have really been weighty on the hearts of the staff of MTU lately.  That group is the young adults with disabilities that have been a part of MTU for many, many years.  These guys and gals have grown up with MTU, and for many of them it is the social center of their lives.  It is the place, besides home, where they are accepted and loved just as they are.  They are treasured at MTU.  They are known.  MTU has been their school, their youth group, and their family.  And now they are getting older.  MTU’s focus is children.  What to do?  Many of them attend a class on Tuesdays called “Youth Group”.  They study the Bible together there and build their relationships.  The staff want to do more for this group, but they are already stretched thin with responsibilities.  There is simply no time left in the day, or staff left in the day to provide them with more time to be together.

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Enter, Game Night!  Woot!

Some of the staff approached us and asked Jed and I if we would be interested in hosting some sort of monthly, special night for this group to have fun together.  This was a duh question.  Of course we wanted to help!

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Tuesday night was the first Game Night and it was beyond fabulous.  I kid you not.  I haven’t smiled that much since I was last in Disneyland!  Heehee 🙂

At 5:00pm sharp the guests began to arrive.  They were dressed up and lookin’ good, ready for a party.  Seeing their excitement made us even more excited!

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I wish I would have taken a picture of the food table.  Jed and I are feeders.  We feed people.  It’s our love language.  Sooooo if the amount of food we brought to the party was an indicator of our love, it was fairly obvious that we love these guys VERY much.  There was cookies, more cookies, magic cake, crackers, meat, cheese, veggies, some more cookies, candy, bread, tea, and juice. We may have gone overboard, just a wee bit.  Several of MTU’s finest volunteers came to help and join in the fun.  We had the group sit, then the volunteers and we served them food.  That was a great time for our kids to help out too.  They were able to interact with people right away, and also feel useful.  Addy and Ezra in particular, really wanted to help throw the party.

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We ate and laughed.

It was gooood.

Then it was game time!  There were all different physical ability levels in the fairly small room, so it was important to choose games that everyone could participate in.  We started out asking some fun “Would you rather?” questions.  We just wanted to break the ice, be silly, and laugh together.  We chose some crazy questions and then asked various people to explain their decision.  It was so funny!

“Would you rather wrestle a lion or fight a shark?”

“Would you rather eat a bar of soap or drink a bottle of dish soap?”

“Would you rather be born with an elephant’s trunk or a giraffe’s neck?”

“Would you rather be a GIANT hamster or a tiny rhino?”

Oh man, our poor friend Natasha who was translating!  We gave her translating skills a major workout.  Good thing she’s pretty much amazing.  🙂

After “Would you rather?” we played a game with yarn.  Jed asked the group different questions and whoever answered “yes”, had to grab a hold of the yarn.  Pretty quickly we had a big web of yarn which nearly entrapped Jed!  Luckily, he barely escaped with his life and all was well.  Jed just shared a bit about how we are all different, but united by common loves and ideas.  It was fun, and a good visual of the beauty of friendship.

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Next was free play game time.  We gathered small groups around tables and brought out various games.  We played Dominoes, Jenga, and Memory.   Once again, I have to brag about the most amazing volunteers.  Seriously, they rock.  They knew what needed to be done and just did it!  Many of them have volunteered quite a bit, so they are familiar with the group and know their needs.  They helped people eat, served tea and food, moved chairs and tables, translated, and assisted in the games so that everyone was able to participate and have a good time.  The night would have been impossible without their help.

Natasha translated for our family and she is just the best.  She loves this group and has known them for many years, so not only is she a great help, her heart is deeply invested as well.  Oh, and what about Alyona?!!!  Alyona works at MTU on “special projects”.  Alyona did so much to make the night possible.  She gathered volunteers, called the group to remind them about the date, arranged transportation for those in wheelchairs, helped set up and clean up…basically she’s super woman.  I didn’t get one non-blurry picture of Alyona because she’s such a hard worker she’s just a blur in each picture!  I wish so badly I would have gotten a picture of each volunteer.  Grrrrrr…next time.  Thank you dear friends!!!  We appreciate you!

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Note the Alyona blur in the background. 😉

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I didn’t get the best pictures because I was too busy partying it up, but I hope these pictures have given you a glimpse of the wonderfulness of the evening.

What a honor to be able to serve these dear ones.

What a joy to watch our own children learn to love and serve others.  What a joy to see  them learn the value of each and every life.

What a delight to see the faces of the parents as they came to collect their children at the end of the night.  When someone loves on your kid there is no greater gift.  How much more for these most courageous parents who have fought against all odds to give their kids the best shot at a fully lived life.  Humbling.

I am so incredible thankful for the years of MTU’s faithful service.  With God’s help they have created a haven in Zhytomyr like no other.  What a privilege to serve their vision and link arms.

Game Night is now officially a monthly event.  The group has requested next month’s gathering be a Karaoke Night!  OMG.  Bring.It.On.

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Addy was in her element COMPLETELY. She was simply glowing all night. Thank you Jesus for kids who are catching Your heart.

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Volunteers Extraordinaire! THANK YOU!!!

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This is Sergei. He also works with us at Romaniv in the Isolation Room. He is so wonderful with the boys, so loving. Hero material right here, folks.

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