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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Today I’m glowing.  I’m basking in yesterday.  Today was a great day, don’t get me wrong, but part of the reason today was so good is because yesterday was simply superb.  It was a day of absolute beauty.  All day I felt God’s smile.  Lovely.

The day started out normal enough with Christina and I heading to Romaniv with the rest of the crew.  But Romaniv.  Oh Romaniv.  We had the BEST time.  Yesterday was hands down my favorite day at Romaniv yet.  No comparison.  It’s hard to say just what made it so special.  I think part of the goodness was that we are simply getting to know the boys more.  We are there consistently and it’s beginning to pay off bit by bit.  We know them all by name, some who are able can recognize us.  We are starting to get in to a bit of a rhythm with our little team.  We are learning some of the specific needs of each of the boys and when we are able, we meet those needs.


The path to some of the best boys on earth

I had the most beautiful moment with one of the boys, Vova.  I’m supposed to save this for our series about Romaniv but I can’t hold it in.  You can read about it twice.  🙂  So Nina brought bubbles yesterday.  That’s the first time we’ve attempted bubbles with the boys.  It was AWESOME!!!!  A few of them loved it!!!  Total success.  Anyway, after playing with bubbles for a bit I decided to take one of the bottles of bubbles and go to the bedrooms to see if some of the boys who don’t come to play would enjoy them at all.  I went in to the first room and found one boy asleep on the floor, one boy asleep on the bed, and Vova sitting in his bed rocking back and forth.  He was self stimulating, banging his hand on his leg repeatedly as he rocked.  I said his name and knelt on the floor below him.  Slowly I started blowing a couple bubbles.  Instantly he stopped stimming (self-stimulating).  He sat still for a moment and I blew a couple more bubbles.  He remained still and quiet so I kept on blowing, quietly and slowly, more and more bubbles.  Then, after a minute or so Vova slowly reached his hand up and started popping bubbles on by one.  He popped some in the air, a couple on his leg, on his bed.  He noticed the small wet spot left by a popped bubble and rubbed it with his finger.  I spoke softly to him a bit, but was mostly just quiet as we played with the bubbles for a while.  After several minutes of fascination with the bubbles he lifted his head and looked in my eyes.  He looked at me, and just kept on looking.  Melt my heart and make it burst all at once!!!  I’ve never had eye contact like this with Vova before.  He is normally distant and doesn’t participate at all in our time on Fridays.  Then there we were, at his bed, looking at each other.  I swear to you he almost smiled.  It was magical.  I felt the smile of God and His presence so strongly in that moment.  I don’t even have words to describe it.  Tears were running down my face as we looked at each other.  Then Vova looked away and I resumed blowing bubbles.

In that moment of connection I saw Vova in a different light.  Normally I think of him almost as an old man.  He walks unsteadily, legs bent at odd angles, not interacting with anyone. He often shrugs away from touch.  I don’t know if he is verbal at all.  Head shaved and nondescript face, but not yesterday.  I saw him as a young man yesterday.  I feel almost like I had the tiniest glimpse of how God sees Him.  He was beautiful and valuable and precious.  I will never ever forget that time.  It fills my heart with hope for what God has in store.

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  

Jeremiah 29:11

That verse is for Vova.  That verse is for Misha.  That verse is for Bogdan and Vladik and Valera and Zhenya.  And because we believe that to be true, we have hope.

I got back home from Romaniv, and as I walked around the corner to our house I saw the kids talking to our neighbor!!  Our neighbors are like total mystery people.  We doubted their existence, so rare were the signs of life coming from their home.  Our building is actually made up of 6 “apartments”.  It’s hard to explain and hard to even tell where the different apartments start and end.  Well, finally I met one of our neighbors!  Not only that, but she was nice!  And she has a 2-year old!  Seth and little Vitaliy played trains while we two Mommies attempted conversation.  We managed to visit for an hour!!  OMG.  HUGE breakthrough!  I could have burst I was so happy to have a neighbor connection with an actual human.  Woot!  Thank you Jesus and thank you Google Translate.

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Getting our crazies out before going in to the theater

Then to wrap up the most fantastic day ever, the kids and I (Jed was in Kyiv) went to a concert at our local theater with some friends.  We listened to a local Acapella choir that is famous throughout Ukraine.  It was absolute heaven.  They were beautiful.  I can hardly wait till their next tour.  You guys, it was such a treat.  They sang old traditional Ukrainian songs, songs in Latin, a fun song in English about springtime love, and even an old spiritual that I sang in high school choir!  Now that was a kick.  During the English song Ezra leaned over and said “Mom, this sounds a lot like English!”  “Yes, that’s because it IS English my boy.”  Haha!  They sang a tribute song to “Heavens Hundred”, the people who died on Maidan in February- ordinary people who gave all so their country could have a future.  Everyone stood while they sang, many people were crying.  It was a moment I’ll not soon forget.  The spirit of the Ukrainian people is astounding.  In the midst of occupation and threat of invasion at our borders, they steal away on a Friday night to partake of beauty and honor their heroes.  At the end of the concert the singers and the audience cheered “СЛАВА УКРАЇНІ!” (“Glory to Ukraine!”)  You could see the pride in their eyes.

So there you have it; my yesterday.  My heart is full.

Here is a video tribute to the Heavenly Hundred.  The song in this video is the song we heard sung last night.  May God bless Ukraine and may their deaths never be in vain.

Thursday + Pics

Hello!  Today’s Thursday, hence the title “Thursday”.  Today is a normal day.  Addy and Ezra went to school.  I guess today was a little special at school because their class got to go over to the bigger school down the street and watch the teenagers put on a play.  They were so excited, and I’m happy to report that they weren’t disappointed.  They had a great time on their first “field trip”.

Hava, Seth, and I took the bus to the big grocery store at the mall and did some shopping, Jed worked at MTU- meeting about the volunteer program development and helping in special needs classrooms.  Life as usual for the Johnson fam.  🙂

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At a birthday party in Kyiv…guess what mug they saved for me?

I’ve kind of neglected this spot lately.  My last post was 10 days ago!  No bueno.

Lots has been happening and it seems there’s always something to write about, but then when the end of the day comes and I have time to write I’m utterly exhausted.  I really want to enjoy writing here, and good posts never come out of compulsion.  But, I still need to attempt to be more faithful here.

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Babes at Maidan

So…here’s my attempt at a bit of a catch-up post so I can give myself a clean slate and a fresh start. Mmmmk?

1.  We switched to learning Ukrainian.  Oy.  Don’t get me started.  Okay, I’ll explain.  We started out learning Russian long before we even moved.  I’m pretty sure I’ve explained why we have been studying Russian (more useful worldwide, there are boys we would love to get to someday that live in the south where Russian is more widely spoken, our dreams are bigger than only Ukraine…).  BUT, we are realizing more and more each day that for our every day life here and now in Zhytomyr, we really need Ukrainian.  Ukrainian is spoken at Romaniv.  Our kids are learning Ukrainian in school.  All their homework is in Ukrainian.  Classes we assist with at MTU are taught in Ukrainian.  Our church is in Ukrainian.  Yeah….not so much Russian.  Although, most people you meet on the street are speaking Russian.  So, I guess picking one language and sticking with it is the most important decision.  Most people here in Zhytomyr mix the languages together, so I’m assuming that’s what we’ll begin to do as well.  My poor, poor brain…  🙂

Fast Fact: When we were studying Russian we spelled the town we live in like this: “Zhitomir” – the Russian transliteration.  Now that we’re learning Ukrainian we spell it like this: “Zhytomyr”- the Ukrainian transliteration.  Same goes with “Kiev” vs. “Kyiv”.  🙂

2.  We had some amazingly wonderful special guests this past weekend!

Okay.  Jed’s parents are missionaries in Kosovo.  They are volunteers for a German relief organization called Humedica.  Humedica does amazing work in disaster relief worldwide.  They have huge numbers of medical professionals in their database ready to respond to need at any time.  Awesome, awesome organization that does big work really well.

Wolfgang Gross, the founder and director of Humedica, has become a close friend of Jed’s parents over the past 14 years they’ve been working together.  We’ve been wanting to meet him since forever!  Numerous times Jed has tried to plan a way to meet his parents in Germany to meet Wolfgang and it just never worked out.  Well, this past weekend we got the treat of a lifetime!  On Thursday we found out that Wolfgang and his dear friend Jurgen were invited to Kyiv to deliver much-needed medical supplies to hospitals that were assisting injured protesters.  Wolfgang contacted the parents, who contacted us and let us know that we would have a chance to meet!  We rushed off to Kyiv on Friday after school and spent an amazing weekend with two men that will always have a piece of our hearts.  Jed got to help take them around Kyiv on Saturday to deliver their supplies.  Then we all visited Maidan on Sunday. They joined us at Kyiv Vineyard for church on Sunday and then came to little ol’ Zhytomyr to stay the night at our house!  Wolfgang and Jurgen got a tour of MTU and they even got to visit Romaniv!  Super cool and fun.  We were so sad to see them leave.  Having them here felt like family visiting, even though we were meeting for the first time.  It was glorious.

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Wolfgang and Jurgen at Maidan

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Visiting an Occupational Therapy session at MTU

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Wolfgang, Jurgen, and Ira, the Director at MTU

3.  Our boys at Romaniv are FINALLY out of quarantine!  We get to resume our visits tomorrow at long last.  Woot!

Welp, there’s a bit of an update for you.  We are doing pretty well, in general.  Every day is different, and some days are better than others.  We feel some loneliness setting in these days and are really missing our sending church, so, we’re learning in a whole new way what it means to find our hope and peace in Jesus alone.  The kids are doing well and Addy and Ez really enjoy school a lot.

Anywaysssss…I feel like a bit of a bore, so here are some pics to reward you for sticking it out till the end.  🙂

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At this spot on the morning of February 20th, many men were killed by snipers. Here is the memorial to Ukraine’s “Heaven’s Hundred”.

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Addy, taking it all in, history in the making…

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Looking down the hill toward Maidan

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Independence Monument