Tuesday, December 21, 2010

DayTrip to Vienna

We have been waiting around in Hungary for my new passport for a week now.  During this wait we did some homeschooling, had a cleaning at the dentist and flu shots, but we also had some unusual adventures as well.

Friday we took advantage of the close proximity of Budapest to Vienna and drove to Vienna just for the day.  We met our new CRWM colleagues working at the International Christian School of Vienna.  They took us to Schonbrunn Imperial Palace.  For the kids' sake we took the shortest tour comprising of 22 rooms and to our surprise the kids really enjoyed listening to the audio tour to the point that the four adults were left sharing two devices and the kids learned more about each room than we did.  "Princess Sissi" is Abigail's favorite princess and we learned a lot about her tragic life as Empress Elizabeth.  

In the evening we attended the Christian school's middle-school performance of Sleeping Beauty.  This was the first time the kids had watched a live performance and Elizabeth was quick to point out that the animals were only kids dressed up in costumes.  She got very nervous during the sword fight and cheered when "the bad guy is killed".  Thoroughly delightful!  I think for her mom and dad, Elizabeth was just as entertaining as the play itself. 

Today my mom is supposed to arrive and we will head back to Ukraine.  Europe was dumped in snow over the past few days and there's a mess at the airports.  Her flight is due late into Munich which may severely complicate her connection to Budapest.  Despite all the fun of the past week, we're ready to get back home.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Letter

This Christmas will be a bit different for us this year.  First of all, Sarah’s mom is coming to spend ten days with us in December.  We are looking forward to baking Christmas cookies and spending time together.  Although it is quite unusual for us to be with extended family over a holiday, the strangest thing will be celebrating Christmas in January.  Our congregation has decided to celebrate the official Ukrainian Christmas which falls on January 7 according to the Orthodox (Julian) calendar.  December 25 is a normal school and work day in Ukraine, and although some people (mostly Hungarians) in our region celebrate this day as Christmas, celebrating January 7 is more missiologically sound considering our goal to reach Ukrainians.  One more way this Christmas is different is that in addition to our prayer letter, you are receiving a special letter just about us as a family.

I’ll start with the youngest in the family.  Elizabeth turned 3 in September and tells everyone she meets that she is “three,” holding up three little fingers as she does so.  She feels so big and grown-up now, often reminding mommy that she isn’t a baby anymore but has become “a kid.”  Elizabeth loves to color in yellow and can write the first letter of her name.  A couple months ago she started attending a private preschool 3 mornings a week.  Our reason for sending her was so that she could learn Ukrainian.  Lately she hasn’t been happy there, seemingly because her teachers don’t understand her (not because she doesn’t understand them).  We aren’t in any hurry so if she prefers to stay home, then we’re happy to have her with us.  Elizabeth is a great communicator, even if she doesn’t speak the language of the person she’s talking to.  She uses her hands and facial expressions to get across what she wants.  One day I heard her say a sentence consisting of words in three languages – English, Ukrainian and Hungarian: “No, ні szabad!”  (Translated all into English it means, “No, that’s not allowed.”)  Elizabeth is highly task oriented and can accomplish nearly anything she sets her mind to.  (In other words, nothing is out of reach.)  We see her as a leader someday.

Matthew will soon turn 6.  He loves turtles, Star War’s the Clone Wars, and Wall-E.  He wants to become a farmer when he grows up.  Matthew started kindergarten in our homeschool and is doing great.  He caught on to math very fast and is nearly finished with his book for the whole year already.  He has learned 12 letters of the alphabet so far and can read some simple books using those letters.  He and Abigail made a great lapbook about Ukraine this year.  Matthew loves swimming and has just started to move beyond doggy-paddling. 

Abigail, 7, fills the role of the oldest child perfectly.  She is mature and dependable, paying careful attention to details.  She wants to be a ballet teacher, piano teacher, golf teacher, and school teacher when she grows up.  There’s definitely some teacher in her!  This is her second year of taking piano lessons and her first year of ballroom dance lessons.  She has a gift for languages and can communicate in Russian with her piano teacher, in Ukrainian at dance lessons and Sunday School, and in Hungarian with her friends.   Abigail loves drawing and coloring, playing with Playmobil, and taking pictures.

I, Sarah, love homeschooling Abigail and Matthew with Sonlight’s curriculum.  Ideally, we would like to be able to send our children to a Christian school, but there are not any decent schools in our area, much less a Christian school.  I am glad to have studied elementary education and pleased that the kids are happy here at home.   Their education down the road remains a question and a matter of prayer.  Besides homeschooling, I lead an English bible study at church and participate in an English book club comprised of English teachers from the language school I helped start 7 years ago.  I also started a blog this year at www.devuysts.blogspot.com to help family and friends know what we’re up to.

George enjoys his work with the Mukachevo Reformed congregation although this year has presented a lot of new challenges especially with developing healthy leadership.  The church’s seminary intern, Robert Shpontak, has been a great blessing.  Our prayer is that he will eventually become their pastor.  George has especially enjoyed being trained and training others in the Timothy Leadership Training.  He sees a lot of potential for (and a lot of work in) getting this program running in multiple cities in Ukraine, Hungary and Romania.  If the weather is good and time is available, George appreciates a day of peace and quiet on the golf course.  He has to travel to Debrecen, Hungary (it takes at least 3 hours to get there) for such an opportunity but it’s well worth it.  George is a great father and husband and no matter how busy or stressed he is, he makes time for his family.

We remain happy living in Ukraine and encouraged by the little signs of transformation we see in the lives we minister to.  Even after 14 years overseas, we are constantly learning about ministry in the in Ukrainian context.  We pray for God to use us as His instruments. 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Here are some pictures from the last month.

 The electricity went out twice today but that didn't stop the children from continuing their coloring by flashlight.

We built the little electric flag in our science class
Abigail with our Ukrainian language teacher, Ira.
No wonder Matthew is confused - he's copying from a Hungarian book into a Ukrainian notebook!
Ahh...that's our charmer!
Tea party
Wanted: 3 Year old bonnet bandit
Play dough party with our friend, Andre, who comes over on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons
Did someone say, "wireless"?

Daddy has been gone essentially 4 weeks and there was no shortage of excitement when he came home.
The kids had been sick since the beginning of November.  Definitely glad that is over!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Sent Home to Die

Way too often I hear this scenario played again and again.  This time it involves a man who has been attending our church for the past few years.  He has a brain tumor.  Doctors have decided that it's not worth operating or treating.  He has a bum leg and he's poor, therefore, they have decided, he might as well just go home and die.  He, of course, has not been told what the diagnosis is nor is he given any choice as to whether his life is worth living or not.  The indifferent doctors have made the decision for him.  He is at home...and any day now he will die.

What it's All About

Thankfully, the feelings of not wanting to be in Ukraine were quickly replaced by reasons TO BE in Ukraine.  Sure, there are many things that I don't like about life here and those things are not likely to change, but I once again have a renewed sense of purpose and belonging.  This week an acquaintance confided in me and asked me to pray for her.  I was able to encourage a wife of an alcoholic to continue her new-found courage to stop enabling him.  Through my sister's medical advice, I was able to help a woman recover from a bad ear infection that was affecting her hearing.  I am grateful for the opportunities I have to listen to others and pray for them.  If I can help others get a glimpse of how much God loves them and cares for them, then I know that this is where I am meant to be.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Life is Better Somewhere Else Than Here

A few weeks ago I experienced a rare emotion.  I didn't want to be in Ukraine.  I had spent nearly two wonderful weeks outside of Ukraine in a country where life is easier and society functions.  I returned feeling overwhelmed by all the reasons NOT to live in Ukraine.  I couldn't even think of one good reason to stay.  My list of concerns included: I can't trust that the food we eat isn't contaminated, my children aren't receiving the Christian school education that we would like for them to have, I'm repeatedly pushed aside by someone wanting to get to the front of the line, being immersed in three foreign languages is too much, Matthew's personality is repressed because of his inability to communicate, where's the line between helping and developing dependency, and the list goes on.

Slowly over a week these negative emotions began to subside.  The concerns remain but I am not looking so intently at the grass on the other side of the fence (so to speak).  Today I led an English Bible study and our topic was the Israelite's complaining in the desert.  God brought them to the desert to test them and mold them into the people He wanted them to be.  If it's not complaining that He wanted to hear when they had no water, when their feet ached from walking, when their bellies grumbled, then what was it?  Maybe He wanted to hear them say, "Hey, God, I saw how you did amazing things back in Egypt, please see our needs and provide for us."  or "I'll go where you want me to go even though I don't like it."  Perhaps my response to life not always being what I want should not be one of complaining but of openness to what God has to teach me and in expectation of His incredible provision.

All this musing brought to mind a song I heard my parents listen to when I was a child - Keith Green's So You Wanna Go Back to Egypt.  If I was feeling really creative (and had a ton of time on my hands) I would change the words to apply to my situation.  But I have neither the creativity nor the time so if you want you can just listen to the original song.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Elizabeth Turns Three

Elizabeth at 4 1/2 months old
Our baby is not a baby anymore.  She's out of diapers, without a pacifier, sleeping in a big bed, and talking up a storm. Elizabeth turned three on September 11 and we celebrated her birthday with friends the next day.  She chose an age-appropriate them of Mickey Mouse and for the party we played games, blew bubbles and ate cake and ice cream. 

That same weekend we heard of a "mini preschool" and Monday morning I took Elizabeth for her first day.  She told me, "I won't cry, Mommy" and true to her word she let me bring her in and drop her off so that I could return to homeschooling Abigail and Matthew.  She attends two mornings a week and so far loves it.  We hope it gives her a boost in learning Ukrainian.
First day of preschool

A birthday card Elizabeth received contained a poem that perfectly describes her.

What is a Little Girl
She is a bundle of sweetness,
brightness and fun
The beauty of springtime,
the warmth of the sun
She's innocence covered with mud,
sand, and soot
She's Motherhood dragging
a doll by the foot...
She's a composite picture of 
giggles and tears
Of tantrums, excitement,
amusement and fears
A bundle of mischief
and often a tease
A creature of moods
not easy to please...
Who'll capture your heart
with her pixie-like grin
Or chatter and beg till your
patience wears thin
But obedient, naughty,
mischievous or coy
She's her Mom's little Darling and
her Dad's Pride and Joy.

We love you, Elizabeth!  Happy Birthday!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Holland Vacation

Ahh...the breathtaking beauty of Holland!  We had a fantastic vacation spending one week at CenterParcs (Het Meerdal) and then three days at George's relative's who we decided is a first cousin once removed.

We took 3 days driving the 1,000 miles (1,600 km) to get there (spending a night in Budapest and in Nuremberg, Germany) but on the way back we drove 17 hours to Budapest without stopping for longer than 45 minutes.  The drive was more or less uneventful (if you don't count our GPS getting wiped out) and the kids were superb.  We enjoyed a week swimming, riding bikes (although our goal of having Abigail and Matthew riding without training wheels was obviously not one of their goals), playing on numerous playgrounds, bowling, mini-golfing, etc., etc.  Elizabeth, unfortunately, had a couple injuries.  The first night she got her finger pinched in the hinged side of a door and two days later she scraped her foot on the swimming pool floor coming off a water slide.   Although the pinched finger didn't leave any lingering discomfort, the scrape was a real nuisance by not healing and needing antibiotics.  (I'll spare you the gory pictures.)
We got a kick out of being in America.
playgrounds were everywhere in the park
The kids spent an afternoon as a knight and princess and another afternoon as painters.
We rented bikes and rode all over the park on the smooth paths.
 The three days and four nights spent at Jules' and Dicky's were purely refreshing.  We visited an open-air museum and enjoyed an afternoon with more members of George's family.  George's father immigrated from Holland with his parents and 9 siblings when he was 15 years old.  Other than occasional correspondence and our first visit 1 1/2 years ago with the family still in Holland, we don't know these family members very well.  We really appreciated the time we could spend with them and their generous hospitality.  And our list of enjoyments of Holland wouldn't be complete without mentioning Hagel Slag, Stroop Waffles, peanut butter, old cheese, dry wine, and Dr. Pepper. 
A "summer cottage" in the village of Renswoude where our relatives live. (They live in the village not the cottage.  Bummer!)

Bike ride - notice the half bike Matthew is on.
The Dutchman and his family.
Abigail loved this hat of Dicky's and loved taking pictures.
A visit to Holland wouldn't be complete without seeing windmills.

Spending nearly 2 weeks outside of Ukraine was good and bad.  We needed the change of scenery and culture, rest, and time together as a family.   We reveled in the familiarity of Dutch culture, the order, the cleanliness, and the respect for others (especially children).  On the other hand, our time away made it a bit hard to want to return to Ukraine.  (The kids were even crying.)  Now that we are home, however, and busy getting back into the swing of "normal" life, we are happy to be here...but look forward to another vacation in Holland again some day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

"Tomorrow" Finally Delivered

For over a week - or was it two? - we've been waiting for Matthew's loft bed to be delivered.  Every time we thought TODAY would be the day, we were told "tomorrow".  I therefore decided that the word, "tomorrow", actually means "soon".  Well, yesterday we were told "tomorrow" and TODAY the bed was actually delivered! 

Since the 3 kids are sharing a bedroom and Elizabeth is nearly 3 years old and ready to move out of the crib, and I didn't want their bedroom to be full of just beds, (forgive the run-on sentence) I ordered a loft bed to be built.  Now the kids have their beds and floor space.  Once Elizabeth has adjusted to sleeping and staying put in a "big bed" we'll disassemble the crib and even more floor space will become available for the dolls' strollers, wheel-barrow, dollhouse, train track, etc, etc. 

Matthew likes his new bed but his comment at bedtime was, "I miss my bunk bed."

Monday, August 2, 2010

End of Summer Vacation

Chairs are arranged.  Alphabet letters decorate the wall.  Calendar is hung.  Lesson plans are ready. 

Today is the first day of DEVUYST's SCHOOL of LEARNING.  On Saturday I told the kids that we had only one day left of summer vacation.  Abigail's response was, "Can't we start tomorrow?"  After two years of homeschooling her enthusiasm for learning hasn't waned.  Matthew is so proud that he is now big enough to start kindergarten.  He found every book he could to put in his book nook. 

Before we ended the summer holiday, we celebrated Abigail's 7th birthday. 

We took a short vacation in Hungary with our friends from Romania.

Saturday we were invited to a friend's 5th birthday party in which the kids needed to come as knights and princesses.  I quickly put together a knight's costume for Matthew which he would hardly take off.

One advantage to homeschooling is that we can vacation when everyone else is in school and therefore prices and crowds drop.  At the end of August and beginning of September we are planning a two-week vacation to Holland.  Having booked 6 months in advance, we got a huge savings on a week's accommodation at  Center Parcs: Het Meerdal - a European chain of resorts.  The list of activities for children is astounding.  I can hardly wait! 

So, I guess there's still some summer vacation awaiting us...after a month of school!

Friday, July 9, 2010

Welcome Home

After 15 days of being without Daddy, there was much excitement when he finally made it home Thursday night.  The kids had painted and drawn pictures.  They had prepared a skit, a song, and dance all for his welcome home party.  We cooked a nice supper and baked a cake.  When Daddy walked in the door Matthew burst into spontaneous song about Daddy coming home.

It got me thinking, "I wonder if this isn't a taste of what heaven will be like when we are reunited with our Heavenly Father."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


"Today is the best day of my life!" is how Abigail expressed her excitement at having her friend, Anna, over for a sleepover - a first for both of them.  Tonight there is no bedtime.  They can stay up in the living room and watch a movie, talk, play, and giggle all they want.  Their conversation is in Hungarian but they're watching a movie in Russian.  I'm so proud of Abigail's language skills.  I'm thankful she has a good friend to play with.  Sweet dreams, girls!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Day 11 and Counting

George has been in Grand Rapids for Timothy Leadership Training.  He departs Monday and arrives in Budapest on Tuesday but he has to go from the airport to Romania to lead a seminary continued education class. He will be back home with us on Thursday after 15 days of being apart.  Needless to say, we're missing him!

Our plans to visit lots of friends have been sabotaged by illness.  First Elizabeth and now Abigail is running a high fever with swollen tonsils and a headache.  We've quarantined ourselves at home, painting pictures for Daddy, watching movies, and creating one too!

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Chores, Meals, and Bandaids

Ahhh…the lazy days of summer!

This has been an unusual summer since we don’t have a team of volunteers coming this year.  We were hoping to be busy with orientating, preparing, and working alongside a group of N. Americans in leading an evangelistic English camp.  Unfortunately, there was only one response to our request and even that fell through.

So, instead, I’ve been sleeping in until my kiddo alarm goes off around 8am (when Elizabeth and Matthew wake up).   Since there’s no school to start on time, I slowly sip a cup of coffee, read email, and check Facebook.  Then the morning routine of pouring a bowl of “Kosmostars” or “Honey Nut Cheerios” (we can buy them here), getting dressed, giving Matthew his morning steroid inhaler, and brushing teeth.  By 10:00am, we’re usually more or less prepared for the day – whatever it may hold.

The kids enjoy playing outside before it’s terribly hot.  Abigail is usually found on the swing, Matthew playing with a stick or rock, and Elizabeth oscillating between the swing and sandbox.
While George is at meetings or busy preparing for a sermon or Bible Study, I usually turn my attention to the  laundry.  We have a great little front-loading machine (top-loading ones are non-existent), which holds 6 kilograms of wet laundry.  I have no idea how much that is in dry laundry so I usually just pack it in with a little headroom left open.  It takes over 1 1/2 hours for a load on the “express” cycle so that’s the only cycle I use.  (The “normal” is more like 2 1/2 hours.)  When the weather is good we hang our laundry outside to dry.  We have a stackable dryer which my grandparents generously provided when they heard we were expecting a baby and couldn’t imagine how we would survive without a dryer (although I would wager that most of the world survives without a dryer and a washer).  In the winter it can be a godsend for drying socks, underwear, and towels although it makes a horrible screeching sound before it ends and I have to turn it off.  

I’m blessed to have Kati-neni who comes weekday morning for 3 hours to help me vacuum and mop all the floors, hang the laundry, clean the bathroom, etc.  She’s been a tremendous help, especially during the school-year when I spend the first half of the day teaching.  She, in turn, appreciates the extra income since she and her husband can’t survive on their pension alone.  It took me a long time to accept the suggestion of hiring house-help, but after many of my Ukrainian friends were doing the same and most people couldn’t believe I had three children and no help, I gave in.  Besides, it costs very little.
We have become European-enough that we eat our main meal at midday – 1:00pm to be exact.  I cook a variety of foods from Thai chicken, Macaroni and Cheese, and Hungarian porkolt.  When we have guests over I often cook something unusual (like lasagna) for them since there’s not much exposure to international foods.  What I don’t do, which almost every other home in country does, is prepare a soup every day.  Instead we get our vegetable intake from a fresh salad (when fresh vegetables are available) or from the frozen variety in winter.  At suppertime we have sandwiches, pancakes, or perhaps a homemade pizza.

The wonderful husband that I have does most of the shopping at the only supermarket on the edge of town.  We get most of our vegetables and fruit at a vegetable stand across the street from our house.  We used to rely on the “green market” for our fresh goods but it takes a lot of time to go through the stands and haul the goods back home on foot.  I’m thankful for the newly opened vegetable stand.  And our shopping wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the bread bakery just a few doors down from us.  Abigail is now old enough to be sent out to buy a steaming loaf of bread for the equivalent of 37 cents.

And our day wouldn’t be complete without the application of a Band-Aid somewhere on Elizabeth.  It’s amazing how a wound, bug bite, or scratch of any kind can be healed by a Mickey Mouse Band-Aid.

Bedtime is 8:00pm during the school year but in summer they’ve been going to bed around 9:30 or 10pm.  All three share a bedroom and go to bed at the same time after a routine of teeth-brushing, pjs, devotions, and prayer. 

After a few hours of sleep, another day begins….