Saturday, December 31, 2011

Disoriented


Decorating a Christmas tree the day before New Year’s at 2 in the morning feels a bit…well, weird.  The reason for this odd convergence of events in time is the fact that we are jet-lagging in Ukraine. 

Events: It’s Dec. 31 and later today we’ll celebrate New Year’s Eve at church.  A few days ago (I don’t know what counts as day or as night) we arrived back in Ukraine after spending nearly 5 weeks in the States for a growth and renewal retreat.  A tagline to that event was celebrating “Grandma and Grandpa’s Christmas” with family in Grand Rapids.

Time: It’s 3:34am. George is writing his sermon as I type.    Abigail is watching cartoons.  Matthew and Abigail just helped me decorate the Christmas tree.  Now for those of you not familiar with Ukrainian traditions, this needs some explanation.  Here in Ukraine a tree is decorated for New Year’s.  We aren’t putting our tree up for this reason, however, but because Christmas in the Ukrainian Orthodox calendar falls on January 7.  As a church we’ve decided to observe Christmas on the day officially recognized and most commonly celebrated as Christmas.  Thus, having already done a bit of Christmas celebrations in the US, we are now gearing up for Christmas here in Ukraine.

But I must admit, I feel disoriented by it all.  I can’t make heads or tails of what day it is, what time it is, what holiday it is, and come tomorrow, I will get confused about what year it is.  If only I could get some sleep!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Safe Community or False Security?

With all the buzz about the Penn State scandal and ensuing advice from leading news sources recommending that children never be alone with an adult, I am afraid I do not know how to live in this new American society.  This wasn't the America I grew up in.  It isn't the America I left behind 15 years ago.  Now I wonder, is it safe for my children to play on the playground?  Can they walk down the street by themselves?  Do I need my eye on them all the time in the grocery store?  Do I need to have those conversations about good touching versus bad touching and "don't talk to strangers?" 

It also makes me wonder about where I live now.  It seems refreshing to live in a place where children can be outside without the constant watchful eye of a parent.  Children from the age of first grade walk to school and home on their own.  Moms leave their infants in strollers outside the shops as they run in to buy something. Boys and girls change for dance lessons in one open room in front of all the moms and dads dropping them off.  Prepubescent girls can go topless at the pool.  (I admit those last two make me uncomfortable.)  I have never heard a story of molestation or kidnapping.  I'm not naive enough to think it never happens but there surely isn't a spoken fear of it happening.  But then I wonder, should I fear?  Is this culture of innocence just false security?  Or has America gone over the deep end by fostering fear and distrust?  Maybe the answer lies somewhere in between.  I would like to know what that line is. Where do you draw the line between freedom and safety?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

I’ve Been Reformed


I was not born and bred CRC.  I cannot play “Dutch bingo.”  I did not attend Calvin College or even Dordt.  I married into the Christian Reformed Church.

My first exposure to the denomination, and the Reformed faith in general, was in high school.  My best friend was (and still is) a member of the church that I now call my “home church,” Silver Spring CRC.   I used to think it strange that she attended catechism and played on a church softball team.  Their sanctuary sported an orange carpet and their members ate food with names that I didn’t recognize like oli bollen, hagelslag, and banket. 

Since those high school days, God seemed to have had me on a track to “reform” me.  I attended a Reformed Presbyterian college, Geneva, not because I was looking for a Reformed school but because they offered me some good scholarships and I liked the community I experienced when I visited the campus.  I became good friends with RP kids and after checking out lots of other churches, found my place at Geneva Reformed Presbyterian Church.  After college I went to Hungary to teach English as a second language and landed in a tiny town which just so happened to have three CRC missionaries teaching in the same Hungarian Reformed high school.  Coincidence? – I think not!  Three years into my missionary life in S├írospatak, Hungary I started dating George.  By the time God brought us together, I was already pretty much “reformed”. 

But it hasn’t been until the last few years that I’ve come to really appreciate the little denomination and its Reformed faith.  What I have uncovered is that the CRC is founded on solid, Biblical teaching that does not sway from one spiritual movement to the next.  I discovered that the entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, is ONE story.  I learned that the Bible isn’t teaching moralized lessons such as “dare to be a Daniel” but is where I encounter who God is!   I have come to love and value those questions and answers that my high school friend memorized.  How that little book has helped me find answers to so many big questions of life!

I appreciate the CRC’s value on the professionalism of their pastors (and not just because I married one)!  I didn’t used to think that studying the Bible’s original languages or cultural context really mattered that much.  As a kid, I was taught and encouraged to read the Bible for myself and that my interpretation was just as valid as anyone else’s. 

I have come to respect Christian education and recognize the important role teaching from a Christian worldview has on rearing a generation of children who can engage their world and culture and be agents of God’s transforming power.

I am grateful that God brought me along the “reformed” road where I have discovered God’s grace, been rooted in faith, been challenged to grow in knowledge and wisdom, and been enabled to serve my Lord and King!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Time Is It?

We turned our clocks back one hour this morning and got an extra hour of sleep.  Even the kids cooperated by staying in bed longer than usual.  But this change was apparently a very difficult one for the government of Ukraine.  It had been made into law that Ukraine would stay on daylight savings time eternally - thus making our time zone essentially Moscow time and two hours different than our western neighbor, Hungary.  In October the Upper House rescinded the decision but apparently parliament has failed to approve it.  So, what time is it?

To make matters even more complicated for those of us living on the western edge of Ukraine, ethnic Hungarians living inside the border of Ukraine function on Hungarian time which is (under normal circumstances) one hour earlier.  So, for example, you are in our town of Mukachevo and you want to meet a Hungarian-speaking person for a cup of coffee you must always clarify: "Hungarian time or Kiev time"?  Yeah, it gets confusing.

So, I really wonder...how many people will be on time for church this morning.  And what actually is "on time"?

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How to Bless Missionary Kids

I had never really thought about it before.  What would be a real special treat for the kids?  What would be something so unusual that they would cherish every moment?  What would be so exciting that their voices would rise above a crowd?  What could awaken their spirits that they couldn't fall asleep at night?  Seriously, it had never entered my mind before.  But it happened, unexpectedly and thoroughly delightfully:

Lian with the kids at the castle
A nine-year-old boy became a friend.

Lian came with his mom and dad on a short-term mission's trip to Ukraine.  His parents came to encourage church leaders in biblical worship of God.  Lian came along for the experience, but ended up being a tool which God used to encourage and bless three young missionary kids. 

I don't usually think about the sacrifices our children make living on the mission field.  Sure, there are plenty of privileges and advantages to growing up overseas.  But there are most certainly sacrifices too.  We have seen this most poignantly with Matthew.  He's usually a quiet boy who prefers to stay at home and play with Star Wars figures.  He struggles with speaking Ukrainian and Hungarian and is therefore shy around people.  Most of our acquaintances have daughters and there is really no other boy for Matthew to call a friend. 


When Lian arrived, Matthew became alive with energy and enthusiasm.  There was no language barrier to hamper their imaginative play.  Lian wholeheartedly played alongside Matthew as if the three year's age difference didn't even exist. 

The children spent just shy of 6 days together - hiking to up to a castle, jumping from one gold stone to another in order to avoid the hot lava, racing cars in the children's room, having a sleep-over, and struggling to piece together a deformed Chinese-made Lego-imitation. They were good, special days.

Who would have known that a nine year old boy could have brought so much joy and blessing to one week in the life of three young missionary kids?  Thank you, Lian! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Acrostic Poems

Abigail's assignment in school today was to write two acrostic poems.  The first one just made me laugh!

Drinks coffee
And watches TV
Dreams of golf

I wonder what she would say about me!

Ukrainian is the language
Kyiv is the capital
Russia is a neighbor
An interesting place to visit
I live there
Need to try borsch, shashlik, kvass and pelmeni
Everybody has to come to UKRAINE

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

HIPY PAPY BTHETHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY


So Owl wrote...and this is what he wrote:
HIPY PAPY BTHETHDTH THUTHDA BTHUTHDY
Pooh looked on admiringly.
"I'm just saying 'A Happy Birthday'," said Owl carelessly.
"It's a nice long one," said Pooh, very much impressed by it. - A.A. Milne

Sunday we celebrated Elizabeth's 4th birthday.  She had 6 friends join her for the party which started off with pin the tail on Eeyore.  A treasure hunt followed and culminated with a beehive pinata.



Thursday, September 8, 2011

Elizabeth is Turning Four

Sunday is Elizabeth's fourth birthday.  She loves to watch home videos so I made this one for her as a present.  She brings us so much joy.  These four years have gone by quickly and it seems as if she's always been a part of our lives. I can't imagine a day without her.

Link to video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OVymwYhl_Bs

Monday, September 5, 2011

Flashback

I ran across this little story I wrote nearly 8 years ago.  I thought you might enjoy reading it (again) too.


LIGHTS OUT

When you think of new parents bringing home their first baby, a picture of a sleeping baby, a cozy nursery, and smiling parents enters your mind.  But sometimes reality is drastically different – especially when you live in another country like Ukraine.

Abigail was born in Hungary even though we live in Ukraine.  Hospitals in Ukraine are very bad so we traveled to neighboring country Hungary to have our first baby.  After she was born, we waited a month for her passport and visa to Ukraine.  Once we had those papers in hand, we could go home.  During our wait, our car also broke down and it was taking the mechanics weeks to fix it.  Finally, on the day we received Abigail’s visa, the car was also running. 

We packed the car to the brim.  We had been living in Hungary for two months and had a lot of things to take home.   It took us six hours to drive home. 

We opened the door to the apartment and tried switching on the lights.  Nothing – the house was pitch black.  I lit a candle to be able to find our way through the darkness.  Abigail was crying fervently so I lit a couple more candles in the temporary bedroom and began to feed her.  Meanwhile, George unpacked the car.  In the process he broke the big toe on his left foot. 

I became thirsty.  But when there’s no electricity we also don’t have any running water.  George went down the street to the 24hour store and bought me a bottle of water.  He had only enough Ukrainian money for a small bottle of water.  When George told the store cashier about our situation, she offered to let us put a few things in a fridge.  George returned with a box of perishables we had brought with us. 

George couldn't find any reason for the electricity to be out but we suspected it had something to do with the repairs being done to the exterior of the building.  All the plaster had been chipped off and a wooden fence surrounded the front of the building to keep people from walking under the falling pieces.

Abigail, meanwhile, was greatly troubled by her stomach.  Since she was born, she had had a lot of stomach pain.  As was typical, she couldn't sleep and wouldn't settle down.  By 5:30am George gave up on the idea of catching some sleep and went back to the store to pick up our perishables.  The shift was changing and we couldn't leave it there any longer.  He then called a member of our small group Bible study who's an electrician.  He came with two other acquaintances and they tracked the electrical problem.  It was a connection problem as a result of the repairs.  Around 8am the electricity was working again!

At 8:30am Abigail finally fell asleep and so did I!  The phone rang numerous times - how did anyone know we were back???  Anyway, George ran around and bought some cakes and drinks for the inevitable visitors we'd have later on.  He slept a little around noon. 

The visitors arrived all at the same time.  Let's see, there was Marika and Tanya, Lyuda and her daughter Vika, Juli and Zsolt, Marta, Beci and they their two daughters.  Hopefully they didn't look around the apartment much since it was cluttered with our suitcases and belongings.  We couldn’t fully unpack because our bedroom was still being repaired and we weren’t moved into that room.  There was no place to put Abigail's clothes until we were able to use the bedroom. The crib remained in the study filled with miscellaneous baby belongings - like a high chair.  That evening we got the pack n play set up in the "back room" which was substituting as a bedroom.  More than anything, we would have welcomed a good night's sleep - and gladly turned the lights out! 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fire and Brimstone

The way today went, I could have mistaken for Armageddon.  First we started off with a fire.  As I was checking email before starting school, the lights started flickering.  I worried the kids had jammed a piece of bread in the toaster so I yelled from my bedroom, "What are you guys doing?"  They hollered back, "FIRE!!"  Still thinking it was the toaster, I ran into the kitchen looking frantically around.  No fire but I could smell a terrible stench.  "WHERE???"  They pointed to the little room off the kitchen - our bathroom which also serves as laundry room.  The room was full of black smoke and either the kids pointed out or I spotted the smoke coming from the top of the dryer.  I shoved the stacked washer and dryer away from the wall and pulled the plug.  Then I ran for the camera  - before putting a wet towel on the dryer and ruining the picture, of course!

For the following 4 hours of school we put up with the awful smell and three brief electrical outages (who knows why).  After lunch I heard loud banging on the roof over our enclosed balcony-turned school room.  I opened the back door and leaped to the middle of the yard lest anything fall on me.  Up above us our neighbors were installing a new window which subsequently resulted in huge chunks of brick, mortar and plaster falling onto our roof and crashing to the ground.  I yelled up to the workers replacing the window and told them they should put something there to catch these pieces so they don't hit a child.  Their explanation was, "It's an old building.  What do you expect?"  I told them I expected them to make it safe.  Chunks remained on the roof which could at anytime fall onto the head of one of my children.  After their scoffing, I went off to find the owner of the apartment and talk to him myself.  He promised me just 10 more minutes.  I asked him to then clean up all the chunks and the ones still on the roof.  Which, thankfully, he did.



My friend asked after hearing today's story, "When is your husband coming home?"  I replied, "I've been asking myself that same question."  Why do we get all the excitement when he's 780km away?  Now before any more adrenaline rushes, I'm off to bed.

....Ugh, just had another bad encounter with a different neighbor.  Can this day get any worse?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Today's Riddle

For those of you who don't live in Ukraine, can you solve this riddle?

Our washing machine broke and today the repairmen came to take it away and fix it.  In the process of disconnecting the water intake, the valve broke and was spraying water everywhere with unstoppable pressure.  Water was flooding the bathroom and pouring out into the kitchen.  George yelled, "Turn off the electricity!"  How can turning off the electricity to our apartment stop the water from flowing?

Prize goes to first person not experienced with life in Ukraine who can correctly solve the riddle.  If you live or have lived in Ukraine, you're not allowed to give away the answer.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Giving Up Trust

When I left America, I gave up something that I used to take for granted - trust.  I didn't used to wonder if whether this name brand is a fake, whether this CD player will work a week after I get it home, whether my children's toys will make it through one day of play before they break, whether the DVD I just bought is a re-packaged copied film, whether this person is telling me the truth, or whether the food I buy is spoiled.  It is really hard to give up trust, but that is what is required to live in this society.  Probably daily we hear of someone or we experience being ripped off, taken advantage of, lied to, and deceived. 

Today went shopping at the only "supermarket" in town.  As we walked down the aisle of frozen foods we realized that absolutely everything was defrosted - the fish, the vegetables, the ice cream - everything!  George asked one of the workers why it's all defrosted and she brushed it off with an explanation that the electricity was out over night.  When George went further to say that it's potentially dangerous to sell fish that was frozen, defrosted and then will be refrozen, she brushed off his comment with an attitude of "too bad for you."  At the meat counter we asked again whether their refrigerators were also working and the attendant said no.  All the meat is sitting neatly out but for the past 8 hours or who-knows how long, it hadn't been refrigerated.  No thank you, no meat for us.

A solution isn't so simple to find because this is the possible scenario anywhere you shop.  There isn't a single store that I would trust and the market is just as bad.  A few times I have bought eggs only to find that a few were completely rotten - the kind that even Templeton the Rat in Charlotte's Web ran away from.

So, today's experience was just another of many disappointments, another reminder that we can't trust anything.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Lead On And I Will Follow

About this time 15 years ago I was in the final weeks of preparing for my first year of living overseas.  I remember sitting through training for Educational Services International (ESI aka TeachOverseas.org) and struggling over which country I should go teach English as a Second Language in.  I had initially intended on going to Czech Republic but at that time they had a change in law or something and didn't need so many foreign teachers anymore.  Then I thought about going to Romania because my great-grandmother was from there and it would be interesting to explore those roots.  In the end, I went to Hungary - a country I knew nothing about.  The whole process of getting to Hungary was a battle of wills.  I had to let go of control of my life and let God lead me.  It was not easy then, and it's still something I am learning now. 

I spent three years in Sarospatak, Hungary teaching conversational English at a Hungarian Reformed high school.  It was there that I met George and was wooed across the border into Ukraine.

I had been to Ukraine once before when my dad led a two-week missions trip to Kiev back in 1990 and took me along at the age of 16.  I don't remember saying this but my mom says that I came home to announce that I would go back again some day.

Here I am!  I have lived in Hungary for 3 years and in Ukraine for 12.  I have been overseas as a missionary for the past 15 years! And now, what can I say?  I am content.  I have seen God lead and guide me.  Through the {figurative} deserts and beside the quiet waters, I have experienced the ever-faithful guidance of God's hand.  I know that there will be new paths to follow and more unknown places, but in the past 15 years I am starting to learn that I am not in control of my life.  And that's exactly as it should be! 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Horsin' Around

Eight years ago our firstborn entered our lives.  To celebrate this special occasion, Abigail chose to have a "horse party".

We were able to go to the outskirts of town to ride horses and play games.  The kids each had a turn riding a horse and they were also able to help brush other horses in the stalls.  They admired the two week old foal and fed the ducks.

We played a hoola hoop relay game and bobbed for apples.



Back at home we ate cake and ice cream and then learned a simple country line dance.



Happy Birthday, Abigail!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Languages Around Us

We made this video for a church's VBS that is featuring our life as missionaries.  Abigail did this segment to explain the languages that we hear and 'speak'!  Would you be interested in seeing the text and photos for the other 4 segments on our lives in Ukraine?

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x0EpVT1nsLE

Candied Love

Elizabeth wanted to talk to the video camera and here's what she says about her parents.  This kid makes me laugh!  I guess now I know what her love language is! :)

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Troubled State

In our inbox this morning was a copy of the independent, English-language newspaper, KyivPost.  Here are just a few quotes from this week's paper to give you a picture of the challenges Ukrainians face.
KyivPost
* Freedom House, the U.S.-based democracy watchdog, presented a report last week in Kyiv warning that Ukraine is sliding towards authoritarianism under [President] Yanukovych.

* “Address the systemic and pervasive corruption that…touches the lives of every citizen at every level,” Thomas Mirow, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, said at an investors’ council meeting chaired by [President] Yanukovych.

* Ukraine is a high-risk destination for investment. According to the June Euromoney Country Risk Survey, Ukraine remains among the 10 riskiest countries in Central and Eastern Europe.

* Among those crimes allegedly caught on tape was the Sept 16, 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, a crime for which [Former President] Kuchma now faces charges of exceeding his powers.

* By 1944, only 700 of 220,000 Jews in Lviv, [Ukraine] were alive

* Ukraine’s former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko asked the European Court of Human Rights on June 21 to recognize domestic criminal probes against her as politically motivated…Now in opposition and barred by prosecutors from travelling outside Kyiv, Tymoshenko has been charged with misallocating hundreds of millions of dollars while in office.

* In this homegrown culture of keeping investors out and roughing up those brave enough to arrive, even fast-growing domestic businesses whose owners have political clout no longer dare to raise fresh investment by listing on the local stock market.

*
Objective, hard-hitting coverage of two high-profile events involving President Viktor Yanukovych were noticeably absent….While more subtle than outright censorship, we suspect these incidents demonstrate yet another layer of purposeful barriers to make it more difficult for citizens to get all sides of the story, in part by keeping out independent and critical journalists.

* Ukraine’s population has shrunk from 51 million people in 1991 to less than 46 million people today. Besides low birth rates and high mortality rates, millions of Ukrainians have gone abroad seeking better lives.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Tribute to Dad

I tried not to think too much about yesterday being Father’s Day.  For one, the daddy in our home isn’t home so there wasn’t any celebrating to do here.  Secondly, my own father is in his heavenly home so I can’t congratulate him either.  But then, maybe, it’s good for me to reflect on the impact my father had on my life rather than just try to avoid the pain of his loss.  With the pain may come some new appreciation.  So I’ll fight back some tears and write on.
Dad and Me 1999

My kids sometimes ask me about their Grandpa Snyder.  I really wish they could meet him, but even more that he could meet them.  I know they would love each other.  I would love to see them wrestle on the floor, to read a story, to admire cars together.  Most of all, I know my kids would laugh because that’s what many of my memories of my father include - laughter.  He loved to tell stories and sometimes got so caught up in his own stories that he “forgot” about reality altogether.  We didn’t have a DVD player to occupy us on our long car rides but we had dad’s stories.  I wish now that I had them recorded.

My dad was liked by nearly everyone he met.  In fact, I don’t know of anyone who didn’t like him.  He was a diplomat and peacemaker.  He loved people and found a way to relate to the old man in the nursing home, to the troubled teen, to the prisoner, to the highest authority in Nepal.  He made each one of them feel important. 

What I appreciated most about my dad was the time we spent together.  I cherish the memories of fishing in the morning fog, contemplating the wording for the persecution reports, pulling the water pump from my car, and watching movies over a bowl of popcorn.
Dad and Me 1974

My dad showed me that I was loved – by him and by my Heavenly Father.  From him I learned to treasure the Word of God, to value Christian fellowship, to share my faith with others, and to be willing to follow God wherever he would lead me.  I remember my father’s reaction when I told him I was leaving for the mission field.  He said something along the lines of, “I always wanted you to go where God led you, but I never knew it would hurt to see you go.” 

I am blessed to have known Steven Snyder as my dad and friend. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!  I look forward to seeing you again one day!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Big Girl Haircut

Elizabeth has received her first haircut.  All the little curls are gone, but this cut is cute and sassy - a good match for Elizabeth's personality!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Dance Performance

Abigail participated in her dance troop's performance on June 1.  I'm estimating over 500 people came for the two hour show held in our town's one screen movie theater.  This was Abigail's first year of dance lessons and was considered a preparatory year.  We were quite impressed by each of the group's dances!  Enjoy the following video of Abigail dancing the quick step.  (Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPHjBmoJGck)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Piano Recital and Potato Chips

Abigail performed in a piano recital at her music school on Saturday.  This, her second year of playing piano, had it's share of ups and downs and moments of her wanting to quit.  But she stuck with it, learned some new pieces and played well at the recital.  Video is uploaded to YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDGPR28euTg.


On another entirely different topic, one enjoyable aspect of living overseas is encountering foods that we wouldn't find in the States.  These are two of our kids' favorite flavors of potato chips.  Caviar or crab, anyone?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Victory Day

May 9 - Victory in Europe Day as recognized by countries of the former Soviet Union, marking the end of World War II.  The center of town was crowded with people.  Bands played music and speeches were given.  We walked around with our new summer volunteer. Wandering further to the market, I took advantage of the smaller crowds and took a few pictures.