Friday, December 19, 2014

Optimism by Candlelight

Optimism by Candlelight

Christmas vacation now greets me at last
May grading and teaching be a thing of the past
My alarm clock is off; I’m ready to rest
Will this Christmas twist be all for the best?

Twelve o’clock, eight o’clock here once again
The winter-time black-outs are set to begin
The house turns all quiet; the candles are lit
There’s nothing to do but sit still for a bit.

Laundry and dishes, computer and Wii
All are turned off to conserve energy
What do we do? This disrupts all our plans
We’re not so accustomed to giving up our demands.

So let’s try something different and pull out a book
Who knows what we’ll discover if we just take a look
Come gather ‘round, let’s play a new game

The lights are now out; we’ll have fun all the same.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Life Goes On But...

I’m feeling despondent today.  Isn’t that a good word?  It reminds me of a group I was a part of once when we had to start off with a “feeling” word.  Our leader would have been proud of me.  Anyway, a follow-up question might be, “What’s the reason for such a strong feeling?”  My heart and mind are heavy for Ukraine.  Since Russian forces have now brazenly invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian forces are losing ground, new cities are under siege, and refugee counts have risen.  I really don’t see how Ukraine can defend itself against a bigger and stronger army.  Those soldiers fighting and dying, I don’t know them (well, only one that I know of), but I COULD know them.  That makes casualty reports more than just mere numbers.

Nine days of school are behind us.  The rhythm of school days are, in their own way, comforting.  Early morning alarms – still too early – call us to start another day.  By 7:15am we are loaded in the car with our backpacks and lunches.  We make it home around 4:30pm to set upon homework, dinner preparations, grading, walking the dog, etc.  Just a normal day.  They are good days with learning, playing with friends, meaningful conversations.  It’s even normal to turn on the news and hear casualty reports and see buildings destroyed by shells.  

Life in Kyiv, for the most part, carries on as it did before.  Differences are noted for those living in apartments as most of the city has no hot water in order to conserve gas.  Probably the most unusual thing is to be evacuated from a local mall due to a bomb threat.  Otherwise, life goes on. 

But behind nearly every conversation, pulling back on every future plan, lingering in the shadows of our minds is the fact that Ukraine is at war.  The implications are numerous and complex.  For Kyiv, the most pressing is the question of heat.  It’s very possible Ukraine will not have enough natural gas (because Russia has cut the gas flow) to provide heat this winter.  40% of natural gas can be provided in reverse flows from Europe but that is still not enough.  The electric grids cannot support every home plugging in an electric space heater.  Public schools are preparing for a two-month winter break because there isn’t likely to be heat.  Our school, which rents a wing of a deaf school, is also facing such a risk.  As a family we are contemplating buying a Diesel generator.  Whichever way you look at it, it’s likely to be a very C*O*L*D winter.

To turn my despondency around, the words of Psalm 42:11 come to mind.

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Down This Road Before

The headlines in my news feed are once again predicting a Russian invasion.  To name a few...
Timothy Ash: Time to think about worst-case scenarios in Ukraine-Russia crisis
Putin hits tipping point as Ukraine tightens rebel noose 
Ukraine Stops Russia's serious provocation
Ukraine says Russia has massed 45,000 troops on the border

But this is nothing new.  The same predictions were made back in March, April and May.  During those months we had an evacuation box ready to go and our mission agency asked us to be ready to evacuate within two hours if an invasion occurred.  Back then there was concern that an overt invasion by Russian forces may target Kyiv as well as the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. 

Today, however, I'm not so worried about our personal safety.  Although the setting is ominous for a Russian invasion, most likely under the guise of a "peacekeeping" or "humanitarian" mission, it does not seem likely that Russia will send tanks down Khreschatyk Street or drop bombs on the Ukrainian Parliament.  Most likely the conflict will be constrained to the eastern regions where Ukrainian forces are close to retaking the militant-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.  We don't have an evacuation box packed [yet] and I'm still hopeful we will get through this school year without having to shut down.

All along I've wondered what the end will look like.  I'm still wondering and, meanwhile, praying for peace.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Living in a Country at War

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine Ukraine at war.  Ukrainians are a peaceful people.  In fact, one of my greatest frustrations over the years has actually been their passivity.  Coming from a culture of "pull yourself up by your bootstraps", I couldn't understand why the Ukrainian people seemed content to be the doormat of corrupt officials in every realm of life.  Talk about dysfunction!  I wondered what it would take for Ukrainians to stand up for themselves.

Then it happened, the "Revolution of Dignity," and I was dumbfounded.  They actually had had enough and were not going to take it anymore.  I couldn't have been prouder of Ukrainians than I was back in February.   Knowing that it took huge courage and a defiance of hundreds of years of culturally-ingrained passivity, what the Ukrainians accomplished on Maidan is a testimony to their strength, unity, and deep-rooted desire to live in a country that values transparency, justice, and the opportunity to pursue a better life.

Ukrainians want to live peacefully with one another and with their neighbors.  They don't go looking for trouble.  That's why what happened on Maidan is not what is happening in the East.  Countless evidence proves that the war raging in the regions of Dontesk and Lughansk is due to the direct influence of Russians.  There are multiple theories and explanations as to why Putin does not want to see Ukraine prosper under European-values.  It's complicated and I'm not about to get into that.

So, here we are.  A successful revolution behind us and a war before us.  Reports are becoming, once again, increasingly alarming with rumors (or more than rumors) of an "invasion" by Russian forces, perhaps under the guise of a "peace-keeping mission".  What does it mean for us living in Kyiv?

Up to now we haven't been impacted by the unrest in the east.  Our lives have settled back into normal.  Our evacuation box has been unpacked.  I haven't been obsessed with reading the news or trying to guess Putin's next moves. I started feeling comfortable with planning for the foreseeable future. Concern that school would close its doors or that we would be forced to live somewhere else has ceased. I am tired of those scenarios.  I'm tired of uncertainty.

But the future of Ukraine is far from certain.  Destruction and death have already devastated much of the eastern part of Ukraine.  Tens of thousands of people have fled.  How far will it spread? When will it end?  How can peace be restored? Will this war soon effect us personally?

"Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; 
do not fret when people succeed in their ways, 
when they carry out their wicked schemes....
The salvation of the righteous comes from the LORD; 
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.  
The LORD helps them and delivers them; 
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, 
because they take refuge in him." 
- Psalm 37:7,39-40

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunny Street

July 1 we moved into a house at 2a Sunny Street, Petropavlivska-Borshchagovka which is just outside the Kiev city limits.  For the past 13 days we've been busy making it home.  We've made a lot of progress but there are still a few big projects remaining.

We moved because the house we stayed in the for the past year is usually rented by another missionary family who needed someone to stay there while they were in the States.  After moving 3 times in the past 2 years, I'm ready to get settled into a house that I hope will be home for a very long time.  We signed a two year lease which, Lord willing, we hope can be extended. [You can pray for that to be the case.]

Now, without further ado, here's the tour (but forgive the clutter, we're still unpacking)...
After having to open and close three gates to park the car in Mukachevo, the automatic gate and garage door are a dream come true for George.

Although not technically a "townhouse", that's the description we use since this is one of three identical houses standing side-by-side - not typical for Ukraine.  Apparently, the lot used to be the tennis courts of the wealthy landowner to the back of the property.

 Washing the garage door is on tomorrow's to-do list.
An apartment complex is being built across the street.  George refers to it as our mission field under construction.

The front door from the inside.  A full-bath/furnace room/utility room is visible through the open door.  To the right of this picture is the kitchen.
The kitchen is cozy with just enough space for our dishes and kitchenware but not much for food.  It does have a dishwasher though! Abigail (in yellow) loves cooking.  She and her friend (in white) are making crepes for breakfast. 
Beside the kitchen is a large closet room.  It will be very handy for storage and we've made a make-shift pantry out of it too.
Looking from the front door, the kitchen doorway is in the corner, the closet on the left of the hallway, and our dog in the middle!  Stairs lead up from the right and the living room/dining room is in the back.
Dining room.  We are still trying to figure out what do for curtains.  It's hard to invest money into something you don't know how long you'll use.  Complicating factors, we can't figure out how to blend all the color combinations in this dining room/living room.  I guess we'll have to make a decision sooner or later.
Living room with fireplace.  The purple couch and chairs are the landlady's.
The backyard (as seen from the second story window).  A good size, I think.  There's a little vegetable garden growing along the back wall.  I don't know when I'll have time to tend to it, though.  A chain link fence separates the backyards of the three houses and the brick wall encircles all of them.  Our next door neighbors are Muslims from Turkey and their teenage son is giving Matthew soccer lessons for fun.
Tiled floors and tiled staircases.  The bedrooms have wood floors.  We're not sure what to do with the space under the stairs.  Right now it houses disassembled furniture and boxes of belongings waiting to be unpacked.  It's also houses the water tank.
On the second floor is Matthew's bedroom.  We plan to buy a futon bed to go along the wall where I'm standing so that we can turn it into the guest room when we have visitors. 
 Across from Matthew's room is the office with a wall of shelves that came with the house.  Believe it or not, we still need another bookcase for the overflow books and all the kids books are upstairs!
A workplace for George and me.  I think this arrangement of chairs is a collision waiting to happen.
The master bedroom.
Master bath.  Yippee!!! (Not sure what to do with a bidet. I'm thinking of putting a table over it, cover it with a cloth and use it as a counter space.) There's another bathroom on this floor for the kids.  I forgot to take a picture of it.
Up another flight of stairs and you have the finished attic.  One side of the staircase is the girls' room.  We're going to hang a white curtain along the staircase and in front of their room to give them some privacy.
The family room is also in the attic.  Wii.  Exercise bike. An all-purpose area.
On the other side of the staircase - a table for games and crafts and our monster wardrobe which didn't make it into the picture.  Our piano is in the box still but maybe we'll get around to getting a piano teacher if we're not living the next year under threat of evacuation.

And that's our home and I love it! Come visit us on Sunny Street.  Now you know where we live!

Google Maps to our location

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Surprise Vacation

This past year has been, let's say, less than usual.  We moved to a new city, started a new school, and I worked more-than full time outside the home.  Then there was a revolution followed by a war in the east.  We lived on the verge of evacuation for months. Yeah, not our "normal" kind of year.  A few months back we decided that this kind of year deserved an unprecedented vacation to kind of balance out the bad with the good.  We told the kids that as soon as school is out we are going somewhere in Europe...but it was going to be a surprise.
Stop-over in Krakow

We took our time getting there, stopping for three nights along the way.  The kids colored a map of the countries we traveled through.  I expected that crossing into Denmark would give it away because a few months ago the kids were begging us to take them there for their "dream vacation" which we promptly discredited as too far away and too expensive. (Wink, wink)

Boy were they surprised when we pulled into Legoland Hotel's parking lot. Watch it here.

It did turn out to be far away and expensive but a lot of fun too!  The kids were the perfect age since the hotel caters to kids.  They enjoyed the scavenger hunts around the hotel and the lego building competitions.  Abigail and Matthew both won prizes.  We were expecting some little mini-lego set but Matthew won two average-sized lego sets and Abigail won the Champion Lego game. 

Inside an "Adventure" room complete with two bins of Legos.
Included in our accommodations was a two-day pass to Legoland.  The rides were the perfect amount of adventure and Elizabeth was just the right size to enjoy all the rides as the big kids. 

We're still making our way home.  We spent today walking around Berlin. (Pictures will have to come in a different post.)  On our way home we'll stop off in Budapest, Romania, and Mukachevo to see our friends.  It's been a great trip!  And a much needed one at that.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Holding Our Breath

Four weeks from today,  May 25, is the day everyone is waiting for.  We hold our breath hoping and praying that the country will make it one more month.  In 28 days Ukraine will hold it's post-revolution presidential elections since Yanukovych's corrupt presidency was toppled back in February.  This election holds potential for putting the country on a transparent and democratic track.  This election "may be the most important election in Ukrainian history" according to Vice President Biden.  The 100-plus citizens killed on Maidan paid the highest price so that Ukraine could forge a future free of corruption.  This election marks the beginning of that price not being in vain.

This is the future that Putin does not want to happen.  The insurgency in the east is a direct result of his interference.  He seems to be lapping at the chance to invade under the guise of a "peace-keeping" mission.

Next weekend is the first of two major holidays in May.  May Day is celebrated on May 1 and 2 and Victory in Europe Day, marking the end of World War II, is celebrated by the Soviet victors on May 9.  These holidays are expected to be greeted by an increase in insurgent-provoked violence.  Putin's goal is make the eastern and probably southern regions as unstable as possible so that the elections cannot be held there or at least be deemed illegitimate.  There is a fear he may even invade in order to accomplish the same goal.

So, it sounds like life in the capital city of Kyiv would be in turmoil.  With all that is going on - historic presidential elections, insurgency, threat of invasion, impending war - you'd think we would be stressed.  However, life goes on as normal.  School is open.  The scenario of a month ago, when the school received daily updates from the US embassy on the safety of holding school and we had evacuation constantly in the back of our mind, is not today's scenario.  With three and a half weeks left of school, I actually think we might finish this school year!  I don't know why I'm not stressed or alarmed by the news headlines I read.  It seems people in the west are more concerned than I am.  Maybe the headlines are more sensational to read there.  Yes, it's true things in the country are not good, but here in Kyiv everything is calm.  I don't think I would be saying that if I lived in the east, but in the center of the country life goes on as normal. 

We just hold our breath and pray "normal" carries on for another month.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Call me Crazy

I had 10 hours in the car today to think about how crazy I am.  George and I chuckled as we talked about it.  Who would have ever imagined I would be driving back to Kyiv with the kids and without George under the threat of a Russian invasion?  Yeah, it sounds crazy and even I find it hard to believe.

George is out of the country for the next 12 days to lead Timothy Leadership Trainings.  We both feel it's important he does this.  We, likewise, feel it is important that the kids and I are in Kyiv and at school.

We spent days praying and talking about our options.  We sought the advice of other missionaries and US embassy families and took very seriously the concerns of many others.

How did we come to this decision?  Well, 1) school is open and we want to be here.  The kids need school and my students need a teacher.  2) The embassy hasn't given any reason to be concerned.  Our school's administration gets daily consultations from the US embassy and so far there's no reason to close school. 3) We have an evacuation plan in place and I would do the same thing whether George were here or not.  4) We have a caring community around us so we are not alone.

Most of all, we both feel at peace!  Once the decision was made to return to Kyiv following our spring break in Mukachevo, I no longer fretted or worried about the news reports.  Both of us slept well last night. Yes, there is still a very real threat of an invasion.  The good news is that for today, at least, the troops seem to have taken a step back from the border.  I will continue to be prepared to leave if we need to evacuate, but every day that we can be here and at school is a gift from God.  I am glad to be home.  I am at peace, although maybe still crazy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Deja Vu

It was a dreary morning in central Oregon.  My parents huddled around the radio in their bedroom and talked in hushed tones.  When I stumbled upon this scene I was gripped with fear.  "Are the Russians coming?" I trembled.  It was 1984.  Despite my young age, I knew the Cold War threats full well.  Less than a 1/2 mile down the road my grandparents had a multi-room bomb shelter in the basement of their house.  It was stocked with freeze-dried food my dad sold to supplement his living.  If there was an attack, we were prepared.

Fast forward 30 years.  I live as a neighbor to the country I feared as I child.  Today I sit huddled over the computer and read news reports of an invasion to the south and a growing fear of an even greater attack to the east.  I find myself asking again, "Are the Russians coming?"

Saturday, March 1, 2014


Events are happening SO FAST in Ukraine that I feel we're living in a whirlwind.  The teeter-totter of my previous post has now been caught up in a tornado.  If I were to try and list all the events of the past ten days it would take pages.  You can read it all in the news - especially now that the West is finally reporting it.  What you won't read is how it effects us.

Fires set to hinder police from shooting. Photo: Ильи Варламова,
Since late-November, we have become avid readers of Ukrainian news.  Hardly an hour went by that we weren't checking the news.  During the most violent and troublesome days we never walked away from it.  George even had three TV sources running simultaneously.  (Not one of them was CNN and if you know George, that means something.)  I would often wake up at night and check the news on my cell phone to see if the protest camps had been stormed yet.  It was hard to fall into a deep sleep.

A common goodbye greeting became, "Stay safe."

Priest mediates as Special Forces take aim. Photo: Segei Supinski/Getty Images
We were hesitant to plan for the future.  I have been wanting to take my 5th graders to the World War II museum in downtown Kyiv, but keep putting it off until "things are calmer."  I would like to make plans for our summer vacation, but I can't say with any certainty where we would be departing from.  Lesson planning has turned into a dual-scenario plan - one for if the school doors are open and one for if they are closed.  All materials need to be scanned so that students can study from their homes or other evacuation locations. 

Shields do little against sniper-fire. Photo: Reuters/Stringer

We were shocked and appalled to watch on live TV the wounding and killing of nearly 100 unarmed people just a few miles from our home.  We shielded the children as much as possible and on Friday evening, when the funerals began on the TV, we tucked the kids into bed, sat on the couch and wept. 

The spectrum of our emotions felt like they had been garbled in a blender.  We cried at the death of so many.  We rejoiced at the positive changes in political powers.  We laughed at the absurdity of the former-president's statements.  We cringed at the opulence of the president's mansion.  We hoped for a better future for Ukraine.  We feared the wrath of Russia. 

Independence Square, "The Maidan". Photo: AP Photo | Efrem Lukatsky

Although we have never felt in imminent danger, there is a constant underlying uncertainty.  It is this uncertainty and the subsequential need to stay on top of the developments so that we know if our uncertainty has turned into danger or not, that led us to take a few days in Budapest, Hungary to "depressurize".  School was closed February 19-26 with "online" schooling in operation so we visited our friends, Dick and Carolyn Otterness, in Budapest for 3 days.  It was a much needed change of environment! 

On our way out of Ukraine we encountered a civilian patrol checking passports before the entrance of the airport.  They were checking for corrupt politicians trying to flee the country. In Budapest our plane was checked for explosives by dogs and mirrors.  Our airport shuttle-bus got a police escort to the terminal and we had an extra passport control before we could even enter the building. We've flown many times but never had this kind of attention before!

Now, here we are 10 days after police started shooting at unarmed protestors.  The world's attention is on Crimea and Ukraine's provinces to the east.  Russia has already invaded the southern peninsula of Crimea and I don't think anyone will stop it.  My fear is mostly for the eastern cities of Donetsk and Kharkiv.  Will the world watch as Putin invades further into Ukraine?  How far will he go?

I guess we can't unpack that evacuation box after all.  The whirlwind is still spinning.

Saturday, February 15, 2014


Surreal. Paradox. Uncertain. These are words that I've heard the past few days to describe what it's like living a political crisis.  February 17 seems to be the day that could tip the uneasy balance.  But in some sense every day holds just as much potential.  Tensions are so high and the stakes are even higher.  One Ukrainian told me yesterday, "Whoever loses goes to prison.  There's nothing left to lose so I don't see a way out without conflict."  All along I've wondered what would be the peaceful resolution.  Does such an option exist?

So, what is it like to live as a normal person in Kyiv today?  Well, nothing really changes.  Our kids arrange sleep-overs.  We do Saturday morning chores.  George writes a sermon for tomorrow.  And then again, life is different.  We often check news sources for signs of any change.  We keep our car's tanks above half full.  We have prepared an evacuation plan and have a box of important documents ready to go. 
At school kids were given a day off (two for high school) so that teachers could prepare "Directed Independent Learning" in the event school has to close.  We planned two weeks of such lessons and are supposed to be ready from the first day school closes. 

Will the tensions dissolve away?  Will conflict start?  I have no idea.  One moment it looks like one scenario could become a reality.  The next moment the other.  I'm grateful for the "normalcy" of this present moment, but it is uneasy not knowing what the next hour, day, week, or month may hold. 

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ukrainian History in the Making

Day 46 of Ukrainian protests.  Today I experienced "EuroMaidan" in person.  With our friends from Mukachevo, we went downtown and parked at the end of barricaded Kreshchatyk Street. There were a cluster of police questioning a man by the entrance to the first barricade.  They drew the presence of additional opposition security forces (young men with wooden sticks).  We took a quick picture of the barricade and entered the barricaded area, not wanting to linger too long.

Outside the first barricade
Directly inside the barricaded area is a mock tribunal of President Yanukovych.

Yanukovych is seated on a golden toilet, which apparently he has one of in his presidential mansion.
The street is lined with tents put up by people from different regions of Ukraine.  We took a picture of the tent from Zakarpatya, our former region of 15 years.

Tent from Zakarpatya Region of Ukraine
There are very interesting people to see, such as Cossacks, and people warming themselves by fires.  In fact, the whole center smells of burning wood.

And who are those strange people?

Before the second barricade
After passing through a second barricade you enter the true "Maidan".  Here a stage is set up with a constant flow of speakers and singers.  The now famous "Christmas tree" stands in the square.  This metal frame was the reason the government gave for the first police raid, stating the city needed the square cleared of the peaceful protestors so it could set up the Christmas tree.  Now it's covered with political banners and flags from around the world.

Yogi, what are you doing here?

Independence Square now known simply as "Maidan", which is "square" in Ukrainian

The stage
A prayer tent set up behind the stage.  Apparently, every day is started with prayer from the stage and the tent has a constant flow of people who come to pray for Ukraine.

The prayer tent

There is a wall of kindle labeled with places from which people have come.  The kids took a picture beside the piece labeled Mukachevo.

No one knows what the future holds for Ukraine, but this is certainly a point in time that will go down in Ukrainian history books.  And we can say "We were there."