School here starts on the first full week of September so this year we started September 7th. It is a big year for two reasons. First, Evie has her first official day of elementary school. Second, both Evie and Naomi will be at a new school. Though both girls are excited about this, for Naomi it is also mixed with a bit of sadness.
Here elementary school starts in first grade and they make a big deal about the first official day. The school day is usually only an hour and the purpose is really to meet the teacher and to celebrate the beginning of the student’s school career. Both parents are usually there. The kids are all dressed up and most importantly they get their school cones. The cones that the receive are a cornucopia filled with school supplies, small presents, and candy. I’m not exactly sure why all of these gifts are in a cone, but they remind me of huge bouquets of flowers. We are very thankful that they were able to have the first day celebration despite the virus. But, masks had to be worn in the school halls and only one parent was allowed in the school. Still it was an exciting day and Evie enjoyed her classroom and her teacher and learning about her classroom mascot Filio, the fox (all elementary classes seem to have a mascot)
For Naomi, she left her old mascot, Leo the lion for her new mascot Erdi the erdmännchen (Meerkat). We had Naomi in one of the public schools, but we felt that this new school would be a better fit for our family, but we had concerns with how Naomi would handle the change. You see, for the first four years of elementary school the students stay with the same teacher and classmates. Naomi will be starting fourth grade with a completely different set of classmates and a brand new teacher. We feel confident that they will grow to love her, but I’m sure that you can imagine how it will be for her leaving behind her old class and starting afresh.
If that weren’t enough there will be a lot of pressure on her to keep her grades up. This year decides whether or not Naomi will be allowed to take the academic track in school. Again, we feel confident that she can do this, yet this is still a lot of pressure to put on her. If you think about it, please keep her in your prayers this month. Pray that God would help Naomi to make new friends quickly and pray that she would draw close to Him as she faces a tremendous amount of stress for a nine-year-old.
So far, we are very pleased with the new school and both girls seem to be making friends and learning a lot. Please keep them and our family in your prayers as we continue to make this transition. Especially pray that God would use us to minister to the kids and the families that we get to know there.
Time for friendships
Earlier this month, I enjoyed the SERVE missionary women’s retreat in Sinaia, Romania while Matt held down the fort in Vienna. I’m so grateful that the missions office provided this for us! The retreat was an especially sweet time of deepening friendships with these sisters who have a unique understanding of the challenges that go along with this missionary lifestyle. For our long term encouragement and longevity on the mission field, as well as our long-term faithfulness to Christ, cultivating these friendships is a priority. Janis Saville emphasized this point in one of the devotional times on Hebrews 12:1-3. Janis encouraged us to be diligent in continually building spiritually encouraging friendships, especially as we experience cycles of good friends moving away from our different locations.
Along with many of the missionary women serving in Europe, Janis Saville, Rachel Pruett, Linda Hudspeth, and Carolyn Harris traveled from Denton and joined us in the middle of their women’s teaching trip in Romania. The retreat was very intentionally set up by Janis with a minimal schedule so that we could all do what we needed for refreshment. We had lots of time to hike around nature, socialize and pray together, and we even toured a castle! Please pray that all of us would continue to faithfully run the race set before us, keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus!
Celebrating Ten Years
God continually has to remind us that this is His kingdom, not ours, and the He is the builder, we are just the tools in His hands. This year we are celebrating two 10 year anniversaries. The first was in June where we celebrated 10 years since Liz and I first moved here to Vienna. Yesterday we celebrate with our church their 10 year anniversary.
The text for the sermon was Psalm 127, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Our pastor, Brad Hunter shared story after story of how if God had not come through, then our church would have been a failure. Even the service itself was a reminder of that truth.
For months now, we had been planning on holding the service in a larger location. Our church has grown and we hold two services in our current building, but for this celebration we wanted the entire congregation to celebrate together along with any guests who were planning on coming. We had asked every larger church that we knew, as well as looked into renting theaters and the like, but could find nothing that could fit our budget and would be big enough to hold so many. Only one week before, did we finally find a place that was big enough and inexpensive enough for us to use.
As we looked back in June on our ten years here in Vienna it was a good reminder that God has been with us in all that we have experienced and learned and that we could have done none of it without Him. In this time God has filled our quiver, all three of our children having been born here! He has also grown our team, allowing us to welcome seven teammates. Although He has also taught us how to say good bye too, as we have with four of those teammates.
Liz learned German not knowing a word before she came here. Matt’s picked up a bit of Ukrainian and Farsi. We have learned how to be overseas house hunters, and how to do some minor repairs. We have learned how to shop Vienna style. Liz has learned how to drive a stick-shift, and we’ve both learned how to handle driving in mountains, snow, and even roundabouts.
We are still on the learning curve on getting a residence permits, and how complicated the process of renewal can be. We’ve learned a bit of what refugees have to face to get here and how hard it is for them to stay here.
As we look back on mile marker like these, it is a good thing for all of us to remember that if God does not build the house then we build in vain!
Impressive Teamwork in the Church
I doubt that there are many churches who would send their teens 20 miles without a car to a sister church to help them out with a vacation Bible school. But that’s exactly what a group of Ukrainian teenage leaders did for an entire week. Why did they do it? They did it for the love of the church.
Our whole family just got back from Ukraine with a Team from our home church of Denton Bible. One of the pastors who graduated our Bible Training Center for Pastors class invited us to come and help them with a day camp, essentially a vacation Bible school.
This was his fourth year of putting on this day camp. The pastor had built an impressive team of young adults to help stage a week-long VBS. I was even more impressed when I realized that not all of them were from his church. Some had come from other churches in the region to help. How many of us would travel to a sister church to help them out like that? I am so glad we got to see such an examples of churches uniting together, but it took a lot of work to even get there.
One of the most difficult tasks early on was finding a team leader. I started recruiting in January, but for most people, it was too close to the start of school. By March I finally asked an old college friend of mine, Jeremy Pope, if he might lead the team, thinking that he was likely too busy. A few days later, Jeremy wrote me back saying that not only he was interested in going, but also his teenage son, who loved missions and who wanted to go to the former Soviet Union! God came through in a big way.
Also, before any of us even got to Ukraine, things started going wrong logistically. The day that the team was supposed to leave, Pastor Volodymyr told me that he would be unable to pick us up at the airport. We decided it would be best to take the train instead so he bought train tickets for the day after the team was scheduled to arrive.
The next day, as we were getting ready to leave for the airport in Vienna we found out that the team missed their connection to Paris, putting them an entire day behind. They were going to miss the train so we organized another night in Kiev and bought yet another set of train tickets! To add insult to injury, when I finally picked up the team at the airport in Kiev three of the four team members were missing bags!
We finally arrived in Yarmolintsi (yar-MOLE-eent-see) shortly before the church kicked off the VBS with a kids festival event. They put us right to work. Liz helped with face painting and the rest of the team helped out with various events around the church ground. After that, we met with the Ukrainian team and found out what groups we would be helping out with.
During the camp, we all helped with groups of various age ranges and for 45 minutes every day we were responsible to teach an English lesson. There was only one translator and most of the Ukrainian team members didn’t speak much English, but the team did a great job just serving where they could and loving the kids, despite the language barrier.
On a few occasions in the evening Matt would get a chance to visit some other local churches in the area, to learn more about their ministries, get a feeling for the challenges that they face, and hopefully be an encouragement to them. One evening the Team went with Matt and they were recruited to sing for a prayer service. None of us had much business singing in front of an audience, but if you don’t want to be challenged, then don’t go on a short-term missions trip!
We can never be sure of all of the fruit that comes from a trip like this but as we all headed back to Kiev and then on to home, I think we all felt sure that God has used our time in Yarmolintsi to draw many of these children and their families closer to him, and to encourage not only the church there, but in the surrounding cities and villages.