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Impressive Teamwork in the Church

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.

Impressive Teamwork in the Church 1
The Team and our Family in traditional Ukrainian outfits

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. 

Click here if you would like to see more pictures from the trip.

Permission and Expectation

Permission and Expectation 2

I hated math when I was a kid. Who’s with me? It was tedious having to practice the same problems over and over again. I remember making up all kinds of excuses not to do my math homework. It was no surprise, then, to find out that our oldest daughter was having trouble in the subject. In addition to that, (pun intended-always intend your puns) she’s learning all of this in her second language and it made sense that she needed more help in this subject than in her others.
Kids in Austrian elementary school finish their day before lunchtime. Which means that they are sent home with a bit more homework than elementary kids in the U.S. might be. Early on, N.’s teacher told us that they should not take much more than an hour to do homework. However, with N’s math difficulties, she was spending at least double that, if not more. So when she came home with a permission slip that she needed tutoring, we were not shocked. However, what the permission slip communicated did cause me a little bit of what I like to call culture stress.
The permission slip N. came home with simply stated that she needed tutoring, the tutoring class was in the afternoon, and please sign here to give your permission. Now, this may not sound like a big deal to you, but what was missing for me was an explanation.  There was no note from the teacher saying why she thought N. needed tutoring, what she thought the problem might be, the steps that they might take to help solve the problem- just, “your child needs tutoring, please give us your consent.” Granted, all of that other stuff might have been a bit much to note on the form, but some kind of explanation, any kind of explanation, would have been nice.
Looking back, I think my reaction was partly due to cultural differences. As an American, I want control. I want to know what my options are and to feel that I am the one in the drivers’ seat. If I have to give my consent to something, I want to know what I am getting into (unless I’m downloading an app (who has time to read the terms and agreements on Candy Crush Saga anyway?). However, my point is that this notice went against the grain of my cultural expectations.
Well, I eventually got more information, signed the notice and N. got the tutoring that she needed. I also got a glimpse into my own expectations of control. So what kinds of things challenge your expectations of control?
If you would like to hear more about what Liz and I learned during N.’s first year of school, check out our podcast episode:

The Circle of Second Hand and the Practice of Living with Less

The Circle of Second Hand and the Practice of Living with Less 3

Our church here in Vienna is home to a seemingly never-ending circle of hand-me-downs. Moms are constantly bringing outgrown clothes and other items to church to be passed on to the other kids. We’ve been blessed by this time and again, and we enjoy blessing others with hand-me-downs as well.

The sentiments of one mom express how committed people are to decluttering and re-purposing: “Somebody take it because it’s not coming back home with me! I’ll put it in the Goodwill box before that happens!” Decluttering is such a way of life here. The work of it is ongoing, given the limited amount of living and storage space. People here are good at using it up, giving it away, or recycling.

I remember being anxious about how Naomi and Evie would handle not having their toys with them during the year we were on “home service assignment” in the States. We packed a small amount of favorites, but it was just not possible to bring more than a few toys. Once we got settled into the apartment in Texas, we found some Duplo blocks at a thrift store, friends let us borrow their supply of baby toys, and we bought some coloring books, bubbles, and sidewalk chalk. We borrowed dvds from the library. And you know what? The girls were fine! Even bigger kids have fun with baby toys when that’s what is available!
We also ended up taking a huge road trip across the southwest U.S., all the way to San Diego, and then on to Indiana with our toddler and baby in a 4-door Toyota. There were a few toys in the back seat and a couple of cds with kids songs. One of them had kids songs in German, and by the end of the trip all of us were singing them together. Not that we would want to repeat that kind of roadtripping ever again, but the point is, the kids were fine and learned to make due with the minimalism.

So that was really freeing, realizing the kids didn’t need a lot of stuff, especially as we had to de-clutter in preparation for moving into a new apartment after returning to Vienna. Our current apartment is bigger than our old one, but the basement space is smaller. Once that is used up (which it pretty much already is), everything else we’re storing fits under our full size bed, and after that everything else has to go! In fact, when my parents were here, Dad helped me clean out our basement space and take some items to the dump/recycling place.

The neighborhood dump has big dumpsters designated for recycling different items, and a person can walk right up and throw stuff in, self-service style. Dad had so much fun throwing a broken, standing floor fan up into a huge dumpster (although there were stairs he could have used to gently drop it in)!

Over time I’ve tried to develop a habit of decluttering on a regular basis. At first it was overwhelming, but with practice it has become easier. Now it’s kind of fun and simplifies life.

How about you? Do you enjoy decluttering? Do you have any tips that have been helpful for you to make this a habit in your life?

Biking

I was a very unlikely runner. I was lazy and wasn’t a natural with good form. I only got into it because of a positive kind of peer pressure in junior high and high school. My friends were doing it so I did too and grew to enjoy it.

Biking, however, was my first love. No, not the serious, sporty, spandex-wearing kind. The banana bars, spoke beads, little plastic license plate, ride around and around my block on the sidewalk kind of biking. I was a late bloomer with the bike so I was probably 8 or so when I really got the hang of it. I would pretend I was driving my car as I made the loop around the neighborhood, coasting back into our driveway and pretending I was pulling into the bank or restaurant drive through.

This past year I rediscovered my love of biking when a knee injury forced me to stop running. I rented a “City Bike” and felt like a kid again! I also realized that I had stopped making time for things that I simply enjoy doing, or hadn’t yet learned how to do as a mom of three kids. In this season of life where my stress and exhaustion levels can get out of control if I’m not being a good steward of myself, I’m learning to take “having fun” very seriously. And the exercise type of having fun really does help my mood!
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The Family Small Group Riddle 4

The Family Small Group Riddle

We are so thankful to be a part of a small group for families in our local church. It is amazing to think that this is our second year of being involved with it, especially because for the longest time, we had no idea how to solve the riddle of being in a small group.
Sure, we had led a Bible study in our home, but we had been the only family with kids in that group. So we hosted it in our home after the kids went to bed. But when more than one family with small kids wants to be in a small group, then what?
The elders of our church came up with a great solution: having a twice-a-month meeting on a Saturday afternoon for the whole family. Two families of the group take turns hosting It, and all the kids can play together in a separate room, with older kids looking out for the littler ones.
The concept has been so successful that this year the group birthed a second group to make more room for everyone. Our family hosts the group once a month, with our co-leader leading, while the second meeting of the month is at their place, with Matt being prepared to lead the discussion.
This has been a great way for us and our children to form deeper friendships in the church. Maybe it would be an idea to try where you live! Does your church have a different way of solving this Riddle?

Kid Business

Swings

One thing about apartment living, especially during the summer, is that going to the park most mornings is part of our regular schedule. Much of the time I’m happy to do this (after we get through the ordeal of three kids getting ready to leave the house: put on clothes, maybe comb hair, take turns using the bathroom), because I know it’s good for them to run around and play outside. Sometimes I can even steal away moments to do things I enjoy, like sending text messages to friends to plan play dates or working on my “mom photography” (taking quick, multiple shots) skills.
But sometimes, there are things happening every other minute that require my attention. Often I get  frustrated when “my” moments are interrupted by the needs or wants of my kids; when I think of the shopping that will have to be squeezed in just before making dinner; or all of the other projects or chores that are just piling up because of the morning spent at the park. Combine that with the stressful, packed-full summer we’ve had, along with the normal level of stress present when living in a different culture, and I can get pretty worked up grasping for moments of fleeting fun or productivity on my terms.
During our last week before vacation, I took the kids to what they call, “Our Park”, which is right across the street, so really pretty convenient. Opening the gate, Naomi announced, “the park is open for business!”
“Psssh, maybe KID business,” I said. Naomi then proceeded to run in, yelling with all her might, “KID BUSINESS!” What a fun, silly moment!
The next day we were at another one of the playgrounds within walking distance and Naomi asked me to swing with her. I reluctantly agreed, putting away the grocery list I was trying to write. As we got to swinging, she exclaimed, “This is fun, right Mommy?”
Silent tears started streaming down my face as I kind of remembered what it used to feel like to swing at her age, how easy it was to have fun. Nowadays it takes real work for me to have fun and I realized that she (and her siblings) can help me with the serious “kid business” of playing and living in the moment that I desperately need. I pray that God would help me to see the value of and to enjoy each moment and to be fully present in it.

Back Pain: an update

I would like to give everyone an update about my back pain. Right now I am doing much better, however, things got much worse before they got better. When I went to the doctor he warned me that it could. My doctor also struggles with back pain so he was able to tell me from experience. He told me about one time that his back pain was the most intense. So much so, that it felt like someone stuck a hot knife in his back.
After visiting the doctor I was feeling pretty good. On Saturday we had some friends and their kids over to play at our park and have lunch at our apartment. I enjoyed the visit, but it exhausted me. A few hours later Liz and I went out on a date and saw a play with a group from our church. Unfortunately, the theater was small so there was nowhere for me to stand during the play. So although it was painful, I sat through the performance. By the time we got home I was hurting pretty badly.
On Sunday I took my morning walk to loosen up my back. When I got back, I was still walking with a limp and not feeling any better. I knew then that two services would be impossible for me, though I was scheduled to play guitar that night. I decided to call in sick and rest. However lying in bed was not helping so I decided to lie on the floor for a while instead. I soon found out that it was a mistake to do this because it took me nearly four hours to get up off of the floor and not without help from my wife!
I could barely stand after that and I went to bed as soon as I could. When I got up from bed the next morning I felt the hot knife in my back. I immediately laid back down in bed and contacted my doctor. He got back to me and ordered me to stay in bed for the next forty-eight hours.
It may sound like the easiest thing to stay in bed for two days, but it was not. There were projects that I needed to tackle, Liz needed help with the kids, and the sun was shining, for crying out loud. However, as I laid there I noticed two things. First, was that I was actually starting to feel better. I had been having pain just lying down, but now that I was resting for a while the pain was going away.
The second thing that I noticed was that I had time to read, and think, and pray, and pursue God. The projects that seemed so urgent, weren’t all that urgent. Liz needed my help, but God gave her the grace and strength to endure. Most of all, I saw that I was finding my worth in what I do, instead of being thankful that God, in his power and by faith in Jesus, has already granted to me “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3). Through all of the back pain that I had been dealing with I never took the time to slow down and recover. But, I needed to recover far more than just physically, I needed to stop and spend time pursuing God.
I got up last Wednesday with only the slightest back pain. For the most part, I don’t have any more pain, though I still need to strengthen my back. Most of all, though, I need to remember that I have been cleansed from my former sins by Jesus my Lord and that my worth comes from being in Him, and not by anything that I “do for Him.”

Freedom from Back Pain

Freedom from Back Pain 6
Pack Pain by http://practicalcures.com/ used under CC BY solarized from the original

I continue to struggle with back pain. The only thing that seems to help is walking. I can hardly sit at all. In order to get any work done, I have converted my desk so that I can work while standing. Getting up in the morning is most difficult. After I drop Naomi off at school I walk for thirty minutes and that at least gets me to where I can function for the day. However, after avoiding sitting all day my feet are painfully tired. That is especially hard on evenings that I teach or have meetings.
This Tuesday night, for example, I met with the team that runs a class that I help out with. We had dinner together and discussed developing the class further. It was a good meeting but I could barely sit through dinner. After that had to stand through the rest of the meeting due to the pain in my back. When we wrapped up at 10 pm my feet could hardly take any more.  It was a relief when I finally got to bed, but I dreaded getting up the next day.
Thursday I finally threw in the towel and went to the doctor. He prescribed me some medications for the pain and swelling and suggested that I take breaks from standing throughout the day -move around more or lay down to give my back and feet a rest. I can’t lay down long, though or standing back up is difficult. Also, I have a referral to a physical therapist, which Liz is glad for. I don’t think she wants the job anymore. I’m not the greatest patient.
I so want to break this constant relationship with back pain. It invades every part of my day. I think of those who deal with chronic pain and I now have such a respect for what they deal with. Especially my brothers and sisters who deal with it with such patience and grace. They are my new-found heroes.  Even as I write this, I long to be free of this pain, yet how often am I thankful for that from which I have already been set free in Christ Jesus (John 8:34-36)? I pray that might be my meditation as I continue in this struggle. Would you pray with me on this? Please do pray that I do improve in these next few weeks. My next trip to Ukraine is coming up quickly, and I hope that things have improved by then. How can I be praying for you?