Well hello there!
I have had such an interesting time here in Zhitomir so far. As I walk around town I find myself trying to memorize everything I see, like I’ll be tested on it later. Which, I guess I kind of will be tested on it, say, come November? If I see a nice store I try to lock it into my brain and remember the sign. If I see a nice park with kids playing I tuck that one away for later. I take notes in my phone of bus and marshrutka prices, grocery prices and what food you can find where. Who knows if any of this will really help later on, but it makes me feel better, so don’t knock it.
Yesterday morning I woke up with absolutely no idea what we were going to do that day. (Remember the whole staying awake stewing till 1:00am? Ahem.) I woke up at like 7 and called Jed on skype.
“What are we going to do today? If we don’t make contact with anyone will the day be wasted?”
Jed, being ever wiser than I said “Just go outside, walk and pray. That’s the most important thing you can do.” What a guy.
So, I headed out the door, headphones on, walking and praying for our new city. I want to see these people the way God sees them. I want Him to completely have His way in our lives and in Zhitomir.
I had been walking and praying for a while when my phone rang. It was Tammy Swailes, one of the contacts I had hoped to make here in Zhitomir! Okay, funny story: back when I was a kid my parents had a friend named Mary Jill. I think maybe she was from Alaska, and I’m pretty sure we met at least once. (Hi Mary Jill!) Throughout the years I would hear her name, but I never really knew her. Anyway, when we started to tell people we were moving to Ukraine, my uncle and my dad told me that Mary Jill was now a missionary in Hungary. ”You should connect with Mary Jill! Maybe she knows people in Ukraine!” Hmmm, maybe? So, at one point we connected with Mary Jill, and when she found out we were going to be living in Zhitomir, sh told us that lo and behold one of her dearest friends lives near, and works in Zhitomir! Enter Tammy Swailes. :)
Tammy called me as I was walking and praying and asked if I was up for a coffee. Hint: I’m always up for a coffee. So, she swung by, picked me up, we picked up Olya and headed for a place in Zhitomir that Tammy said I needed to know about. While we drove we tried to figure out how we were connected. Funny how small the world is and how the foreigner population in Ukraine is even a much tinier world. I love it!
Oh my, was Tammy right about me needing to know about the absolute gem she took us to! Thank you Tammy!! I am forever indebted. She took us to “Global UA”, basically a huge shopping mall with a ginormous grocery store called “Караван” (Caravan). It also has a big electronics store, a second hand clothing store, and all the other more expensive type stores that malls usually have. The second hand will come in handy (haha) since clothes here are so expensive. We looked around and then had a coffee together. Tammy has lived here for like 12 years. Wow! I just found my how-to-live-in-Zhitomir mentor. Are you up for it Tammy? :)
We had the greatest time. Tammy is so warm and comfortable. Olya and I both agreed that we are big Tammy fans. So, thanks Uncle Steve, Dad, and Mary Jill for making that happen! God is so good to look out for us and bring friendship from the least expected places.
After coffee Olya and I said good bye to dear Tammy and decided to browse a bit more around the mall to see what we could see. A few minutes later my phone rang and it was Alla, the second contact I was hoping to meet here in Zhitomir! At this point I just had to laugh at myself and my pointless worrying. I’m sure God already had a good chuckle at it. I would love to say I learned my lesson that God has everything planned out and I don’t need to worry, but I have a feeling my learning is just beginning. :)
Alla is Ukrainian, and she is a part of a small group here called Bible Orphan Ministry (BOM). BOM does great orphan outreach and I’ve followed their blog for quite some time. All this past year I thought they were located in Kiev, but I was really happy to find out they live in Zhitomir! I had no idea that Zhitomir is kind of a “hub” for orphans with special needs for this region- and even other regions. Hmmm…curiouser and curiouser… Fascinating that God would plant us here, eh?
Olya and I met the BOM team, Misha, Alla, Nadia, and Oksana at their church and then we set off for an orphanage about 30km away. Every Friday they visit this orphanage and teach the older kids about Jesus. The Director loves them and totally allows them to preach the Gospel. We went on a Tuesday because they were going to do the final class for the kids who are “graduating”, or we like to say, aging out. This week they will leave the orphanage and who knows what their futures hold.
Three of the kids will go to study at a trade school a ways away. A few of them have families, but they are pretty poor, so they won’t have the opportunity to pursue any studies. At least one of the boys can’t read, so that’s not an option for him anyway. Some will be on their own.
There are several people we know of who focus ministry on typical kids who are aging out of orphanages. I always knew this work was important, but never felt a particular passion for it. I definitely felt a passion for the disabled who age out to mental institutions, but honestly hadn’t given a ton of thought to the typically developing teens. All I needed was to meet some of them face to face and that all changed.
These kids are babies! They are just babies! The BOM team gave them gifts of bedding, a cooking pot, a bowl, and a spoon. The kids were ecstatic. Such treasures!
After BOM shared with the kids and gave them gifts they asked me to introduce myself and let the kids know why I was there. Oh my, how humbling to share just a bit with those precious kids. How is it that I have the life I have and they have theirs? How is it that I was raised by parents who loved me and taught me to love? How is it that I have the choice to move here and care for others, when these kids have no choices? Why them and not me?
Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!
Luke 12:48 (MSG)
Humbling. Wow. Praise God for people like Alla, Misha, Nadia, and Oksana who spend their lives equipping these kids who have so few people rooting for them. Alla told me they make it a point to often tell the kids that Jesus loves them and He created them special. They are precious to Him. May that truth dig deep into their hearts and settle there for good.
After we left the orphanage we went out to eat and chat. The BOM team got comfy with Olya and I and we had some good laughs. Eating together does that. Don’t you love a good laugh over dinner?
So, for a day with absolutely no plans, God managed to fill it up quite nicely! Ha!
Today I said good bye to Olya (boohoooooo) since she needed to head back to Kiev for work. I explored Zhitomir, did a thorough investigation of available foods at the big grocery store at the mall (gluten-free pasta! Who knew?), and skyped with family and friends. Tomorrow I’ll spend the day at MTU and hopefully look at some apartments with the realtor.
Best news? Jed is on his way to the airport and tomorrow night he’ll be with me!!!! I am so ready to have him here. I hope the day passes quickly until he gets here. :)
That’s all I got for today. Off to bed now, dreaming of my babies at home. I miss them a ton, but God is so gracious to help all of our hearts. Thank you family and friends for loving on my babes. Knowing they are with people who love them dearly keeps this Mama from becoming a hot mess. THANK YOU!
I’ll leave you with a glimpse of the cuteness that is my babies
(minus Addy and Ez because it took me a minute to figure out how to take a screen shot)