Friday, June 29, 2012

...but the Lord directs his steps

One of the signs of stress.
A person plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9 (ISV).  So goes the familiar proverb.  June has been a very busy month for us.  We knew it would be busy so we prepared ourselves.  We had lists:  train and bus tickets to buy, supplies for teams, presents for graduates, arrangements for guests, arrangements to be guests, etc.  At the beginning of the month we had all our plans in place and this proverb was ever in my mind.   I expected that even though I had planned our way, the Lord would allow unexpected things to occur that would change our plans and we would have to, by faith, allow Him to direct our steps.  This is how I understood the proverb.  Surprisingly, almost all our plans have gone “according to plan.”  It has been a hard month and I have been waiting and looking for the “curve ball” but it didn’t come. 

The part of our June plan that I was most worried about was our visa situation.  We needed new visas soon.  Through May and the beginning of June we gathered the necessary documents and made “plans”.  We had never gone to Moldova to get visas before, but understood that we could get them in two days.  I talked to the embassy and they said that they work on Mondays, Wednesday s and Thursday.  If we apply for a visa on one of those days, we can get it the next working day.  OK, so here was the plan.

Weekend:  Travel to Kiev, pick up Anya from camp, leave Joseph and Micah at camp.
Monday: Julie, Alfie and Anya travel back to Odessa.
Tuesday: Leave Anya with Brittany and Julie and Alfie travel to Chisinau to apply for visas.
Wednesday:  Arrive early at embassy and apply for visas.
Thursday: Pick up visas and take bus back to Odessa.
Friday: Travel to Kiev to get Joseph and Micah from camp.

We knew that because of the status of our current visas that we may have problems at the border crossing into Moldova.  We also knew that if we had problems in Moldova, that we could not come back to Ukraine without a new visa for 90 days.  We decided to pray and take the risk.  Our attitude was something like, “Here is our plan Lord, please make it work.”  Everything went fine until Wednesday.  The border crossings were no problems.  We thanked God for giving us favor in the eyes of the border guards.  We got a room near the embassy on Tuesday evening.  We found the embassy so we could easily get there the next morning.  We had documents and copies of documents. 

Wednesday morning comes and we arrive at the embassy a half hour before it opens.  There is already a large group waiting.  We add our names to the waiting list, we are 49 and 51.  OK, a little stress.  We should have come earlier, but we have all day to apply.  I pray, “Lord please let the line go quickly and efficiently.”  I walk around to relieve the stress and notice a paper taped to the embassy door.  It is in Ukrainian so it is a little hard to read.  I read it and understand it, but spend about five minutes trying to convince myself that I don’t understand the Ukrainian and everything will be alright.  The sign says that the embassy will be closed on Thursday…that’s tomorrow!  That means that we won’t be able to pick up our visas until Monday!  OK…stress level increases and I start making plans in my head.  I can beg the embassy to issue the visa today…but…but we are number 49 and 50… “Why didn’t we come earlier?”  Stress level increases more.  I’m angry at myself for not coming earlier.  What if we don’t get in before the break at 12:30?  OK…start to pray.  “Lord, please, please, please make all these people go away!”  That was a panic prayer.  “OK Lord, sorry for panicking.  I have two prayers.  Please let us apply in time to get our visas today and help me not to stress and say anything stupid to my wife.  Help me to trust you Lord.”  I think and plan some more.  It is time to put plan B, C and D on standby and began formulating plan E.  I talk to Julie.  “So, what is the backup plan?  Who will pick up the kids if we are stuck?”  There is a plan, but I don’t want to be stuck!  “Lord, I don’t want to be stuck.”  Plan some more…John can pick up the kids and they can stay in Kiev, or maybe he can send them to Brittany or Leah on a bus, maybe Igor is in Kiev and he can drive them down to Odessa.  We will need some more money for the hotel…”Why or why didn’t I come earlier?  How did I miss that tomorrow is a holiday?  Why do these people celebrate so many holidays?!  Don’t they know that there is work to be done?!  Why are there so many stupid holidays?  They only work three days a week and they are taking one day off?  What is the matter with these people!?”  (OK, not very fair...calm down, breath…..breath again).  Stress level increases…I’m on the edge….”Lord help me not to snap and say or do anything rash.  Help me to trust you”…more thoughts running through my head, more prayers….

I look at Julie.  She looks calm.  She turns to me and says, “Do you think we will have clothes in heaven?”  In my mind my head explodes.  My vision blurs.  Time stops as I try to absorb her question and the calm look on her face while our hopes of getting a visa this week slip into the abyss.  Praise God, I hold my tongue.  However, I guess in that instant, my face communicated much to Julie.  She simply says, “Oh, you’re worried about the visa?  The Lord will work it out, but I’ll let you be.”  She is not worried!  This makes me mad and embarrassed at the same time.  “Why isn’t she worried?”  OK…pray…think….plan.  How about walk a little.  …walking… “Lord, this is not the worst thing in the world.  We have friends, we have help.  Help me to accept whatever plan you have for us.”  I walk around a little more.  It is a little after 10:00am and the guard comes out yells, “Who is here for visas?”  What!  That’s us.  I raise my hand and head for the gate.  Julie didn’t hear him.  She is calmly sitting on a bench and reading.  I call her and say her we can go in.  She looks surprised and heads over to me.  As we go in, I notice that we are going in out of order. 

When we get in, we fill out the necessary forms and stand in line.  I have all the arguments ready.  “Please sir; if you could issue the visas today we would be very grateful.  You see our daughter is in Odessa and our other kids are in Kiev.  We can’t wait until Monday.  I know you are not working tomorrow.  Perhaps we could just pick up the visa in the morning….pause…perhaps there is an extra fee to expedite visa service.  We are ready to pay extra.”  We get to the window and the man says, “You want these today…right?”  Time stops...again the vision blurs….sound stops…those words were like manna from heaven.  There is a flash of blue light and I’m back at the window.  “Uhhh….yes, yes of course that would be great.”  “No problem” he says.  “Pay for the visa at the bank and come back after three.”  “Yes, yes, thank you so much.”  We leave for the bank, but the Lord is not done with us.

As we leave the gate, a young man says, “You guys buying visas?”  “Yep”, we say as we pass him to go to the bank.  We pay for the visas and return to the embassy to drop of the receipt.  When we return we start talking to the young man.  He is an American named Ethan who is also trying to get a visa to return to Odessa.  He is an independent missionary who works mainly with orphans.  He has his documents but is number 72 on the list.  We talk.  He asks what the sign on the door means.  I tell him that the embassy is closed tomorrow and will not be open again until Monday.  I watch as he takes the news very well.  He doesn’t seem stressed.  (I’m a little embarrassed at remembering my earlier reaction.) We ask the guard if Ethan can get in to do his visa.  The guard says that he doesn’t know.  There are a lot of people applying for visas.  About 12:45 we are waiting with Ethan and a man comes out and says that is all for today, everyone else will have to come back on Monday.  Ethan is disappointed, but takes the news well…again.  A discussion at the gate starts and intensifies and the guard agrees to take 10 more people and the rest will be first on Monday.  He takes 10 more and that takes him to number 71.  Ethan is disappointed but takes the news well…again.  He has to stay until Monday.  As he is getting ready to leave and another man says, “Come on…Take the American kid.”  The guard asks, “Do you need a religious visa?”  Ethan says yes and the guard motions him in.  We ran into Ethan again later and were able to help him get some extra documents.  We all got our visas and traveled back to Odessa the next day together on the train.

The Lord not only changed our plans, He improved them.  We got our visas faster than we planned and the embassy still got their holiday.  More importantly, through the examples of my wife and this young man, the Lord showed me how little I trust Him.  My instinct is still to fix it myself.  Yes, I pray but my blood pressure still increases, my mind goes to plan B, I try to fix it myself and take over.  I don’t mean that we don’t need to plan, but what I need to do better is “rest in Him when the plan changes.”  Really, I need to rest in Him all the time.  We (I) should still plan our way, but on the road, it is always best to let Him direct our steps.  I am honestly a little embarrassed but thankful for His lesson.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Do Your Work Heartily for the Lord

Day One

Add eight Americans, four Ukrainians, one translator, numerous support people, blood, sweat, tears, seven days, a desire to serve the Lord and the Spirit of God.

Day Seven

Any Questions?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Construction Team Update

English Café is going well in the city of Odessa while the team continues to build at the camp.  Following are a few picture of the construction progress on Friday and Monday.

End of work day Friday


9:00am Monday morning

Lunch Monday

Monday 4:30pm.
That's a wrap!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Construction, English and Coffee

This year, June is going to be a very busy month.  Today is the 13th and we have already seen our son graduate from Ukrainian school, said goodbye to visiting grandparents, had several picnics, participated in Odessa Seminary graduation, greeted a construction from the US and had many planning meetings concerning academic programs for the future along with our normal day to day schedule.

This graduating group from Odessa Seminary is special to us because it is the first group that Alfie has been able to teach all three years.

Alfie and Julie with Bachelor of Theology Students at Odessa Theological Seminary Graduation

Currently a construction team of seven men and one woman from EV Free Fullerton, California is at the Black Sea Camp (about 40k north of Odessa), building a family dwelling structure.  Today is only day three of construction and we have seen great progress.  There are many Ukrainian youth and adults helping.
Day one Black Sea Camp construction planning.

Day one advanced group of the English Cafe
At the same time we are hosting an “English Café”at Grace Church in Odessa. So, Julie and the girls are in Odessa for the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday Café, Joseph is the translator for the team at the Black Sea Camp and Alfie is going back and forth. He is mostly at the camp but needs to come to Odessa to teach the Bible lessons at the Café.

Day one start at the Black Sea Camp

Early Day Two at Black Sea Camp
So far things are going great.  The first day of the café saw a large group of advanced English speakers.  Two days of construction at the camp saw three and a half bearing walls built and the first trusses already assembled.  We have ordered a crane for Monday. 

Alfie is in Odessa on Wednesday (day three) but the team is in good hands with Joseph as the translator.
Mid Day Two at Black Sea Camp