Thursday, January 21, 2010


I've been thinking about all the interesting things we are seeing here in Berdyansk.  I thought I would share a few with you:  winter impressions.
  • Hats.  Everyone wears hats.  The middle-aged and older ladies wear what we would consider to be old-fashioned hats, some are shaped like big pillboxes (remember those from the 1950s?), some are asymetrical in shape, some are huge furry creations that have little tails at the back.  The younger women wear cute knitted hats that fit closely to the head, the kind that look great if you have long hair and an unwrinkled face :).  I am dying to take some pictures, but feel a little awkward about pointing my camera in their faces, especially if I'm just out on the street.  At the Primorsk church a few weeks ago one of the ladies insisted I needed to use her long scarf to put over my head to keep warm.  I don't usually wear hats, although I do have several knitted hats.  The men wear hats too.  Remember seeing on TV in the 70s and 80s pictures of Russian leaders standing outside the Kremlin wearing big fur hats?  Well, some men here still wear those hats.  I have heard that the best fur is very expensive now.  Ten years ago it was much cheaper. 
  • Coats.  Of course everyone wears coats, even me.  But the style of coats is interesting.  Older women love long, sometimes floor-length coats.  They're no fools, they want to keep their legs warm.  Lots of women wear fur coats, probably faux-fur, but some look real.  The fur coats look like the fur coats of the 1950s-60s.  But they also look warm.  The younger women usually wear hip-length modern style coats, lots of padded coats, often with hoods that are trimmed with fur.  No one has a coat like mine, which I love and which is very warm.  It was given to me by Laura, and is pretty much right in style in the U.S.  It has a hood too, for which I am very grateful since I don't wear hats much.  Some younger women wear long coats trimmed with fur.  Fur is very big here.  I can understand why, but some of the fur is purely decorative and probably doesn't do much to keep people warm.  Besides brown or black fur I have seen purple "fur", red "fur", pink "fur" and blue "fur."
  • Cars.  I have yet to see shiny clean cars here.  The weather tends to keep cars dirty, so why take the trouble to wash them?  I guess I have seen one or two clean cars, but it may be that they were dark in color and the dirt didn't show much.  A lot of cars are white, and they look utterly filthy on the outside.  Whenever I get into a car or bus I am very careful about not brushing up against the vehicle and getting dirty.
  • We live across the street from a big school and I watch the children play outside.  They don't seem to mind the cold, they are running and talking, sliding on the sheets of ice, just generally doing what kids do in the wintertime.  It is in the low 20s outside now and it is noontime here.  The kids are outside on their lunch break, seemingly unconcerned about the cold.
  • I love the strollers for the babies.  They are well padded and have a thick cover that is pulled up over the baby and zipped all around to keep the little ones warm.  Of course the babies have blankets over them too.  The toddlers are bundled up so heavily that they can hardly walk, let alone run.  They have long padded leggings, coats, and thick hats with big flaps that cover their ears and necks.  All you can see is their little round faces.
  • From my kitchen window I watch people walking down the street in front of the ministry center, probably going to the nearest bus stop.  The older people tend to walk slowly in the cold.  The young people walk faster, especially when the wind is blowing.  The young women who are concerned about being stylish all wear high boots, usually with very high heels but not always.  They also wear skin-tight jeans or pants and their hip-length coats.  Their legs have to be freezing.  The older ladies wear what I would call normal pants, but sometimes they have boots too with medium-high heels.  Actually, some of them look pretty classy with their boots, pants, knee-length coats, and the omnipresent hat.  Usually their coats are longer though, to the calf at least.
  • Everyone takes their shoes off when they enter the house.  The winter streets are dirty and slushy, even with fresh snow.  And the streets aren't very clean even when the weather is dry.  So, like India, shoes come off in the house.  Some people keep extra pairs of slippers near the door for their guests to put on to keep their feet warm.  I haven't bought any extra pairs yet, but they are on my shopping list.  (I have to admit, I keep one pair of shoes that I wear inside.  The tile-covered concrete floors demand some better footwear to keep my legs and feet from hurting.)
I know there must be more things that I haven't thought of yet, but I will stop for now.  I need to go and get a sweater to put on :) because it's getting colder.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Our trip to Hungary was great!  We needed to go there to get residence visas to stay in Ukraine for an extended period of time.  We entered Ukraine on a 3-month tourist visa.  This meant that we had to do something within that three months to be able to stay longer.  Our deadline was March 4th.  We could have waited, but Frank was concerned that the weather would get very bad in February, which is usually considered to be the harshest winter month.  So, we decided to go as soon as possible after all the holidays were over.  As we checked the weather in Europe we noticed that it was terrible from the British Isles to Germany and beyond.  Two days before we left for Budapest 250 flights were cancelled out of Frankfurt, Germany.  What to do???  We decided to go ahead and make an attempt to get to Budapest where WGM missionaries Dan and Katy Beth Searls live and work. 

We left at 6am on Monday, Jan. 11, and had a four hour bus ride to Donet'sk, the nearest international airport.  It wasn't too bad, the small bus was better than most of the buses in India.  We had a young Ukrainian with us, Sasha, who guided us through the business of buying tickets and getting to the Donet'sk bus stop.  When we arrived there we were ready for something to eat since breakfast had been only a piece of toast.  A McDonald's was close to the bus stand, so we headed there and had Big Mac combos at 10:30 in the morning!  Not exactly breakfast food, but it tasted good at that moment.  The Golden Arches are always a friendly, familiar sight in an unknown place.  Sasha got us to the airport in a taxi and headed back to Berdyansk.  We went inside to an unheated international airport.  It was pretty cold, but after we checked in and got into the gate area we noticed a duty-free shop and just ambled in to check it out.  We stayed quite a while---it had heat!  We then flew to Vienna, Austria, where we had a four-hour layover.  While we were waiting for our flight there were announcements that flights into Germany had been cancelled because of the weather.  How thankful we were that the Lord had put us on a different itinerary.  Everything went as smoothly as it could have. There were no weather delays in any of our flights, and all of them were on time.  We arrived in Budapest about 9:15pm after a long day. 

We stayed at the home of Katy Beth and Dan Searls.   Dan is actually in the U.S. right now for knee surgery, so we didn’t see him. They have four daughters, aged 11 thru 13. The oldest two are twins. Those girls are sweet, pretty and totally unlike the average American girl. They look the same, but have a completely different outlook about life in general. They are an important part of their parents’ ministry and have been raised to love the Lord and family first. I really can’t explain the difference very well, but we were totally impressed by them. The two oldest actually go to a regular Hungarian school, and the two youngest go to an American (?) international school. Katy Beth is enthusiastic, vivacious, joyful and tons of funs to be with. We thoroughly enjoyed our time with her and the girls.  She loves company and she has the house to accommodate it. They use their large home for youth ministry, Bible studies, English classes, etc. etc. etc. You’ll feel like she’s known you forever after a few minutes with her.

Frank, Susannah, Abby, Annie, Sadie, and Chris

The girls with Katy Beth in the center.

Katy Beth made sure she had time to go with us through downtown Budapest and drove us to the Ukraine embassy.  Budapest was sunny and bright most of the time, although it was cold, and we got our visas without any trouble. We were still thinking in India mode----we kept waiting for the Ukrainian consular officer to raise objections, or seem unfriendly, or just generally give us a hard time----but none of that happened. The lady who served us was somewhat friendly and helpful. We did make one mistake on Tuesday. We didn’t realize that the office closed to visitors at noon. We were there in the morning, but had to go to a particular bank to pay for the visas and get back before noon. We didn’t have enough time to get that done before noon, so we had lunch and then went back at 1pm. The lady let us in, told us our mistake, but was good enough to continue with our work. It was during this time that another problem arose---the cost of the visas had jumped from $100 each to $165 each.  If Katy Beth hadn't been with us we would have had to find more money from an ATM or through the bank.  But Katy Beth insisted on helping.  We were able to repay her later for her expense. We had to return to the embassy on Wednesday morning to actually have the visas put into our passports, and because of a computer glitch we had to wait for an hour and a half, but again the lady was nice and apologized for the delay. We were elated to get the visas so easily and left the tiny embassy feeling pretty good about the whole thing.

We had enough time on Tuesday to do a hour or two of sight-seeing. We had lunch at a big modern mall which was where the bank was located.  We insisted that we didn't want American style fast food, so we ate in a small restaurant and had real Hungarian food for lunch.  Katy Beth took us to the hill overlooking the Danube (this was on the Buda side of the city, we didn’t get across the river to the Pest side) and showed us the beautiful Parliament building, and an old cathedral dedicated to one of the early kings. The hill itself was the site of an old palace which was destroyed in WWII by the Nazis and the Soviets, and we walked through the elegant streets leading up the hill. It just made us want to return in warm weather for a longer stay.

Do we look cold?  We were!

The beautiful Parliament building across the Danube River in Pest.

On Wednesday afternoon she took us shopping in a British chain store called Tesco. I guess you could compare it to a super Walmart, except it’s British with Hungarian products as well as other European products. I picked up a few things that I haven’t found in Ukraine but not much.  We travelled with one suitcase and a limit of 20 kilos per bag.  So we didn't have much room and weight left.  At the airport in Budapest I bought a small ceramic dish with a package of paprika in it, and at the airport in Vienna I bought some wonderful European chocolate :).  Nobody does chocolate like Europeans.

We left Budapest on Thursday morning and got to Donet'sk at 2pm that afternoon.  We were able to get to the bus stand by ourselves, buy the tickets and get back to Berdyansk by 7pm that evening.  I made it a point to stop at the McDonald's in Donet'sk before we got on the bus.  I couldn't bear the thought of sitting on a very cold toilet seat in the airport!  (Although it could have had squat toilets, since most public places do.  But it would be too cold for even that. McDonald's was heated.)  The weather was foggy part of the way home, and we did see some snow and ice coming out of Donet'sk, but in Berdyansk it was raining and not too cold.  Another long day.

Our biggest adventure on the trip: the taxi ride from the Donet’sk bus stand to the airport on Monday afternoon! Need I say more??? 

We had put a prayer request on Facebook and Frank had sent another by email to our friends and supporters in the U.S. to pray for us as we made this trip.  Many folks wrote back to us that they were praying.  We know that everything went so smoothly and the weather cooperated because of those prayers.  God really does take care of His people when they trust Him for their needs.  Thank you, Lord, for our trip, for the Searl family, and for the visas you provided.  This is another confirmation that we are where you want us to be.

Friday, January 15, 2010


It's late to keep talking about Christmas, but that was just a week ago here in Ukraine and I want to tell you about it. Ukraine's history is intertwined with the Orthodox Church. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has been here for more than a thousand years. In 1988 it celebrated 1000 years here. In Orthodox tradition Christmas is celebrated on January 7. And although some Protestant churches may celebrate on December 25, it really isn't Christmas to Ukrainians. Here in Berdyansk our churches planted by World Gospel Mission celebrate Christmas on January 7.  When communism took over in Russia in 1917, the leaders wanted to end the celebration of Christmas, but they knew that the people would be very reluctant to give up this important part of the Orthodox calendar.  So the communists were very tricky.  They encouraged the people to stop celebrating St. Nicholas and Christmas, and instead began to promote a legendary character, Grandfather Frost.  Grandfather Frost would come and leave presents and check to see if the children were good or bad, and in both Russia and Ukraine the real reason for Christmas was slowly pushed into the background.  Even now, many people are not aware of the birth of Christ in a very personal way.  It is just another holiday to give them a break from their hum-drum lives. 

Our Christmas here really started just before December 25th when the children at the First Stage Orphanage put on a program for us and a few other friends. This program was centered around the stories of Saint Nicholas, whom the Ukrainians call Mikolai. One of the matrons at the orphanage dressed in a long red and white robe and hat (sort of like Santa, but not totally). The children recited poetry and sang songs which were traditional for them. I wish I could have understood it all, but I think they were all about St. Mikolai. WGM in Ukraine had purchased a tall live tree for the orphanage, and the children had decorated it with shiny paper ornaments, balls and garlands. Some of the little girls were dressed up to be stars, but usually the small children sat very, very quietly on their little chairs and watched along with us. This program was interesting to us because among the guests were the representatives of a political candidate who is running for President of the country. (Ukraine has national elections on Jan. 17). The representatives distributed toys and candies to the children, but they wanted to make sure that everyone knew it was from this candidate! The CEO of a large company here in Berdyansk was also there with his wife, and they distributed toys to the kids. We sat back quietly and watched. There wasn't very good light to take pictures, so I really didn't get much to show you. Oh yes, I mustn't forget that two TV channels sent their cameramen to film the program. I hope it got on TV, but we didn't see it.

The children did another program on January 5th, just before Orthodox Christmas. The attendees were fewer in number, but the children were just as adorable as ever. This time they were dressed in traditional Ukrainian outfits and the program was about how Christmas was celebrated in Ukraine. There was a table with examples of the special foods that were prepared and the children sang and recited again. Most of the singing and recitations were done by the older children. . But the little ones were dressed up too and looked beautiful. They were eager for their presents. WGM in Ukraine had brought along toys and candy for the kids this time, and they were distributed to big smiles and eager hands. We were glad to be a part of this day, and hope that Christmas day itself was just as happy for them.

On Christmas Day we attended two church services, one in Berdyansk in the morning and one at Primorsk in the afternoon.  I'm just putting in some pictures, first of Berdyansk, to show you some of the people.

The Berdyansk program was rather traditional with the kids singing and reciting and the few youth who were there doing some musical numbers.  Gifts were distributed and everyone seemed to have a great time. 

In Primorsk it was quite different.  The people of the church put on a big Christmas play which was based on the early life of Mary up until the birth of Jesus.  One young woman in the church had written it, arranged all the music, directed it, and probably collapsed when it was all over!  Most of the church people were in the play, and the church was packed with visitors and friends to watch it.  I must mention that the Primorsk church is not heated, so it was cold inside, but the spirit was warm and exciting. The following are just a few of the pictures I took that day.

For some reason, these ladies have taken me to their hearts.  They insisted I must be in a picture with them, and they were hugging me.  I love going to Primorsk!

This little babushka was sitting at the back of the church.  She was so much like my stereotyped image of what a Russian/Ukrainian grandmother should be that I couldn't resist taking her picture.  But she wasn't very happy with me for doing it.

Finally, on the next Sunday one of the young women in the church testified that a large group of the church people had gone out on the main street in downtown Primorsk, stood on the corner and began singing Christmas carols.  People were curious, stopping and asking them what this was all about.  And the church people began to tell them about the real Christmas and the birth of Christ.  What a wonderful evangelistic outreach to people who don't know the love of God.  We were totally impressed with these people!

Saturday, January 2, 2010


What a difference a year makes! A year ago Frank and I were discouraged and downhearted over not being in Ukraine and having a hard time getting our support raised. Other things concerned with India had totally dismayed and shocked us. We wondered what the future held for us. As this New Year begins we are assessing our ministry roles here in Ukraine, planning for outreach, and asking God to open the doors that He wants us to go through. We are satisfied that we are here in God's timing. We are encouraged and content.

New Year's Eve in Ukraine was fun for us. We were invited to an American friend's apartment for supper along with Bill and Betsy Tarr. We had delicious food as well as good conversation and fellowship. We were home before 9pm, watched a movie and went to bed about 11:30. At midnight the fireworks began! Fireworks lit up the sky and for quite a while we could hear the crackers explode. New Year's Day was quiet all day long. We have been told that New Year's Eve is the biggest holiday in Ukraine. The early part of the evening is spent with family and there are lots of special foods and games and special programs on TV. Then the young people go to friends' homes, or out to bars and pubs, and party most of the night. The quietness on New Year's day was probably because most people were recovering from the effects of too much alcohol and too many parties.

I just discovered how to imbed puzzles into our blog, so I'm starting with this one that says it all. Happy New Year to all our friends, loved ones and supporters. May God bless you all throughout 2010.

Click to Mix and Solve