Saturday, July 14

Lessons Learned and Bittersweet Goodbyes

It’s been four weeks since I’ve come home- although it seems shorter, and as many times as I’ve tried to write this post- I could never bring it to completion, but that was because I was relying on myself to tell my story. The moment I turned to God- something that’s not always easy to do, I found the right words. 

My time in Ukraine was more than blessed. I love my team, and miss them dearly, but those are not the only people that touched my life while I was there. Our translators, Masha, Sveta, and Artoum, told me about their lives, about their dreams and ambitions, their families, and their passions- and I made friends that will last a lifetime. The team of Australians that shared their testimonies made me bolder about sharing mine, and I know that if I ever find myself in Australia, I’ll know exactly where to find some of the most God-loving people there. The workers at the camp- many of which I regrettably can’t name because I’m awful with names- blessed me with their constant joy and passion to serve. Their smiles and broken English never failed to brighten my day, and the countless joking offers I got for marriage arrangements never ceased to make me smile. The children that hung on my arms and legs, that gave me trinkets even though they had nothing, that went full speed ahead in Ukrainian, even though countless times I expressed that I don’t understand, that used the few English words they had, searching to find a connection with someone that would love on them, the smiles, the tears, and everything in between, it changed my life. However, no matter how extraordinary any of these people are, no matter how much they touched my life- they would fail in comparison without the lessons that Christ taught me in my short time there. Christ used those people to change me- I know I am a different person now than when I started on this journey, and although it’s taken me a while to go full circle and really realize what those changes are, I know that although my time was cut short- I learned there what Christ sent me there to learn- and that is how to love.

For those of you that know me- you know I’m not an openly emotional person; I don’t go around hugging people and saying ‘I love you.’ I don’t seek closeness with people, because I won’t know the first thing about it, and I definitely hate crying- it’s up there with throwing up my guts and stabbing myself in the eye with a rusty fork- that’s how much I hate it. It makes me ugly, it’s hard to breathe, and most of all, anyone that happens upon you while you’re crying has one of two responses: they immediately try to console you, even though they have no idea what’s going wrong, or they stare awkwardly till they regain the ability to move their legs that they lost from shock, and quickly shuffle away. Neither of these things are helpful to someone who is truly sobbing. Because I shy away from anything that requires an expression of emotion, I’ve missed out on a lot of great opportunities in life- many of which God probably dropped in front of me like ton of bricks, to which I responded by taking a few steps back, staring, then walking right around it. I’m realizing now, that I probably went into the World Wide Witness program with selfish intentions- I got to travel, something amazing was going to happen in my life, I was going to get to feel good about helping people, I’d be able to say that I’d been to a different country, it would look good on my resume, it would be a notch in my social work belt. I went into this program thinking a lot about me, and quickly realized that nothing was about me. By the time I was on my flight all I could think about was how God was going to use me to help someone else- which was a complete turnaround from my initial thinking. I’m not saying that at first I didn’t want to help people- because I truly did, that’s just what I feel passionate about in life- but by the time I was on the plane, I wanted to help people for a completely different reason- it was for them. My three weeks in Ukraine were brief, unfortunately so. But I know, that God knew from the start what was going to happen, that I was going to be blindsided, and that every plan I had carefully constructed, was going to be torn to shreds. 

That’s lesson number two. I am a planner- and God showed me that all the planning in the world, cannot change his plan- which so often is completely opposite of our own. I am a planner- always have been, and always will be. But being in Ukraine has helped me learn how to deal when your grand plans get tossed out by forces you can’t control. It’s a process- learning these things.  I’m sure it will take me my whole life to get used to my plans being thrown out a window- and maybe not even then, but I know that when they do, instead of scrambling to piece together the broken shards of a plan, I can just hold my hands out, and God will give me a new one- one that is immensely more perfect than my own.

There are a million more lessons I’ve learned, a hundred more stories that I could tell, and this blog post could very quickly turn into a book- but that’s not what this is. This post very well may be not what you were expecting. I know many people are expecting an explanation, of exactly what happened, why I’m home early, and was it my fault, and if it wasn’t my fault whose fault is it? But I’m sorry- you won’t get it. To be honest, I don’t completely understand why I’m home, other than the simple reason that God wanted me here, in little Lake Worth, Texas- to learn a few more lessons. It is nobody’s fault- because faults are a childish way to explain God’s plan- if you ask me. Trying to explain the happenings of life as a result of a person is well, useless- because it’s not we who are in control.
Now I’m sure that from time to time, Ukraine stories will be told- whether it’s while I’m sitting in a restaurant with my friends or in a blog post or journal entry- because the ending of this blog does not mean the ending of my time in Ukraine- because it will forever impact me. Something will happen and I’ll have a pang of longing, or I’ll see something in a new light and glean a new revelation from an event, and I’ll tell someone about it. Ukraine is engraved in my heart, now and forever- and I’m a different person, all because of Ukraine.

I'll be writing in a new blog- my personal one which I'm awful at keeping up with, from time to time. You can find it here.

Saturday, June 2

The Week

Ukraine. Today is exactly one week that we have been here- and it has been an interesting week. We’ve built drawers, cooked food, cleaned, carried beds across camp to another house, along with a million other things- basically, our lives have been an eclectic mix of tasks since we arrived in Kiev last Saturday.
Once we got to the airport, a man named Alex met us and we were all thankful that he spoke English. We got into his van, packed in with each of our luggage, and I began to realize how sketchy we must have seemed to any onlookers: six obviously American girls under the age of 22 with tons of luggage, in an overly large blue van with a Ukrainian male driver. Everyone else had small cars- slightly larger than a Smart Car because they had four seats. I realized then and there, I would always stick out in this country, no matter how much I bonded with the people. But then, at the same time I made this realization, I noticed a half-naked man on a public transportation bus, and decided that if that was the norm, I was alright with sticking out.

As we drove to meet Andrew, I realized that even in the city, people were impoverished. I sat and wondered: in a city where people were patching their roofs with scraps of tin and tarps, children were going hungry, and a family without a horse was a family with no livelihood- how much money was being used to power their simple road signs- just so they could display the changing weather and traffic conditions, as if people couldn’t look out their car window and see these things for themselves. It boggled my mind- every single road sign was electronic, we don’t even have that at home in the States.

Alex dropped us off at the Grocery store in town where Andrew was- so that he didn’t have to drive all the way to the village, since he lives in Kiev- that would be a long and unnecessary drive. We helped Andrew get groceries- three carts full, and that wasn’t even for campers. About ten minutes into our trip to the grocery store, I realized I had made up my own language in my head for everything. I don’t speak Russian or Ukrainian, obviously- it’s not like it’s a course they offer in high school. Everything in the grocery store was labeled in Ukrainian- except for a select few brands like Coca-Cola, Lipton, MilkyWay, and every time I looked at a name of an item, I made up a word for it in my head- and I hadn’t even realized I was doing it, till I said one of the words out loud. When you’re in a different country, your brain struggles to make sense of everything that it can- so letting my head make up its own language was perfectly fine with me- it kept me sane, and it’s still keeping me sane.

The grocery store is probably about the most cultural experience we’ve had- and even then, it’s more like a Sam’s Club than a true market that’s more common around here. This camp is like a bubble- yes it’s in the village, and yes it’s surrounded by villagers and the villagers help us work here and their children attend camp here- but other than that it’s a bubble. We have hotdogs and pies. We have pork chops and ranch dressing. Most people here speak English, and all the signs have English on them. I’d love to be more immersed in the culture- but maybe this is God’s blessing- for us to have familiarities around us, instead of being overwhelmingly thrown into a culture where we can’t communicate, navigate, or even eat familiar foods. 

Campers will be here on Thursday, and we are all looking forward to meeting the children and being able to pour into their lives, and them pouring into ours. Campers can range in age between six and eighteen, so we will have kids that are almost our same age- which is a strange concept to me. I’ll be in charge of the craft cabin- and I am greatly looking forward to being in charge of a full portion of camp.
That’s where we are at this point- planning for our Poland trip in the first week of July is almost complete and we’ve begun planning for our four days in Vienna, Austria (and maybe some surrounding countries, depending on cost). We are all looking forward to the remainder of our time here, and we can’t wait to dive into camp.

Monday, May 28

Greetings from Ukraine.

Greetings from Ukraine! I don't have time for a long post- I'm planning to type on up on my personal laptop and transfer it to the computer with internet, maybe tomorrow- but for the time being a quick post will have to do.

My travels went well- we arrived here in Ukraine on Saturday, about 2pm local time and we've been at camp ever since. Our day in London was extremely blessed, our hosts were fantastic. We got a quick tour of London and got to eat at a restaurant caled Belgo, which was Belgian food (delicious, if you were wondering). Campers will arrive next week which will hopefully give our days much more structure. For the time being, we are basically doing odd jobs, preparing for campers, forcing our bodies to adjust to this time schedule, which is +8 hours from Fort Worth.

We are here at the campsite with the residents (Andrew and his family), and some other short term help, called the World Race team. If you've never heard of World Race, you should definitely google it or something, because it's fairly cool. Basically, you go to 11 different countries in 11 months, and it age ranges from 21 to 35. Right now (although it's difficult to tell sometimes with everyone that comes and goes here), there are 10 World Racers, and 6 of us Interns from World Wide Witness. Everyone is acclimating well, if we can only get our bodies to get used to the time difference. This morning we all woke up around 3am, and just could not go back to sleep, so instead we watched movies and had a good time.

I'm definitely looking forward to the campers being here next week. I definitely don't know much Russian or Ukranian, but I know a few words like "nyet" which means no, "da" which means yes, "die" which means give, and "priviet" which is a way to say nice to meet you to peers and those younger than you. I'm sure I'll work on it some more this week so I can at least introduce myself to those around me, and I definitely need to learn greetings to those above me- because offending a Babushka is the last thing I want to do.

Other than that not much is going on- our days aren't packed with work yet, just a few tasks here and there to organize and prepare for campers- mostly just adjusting and getting our bearings. I think I can finally find my way around the camp without getting lost- except when someone sends me to the "red bath house". This is not my fault however- because there isn't actually a red bath house- they are all green. Aparently, one used to be green and got a facelift by a team of workers this past week, but there is no way to tell which is which unless you've been here before and just already know.

Anyways, I need to get off, this has been longer than I had planned, and I've now been holed away in the office on the computer for an hour writing this post and skyping with my parents. Time to rejoin the society here and learn a few new Russian phrases. Blessings and Peace be with you.

Wednesday, May 23

"He went ape!"

Today was my last full day in Fort Worth. Tomorrow, at approximately 6pm, I will be boarding a plane to travel to an experience that will change my life. I am prepared. I was not however, prepared for what happened today. It's nothing bad, it just scared me so much my heart was pounding for at least a good five minutes, and I'm almost certain I had an adrenaline rush.

For those of you who know me, you know I love the zoo. I can't even explain how much I enjoy it. I don't know why- I just love being outdoors, getting to see all the really cool animals- no matter how much they look the same each time I go there. So, it only made sense that instead of packing and resting up for my trip, I went to the zoo on my last day in Fort Worth for the next while. I went over Christmas break with my family and didn't get to see any of the "safari" animals, so that was the first thing I wanted to see. I took plenty of cute pictures- and I'm sure my Brother, his girlfriend, and my friend were looking at me like I was a child, running back and forth between the exhibits, pointing at the animals- as if they couldn't see the giant giraffe standing ten feet away, or the group of elephants that were relaxing in the shade without me pointing them out.

Fast forward through about three more hours of really great animals, some relaxing at the food court, and the group of us quickly growing tired from the heat and exertion of walking around, and we get to the primate exhibit. For those of you that have never been to the Fort Worth Zoo, I feel like you should, and for some reason, everyone is always awed by the primate house, I mean, it is pretty cool.

The gorillas in particular never seem to be extremely happy about being there however- mostly because the way their face is shaped, but in other part probably because they have about a thousand people come by them every day, press their faces up to their glass, and mock them. I'm sure it's an exhausting day-job (if you're wondering what their night job is, they sing in jazz-clubs). In particular today, however- one ape was soaking up the attention.

While this gorilla was chowing down and tolerating (if not enjoying) the attention from all the parents and their children, photographing and taking videos of a monkey eating (so exhilarating and rare- right?), the one in the other exhibit was acting particularly annoyed with people (we will call him Harvey from now on, for briefness' sake), and was avoiding all the glass places where people could look at it. I'm sitting down, waiting for people to get bored and move on, so that I could snap a couple pictures and move to the next exhibit and lo and behold, Harvey comes over and starts eating next to the glass, probably because that's the only place food was left. Nathan pointed out to me that Harvey was in camera view, and told me to hurry and snap a couple pictures, before he slunk away again. I of course, obliged because I didn't want to go away empty-handed and without pictures from the primate house, and the other people didn't seem to be moving anytime soon.

This is a quick before picture. That is- before the incident. Harvey noticed I was taking a picture, and was none to happy, he gave me the meanest look I've ever seen in my life. Thinking "ooh, he's mean muggin' me!" I stayed put, trying to get a picture of his angry face. Bad. Idea. Angry gorillas, are not pleasant. One second he was standing up, presumably to walk off because he was sick of the people, and the next minute. He was picking up a pile of poo and charging the glass. He slammed up against the glass with a tremendous thud- banged on the glass a couple of times (from what I assumed, because at this point I had instinctively closed my eyes from fear), and then flung his fistful of poo, angrily, licked his fingers clean, then sat down again- continuing to glare.

I had yelped- or at least I think I did. It was either me or Nathan, and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. We were both scared, it was something that I had never expected. If I had had my video camera setting on, Harvey would have been a YouTube sensation- probably with a million likes by the end of the week. People flocked over, asking what happened, laughing hysterically at the poo smeared on the glass. I walked away. I did not want to be present when he flung himself at the glass again- because somewhere deep inside me, I knew that this time, he would somehow make it through, and he'd be after me- the one who started it all. We left, wondering why he was so angry that day, going on and on about how freaky it was that Harvey was so angry, and Nathan making a phone call to a friend about the "crazy thing that just happened". I now understand why people say "that person went ape".

But all in all, it was a really great day. I love all the pictures I got- and I had a great time with my friends. I can't wait to fly out tomorrow and start an adventure that I'm sure is going to be full of surprises- hopefully none as frightful as what I experienced today. Talk to you from Ukraine.

Sunday, May 20

Four Days

I am leaving for Ivankiv in four days. I don't think it's completely real to me yet- I mean, yes- I know I'm going, but I don't think the shock of actually being gone from my home for ten weeks, the longest I've ever gone without seeing my family, has really hit me. I had a going away party and I had a great time, I love seeing my friends, even if it is to say a bittersweet goodbye.

I am leaving for Ivankiv in four days. I've finally started to pack. I set out all my clothing, making sure that nothing needed to be washed or mended. I picked out shoes and put a few pairs of earrings in a mint tin. I've gathered my swimsuit, noted to myself to buy batteries for my camera, and realized that my travel blow drier is missing.

I am leaving for Ivankiv in four days. I'm trying to teach myself Russian, it's not going so well. As if learning a new language wasn't enough, Russian has a completely different alphabet, and no matter what I do, I know that everything I learn will leave me as soon as I step off the plane. I remember now that I need to go to the bookstore and buy a phrasebook.

I am leaving for Ivankiv in four days. I think about my flight, and how long it will be. I've never been in a plane for more than a few hours, and I most definitely have never flown over an ocean. It will be interesting- I don't think I'm anxious about it, but then again, we will find out the truth when I look out a window and see a vast expanse of water. I've refused to watch Castaway for this very reason- also on the list of movies I refuse to watch right now: Snakes on a Plane, Red Eye, and Flightplan.

I am leaving for Ivankiv in four days. I am so grateful to everyone who has made this possible. I know I wouldn't be able to do what I'm doing right now if it were not for the generosity of other people. I wouldn't be packing, I wouldn't be learning Russian, I wouldn't be boarding a plane if it were not for other people. I could never have done this on my own. I am so blessed by God and the people in his kingdom that I get to do amazing work this summer.