Eastern Europe A

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Anna, Sara, Ben, Maddy, Emily, Erika, Kylee, Farnum, Loran and Myrna

Task: Working alongside SunErgos International this team will work in an orphan home for children who are considered social orphans within Eastern Europe. The team will run a day camp for the orphanage and share Bible stories with them in the hopes of reaching them with the Gospel.

Dates: May 30 – June 13

Team Arrival: Wednesday, May 31

The team has safely made it to Eastern Europe! Everyone is doing well, although they are a little tired, but all their luggage made it and they are excited to be there! They’ve asked for prayer for good sleep tonight as they fight off jet lag and for focused minds tomorrow when they begin their cultural orientation. Check back in a few days for their first full update!

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Update #1: Friday, June 2

Preevyet from Eastern Europe!

We arrived in country at 11:00 pm and we were amazed that it was still light outside. The place that we are staying is a dorm at a Christian college in the city. They rent the building out as a hostel throughout the summer, which is how they get revenue to operate the college. Farnum and Ben are in a room together, so are Maddie, Erika, and Anna. Kylee, Myrna, and Tanya are together and then the three of us (Loran, Emily, and Sarah) are roommates!

The first day  we started at 9:00 am with breakfast. We were impressed with the food and met our hilarious, fabulous, animated cook/friend Valentin. We then had cultural orientation and we were excited to become more acquainted with the people we would be spending so much time with. We had a lesson about the metro and had to put that into practice right away when we began our sightseeing in the heart of the city.

The first place we visited was the Spilled Blood Cathedral (named because it was built on the location where an emperor was fatally wounded), which was incredible and beautiful. It was covered in mosaic representations of Bible stories and we were awe-struck. Next we went to the central Orthodox Church to experience the religion that the majority of the country still practices. The women of our team wore head coverings out of respect for the faith and as we walked to the church, we each received a white flower made by a child in celebration of National Children’s Day. It was a good reminder that even though we were sightseeing, the reason we are here is for the kids.

Today was our first day with the kids. We were anxious and excited to meet them! The time we spent with them exceeded our expectations. None of it would have been possible without our awesome translators. Sarah worked with the little kids (3-11) and her favorite part of the day was getting to know them. She said that the kids warmed up to them easily and were so excited to have someone there to play with and spend time with. Even though there was a language barrier, they formed some strong bonds and the kids were already excited to see them again tomorrow.

Loran and Emily worked with the teens (12-17). Emily was nervous to lead the lesson, but they received her well and were open and vulnerable with sharing and participating. Overall, the kids were filled with energy and were excited that we were there. They asked why we were here and were pleasantly surprised to know that it was just for them. They made us sweet cards and friendship bracelets and had fun playing sports with Farnum. We are all excited to go back tomorrow.

We all want to say “Hi Mom!” Check back in a few days for more updates and know that we miss you all!

            Much love,

            Sarah, Loran, Emily and the team.

P.S. – Loshka kartoshka! (Which means “spoon potato” and you’ll have to wait until we return to find out why that phrase is now important to our team!)

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Update #2: Monday, June 5

Hello, loved ones!

Since you last heard from us we’ve been extremely busy having fun with the children, getting to know them and exploring the city. The group that is working with the younger kids (Anna, Sarah, Erika, Ben, and Myrna) have made many crafts including noisemakers, (which was a little crazy considering they were filled with skittles) paper doves, and clocks. After crafts, the kids are more than excited to play games and have made Ben their human jungle gym. The other half of our team (Madison, Emily, Loran, Kylee, and Farnum) is working with the teens and have been playing competitively through a lot of interactive games and having heart-to-heart conversations. The boys love playing ball with Farnum and the girls love teaching the team Russian.

After spending four days with the kids and teens, each member of the team has made a deeper connection with one of the kids, if not multiple. Yesterday we went shopping at a Russian tourist store, so moms and dads you will be very blessed with goodies when we come home ;). We’ve learned a lot about Russian culture, sometimes through trial and error. Erika got some funny looks and a light scolding in the metro for fixing her shoe on the edge of a seat, and Maddy got flagged down by a young Burger King worker who was passing out flyers; he was mesmerized by her American accent.

Thus far the relationships with the kids and us at the center has been a remarkable experience! Everyday we wake up and are excited to see the kids and spend time with them, and when we arrive at the center they are waiting to hang out with us, each one overflowing with so much excitement and enthusiasm. Tonight we ventured out into the heart of the city to see the Russian ballet perform Swan Lake! We are grateful to be here and are looking forward to updating each of you more in person!

Thank you for your support! We love and miss you!! Dasvedanya for now! Bye!

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Update #3: Thursday, June 8

Hey Everyone! Kylee (teens) and Ben (kids) here to fill you in on what’s been happening over here in Eastern Europe!

Life has been full speed ahead the past few days. The teens have become much more comfortable with us as well as more vulnerable and open with us. We are learning a lot more of their language and they have learned some English. Still most of our communication is through animated facial expressions, gestures, and awkward laughter.

We have covered a variety of topics over the past couple days including kindness, patience, and making good choices. It has brought about a lot of discussion on their current situations and how they can respond right now in life. The past two days we have been able to spend most of our time outside with the kids. This is a privilege for the kids and a blessing for the staff to be able to have some help supervising. We play a lot of soccer and frisbee as well as hang out and chat.

This afternoon I, (Kylee), spent most of my time with the teen girls learning the language and met some other kids in the neighborhood. We were thrilled today to see some of the toughest girls in the group coming out of their shells, which included lots of hugs and volleyball.

Tonight during debrief Tanya told us the stories of most of the kids in the center and we will learn the rest tomorrow. Some of them aren’t so bad, just mistakes and miscommunication that resulted in them being in this facility for a short while. Others are heartbreaking and hard to understand how parents would not be willing to fight for their kids. It was the much-needed motivation to finish out our last three days strong and love on the kids as much as possible!

I (Ben) have never understood why nap-time for kids has been such a big deal…but I get it now.The kids we’ve worked with have been bursting with energy from the time we meet them in the morning to when we leave in the afternoon. This has been challenging at times, but we are steadily building relationships of trust with them, something most of them haven’t experienced much of in their past. The older boys love play fighting and are always looking for opportunities to jump on my back and shoulders, but I’ve noticed that it is becoming easier and easier to have more in-depth conversations with them.  The younger kids mostly babble when they talk to us (according to our translator), but it has been a great joy to watch them laugh and play in an environment that is both safe and constructive.  Our entire team asks that you pray specifically for the ability to have deeper conversations with kids of all ages. 

Throughout our time here, we’ve also had several opportunities to go sightseeing and shopping.  On Thursday we were sent off in pairs on an “assignment” to various Orthodox cathedrals and markets.  Loran and I were paired up and made our way to St. Andrew’s Cathedral to answer several questions regarding the cathedral’s history, which wasn’t very easy to do since, between the two of us, the only one who spoke a decent amount of the language was Google Translate.  Nevertheless, we succeeded, bartered for some oranges Tanya asked us to buy from the market, and headed back to our living area via the Metro.  However, on the way back, we got a bit overconfident, and took the train leading in the opposite direction of our stop, adding about 15 extra minutes to our journey.  Despite this, it was still interesting to see parts of the Metro we hadn’t been to before.

Just as my past trips have been life-changing, this one has been as well.  I’ve always felt that touching the lives of others in foreign countries has been one of my stronger callings, and whether you have supported me through prayer, monetary means, or both, thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity to not only grow myself as a believer, but to also reach out and plant Christ’s seed in the hearts of the lost. 

Until next time!

Kylee, Ben and the Team!

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Update #4: Monday, June 12

Hey Everyone!

Kylee here, writing an update for the last time. The team is currently packing up and planning an all-nighter before the flight tomorrow. We will be departing at 3 am and taking off for home, but before our long journey begins we wanted to let you know what has happened the last couple of days.

Friday was a special day for the teen group. We started off the day doing our usual morning routine with the kids, but we returned that evening after dinner for a dance party! We got some music playing, brought nail polish, and took polaroid photos of the kids that they can keep. We had so much fun just being with the kids and hanging out. Then Saturday for our craft we made picture frames with the kids for their photos. We spent the day inside because it was raining again, but still played lots of fun games. We also performed the Lifehouse “Everything” skit about the girl facing life’s peer pressures. It was really cool to see the team come together to put on the skit, and to also see the kids’ reaction to the skit. You could tell they were moved and interested in what was happening. Emily killed it with the teen discussion group explaining how she faced similar pressures and how she responded by choosing Jesus.

Sunday was our last day at the center. It was the hardest day for all of us. We went outside with the kids again, which was really special. We taught the teens how to play Ultimate Frisbee, then ended the morning sitting outside chatting about life. We gave out gifts to the kids and were amazed at the gifts they had prepared for us. Tears were shed, hugs were given, and goodbyes and “I love you’s” were said. However, I know the impact each of those kids had on this teams’ lives will never fade.

After lunch, we went to Tanya’s apartment in the city to begin debriefing. We drew, journaled, and even made a skit about our time here in Russia. We spent time together and encouraged one another as we processed our time here and what it meant to each of us. Our last day, today, was spent finishing our debriefing and some last bit of tourism. We went to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, one of the most famous landmarks in the city. We climbed to the top and could see the entire city. It was spectacular! After the cathedral, we went out to dinner with our translators to Pizza Hut. (We all RELLY enjoyed our pizza!) It was fun to spend time with them and learn more about them outside of the center.

So there you have it: Our last few days in a nutshell! We are excited to get home and share with you more about our experiences! Team B is coming not long after us and will be working in the same ministry so keep checking out the blog to keep hearing about this amazing ministry and these kids!

Thank you for reading along, praying with us and for your support! We’ll see you soon!

Kylee and the team

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Team Return: Team Eastern Europe A made it home safely! Thank you to everyone who prayed along with their ministry efforts and supported them through reading their blog updates! Check out stories from the team headed to this same location to follow-up on the work they did, Eastern Europe B!