Uncertain Future

Hey everybody! Ellie here. I am currently in America with Dad’s blog computer. So I will be posting the blog for you, but not writing it, excepting this little segment. Being in America with my Uncle Matt’s family is really special, but at the same time I miss Ukraine so much. I have come to realize that I am no more American than I am Ukrainian, I may even be more Ukrainian than American. It has been a blessing to be here and to gain a more expanded worldview. Seeing how another family, culture, and American churches function is fascinating. May God use this time that I have here to bring glory to himself. 

Have a blessed day.

image

Ellie with one of Matt’s kids.

 

Six months

Six months of war…

Six months of killing…

Six months of separated families…

Six months of anxiety…I

Six months of confusion…

But six months of feeling closer to God.

To be frank, I feel more unsure about the future than at any time in my life - and this despite a renewed desire for God’s presence or perhaps “comfort” or strength.  I have a lot of questions.

My father taught me to play chess when I was 7 years old in his study in Tasmania.  (I still take pleasure from playing the greatest strategy game of all time and involve myself in battles through my phone.)  Something decent chess players must do is look several moves ahead in order to determine the best move now.  Ultimately, our ability to do so determines whether we win or lose.  We look for the most likely moves of our opponent and then attack or defend.

Russia invaded on Feb. 24, making a major push for Kiev.  I only started believing it might happen a few days before the 24th.   We went through a month of not knowing, (but half expecting), Russia to break through and occupy our town; and so we prepared for this while evacuating people from Kiev and a few other towns.  Our Christian community was strong during this time, and it was really our great privilege to love a lot of different people in different ways.

Russian troops retreated from Kiev approximately a month after attacking.  A few weeks later, a team from our church was able to make our first trip north to some villages that had seen intense battles.  For the last four months, we have made weekly trips up there, excepting for during the kids camps and a wedding trip down south to Dnipro.

So… the questions…

1. When do we return to “life as normal”?

2. How long will this war continue at this level of intensity?

3. Will nuclear weapons be used, or nuclear power stations blow up?

4. Will we have electricity and gas during the cold winter, or will these services be targeted?

5. Do we keep on focusing a lot of effort on helping people rebuild and on evangelism?

6. Do we continue in Noviy Bikiv or go closer to the northern border and work there?

7. What sort of prep. do we need to make for the winter?  How difficult is it going to get?

8. Should we plan to take in more refugees into the church building?

9. Do we offer the church building as a warm place for study/learning for children?

10. Should we go ahead and run the conference for parents we were planning to do before the war broke out?

11. Should we actively work on expanding the rehab ministry now?

These questions are my pieces on the chessboard… and to continue the analogy; “it’s hard knowing how to proceed because I can’t see all the pieces of my opponent”.

It’s likely not a life and death game… but my choices will affect the lives of a lot of people so that they suffer more or suffer less/experience salvation or not/ and grow in their faith more or grow in their faith less.

I’d appreciate your prayers.

The Ukrainian summer is drawing to a close.  It’s been a superb season for apples and pears this year and trees all over the town are laden with them.  We expect perfect weather for repairing roofs and working on houses over the next couple of weeks as we see out August.  But as is the case every year, I have a dread in the back of my conscious mind of the approaching months of deadly cold.

As I type, I hear the rolling thunder of some new big guns from the range nearby.  It’s a comforting noise.  Our lads are training and will use their learning to defend us.

Occasionally, someone asks me how the war is going.  I smile and, depending on who is asking, normally give a non-committal answer.  People here generally expect it to go on for at least another year though.  Maybe…???  Can we hold out?  Probably…???  Which way is the victory needle leaning right now?  I have no bankable opinion… and yet hope says “maybe in Ukraine’s favour”???

Since I last wrote, Pris and Elle went to a family reunion in the States for a couple of weeks.  Elle stayed on with Priscilla’s brother, Matthew, and his family.  She will leave the US at the end of September and work on finishing off her last year of schooling here at home.  That goal has taken a bit of a hit this year.  She’ll get there eventually, though.

I wanted to use this blog to give praise to God for His blessings on our children.  We’ve been greatly encouraged by the improvement in health of Jesse and Angie, (both in Australia), over the last few months.  For both of them, it has been a long haul.  God has given grace and had mercy on them, allowing them to give Him glory during their suffering and now giving them healing from the illnesses that “inflicted” them.  Our Father is wise, loving, merciful and worthy of praise.  

Awesome and Tragic

Over 100 days of full-scale war… both awesome and tragic.

God has decreed that Ukraine stand against this evil for over 100 days. Considering the strength behind the evil, that’s pretty impressive. After living for more than 30 years in Ukraine, I have 100’s of friends and acquaintances spread out over the country. Some have lost homes. Some have fled. 10 have picked up weapons to defend us. Some are behind enemy lines. I’m grateful to God, (who has given skill), and to the men, (who are risking their lives), for the 100+ days of holding out against the might of invading Russia. It’s truly awesome.

It has also been awesome because of the effect this has had on our hearts. Formidable fear is something we all dealt with, and many people continue to deal with, (especially those closer to the fighting than we are now). This fear is interesting because it settles over your heart like a wet blanket and doesn’t lift. It isn’t mentally incapacitating, like some fears… but it is immensely sobering. For many of us, the desire to play games, joke, watch movies, or indulge in any form of entertainment was totally in abeyance. (In fact, the thought was repulsive.) Instead, sober-mindedness and God-awareness filled our lives. I must have talked about the Lord to over 100 people who don’t yet know God’s forgiveness in the last 100 days. Just about everyone had very open hearts. This sort of fear is something God uses to bring good into our lives.

And “tragic”? How much evil has been committed by men who have been morally unchained? How much suffering is occurring in the lives of those attacked? It’s way beyond sad. All of us are incapable of perfection and prone to sin. We get that. But deliberate destruction on a terrible scale by the Russians against the soldiers and civilians of Ukraine is beyond the pale… and simply tragic.

Quite obviously, the Russian army is concentrating its power on the central-east battles right now. From all reports, they are paying a high price for what they gain. But the gain is still theirs. They are taking some serious hits in the south, along the Black Sea, as well. The big question remains, “When will Putin call it a day?”

I talked with a quite intelligent man today who refuses to take his family back to Kiev. “It’s not safe yet and it’s not over yet.” Will Kiev again see Russian soldiers on her outskirts before this is over? I don’t think so… buuuut.

We continue to take teams of people up north. We’ve made 8 trips so far, (of three days each), and worked on over 20 houses or buildings. It has been a beautiful way of loving and sharing about relationship with God.  He has already been glorified.  We would love it if He would be glorified through the salvation of souls, as well!

clip_image004This last visit, I worked with these four incredible girls cleaning up everything that had fallen inwards when this house was bombed. The guys were off doing roofs and windows. The girls were veritable champions!

clip_image005The young father who lost this house seemed pretty matter of fact about his loss. I landed the easy task of picking up glass shards and brick pieces from his garden plot with him and he shared that he reckoned they would be ok. He would keep working and would rebuild slowly. (Good on him.) We will be inviting him to the first Bible study we will hold in a couple of weeks.

I also had the privilege of helping Ded Kolya put his ceiling back together again after the front of his house was pierced by shards of at least one bomb. This old gentleman went through a lot during the occupation. Tears come easy still… but even though he refers to the Russian soldiers as “orcs”, he doesn’t seem to hate them.

We are looking towards the east and south as potential “next-focus-areas”… but it wouldn’t be wise to take teams down there at this stage. Work parties that will fix roofs and walls and tidy up are definitely my passion. But for now, it seems wiser to limit our involvement to taking humanitarian aid into these areas.

Last week, we received good news regarding extensions on our visas. We ran into a hiccup because of some bad information we were innocently given and ultimately had to pay a fine due to late submission of our documents. It looks like it will all be fine though, and we will not have to leave. A big relief.

God continues to delight. It is our privilege to serve and love Him.

Please pray for victory for Ukraine.  It’s a simple prayer for a country that has been attacked by a “Hitler”.  May God have mercy on us.

Pray for the salvation of souls who are hearing and understanding the gospel for the first time!  If reports are true, thousands are visiting churches and coming to Christ at this time.

Pray for us as we make decisions going forward regarding where we choose to love.

Pray for those who have been displaced – millions and millions.  God will have mercy on many of them and adopt them into His family.  Pray for this.

May God help you and us give Him glory!clip_image007

God takes away security in the temporal to bless some of us eternally

image_6487327 (1)

Greetings…

War brings some restrictions to us. I went ahead and listed 7 and then deleted them. Why?  There are 1000’s of people still in Mariupol – barely surviving and living in constant fear of death. Kharkiv is being bombed daily. Izyum still has about 20,000 people in it – with only 20% of the houses still standing.  (There is talk about it going down in history as the “new Bucha”. )  Kherson is occupied.  (Women and children are permitted to leave… sometimes and often being killed on the way out.)  I could go on and on.   

My list, while it may have been interesting, was plumb odious in the face of all of the suffering that is occurring in other parts of Ukraine. I couldn’t leave it in this blog.

One point that I will share with you though is that we are restricted in what we can film or take photos of. There is a request by the authorities not to take any footage of anything that might give the enemy info that they could use when attacking. (That includes army vehicles/installations/block-posts/defenses.) I will be careful with this.

There is also a tricky thing to navigate: We don’t want to be perceived of as using people we love here in order to entertain or inform you. There are many times when we can share our lives with you… and that includes interaction with the people here with whom we serve God. But there are lots of times that it would be foolish and dishonoring to do so. There’s also a fine line between filming devastation to give you a good understanding of what God has us doing and filming it to entertain… and I don’t want to get close to that line.

viber_image_2022-04-22_14-37-38-335

We’ve just arrived home from a few days north-east of Kiev. David, Sasha, Igor, Mitya, Tolic, Tolic, and Misha went on this “exploratory” and work trip, (first photo above). We left early Monday morning in two vehicles. I dropped off a family of refugees in a village on the way, and then travelled on… meeting the lads mid-morning in Nova Basan. We talked with the mayor of the town who sent us to the next town along to help there. Both villages had seen a lot of devastation… but the brave bomb disposal lads had been through, and people were cleaning up slowly.

image_67149569We met the mayor in the next village over who directed us to the large two-story town hall. The roof had received two bombs on it and basically all the windows were shattered. We put a temporary repair job in place and plastic sheets over the areas where the bombs had exploded… and took it upon ourselves to help the young lady who was going through the rooms one-by-one cleaning them up. (What a daunting task!)

The Russians had kept two divisions in this town spread out over the area – staying in homes and sleeping in bomb shelters. The soviet-era bomb shelter of the town hall must have held about 70 Russians, we estimated. (Taking that into consideration, I guess it could have been a lot worse inside.) If you want to see more from the town, I posted a YouTube clip of it that you can check out on “Dan Gollan”. I labelled it, “Trip North”.

We talked with a number of locals. Most of our time was spent working on three different buildings, but we shall go back, and next time, I’d like to have a couple of people dedicated to spending the majority of their time talking with people.

image_50418689Our two weeks of kids’ club went swimmingly. School is out until at least September. Parents were very grateful. The 35-45 kids that attended loved it. Us volunteers loved it too. Actually, we announced that we would have kids’ club each Thursday for a month and to my surprise, today even got some new kids. (We may revise the once-a-week thing in a couple of weeks and do another week-long event, but we shall see.)

Russia looks as if it has given up on the idea of taking Kiev… at least for now. That is good news for those in our area. Today, sitting with a group of five ladies, we talked about the war for over an hour. Ordinary people, (even ladies), have picked up a heap of war-jargon and talk theories and discuss the latest news! Amazing. The general belief amongst most people though, seems to be that while Russia has taken some big knocks, we still have a long road ahead of us. Infrastructure has already been incredibly damaged. (I checked this morning and saw that the prime minister has said that US$600 Billion will be needed to repair/rebuild what Russia has destroyed.) Our GDP is taking a shocking hit. People are out of work and beginning to fear for the future. And thousands have died. In a sense, there is no way we can win this war. Even if Russia leaves, it would be strange to call it a victory. Sure, when Russia retreated from the Kiev area, it was an incredible relief. When Russia finally goes home, it will be an incredible relief. That relief, however; will be very much tempered by awareness of what we have lost.

God has seen fit to take away our security, our prosperity, our sense of well-ness and general expectation that the future will be comfortable. May He replace it with hearts that worship and trust Him, eh?  Would that be a worthwhile swap

  image_67196673image_50772993image_50437633

The end of a Sunday

image_123986672I’m home.

It’s been a nice quiet day.  Every time someone thanks God for His blessing of giving us a quiet town –  my thoughts go to those who are still in Mariupol or Kharkov or the Irpen area, north-west of Kiev.  God isn’t having mercy on everyone.  There are thousands and thousands of people who are living in fear surrounded by death and have nothing to warm themselves with…  Five or six days ago now, I pushed through the emotionally infused question of “how long does this have to go on!?”  We are living in comparative peace and the burden is heavy.  It has to be 10 times as heavy for those under the missiles! 

I’ve been humbled by the response of the church in the west.  So many people have written letting us know that they are praying for us and the church and town and country.  How many?  I’ll love finding out in eternity.  I was talking with Pris today and she was exclaiming at how strong she has felt.  I’m astounded at how I’m doing with so little sleep and the pressures of making all these unusual decisions and feeling stretched on so many levels.  Does the answer to this lie in the prayers of God’s people?  Surely.

Pris and Elle and Cheryl continue to serve at the refugee centre in the west.  It’s actually been a bit ironic.  When they were here, we had a lot of people coming and staying in the church building.  Since they left one week ago, we’ve had just 11.  At the refugee camp the girls went to, they’ve had over 80 people there for the last few days… most of them wanting to move west into Poland/Germany .  Their presence has been deeply appreciated. 

I have an extremely unwelcome suspicion that Russia is going to be shelling Kiev and possibly the two cities between us and Kiev in the next few days.  (I wish to be 100% wrong, but time will tell.)  If this happens, I expect that we will get another wave of panicked city-dwellers come through Rzhyshchiv.  Then we’ll miss these three girls.  We have had Vika and Sveta and Masha serving wonderfully over this past week though and it’s been a good transition.

Pris mentioned today something that I thought I should write about:  We’re a tad sensitive about photos with refugees.  1.  We most certainly don’t want them to have the thought that they are being treated like zoo animals, or used in some way.  2.  We want to respect their privacy.  3.  We don’t want our brothers or sisters in the church to have the suspicion that we are doing things for the photo op.  Occasionally, a photo will be appropriate to post.  Mostly though, we just don’t take them.

Tomorrow, I’m going into Kiev to pick up three people and to hopefully get some tea, biscuits and other supplies from a bulk buy place.  Mitya and the boys here should be going to buy a large hothouse that can be dismantled that has come up for sale in a  nearby village – an absolute steal that we hope will reap big rewards for us if the state of the war gets darker over the next month rather than lighter.  And if things do improve, it will still be a blessing to many over the coming years.  We think that the war will call a lot of people back to the gardens… and so the plan is to also plant a load of cabbages, tomatoes, capsicums and give the transplants away to Christians and see if we can sell cheaply at the market without damaging the sales of the babushka’s who also sell transplants.  (That may be the tricky aspect of this.)  We have a few acres to plant the transplants in if we decide not to sell them…  so no serious problems there.

May God have mercy on Ukraine.

 

P.S.  Here are a few random pics I’ve taken recently:

image_50733569

image_50421249

image_17198081

image