Still Alive

Hello supporters!! We want to thank you so much for your patience with our blog posting. I’m sure some of you were hoping for more immediate posts and updates and we were often unable due to wifi/energy/scheduling. Our week+ in Ukraine was very intense, with a pretty unrelenting schedule. We had fun and learned a lot, but had about 45 minutes of free time total, during the entire stay in Lviv and not much more at camp. (That’s how you know it was a worthwhile learning and serving opportunity though! 😉 )

We are taking a few days to let our bodies and minds process everything that we experienced, and will bounce into relaying details very soon, so don’t lose hope yet! We are excited to share everything that you helped us experience.

In the meantime, enjoy reading about days 3, 4, and 5 of camp, and the beautiful ministry that HART supports just outside of Lutsk, Ukraine.

With love, your team

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Day 5 (Peeyat): 21 Aug 2017 – Athletics, Teambuilding & a Ukrainian Song from Africa

Sluggish start to this morning. Pastor Sascha led the lead team devotional; emphasizing the point that we must depend on Christ for our strength.

Rehearsed “My Lighthouse” again with intention of repeating it during morning worship, but together with the in-house worship band of camp leaders. Didn’t happen however, due to a number of factors. We proposed the idea to the band, but they were not comfortable with the idea of playing together. Reasonable, considering no rehearsal together beforehand. They figured we could just do the song as HtH, and they would fit us in somewhere in the program. Kelly and Tara also felt unwell right around the time we would have been on “stage”.

This also exemplified a strange dynamic between the two cultures. We were coming from the perspective of wanting to add value to what is already happening here.  We don’t want to be perceived as expecting the camp leads to let us perform, trying to force ourselves into their program. However, as we found out later in the day, the Ukrainian leaders and campers were very pleased to include us, and wondered why we were not wanting to sing more! They had heard we were a musical group, and yet we came across to them as not really being eager to sing!

Once this miscommunication was cleared up, we had a magical moment at the evening campfire. I (Reid) had confirmed through our translators that our Ukrainian version of the African song “There’s No One Like Jesus” made sense, and we sang it with the entire camp.  We started in English, and everyone got used to the feel and melody of the song. When we switched to Ukrainian lyrics, however, everyone was up on their feet!

Teambuilding. My (Reid’s) team was shown a large circle drawn in chalk on the pavement, with a pop bottle standing in the centre. We were given a few ropes with which we were to devise a way to suspend a person above the circle, so s/he could grab the bottle then carry it out of the circle. We devised something like a spider web that could hold one of the smaller boys, and we successfully retrieved the bottle in less than a minute. This was quite a contrast to the previous day’s challenge, trying to get 10 people over a suspended string 2 feet off the ground, while all holding hands and no talking and no touching the string. We worked at this for a full hour and ultimately failed.

Most remarkable about these two teambuilding experiences was deliberate post-activity reflection, asking questions: Why did we fail? Why did we succeed? What can we learn from this experience in other parts of life? The teams also prayed together both before and after each activity. These were great habits to model for these kids!

 

Day 4 (Chotyry): 20 Aug 2017 – Fatigue, Questions & Garbage Bag Dresses

Camp can be an exhausting experience, particularly for leaders. They are usually the first people awake, and the last to go to bed. In addition, leaders are always trying to relationally connect with the kids, plan and execute fun activities. All of this requires a lot of energy! Kelly led a wonderful devotional during the 7:00 leaders meeting, based on Ephesians 4, which speaks to the varied gifts believers are each given, and that we are all equipped for ministry.  Part of being equipped involves receiving enough energy to carry out the ministry tasks we are called to.

With that encouragement, we were off on another camp day!IMG_2147

After another breakfast of corn flakes with hot milk, accompanied by bread/ham/cream cheese and hot sweet tea, our team rehearsed a song for the morning worship session. Several people had noticed we were singing one of the worship songs in English – “My Lighthouse” originally by Rend Collective – and requested we teach it to the group. Alex played guitar, Kelly on violin, Sarah on mandolin, Thane on cajon and vocals, Christina and Tara on vocals, and Darrell on prayer support.

With the kids in another bible study with their leaders, we had another HtH team check-in.  This was a tough heart-to-heart session. While we agree that there are many elements of camp that are fun and we have learned some interesting realities about Ukraine these past few days, many of us are still struggling with answering why we are at this camp. Are we just wasting space by being here? Are we really adding value to the camp and its people? With the language barrier, it is hard to tell. Could we be violating the very principles we learned in “Helping Without Hurting”, a book we have been reading as a team in advance of the trip? How does our being here advance HtH’s mission? Or HART’s mission? It was good to remind ourselves that this is an HtH Learning & Serving trip, and that our first purposes are to learn and to serve. Sometimes it’s hard to see what you are learning from an experience when you’re in the middle of it.

It was a much cooler weather day here, so there was no swimming in the lake again. Instead there was free play time; some of us played a game that combines Frisbee with something like basketball. Lunch consisted of seasoned rice with beef, plus potato and carrot soup.  We have been consistently impressed by the creativity and excellence of the kitchen staff!

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Our third ESL class involved a repeat play of the frenetic XYO game, followed by a game we invented where we got the kids to imagine going on a trip, and had them pull and name things from our bag that we had filled with everyday things. I (Reid) missed the ESL class today; I was requested by the staff medic to instead join a different masterclass on First Aid skills. She had given this class earlier in the week, and had reviewed basic CPR (chest compressions and rescue breathing).  Her plan for this session was that she would teach bandaging to some kids, while I taught them how to measure blood pressure with a portable sphygmomanometer. While it was fun to teach a new skill to the kids and they seemed to show great interest, I’m not sure what their likelihood is of using this skill in the future.

The afternoon wide game was a version of Capture the Flag, where the flag was hidden inside old cardboard boxes (interestingly, branded with ‘Samaritan’s Purse’), and the players tried to prevent the opposing team from taking their flag by removing handkerchiefs tucked into their back pocket. Somewhat violent, but fun!

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Most of our team took another stroll off campus for a quick ice cream treat before supper. Kelly found a more unique treat called “halva”, a crumbly paste-like dessert made from sesame seeds. Supper was cooked cabbage/carrot/onion on top of mashed potato.

After supper, some of our team played card games, while a couple of the camp leaders asked me (Reid) to teach them to play some ukulele. When they asked me how much my instrument cost, I hesitated, because I didn’t know where this discussion might lead. I decided to tell the truth, that I bought it in a tourist store in Hawaii for about $300 CDN, which is about 6000 Ukrainian hryvinia.  These camp leaders just about fell over with shock, and gave back the ukulele for fear of breaking it. Clearly, such a sum is out of reach for these young adults.

The evening program was held inside again due to weather. We failed to mention in previous blogs the impressive AV team that has been assembled for this camp. At least two staff are devoted to capturing each day in photos and videos. At morning worship each day, we have watched a fully-edited video put to music, appearing quite professional! Several slideshows of photos have also been generated; hopefully we will be given permission to share some of the best of those photos with you!

The campfire started with a fun event of a fashion show competition, where each team dressed up one of their members using only garbage bags, and the best costume won.

This was also another potent evening, where another 7 kids responded to the altar call after Pastor Sascha’s gospel message. Fantastic!  This was followed by a special treat: snack of homemade jam-filled croissants and a dip in a campfire-heated outdoor hot tub!

Another memorable moment at the end of this day: Thane communicating with the other boys in his dorm room until quite late, using Google Translate to ask and respond to questions. Thane had expressed earlier how much he loved this camp experience, but also how frustrated he was in trying to communicate with the fellow campers. Then he discovered how to convert the iPhone keyboard to Cyrillic, which allowed more conversation with these peers through technology. God bless Google! Pretty cool.

Day 3 (Trey): 19 Aug 2017 – Hats, Songs & Altar Calls

The rooster and the sun woke us up again in time for our 7:00 am camp leaders meeting. This morning, Sarah was given the opportunity to lead the staff devotional. She spoke to the truth that God sees and knows every person, no matter how different we all are from each other. Even when I have trouble seeing you and appreciating you because of our differences, God sees and knows you. Jesus gave the ultimate example of this.

The staff asked for our feedback about our first day of camp. We praised the staff for their excellent planning of daily activities, for their commitment to preaching, Bible exposition, and prayer. I (Reid) find it quite remarkable how much time is devoted to planting the seeds of faith in these kids at this camp.

 

Then came a special surprise! The camp staff blessed us each with ball caps with the letters “HD” printed on them. The camp theme for this week is “Timeline HD”, which we understand to mean they intend to explore and reveal the overall timeline of God in history in “high definition”. Many of the leaders were already wearing these caps, and their giving us each a cap was as if they were welcoming us to the lead team.

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One idea I explored was to adapt a song we learned for our South Africa L & S trip 6 years ago. The chorus goes “there’s no one, there’s no one like Jesus; there’s no one, there’s no one like Him”.  We had learned a singable Zulu translation before. I tried punching the lyrics into Google Translate to see if there was a singable Ukrainian version. However, a funny result happened when I tried reverse translating it back to English: “there’s no such thing as Jesus, there’s no such thing as him!”.  Oops!  Fortunately, we adapted it again and checked it with one of our translators Oksana, and she assured us the Ukrainian lyrics make sense now… We will try the song out in the next couple of days.

There was no swimming today, due to an alleged theft of money from a couple of the campers. The staff gave a chance for the guilty party to return the money, however, this didn’t happen, so everyone’s swimming privilege was revoked as a consequence.

After lunch we hosted another ESL session. Some returning campers, many new faces today. We figured a respectful way to divide them into a beginner group and a more advanced group. The beginners practiced greetings, and learned “Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes” song.  The advanced group played charades, a guess the animal game (with drawings by Thane!). Then we brought the groups together for a game called XYO, which Sarah says is a Pioneer camp favourite. It was a fun session. Many of the campers have been starting to be more comfortable with our group, inviting us into their experience here.

Another wide game followed.  Each player was given a card which outlined your army (team) and your rank (eg. General, major, captain, soldier, flag bearer). Then everyone ran around the camp trying to catch each other; the higher ranking officer would catch the junior and report the catch at the launch table, where staff kept running tallies. Each catch was worth a certain number of points, and the team with the highest point tally won.

The game was ended when the staff surprised the campers with water balloons and buckets flying from the second story windows above. This triggered a camp-wide water fight! Many of us watched the mayhem from a distance, but Thane and Sarah got right into the action!

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With no swimming today, there was another lull before dinner. A few of us joined our translators for a stroll into town to get ice cream at a local canteen. Interestingly, this was our first exposure to a more rural Ukrainian village. It had a similar feel to being in other developing countries when you leave the all-inclusive resort. You don’t have to travel far outside the camp bubble to see more evidence of the material poverty here.

Campfire had a distinctly different flavour tonight, because it began to rain and forced everyone inside. In addition, the electricity went out, and as of bedtime, it still had not turned back on. So the evening gospel message was given in the chapel by flashlight, which gave the room a particularly more sober mood. In this setting, we witnessed at least 6 campers respond to the altar call and give their lives to Christ! After that, the campers also separated into their groups to have deep, life changing conversations. It turned out to be a pretty holy moment.

Day 2 (Dvah): 18 Aug 2017 Camp on!

We woke up as the sunrise came through the window of our bunkroom, and the sounds of a crowing rooster and a barking dog outside. It had been a hot, sticky night.

Camp leaders assembled for a 7:00 a.m. meeting, including a devotional from the apparent camp pastor/teacher named Sascha. He was the same teacher who gave the gospel message at last night’s campfire. There was then a review of the day’s schedule. In the afternoon, there would be a ‘masterclass’ block, where the kids could choose from one of three classes, including our ESL session.  It became clear that the camp leaders had no specific plans or expectations of us for these sessions; we are all winging it.

Mourning the morning leaders meeting, instant coffee was critical!

Campers were given their reveille, and encouraged to join outside for a physical wake-up session of Zumba!  Basically some fun and light aerobics. A yummy breakfast followed: cream of wheat, yellow plums, and a doughnut-like pastry with jam and condensed milk to dip in. Our translators got the word out to the kitchen staff about our GF girls, and special orders of omelets appeared!

 

Another note about our three translators – Oxana, Yana, and Lyuba – we found out they were not really camp staff.  They were brought in specially to serve our team.  Oxana took a 10 hour bus ride from Warsaw to join us!  We have been trying to show our deep gratitude all day to them!

Oxana

We did get some time to connect alone as a team, separate from the campers and staff. I (Reid) led a devotional on the topic of uncertainty. I had been reminded of the stories of Abram in the Old Testament, Mary in the New Testament. In both cases, God had informed each person of His plan to take them into unfamiliar territory, into an uncertain future. The certainty in each case was God’s promise that He would be with them, that He would bless them. We took some encouragement in our current situation here at camp. We also each took time to recollect high and low moments from the previous day. A common high was our gratitude for all arriving in Ukraine safely.  Common lows were our jet lag and fatigue, and the apparent disconnect between our stationing here at summer camp and our preferred desire to see how HART’s ministry intersects with that of HtH. Hopefully this will be reconciled in the coming days.

All assembled for morning worship in the building’s chapel. There were several familiar melodies at this session and again at evening campfire – Hosanna, Mighty to Save, Cornerstone, Completely to You – all worship songs that came out of Hillsong in Australia. I (Reid) was reminded of how that influential church devotes a lot of resources to translating their music to multiple languages, to be a blessing to the global Church. It was pretty cool to be able to sing the same song with our Ukrainian friends, but in our respective languages.

We still lake it

Each of our team members was assigned to join a team of campers.  These camp teams are all named after types of candy;  Snickers, Haribo, Jelly Belly, Mojitos, Marshmallows, etc. Each team had a “teambuilding” session, where we had to solve a particular problem as a group, such as trying to get 10 people across a distance together with only 2 legs touching the ground out of the whole group.

 

It was a hot day, with a high of 32 degrees. The most inviting place on a day like that is swimming in the lake!  Most of our team took advantage of the water, a few played beach volleyball with campers, a few just rested in the shade of the nearby trees. Interestingly, the female campers were generally segregated from the male campers into two separate swimming areas.

 

Lunch was another hit, as far as camp food goes: cucumber & tomato salad, mashed potatoes, chicken skewer, and potato egg soup.  They have also served some kind of warm drink at each meal, often with a smoky taste to it. Quite unique.

 

About 25 kids came for the ESL class we facilitated. Sarah started with an exercise in simple greetings: “Hi, my name is Sarah. What is your name? Nice to meet you.”  We found out pretty quickly that most of these kids have the basics of English already from their primary schooling, as early as first grade. We transitioned to teaching them a song I (Reid) wrote for HtH last Christmas, a call-and-response song called “Fear Not”.  This seemed to keep most of the kids engaged, and we sang the song all together later that evening during the campfire time. We also tried a game involving numbers and passing a ball around a circle. Again, these kids already know their English numbers pretty solidly.  We will need to step up our game for these ESL sessions in the coming days…

 

The next activity was a wide game – a multi-team treasure hunt. There were many stations of physical challenges, deciphering clues, solving word and number puzzles, culminating in a dig for treasure in a sandy part of the camp’s grounds. The treasure seemed to be related to the 10 Commandments, and there was a treasure box containing pop and chips treats for the winners.

This wide game had us hooped

Dinner consisted of cracked wheat, a pork meatball, and cabbage salad, along with another smoky warm fruit drink. We are amazed at how little time is spent in the dining hall by most of the campers. The food is already served on plates at the tables, there is no large group prayer before the meal, and the kids are done eating and dismiss themselves from the dining hall within 10 minutes!  Certainly some differences here between this camp and how most of our team has experienced summer camp back home.

 

Another striking difference is the availability of technology at this camp. Most of these kids seem to have smartphones, and they seem to have access to them whenever they want. It would be more typical in Alberta to have camp as a tech-free zone, to take a needed break from the screens that often dominate our daily lives. We wonder if some of these kids would be more receptive and attentive to the messages if they were not distracted by texting and playing games on their phones.

The fact that the kids even have smartphones is surprising to us.  These readily available devices give us a different impression of the level of poverty these kids experience outside of camp.

I guess there are always surprises of various types when you’re far from home.

Day 1 (Odin): 17 Aug 2017. First day in Ukraine!

First full day in Ukraine! We arrived at the airport in three separate groups, because of some complicated flight bookings and one unscheduled delay. All eight of us left Calgary on the same flight to London Heathrow, but from that point, our connecting flights varied. Tara, Reid, and Thane flew through Vienna, then to Lviv. Christina went through Munich, then Warsaw, then Lviv. Alex went through Munich, then Vienna (meeting up with Tara, Reid, Thane), then Lviv. Sarah went through Geneva, then Warsaw, then Lviv. These six arrived in Ukraine in the wee hours of the night. Kelly and Darrell were to fly through Frankfurt, then Warsaw, then Lviv. However, their flight connection was much too short in Frankfurt, and they were forced to stay in Frankfurt overnight, and arrived in Lviv by midday.

Such eager beavers

We were met at the airport by Kostya, the program director for all HART operations in eastern Europe. It was wonderful to see our friend again. You could say it was our growing relationship with him that attracted us and opened the door for us to come to Ukraine. Kostya was accompanied by his brother Oleg, who also works for HART as a driver and project manager. We learned that they are twin brothers, and their 30th birthday is coming up August 28th, just after we leave Ukraine!

Twin brothers Kostya & Oleg

Oleg has been married 10 years, and he and his wife have 3 children, ages 9, 6, and almost 3 years. His wife has been on maternity leave for nearly three years, which apparently is the local standard after every birth. Employers must keep a job available for these new mothers upon their return 3 years later! That is certainly a difference from Canada!

We caught up a few sleep hours in a former monastery turned hotel; quite modest accommodation, but sufficient. We awoke to sunshine and a forecast high of 29 degrees. Kostya and Oleg picked us up again and took us to a brunch buffet at the “Big Belly House”, a restaurant in downtown Lviv. Yummy east European fare, such as potato pancakes, egg sunnyside up atop chicken schnitzel patty, grilled veg, fruit and cheese filled crepe, apple strudel.

Strolling through downtown Lviv on the way to the ‘Big Belly House’

First impressions of the city of Lviv: it is a pretty well-developed city with a lovely, quaint old European quarter in the downtown. Modern asphalt roads in the periphery, with cobblestone streets in the old town. It will be nice to hang out there some more later in the trip! Virtually everyone is Caucasian; blacks and Asians must be a rare sight here.

After picking up Kelly and Darrell at the airport, we started off towards the first destination of our Learning & Serving Trip – a summer camp for teens near the town of Lutsk, about 200km (3 hours drive) northeast of Lviv. A couple of pit stops along the way included a supermarket stop for bottled water (apparently drinking the tap water here is not recommended), and another buffet for lunch. More Ukrainian fare here: sausage, tomato/cucumber/dill salad, beet salad, plus a range of other choices. Crazy cheap! 10 people were fed full plates for a total of 600 Hyrvina, which is about $30 CDN.

Our team was split between two vehicles. Sarah, Reid, and Thane rode with Kostya, while the rest drove with Oleg in the larger passenger van that also carried our luggage. For a while, Sarah and Reid practiced some Ukrainian phrases with Kostya, and heard some of Ukraine’s challenging history as a nation. Jet lag soon took over, however, and we slept most of the rest of the way to camp, occasionally rousing due to a pothole bump in the road.

We made it!

The camp is quite a developed property, much fancier than most typical summer camps in Ukraine, according to Kostya. The camp building and grounds were funded by a generous Canadian donor, who wished for the kids coming here to have a really nice place to come to. The building has two levels, a dining hall, a chapel space, and has capacity for roughly 80 campers plus staff. It is situated about 1 km walk from a lake where there is access to swimming, fishing and canoeing.

We arrived in time for supper – sausage, cucumber/tomato/cabbage salad, pasta with ketchup. Diet here might prove a challenge for the gluten-sensitive women on our team! We were introduced to three young women – Oxsana, Luba, Yana – on staff as counselors who have above average levels of English and quickly became our translators and guides to the camp. They showed us to our accommodation for the four nights we will spend here. To our surprise, our team was split up, and we were each assigned a bunk in each of the rooms with the campers and their counselors. Even newlyweds Kelly and Darrell will be spending these nights apart, it seems. Part of learning and serving!

After supper and settling into our rooms, we had a brief tour of the camp property. Some of the outdoor activities available here include a small sectioned portion of pavement for soccer and floor hockey, a pond for paddling/rowing practice and maybe fishing, equipment for rollerblading, badminton. We all assembled for evening campfire – a program of fun games, gospel teaching, testimony by one of the counselors, and some praise/worship singing. For those of you who have ever been to a Christian summer camp in Canada (e.g. like Pioneer Ranch Camp), it all has a very similar feel here, except for it is all in Ukrainian.

Before the evening program started, our team was invited to stand up front and give brief introductions of ourselves to the campers. Their response was polite and enthusiastic, particularly for those of us who attempted greeting with some of our newly learned Ukrainian phrases! The kids seemed very excited to learn that Thane is only 15 years old; many apparently thought he was more like 20!

Fired up for the Lord

Campfire went on for about 2.5 hours, and our team, still struggling with jet lag, was pretty tired and eager for bed. We ended our day with a feeling of some uncertainty about what the coming days will hold. There seems to be expectation that we will be facilitating some ESL training, as well as presenting some music while we are here. I’m not feeling particularly prepared for either. How will we find time to connect as a team, when we appear to be mixed in with the campers and the camp schedule? We will hopefully find out more in the morning!

Lovely first view of the lake

Who Are We?

We are a merry group of 9 travelers, all connected to the organization Harmony through Harmony, either as members of the choir or as close friends and family of members. For years we have had a heart for HART which has involved hosting fundraisers for their organization, meeting with HART employees who work in the1Ukraine and Moldova and continually considering invitations to come visit their operations in Ukraine. Finally, the time has come. From August 17 to August 27, we will be in Ukraine, meeting people and seeing first-hand the operations of this incredible organization.

From now until we fly out on the 15th, our schedules are tight. They are listed below (not in order of importance)

  • Raising money!
  • making awesome t-shirts with our team symbol (the national bird of Ukraine and the national animal of Canada)
  • learning how to be not terrible short-term missions-trip-ers

Please continue to pray for us, support us financially, and read this blog as it is updated regularly from now until after we are back in Canada.

Cheers

Sarah

If you would like to support us financially go to http://hart.ca/donate/ and scroll down to the bottom where it says “other HART project/ministries” and in the comment section write #31525 which indicates HtH and the amount in the next box.