Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Well, that day finally came on Tuesday of this week, and the beds were built! Members of the Bread of Life church in Dubasari, the orphanage staff, Felix (the carpenter who makes the bed frames) and some of his guys, and our wonderful Moldovan Sweet Sleep staffer Lucia all worked together on Tuesday to assemble all the beds. It's great to know that the sweet children in Dubasari now have these new beds to sleep in.
Thank you all for the prayers that have been prayed over these beds. God is good.
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Before we left for Moldova, we were all given a trip manual. In it was all the pertinent information about the trip: Mission statement, helpful packing tips, cultural references, a brief history of Moldova & Transnistria etc. There's a section towards the back about reentry into daily life after the trip. Of all the info in the book, I thought I probably wouldn’t really need that too much. I mean, after all, I've traveled abroad several times before so this should be no real biggie right? Well, as usual, my hubris got the best of me. I've been back about a week now and I'm still dealing with feelings I've never had before.
I have a pretty cool job by most standards but I have to admit it all does seem a little more shallow now somehow. It's been quite a struggle getting back to normal because there are still so many questions running through my mind. And for every question I think I've answered, a new one pops up. Is my life too easy? Should I be doing more to help the less fortunate? Were we successful? Did we make any connections with the kids? Were their lives changed for the better, even if just a little? They must have been because I know my life has been changed by meeting them.
And then there is the "800 pound gorilla in the room" question. What about the beds? I'd be lying if I said I wasn't at least a little disappointed that we didn't get to build them. I mean, after all, that was our primary mission. So why weren't we able to build those beds? I thought to myself, if I'm feeling this way how must Stuart be feeling now? Because this must certainly be a first for Sweet Sleep. Everyday that we waited, prayers went up to find a solution to the "bed" problem, but in the end we still were unable to complete that part of our mission. So I found myself searching for an answer to a big question. And as usual, I was probably thinking "too big". I was expecting the reason to be so big and mysterious and unknowable by the mind of man that I would never have my answer. Then I thought of this old saying I'd once heard. It goes something like this: "If you want to hear God laugh just tell him your plans". So maybe it's as simple as that. No matter how prepared you think you might be.... you're not.
We had prepared to build the beds in every way we knew how. We brought our work gloves, charged the batteries on the power tools, we had back-up hand tools and some of us even brought our own leather-man multi-tools (you know, “just in case”). But there was one thing we didn’t plan for. In our case it was the classic tale of the struggle between good and evil (as old as the oldest story ever told). We were there to do good works and there were people there that wanted to stand in our way. The government of Transnistria (and if by government you mean a small group of men that run the country like Tony Soprano ran his criminal organization out of the "Ba-da-Bing" on the popular HBO series, then I guess that would be a pretty apt description) were just doing their best to stand in our way. I’m guessing they were expecting us to pay a bribe and we wouldn't play along. They knew they had us over a barrel because we were on a time schedule. They had all the time in the world so they waited us out. I guess they thought that they'd teach us "Americans" a lesson. "This is how we do things in Transnistria boys, make no mistake about it there's a new Sheriff in town”. (No pun intended but I just couldn't resist).
So did they beat us? Well, if you mean by the physical act of building the beds then I guess they won this round. Will the beds ever be built? I'm also guessing that eventually the Sheriff will tire of his little game and at that point Pastor Serghey's guys will be able to go in and finish the job. Ultimately, it doesn't really matter who builds the beds, just as long as they get built. Who knows, maybe the whole thing was a lesson in humility.
However, our story does have its own kind of happy ending. Because just like the real friendship bracelets we showed the kids how to make, we had weaved our own "threads" while we were there. We helped a crippled shut-in with his groceries. We helped some street kids get new clothes. We made wonderful new friends in Pastor Serghey and our four translators. We won the respect of the staff at the orphanage. We learned “ the way it’s done” so the next time all the technical stuff will go smoother. And finally, we weaved our way into the lives of the children and they into ours. All this finishing in a beautiful bracelet that even the Transnistrian government can't undo.
So when I'm feeling a little down about the beds, all I have to do is to look at the photos of the beautiful smiling faces of the children we met there and I'm reminded that we did make a difference, a huge difference. On the last day at the orphanage one of the boys there said to a team member, " I will always remember you". Pretty powerful stuff. Everything else aside, I feel that just the sheer act of traveling halfway around the world to reach our hands out to touch theirs was truly enough to show them that someone cares. And if I could talk to them now I would would say back to those children "I will always remember you too".
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
As I prepare to leave Moldova in a few hours with our beds still separated from the children by a customs department padlock, I have to confess that I was feeling disappointed. But after reading Jen’s post, I realize I shouldn’t be. I wanted those kids to be sleeping in those beds tonight. I wanted our team to have the experience of putting those beds into the bedrooms at the orphanage and seeing the delight on the children’s faces as they sit on them and lay on them for the first time. But what God wanted more than anything else was for us to go there and to tell those children that he loves them. We did that, and that is enough.
I’m not suggesting that God doesn’t want those kids to have those beds and kept us from building them. I know he wants them to have them and will open that door so that they will. But, I think that when things don’t go according to our plans, God finds ways to use us that we didn’t expect or even understand at the time. All that’s really required of us is to have the faith to go where he sends us and then be the conduit through which he reveals himself to those around us. That’s the real beauty of trips like this. All that we need to be or do is found solely in him and his purposes. And if we really learn that, we’ll never be disappointed.
With having just brought a team back from Haiti and then watching another team's purpose unfold in Moldova last week, there are lots of "Why?" and "What now?" questions being asked. This post is for all of us who wonder if we're doing God's will and for those of us who set out in any of life's journeys (missions or otherwise) believing God has asked us to do one thing and then seeing Him use us for another.
"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed
for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
it will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy and be led forward in peace; the mountains and
the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the
field will clap their hands."
Isaiah 55: 10-12
Bits and pieces of these verses continued to come to mind each time I read stories and struggles from the team's hearts. Oddly enough, I was encouraged by the things our team was sharing, given it seemed one could read the stories and think that things weren't going as expected. When I finally looked up this passage in Isaiah and read through the words I understood where my peace was coming from.
God's word declares (and reminded me) that He alone sends out from Heaven what we need and that, because it is sent according to His will, it is exactly what is needed to accomplish exactly what He desires.
Men and women responded obediently to an opportunity God was placing before them to go and share His love and His hope and His purpose with His children on the other side of His world. They went. God worked. God worked in the lives of His children, His translators, His church, His Moldovans and yes, in each of the lives of His team and in His ministry of Sweet Sleep. Who knows what purposes and blessings He has in mind; I pray for the chance to be able to hear those stories unfold while I'm on this earth.
Before I read those exact words in Isaiah, I was still looking for the right insight. Many of you know I have a Moldovan teenage daughter, Galina, whom I first met a handful of years ago while working in Moldova's largest orphanage. Over the years I've heard her talk, countless times, about the various ways our Sweet Sleep teams have impacted her life and the lives of those she was growing up with. I decided to share about our team's experiences and feelings and get her insight. I was just hoping for a couple of sentences to share. Instead, what I got was amazing...
She started by telling me she'd been thinking about the situation and that she really couldn't come up with any thoughts, "besides the obvious." I love how Godly and truthful her "obvious" is.....
I have been thinking a lot about what you have asked me and I can't really come up with anything besides the obvious.
I think you should tell them that ALL the children appreciate all they have done and that every little thing they did will remain very special in the children's hearts.
I think you should tell them that they should look onto themselves and say "Whatever I did in Moldova is exactly what God has wanted me to do. Whatever I've seen in Moldova had a reason to be seen and whatever I said in Moldova to the children was God speaking through me."
I think you should tell them that they should not feel like they haven't finished what they were supposed to do because if they had a plan for that trip it doesn't necessarily mean that it was God's plan. Also I think you should encourage them to remember what they have seen there and that the other side of the world is not that far away. They should realize God has sent them for a reason. I think you should tell them God's will has been done through them and that the works of God begin with few people and expand to thousands.
You should tell them that they are God’s people and that God has sent them to the orphanage because He knows that a little human like them can make a big change in a heart that is still in growth...in the heart of a child. Tell them that by going on that trip they have shown not only the Lord that they love Him, but also that they showed the people how great the Lord's love is.
Tell them that everything they did on that trip was supposed to be done and the fact they have stepped out of their lives to go and impact others created a great picture in God’s eyes and the children's eyes. You should tell them that the love they have shown to the kids will return to them twice as big. The kids in the orphanage will always remember them for what they did and that they hold a special place in those children's lives. Tell them that the fact that they seek to comfort rather than be comforted by others and to love rather than be loved means a lot to God and this is the exact thing that God has asked us to do.
Galina's letter, to me, is exactly the end of the passage in Isaiah:
"You will go out in joy and be led forward in peace; the mountains and
the hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the
field will clap their hands."
Our teams went out in joy. They were led in peace. The children are the mountains and the hills and the trees of the field. And, they all have clapped their hands and burst into song before us.
What a beautiful thing for us to be able to see and witness. Glory and thanks to God for allowing us to behold such a beautiful sight. And to everyone....pray over the opportunities you see on the right of our blog to join a Sweet Sleep team this year. There are endless mountains and hills and trees of the field to love.
See you in the next blog,
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Because you are Mine, you don’t just pass time in your waiting. You can wait expectantly, in hopeful trust. Keep your “antennae” out to pick up even the faintest glimmer of My Presence.
The preceding passage is from a book called Jesus Calling. One of the team members received these words in one of their notes from a prayer partner on Friday of last week. Friday was the last day that the approval could come from the Transnistrian customs department and still leave time for the team to assemble the beds before leaving Moldova. And so, we were waiting. As it turns out, we were waiting for a call that never came. Now the team is gone, the beds are still locked up and unassembled, and I’m here in Moldova for a few more days alone. I certainly never imagined this scenario in all the planning that I, our Moldovan staff Lucia, and Pastor Sergei did for this trip, so the events of this past week have certainly given me to spend some time thinking about waiting.
I think my favorite part of the text from the book is the last paragraph. We were waiting, but we weren’t just passing the time. Sure, there were a few “So, what do we do now?” moments along the way, but because our plans were altered by forces outside our control, we were forced to find new and unanticipated ways to connect with and minister to the people around us. We weren’t doing all of the things we expected to be doing and we weren’t seeing God work in all of the ways we expected to see him work this week. We did have to keep our “antennae” out to pick up the glimmers of his presence as we visited a paralyzed shut-in, bought groceries for a church member with cancer and bought shoes and clothes for children whose homes are so filled with drunkenness and violence that they spend as little time as possible in them, even if it means living on the street.
And though our time with the children at the orphanage was also impacted by the fact that we weren’t building beds, God’s presence was definitely evident in the time we spent with them. The fact that we weren’t building the beds we intended to build didn’t change the fact that we were in the midst of 154 of God’s children; children he knows by name and desires to have a relationship with. He stands with arms open waiting to pour out his abundant love, peace, joy, hope and mercy on them. All they have to do is take that first step toward him.
We always have two purposes on these trips. One is to build beds of course, but the other is to tell the children how much God loves them and how he is just waiting for them to take that step. So with the beds taken away from us, our trip was left with only one purpose. I am convinced that our team succeeded in sharing that message, and I’m certain that at least some of their lives will be different now because of it. We can’t be certain how many we reached this week, but even if it’s just one, then it’s time well spent.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” I don’t know why things worked out the way they did this week. I’m hopeful that through these things the children and the orphanage staff have seen something in us that they can only attribute to God’s spirit living in us and desire to have him in their own lives. I hope that through this week we have built a strong relationship with the church in Dubsari and helped to further strengthen an already existing relationship between the church and the orphanage. I hope that I’ll be able to go back to Transnistra before I leave on Wednesday and help build the beds with members of the church, and I’m certain that even if I don’t get to, the beds will get built and the children’s lives will be better for it.
So, we wait. We wait for papers to be stamped, for men to do the things that make them feel important in this world, and we wait for the lock to come off the door. But we don’t wait without hope. We wait expectantly in hopeful trust that while our plans may not have been fulfilled as we expected them to be, his plans are perfect and he will take this situation and use it for his glory.
Saturday, March 13, 2010
Hey folks. Jim here posting under Stuart's blog again.
I thought I'd take a minute and post some photos from a a few of the highlights of the trip.I think it would be safe to say that it was an amazing growing experience for all us.
Waiting!!!!!!!!! The beds went over the border and were delivered to the orphanage but then the government locked them into a room until all customs technicalities were cleared. Today we heard that the President's office gave permission for us to assemble the beds, but we're still waiting for the paperwork to be completed. Pray that God will oversee the situation and that we can soon assemble the beds. We know that God is in control.
Time with the children: The Lord has opened the door for us to have two hours with the children each afternoon. Yesterday we worked with primary children and today we worked with middle school children. We were able to share with them about God's Creation and how God values them as a very special creation. And we were pleased to learn that many of the children had already memorized John 3:16 because the pastor's wife from the local church teaching them's Bible lessons each week.
This afternoon a group of us visited a man from the church who was crippled. We were able to take groceries to him and we were able to encourage and pray with him.
Tonight we joined the church in their prayer time. Stuart shared the vision of Sweet Sleep with the congregation and Paul shared how God led he and Marti to minister in the Russian-speaking world.
We are praising God!
Paul & Marti
Friday, March 12, 2010
Before I left to go on this trip someone close to me gave me a card that said. "Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone". I had no idea how true those words would prove to be. I watched my comfort zone first begin to disappear as we descended through the clouds into Moldova. It was getting dark and I could make out the snow covered roofs of the houses of the villages below. But there was something missing...there were no lights in the windows, no street lights visible, no lit parking lots or parks, it was just dark. If you've ever flown into any American city at about the same time it looks like Christmas time from the air. After landing we passed customs through customs where some very serious looking soldiers with sable hats stamped our passports. A Moldovan stamp on my passport...how cool. The Next day after driving about 40 minutes through the snow covered Moldovan countryside we arrived at the border to Transnistria. We crossed though checkpoints guarded by Russian soldiers holding AK-47's. This was some serious stuff here, I don't think we're in Kansas any more Toto. After about an hour wait at the boarder they let us through. (they probably had to finish getting the bugs planted in our rooms).I'm just kidding. But as we would later come to find out that the whole town knew that "the Americans" had come to work at the orphanage that week. That probably explained the looks we got everywhere we went. Personally I thought it was pretty cool. So here we are. You've probably heard the saying that such and such city is kind of like Paris in the 60's. Well welcome to the Soviet Union about 30 years ago. Oh, did I forget to mention that it is COLD. I mean bitter COLD and windy. I have to keep telling myself just remember we are here for a reason I can't lose sight of that now. Our hotel had seen better days. I imagine that in it's time it was quite a place. But that was a long, long time ago. Without going into too much detail I'll just say that it was basic, very basic. The first night my room mate, Nolan, and I spent with no heat. Any remaining "comfort zone" that had survived the boarder crossing was now in serious doubt. The first full day "in country" as Stuart likes to say (and now I know why) we couldn't really do much because it a was a Holiday. "National Women's Day". So we just prepared for the work ahead and got to know our translators and wonderful hosts at the church. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining because I'm really not. It's just that this all took some getting used to. But all that was about to change. After all the waiting Tuesday afternoon we headed off to the orphanage. I was nervous. I'd been actually having dreams about this moment. Nothing could have prepared my for how my life was about to change. (or "begin" if you think back to the original quote). "Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone". We met the director and she gave us at tour. "This is were the children learn to sew or sleep or learn wood working etc. Up to this moment we still really hadn't seen the children. Just a quick note.... My original intent was to document the trip through photography. (So I was looking at everything through my camera lens). Then the director took us into our first classroom. There they were. The whole reason we had come all this way and put up with everything to this point. I grabbed my camera and framed up my first shot. I beautiful tiny face came into focus. A young girl with short hair looked back at me through my lens with eyes that told stories I wasn't sure if I could handle. Then a faint smile. I was having some trouble focusing the camera... why does the lens look kind of blurry...then I realized it was the tears in my eyes. As we got to meet all the children the emotions were overwhelming. We spent the next few days teaching them crafts, reading them Bible stories and just spending time with them. I took pictures of the children and we were able to print some of the photos out for them to keep. Unfortunately, because of Customs issues, we were not able to build the beds for the kids. I truly feel that we were able to connect with a few of the kids and hope they will remember this experience for a long time to come, and that we somehow made a difference however small it may be to some of them. As for me, welcome to the new and distant border of my "comfort zone".
Thursday, March 11, 2010
p.s. One of our translators, Ilie, sends his greetings!
Tuesday, March 09, 2010
In our short time here, we've been blessed beyond measure - from safe travel to (fairly) quick border crossings to our brothers and sisters in Christ who have welcomed us with open arms. I cannot do justice to the amount of work that Pastor Serghei and Lucia have put into this long before our arrival. They have worked tirelessly to prepare the way for us to be here, and have done so against seemingly insurmountable odds. There is no doubt that without their desire to see God's work done here is Transnitria, their tireless efforts and their obedience to God's call, that we would not be here today.
Pastor Serghei's church - Word of Life - has opened their doors to us to serve as our "home base" while here and have been wonderful to us. Their faithfulness to God's service and His children are such a blessing to us.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside these servants, our brothers and sisters here in Transnistria. Please pray for their continued work here, even after we have finished our work here.
Thank you all for your continued prayer and support. There will many more stories for us to share with you, so stay tuned...
What an amazing day. We just returned from visiting the orphanage for the first time, and I don’t know who was more curious and excited – me or the kids.
The orphanage was impressive in many ways. The Director was wonderful and you could really tell that she runs a very tight ship. Everything was clean and organized, and as a result the kids have a great environment to develop in.
The building itself was probably in better shape than I had imagined it to be, but I have to admit my expectations weren’t very high. The beds were as I had pictured them. I was afraid to sit on them for fear of falling through onto the floor. Our work here is very much needed.
When we were able to visit with the children you could tell that they were maybe a little bit unsure of us, but any ice was quickly broken when we broke out our cameras and phones and began taking pictures of them.
THEY LOVED IT!!
You could tell that photo opportunities are very rare, and seeing themselves on a video screen even more so. We were able to take a lot of great pictures that I’m sure I will cherish for a very long time.
After that we made cross necklaces with beads that the orphanage staff will probably be cleaning up off the floor for years to come. They went everywhere. And when we were finished with those, we had a bible lesson that they seemed to have a lot of fun with.
I cannot wait to return tomorrow and continue our work. I couldn’t be happier to be here, even though it is probably close to 20 degrees outside!! Until then…
Monday, March 08, 2010
Monuments to Lenin and other Soviet heroes can be found on busy street corners, our team is pictured here below by one such statue. Meanwhile, most people struggle to get by in a land that the rest of the world knows nothing about.
Transdniestr has its own currency, police force, army and borders, which are controlled by Transdniestran border guards. The predominantly Russian-speaking region boycotts the Moldovan Independence Day and celebrates its own independence day on 2 September.
Here's the hotel our team is staying in this week:
National Women's Day is today. Much of Transdniestr was closed to celebrate the day. Our team celebrated the day by having lunch with the pastor of the church Sweet Sleep is working with to minister at the orphanage and by preparing supplies for the week. Here's the team at lunch....
And, getting to know some of our new Russian speaking translators. Yes, this is a translator....on the right. Donnie, our team member, is on the left. Don't you agree they could be brothers?
Thanks for your support of our team....stay tuned and keep them in your prayers as they sleep right now and then as begin to minister to children tomorrow.
See you in the next blog,
Sunday, March 07, 2010
Just wanted to let you after hours and hours of travel and a too early in the morning McDonald's stop at the Frankfurt airport, the team has all arrived in a cold and snow covered Moldova.
Pray for their rest this evening and their travel tomorrow!
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Here's our next team headed out. Right now they're in a metal tube cruising along at 36,000 feet and heading to the Eastern European country of Moldova.
This group is from Village Chapel in Nashville, TN. For months they've been meeting, praying and preparing for the task at hand. There are a couple other team members not pictured here: our own Stuart and our chief Birmingham correspondent, Nolan.
Please pray for the team as they travel today and tomorrow and then as they travel into the still Communist part of Moldova known as Transnistria where they will share love and hope with scores of handicapped children who'll be getting warm and healthy beds next week.
See you in the next blog,
Monday, March 01, 2010
Hi all, this is Keeli.
Wow, what an experience Haiti has been. This is my sixth mission trip out of the US and each time I'm amazed by how awesome God is.
This morning after breakfast we got to experience a 4.6 aftershock. Only a few seconds of rumbling and rocking, and the fear of being by a three story cement building has stuck with me. I can't image what fear runs through those that experienced 35 seconds and mass destruction of the first earthquake.
So with everyone's nerves on edge we started our day, half the team stayed at the orphanage to play with the kids and the others went to the construction site for the orphanage that collapsed, which is anywhere from 30-60 minutes away depending on traffic. running around foreign countries can be a great experience. Being in a developing country without a translator and no one from our in-country support team is very un-nerving for me.
Kim, Holly, John, Jen and I arrived as the workmen were finishing up their lunch (thanks to the aftershock and a flat tire we are a little behind schedule). I was not 100% comfortable being in Port-Au-Prince without someone that is part of our in-country support team, that speaks English and Creole... we don't know anything about these workers... they didn't speak English... in my mind anything could happen... and it did. One of the guys called out, "pray". We look over to him, he and all the other men were standing in a circle under a beautiful Mango tree. And again he said, "pray". We walked over to their circle and they began singing and then he prayed. The men all hugged each other, and back to work they went.
God showed me that what I was afraid of, was in turn, his gift of peace and safety. He is awesome.