Today we were contacted by the Pravdinska Orphanage director about an accident that happened to one of their 2015 graduates. She was asking for financial help for Vitalik, a kid we’ve known for years from the orphanage. Unfortunately, it is a sad reality that kids are often kicked out of trade schools due to their bad decisions. We don’t know why, but this has become reality for Vitalik and he was kicked out of the trade school where he was studying in Sumy.
He recently fell from the fourth floor of the trade school dorm while trying to get in. According to what we’ve heard from the orphanage director, he broke his “ribs, jaw, face, pelvis, and injured internal organs.” He is obviously going to need extensive medical help, which will cost him more than he has.
We’re praying for healing, good doctors, and a full recovery from all his injuries. And that this will be something that helps him see the need for a change in his life. But we’re also praying that we can help support him through this and show him God’s love in the long road of recovery that he has ahead. If you would like to help contribute to his medical bills, you can use the link below. We will keep you updated as we hear more about his condition and prognosis.
We’re here! We landed in Ukraine on Saturday night and made it home in time to ring in 2018 from our little village home. It’s always an adjustment being back in Ukraine (10 hour time difference, outhouse instead of toilet, no kitchen…) but we’re excited to be here! God has already been affirming us in our being back. We decided to move back with very little in the bank account, but trusting that God would continue to provide. And then on January 2nd, we were notified that received a very generous donation from a special donor – such an encouragement to start off 2018! Thank you again!
You may have seen on social media that we were able to go visit and bring gifts to Vika and Tolik in the hospital/shelter that they were in near us. There were four other little kids staying there, probably all from the same type of situation the Tolik and Vika are in. We came with an entourage – Dusya and her two kids, Vala and Andre, as well as Vasya who was visiting from Sumy. Dusya, Vasya and Sasha all grew up in the orphanage and it was neat to see them all loving on these kids. All 3 of them were eager to go to the store and buy cookies, candies, dolls, trucks, and other treats, not just forTolik and Vika, but for these kids. They excitedly told them that Ded Moroz (their Santa Claus) had dropped it off for their New Years presents. The kids were so excited for some outside interaction and little gifts. Plus the kids were just adorable so it was fun for all of us.
As for Tolik and Vika, they’re doing ok, though understandably having a hard time with it all. Tolik in the short time that we had there, brought up multiple times how bad things are with their mom. It was heartbreakingly hard to watch him visibly struggle through it all. While it will be better for them in the long run, it’s pretty sad, lonely, and scary right now. We’re waiting for a call from them to hear an update as they should now be in Sumy at a more long-term shelter. It’s not exactly an orphanage, but a place where neglected, abused, and/or orphaned kids generally stay up to 9 months before being moved back into their homes or a more traditional orphanage. Our sweet friend, Ira, will hopefully be able to visit them even sooner than we will. Please keep them in your prayers as this is such a hard transition for them both. We will keep you posted as we are able to get updates and visit them when we’re in Sumy.
Our American team has spent the last couple of years spending the majority of our time in the US and making trips back and forth to Ukraine. But starting end of this month, Melissa and Anika will be back in Ukraine full time. We hadn’t fully planned on this move but God has clearly been adjusting our circumstances to get us to where we’re at. We’re going back without visas just yet and will have to take a trip outside of Ukraine to get that ball rolling sometime in March. If we’re honest, we’re not looking forward to giving up some of our American comforts (toilet and shower, we will miss you both), but we are excited for some of the ideas and goals we’ve got for the next year!
We would like to say we have some solid plans, but since it’s been almost 10 years since we moved to Ukraine the first time, so we know that solid plans aren’t really a reality in Ukraine. So we have goals.
One of the broader goals we’re working on is teaching English in a few different ways. We’ve been in communication with the orphanage director at Pravdinska and she is excited for us to hopefully help teach English to the kids there. We have also been brainstorming starting ESL academies in the village and beyond. We’d love to start tutoring at the cafe for the kids in the village learning English in school. Again, all goals but we are working on it! If anyone has experience/curriculum/tools for ESL teaching that you think might be useful, please feel free to shoot us an email!
Our Ivanivka Cafe hasn’t honestly been financially successful. We were never expecting to make tons of money, or even necessarily break even very quickly, but we’re definitely still a long way from either. We’re changing our mindset on it to know that it will probably need constant changes and revisions to continue. And knowing all the things we can use it for as not just as cafe, but a community outreach center, gets us excited.
Another goal we’d like to make happen involves education help for orphans and at-risk kids. Very few of the kids who grow up in orphanages and small villages seem to complete any high education. They often don’t have the help financially, emotionally, or even practically to even get in to a college or university. We’d like to start little seminars with kids who are currently in or have graduated from college to help encourage, teach and improve success rates of younger kids as they prepare to graduate from 9th or 11th grades.
One more goal we’re working on is having a team come out to Ivanivka in the spring/summer. If you’re interested in being a part of it, please let us know. Any details would be announced later, but you could expect village outreach, time in the community cafe, and plenty of village dirt.
As for our team… Dusya is loving running the cafe and having the steady income to support her adorable family. Melissa and Sasha are still awaiting answers from US immigration for Sasha to be able to come to the states as a married couple. Anika is planning on being in Ukraine for at least the next year or so, and we’ll see what happens from there. Sasha has been working hard to get an additional building constructed from the ground up for our house… The whole 375 square feet of heated house that we currently have kind of limits us with what we can do (not to mention personal space for 3 adults).
With our on-the-ground team growing again and outreach kicking back into gear, obviously our budget will need to be expanding. If you’d like to make a year-end tax deductible gift we would greatly appreciate it! And if you’d like to become one of our regular monthly donors we would be so grateful. Click here to go to our donation page. Thanks for sticking with us as we enter into this next year of adventure!
We are just about 2 weeks from flying back to the village. We can’t wait to be back at our house, to see our friends and the kids in the village! And we have some exciting things planned. Lord willing, we will be having our grand opening of the café in Ivanivka! We hoped this would happen in February, but we hit some roadblocks we did not anticipate. Sasha and Dusya have been working hard to get things ready there – painting, planning, and paperwork – to get it to a point for us to be able to open up in the first week or so of June.
The other thing we are planning is a carnival for the kids of Ivanivka. The village has about 1100 residence, many of whom are kids. We have been able to meet and begin relationships with some of them, but are very excited for a big outreach to get to know more of them. We are hoping to use the grand opening of the café to help advertise and bring people in for the carnival. We will have games, prizes, candy and lots of fun!
Please be praying for our goals as our whole team will only be together there for about 2 weeks. We’re going to be working hard to get a lot done in a short amount of time. Be praying for acceptance in the village, no more hold ups with paperwork for the café, team unity, relationships with the people of Ivanivka, and finances. We are so incredibly thankful to those who have already donated. We’ve had money, candy, toys, clothes, and hygiene items already given and we are so grateful! If you would like to help, there is still time. We would like to bring some American candy as the kids are always very excited to have something American. We are also collecting American coffee and tea for the café.
If you would like to give towards specific items (some will be purchased in the states and some in Ukraine) here are our cost estimates:
-bag of candy $5 (5 more needed)
-coffee $10 (10 needed)
-tea $5 (10 needed)
-game supplies $20 (5 needed)
We are also working to offset the cost for our 3 team members’ flights to and from Ukraine, as well as other supplies and general needs in Ivanivka. Any sized gift would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much! Be on the lookout for updates and pictures as we get ready and working!
First of all, happy new year! Sorry we’ve been a little silent on the blogging since we’ve been back… Winter has hit pretty hard here in Ivanivka and we have so much snow! Just this past week, we had a day where the knee-deep snow kept us from going anywhere other than out to play. Luckily we had nowhere urgent to be because here in the village we would have likely gotten stuck in all the snow. The only thing we can do on those kind of days is make snow angels. And so we did 🙂 Village life is very different than life in the city and ministry is also different. Some days seem busy from sunup to sundown while others move more slowly. While some needs are similar to what we’ve done in the past, there are also very different needs here.
Today we had a little reprieve in the weather and were able to get out to the post office. We wanted to thank all of you who faithfully support us. Because of your help we were able to send two boxes today. One was for a kid we met 11 years ago at the orphanage. Unfortunately, he is in prison and will be there for the next few years. He has no family and no one to help him. We were able to send him some essentials such as toothpaste, socks, warmer winter clothes, and some food. The other box was for a girl we also met at the orphanage 11 years ago who now has a son and is pregnant. She needed a warm blanket, jacket, and some food as well. Again, thank you to all who helped make this possible!
We’re going to try to not let the weather hold us back and get back into our weekly Tuesday Tales, so be on the lookout for more updates soon! And keep us in your prayers as tomorrow starts our first week of home church in our new study of Francis Chan’s book, Crazy Love. We can’t wait to tell you how it goes!
This winter, we have plans for continuing and starting new ministry in the village of Ivanivka. We are getting ready for our whole team to be back for New Years and kicking off 2017 with new outreach, building relationships, and community development in Ivanivka. With Thanksgiving just past and Christmas and New Years right around the corner, we are praying that you will join with us in our planning and excitement for giving and loving the people of Ukraine. Our goal for the end of 2016 is to raise $5000. It may seem like a lot, but this will help us fill in the gaps where we need it for general ministry and launch us into all the outreach and events we have planned – a New Years event, gifts for the orphans and village kids, renting facilities for outreach, travel cost for our team, and more.
The newest and biggest goal for 2017 is opening a cafe in Ivanivka. We have the opportunity to lock in a permanent facility for bigger ministry outreach. This of course in a big cost, but it will provide jobs for the village, be a community facility, centrally located and will allow us the opportunity to reach out to even more of the village people. We hope to also use it as a space for church in Ivanivka, and create a safe space for kids to come. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
We are so thankful for all of the help you give to OAU throughout the year. We are excited to finish this year strong with your continued support. **UPDATE** Facebook is waving all fees and the Bill Gates Foundation is matching donation made through Facebook up to $1000 per fundraiser today! So please use this link to our Facebook Page and donate there!
Donations of any size toward our $5000 goal can be made via the PayPal button below or by mail to us and PO Box 1148, Oakley, CA 94561. We are incredibly grateful for each and every one of you and the ways you allow us to serve in Ukraine.
We have been behind on updates lately, but we wanted to pause today and say THANK YOU!! When we sent out our request for help with our plumbing for our village house, you guys blew us away with your generosity! We ended up raising over $3000! You are all amazing and we cannot thank you enough. Not just for this specific need that you fulfilled, but in your monthly, one-time, and special need giving. Thank you for your prayers, for your encouragement of us and of our work, and all of the ways you guys make Open Arms what it is. It may just seem like words, but we truly could not do this without each and every one of you.
As we all enjoy this season of family, holidays, shopping, and feasting, we pray that you are all blessed for the ways that you bless us and our kids. And as you shop, for all of you Amazon shoppers, if you didn’t know already, please shop www.smile.amazon.com instead. Support us when you shop on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #StartWithaSmile at smile.amazon.com/ch/06-1806270 and Amazon donates to Open Arms Ukraine. All your shopping looks exactly the same an normal Amazon, but by shopping on AmazonSmile and selecting us as your non-profit, 0.5% of your shopping purchases is donated to OAU!
For months, we have wanted to do a harvest festival for kids in the village. But we ran into problem after problem ranging from not being able to get permission, no where to do it, and dates not working out for people being able to come and help.
As Monday got closer and we had a few of the regulars over, we got to talking about what they planned to do on Halloween. It was clear we needed to have a safe place for them to come. Now that being said, we at that point still did not have heat, just the one room that was being heated from a small wood burning stove. We cleaned what could and just decided to make some food, have a few fun costumes, and have games with candy. We had 6 kids in our one-stop room and it was a blast. The night started with kids finding costumes, played some crazy games, and end with Captain America (who was the hit of the night), reading them John 3:16 and giving them a challenge to memorize it in Russian and English with the promise of prize next time we meet.
As thankful as we are to just have a little room that is literally everything from where we sleep, cook, clean, hang out, and now do ministry, it was clear that night that it would be really helpful to get some running water in the house. Because we had little kids, there were multiple times we had to stop the festivities so they could bundle up to then trek outside to use the hole we call a bathroom. When they are only able to come for a couple hours this hurts the flow of our activities.
We couldn’t be more thankful for all the help, prayer, and support from those of you who are so faithful to give. We hate to feel like we’re asking often, but we need your financial support for our all-purpose house. Since we run every part of our ministry from here, it would be incredibly helpful for us to have running water, a toilet and a shower in our house. Please don’t think we are just trying to make our house fancy. If it was just us, we’d be fine with no plumbing. But seeing as this has become our home base for all ministry, and it’s cold now, we’d really like to make it a functional place to serve the people of Ivanivka.
Every day we have visitors in our all-purpose living/bedroom/kitchen/closet-room. Having running water would allow us to cook and clean dishes for these visitors. We currently wash and rinse with well water in tubs on a table in our everything room. A toilet will help in moments like at our harvest festival so kids don’t have to bundle up in the cold to walk out past the fence to the hole we dug for a toilet. Running water would allow for a washing machine to help wash clothes, sheets, towels, blankets not just for ourselves, but also for people like Dusya. She has more than once told us how washing is the hardest thing for her all year, but especially in the freezing winter temps. And a shower? I think you know why a shower is necessary. 🙂 And realistically it isn’t gonna cost that much to make it all happen – around $1130. The break down looks something like this: Shower – $600. Toilet – $60. Sink – $120. Pipes – $50. Digging for drainage, piping, water pump – $300.
If you are able to contribute to these needs, please use the PayPal button below, or by sending donations to us at PO Box 1148, Oakley, CA 94561. We are so, so thankful for any amount you can give to help support us with this specific need!
Got another visit from this sibling duo today. This is literally how they are sitting here at this very moment, watching a movie on our couch/bed as I write this blog from across the room. They came in today with a few embarrassed requests that quickly turned into a full list of things they need. Vika in her same dirty pair of gray pants and worn out, too-small shoes. Tolik in his same outfit as yesterday, and little canvas tennis shoes in the 30-something degree weather today. They both need new shoes, pants, warm socks, beanies, basically a new wardrobe. We are going to be in Sumy tomorrow (to celebrate Sasha’s birthday actually!) and will hopefully have time to purchase a few of their needs. If you would like to contribute to helping with these purchases, we would be so thankful for your help!
This past year has been full of changes and sometimes we haven’t fully understood where God was taking Open Arms. Except we knew it was the village. This summer was different than we expected as we thought we’d be able to do a lot more ministry in the time we were here. But it turned out to be a lot of time spent working on our house and preparing for future ministry. Not even fully understanding what we were going to use the house for, but knowing that we needed to fix it.
This past week has given us a glimpse into why God lead us to buy this house, why we’ve been fixing it up. Not to be cheesy, but the phrase that has been coming to mind all day has been “if you build it, they will come.” Today alone we had 2 unannounced visitors at different times throughout the day. First Tolik came by because we had offhandedly given him an invitation a few days ago. As we sat on the floor playing cards and dice games, he opened up about life at home with his mom.He shared how he wishes he was still in the orphanage. A couple hours later, we got another knock on our gate from his sister, Vika. She was also tired of being at home and was looking for a safe place to hang out. It was nice to have Tolik and Vika, as well as Dusya and her kids all over for a few hours this afternoon. Even though we were all confined to one room due to lack of heating in the house. We are super thankful for our little woodburning stove that heats at least the one room! Even as they all were leaving a few minutes ago, they asked if they could come back again tomorrow.
Today is just a small example of why we’re doing all the work on our house. We are so thankful to all of you who have blindly and generously contributed to allow us to be here and do the work we need to! We would not be able to have these moments like today without you. This week are are working on getting gas to both heat the house with and cook with (a real stove and oven!), as well as water piped into the house. This will be an amazing improvement for us here! If you would like to contribute to help pay for these continued improvements you can use the PayPal link here. And if you would come alongside us to pray for us we would be so very thankful! Especially as we work on gas and water this week specifically and spend time with kids and friends here. And also as we plan and try to organize a harvest festival day next month.