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June 25, 2007

My Ukrainian Family

I'm amazed at how many things there are to do on any given day. And weekends even more so. Saturday morning, I returned with a team to the Children's Sanitorium of Zaporozhye. Because it is only a short term placement for these children, I knew that it would be my last weekend with them. I am leaving in two days for a seven week children's camp - which, by the way, is out in the middle of no where. True camping style. For those who know me well, you will be shocked, but yes, I am going 'camping' for an entire week, and yes - I am excited about it.

Spending time with these children across the past two weekends has been incredible. My heart breaks for them, and for the struggles they have in their daily lives. In a place of such hardship and poverty, they face even greater barriers to survival and enjoyment of basic necessities and rights. They are, by many, cast aside. They have health disorders, physical and mental disabilities, and behavioral disorders. But they are brilliant - wise beyond their years and beautiful. Some have become hardened - untrusting of the world around them because of the repeated rejection and cruelty they have faced. But in so many I saw hope, resiliance, and determination. And such joy over the smallest gestures of love and kindness. So often it seems that we feel helpless and hopeless in the face of so much global poverty and problems. But I've seen how stepping in and doing SOMETHING - how loving, how caring, and how genuinely investing into individuals and groups can truly bring about change and transformation. It is not hopeless, and it should not be something that we dispair over to the point of inaction - it should motivate us and encourage us by knowing that by taking action and by becoming involved, lives truly change.

In the evening, we held a sending out party for Sveta and Vlodia. Sveta works in the Tomorrow's Clubs of HOPE International. She and her husband Vlodia are moving from Zaporozhye to a small village to start a children's ministry there. They are such a sweet couple - they've been like family to me here and have been a constant source of friendship and humor. Their move to the village is a choice that I am encouraged by and in awe of. They are embracing a life of little comfort and much poverty, but are doing so because they feel such a love for the people there. They want to serve them and to make a difference in their lives, and are willing to forego the comforts they have here to do so.

Across the evening, we played badmitten. Zaporozhye has faced a severe drought this year, but for some reason, winds picked up and the rain came right over the game. We were left trying to find creative ways to retrieve the birdie from the neighbors' yards. We resorted to a shovel and broom through the fence. Given that the neighbors keep a menacing dog (a rotweiler), this task was most often left to Paul.

The best part of the evening was being in the company of so many wonderful friends. More than friends, they are quickly becoming like family to me. Since I haven't before, I thought I would introduce them to you so you could understand a bit about them - I refer to and speak of them often! Paul and Cindy (HOPE's Eastern European Regional Directors) together with Yura and Galena have taken us in almost as daughters. Their warmth and goodness is a breath of fresh air each morning when I arrive at the office. Yura is a pastor at a local church and Galena is the accountant of the HOPE Children's Ministries. They are an amazing couple - absolutely filled with love and graciousness. And forces to be reckoned with on the badmitten and volleyball courts.

Jzenya and Larissa are another couple that have fast become good friends. Larissa is due with their son any day now. Jzenya has all the energy and enthusiasm of ten teenagers. He has an inclusive leadership style - he strives to ensure that everyone is involved and at east. In that way, he reminds me very much of my brother Beau. Larissa is sweet and shy - always kind and gentle. She does not speak volumes, but when she does, her words are soft and full of wisdom. They are perfect compliments of one another. I am SO excited for them to be parents! It will be sometime this week and next - they will be wonderful parents together.

Lenna and Vadeem are another couple I've gotten to know here. Vadeem took on the perilous task of driving us to HOPE's regional conference in Crimea several weeks ago. Lenna leads the children's ministries of the Zaporozhye region with Jzenya. Lenna is a very strong, organized, and capable leader - and a wonderful mother! Their daughter Yyeva (life) is an absolute jewel! She is talkative, sociable, and very much the explorer. Her expressions are absolutely priceless! I absolutely adore her - she is a constant reminder of my nieces in the states.

Nadia and Olga have been our interpreters and constant companions. They are both amazing women and wonderful friends. We spend nearly every day together - I've learned so much from them about this country, the culture, the people, the language, and life here. We are the same age and it has been incredible to share the vast differences of our lives and backgrounds. They grew up under the Soviet Bloc and remember well what life and the economy were like when the country was communist. They remember the fall of communism and have experienced a country in transition from communism to market democracy - a transition that continues today. They have shared how that has impacted their perspectives, their faith, their ambitions, and their hopes. They have opened my eyes in so many ways to how extensively the structure and modes of economy and politics impact individual lives. I have studied in depth the connections between politics, laws, economies, human rights, and individual freedoms. But no amount of classroom experience or book knowledge can compare to what is learned from those who have lived it. The conversations that we have as friends have taught me what years of study cannot. They have taught me again what it means to understand these impacts from a personal perspective, and why this work remains so important. These are friends that I will cherish for life.

Travis arrives in a little under five weeks. I am excited and anxious for him to arrive! We have waited for years for the opportunity to work together for an organization like HOPE. I am excited to share this work with him and for him to meet the amazing family that I have here now. We did not need this summer to motivate us toward this work. We did not need it to inspire us to care about the lives of those who are living out the daily struggles of poverty and hardship. We did not need it to realize that holistic microfinance ministries are one of the most effective and sustainable methods of poverty alleviation. Our hearts and hopes were in this work already. But this summer has given us the opportunity to be a part of it at last! And I am excited for him to share in it and to share in the friendships that I have here. It already seems hard to think of leaving them in August (seven weeks is far away yet, so I try not to think of it!), but I am confident that we will see them again and that we will continue to partner with them in this work far after this internship ends.

June 22, 2007

Discoveries, Making Friends with Bobushkas, and Glimpses of a Masterpiece

I do not think I will cease to discover new things each day that I am here. Yesterday was a day absolutely filled with them - it was one of the best days I think I have ever had. In need of some things for the quickly approaching children's camps, Nadia and I made a quick trip to the market near our office. I've written about the market before - it is a place I absolutely love. Many of Nadezhda Ukraine's clients operate kiosks throughout the market, so shopping there is a way not only to support the work of those accessing sustainable methods of poverty alleviation, but it is supporting the grassroots of the Ukrainian economy. Roaming the kiosks, I came across some berries that were entirely new to me... currents and gooseberries. For those who've never had the pleasure, these berries are AMAZING. And a bonus discovery: in Ukraine, cherries are not simply cherries. There are several different names that clearly distinguish the varieties of cherries - Ukrainians take their cherries seriously.

Better than discovering the tastes and names of the fruit of Ukraine was meeting the kind bobushkas that sold them. The bobushka selling me gooseberries reminded me so much of my grandmother - hardworking and humorous. When I asked about the price (squelka stoid?), her response was "Duva!" It took me a minute to translate the cost into English in my head (I'm still learning the basics, you see...), so to help me along, she said: "Duva! (two in Russian) Von! Tue!" The expression on her face and the humorous forcefulness in her voice made me want to throw my arms around her right there - she could be Grandma's sister. The kind lady that sold me currents was inviting and enthusiastic. It remains evident that I am not from Ukraine (as soon as I open my mouth!), and she was eager to welcome me and ask me to return to her kiosk in the future. And a third bobushka kindly chose among the best of her cucumbers, simply to welcome a 'visitor' to the market.

In the evening, Nadia, Ashley, and I headed home together, intent on making amends with the bobushka I shared a less than pleasant encounter with on Saturday. The reconciliation was swift and sweet - within minutes, we were all smiling and talking easily, and she was telling us about her young grandson who would be visiting this weekend - and who she hoped we would meet. Knowing that we will be neighbors for another month to month and a half, I am glad that we've established a friendship in place of the tension that existed before.

These bobushkas are truly deserving of our respect. In fact, learning about their role in this country has reminded me of how quickly we in America (in general) have thrown respect of elders by the wayside. I started reading Waldon last weekend at the beach, and in the opening chapter, Thoreau describes how he felt his elders were no wiser than he was, and that he had nothing to learn from them. I have to disagree entirely. Yes, generations are different. We face different conditions, different struggles, different pressures, different modes of living... but that doesn't mean we have nothing to learn from them or that they are not deserving of our respect. Each morning as I walk to work, I see these women sweeping the streets, opening kiosks in the market, and carrying heavy bags. They have had difficult lives, have carried a country through two world wars, and continue to work in their latest years. How can it be said that there is nothing to learn from them? Or that they are undeserving of respect?

So why was this one of the best days? The best part remains! I've written often about how blessed I feel to be here, how fulfilling this journey has been, and how it has already been beyond what Travis and I had hoped for or imagined. As we've learned more about HOPE and Christian INGO's at work in microfinance ministries, we've become increasingly excited about sharing our experiences with our communities. Before returning to graduate school, I served for a year with a college ministry in Ames called The Salt Company (TSC). TSC is a part of Cornerstone - one of the most authentic, sincere, loving, and passionate communities I have been a part of. The equipping and encouragement Travis and I received there - the friendships and the relationships, and the ways we were challenged to grow are beyond words. It was difficult to leave to return to school, but poverty, policy, human rights, and international ministry were passions we felt called to pursue further. In the recent weeks, we've been in frequent contact with them, and yesterday, we learned that throughout the year, they have been exploring ministries in microfinance as well. They have started work in Zambia and have been searching out organizations that excel in microfinance ministries. Not knowing that I was in Ukraine with HOPE, the contacted HOPE and have begun to look for ways to learn from and partner with them. We do not know what the future will bring, but what we do know is this:

For years Travis and I have prayed and prepared for international ministry in poverty alleviation. It is something we feel called to - something we are passionate about, and something for us that is a part of both the compassion of our faith and the basic human rights of every being. And our family at Cornerstone have had a prominant hand in encouraging, equipping, and preparing us for such work. We know that this is not simply chance. What it will bring we cannot tell, but we are excited to search it out together. To think of what it may bring, no matter how big or how small, feels like a defining moment in our lives. We know that there is a grand masterpiece that is playing out, and we are eager to find our place in it.

June 20, 2007

Lesson 10

Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free... therefore, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:11-17

Strangely enough, the halfway mark of my internship is quickly approaching - just nine days from now. In so many ways, this journey continues to be new each day. Each day is filled with new insights and new challenges - and I am continually convinced that there was no other place for me to be this summer. The things that I am learning and the ways that I am growing far exceed what I had hoped for or imagined.

Next week, I will be helping to lead a six day camp. The girls in my group are between the ages of eight and twelve. The camp is part of the Tomorrow's Clubs, a ministry that Nadia Ukraine partners with and helps to support. I am thrilled and excited... my involvement is much more than I had expected! I have the opportunity not just to observe, but to help lead and teach lessons across the week.

The lessons that I am leading all have incredible messages. As I began to prepare for each, I found myself learning some basic truths again and becoming even more excited about sharing these with the girls across the week. My favorite by far is lesson ten. It encompasses my passions and the work that I feel called to do - and the source of why I fell in love with the work in the first place. The lesson focuses on Acts 10, where Peter's prejudice and stereotypes are exposed, and where he is taught that Christ's love and hope are not for one group or the other - they are for all. The lesson goes on to talk about how when Christ came, He didn't spend His time with the pious or the "good believers." Instead, He spent His time with the 'outcasts' of society - with the poor, with addicts, with the criminals.

Prejudices and stereotypes are rampant and increasingly destructive. As time progresses, they take on ever more complicated modes of expression and their consequences even more extensive and difficult to access. The causes and consequences of prejudices and stereotypes - and they ways that they are expressed structurally in global poverty - are why entered graduate studies. But what lies beyond that? The fact that over and over and over, Christ teaches that the love and hope He offers are for all - not just for the 'good people', the beautiful, the wealthy, the Americans... it's for everyone.

So many times, there are hard lines drawn between those that believe in Christ and those that do not. We alienate one another and hostilities fly from both directions. And for what? Where does such treatment get us? The stereotypes and prejudices exist there as well.

What excites me the most about this entire experience is that it fully encompasses every aspect of who I am, what I am passionate about, the work I love, and why I love it. It is an integration of poverty alleviation, my faith, and my commitment to human rights advocacy. And now, I have the incredible opportunity to teach how evident it is in the word that there is no room for prejudice or stereotypes in who God desires to extend his love and hope to.

June 18, 2007

A Weekend of Kids and One Crazy Encounter...

The experiences here never cease - each week brings new opportunities in both ministry and culture. And with each, the friendships I have and those I hold dear here become even more cherished. This weekend was a weekend of children, and one of the best weekends I have had here to date. On Friday, we held a baby shower for Larissa, the wife of one of the Children's Ministry Coordinators at HOPE. Larissa is one of the sweeteest, most endearing women I have ever met. She and Jzenya are expecting their first child - a son - in a little under two weeks.

The shower was one of the sweetest and most entertaining I've been to. We opened with a lunch. Cindy treated the group to burritos. I'm sure it's not surprising to most to learn that Mexican food is a rarity here - many have neither heard of nor tried Mexican foods. So lunch involved a short demonstration by Cindy on how to build and eat a burrito. Most of the women were genuinely interested and somewhat enthralled by this foreign food. To Ashley and I, veteran Mexican food eaters and ardent fans, the entire experience was humorous.

The rest of the shower involved games and a devotional led by Olga. Olga is a dear friend and one of the most constant women of faith I know. Her devotional was about the love of a mother, and how one of the most beautiful things is the mother who prays for the life, future, and ministry of her child. Earlier that day, my sister and I had been talking about that very thing - it was an incredible experience and something that made her feel so close to me at that moment although she is half a world away.

Saturday morning brought an opportunity I have been waiting for for some time. Across the morning, I helped to lead a day camp for youth of the Children's Sanitorium in Zaporozhye. The children at the Sanitorium are very poor and suffer from a number of health and behavioral disorders. They stay at the Sanitorium for periods of two to three months for treatment. While the Sanitorium is not an orphanage, in some ways, it operates as a short-term orphanage for these disadvantaged youth. Love, joy, and acceptance are hard commodities to come by in their lives. Members of the local church that HOPE partners with have joined together to offer weekend camps with games, crafts, plays, and lessons. Both the children and the adults love and look forward to these camps - it was amazing to be a part of it and I look forward to the camps that remain across the summer. It is an incredible ministry to be a part of - something that brings such joy and satisfaction to all that are involved. The children are so beautiful and good - it is frustrating to think of how easily and often they are otherwise cast aside.

When I returned to the flat from the Sanitorium, I decided to do some laundry. Laundry machines are a luxury here - I know of only two in the city so far. Laundromats are non-existent. By far and wide, laundry is accomplished by hand-washing. Since the days are hot and we spend much of our time walking, we tend to have a lot of laundry to do. So, I decided to give handwashing a try. All was good and well until it came to hanging up the clothes. As rare as laundry machines are in Ukraine, dryers are virtually non-existant. I've not heard of or seen one... and I've been told by many that no one has them. The mode of drying is therefore to hang clothes on lines throughout people's flats and out windows. I started with hanging clothes on the lines in our flats. They are high above our heads, so I used an old wooden footstool beside the lines. The age and structure of the stool left me a bit weary, but it was evidently for hanging clothes, so I decided to take a risk. I was wrong! The stool promptly broke, sending me flying into our marble wall. I sat dazed for a few minutes and decided perhaps drying clothes out the window would be a better route...

About thirty minutes later, a long, furious buzzing came from our doorbell. I had expected Ashley to be returning from a weekend leaders' training, so I thought nothing of it and opened the door. I was met not by Ashley, but by a sturdy and furious bobushka. Chris Horst, HOPE's intern coordinator, had told Ashley and I about an encounter he had with the bobushka living downstairs from us when he stayed in our apartment in early April. The water had overflowed in the apartment, sending her up and into the apartment in a bit of a frenzy. So as she stood there, I thought "... oh... I think I know who you are..." immediately followed by "... what did I do wrong? Paul fixed the drain!" She scolded me for a few minutes in Russian. The only responses I had to offer were "Yanipanyimyu," and "Ez Venieche," which mean "I don't understand you" and "I'm sorry." She quickly pushed past me and into our apartment. At this point, I was a little frightened... this woman was NOT happy and certainly was not to be trifled with. And, it is extremely important to show bobushka's respect as elderly women. They carried the country through the World Wars, when the men were away fighting, and they have seen hardship, poverty, and struggles that we can't begin to imagine. So I figured the best route of action was to allow her the room she needed and wanted to resolve what she was upset about and apologize for how I had offended her.

So it turns out that this bobushka is NOT a fan of water in any respect, whether it be the sound of it running, it dripping into her apartment from an overflow, or it dripping past her porch from above as clothes are drying. She pulled my laundry from the window and pushed it into my arms. At last! The source of this frenzy! She let me have it for another five or ten minutes in the kitchen, started down the hall, turned midway and scolded me again, headed to the door, scolded me again at the door, and then went on her way down the stairs... still scolding me as she marched down the stairs.

The lessons learned?
1. Always check before opening your door!
2. Handwashing laundry is more of a challenge than it seems.
3. NEVER trust old wooden stools... especially when they appear questionable to begin with.
4. And finally... while window drying is commonplace, it will not be occuring in our flat!
I'm content to let it dry over chairs and dressers if it will appease our neighboring bobushka. For now, I'm trying to decide whether chocolates or flowers will smooth over the damage...

And One More...

By oversight, I left out a very important observation of the Ukrainian culture from my last post. Kisses. Oh, my friends... kisses are such a part of this culture. For someone who is not a huge fan of kisses or kissing, this can be a challenge! But it turns out it's not all that bad. Friends and co-workers greet one another with a kiss when meeting and when departing. And then there's always the occasional kiss to express joy, gratitude, and friendship. It is typically a simple, single kiss on the cheek, but if the person is especially excited to see you, or especially joyful, prepare for somewhere between three and five kisses. This is yet another way living in Ukraine has helped me to push past some irrational areas of discomfort. A few others include my fear of birds (pigeons are EVERYWHERE, and fly up and toward you at any random moment -- and for no reason at all), my fear of dogs (street dogs are EVERYWHERE as well), and chlostrophobia (thanks to marshutkas and the general crowded nature of Zaporozhye, dealing with crowded spaces is a daily adventure!).

June 15, 2007

Here's and There's

There are a few things about life in Ukraine this summer that do not fit well into any other post. As such, I'm putting together some here's and there's about learning to live in this amazing culture, learning to speak this beautiful language, and loving the people of Ukraine. So in no particular order...

1. I've found that it is far more interesting and entertaining watching Ashley learn the Russian language than learning it myself. This is not to say that I'm not also learning... I'm just enjoying being a spectator of her learning experience - as I think anyone would for reasons I'll soon reveal. Ashley's encounter with the Russian language is met with her trademark playfulness and curiosity. Among my favorites of her discoveries are "Atlitchna! (Awesome!)" with both hand fully extended as if she's calling a touchdown, "Choo-choo (a little more)" with playful beckoning hands, "Fso? (Is that all?)" with questioning eyebrows, and "Hadasho (It's ok)" with a slight hand flip to emphasize the relaxed nature of the phrase. Ashley is a playful combination of adventurousness, curiosity, and determination. She is much more than simply the blessing of a friend and roommate - she is in many ways a source of entertainment as well.

2. So it turns out that there is no Russian translation for the shortened version of my name - Jaqui (I gave up on trying to communicate Jaquilyn shortly after I arrived). And in fact, pronouncing Jaqui is truly a challenge for those whose first language is Russian. Russian tends to be heavy with consonants, so a name composed primarily of vowels is fairly out of place here. As such, I've become Jgzicki... which has its own playful sound.

3. Terms of endearment for good friend here are... well, endearing. For those you hold dear, you tend to shorten their name and add "lishka" to the end. So, I'm often referred to as Jgzicklishka. I'm not going to lie... I kind of like it, and it gets nearer to Jaquilyn.

4. The Russian language is a beautiful one - more beautiful as you begin to learn and understand it. But it's a complicated one. No joke... it tends to take about five times as long to say something in Russian than it does in English. And about as long to write it, too. So it should not be a surprise to learn that Russian is the second most difficult language on this earth to learn... next only to Chinese.

5. While Russian is beautiful, it was no exaggeration when I first wrote that the written language often seems to be screaming out at you in caps. Updated observation: most computers in our office are designed to type in both Russian and English. Every time I log onto a computer that has most recently been used to communicate in Russian, I have to switch off the caps lock. I don't think it's a coincidence...

6. The longer I am here, the more I realize I am also becoming obsessed with cucumbers and cherries. Honestly, I did not particularly like either of these when I first arrived, but I'm finding that they are now staples. And buckwheat - don't trash it 'till you try it. Same for barley. So I've nearly transitioned to a Ukrainian menu. I doubt, however, I'll get over my American obsession with coffee.

7. I LOVE walking the city. And I'm sorry to say this to fans of marshutkas, but I cannot stand marshutkas. They are a necessary evil to getting around in a large city, but I avoid them at all costs. Chris Horst (our fearless coordinator) was NOT joking when he said that personal space and fresh air do not exist on marshutkas. While I'm a fan of public transit in the Twin Cities, I'll take walking any day over a marshutka. The city is beautiful, and each morning as I walk to work I feel like I discover something new. The walk (which I think is somewhere between one and two miles) is the perfect way to start the day.

So... there is so much more to share - little nuances of the culture, the language, and the people - but it's impossible to communicate all at once. I'll likely throw in here's and there's, well, here and there in my blogging. I hope that it will help to give you a more full picture of this wonderful place...

June 13, 2007

Hiding the Coffee Beans

These past few days have brought a much needed respite from travel and hectic schedules. It has been wonderful to settle more into the Nadiya Headquarters in Zaporozhye. Across the week, I've been learning much more about my purpose here this summer, my major projects, and role in this incredible organization. The express microloan project is beginning to take shape, and it has been an exciting process to help formulate the program design and implementation processes. It has also been exciting to learn more about the details of the finance and banking industry of the Ukraine. The pockets of technology and advancement are distributed in ways that are surprising and complex in their own right. What has been most exciting is planning for the integration of client's needs, perspectives, and requests for the program. There are infinately more things to learn about INGO's in microfinance than any book could teach. I realize more each day of the value and worth of this experience.

Aside from the work I have been doing with HOPE, I have had a wonderful time this week of strengthening friendships. The friendships I have here are already deep and sincere. On Monday night, Ashley and I spent the evening at Olga's house. Her mother in so many ways reminded me of my own - it was so good to have a taste of home. She was full of hospitality and love - ready to share the best of what she had with her guests, and honored to have friends in her home. She was friendly, warm, and excited to learn all she could about us and to become good friends. Much of the night was filled with sharing stories of our lives, and moments of jokes and unexpected humor filled what was in between. One of the most unforgettable moments was sharing chocolate covered espresso beans with Olga and Valodia. While coffee is widely available in the Ukraine, tea is preferred. Americans, in the eyes of Ukrainians, are obsessed with coffee. No surprises here - I have my own growing obsession for these caffeine filled wonders. In broken English, Valodia pointed to the chocolate covered beans and asked if they were coffee. Ashley and I of course confirmed that they were, but little did he know that he was not biting into coffee flavored chocolate, but rather chocolate covered espresso beans. His face was one of horror, quickly concealed by polite delight. Ashley and I lost it completely. He was confused as to whether to continue chewing the beans or spit it out as we do cherry pits. It was hilarious. As we left for the evening, he said he was happy for his new American friends that hide coffee beans in chocolate. I will never be able to do full justice to the story!

Yesterday was - wait for it - my 26th birthday. I rarely make any to-do about my birthday. In fact, had Cindy (Director of HOPE's Tomorrow Clubs) not asked our entire party last week when our birthdays were, I would not have said a word. For me, what is important is that Travis remembers and that I can share it in some small way with my family. But small birthdays are unheard of at HOPE! And so I was blessed yesterday with one of the most memorable and celebrated birthdays I think I will ever have. The day started with Travis calling me early in the morning to wish me a Happy Birthday and an incredible walk with Ashley to the office. A productive meeting filled most of my morning, but when I returned to the office, two Ukrainian cakes were waiting and roses with blessings and verses tied to each. One rose was for my family, another for my marriage, another for my faith, another for my work, and so on. It was amazing. From Nadiya, a mug with tulips (my favorite flower) and animal crackers (my favorite indulgence these days!). After work, Ashley and I went to Paul and Cindy's to celebrate with Paul, Cindy, Andre, and Ira. We had a wonderful dinner (Cindy is an amazing cook - I'll definitely be bringing home recipes from her!), time to sing and talk together (singing is a huge part of time spent among friends here), and as a special treat - Cindy is doing our laundry for us. Now you must understand, laundry machines are few and far between here, so to have machine washed clothes is quite a luxury! I was given incredible sandles, a tote bag, an umbrella (a necessity I forgot!), and a flashlight (also a necessity I forgot and important as I love walking the city!). One of the most precious parts of the day was recieving some of the most sincere and warm birthday wishes I ever have - both from the states and here. From friends here, the wishes were warm, sincere, and deep - to grow in Christ and to feel the light of God's face this year. The wishes were at once personal, genuine, and loving. And I realize even more how blessed I am to be here, and how much I am falling in love with the people I work with, the people I work for, and this country.

Today brings more meetings, more steps on this exciting project, and an opportunity to work more with the Kiva partnership. I think often interns are unable to see and feel the fruits of their labor. I feel that I am already seeing the fruits of mine and will be fortunate to see a project come to completion and implementation. In so many ways, this is the right place to be and I could not ask for more from this experience.

June 11, 2007

Settling in and Searching out the Future

The past two and a half weeks have been an exciting flurry of travel, introductions, and acclimation to Ukranian culture, the Russian and Ukrainian languages, and Nadiya (Hope) International. I feel like I learn so much new every day. Each day is filled with a new set of challenges and blessings, and ever more people to meet and stories to hear. Though I am grateful for the exitement and enamored with the newness of it all, I am also relieved to be settling in to Nadiya and to the work that I will be doing across the summer. I tend to be a creature of routine (not necessarily of habit!), so I welcome this balance of newness and routine.

I learned Friday of two major projects that I will be working on across the summer. My first project is to help the microfinance department transition their smaller, preapproved microfinance products to a more accessible mode. I will be working with Maxym and Deema to create a card system, reflective of the local banking system, that clients can access the products from. It has been interesting to learn that the banking system of Ukraine, like so many features of the economy and country's infrastructure, skipped entire generations of technology. Most Ukrainians skipped the paper banking generation and have transitioned directly to a debit/cash card system. Credit is still spotty, however, so rather than moving from a credit card system to incorporate a debit system as the US has, Ukraine is working to incorporate credit into their debit/cash system. For the poor alienated by traditional banks, Hope's move to offering microfinance products on a card system represents more accessible assistance as they strive to move out of poverty. I am excited to be a part of such a project.

The second project is something I am new to, but that I am finding incredibly fulfilling. In December of 2006, Nadiya partnered with Kiva to create client profiles of the local microfinance entrepreneurs. Essentially, this partnership helps to connect lenders with clients, to show the faces and to share the stories of lives being changed. It creates a very real, human link between lender and client. It provides a tangible connection between the two, where lenders can see the fruits of their investment and where clients can share their desires, their hopes, and their future plans. It makes the relationship more real, and I would argue, more effective for both. Requests by clients become more personal, and more of what they truly are on the field. So often, there is a disconnect between individuals in different cultures, different languages, and different lives. By helping to create these profiles, I am an instrument to help bridge that gap. As I am not fluent in Russian, my involvement in this endeavor is for now somewhat limited and dependent upon the unending patience and assistance of Olga. But I am learning that it is something that I want to be a part of throughout my life. It is incredible to hear these stories, and in some cases, to see the impact firsthand. Creating these links has been incredibly effective in expanding microfinance organizations and lending/support bases. For those interested, I strongly encourage you to visit www.kiva.org. Nadiya is listed as a partner in the Ukraine, as is Esparanza. Both are partners of Hope International.

As my work here has begun to take root, I continue to search out what God is putting on my heart for the future. I know that I have been given a passion for poverty. And I am finding that that passion is in creating bonds between people in microfinance endeavors and in making such endeavors more accessible, efficient, and beneficial for those in extreme poverty. I am torn, however, as to what that means. Travis and I have been considering PhD programs for some time now, and that certainly remains an option. International work - exactly as I am doing this summer - has been on our hearts even longer. I know now more than ever that a masters in public policy program was the right step to take, but what lies beyond this? Do we step directly into international work, or is the PhD the logical next step? And somewhere in there lies our hopes and plans for a family - for adopting our children. With the many opportunities I'm being given to visit and work in orphanages on the weekends, I know that we have searching to do in this area as well. I often jump ahead to quickly... after all, I still have a year to complete my masters program before the next step begins. But already, we are talking and planning for work and travels next summer with Hope, Nadiya, Kiva, or Esparanza. I knew going into this summer that it would be life changing - such endeavors always are... I just wonder what those changes will mean.

June 6, 2007

To Yalta

Hope's Regional Conference has been incredible. I have met some of the most encouraging, inspiring, and light hearted people ever. I can only say I'm glad for this opportunity - it's one I could not have had otherwise. Two of the most entertaining were Sergey and Sparta. These two men coordinate the Tomorrow Clubs of the Luhansk region, among the poorest of Ukraine. They confront the most desperate poverty among the children of Ukraine on a daily basis, yet their hearts are light and they above all inspire hope in others. That is amazing.

After a few days of attending sessions and laying on the beach, we decided to travel to Yalta, the site of the Yalta Conference of 1945 between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States. It has also been the resort and vacation site of the former Soviet Union for years, a favorite of Lenin's. A statue of Lenin still stands prominently in the court along the boardwalk. To be in a place of such history and beauty at once was amazing.

On the boardwalk, I bought a bracelet made of the woods of Ukraine. It has pine, pear, cherry, and a number of other prominent trees of the nation. I couldn't think of anything better to remember the country by.

We also traveled to a castle in the Crimea region known as the crow's nest. It is an incredible site to behold. It sets nestled right on the cliff of the Black Sea. We had hoped to see the castles of the Romanov family as well (there are two or three in the Crimea region), but did not have enough time.

One of the most important things I feel like I am learning here is the importance of rest. Last year was an intense year for both Travis and I. We were adjusting to a huge move, a new place, a new life, and an intense schedule. My days often lasted from 8 am to 11 pm and weekends were unheard of. It was a running joke among my friends and I that "this is the grad life," but it does take a toll. I've pushed myself hard throughout my life, but I think I've often overlooked the importance of rest. I am learning that here. Life and time carry a different meaning here. Priorities are different, as are the way people approach work and schedules. While I doubt I will ever take on this system entirely, I am learning from it and hope to strike a better balance.

June 2, 2007

Journey to Crimea

It has been quite some time since I have written and much has happened since then. Early in the morning on Saturday, June 2nd, we left for Crimea, a city along the coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine. Hope's regional semi-annual conference was held across the week. It was a wonderful time and gave us the opportunity to learn even more about HOPE, to meet the staff operating programs throughout the country and region, and to rest on the incredible shores of the Black Sea.

The journey to Crimea was a bit sobering. When I first arrived in the country and traveled by bus to Zaporozhye from Kiev, I saw countless wreaths and memorials at the sides of the roads. I remember thinking that the significance must be different from the US. It couldn't be possible that there were that many deaths by accidents along the roads. Traveling to Crimea, I understood why it is possible and why it is so.

The infrastructure of Ukraine, while making much progress (we passed a number of construction sites), remains somewhat underdeveloped and thus dangerous. Compounding the matter is the fact that few drivers observe driving regulations. People consistently pass in no passing zones, pass along curves and up hills, drive at incredible speeds, and ignore the set lanes.

(***Warning - graphic material in the next paragraph***)

About a third of the way into the trip, we passed one of the worst accidents I have seen in my life. I have seen a 25 car pile up on the ice of Iowa roads, but the worst did not compare to this 2 car accident. The cars were demolished and two bodies lay at the side of the road. I cannot describe what I felt at that moment. Complete sadness for them and their families, frustrations over structural poverty, fear that we were traveling the same treacherous roads. About a half hour later, two cars passed us dangerously and at incredible speeds. Not ten minutes later, we came across another accident. The cars had collided and ignited. None survived. We came across two additional minor accidents. When we arrived in Crimea, I was exhausted and in a bit of shock. I realized how shielded we are in the states from such tragedies. Accidents are blocked off until all is cleared away - we seldom see the true devastation - just the glass and pieces left behind. Here, accidents take sometimes only 15 minutes to clear, and you are confronted with the entire tragedy. It opened my eyes in a new way to structural, country-wide poverty. A lack of infrastructure costs lives and livelihoods in a number of ways - more than we would think.

When we arrived in Crimea, I felt the promise of God's hope and goodness in new ways. The beauty of the sea and the mountains is hard to describe. The rest and renewal I found there were things I much needed. And what I continue to learn about Hope inspires me to delve further into the ministry and work here... it is a story to be continued!

June 1, 2007

Business Training Camp

Most microfinance programs integrate additional programs such as business training or health education to ensure sustainable development and results. One thing I truly love about HOPE is that country and regional programs are tailored to meet the needs of the local economy and clientele. For instance, while HOPE programs in Africa and the Dominican Republic integrate health and community programs, HOPE programs in Eastern Europe focus more on individual entrepreneurs and children.

I had the opportunity across the week of June 1 to be a part of one of HOPE's business training camps for local youth. It was exciting to see the progress of the youth across the week. They learned about how to plan for and develop a business and then applied their training to the operation of an actual small scale business. On Thursday, three groups of youth operated three business throughout Zaparozhye. One sold lemonade on the beach, one offered milkshakes and jell-o "sundaes" to local businesses, and one offered beverages and games to people in the park. Each business was skillfully designed to meet what they felt the most pressing need for each area was. For most, it was a way to address the heat as the Ukraine has precious few cooling systems. I've only come across two air conditioners so far - one in the office and one in a personal residence.

Each business was successful. All earned a profit using the business training they had received (such as creating a business plan, taking a small loan to start the business, and developing a budget to operate within). Most exciting was to see how they applied Biblical principles of stewardship, service, and ethics to their business endeavors. On Friday, we held a small graduation ceremony and a sort of farewell party for the US team from Grove City College that had come to offer the camp. It is still at times surreal to be a part of this process on the ground - to see training take hold and hear firsthand how these programs change perspectives, practices, and ultimately lives. It remains a humbling and encouraging process...