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Posts Tagged ‘Ukraine’

Eurasia and Ukraine

We completed the workshop on Friday, Nov 17, and then flew to Ukraine the following Saturday. The workshop was not without its challenges, especially with Oksana trying to meet Eliyas’ needs while also doing interpreting for me. Since two families meet us to do the translation work, we had many helpers. We also had many good times as a family (pics below of us at grocery stores [top row] and a cafe [left on second row]), since we were together all day and all night. We are very thankful that Eliyas is flying in the planes well (pic of his first plane ride below [right on second row]) and adjusts happily to each new circumstance we put him in.

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We normally cover only 300 verses in these Metanoia workshops, but I’d like to get us up to doing 80-100 per day. Well, we got up to 321 total, so that’s progress but not quite as much as I wanted. But I am learning much about the language, and the translators are honing their translation skills, so we are hopeful to see continued progress.

While we are stationed in Ukraine, we had a baby dedication for Eliyas at Oksana’s home church last Sunday. It was a joyful time as we dedicated him to the Lord in two languages. It was on his 6-month birthday, so we celebrating by giving him some table food. He really liked it!

2017.11.19 first real food (5)

Our family here is really enjoying getting to know him. We are thankful that he can spend 6 weeks straight here.

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At the end of the month, I’m flying alone to Chad, Africa, to train translators on our Bible translation program for two weeks. I’ve been preparing for this ever since we arrived in Ukraine. So far, I’ve collected 160 computer terms in French, which I need to memorize in order to teach well. Pray for God’s wisdom as I prepare. While I’m gone, Oksana will be getting dental work done (at a much lower rate) and in general just enjoying Eliyas with family and friends.

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The summer has flown by and is not going to slow day in August. It really picked up speed in July when we went to BMM Candidate Seminar in early July for Oksana. Here’s a picture of her class:

Class of 2016.jpgAfter the seminar we had a few meetings in PA and NJ and then headed across the eastern states to WI for the Bible Faculty Summit hosted by Maranatha Baptist University. Here’s a picture of the group of profs (and others) who attended that.

2016.07 Bible Faculty Summit.jpgIt was a great time of fellowship and learning. I really appreciated the warm-hearted scholarship taht this summit promotes. I hope I can attend next year’s summit which will be hosted by Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary.

On Tuesday of this week we at BI will begin our annual Consultant Seminar. It should be our best attended seminar yet, as we’ll have around 30 by the end of the week. We look forward to learning about lexicography by an SIL expert, whom we have invited to teach us. She has a wealth of training and experience so I know we will learn much. We hope to make dictionary-making more a part of our process. I will be leading the seminar, and my mom with Oksana’s helping will be overseeing food preparations, so it will be truly a family affair!

Our annual picnic is right after that and then we fly out to Eurasia for another workshop on the Metanoia NT. So, as I said earlier, it’s going to be a very busy month. We look forward to taking a vacation in Ukraine on our way back from the workshop.

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Oksana and I really looked forward to getting back to our supporting church in Indianapolis–Colonial Hills Baptist Church. I presented my ministry there in 2010 at a missions conference, and Oksana had never been there. We were busy packing for the visit last Friday night, when Oksana got a call from her sister at 9:30 pm. That was a very odd time for her to call, since she’s 7 hours ahead of Oksana, so immediately Oksana was concerned. She thought it was going to be news that her dad had passed away, because he’s getting quite weak. But instead, she heard that her 17-year-old nephew, Roma, had died in his sleep. What a shock! It hit Oksana extremely hard, because she thought there was no hope he was in heaven. She couldn’t stop crying that night and hardly slept all night. I also had a very difficult night of sleep.

Thankfully, around 3:45 am, Oksana remembered that the Lord had worked in Roma’s heart at a camp a little over a year ago. He even prayed with his grandmother (Oksana’s mom) after he returned and then showed a desire to be at church. Sadly, these changes faded and he went back to his normal self–just a carefree, somewhat reckless, guy who really enjoyed working out, thought very highly of his friends and their approval, and was just an average teenage with a messy room but a big smile.

Oksana said she was impressed to see so many friends and classmates come to the funeral service, that was held in a courtyard outside her sister’s apartment building. The director of the school cancelled class for the day and required some of the older classes to attend. Many people–both in school and among the medical community–were shocked to see such a strong boy lose his life at such a young age. Apparently, he overtaxed his already weak heart with his exercise, and his one remaining kidney wasn’t working too well. So, his aortic valve burst while he was sleeping. No matter how hard his father or the emergency staff tried to revive him, there was no hope. They found out later that his body had filled with blood immediately.

When death hits you this close, you feel the reality of death like never before. Death is coming upon us all, but for some, it will come suddenly. And for all, it’s final. We will never see Roma’s big smile again.

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Instead, we can only pray for the family, especially for the parents as they grieve this huge loss. We can also pray that God will use it to grip the hearts of his unsaved family–his father, his younger brother, his younger sister, his maternal grandfather (Oksana’s dad) and his paternal grandparents. We are thankful that Oksana’s former pastor was able to preach a strong message on the gospel at the funeral service on Tuesday.

We can also learn the lesson of how fragile life truly is and how we must be ready at any moment to meet our Maker.

Oksana and I are thankful that God provided extremely inexpensive airline tickets (though we ordered them just a day before she left) and that He provided the funds for the tickets through a friend and through the love gift from Colonial Hills. Since we were heading to Indy already, we checked on prices out of that city and found them better than any other city I checked into: Grand Rapids, Chicago, and Detroit. Plus, God gave Oksana perfect connections–she just had to walk down the hall a few gates for each connecting flight. God manifested His presence throughout!

So, I went to Colonial Hills by myself last Sunday, just as I did in 2010. But this time, my heart was heavy with longing to have my wife at my side but also for the grief that she and her family were going through. But God carried me through! I had such an encouraging time with Pastor Phelps and his church. It’s exciting to see what God is doing there, including among the Burmese church that is starting up in their youth building. And the good part about Oksana’s having to miss is that the Lord is providing another opportunity next month for her to go back!

Next weekend we’ll go to Macomb Baptist Church in Clinton Township, MI. I was there in April 2012 and saw a real heart for the ministry of Bible translation, so I look forward to what the Lord will do this weekend. I’m praying we can become ministry partners! “On the way” to Clinton Township, I’ll have to drive down to Indy on Friday so I can pick up a very tired Oksana. Pray for her to recover quickly from a very grueling week.

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The first half of this year didn’t quite go as planned! It was supposed to start with a one-week trip to Chad, Africa, where I would dedicate the Rito NT, my first time to dedicate a completed translation. Then, I would go to India to lead the Asia Consultant Seminar and then lead a Simte OT workshop. I would spend 4 weeks total in India. The first 6 months would end with a two-week workshop in Haiti.

Well, after spending Christmas break in Ukraine, my year got started off with a rush by returning to the office to spend the first week doing strategic planning with the BI Director and the other managers. That gave me only one week to get caught up from being away for 2.5 weeks and to prepare for a two-week trip to Côte d’Ivoire (the Chad trip was cancelled since the Rito NT wasn’t ready for shipment yet).

I had no idea what to expect in Côte d’Ivoire. We were going to do further research on the situation and start forming committees to do the translation work. I knew I would need to do linguistic analysis on two languages I had never seen before, but I didn’t anticipate that I would also give some cursory translator training so they could begin revision work on their 2 NTs which were completed years ago. So, in the evenings I had to study their languages, prepare translator training, and also keep up with strategic planning. I did some of the latter while in airplanes and buses too.

After that trip I originally gave myself 1 week to get caught up at the office and also prepare for my time in India. But as my relationship with my girlfriend developed so quickly over Christmas, I decided I’d add a stop-off in Ukraine on my way to India, so I ended up with only 2 days in the office. One week wasn’t enough time, let alone 2 days, and one of those 2 days was spent with more strategic planning with the BI administration. I was quite stressed about how I’d prepare to lead a consultant seminar and get ready for a translation workshop in India. Again, more preparation as I traveled! But then God worked by causing the seminar to go slower than I had expected and delaying the translation workshop by 3 days. These interventions gave me just enough breathing room to get my preparations done. The workshop also went slower than expected—in fact, we didn’t even cover all that I had prepared!

I had 2 months after my India trip to get caught up on tasks and also get ready for the next wave of workshops in May and June. Those months were also spent working through the visa process with my fiancée. The time flew quickly and I found myself still not ready for the workshop in Haiti and then the new workshop in Eurasia, which wasn’t originally part of my schedule. But off I went to Haiti anyway. I had to spend around 3 hours each evening in Haiti preparing more material, but God gave me the strength for us to cover both Deuteronomy and Joshua, something I hadn’t expected we’d get done!

The Eurasia trip, as I said, was thrown into my schedule earlier in the year. I added the responsibility because I knew it would give me an opportunity to see my fiancée again, since she would be needed for Russian interpreting. But when I committed to go, I didn’t realize I would have to write a whole new translator training manual, since our current one fit an English-speaking context. God helped me to write 90 pages before I left, and then I wrote around 30 more while in Eurasia. The translator training was quite rigorous, since the team wanted to cover all the material in 11 days straight, but I was amazed at how God guided and strengthened, even giving me new ways of teaching during the actual training. Praise God!

The first half of the year ended with a quick trip to a church in Maryland to teach 3 sessions about Bible translation and to preach in the AM service. I don’t see how that trip fit into my busy schedule, but I’m thankful that it did.

Now I’m on vacation! It started on July 1 in the afternoon. On July 2 I drove to the Philadelphia area to meet up with my mom to fly to Ukraine. We arrived on July 4 and will leave on July 13 with my fiancée. Pray for safety in travel and especially for my fiancée as this will be her first time to go to the USA.

We’ll have less than 2 weeks to finalize plans for the wedding on July 25. Then we’ll enjoy two weeks of honeymoon in the Poconos mountains before arriving back at my home in Michigan on August 1. After a grueling start to 2015, I was definitely ready for a long vacation!

But this vacation was squeezed into a busy schedule that will pick up again with a Consultant Seminar and then the BI Annual Retreat in mid-August. Thankfully, a two-week teaching assignment for late August was cancelled, so I get to spend Sept and Aug settling into life in Michigan with my new wife. We’ll also visit churches in MI, PA, and IL.

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Life has been pretty crazy for me every since late October, and now things are finally calming down. First it was a trip to PNG in early October for a Tok Pisin workshop. Then right after Thanksgiving I went to Haiti for a Haitian Creole workshop. I had 1 week home before I went to Ukraine to be with my girlfriend (who is now my fiancée!) at Christmas for 2.5 weeks. There were 2 weeks at home after that, and one was spent doing strategic planning all day for 4 days. That left me with basically 1 week to prepare for a two-week trip to Côte d’Ivoire in late Jan/early Feb. I had 2 days after that trip before I headed out again for 4.5 weeks in Ukraine and India. Of course, that stop-over in Ukraine was to propose to my girlfriend, so I had no problem conjuring up the strength to do that, and then the joy of that carried me all the way through India.

But then I finally arrived home for a longer respite last Monday, and I crashed! I actually think I went into a mini-depression. I also had a stomach bug I endured in India that revisited me on Tuesday. It was all I could do to put one foot in front of the other to dig myself out of the pile of work waiting for me when I got home (I’m still digging!). It’s been a tough 5 months, and the adrenalin was quite high because of my engagement, so it was natural for me to go through a “low” last week. Thankfully, with the help of my fiancée’s encouragement and prayers, the fellowship of other believers, and time in the Word and prayer, I am back to a somewhat normal condition.

And during these past 5 grueling months, I can testify to God’s faithfulness. I still remember feeling overwhelmed at various times as I prepared for each assignment. Either the assignment called for more preparation than I had time for, or it involved a unique twist that I had not yet encountered, or both. A lot of evenings were filled with work, and even some Sundays. I also had to read on airplanes and buses when I would have preferred just to relax. But God gave strength and helped me through it all.

I’ll share just a few examples of how God helped. When I was preparing to go to Côte d’Ivoire, I wondered how I could do lots of interpretation into French for my co-worker, analyze the quality of 2 New Testaments (that we completed a number of years ago) to determine how much revision needed to be done, and evaluate their orthographies to see if it still worked for the spoken form of these two languages. God sent two Africans to help with the French interpretation, He gave me good ideas for how to train them in French on how to evaluate their own NTs, and He provided various resources so I could lead the Africans through evaluations of their orthographies. I still marvel at how well that came together!

Having only 2 days between my Africa and India trips sure put lots of pressure me. I had to begin preparations weeks ahead of time in the evenings and on the weekends, but I was still far short of being ready. My time in India began with a consultant seminar that I lead, and would you believe that I actually had more material than what we could cover in 2 days?! In other words, I was over-prepared for the seminar! But then I thought I had to start the Ranglong OT workshop the very next day, which I was not prepared to do (I wanted at least one day to step back and transition). Though I had enough material to begin, it was decided it would be better for the translator to spend the next 3 working days with a linguistics volunteer to analyze and fix his orthography. That gave me just the transition time I needed! I thought the Lord was also giving me time to prepare more workshop material, but instead, most of those hours were spent with administrative duties–talking to 3 consultants about their challenges and how to overcome them, teaching an overview of our translation philosophy to new translators, helping a different translation team determine how they can work more efficiently, creating survey forms for strategic planning, and answering many, many emails. I ended up preparing only 2 more chapters of material for the workshop, but in the end we didn’t even get to those two chapters. Why? Because the workshop went much slower than I expected! In other words, I was over-prepared for the workshop! Truly, God’s ways are amazing! I just hope I can remember these lessons, because the overwhelming feelings will surely return in the future!

I get to enjoy 2 months at home before I have to head out again! I’m sure going to enjoy being at my home and experiencing routine in life for a change!

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My love story with Oksana

On May 13, 2014, just 3 days before my 42nd birthday, Pastor John Conover of Victory Baptist Church in Reading, PA (one of my supporting churches), sent me an email to let me know about a very special girl in Ukraine named Oksana Novikova. He had met her during his travels to Ukraine, as she was his interpreter, and he quickly became impressed with her. As Oksana’s newly married best friend talked with Pastor Conover in the spring about finding someone for Oksana, Conover thought of me, so he sent that May 13 email.

I was at first resistant to the idea, though I was immediately affected by Oksana’s beautiful face on Facebook and the amazing words that Conover shared. But I was almost convinced I shouldn’t try for a cross-cultural marriage…almost. But as I prayed about it, I realized that I deal with cross-cultural situations all the time, so if anyone should try, it should be me. So, I sent her a friend request on Facebook, which she quickly accepted, and then I sent her a message on June 14, which she very slowly responded to (because she doesn’t like to get set up and also didn’t think she and I made a good match). I sent another email on June 21, and she finally responded a few days earlier. We soon switched over to email, and then we went to Skype in early July.

Our first Skype conversation wasn’t very promising to me, because I got a wrong impression of her. But when we Skyped two more times that week, I quickly felt my heart warming up to her. It was amazing how well we got along, though we barely knew each other and had come from such different backgrounds and cultures. I loved her smiles, her joyful spirit, and her love for the Lord, among many other things. I initiated a time of prayer and Bible reading during our conversations, and she absolutely loved that. She had been longing for a spiritual leader in a relationship. Some of our Skype conversations were around 3-4 hours long, which is even more significant when you consider that most of them started at 11:30 PM her time, since I had to wait until after 4:30 PM my time, which is when our BI office closes each day. Once we Skyped for around 3 hours and then messaged through Viber for another 2 hours, meaning she didn’t go to bed until 4:30 AM the next morning!

Though our chemistry on Skype was quite good, I felt it was essential to spend time in person, so I squeezed a trip to Ukraine between two furlough meetings in August. I had 2.5 days to spend with her, and we had an amazing time! It confirmed that she was just as much fun–and even more so–in person as she was on Skype. So, the Skype chats continued, though somewhat secretively, since we didn’t want to let this become public yet for fear of being pressured by too many questions. We wanted instead for the relationship to develop naturally and freely. We entered into an official relationship on August 28, so I’d say things were developing quite well!

2014.08.26 in Ukraine

We tried to get a visa for her to visit the USA during Christmas, but that was denied, probably because she’s still single and so has no compelling reason to return to Ukraine in their minds (though she definitely wanted to return back to her home country and ministry). So, we decided I needed to go there, and the Lord confirmed that by providing all the money I needed for that trip only a few days after we made that decision.

It was the most wonderful Christmas I’ve ever had! I saw how important it was for me to see more of her in her own context. I saw how she ministered in her church, encouraged those around her, brought joy to children, etc. Many facets of her wonderful personality became apparent in that context, arousing deep love in my heart for her. I also got to know her friends and family better (I didn’t meet hardly any friends in August, since we were trying to keep things inconspicuous). Thankfully, I was warmly accepted by all. God blessed our time in every way, even when we had a few incidents with the missionary’s vehicle (whoops!). We even got to minister together, as I preached in 3 different churches and she interpreted. By the end of the trip, I confessed my unconditional love to Oksana and already began making plans for getting engaged.

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I had to return to the USA to get the ring, though, but while still in Ukraine, I began connecting with a few of her friends who knew some English and could help me execute my surprise visit on Valentine’s Day weekend. I tried to throw Oksana off by suggesting that I could drop by and visit her on my way to Africa in late Jan or on my way back to the USA in early Feb. Apparently, though, it didn’t work, because she became highly suspicious that it would happen on my way to India in mid-February.

I arrived on February 13 to buy candles, flowers, and sweets, and to decorate a friend’s guesthouse, where the proposal would happen. This friend invited Oksana and others over to help them celebrate their 10-year anniversary, but the wife told Oksana that she had a surprise for her at the guesthouse. That’s where we met up and I proposed. Though she was already anticipating my visit, she didn’t expect that I would decorate the room so romantically. It provided a perfect atmosphere to enjoy our mutual love and to offer our prayers of thanksgiving and dedication to God together.

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I enjoyed my first Valentine’s Day with my new fiancée the following day. We got to spend time with family and friends, were able to encourage a friend in the hospital, took pictures in the park, and enjoyed a delicious dinner at a nice restaurant.

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As is the tradition in Ukraine, we announced the engagement at Oksana’s church the following Sunday morning. Bruce Tuttle, the American missionary for whom Oksana interprets at his Bible college and her “adopted” dad, gave an amusing but also encouraging presentation of the engagement. The youth choir sang a song about 1 Corinthians 13 love during the service and then sang a song directly to us after the engagement about the wonders of love. Then people in the church came and congratulated us, with many also giving flowers.

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It was such a glorious and encouraging weekend! Sadly, though, I had to leave for India Sunday night, so here I am in Dubai on my way east.

Though Oksana and I both wanted to get married in Ukraine so that her family and friends could share in the joy, we came to realize after talking to an immigration lawyer that if we married in Ukraine, we would probably have to live many months apart afterwards as we waited for her Green Card. So, we have applied for a fiancée visa. The lawyer estimates that should take 6-8 months. Once we get the visa, we can set the date for the wedding. Pray for God to prepare our hearts for this significant life transition and that He would speed along the visa process. We truly do long to be together for the rest of our lives!

I look forward to introducing her to America (she’s never been outside Ukraine) and more importantly, to helping her get to know my friends all over the world. As the Lord provides, she will travel with me some. She loves adventure and learning new things, so she will fit into my life quite well! I have no doubt that I will be able to serve the Lord better with her at my side than when I was single. I don’t know all the reasons why the Lord has kept me single this long, but I’m so thankful that my single days are finally numbered and now decreasing! To God be the glory and praise and thanks!

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