Category Archives: Weekly Post

Water???

How we take water for granted. When I first came to Ukraine in 2002, I was introduced to the water problems of Ukraine. My first experience took place in Patriky, Ternopol region, while I was in the lecture phase of missionary school. The village where the school was held had turned off the water for three to five days. This was not so unusual for the local people. What was funny, although not at the time, was my not knowing what to do. An announcement was made that there was an outhouse in the back yard. For some reason, that announcement was not translated for me.

In the second phase, outreach, my team lived in a city in western Ukraine for two months. We lived in a flat on the sixth floor, about a twenty minute walk from the center of the city. Our water situation was an eye opener for me. Hot and cold water were available for two hours in the morning, two hours at mid day, and four hours in the evening. What a challenge it was for me to coordinate all of the team water needs with our other activities. I learned a lot about living with other people during those two months.

Seven years have come and gone, and I have had a lot of water stories to tell. As I write this story, I am once again in Western Ukraine. This time I am in the city of Borislav, in the L’vov region. This is my fourth visit, and I am only beginning to learn about their water problems. For instance, during the last eighteen years, they have not had hot water.

In 2008, MUCH started to support the ministry that Volodya has. He works with orphaned children in the city of Dobromel. In his home in Borislav where I stayed the first three visits, I learned that he is an engineering genius. In his home on the fourth floor, they receive water twice a day for two hours. It is common for people in this city to fill the bathtub in the morning, using that water for the toilet, cooking and cleaning needs throughout the day. Instead of accepting this as normal, Volodya has installed a gravity fed holding tank and a gravity fed hot water tank. They still must be careful with their water use, but it is available all day.

This time, I stayed at Volodya’s son-in-law and daughter’s home on the first floor in a separate section of the city. A third problem in Borislav is that household gas is turned off two days a week. House heating is controlled by the city in the winter. Volodya created a new system to meet all of the need of this home throughout the year. He installed a hot water heater that heats water for the sinks and bathtub. It has a separate line that heats water for the house. In the basement area of the building, he installed a five hundred liter holding tank that fills when the water comes on. A pump moves the water up when it is called for. There are three filter systems to clean the water. I am continually amazed to see how the people of Ukraine meet their daily challenges!

Adventures With the Dentist

When I was a child, I seldom if ever went to the dentist. I guess that in those days, if you had no pain, why bother the dentist. I was blessed with healthy teeth, so I didn’t develop good dental habits beyond regular brushing.

Before moving to Ukraine, I had visited the dentist only a few years before. He was so kind as to give me a root canal and crown for the cost equivalent to three mortgage payments. Prior to that, I hadn’t seen the dentist for twenty five years. My first year in Ukraine was filled with uncertainties about their health care system. Along with that, I had a tooth that needed some attention. I put off doing anything about it for the whole year.

Finally, I had my translator, Ira, set me up an appointment with the dentist at her church. They had a certified dentist who did her work as an evangelical outreach. Free dental care if you listen to the Gospel message and receive a Bible. She did some good work on my tooth, but because I had waited so long, a large filling was needed. It lasted only six months.

By that time, she was working in the village. Getting to the village was a challenge. Ira took me to the village via two separate public transports. Once we arrived, we had to find the building, somewhere within one hundred meters from our drop off point. Seeing the outhouse to the distant right of the entrance, the building showed no resemblance to a medical facility. I felt as if I was walking into yet another world. This was quite an eye opener, esthetically speaking. There were three offices, each a different form of medical practice. I saw the true, heartland people of Ukraine and their children being served. The poverty was heartbreaking, but I was in Ukraine to help people, so I did understand.

Another six months went by and I had to revisit the village dentist. This time I received two pieces of information. First, my dentist was expecting a child and would not be working for the next two years. Second, she said that I would need to see a dentist who had the equipment to do a root canal and crown. She suggested a good one.

A while later, we went to this new dentist. He was in a new facility with new equipment and new everything. I was impressed, but was waiting for the other shoe to drop. It turned out that everything was very good. He had to pull the tooth, but ordered a bridge that connected to two other teeth. One actually needed a root canal. It worked out very well.

That was four years ago. In that time, I had to go back for work on another tooth. He was busy, so I was asked if I would see another dentist in the same practice. This turned out to be a blessing. This woman is very pleasant and gentle. She enjoys a good sense of humor, and I have one. The challenge is having it translate into Russian so that it remains funny. Ira, now my assistant, has been working with me for six years. She catches the meaning of most of my humor and is able to translate it well.

Previous to my current visits, I had gone to this dentist for a root canal and filing. This required two or three visits. During that time I tried out my humor on her and she always responded with a big smile. I would start off the visit with a joke, wanting her to be in a good mood before she started working on me. This visit, number three of three for this filling, I didn’t have a joke for her.

Her task was to remove the temporary filling installed on Thursday, and replace it with a permanent one. In the process, after the filling was in place, she needed to smooth off and match the surface of this tooth with the bottom tooth. I knew what she was doing, but my humor surfaced. The material that she used, asking me to bite down on it to check the surface of the tooth, came on a roll, like tape. When she finished everything, I looked at her seriously and said, “I have been very impressed with the quality of your work. But when I saw you reaching for the scotch tape, I began to have second thoughts.”

Fund Raising MUCH Style

This journey began a 5:15 AM on March 25th. By the time that I arrived in Greensboro, NC, I had been awake for about thirtythree hours. It was a long and mostly sleepless adventure, but I arrived safely.

I have been in America for about 37 days. This visit, after being in Ukraine for two years since my last visit, has been an easier adjustment for my mind and body. With my base in Greensboro, I traveled to Butler, Pennsylvania. On the way, I stopped in Beckley, West Virginia to visit with Kelly C. We talked about a short term mission project. She and her friends want to share equine (horse) therapy with our children with special needs in Illichevsk, Ukraine.

In Butler, I visited some friends and businesses who where a significant part of my past and made some new acquaintances. While there, I visited Slippery Rock University, about 18 miles north of Butler. I had the opportunity to give a presentation about MUCH to two different Recreation Therapy classes. Also, I had the great privilege to visit the Equestrian stables and class room. There, I learned many new ideas about equine therapy.

This week and next, I am in southern Florida visiting with my father and step-mother. While here, I am making new contacts, having great conversations with people who are interested in our children, and giving PowerPoint presentations to churches, groups, and individuals.

Never having done fund raising before, I found it difficult to realize how to go about this somewhat undesirable project. The first year, 2005, I was most uncomfortable, and didn’t know exactly what to say. In 2007, I did better, but still had not come to understand the main idea behind finding people who would be interested in helping our children. This year, I’m catching the vision of sharing my stories with small groups and individuals. Telling my stories and bringing what I do to life, seems to be received more enthusiastically.

Something else that is new for me is to encourage children here to communicate with our children. Some American children have made financial contributions in the past few years. This has been such a great example of compassion for me. I look forward to visiting more schools and talking with more children in future visits.

The next thirty-five days will be most interesting. I hope to have blog entries more often, but these days in America are very different than what I am used to. Until my next entry…

What the Children Need to Hear

Relationships have always been on my mind. Since I was a child, my own need for relationships was a major factor in my life. It was missing much of my childhood. When I interact with our children at the Emmaus Food Program, I see very similar needs in their lives.

They live in very difficult family situations. Some have two parents, some only have one. In each family, one or both parents are alcoholics or drug users. If family and peer group are the two greatest influences on their lives, then I would say that they have a bleak future waiting for them.

Emmaus provides a hot meal five days a week during the school year. The greater needs that Emmaus provides are spiritual direction, arts and crafts, sewing and knitting instruction, computer skills, and in general, a safe place to be after school.

Zoya manages these programs with a wonderful mothering heart. She loves the children and nurtures them, sometimes over a period of ten or eleven years. She has built great relationships with them. Unfortunately, she is locked into the limitations of that relationship. The children need other role models to look up to.

Recently, I published my first book, JC and Me, A Relationship, A Journey. You can find it at the AuthorHouse bookstore. Soon it will also be available to order from bookstores and other online websites. I have been thinking again about relationships and what I can share with the children during my talks that I have with them every second Friday.

This guided me to think about the children and another relationship that they are very much in need of understanding at this time in their life: sex. Mostly girls ages eleven to fourteen, they are ready to make big mistakes. So, I began a series of talks that will hopefully answer the questions that they are afraid to ask.

We began with looking at sex as a relationship, rather that something that is on a list of do’s and don’ts. I think that the girls were surprised, but I did have their full attention. They want answers, but don’t know what to ask. Sex is a subject that you just don’t talk about with adults, in their eyes.

I will be in America for two months, giving the girls a lot of time to think about this relationship. We will talk some more about it when I get back. I hope to influence their lives in very positive ways. Please pray for our children.

The Innocence of Children

As I woke up this morning, the scenes from a film that I had watched last week reappeared in my memory. Not many films are more than a momentary escape from the reality that I live. Not many films that I have seen portray reality. But this particular film, “The Boy in Striped Pajamas,” was filled with more reality, more diverse perceptions of the reality of life in Nazi, Germany. The film opens with these profound words:

“Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows.” -John Betseman

In the film, two boys find friendship on opposite sides of the fence. The eight year old son of a high ranking German officer comes upon a wire fence while exploring a wooded area. On the other side is a boy of the same age in prison clothes. The boys have long conversations sitting by the fence, totally innocent of what is happening on either side of the fence.

The scene by the fence stayed in my mind. I think of our MUCH children, particularly the youngest ones. When I chat with them, they are the most delightful children, so hungry for attention. When I watch them play with each other, I see the innocence of childhood. It is so precious to experience.

Through no fault of their own, they have come to live in an orphanage. Their futures are branded. The innocence of childhood is soon lost, and a new life challenges them to enter into a world of adversity. Whoever they were before, people will soon look at them as unwanted, undesirable children.

What can we do to change the preconceived notion of who these children are? Over the past six years, MUCH has helped reshape the lives of the children. We have encouraged the children to improve their self images. Clothing and an improved environment has caused the children to see themselves differently. This has caused them to act differently. In turn, new impressions are created within the local people. It takes a long time, but children are worth everything that we have to give. Children are the future.

Help Wanted

When you see these two very common words side by side, what thoughts come to your mind? My first impression is that a job is available, that there is some work to do. Think about the word help. If I replace it with the word to assist, I immediately envision a very different concept. If I am asked to assist someone, it means that he or she is the captain. I am only the helper.

As a humanitarian aid missionary, I was called to assist God in His work here in Ukraine. Going one step further, I was called to assist the people of Ukraine to care for their children. How could that be accomplished? If I was called to come to Ukraine to do a job, and then leave, that is pretty easy to imagine. But that wasn’t the case. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t exactly sure what God was calling me to do.

My first outreach ministry opened up in Marganets when the father of a friend took me to visit an orphanage. It was his dream, his desire, possibly his calling, to help these children in some way. When I saw the children, the surroundings, and the emptiness in their eyes, I felt the deepest compassion in my heart that I ever had felt. But there was nothing that I personally could do help them on a regular basis. I would be living in Illichevsk, 320 miles west of Marganets.

This was to be the beginning of my work to assist the people of Ukraine to make changes in their country. This retired father, Anatoliy, had the knowledge, energy, and the drive to make things happen. He didn’t have the funding. By the time that I met him, he had already begun to raise money for the children from the local merchants. The community was very poor, so he could barely raise enough money to help one child, much less 156 children.

Given a small pledge of monthly contributions from me, he went to work. After about three years of making great changes in the appearance of the children and their environment, Anatoliy confessed to me, “Mark, in the beginning there were so many needs and there was only so much money. I didn’t know what to do first.” God had prepared him to be ready to do this work through a lifetime of experiences. At age 63, he stepped up to the plate and answered the call. Now, seven years later, my assistance to this Ukrainian man has helped him to do a great service for the children of orphanage number three. It has been my privilege to assist this man in this great humanitarian effort for the children.

Children of Hope

What do you see above? Look at them from a distance; look at them close-up. Look at their clothes. Look at the expressions on their faces. Look into their eyes. What do you see?

I see children. Each one has a story unique to him or her, as do all children. What they are at this time in their lives can be summed up in a few words. They are children. What will they be? How will they change? Where will they go?

The answers to many of these questions depend upon adults. How will we touch their lives? How responsible will we be toward them? Will we care? Will we reach out to them? Will we help them become the next generation who will run this world?

These particular 10 children will grow up in a Ukrainian orphanage/school. They are special children, not to say that every child is not special. They have special needs. One was born a crack-cocaine baby. Each child that you see has some type of learning disability. Each child either has a dangerous family environment from which they have been removed, has been abandoned by their parents, or their parents have died, leaving them as orphans. So they will grow up in the orphanage system with 146 other children similar to themselves.

Statistics tell a very sad reality of what happens to children after they leave the orphanage system in Ukraine. Prostitution, suicide, prison, and a life of crime waits for many of them. What can be done?

I don’t have many answers, but I have a few. MUCH has been gradually changing the lives of these children in small ways. Our biggest efforts are supported by our yearly Christmas fund raiser. Four big needs-based programs are touching the personal futures of some of the children. Massage therapy is changing the children from the inside out. The neurology of massage is habilitating and expressing love toward the children in a way never experienced by them before. Computer class is opening new avenues for the children, preparing them for a world of graphic art and word processing. The new music and dance opportunities will enrich the quality of the music arts in their education. Finally, the drug and alcohol program is molding the children in areas of morality, self image, and self respect.

I have stepped up to bat. I am helping these children in these ways. I believe in them. What will you do? Will you help our children through MUCH? Will you help any children? What will you do?

Children in Transition

(I have not entered pictures of our children to protect their identities at this fragile time in their lives.)

For the past year and then some, when I go to Marganets, I visit the children at the transition home. These children are in a very difficult spot in their young lives. Most have been taken from their home because of a very poor environment. Whether it is because of parents who are alcoholic or drug users or the children are beat or just not cared for, the results leave the children in a new situation that is very challenging. I have met one or two whose parents died, leaving them as orphans.

The home is run with a very strict schedule, keeping the children busy to avoid time for them to dwell on their problems. This particular home is run by a Christian director. She sees the great need for the children to have more time to adjust to their loss of family. Their program focuses on helping the children modify their lives and build healthy character. Although she is asking the government to give her more time with the children, it seems that ninety day is all that they will allow. Their twenty-six beds stay filled throughout the year.

The director’s big venture last year was to find families to adopt the children before they would be placed in an orphanage. In the first six months of 2008, she was able to place 10 children in local Christian homes. She has contact with the different churches in Marganets and they work together to help the children while in the transition home and to find good families for them. Adoption for Ukrainian families is very inexpensive, so I hear, and they are working on implementing the foster care program. Of course, the challenge in this city of poverty is to find honest foster parents. The money is so needed; it lures many of the wrong parent types.

When I visit with the children, we talk about little things, but they are very hungry for attention. They are very hungry to show their value. They want to know about America. They have very interesting questions. When we have an opportunity for Bible study, I’m always surprised to hear how much they know. I try to take seashells each time that I go. The children are very interested in seeing these homes of sea creatures. Some have been to the sea, but most have not.

When I look at these children, it breaks my heart to know why they are at the transition home. I know their future if they are not placed in a good home within ninety days. I have interacted with children at the local orphanage for six plus years. Even with the best orphanage environment, it is not a good place for a child. A family of over one hundred children is not the kind of family that is needed. There are so many children in need of help in this country; helping the 400 or so that we help is just a small effort for the big problem for the more than 100,000 Ukrainian children in poverty.

Country in Crisis, Family in Crisis

Because I have no TV, by choice, I don’t follow the news often. When I am hungry to know what is going on in the rest of Ukraine or the world, I go online and read the news. I have heard that the economic crisis has hit Ukraine pretty hard, but had not seen too much in Illichevsk. I heard that some stores had closed their doors, waiting for the crisis to pass.

In my opinion, the economy in Ukraine has been moving forward too fast in the past four years. Two generations who never saw what the rest of the world was experiencing were now experiencing the same or similar. In the past 18 years, the people of Ukraine have been flooded with so many “things” that were never a part of their lives before. Some have taken out loans on houses or cars, and are now in very tight finances. Even the banks went overboard in lending money.

One family that I know in another city decided to become a supplier for clothing and material shops. When the crisis hit, their venders could not pay for the goods because customers were few and far between. They were in a serious predicament.

In Ukraine, if you have a private house, there is usually a nice bit of yard that goes with it. But there are no yards like what we call a yard in America. Rather, all of the land is used to produce food or animals for food. This family had a large garden, a pig house, a chicken coop, and a summer kitchen. They had about 20 or so chickens when the crisis hit them.

True to Ukrainian mentality, they took what they had, what they knew, and made it work for them. Determining the most productive item that they had, they mass produced chickens. They turned a family supply of chickens into a business of growing and selling chickens. Now they have more than 200 chickens. The summer kitchen is now a staging room for chickens: peeps to mid life. The pig house is now a staging room for chickens: growth bulk feeding to harvest. This family is surviving the current crisis.

A Father’s Love Story

I call it a Father’s Love Story, but I was not her father and she was not my daughter. Oksana wanted to be my daughter. In her heart, she wanted to belong to someone. She wanted a family experience. She never knew her father, and she had been taken away from her drug using … mother when she was 4 or 5 years old. Her life as she knew it was at the orphanage.

She began to make a connection with me when she was about 15. When I responded to her with acceptance and kindness, her heart responded. She began to dream the impossible dream. Could she have a father of her own, could it be true? I gave her and a number of other children my address. I asked them if they would write to me. (I had been told earlier that the children didn’t have the mentality to write a letter, being an orphanage for special children.)


Oksana was the only one who did write to me. It was clear to my translator that she did actually write the letter. So, I read the letter with great interest. She wrote to me about her dreams. She opened her heart and told me that she wanted me to be her father.

This writing relationship continued for the next four years. When I would visit Marganets I would spend some time with her, talking and learning more about her. The plan was that when she was 18 she could decide her future legally. She continued her education through the tenth grade, and then moved to the youth hostel to participate in trade school to learn to be a master plasterer.

By the time that she graduated, she had fallen in love with a classmate and decided that she wanted something different. She was an adult, in her eyes, and didn’t need a father any more.

Without actually being a father, I experienced many of the feelings and frustrations of what being a father must be. I felt the love, the need, the joy, and the sorrow. It was a difficult experience for me, but I learned many things. We have lost touch and doubt that I will ever see her again. One thing that she asked me to give to her was a Bible. I did, and I must believe that God is watching over her and will guide her to Himself.