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When we left India in June 2015 it was 117 degrees F with full humidity. Our city had a population of nearly 19 million people with over 1.2 billion people populating the entire country. And the overwhelming majority are utterly lost in complete darkness. The darkness is so heavy in India that you can literally feel it. Praise the Lord that the Deaf churches that were planted are growing strong and have been multiplying!
So when the Holy Spirit spoke to us and God called us to Ukraine, it seemed as though it was the absolute most completely opposite place He could have sent us! Not only would we be moving to sub-zero temperatures in the winter, but we would not be living in the capital. We were moving to a smaller city, Chernivtsi, population 255,000. Ukraine is largely Orthodox but most people consider themselves non-religious. A stark contrast from India.
Delhi is a modern city in a third world country. We did not expect to find any similarities to Chernivtsi, but surprisingly, we did. While most modern conveniences can be found, there are still open air markets and bazaars, people selling their goods on sidewalks and street corners, stray dogs everywhere, squatty potties, an insane amount of people who smoke, all record keeping done in ledger books rather than on computers, long lines to pay utility bills, fluctuating electricity, wells dug by hand, and extreme poverty.
Spiritually, I didn't expect to find heavy darkness like we did in India. But there is a darkness. Oppression and extreme poverty have created strongholds among the people. Many Ukrainians are just trying to survive since the fall of communism with most people earning $130 month or much less. The younger generation born in freedom uses the freedom to reject God and live as they please. The older generation that remember the former soviet days struggle to survive and find meaning. Alcoholism is a huge problem. There is a strong feeling of depression in the air.
We visited one couple, the husband is Deaf and works as a welder, the wife is hearing and a sign language interpreter. Both have what would be considered good jobs, yet they cannot afford to heat their home. When we visited they had the heat in every room turned off except the one we sat in. And even in that room we had to wear our coats and scarves to stay warm. Their children's teeth appeared rotted out and they appeared under nourished. Stacey's language coach is a refugee from the eastern war torn border of Ukraine here without family and only part-time work. Chris's language coach is unemployed while his wife works at a factory making next to nothing.
The extreme poverty, depression, and rejection of religion and God contribute to the darkness. Very different from India, but still lost. Lost without knowledge of our Savior. Satan keeps them oppressed and without hope. Regardless of living conditions, majority religions, etc., without Christ there is no hope. Please pray that we will be able to show the light of Christ to those we meet and that they will find hope in the Savior. Pray also that with so many needs all around us that the Holy Spirit will lead us according to our Father's will.
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As we have met more and more deaf people here we see that so many are struggling. Some struggle with rejection from their families. Some struggle with rejection from the church. Some struggle with marriage issues. Most are struggling with just making it from day to day. They can't find work, they can't afford to heat their homes and they have little to no money for food. In the cold dark winters depression and suicide are at an all time high. I know that there are similar statistics in America, but it is handled much differently here.
One deaf man we met struggles with alcoholism and a failed marriage. He wants to overcome the alcoholism and to save his marriage, but he has been rejected by the church (so in his mind- rejected by God) and his friends due to his problems...so he slips further. A pastor at the church shared with us that on a local radio station a psychologist was giving a talk about how to deal with the depression and suicidal thoughts. The psychologist encouraged those with such struggles to sacrifice their lives. "There is a war in the East", he said. "If you want to die, you can die defending your country. If you are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, volunteer for the front lines." I was shocked! This was a prominent psychologist giving advice to all his listeners about a more honorable way for them to kill themselves and end their misery while helping their country. No real help, no treatment or counseling, no concern for their well being, and no hope for a better future!
But there is hope! We have hope in Jesus. We want others to know that hope. We are praying and seeking the Lord's will for how He would have us share this hope. We want to give more than words. We want them to know, see, feel, and experience the love of their Creator! Will you pray with us that the Lord will help us know how we can show the hope and love of Christ in practical ways? This will be a huge task and so we cannot do it of our own strength and power. We need the power of the Holy Spirit to move mightily.
"For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance..." 1Thessalonians 1:5
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Shortly after Thanksgiving we learned that the money for our plane tickets and much of our set-up costs had been donated. Thank you!!! As we looked into the cost of flights, the earliest one was the least expensive, so we quickly packed and boarded a plane- saying good-bye to family and friends and our Texas home on December 7th. Due to delays and weather related issues, we finally arrived to Kiev on December 9th. We spent the weekend with Pastor Oleg and his family and visited a Deaf celebration at a church outside of Kiev that was attended by Deaf believers from throughout Ukraine. It was a great introduction for our family.
We eventually made it to southwestern Ukraine to our new home city of Chernivtsi on December 13. Since then we have found a permanent house, gotten a van, finally got internet hooked up and have been setting up our new home. We have also been involved in the local church, been learning the Ukrainian sign language, found the girls a good school and have been building relationships and making plans for ministry. oh, and we've been adjusting to the cold. It's been very cold! but the girls have enjoyed playing in the snow and we have added a couple of space heaters to keep it warm inside. It has been a very busy and crazy month. We are still living out of suitcases but our wardrobes arrive tomorrow. So now we can finally be more completely unpacked and our house will soon look more like a home.
Now that we have internet we will be more consistant and timely with updates. Thank you for your prayers, love, and support!
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This thanksgiving day we have so much to be thankful for as we reflect over the past year or so. God blessed us with a nice house and a faithful car while on stateside. We also found a wonderful church home and made several new friends. We were given opportunities to minister to Deaf families and individuals in various ways and our girls have been doing well in their schooling. We have all been in good health and have enjoyed spending time with family and friends.
We have also experienced so many answers to prayer as we partnered with Deaf Bible Society, sold our house, raised the funds needed for plane tickets and travel, and so much more! Each time that we started to get discouraged or doubt, God reminded us that He has called us and He will provide what we need in HIS timing. His timing has been a lot different than what we would have planned- but His timing is perfect!
Finally the time has come for us to move to Ukraine! On Tuesday, the 22nd, we closed on our house and then as we were driving away from the title company, we received the call that our visas have been approved! We should have them in hand on November 30, so we are planning to fly to Ukraine sometime between December 7 and 14 (depending on the best deals we can find for flights).
And we are so thankful to you, our pray partners and supporters, for faithfully praying for us and generously giving. You are truly a blessing from God to our family and we appreciate your partnership, friendship, and faithfulness. God bless you all! Happy Thanksgiving!
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It has been an extremely busy month of raising support, working on our visa application and attending training. Some of our fund raising efforts seemed to produce very little while others seemed only slightly more successful. We felt like we have been on a roller coster ride and were a bit discouraged. But God has been consistent through it all and has been equipping us in ways that wouldn't have happened if we had left the country a month or two ago. In late October we attended field coordinator training at the Seed Company. In addition to the benefits of the training, we were blessed to meet some amazing godly people and were able to learn from their wisdom and make some great connections for when we arrive on the field. On November 5th we were able to attend a conference on spiritual warfare and the presenters were able to pray over us. It was an awesome time of spirit filled worship, prayer, and equipping that we are so thankful that we were here for.
In the midst of our busyness of training and equipping and the stressful back and forth of applying for our visas...we got word that enough donations had come in to cover our flights to Ukraine! That same day we also received confirmation on our housing in Ukraine and were able to send the deposit to keep it reserved for our family. As we became excited about the reality of moving to Ukraine very soon, I (Stacey) asked God to help us get other details worked out- specifically, I needed a winter coat. Later that day I went to an "upscale resale" boutique and found a perfect long wool winter coat in my size. When I took it to the cashier I was surprised to find out that the coat was 75% off and so I bought the coat for just $5! My daughter and I were so excited to see how God cares enough that He not only takes care of the big things (like plane tickets) but also the little things, like a winter coat. The song popped into my mind, Jehovah Jireh- my Provider. His Grace is sufficient for me!
So now we are very close to our goal for set-up and travel costs. We need just $1412 more to cover our extra luggage, transportation from the airport, and the fees to register for our residency permit.
We have also learned that our visa invitation letter needed to be from a higher authority. Our contact in Ukraine is going to get the needed signature on Monday (the 14th). Once the letter is sent back to us we hope to be approved for our visa within two additional weeks.
Please pray that the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington DC will accept this document with the new signature and that they will approve our visa soon. Pray also that our remaining support needs will come in quickly as well. Thank you all for your prayers and continued support!
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We are so excited to be partnering with Deaf Bible Society! We have gotten to know and really enjoy working with the staff and look forward to partnering with more like minded individuals throughout Eurasia as we work together towards the goal of every Deaf person having access to God's Word in their heart language. Chris has already begun connecting with translation teams in parts of Europe and Central Asia. We wish we could just hop on a plane and go there now, but unfortunately it doesn't work that way.
First we are still raising funds for our plane tickets ($3300 left to go) as well as other travel expenses such as luggage ($1000 or more- it's not cheap to relocate a family of 5 for the next 5 years!), transportation from the airport to our new home (about $600 and several more hours), and then there are our visas!
Currently we are working on getting our letter of invitation completed (about $125), then we will apply for the visa (another $600) and then once we arrive in Ukraine we will have 45 days to register (which will cost yet another $700!). And did I mention that we will be arriving to Ukraine in Winter? Our family has been on furlough in Texas from Delhi, India so winters have not been our thing. This also means we are going to need to add winter gear to our very summer like wardrobes!
So Yikes! Although we are doing good on raising the monthly support (Thank you! currently at 91%- just $565 per month still needed) we are in serious need of donations towards our set-up costs. And we are in need of your prayers (lots of prayer) for the whole visa process. This is a tedious and rather slow process but extremely important. And we can't go until we have all the proper approvals. Please remember us in your prayers as we seem so close to going but still have so many hills to climb. Pray that we will be comforted knowing and trusting that God's timing is perfect and He is in control of all the needs I mentioned above. Thank you!
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Much has happened since our last post. I wrote a blog post but am now discovering that it was either deleted or never posted. Oops! Anyway, our house has been on the market since the 1st of August. We have traveled several places including Kansas City, Houston, and Albuquerque sharing with churches, learning from our directors and forming partnerships.
On September 1st we entered a formal partnership with Deaf Bible Society. Although we remain with Avant Ministries, Chris is now serving as the Program Coordinator for Eurasia. This means he will coordinate and facilitate sign language bible translation teams not only in Ukraine but throughout Eurasia. This is a very exciting and strategic partnership for us. As church planters, we depend on God's Word to transform lives. Could you start a church if the members did not have access to God's Word? This is the dilemma we face knowing that 95% of all sign languages have NO bible translation.
So where are we now in being ready to go? We now have about 90% of our needed monthly support. We are also in the process of getting our visa invitation letter for Ukraine. Some of the details that need to come together (rather quickly) for us now are: the remaining 10% (about $850 per month) to come in, $3,800 more towards our plane tickets, our visa invitation to be finalized, and to sell our house in Sanger.
This seems like a lot, but we have made so much progress and God has brought so much together from where we were a year ago (or even 3 months ago!) that we know that our Father will bring the rest of what we need together soon. Please pray with us that these details will be taken care of. Pray specifically in faith. Thank you for all the support and encouragement you all have provided thus far. You truly are partners with us on this journey.
Click here to learn more about Deaf Bible Society.
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While we were living and serving in India we had rented out our house in Sanger, TX through a property management company. We did it this way knowing that we would not be able to check up on things and felt it was better to have a local company handle screening renters, handling any issues, etc. In May we decided to sell our home after the renter's lease was finished. The renters would not let a relator in to take pictures and refused to let us show the house while they were still living there. They then abruptly moved out without informing property management. We went to the house and were shocked at its condition. Carpet was shredded, literally shredded! Urine stains and stench EVERYWHERE! Walls were a mess. Electrical components had been altered. Satellite dishes caused damage to the roof. The strings of our window blinds had been cut. Window screens were missing. Etc., Etc. And did I mention the stench?! Horrible and throughout the entire house!
Well that is what we have been dealing with since the end of May. Getting bids for the necessary repairs, flooring, and paint; working through the property manager to fine the renters for the damage; etc. etc.
Fast forward to today and many of the repairs have been made and we are getting ready to paint. The renters are disputing the charges for the damage so we are working closely with the property manager and have a lawyer looking over all the documentation to make sure all is handled legally. Pray that they will pay for the damages they (and the dogs they were not supposed to have in the house) have caused. We also meet with our relator this week. Pray that all goes well and that we can have the house on the market soon! We need to sell quickly so we can get back to the field.
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2015 was an amazing year! We saw churches planted in India, witnessed new Deaf believers commit their lives to ministry, we welcomed DOOR to New Delhi, we finished our term in India, and then transitioned back to the States. Stateside we were blessed with a mission home, enjoyed visiting friends and family and reconnecting with our ministry partners. We also took on jobs, fostered a Deaf teen, and during it all, sought the Lord regarding where and how He would use us next.
God has given us a heart for the Deaf, especially those in closed areas. But moving a family to a closed country can be extremely difficult and dangerous. So we asked the Lord to send us to a place that we could legally reside in, reach the Deaf regionally and that would also be strategic for reaching the Deaf in closed countries such as the Middle East, Turkey, parts of India, etc. Through a series of prayer and conversations, the Lord has led us to Ukraine as our future home base.
A key Deaf Ukrainian pastor has shared with us that the church is very weak, believers have not been discipled, and there are no new leaders trained to lead new groups or to provide follow-up to evangelistic efforts.
1. To make God known among the Deaf and see His Kingdom increase through Evangelism and Outreach (through personal evangelism, organized rallies & meetings, Deaf camps, etc.)
2. To Disciple Deaf believers, train Deaf leaders, and plant Deaf Churches led by Deaf nationals (by implementation of one on one & small group bible studies, conducting regional & national Bible & leadership training/seminars, planting/develop new Deaf churches with Deaf pastors and ministers, create a Bible institute for the Deaf)
3. To train and equip Deaf leaders from closed or limited access countries to plant churches in their home communities/cultures through the use of video media & technology, by traveling to the neighboring country of Turkey to help equip a team there, and by establishing an International Bible institute for the Deaf.
Are you interested in learning more? Would you be interested in becoming a ministry partner with us? Would you like to help us get there? Please contact us