Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Holidays in Ukraine!

After we got back from our trip in South Africa, we all got together to celebrate Christmas as a team. We were especially excited to give all the pressies we got for our teammates in South Africa. Since they couldn't see all the animals with us, we brought them back wooden sculptures! We had a great time exchanging gifts with everyone. We also shared some soup that Denyce had prepared along with buckeye balls and peanut butter pie... yumm! It was a great time together. Although we were celebrating Christmas "late," Ukrainians would have considered it early. That's right, Ukraine sees December 25th as just another ordinary day. Their Christmas decorations are just going up around that time because they celebrate New Years, then Orthodox Christmas on January 7th. Hopefully the longer we're here, the more we'll learn about their Christmas traditions! Here are a few pictures from the main square (which is just a couple blocks from our house). There are lights everywhere, a huge Christmas tree, ice sculptures, and ice slides! They certainly went above and beyond to make their square festive for the holidays!

New Years Eve and David's Birthday
On the day we moved into our new place, we had everyone over for a New Years Eve/David's birthday meal and celebration. Our whole team and our two friends, Vetali and Galina came over to celebrate with us. We all ate pizza together, shared some birthday chocolate cheesecake and David opened his presents. He got some nice gifts, including this angel from Galina and Vetali. The angel is our first Ukrainian gift, so it will always be very special to us! Vetali and Galina and the McDougles had to leave before midnight, but the Hindmans stayed and we watched the fireworks together on our balcony at midnight. Our balcony is not heated, so we all were bundled up in our coats and shoes... it was cold! (See pictures) Fireworks went off for the rest of the night as everyone was celebrating around town. New Years is really Ukraine's big holiday of the year. The next day Kharkov was a ghost town. Almost all the shops were closed for New Years Day and the few people who were out were in the square celebrating and enjoying the holiday as families.

Visit from Brandon and Katie Price
Our friends from Lubbock, Brandon and Katie Price, came to see our team over the holidays. We spent quite a bit of time with them while they were here, soaking up every minute we could with them. They were able to stay at our new place for a few days which was heaps of fun. Brandon and Katie have worked here in Ukraine in the past and hope to come back to do mission work here in the future. Right now they are currently living in Lubbock, Texas, working with the AIM program and an after-school outreach program at Central Church of Christ. We really enjoyed hearing their dreams for this country and are excited to see how God will use them to spread His Good News here in Ukraine. Please keep them in your prayers as they will be making decisions over this next year about their future and possible work here in Ukraine.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

South Africa Part Two

Well, this is almost embarrassing it's so late. But, the second week in our South Africa trip must be talked about on our blog, then we will move onto what's been happening in Ukraine recently. We had such a wonderful time with everyone and everything while we were there. Time went fast and we didn't get everything done we wanted to get done (David thinks this is an excuse to go back), but we did A LOT. :) The picture to the right is at Cape Point near Cape Town.

Xhosa Celebration

One Saturday while we were there we were invited to go with the other AIMers and their coordinators to a very special Xhosa celebration. Their housekeeper's son, Cry, was coming back from his rite of passage in the bush... it was a time of celebration as he left boyhood and became a man. He had spent an extremely hard 3 weeks in the bush that included not being able to drink water or eat salty foods for the first whole week. During his time in the bush he was also circumcised, with no anesthetics. We were all invited to the family's celebration, in fact, we were honored guests which was very humbling. We were greeted by all of them coming out and singing and dancing us into their homes... and the singing didn't hardly stop until we left! Cry was given many gifts since all his possesions were burned as a part of his transition. It was amazing to be a part of such an important African celebration.

Safari Trips

We were able to go to several different parks in the Port Elizabeth area and see lots of animals. We saw giraffes, elephants, bok, wildebeest, baboons, monkeys, rhino, buffalo, lions, tigers, warthogs, tortoises, ostriches (baby ostriches in the picture to the left), etc.. etc. It was really amazing to see so many different animals out in the wild... and so close. For most of the animal reserves we were in the car driving through, but on one trip we got on horseback and went to see rhino, wildebeest, buffallo, and zebra. That was a neat experience because we were a lot closer and a little more vulnerable. We were also really blessed because we went at a time when there were baby animals everywhere. David had fun playing with lion cubs. We saw some that were just 3 days old, some that were about 3 weeks old, then played with some that were 9 months old. The 9 month old cubs were pretty big already and David did a good job of getting them excited and playful. So much so, in fact, that one of them bit him in the side and left a pretty good mark. He also had several rips in his shirt and scratches from them. The lion trainer kept warning David that they were wild, they weren't tame. The picture above is him playing with the cubs before they bit him.
Besides the game trips, we also were able to see about 6 whales playing in the water. I also saw dolphins and penguins for the first time, which was thoroughly enjoyable. I had asked to see a whale for Christmas... that's all I wanted and God was nice and gave me my wish! (See the picture of two whales to the right.)

Encouragement from the Christians
David, as we mentioned before, spoke at three different congregations while we were in South Africa. It was really nice to meet so many Christians and be encouraged by them and what they are doing down there. Some even invited us into their homes, fed us, and just took time to get to know us. We knew we could go there and be an encouragement to them, but we really walked away more encouraged by them. It's so neat to see how God is working all over the world, using His servants to be His light.

Christmas in South Africa
The day before we left was Christmas day... so we had Christmas for the first time in South Africa! It was summertime, so we enjoyed a sun-filled day and it felt a little more like home for David. The AIM coordinators, Ken and Judy Kendall-Ball had us and all the AIMers over to their place for Christmas breakfast, a time of opening presents, then later on that night for Christmas dinner. Judy did all the cooking for the day and it was fabulous, plus she sewed each of us a stocking and we all made sure each other's was filled. We had such a good time with each of them and were even able to play some games that evening. All of us were away from our families, but we were together and it was special!

... moral of our blog post: go to South Africa if you get the chance. Yes, see all the animals, pet sharks, go bungee jumping, and even get mauled by lion... but make time to get to know the people as well. It was a trip we'll never forget and will cherish for a long time!!!