Archive for July, 2011

Today we had to say our final goodbyes to the children that we have spent the last three weeks with at the TB Center. All of the children have touched our hearts in many ways and it was really difficult saying goodbye. We have made memories that are going to last a lifetime. Our time here is Russia has been full of laughs, love, and joy. Russia will always have a place in our hearts because of the beautiful children, generous people, and tasty food. We knew we were going to see God’s work here before we came, but we didn’t know exactly what it was going to look like. As we look back on our trip we can see God in every experience and every smile of the children from the TB center. All of these children were full of joy and they were all so loveable; this is why it was so hard leaving them. We made strong connections with 45 kids that we couldn’t even have a full conversation with (without a translator). As we fly back to America on Sunday, part of our hearts are going to be left in Russia. Please pray for the children at the TB center, pray for their health and happiness. Also, please pray for a stress free and safe journey home. We look forward to seeing our families and friends, and telling your all about our trip!

Love, Team Novgorod

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Dear Family, Friends and Loved Ones,

Hello! We are back safe and sound in St. Petersburg and are currently starting to get ready to come back home on Sunday. We know that you guys are as excited to see us as we are to see you, but to be honest we’re definitely going to miss Russia. But we know that we are here for the amount of time that God wanted us to be and we are looking forward to sharing our experiences and stories when we get home.

Yesterday was the last day of camp with the disabled youth. There were many tears and it was hard to say goodbye. Although nervous at first, we all ended up loving our time there and really connected well with both our teens and the other volunteers from Russia, Germany and Poland.

The Gulf of Finland was beautiful, and although it stormed a few times (epically the last night); we all got really tan and “weathered”. Especially Jessica – to all of her family and friends, be prepared, she might be hard to recognize. 😉 We enjoyed gathering our own water from a natural spring, bathing in the Gulf, sunbathing on the sand, taking the kids for walks, doing crafts with them (like body paint and balloon animals).  As well as eating lots of yummy Borsch and Manna, and bonding with the fellow workers by playing volleyball after the kids went to bed. Ten days is a long time and there is too much to cover, but in a brief summary here is a bit about what we each did individually:

Jessica: Besides tanning and becoming a few shades darker, she got to work with a young girl with Downs Syndrome. Although working with one of the more challenging teens (it was her first time away from home), Jessica has impressed us all by her amazing patience and grace (particularly when dealing with poop) and was able to share some special moments with her girl – especially when swimming and splashing in the waves.

Natalya: Natalya was paired with a quiet, wheel-chair bound girl of 16, who loved being read too and enjoyed the many walks Natalya would take her on along the beach (wheelchairs work in the sand, surprisingly). After learning about the teen’s tragic past, Natalya has found more confirmation about her path as a nurse and is excited to see what God is preparing in her heart. The swimmer in her also came out and she loved spending mornings (or rather, every free moment) swimming as far as she could!

Deanna: Deanna is a natural with Special Needs kids and fell head over heels for her teen, an older boy also wheel-chair bound. Although short, she is surprisingly strong and was able to hold him upright and help him walk around. She also spent a lot of time splashing in the waves with him and playing peek-a-boo. He was quite upset without her around.

Shannon: While working with a 14-year-old boy who loved to stop and ponder things while walking, Shannon really connected with the various workers at the camp and forged many friendships while either playing late-night volleyball or talking about faith and life around the campfire. This experience has made her even more passionate about physical therapy and she is looking forward to working at similar camps in the future. We practically had to physically drag her out of there.

Emily: Emily got paired with a very outgoing older girl with Downs Syndrome, who was quite independent and saw herself as another volunteer and loved to “steal” our noses. Although suffering from a stomach bug at the end (she’s ok now 🙂 ) , she also connected well with the staff and was able to talk “art” with many of them. One volunteer even worked with her and built a life-size sculptor! She was also teasingly referred to as “Snow White” by some of the girls because of all the singing that she did, but no one complained – both we and the teens loved it.

Elizabeth: Elizabeth worked with a young boy with Cerebral Palsy, who completely stole her heart. Elizabeth could be often found in the hammock with him in her arms, singing lullabies to him….that or on the beach playing “Beached Whale” in the waves. When he got a small fever she was by him day and night until he was better. She’s going to be an amazing nurse.

Vanessa: Like Shannon, Vanessa really got along well with the staff and was able to witness to many of them and engage with them and share life perspectives. She loved working on duty with the cook and was very good at it, keeping the fire going and helping prepare meals. Unlike the rest of us, Vanessa got to work with many of the kids when their normal team had a day off. Her proudest moment came when she put one of the more difficult teens to sleep all by herself (no easy task!!).

Rachel: Rachel worked with a young autistic girl who was quite energetic and kept her on her toes. Although challenging at times, since her teen wasn’t able to communicate with words, she was able to build a good relationship with her and even received an unexpected kiss one day. She also got considerably tanner and after a hesitant start, loved swimming in the water on her breaks.

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This weekend we had the opportunity to relax and explore our home here in Novgorod. On Saturday, we went to a Russian village museum where we got to see how Russians lived centuries ago. Our favorite part was a huge wooden slide that we raced down, go figure. Also, there was a craftsman who made authentic birch items: like hats, shoes, bookmarks, baskets and so much more. As we talked to him we found out his story; he is one of the last people to know the way the ancient Novgorodians would work with birch. Getting to know the Russian people and their stories is a blessing.

From there we went onto our second historical stop which was a local monastery. We explored the beautiful grounds; it was mind blowing to think that we were walking on the same ground that has such a deep connection with the history of Novgorod. The rest of the day we spent swimming in the river that runs through the city, which we enjoyed immensely due to the heat. It was a great way to spend our Saturday.

On Sunday we worked with the kids at the church and later in the day we had the opportunity to go souvenir shopping at the Kremlin (get ready for some great gifts).  The weekend was nice but we were all really eager to get back to the kids at the center. Today was the first day of the last week here in Novgorod. We all agree that we are not ready to say good-bye to the kids and we are making sure to take advantage of every moment, not taking any second for granted. Our team meeting tonight was filled with mixed emotions, all of us struggling with the realization of the limited amount of time we have left and what their lives will be like when we leave. But we know that they will forever be in our hearts and in our prayers. We look forward to all of the fun things we have planned for the rest of this week (cinema on Wednesday!). As always please keep us and the kids in your prayers as we continue in our final week.

Love from the Novgorod team, Sam and Adrienne

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Since there is no internet, or any electricity, at the camp, the update will be through the phone. 🙂

The team is doing great, getting to know the teens and the workers of the camp. It has been a blessing to be able to love the kids and teens and show them that they are very important to us.  We have gotten to know the workers a bit more, especially since we hang out with them each evening after the kids are asleep.

It has been challenging in sharing about our faith with the workers of the camp, but slowly we are able to talk about who we are and why we have come to Russia on a mission trip.  All of the workers have such a big heart for the disabled youth and we really hope that they can see God through our words and actions.

Each team member is becoming more and more comfortable with the disabled youth, as we learn the things they like and the things they don’t like to do.  Some of them can voice their dislike, others try to explain non verbally.

God has been teaching the team so much through this camp, especially through the disabled youth. They delight in the small things like reading, swimming, walking, the rain and playing in the sand. It is such joy to watch their faces light up when they like something!

The team sends their love to you family and friends and cannot wait to tell you all about their experiences! 🙂

–The Russia Team by the Gulf of Finland (written by Tatiana, director of SunErgos International)

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The past couple of days have been filled with fun adventures and awesome memories continuing to be made. Yesterday, our team began the day with a skit about “How to Cope” – one of the most serious and important topics we’ve talked about with the kids yet. It is encouraging to see them continue to react to what we’re trying to teach them, and even the smallest ones have input to give and stories to share. After making journals with the kids, we left the TB center early yesterday because of the fact that we hadn’t showered in five days! We walked to a “banya” not too far away, and were greeted with traditional Russian song and dance as the banya celebrated its grand re-opening. Feeling bold, our entire team decided to get up in front of a crowd to demonstrate our own version of Russian dancing—and were filmed by TV cameras! It was a fun way to experience more Russian culture, and funny enough, we ended up on the local news last night!

Today, though not yet over, has already been full of fun activities. Our team left an hour early this morning so we could take the kids to a children’s art gallery, but when we walked outside it began raining! So, we played some indoor games until the sun came back out, and walked to the gallery afterward. It’s always so much fun to spend time with the kids outside of the Center; it seems to make them open up even more to us, and allows us to hang out with all the kids, instead of just some. In the art gallery, we learned about the history of Novgorod through paintings, drawings, and clay sculptures. The kids all really seemed to enjoy it, and we did too! Afterward we were all treated to a boat ride along the river that winds through Novgorod. Today was such a beautiful day for it, and it’s so fun to get a different perspective on this city we’ve all come to know and love. It’s been such a great week and we’re looking forward to spending one more with the children before it’s time to say dasvidaniya!

Russia Team from Novgorod! Written by Jess.

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Here’s a little something from each team member:

Jess: Hello again friends and family! Oh, this past week has been so incredible. I began the week in kind of a slump, not sure of exactly why I’m here or what God is teaching me. I found myself discouraged and unsure about what to do or how to feel, and prayed hard that God would reveal himself to me. And that, He did! In the past three days alone, I’ve learned more about myself and how God is using me than I have yet this whole trip. Just last night, I truly realized just how much I’ve fallen in love with these kids, and found it hard to imagine leaving them in nine days. The bonds I’ve made with some of them are unforgettable and the memories will stick with me forever. My continued prayer is that, when we leave next weekend, God will continue to watch over and protect each and every single child with whom we’ve come into contact. I also pray for continued faith in His will, and knowledge that he has a reason for everything. Love and miss you all!  Jess   P.S. Happy birthday four days early Alex! I’ll say it again if I get the chance but I love you and YOU’RE FINALLY AN ADULT! 🙂

Tanisha: Privet my dearest friends and family! I miss everyone so much but I am not quite ready for this trip to be over. Every day as I learn more and more about these beautiful children, I fall deeper in love with them. They have been through so very much yet they continue to laugh and find joy. I started the trip thinking I would work with the younger children but after the first day we were at the TB Center I felt unexpectedly drawn to the older teenagers and have been working with them ever since. These teens have taught me so much about myself and my relationship with God. Their willingness to trust us with their stories and care about us without question makes me realize how much I am called by God to do the same. This entire trip has been an experience of a lifetime. I continue to pray that God just fills me up so that I can pour out even more love to these children. They deserve everything I have to give and more. I am excited for the weekend and to have more time to explore Novgorod with my team but I can’t wait until Monday and I can run into the kids arms again and hug them tight. Thank you to everyone for their continued prayers. I love you Momma, Keith and the puppies more than you know.

Alli: Hi Family and Friends! Here I am sitting in Novgorod; I sometimes still have to remind myself that I am in Russia. I love it here so much. We have been with the kids in the TB center for two weeks now. I have been working with the teenagers; we split up the guys and girls for our daily discussions. The girls have been opening up to us more and more. They have been through so much in their lives; however, they are still full of smiles and laughter. Every morning when we get to the TB center they greet us with big hugs and ready to sing and play! The weather here has been really hot, we are constantly sweating. But, the weather doesn’t stop us from playing soccer, Frisbee, and random games. This weekend is going to bring some rest, which is always very much needed. Thank you all for your continued prayers and support. I love you all!  P.S. Amy and Mel- I finished Hunger Games…so good!!! Mom and Dad- I can’t wait to see you in Chelan in two weeks. Sammi- I want chipotle! And I hope the apartment is super cute! Max- I can’t wait to see you! Thanks for all the letters! 🙂

Savannah: Hello to my family and droogs! I can’t even begin to describe how amazing my trip has been so far. I am falling in love with these kids more each day. We have only known them for two weeks and I honestly feel like they have been my droogs my whole life. Every kid at the TB center is so special and I can see God working through their lives. If I have a rough night because my back hurts really bad or I am just feeling down, as soon as I get to the center everything is better, all the kids embrace us with hugs and I just feel so blessed to see their smiles every day. The weekends are actually hard for the team because we hate not seeing them for two days; we aren’t even thinking about what it will be like when we leave. God has really opened my heart and I have truly fallen in love with every single child at the TB center. He has shown me how wonderful He is and getting so close to these kids and my team has been such a blessing. I miss you all so much but I thank God every day that I am in this beautiful country! Thank you for keeping me in your prayers and supporting me through this process, I love you all! Oh also mama and dad, my back is feeling a lot better, so no need to worry anymore 🙂 Hosh and Johnny- your sis misses you both like crazy, Joshy stay out of trouble 🙂 love you

Adrienne: Hey family and friends! I miss you all so much, but it is hard to accept that we only have a week left with the kids at the TB center! I love it here so much, and although it is quite warm during the days, it is nothing we can’t handle. I can honestly say I have fallen in love with Novgorod and Russia as a whole. I can’t even really put into words how wonderful these past two weeks with them have been. I love every single one of them, and I literally can’t wait to see each of them every morning and be greeted by their hugs and smiles. It is so encouraging to see that despite all of the difficulties these children and teens have faced in their lives, they are willing to open up to us and love us regardless of the amount of time we have known them. Each day the teens are opening up more and more, and even though I am mostly working with the little kids, I still have been able to hang out with the older kids, which has been so great. God has been teaching me so much on this trip, and working in my life in ways I did not expect. I am excited to share it with you all when I return. Although there have been struggles and difficulties along the way, God is bigger and has allowed the struggles to bring us closer to Him both individually and as a team. I love you all so much, and I hope all is well. Mom, Dad, and Blair: I miss and love you all, and want you all to know I am doing well! Get ready for some crazy stories and pictures. 🙂

Samantha: Hi family and friends! We have already been here in Novgorod for two weeks. I feel like I have been here forever and yet the time has flown. These kids have completely stolen my heart, I think of them constantly with their smiling faces and laughter. This is the best experience of my life and I really can’t imagine going home right now. But even though I know this experience must come to an end I will keep every memory in my mind (and my journal). Your prayers are so appreciated; I can see God working in many of the kids. I shared part of my story yesterday and I was so nervous but God spoke through me and I think was able to affect some of the kids at the center.  I have been able to spend more time with the older kids lately and it is so fulfilling seeing them open up and smile and spend time with us. I have never been happier. Ma and Holly- I want you to know that I am so happy and safe; no worrying about me! I am excited to share stories and pictures and I know you can’t wait to hear and see them. HP is waiting for us when I get back! I love you and hope you are doing well too!

Tim: What’s up family and friends?! Novgorod, Russia has been good and is still good! Every day has been a blessing. Just playing with the kids and seeing their smiles every day just makes me really happy. The past couple of days have been good. Two days ago, we went to a Russian banya to take a shower, and to our surprise it is celebrating its grand reopening. There were a few local TV stations filming and we were filmed dancing and being goofy. I was also interviewed and it was a little bit intimidating. Who would have thought my debut on Television would be in Russia?! And today, we went to a Children’s museum and rode a boat. The relationship of the kids and the team are coming along great. A lot of the teens who were closed off for the first week were open to us and we were sharing laughs on the boat. It has been great and I am hoping that this last week is going to be even better than the past two weeks. It is going to be bittersweet, but it will be great. Mom and Tiff—I’m safe and happy here. There have been no problems at all. The food has been good. I’ll be home soon enough. Love you guys.

Aryn: Hi to all my family and friends!  This whole experience has been a whirlwind of emotions.  I have learned so much about myself, and most importantly about God.  He has been evident all throughout this trip and I can’t wait to bring everything I am learning back to the states and share it with everyone.  Every day as we make our way to the center I just pray that God will open the kids’ hearts so that we will be able to communicate the love we have that stems from God.  So far God has been answering those prayers.  The relationships that we are building are only growing every day.  I feel so fortunate to have heard the stories of some of the teenagers, especially the girls.  These girls are so strong and for all of us to open up to one another has been an amazing thing to witness.  My favorite moment thus far in the trip was when two of the girls and I just walked around the building at the center with an English to Russian dictionary struggling our way through a conversation.  I cannot put into words how we were able to just be around each other. Even when there were no words being spoken, we just smiled and knew we accepted each other just the way we were.  It is hard to believe that we only have a week left, but if you all can be praying for these kids even more, especially for the love to be communicated, would be a blessing!  Thank you all for the support! (PS. Dad I am glad your surgery went well.  I love and miss you guys and hope everything is going well! Xoxoxo)

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Oh goodness! We can’t begin to comprehend that we’ve been at the TB Center for a week and a half already. Each day brings more and more joy to us all. These beautiful children have completely stolen our hearts. We fall in love with them more and more each day.

On Monday, we had an excursion with the kids outside of the TB Center. We toured two museums that showed us some of the history of Novgorod through Art.  Afterwards, we walked to a park. On our way we passed a little amusement park with carnival like rides. The kids stared and pointed the whole time. We had no idea but Zinaida, the woman who oversees all the activities for the kids, planned for us to go on rides with kids. To see the excitement on the children’s faces when they found out that we would actually be going on roller coasters and other spinney rides was like seeing the kids finding out we were going to Disneyland. Seeing their smiles and hearing their shouts of enthusiasm just reminded us all to appreciate the little things.

These wonderful children have taught us how to love with even a greater capacity than we thought possible.

From Novgorod, Russia with love.

-Nish-Nish (Tanisha)

P.S. Pictures will come tomorrow. 🙂

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Dear family and friends!

We are now camping off the Gulf of Finland at the beautiful campsite that sits just a few steps from the beach. We love it here.

We arrived two days ago after a two hour drive through the country side of Russia. After setting up our things in our tents we each got paired up with a disabled youth and a trained staff member, who we are working with as their assistant.

So far it’s been great! The teens, some of them in wheelchairs, have been enjoying the camping experience as much as we have. We’ve been eating delicious Russian food cooked over the campfire, going on long walks with our teams through the woods and along the beach (which the wheelchairs do surprisingly well in) and then either doing crafts with the teens or taking them swimming. Swimming so far seems to be everyone’s favorite activity; the water is warm and crystal clear.

Although challenging at times, we have all been partnered up nicely with a disabled youth and are getting to know them personally and are happy that we can help them explore and enjoy the great outdoors. SunErgos International partners with the organization we are working with; which is a non-profit that helps families who struggle to support their disabled youth by taking the children, who would otherwise be struck at home, out and to a classroom setting where they can play and simultaneously learn important life skills. Although Russia is working on making changes, many of these families receive no support and since handicap accessibility is rare, mentally and physically disabled people struggle to live a normal life and most are force to stay home and never leave the apartment. Which is why the non-profit and its volunteers is such a wonderful organization, as it gives the teens a chance to experience life as well as allowing the families a bit of a break now and then.

The summer camp is a great way for these teens to leave the city and explore more of the world. We understood how meaningful it was to them the first day we took them swimming! Everyone was splashing, smiling and having the time of their life!

As a group this has been a wonderful bonding experience and we have been enjoying getting to know the people we are working with. Our Russian is improving a lot too!

We will be out here for another week before heading back to St Petersburg for our final few days. Rest assured that we are all safe, healthy and happy. We hope you are all doing well and we love you.

Dosvedanya, the Russia team!

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Here’s a little greeting from each team member:

Deanna: I cannot describe how happy I have been since arriving at camp! The teenager I get to spend time with has the most contagious love for life. Even the small cold I have cannot keep me down.

Vanessa: Preevyet Mom, Dad, David and friends! It is day two at the disabled teens’ camp and it has been GREAT! I feel much more comfortable and helpful here. The camp is gorgeous and I’m slowly learning more and more Russian, this is definitely challenging, but I’m loving it! Love you always!

Emily: Privyet friends and family! I’m having the most fun yet camping on the Gulf of Finland. I am working with a 20 year old girl named Patya. She is sweet. Her mother is the cook at the camp. I have also been on duty with means I have spent a day cooking and cleaning and helping out. It’s been so fun. And we get to swim daily and play volleyball and ultimate Frisbee. And God is teaching me so much here through the challenges and the joys. I can’t wait to share my experiences with you. Love you all!

Jessica: Привет Family & Friends! We have left city life and gone to full camping mode. God’s handiwork at the Gulf of Finland is so breathtaking. While here I have the opportunity to work with one beautiful little girl who has down syndrome. God is stretching all of us, but it really is such a great experience that I cannot thank Him enough for! Love you guys!

Natalya: Preevyet. I am sitting here at the Gulf of Finland enjoying the pure beauty of God’s creation. This week has been a challenge as I learn how to love this group of disabled teens but it is such a blessing. God is teaching me the power of His healing love and the ultimate strength He provides. Thank you for your prayers. Love, Natalya.

Rachel: Hey guys! Just wanted to let you know that I’m doing well. Got a stuffy nose but other than that am having a great time. I’ve actually been swimming in the Gulf of Finland, which is big for me. I feel like I’m learning a lot and can’t wait to share when I get back. I love you guys.

Elizabeth: hello from the Gulf of Finland! It is absolutely beautiful here! I’ve already got a nice tan. Camp live is tough, but this is such a great adventure. I am working with a little boy named Dyoma who has cerebral palsy. Looking forward to seeing you all in 12 days.

Shannon: Hello from the Russian wilderness! Camp has been very challenging for me, the first day especially, but I am doing so well now. We are right on the water so I get to go swimming every day. So you know how happy I must be! Love you all and can’t wait to share all my stories!

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