This was our last full day in Galveston before departure on Friday. We spent most of the day working on small projects, walking through the neighborhood again learning about ourselves and the people. We even were able to pray for people and hear stories about leaders on the trip that went through life struggles similar to what we see in Galveston. We learned! In the afternoon, we went back to street camp to play with the kids. We had a blast playing games, throwing paper airplanes, singing songs, listening to a quick bible story, and doing crafts one on one until it was time to say goodbye.
There were some tears and special goodbyes as we left for the day. You could tell by the reflection time that some of the kids really loved on us well too.
During our nightly download and devotional time, we shared words of affirmation and encouragement with one another. Each and every person in the room was called and known by name. Though the changes may be subtle and small, God definitely was able to get into the hearts of everyone on this trip, even those who flat out refused to have anything to do with prayer or devotional time. Whether it was for attention or a deep seed of rebellion, we will not know at this moment but one day, the seeds that were planted this week will grow. They will bear fruit. They will make a difference in someone’s life. Here’s to great week of service and quality time in Galveston!
We started our last day in Ukraine very early by driving to the airport in Kiev at 3am. The first flight was only a few hours. We landed in Frankfurt, Germany, early in the morning as well. A few of us were randomly selected for more security screening, which ended up taking a very long time. We eventually made it to our gate with seconds to spare. Finally we got through and got onto the plane heading to Houston. The flight was much longer than anyone expected: almost 11 hours.
After the flight we landed back in our favorite state and began talking about the great memories and relationships we had made over the past week and about all of the lessons we learned. We were so sad it was over, but at the same time it was an amazing week that allowed us to bond with the Ukrainian people we had met as well as our entire team.
As we head back to Austin, the relationships and memories we made will be carried with us into the future and I can’t wait to see the impact this week will have in everybody’s lives.
This Saturday morning we packed up and started on our way back home. We left Zhytomyr and spent the day in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine.
We got to visit a few church buildings, make our way through the Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square), and walk down Kreschatyk Street – the main boulevard through Kiev where Soviet displays of military power were staged as “parades” for years. We later made our way to the Motherland Memorial (huge Soviet WW2 statue that looks across the Dnipr river from Kiev) by way of the Metro – and an escalator descent into the deepest metro station in the world!
Independence Square and Kreschatyk were also the epicenter of Ukrainian Nationalist political protests in 2004 and 2014, since they are the main gathering place in town and just down the street from the building that houses the Rada, Ukraine’s legislative body. In 2014, suspected Russian undercover operatives attacked the protesters and the months-long protest turned bloody over the course of a few days. We got to visit where these tragic historic events took place.
We received notice from the US Embassy earlier this week that a protest would be held on the Maidan Saturday morning, so we exercised extra caution and avoided the area as necessary. When these events occur (and escalate) in Ukraine, they tend to be very localized.
Thanks for your prayers for our team. We have felt peace, safety, and lots of blessings so far this week. We are so thankful for the time we have had together and with friends in Zhytomyr.
After the church and the square, we headed to lunch at a Ukrainian buffet. While most of the locals only had a plate or so at their table, we as Americans had about 6 plates per person. We wanted to try everything.
After we finished eating we walked about a mile or so to this popular chocolate store, Roshen, where we all stocked up on many pounds of candy. Once we finished with the subway mentioned above, we drove to the 300 ft tall statue that included a really interesting WW2 museum that taught us about Ukraine’s heavy involvement in WW2 and the Holocaust. Once we were finished with the museum we headed back to the hotel for a final Ukrainian meal together and a few short hours of sleep for the long travel days ahead.
Our last day at Pillow has been memorable. I am going to really miss everyone I worked with. The connections we all made with the kids were so genuine and strong.
Today all the Hyde Park Volunteers were running stations for track and field day. Some were doing throwing contests, dance offs, and the parachute game. Jilly Nickens and I were in charge of the relay station. We did potato sack races, kangaroo-hop races, and egg races. It was so fun to see each group of students run to our station with excitement and then compete and encourage one another.
We ate Schlotzsky’s for lunch which was generously provided by Pillow and we got re-energized to go play and dance with students the rest of the day.
Today was one of the most fun days I’ve had here at Pillow in both of my years. I loved being with the kids outside when they were free from school work and able to run and play.
As we left with big hugs, some lasting till the very last seconds, everyone felt that their hearts were full. Even though today was our last day, I encourage everyone to keep Pillow in their prayers and thoughts as the year progresses.
Pillow has been an amazing experience this year and I am so happy I was able to participate. Thank you to Ms. Polski and Mrs. Mullen’s and everyone it took to organize this trip. It has been truly a blast. Also, thank you to everyone who has been following along with the the blog. Y’all rock! I hope you enjoyed the daily updates and pictures.
What we DID: celebrate!! We ran for victory today. Victory of serving others with the same heart that Garland Benson had as he worked hard to raise 1 million dollars for his sister’s treatment to fight Batten disease.
We FEEL: excited, capable, and strong. We’ve worked hard to serve all week and we know God has given us strength to endure.
We EXPERIENCED: community, family, and a sense of belonging. It was awesome to run with our family and friends to celebrate the spirit of serving others.
Please PRAY: for a continued heart of service among these students. Pray this week ignites their hearts to desire to serve others because we have been given everything we need through Jesus.
Today, we split into two groups by job preference for the morning. One group woke up earlier and headed to do construction with Restoration Project and the second group woke up about an hour later, ate a quick breakfast, and walked to take the trolley to the shelter.
The other group went to the same house they worked on a couple days ago, but this time they tore up the floors plank by plank. After one floor was gone, they sledge-hammered for what seemed like hours. They said it was a fun way to get exercise but most importantly, to help those people restore that home for someone in need.
Once at the shelter, my group did crafts with the young moms while a few of us chose to hang out with their kids. We made picture frames with Bible verses in either Ukrainian or English and decorated them with yarn, flowers, ribbon, and drawings. When that was finished, the rest of us went to play with the kids on the second floor of the Shelter to help keep the young children busy so that the moms could rest for a few minutes. This consisted of playing mini soccer and helping the kids not get hurt while they played. It also involved chasing the “escapees” who wanted to play a not-agreed-upon Hide-N-Seek.
It was a lot of fun and when it was over, we headed to the Day Center for a wonderful lunch of fried chicken, seasoned carrots, and mashed potatoes. There we played cards, ping pong, and other games while we waited for everyone to arrive for English camp. The Ukrainian boys are all amazing at card games and ping-pong, almost always beating us without struggle. We split into two groups for English lessons, one more advanced and one more basic. I was in charge of the more advanced group and we practiced things like simple phrases, colors, the alphabet, and counting by tens. The kids had a great time and earned prizes like candy and pens.
After this, the groups rejoined and Andrey Pankyeyev, the leader and founder of Last Bell Ministries, gave a powerful message about believing in yourself. He paraphrased the story of Louis Zamperini, the famous runner whose story had been told in the Novel and eventually film of Unbroken.
Following this message, Ukrainians and Americans alike were divided into three teams for a scavenger hunt across Zhytomyr. We were required to work through the language barrier in order to emerge on top and complete embarrassing challenges in the local mall like singing a Christmas Song aloud or clapping for random people as they entered the building.
After this, we returned to the Day Center and loaded up our vans to head back to the hotel. Everyone emerged in great spirits and ready for whatever the next day brings.
We started our super-rainy Wednesday by finishing up our care packages for the homeless and by making sure that all of our books were ready for collecting for our book drive. Many thanks again to the families that contributed books and materials for our care packages — we couldn’t have done all that we did without you!
We also recorded solo interviews about what service and GO Week activities and people have inspired us. Please check out the video below for some of our favorite videos!
Our main service activity on Wednesday was helping to prepare for the Batten Fun Run that we’re all participating in on Friday. We made signs for each grade level to hold as they begin the run! We had a lot of fun painting these signs, and we cant wait for you to see them during the run!
The rest of Wednesday, we took time to prepare for our chapel service on Thursday. The students are reading verses, performing skits and chants, and have put together a video slideshow — we will post the video here!
Thursday was our team bonding day. We worked on our chapel presentations some more, and then had an awesome scavenger hunt throughout the middle and elementary schools! We learned the address of the 6th grade science classroom, the number of elevators in the building that only go down, the number of cubbies in the school, and how many universities fit inside Mrs. Buechler’s room. After the scavenger hunt, we made time for more fun and team competitions. We played games, solved trivia questions and rebus puzzles, and even built tall towers with spaghetti noodles and marshmallows!
Before chapel, we ate lunch outside and spent some time just playing and enjoying each others’ company in the beautiful sunshine. Our chapel service was completely put together by the students. Students told the story of the loaves and fishes, and noted how the most amazing miracle was the small boy who wanted to help feed the people. We had another group of students act out a traditional and a modern version of the story of the Good Samaritan and related it to what we accomplished during GO Week. We had yet another group share a recap of all of our service work this week and relate it all to appropriate Bible verses. Finally, Mrs. Buechler shared this wonderful video that she made with the students. Please enjoy it!
Although we’re halfway through the week, our hearts are already full of love. We came to serve the students, but we feel very spiritually filled by these kids.
We started the day with Ms. Polski’s “mudge” (mole-fudge) and the day just got better from there. Once we got to the school we were greeted with hugs and a cheer from the kids. We mainly worked on preparing for field day. This included: painting pictures of a giant raspberry, drawing pictures of yogurt cups, and decorating many bulletin boards. Some students spent most of their time cutting out about 1,500 “Panther Pesos” and other cut out unique and intricate paper kites.
In first grade, we helped the kids comprehend the factor families and practiced our song about raspberries about 10 times.
” My favorite part of today was cutting out over one hundred and fifty laminated papers.”
We left with hungry stomachs as we headed to Sonic for some snacks. I loved bonding with everyone at Sonic, and we are all very excited to return tomorrow.
What did we DO: We are all about activity today in Kindergarten.
We started our morning with an inspiring chapel led by 4th grade.
Then we worked on items for our cultural fair and did more learning about Costa Rica as we pray for our partner team and their work.
After that, we learned from two different organizations that help around our city. We listened to Partnerships for Children talk about their work to provide for basic needs of children. We colored encouraging rainbows to send their way. Then we listened to the vision of Food in Tummies as they talked about providing weekend meals for students in need.
Then we put our feet in action and walked with our second grade buddies to say thank you to our neighborhood fire fighters. We took treats and encouraging posters to let them know we care about the services they provide in our community.
How we FEEL: Honestly, we feel big. As some of the youngest students in our school, it can be hard to know that we make a difference. Seeing the smiles on the faces of others and knowing that our caring counts makes us feel like we belong here.
Special MOMENT: seeing all we have learned about safety and self-control pay off. Kindergarten can now walk down the street with our buddies and teachers knowing how to remain calm and in order. That’s big learning in action and it feels good to see how far we’ve come this year.
How you can PRAY for us: Please join us in praying for the ministries of Partnerships for Children and Food in Tummies as they serve children in need here in our city. Keep praying for the hearts of our Kindergarten students at Hyde Park as they learn to put the needs of others before their own. This is hard work. They are getting a little tired and we are praying for their endurance and perseverance as they learn all the amazing things they are capable of doing!
Today was filled with a lot of work, but it was worth it knowing we helped change the lives of those who needed it. We started the day by going to a construction site through Restoration Project. Kaylee, Luke, Cody, Cole, and I tore down a brick wall that was nearly one hundred years old with sledge hammers. We worked hard for a few hours in the snow and showed our strength and that we can get our hands dirty.
After we left the construction site, we went to the Day Center and ate lunch while watching crazy Ukrainian and American music videos. After we ate, we went to the market/mall to collect items to make sandwiches for students at two different trading schools. While we ate and played games with the kids, I learned that the kids were too young to be living on their own. Many were fourteen to sixteen years old and living in dorms with the responsibilities to take care of themselves. Yulia and Abram were the LBM staff members with us, and the love they had for these kids was immeasurable. They serve them so well and make them feel part of a family.
Finally, after a long day of work and play, we went to the Day Center with our small group and took about a thirty minute nap. We later woke up and left for a shelter to eat dinner, where many of the orphan moms lived with their children. There we saw the nice living conditions these moms were given by Last Bell and I thought that was a really cool thing. Today was a long but impactful and fun day.
This morning, after breakfast, our team split up into two groups. One returned to Oleg and Tolik’s house in the village near town to do Restoration Project work and the other (including me) went to visit several young moms and their babies. We went around to different apartments owned by young former-orphan parents and got to meet them. We were privileged to hear their stories and experience their homes, even though it was heartbreaking to see and hear. One story that I heard that I will never forget consisted of a family of a mother, father, their daughter and son. Shortly after receiving his measles vaccination, the six year old boy started having some seizures. They continued and got worse and he was diagnosed with an unknown seizure disorder. It has been going on for twelve months now. Last Bell and their church raised money for the boy’s hospital bills and medicine. But there were problems. The mother had to fight against the local government for housing near the hospital, and the doctors weren’t being cooperative. They suggested the family just let the son die so that they can donate his organs. Luckily after Andrey and Oksana advocated for the kid with the doctors and the government, he received some medicine and his seizures started to get a bit better. Even though he is still in the hospital today, still without a certain treatment, there is now hope he will survive and recover.
After visiting the moms, we visited a local business that builds manufactured homes. It is owned and operated by a Christian family Andrey and Oksana know in Zhytomyr. We went to visit because the Restoration Project may work with the company (called “Ukrainian Dream”) to replace some homes that are beyond repair or build a small village of homes for a Last Bell Community in the future. We saw several finished home floor plans and watched them constructing homes in their factory.
Later we went to the day center where I had the privilege of playing cards and foosball with non-English speaking Ukrainian kids and staff while the others were playing ping pong or soccer video games.
After lunch at the Day Center, we went to the social dorm at a trade school to meet former orphans around my age. They were very light hearted and talented. One even showed us her drawings and paintings; we asked if we could buy a few of her pieces of art and eventually she agreed and her pictures were almost sold out by the end of our visit. We shared our fears and how fears are important in life no matter how much they might scare you. On the way home we learned that she couldn’t attend her university classes last week because she ran out of supplies and didn’t have the money to buy more paper or pens. Now she does have the money to get some more supplies and continue her studies!
Lastly, we had dinner at a shelter for moms and their children with the Last Bell staff. They made us a cabbage-rolled rice and meat eggroll type food called Golubtsi (“Go-LUP-see”). It was AMAZING! We might’ve watched a bit of Ukrainian Monsters Inc. afterwards. We made it back to the hotel barely able to keep our eyes open and with proud hearts.