It’s hard to believe the year is nearly over. In some ways it has been one of the longest years ever, and in others it has flown by. If you had told us in January that we would spend the majority of the year living and serving in Romania, and that we would have a baby by the end of it all, I don’t think we would have believed you.
We started off the year with our baptism into the Orthodox church. January was full of excitement, stress, and a little bit of fear to be honest. We had been planning to go to Ukraine since October, and decided we should still go even as news of a possible invasion ramped up. The rumors were the same thing the news always talked about at every election cycle. When we talked to friends in Ukraine, they said it was basically the same thing that had been going on for 8 years. Nothing had changed for them. So we decided to go anyway. God made it extremely clear that we were supposed to go, right up to the day we left. We arrived in Kyiv on January 25th, where we joyfully reunited with our friends Galya and Dennis. Their youth group for kids who had fled Russia-occupied regions of Donetsk, Donbass, and Luhansk was our main ministry we would be helping with. We jumped into ministry straight away.
February was amazing, and we fell into a good routine. We helped out with youth group twice a week, started language lessons twice a week, met with old friends and started making new ones. It was wonderful to be back in Ukraine again after so long. We loved our little soviet style apartment in the village of Puscha-Voditsa, just outside of Kyiv. We loved visiting old Orthodox churches every Sunday. We loved walking around the city we both love so dearly. And it felt safe. Most of the time we were there, everything was calm and normal. We were hopeful the American news were over-exaggerating the perceived threat, made worse by lack of research and understanding of the culture. It wasn’t until 2 days before that everything changed, and we knew an attack was imminent.
We woke up on February 24th to the sound of bombs. The shock waves set off car alarms for miles. It was still dark outside. We called family and let them know. Both of us decided emphatically that if something happened to us, the month we spent in Ukraine had been totally worth it. It had been the best month of our lives. Neither of us regret going, not then and definitely not now. Dennis came to pick us up and we met with several kids from the youth group at their house. Emily made them pancakes for breakfast since it was still early. The basement was flooded, with about an inch of water covering everything. We set up stepping stones and wooden pallets to sit and sleep on. We learned the difference in sounds between the Russian bombs landing nearby and the Ukrainian missiles flying away from us in defense. We stayed upstairs in the heat when we could, going down to the basement only at night or when the attacks ramped up. Those 2-3 days were some of the scariest in our lives. But finally we managed to get transport out of the city, literally running for our lives.
March was full of air raid sirens, blackouts, crowded shelters with crying children, and many long discussions with our team about what to do next. Our village back in Ukraine was overrun with Russian soldiers. We started to hear rumors of the terrible torture coming from Bucha and Irpin, the villages just north and west from Puscha. In the middle of the darkness, chaos, and death, we found out we were pregnant! A complete miracle, especially given the stressful environment of the past few weeks. Galya and Dennis decided to go to Romania, where we had some friends from YWAM Kyiv. But we weren’t sure if Dennis would be allowed to cross the border, and unfortunately our suspicions were correct. We ended up driving Galya (also pregnant) and her 2 young children to Cluj, Romania, where we were welcomed with open arms by the YWAM base. As we rested and met people, we felt God telling us to stay.
In April we started working as YWAM Cluj official staff. Emily only worked part time as morning sickness started hitting full force. But she was able to help get the kids program started once a week, and taught a lesson on the armor of God, particularly the Shield of Faith. Vladimir and the construction team started working hard to finish the apartments for the many volunteers scheduled to come and help that summer. Both of us enjoyed having lunch (well, Emily was forced to stop after awhile since the smell of any meat was sickening) and using our language skills to make some new Ukrainian friends. We also sent a large amount of donations we were given to fund the first truck of food and supplies the base sent to Ukraine.
By May, the apartments were finished and more teams of volunteers were arriving from all over the world. Work began on the new community center, which would have a commercial grade kitchen and more dining space than the church we were renting from could offer. Emily was basically out of commission for the month, so sick she could hardly get out of bed most days. June was pretty much the same. Galya had her baby, and Emily went to help watch her oldest son once or twice a week to give her a little help. Meanwhile, we found out we were having a little girl, and we couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Once the construction was finished, Vladimir joined the cooking team and helped make the daily lunches for our Ukrainian friends. Emily finally started feeling better in July, and started helping with English club and occasionally the kids ministry. She was able to keep it up through August and September, while Vladimir took a roofing job back in the States so we could have the funds to stay through the end of the year. The timing of the job was absolutely perfect, right when we needed it and right as Emily was able to be ok on her own without as much support. Even though it was hard for him to be gone for a few weeks (both personally and in terms of ministry), we managed. Once again, a common theme of this year, we were reminded that God always provides!
By October the 3rd trimester officially took Emily out again, but she did managed to organize one last event for the kids ministry. Our special length program about managing anxiety was a huge success. The kids had fun with the games, craft, and movie, and genuinely seemed to listen and connect with the Bible story (Peter walking on water) and the conversation about managing anxiety and calming down if you start to panic. It was a good finale to my year of ministry. As frustrating as it was at times to be too sick to function or help, I am confident and at peace that God brought me here to do exactly what I was able to accomplish. And for that I am grateful. The rest of the month was filled with prepping for the baby (Emily) and lots of cooking in the kitchen (Vladimir, both for the Ukrainians at work and for Emily at home).
And then there was November. In the beginning, we thought February would be the best month of the year, despite the start of the war. Its a close second, but nothing beats the month we got to meet our daughter. Sweet Anastasia Olympia arrived on her due date, November 14th. She is like a puzzle piece we didn’t know was missing, but now that she is here we feel more whole. Somehow she is already 6 weeks old, and doing great. She is noisy and wiggly and likes to move and look around at the world. She makes the funniest faces, and definitely has a bit of spark to her. She still struggles to sleep through the night, but it’s getting better. We are surviving, and she makes it worth it. We love her more than anything, and we love watching each other become parents.
And that brings us to December. Although most of the time has been spent getting ready to leave, we are also fundraising for one last project to help Ukraine: bringing vitamins and generators to hard hit areas.
It was not in our plans to return to the States so soon. But with multiple family health issues on both sides of our family, we decided it would be best. Our time in Romania has been unexpected, challenging, frustrating, amazing, and rewarding. 2022 has been a year full of tears, laughter, fear, trust, despair, hope, righteous anger, divine sorrow, overwhelming joy, abounding love, and miraculous perseverance. It’s been a wild ride, but we wouldn’t change a thing. We were brought to Ukraine, and then Romania, for such a time as this. That time has come to an end, but a new time is coming. Part 2, looking ahead to the New Year and what’s next for our ministry, will be coming soon.