Saturday, September 3, 2011

Vacation Bible School -- 2011

Last week our church had a Vacation Bible School. We passed out 130 invitations, and about 30 children, ages 4 to 11, showed up. It was an intense, but wonderful week. Here are some snapshots.
Opening Ceremony
Camp Songs

Older Children Lining Up for Games
Relay Race!

Younger Children at Game Time
Ships and Sailors!
Jamie Directing Games
Nina and Dasha -- VBS Workers
Oldest Age Group Doing Crafts
Luda (in Blue Shirt) Was in Charge of Crafts

Nadia Was a Helper at VBS
Vitaly Timofeyevich, Our Elder, Helping During Snack Time
Anna and Polly (Our Two Lefties) During Workbook Time
Last Day of Camp -- Praise the Lord for the children He has brought to the VBS. May He use this time to bring them to Himself and to our church.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Short Vacation at the Black Sea

Last week we took a 5-day vacation at the village of Lazurnoe on the Black Sea. We found a private house with rooms for rent through the internet, and off we went. Our friend from church went, too, and gave us a ride in his car (which was great). The above picture is of the rooms that were rented out. We occupied two rooms. They were not plush, but comfortable. The bathrooms and the showers were outside. There was one heated shower (which most of the time was only a trickle), and there were three 'summer' showers, which means there is a large canister filled with water on top of the roof that is being heated by the sun. In hot summer days the water gets warm, but when we were there, the water in the 'summer' showers was cool. In the picture below you see the heated shower in the foreground and the black cistern in the background is for 'summer' showers.The picture below shows the common area kitchen. There were three refrigerators there and two stoves -- the kitchen served 9 rooms. We ended up almost having our own fridge, because no one else was using it. The kitchen was also stocked with pots, pans and dishes, so one could cook the food they bought at the market 3 blocks away.
Below: one of the two common bathrooms.Anna and Aggie.
There was a swing and a sandbox on the premises, which helped a lot to keep the kids occupied in the early afternoons. There were some other children staying there, too, so our kids had playmates.
The weather left much to be desired, but we went to the sea anyway. The water was a refreshing +17 degrees C (63 F), but the children did not mind getting wet. There were not a whole lot of jelly fish.
The view of the beach. This is one of the better days we had there.
Below: ever-present vendors. This lady is selling dried fish. We were not brave enough for fish at the beach, but we tried some pies and corn.
Here are some more pictures of the children:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Youth and Young Adults Camp, August, 2011

The first week of August a ruling elder and I were joined by 11 other young people from our church. Youth ministry here in Ukraine can be defined by the ages between 13 and 30. We really have two different groups: a teenage group and a 20-something group. The purpose of this week was to have a retreat and draw near to God. The theme was "Living out our faith in a hostile world". We looked at the letters of Jesus to the 7 churches in the John's Revelation. What great themes are there - the awesomeness and majesty of Christ, the call to return to loving Christ, the need to stand firm against the deception to be worldly, especially in who we are as men and women, the call to sexual purity, and the need for zeal for Christ in our lives. They all responded to the Word of God, and it was great to see God challenge them in their faith.
One small story: a young lady in our church wanted to talk to me at the end of the week. She said that something is happening inside her. She told me that she had repented several years ago, but that she never knew the love of Christ or loved him in response. It was a challenge for her to hear about the love of Christ and our need to love in return: love that is shown in acts of repentance. She is excited about this new experience, and now is loving God.

Outside the shack where the 4 older ladies stayed and cooked breakfast and dinner.
Some of the ladies
Vitaly, the ruling elder who helped lead small group discussions.
One of the young men who came.
A view of the shacks along the beach
Lunch time at the cafeteria
Dinner time at the shack
After the morning lesson
Evening worship on the beach
The whole group
On the bus and headed home

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Trip to the Doctor: This Time It's Children's Allergist

Timmy and Polly see an allergist every few months. We have been there twice already since we came back: the first time just for general check-up, since it had been 6 months since we had been there (HMA), and the second time was for Polly's skin test. Here is what one might expect from a trip to a 'specialist' doctor here.
The allergist is a nice lady and seems to be knowledgeable. Her hours are 8 AM until 1:30 PM on weekdays. The clinic is located on the campus of the Oblast Children's Hospital (oblast is similar to a small state or a large county), several blocks from our house. Unfortunately, there are no buses that run that way, and we either walk (25-30 minutes one way) or take a taxi ($1.5) to get there, it depends on the weather and if the children are well. We got to the clinic, and I was surprised at the long line to the check-in window. Usually there are a couple of people in front of me, but this time there were 15-20. The line moves slowly, because there are no appointments made by phone: one comes, the lady behind the glass asks your child's name and address and whether the parent remembers the child's file number. Then she proceeds to locate that file among thousands of files on the shelves. I made a point of remembering Timmy's and Polly's numbers, and I get praised every time. There were two or three ladies working behind the glass, and the line took 20 minutes for me to get there. She gave us two slips of paper with appointment time written on them, but first, she said, go to room 100. Oh, no! Not room 100! I remembered that room from the first time we went to see the allergist. In fact, no matter what doctor you get to see, you have to check out at room 100 first. It is nothing but a station for getting the child's current weight, height, blood pressure results and his body temperature. Things one would get done by a doctor's nurse in the US. Anyway, this procedure should not and would not be dreadful (even waiting in line for 15 minutes just to get in would not be too bad), if it were not run by the most grouchy and child-unfriendly nurse I have met in my life. Yes, she works at a children's hospital, too. I forgot to mention that the reason we had to go to that room is because it's been over a year since our kids' weight has been checked (it is needed for prescriptions). Back to room 100. Remembering the criticism that we got the previous time (the nurse was not happy with our kids' imperfect Russian), I asked Timmy and Polly to speak only Russian inside room 100.
Finally, it was our turn. The nurse was the same lady from last year. There was another mother with a child sitting on the examination bed (the child had a thermometer under his arm). The nurse commanded Timmy to take his boots off, while telling Polly to sit down and wait. "Boy, stand on this rug! No, don't stand on the dirty floor with your socks! Mother [addressing me], I do not know WHAT you are teaching your children! Come, boy, stand on the scale. Mother, your boy's responses are too slow for his age. How old is the girl? Five? Well, her responses are age-appropriate." Whew! They both were weighed and their blood pressure was measured. Meanwhile, the other lady with a boy had the thermometer go off. The lady was just about to take it out, when the nurse instructed her, "Wait for another minute. I will tell you when to take it out. Just because it beeps does not mean that it is done. It needs another minute." I had to say something, "Usually, when it beeps, it means that it is done." The answer came quick, "No, it doesn't. Some people like you mistakenly think that. But if you read the instructions, they say to wait another minute!"

We finally were done with room 100 for another year. Down the long dark corridor, and up the stairs to the third floor. Many people are crowding a narrow, although brightly lit, hallway. I call out, "Room 309?" A lady answers, "You will be in line after me." Even though we got our slips of paper with appointment times written on them, it is first come-first serve. We wait another 20 minutes. There are some chairs available, but they are not sufficient to accomodate everybody. Eventually Timmy and Polly sit down while I wait, leaning on a wall. There are 5 doctors' rooms in this wing of the building: two allergists, an ear-nose-throat doctor, and two other specialists. Parents and their children, from babies to teens, wait their turn. There is also an elevator that does not work and a nursing room. All parents look tired. Some look sad, some do not, but there is not one happy face there. Clearly, if they are there, something is wrong. Somehow medical system here sucks all life juices out of parents. In the US you go to the doctor to get the problem fixed, and then you move on with your life. Here when you have to go to a doctor it is more of a sentence. Something is wrong, and you will have to carry this burden the rest of your life. There are no guarantees that the treatment will work. There are no assurances that everything possible will be done to return the patient to the normal way of life. Quality of life with a health issue is not an option here. If you have a medical issue, you will spend hours and hours seeing the doctors who want to keep you under their vigilant control. The patient is never trusted with information and decision-making. Some doctors' appointments are free, some are not, it all depends on a particular case.

After a long wait, we make it into the allergist's room. The doctor is behind a desk, so is the nurse. They are friendly and willing to help. She examines the children, asks questions, very much like an American doctor would. The only difference is that she never leaves her place behind the desk. The children go to her to get looked at. The doctor wants to Polly to get some bloodwork done. Can it be done at the clinic? Yes, and it costs 10 grivnas ($1.25). I need to go pay at the register and bring the check to the lab along with the doctor's orders. We can get it done right away! The doctor wants to have Polly get a skin test in a few weeks, so we set a tentative date. We say good-bye and go down, down the stairs to the first floor, then a long walk to the register. "I need to pay 10 grivnas for the blood test," I tell the lady in the window. She looks at the orders. "Correct. Here -- start filling this out." She hands me a blank piece of paper and a pen. A sample is right there, on the table. "Please accept my free-will donation for the improvement of the hospital." Do I have to write this? Yes, those are orders. I copy the sample and sign my name. It's not much a free-will donation, is it? The lady sighs, "They put me here, and this is my job. I am just a worker." I take my receipt, and we all go back the long dark corridor and up the stairs to the second floor. The room that we need is locked. There is a paper attached: 'The nurse is in room 205." We go down the hall to room 205. It is locked, too. Another piece of paper is pasted onto the door with another room number. Locked. What do we do? We wait and wait. After about 10 or 15 minutes of waiting, I knock on a door, "Do you know where the nurse from room 203 is?" The lady answers, "She is in room 205." "It's locked." "Have you tried room 210?" "Yes." Then she might be in room 206." I go there, and, sure enough, the nurse is there. I am speculating, but it looked like she was just chatting there. (She is the only one working in her lab room, so she probably gets bored.) She comes out and is immediately surrounded by several people (they have been waiting, just like me). Despite the fact that it was I who brought her out from beyond reach, people push me aside and try to get what they want, mostly test results. The nurse seems like a nice young lady, but is utterly unorganized. She spends another 10 minutes talking with people about their results. We wait. She finally tells us to go inside and wait for her there. Timmy stays outside, while Polly and I go in. Polly is finally getting a clue that she will be poked. This has been the hardest consequence of her staying at the hospital a year ago when she had pneumonia. Jamie stayed with Polly at the hospital: Aggie was little and still nursing, I did not want to take her there. Anyway, the two nights that they spent there were more than enough for both of them. Polly, poor Polly! The doctors here strongly believe in administering medicine through shots vs. pills. Yes, there is a value of a shot to get the meds into the bloodstream fast, but after that, can't we use more humane methods? And if a patient indeed needs an IV and there are no IV in the hospital, can't we think of better ways than sticking a 4-year old child in a vein on her hand twice a day? In addition to her getting 6 shots in her bottom every day? The doctor wanted to keep Polly there for a couple of weeks. Jamie put his foot down after two nights. They were able to go home after I promised the Dr on the phone that I will finish administering all the antibiotics they have started. I had to do 6 shots a day for a couple of days, then it went down to 4 until it was done. She got sick with another pneumonia/obstructive bronchitis 6 weeks after that. And 6 weeks after the second time. Three times altogether. The second time we did not go to the hospital. We stayed home and did shots, but not as many. The third time we caught it early and used pills. It turned out that Polly has asthma, and this underlying inflammation of the lungs readily triggers pneumonia, obstructive bronchitis, etc. When Dr. Jon observed this in while we were in the US for HMA, he immediately put her on an inhaler. I keep wondering why the allergist here did not do it, even though she was well aware of the sicknesses.

Needless to say, Polly has a bad feeling about needles after all that. As we were in the lab waiting, she got more and more upset and nervous. I did my best to comfort her. The nurse came in after another 5 minutes and started to get things ready. A phone rang. She answered. From what I heard on our end, someone from the clinic was asking about some test results. She found them and was giving the numbers over the phone. We were waiting. Polly was miserable.

Finally, the conversation was over. But the phone rang immediately again. I thought it would never end. She seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the child in my arms was suffering emotionally and wanted to leave. Finally, she approached Polly with a needle. You guessed the reaction. Polly screamed and tried to get away. The nurse stepped back. I think she was waiting for her to calm down. I told her that it was not going to get any better and that we would have to get it done. I held Polly tightly as she drew the blood. Finally, it was done. "I am surprised that she reacted like this," she said to me. "Children much younger than she come here, and they are fine." "My daughter has been to a hospital," I replied. "She knows what it is."

We were FINALLY done! Two and a half hours later we were ready to go home. I bought the kids some munchies to hold them over until we got home for lunch, called a taxi and went home. What a long day at the clinic!

Polly went to see the allergist again a few weeks later for a skin test and to talk about the blood test results (they were fine). There was some crying, but as soon as she realized it was not really a shot, she calmed down. The doctor recommends getting some bloodwork done to determine possible food allergies (they only have a small selection for skin tests available). I do not think I am going to subject my child to this kind of torture anytime soon. Only if it is absolutely necessary. Until then we will eliminate the foods that we suspect she is allergic to.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Boat Ride

Today our church family and two groups of children from the orphanage took a two-hour boat ride down the Dnieper River. We chatted, ate pizza and enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Here are some pictures from the trip. I hope some of you recognize some faces.