So this is it. We all have made the journey home from Atlanta to Odessa up the river to Kiev and now back to Atlanta. Jet lag aside, life now returns to some form of normalcy. In fact, those of us in the choir, we return to our normal rehearsal schedule tonight!
This, then, will be the last blog post for our 2011 Mount Paran Choir Mission Trip to Ukraine. (We may, though, post photographs soon once we cull through the thousands that were taken.)
A few words of thanks and appreciation are in order.
First, thanks and praise to God! The list of things for which we thank Him would stretch for a thousand blog posts and beyond. Of course we thank Him for His love and mercy and protection during our travels… for opening doors with ease and facility up and down the spine of Ukraine… for providing the financial means for all of us to travel to a place over 5,500 miles away to minister “unto the least of these”… for the lives He placed in our path and for His light that shines through us… for ministry opportunities, known and unknown, in orphanages, churches, and other venues throughout our eleven days together… for the good work He began (and is perfecting) both in us and in those with whom we came in contact… and for all those things to come from our time in Ukraine.
On earth, we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Deneen Turner, the heartbeat behind HopeHouse International, the organization that unlocked so many doors. Deneen’s genuine love for – and calling to serve – the orphaned children of Ukraine shine in her very countenance and inspire those around her to roll up their sleeves and do what they can to help. Everyone knows Proverbs 31 as the blueprint for a “noble woman,” but just before those famous verses are the wise sayings of King Lemuel, which, the Bible states, his mother taught him. Verses 8 and 9 epitomize Deneen: “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
And, of course, we thoroughly enjoyed meeting and spending time with her mother, Lee, and her son, Andrew, both of whom brightened our journey.
If Deneen provided the inspiration, her right-hand man, Yuri Yakovlyev, provided the perspiration. His own testimony is an amazing one, emerging from communist Ukraine to become such a powerhouse for positive, Christ-centered change in his country. He served as logistician-in-chief and did it with efficiency and aplomb. With his trademark deadpan sense of humor and a pocket full of cell phones, Yuri navigated the sometimes murky waters of the Ukrainian bureaucracy to schedule our visits, arrange our passage, ensure our entries, and everything in between, including juggling the itinerary when necessary.
Yuri brought along an army of others to assist us – Henrietta, our primary interpreter; Nona, who also interpreted for us during our first two days; Yuri (a different one), our sound engineer; and others whom we may never know. Seriously, Yuri may be the single most connected man whom I have ever met. Everyone in Ukraine seemingly knows him. Every bus driver, every church pastor, everybody – even the staff on the boat – seemed to know and respect him. Thank you, Yuri.
We also thank the countless scores and scores of people who held us up in intercessory prayer, both before and during our journey – the members of our choir who remained in Atlanta, those in the Mount Paran Church of God congregation, our family members and friends, co-workers, and others we may never know. We love you all, and we are eternally grateful the time you spent before the throne on our behalf.
Without Chris Jenkins, the trip probably would still be on cinder blocks. Chris came to our choir mere months ago, but in that short time, he has fully ingratiated himself to all of us. His steadfast work ethic and his pleasant demeanor made even the most aggravating of administrative details more tolerable… and made learning songs in Russian even a bit fun… well, maybe I should not go that far!
To the choir, the genius of Rod Jeffords is no secret. He arranges and orchestrates our music, and, on this trip, served as our pianist. Rod’s talent on the keyboards probably concealed any mistakes in our Russian! His scores are tremendous, and his heart is even bigger and better.
And, of course, with deep and heartfelt gratitude, we thank our anointed minister of music and director, Mark Blankenship. He listened to and heeded God’s call for us to take this trip, and it is because of his leadership that we were able to do as much as we did, both in deed and in song, in Ukraine.
The choir loves Mark, and we know he loves us. We praise God for his sensitivity and obedience to the Holy Spirit. Through those, we not only were able to minister to people in Ukraine but we grew closer as a choir family. Mount Paran is wonderfully blessed that God has placed him among our congregation.
Based on the amazing volume of comments to each of the posts during this mission trip, I know that many of you regularly followed us and enjoyed this daily insight into our time in Ukraine. I am honored and humbled to have memorialized the journey in words for you and for my choir family and hopefully to have injected some humor along the way. What a singular joy and a true blessing!
As I said in the previous post, I have endeavored, to the best of my ability, to reflect the opinions, viewpoints, and observations of the entire missions team. With fifty people in our group, though, that proved a formidable task. I do hope that when they read and re-read this chronicle, each of those who shared this experience with me will find reflections and echoes of their own thoughts.
At the end of the day, though, the opinions are my own, not those of Mount Paran Church of God, HopeHouse International, or the leadership of the choir. I take responsibility for every word. To the extent that something is wrong, misrepresented, or even offensive, please forgive me and know that the mistake was wholly unintentional.
We are home. But our work – and your work – is not finished. Those young children and teenagers still live in orphanages. And our Ukrainian brothers and sisters still work to build Christian inroads in the vineyards of a barely post-communist country. So we must be vigilant in our prayer and both receptive and responsive to the continued work of the Holy Spirit in us.
We specifically stand on His promise of Isaiah 55:8-11 – “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’” Amen.
To God be the glory for the things He has done!