Monday, 23 October 2017

10 years of partnership on this "little project", and 10 things I thank God for.

10 Years ago 2 guys (who I love deeply for their gospel hearts), took a trip to Ukraine to see if there was a possibility of "killing two birds with 1 stone". They wanted to see if in God's plan its was possible to serve the global church with encouragement and deeply practical help, whilst at the same time develop their own men's ministry. After all church is often about kids and families isn't it? What do quiet blokes (who only talk about power tools, sheds and DIY projects) get to do together / talk about. On first inspection Ian and Mark were daunted by the possibilities of Ukraine, but in only the way that God can, he reassured them that their availability and willingness was all they needed for fruitful gospel work to begin. 10 Years later, I have just left Ukraine with our first construction project essentially complete. I have been encouraging men over the last 8 or so years to join me in what I think is the most profitable thing I've ever done with my time and energy. 
Why did it take so long you ask? A number of reasons...
1) Our "little project" turned out to be not so little. Housing up to 60 teenagers takes some significant space and resource, especially when practicalities are thoroughly thought out. Transition House is a BIG HOUSE!

2) Ukraine has not been without its "ups and downs" over the last few years. Wars, economic rollercoasters, DIY and building supply companies pulling out, embassies and mission agencies advising not to travel ... are just a few of the obstacles that we've negotiated by God's grace along the way. It is ironic that when people are going through really tough times, less people come to help because it is against the logic of health, safety and human wisdom.
3) When you start a gospel project, it is not long before you discover that the real substance of ministry is about people not bricks and mortar.  Ministry is beautifully more messy when people get involved, the theory is augmented by the reality of God working in time, space and characters. In addition to all the parents, grandparents and children of multiple children families who we now call our family, there are the church families, seminary staff, translators and not forgetting many team members from the UK. These people are God's people, they have become my people, my family, the reason I love to get up early for - the church in Ukraine is a pleasure to serve and to pray for.
4) The vast majority of guys who have come to serve on this project come with a heart to serve and rarely any qualification other than the enthusiasm to fit in. We have learned skills on the job. Some of us are now "skilled"  through practice. If you need some metal work fitting for a stud wall or ceiling, a bathroom tiled or a bit of plasterboard cut, these guys have a DIY qualification second to none.
5) I believe God has his timing (which is not always the same as ours). Had we quickly completed the project, had sponsors not moved on, would we now have the profound depth of relationship we have with these wonderful people? We have seen children grow into men and women. We've seen our friends from troubled backgrounds develop into youth-workers, children's workers, classy individuals with much to give and in some cases, wonderful families of their own. No amount of money can buy this stuff. When God saw our need, he came himself (John 3:16) and the golden jewel of all gospel ministry is relationship. Relationship grows and blesses when submitted to God's plans. 

In short this is much more than a building project. In God's plans this is an extension plan of his church, where new people are coming to trust in Jesus Christ all the time. It is a growing family, where each meal is both more open and yet more appreciated. Mealtimes in transition house are a complete joy. They are a rehearsal for heaven, when people from every nation will testify extreme gratitude to the God who brought them all together, for a purpose much bigger than themselves. God loves to take us out of our self centred comfort zone, and make us fit in with his much better plan. 

We will recount some major stories that will make you both laugh and cry over the coming months. This great family house will open in June 2018, and our involvement on a relational level will continue. However now the construction phase is complete, and we are looking to God with ready eyes, as he directs what he wants from us next as a group of blokes. We are very excited about all the possibilities on the table, however the bible studies we have done in Joshua over these last 3 weeks have really challenged us to expect to be taken out of our comfort zone again. When apartments are pristine you forget what it is like to ascend a 4 floor building without stairs, what it's like to travel on an outside "pully-lift" with a cement mixer, and  40 bags of cement. God is teaching us as a group of guys to man up again and be strong and courageous. So in an attempt to remind the fellas how good God has been to us - here is my personal top 10 things I thank him for today. The God who is the same yesterday, today and forever will not let us down, his gracious faithfulness is beyond comprehension. He is seeking people in trouble who need grace, he is bringing together his global people for great purposes. He is growing his family beyond what we can understand, so it's about time we started looking bigger, getting on board with his mind, and thinking his thoughts after him. After all his heartbeat for this world is still thumping with love, his Son has given everything - so who are we to hold back?

10 THINGS TO THANK GOD FOR in our 10 year partnership.
1) That many. many children have grown up in the amazingly loving context of grace baptist church, their three "Priut "shelters and multiple children family homes. Across Odessa there are trophies of God's goodness - people whose lives are on track because someone went out of their way to care in Jesus' name. God is good !
2) Peter and Lydia. Now the much loved grandparents to many many people. When they answered the call of God to love children in need many years ago, I don't think even they had a vision of what God would do. Now their children have children, now those they have cared for are caring for multiple children families. God is good !
3) That children and adults who have mental and physical disabilities have not been forgotten or sidelined in a desire to look after kids. The church do an absolutely amazing thing in looking after those for whom care is demanding and constant. They are in a good place under the shelter of God's people just north of Odessa. God is good.
4) We have had the opportunity to share God's truth in so many different contexts. I am always amazed at the end of a Sunday morning preaching at grace church by 2 things. 1) The Holy Spirit's presence at work through his word, into peoples lives. 2) That people come to kneel publicly before hundreds and confess that Jesus Christ is LORD. I shouldn't be surprised, this is what we pray for - this is the kind of God we serve. He is active and dispensing his grace and mercy which is fresh every morning. I thank God for all the opportunities we have had to tell of his love, and every individual who has committed their life to him, including our dear friend Alina last Sunday morning. God is good!
5) We have opportunity to be real with each other ... both in our morning devotions and throughout the day. Blokes get tired of pretending. Being honest about who you are with those you can trust is life affirming, exhilarating and beneficial, especially when done under God's word. The friendship we have after being on a team together is on a different scale of affinity and closeness. My team mates have become my best mates for life. God is good!
6) Blokes go home different. Whether it is seeing those who are in a struggling situation who make you appreciate all you have (especially in family) or those who are just out and out stars for the gospel... whatever it is, we all go back with renewed vigour to live for Christ where he has put us. I will never forget the wife who phoned me to ask "what have you done with my husband? He is washing up, he's spent the day with the family, I have a cup of tea in bed now, and the bloke who used to zone out in front of the telly is now zoning in to read the bible with his Kids." God is good... we have so much to be thankful for and so many opportunities to live well for him.
7) All our needs have been met and we have been given the privilege of passing on God's money. There are many times a new expense has arisen, yet God has enabled all the guys to fly out on their own expense, and all the materials to be provided for by the gifts of God's people. There are also time when individuals have responded to the prompting of God to give for needs of people. Is it coincidence that someone gave me £150 to pass on to the work just before I got on the plane 3 weeks ago?  The exact same day, a little friend needed some money for some help with his eyes / opticians. When I arrived - I heard about it for the first time and asked "how much it would cost ?" - how much do you think they said ?... Yes you guessed it £150 ! It is this kind of thing that turns even the hardest sceptic on our teams into committed followers of the God who knows and provides. I shouldn't be surprised, the bible says he knows how many hairs still remain on my head... (Matt 10:30) God is good! 
8) There is an army of people praying for us. The texts, the private messages, and the people I know who are praying for us, have been the fuel in our tank. The God who answers prayer has been with us, answering every sort of prayer we can think of, from that of eternal significance to issues of power and water. God is good to you and me today.
9) The generosity of those who have given. I will never forget my niece being one of the first to give of her pocket money in a desire to get "project Odessa" off the ground. God is not interested in how much you give, but how you give. The cheerful gifts of those who don't have much are precious to God, and many have given in this way. Pocket money gifts will never make the business pages of the broadsheets, but they have been invested in the God who is never our debtor. He knows, and has taken the loaves and fish and done something massive with the little we have brought before him.
10) In thinking we have come to serve, we have been served. There are those; who wash up for 3 weeks, those who clean our toilets, those who get rid of the dust we create, those who cope with 10 hours of SDS hammer drill banging into their living room floor from the basement. The servants of Christ carry a towel, bowl and a heart of humility to wash the messed up with grace. We have been blessed to discover more servants of Christ than we could've ever expected. Odessa has some messed up people, and some messed up situations in it, but Jesus is the answer and Christlike servanthood is the method to win a nation... these folks have it in skip loads. We've learned so much from your willingness to get down in the mess and lift others up. Thank you for teaching us the profundity of Jesus' grace in such obvious and practical ways. God is SO GOOD!

We could go on, but you've listened long enough. 
We'll keep you up to date with our growing plans for 2018, but for now ...
with love, 

Friday, 20 October 2017

Project near KOMPLETE... 3 weeks komplete... schnips kaput, back nearly kaput but BIG SMILES ALL ROUND!

As we come to the end of our 3 week stint in transition house, things have progressed exceptionally well. Our hope was to fix metal frame-work in a number of places (very time consuming), so that ceilings and walls could be completed as individuals had capacity. As it turns out, despite a number of individuals struggling (with bad backs, knees and joints etc), God has helped us achieve some tangible finish points.

  • Main hall, electric,  metal work,  and all ceiling boards - KOMPLETE
  • 2nd hall, electrics, metal work for ceilings and boxing in, all ceiling plasterboards - KOMPLETE
  • Changing room, metal work for ceiling, electrics and all plasterboard- KOMPLETE
  • Back entrance Hall metal work and OSB walls and 2 doorways KOMPLETE
  • Rear Hall, metal work and boarding for walls metalwork and plasterboard (+electrics), plus floor-tiling KOMPLETE
  • Technic room, metal work on walls and electrics KOMPLTE
  • Large Communal room, flooring, feature walls (tiling) walls, electrics, ceiling, ceiling cannopy (for presentation area) metal work and plasterboarding  - KOMPLETE
  • Kitchen area, Flooring, metalwork ceiling Komplete (awaiting electrics)
  • Front hallway, flooring KOMPLETE
  • 2 Bathrooms, TILING KOMPLETE
  • LARGE Front hallway into MAIN HALLS and CHANGING ROOM, boarding, electrics, ceiling metal work and plasterboard KOMPLETE..
  • Entrance stairs are now also tiled and looking GOOOOOOD!
 In short the basement is nearly KOMPLETE in construction, what remains in the main is cosmetic (filling, plaster and paint). This means that the building is just about KOMPLETE

We are so looking forward to 2 things
1) The day (expected to be JUNE) when the building has its grandopening
2) Going bowling again with  the children. Tonights 10 pin bowling was the funniest thing you have ever seen - We were able to take 25 of our friends to PAPASHON, a lively (loud DJ'd) alley whcih just ramped up the hype (and children ready for bed) more and more. Mark was singled out by the glamorous compare to win numerous prizes which he kindly donated. The coolest of the prizes was definately the lollipop, closely followed by the free time in the ball pool.

Our bodies have some aches but our photocards, hearts and spirits are full - full of gratitude to GOD.
GOD IS GOOD - Hope you can enjoy these pictures of some selected work, the photos may not mean a lot to you but they do to us. Please stay tuned as we fly home tommorow, more will appear hear - including before and after comparisons and hopefully news of our next projects and steps. Full of gratitude to God - this is BLOGSKI logging off in Ukraine for the moment, ready to resume in the world of less bumpy roads (you try typing in a minubus on the way to the black sea camp)

Much love
PS (oh and I forgot to tell say... Mark won the bowling - he wooped the kids - no compassion - but we're not talking about it!)

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Amazing day of progress in the big house, even without our best buddy!

This week has been full of challenges. On Tuesday our great friend Emlyn had to fly home becuase his lovely wife was unwell and needed help. We praise God for Emlyn and Carol, and everything they have sacrificed and contributed to this project.  Emlyn contributes way more than his work (which features throughout the building)., His enthusiasm, love and generosity towards the children, endless supply of sweets, banter, arias and practical jokes are but a few of his best gifts. Most of all he has the servant heart that sets the tone for a team to set off on the right foot. We miss him and pray for him, but rest assured the team have carried on with the tone he set (just with less sweets.)

This evening we have been to Priut (church home) to share some fun with our younger friends, it has been the best if times. Mark introduced them to the electronic shock game (I hope they don't need counselling). There were more giggles per hour than I can ever remember having anywhere. It was also fab to chat to some of the older teenagers about them getting into transition house soon. I look forward to making them a brew next time I visit transition house. I will post more photos tomorrow of the completed work and our evening out.
...However... today we would really appreciate your prayer as we consider the very important decision making we are contemplating. You will see from the photos tomorrow that we really are very near completion of this big house. Over the last three weeks we have met some amazing people who have helped us explore future projects both here in Ukraine and further affield. We do not know where God will send us next and how things will pan out, we just know these 5 things.
1) God is speaking to us and teaching us to trust him for the way ahead, and the completion of Transition House will mark the end of an amazing journey of faith, We don't know how God has done this really, we look back and trace his amazing goodness. We would love to have other adventures like this in his plans if that is what he wants.
2) We want to carry on supporting our friends here to keep going. We see this as a family thing, This is not a project, these are our people, we love them, and they are God's people which means our friendship will last into eternity.
3) We know that the world is a very broken place so we are not ruling out those places where war and relational mess leave a trail of destruction.
4) There are some small projects which would make a huge difference, we might look at these in the interim before the next project starts.
5) We can't comprehend how much more God has given us than we have given him. We've done a bit of glorified DIY and yet we have gained lifelong friends, met some of the lovliest people on the planet, and had the privelege of meeting some absolytely  fantastic kids who appreciate everything they have.

Thank you for your prayers, especially in the decisions we make,
speak tomorrow as we sumize our trip,
Big love from the BIG HOUSE

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Tag building, a growing church family and the start of week 3.

The last 48 hours have been an emotional rollercoaster, but an amazing testimony to how God brings people together for his glory. Friday night was the start of our Airport trips the other side of the city (in the swanky new arrivals terminal) . I really appreciated some quality time with my wonderful brothers Pieter and Sergio. We talked about many things (some deep lessons from life, and some not so deep things like how to grow apples and pick them in a proper way). Pieter has sown unsparingly into the orphanage work. He is now reaping the fruit of a life well lived for God. Those he has invested in are now having their own wonderful families and blessing Pieter with them.
On Friday evening we welcomed 6 great fellas from Gwersyllt, and started tucking into pizza as midnight approached. Blurry eyed, early Saturday we said goodbye to John D, Rob, Nick, Dennis and Ken. I thank God for each of them, their work, their encouragement and genorisity to God's people here in Odessa.

They leave behind much more than a load of pristine and perfect metal work. They leave behind a legacy for a future generation. When people ask - who built this wonderful home, they will say - good men who put their heart and soul into it because they loved Jesus Christ and they love people.
Saturday morning we also collected another 4 fellas from Gwersyllt.
The new guys got stuck in immediately in the basement - this is tag ceiling construction.

Sunday morning we started by praying together; for the week, our families and churches at home, and the church here in Odessa. I had the privilege of preaching the good news of Jesus Christ and how we can have a new start in him (as individuals and churches). Praise God one of our young friends from the shelter at Church publicly commited her life to live for Jesus Christ. God is good. We then had lunch with our good friends pastor Igor and Svetlana Kucher. It was wonderful to hear of both what God is doing in Ukraine in his church, and the great possibilities of the growing orphanage and transition house work in the future. This afternoon we went for a walk and did all the "touristy things" in the city center. We also drank some seriously good coffee for 60p.
I will post more of our final week's projects tomorrow (internet providing), but for now there is a need for rest.Yours with love, gratitude and now also with the Barry White voice, BLOGSKI.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

We are winning (we think)!

Good evening blogski friends,
It is fair to say we have been working like trojans today and feeling some of the effects of doing so.
Emlyn started the week singing like a BEE-GEE but alas he now serenades in the BARRY WHITE register. It is hard not to laugh when you hand him a requested tool and he says in the style of THE KING OF ROCK AND ROLL "thank you very much". This is rock and roll basement building - life on the edge ! The dust and damp is a contributing factor to our aches, pains, frustrations and ailments, but praise God we are winning !!!!

The metal work in the second hall is going up apace. We also plasterboarded the rear hall and completed the rear corridor today. All in all the end result looks terrific but it has taken some perseverance.

 I will post full photos tomorrow.
 Here are some snaps from the last week...
Sunday evening the youth band led us very helpfully at church.

We were really pleased to hear our young friend preach and to see that grace church is giving opportunity to young preachers - he is wearing the beautifully handmade national costume.

Last week we were of course at the stunning opera house -designed by Fellner & Helmer,.

Yesterday afternoon was our trip to the camp.

This was the view from the top, the cross that can be seen for miles around. It is a happy holiday home for many children and families who come to hear about Jesus Christ.

Every day these three chaps are guarding Emlyn's bed.
The children generously gave myself and Emlyn their treasured soft toys to say thank you for the gifts that we brought. We have learnt from experioence that this is their opportunity to give, and we do not want to take that away from them. They are cheerful givers and we are humbly grateful to be trusted to look after such treasured possessions. 
Speak soon, much love from blogski and cuddly friends.

Sunday, 8 October 2017


Hello friends, just back from church. The rainy season has definately arrived !!! As one of our Ukrainian friends said, we can thank God that the thunder has not come (yet)

After another morning of encouragement at grace church, superb translation from our faithful friend Viktor and the choir on finest form, we had a wonderful lunch at church. Over lunch we met with church leaders and celebrated God's goodness in bringing us together as gospel partners. God is doing great things in Ukraine. To mark the 500th celebration of the reformation last week, Christians in Ukraine planned to meet in Kiev city center. Their estimate of 100,000 people gave the police and authrorities some concern, but in reality they needn't have worried. Nearer 500,000 turned up but there were no issues. God is good! Today is a day of opportunity for the evangelical church in Ukraine. Peter was also with us for lunch and was reminiscent of the times when things were not so easy for Christians. The bible says make the most of every opportunity, this is something we need to rememeber in the UK. I fear in days to come missionaries will be sent from Ukraine to England because of the tragectory of our nation. God has ways of humbling the proud, scattering the church and growing the church in the reality and honesty of hard times. Maybe the season we are entering in the UK will require us to listen more carefully to our friends in Eastern Europe who have gone through hard times before us, and therefore show the 24 carrot maturity of tested grace.

 Summary of week 1.

We have completed  2842 miles on a 'plane, 4 walls, 3 portions of ceiling, 21 beautiful meals, 1 opera, several souvenier purchases, too many boxes of busicuits, 6 chapters of Joshua, the delivery of 3 large loads of gifts to wonderful children, 1 city tour, sveral purchases of materials and tools, 1 delivery / carrying of many OSB boards and 40 bags of 25k cement,  and numerous belly laughs. Apart from that we haven't done much!

In a nutshell, we've achieved way more than we thought we could, and are raring to get cracking on the rest of the project. We're looking forward to the 10 guys coming next weekend, which will give us extra impetous tomorrow in a damp and dust filled basement. Thank you for being with us, as we hit the business end of the work, please pray ...
1) that we get ceilings up sharpish and that  all the complex alignments match for doorways, recesses and maintance access.
2) that we are a huge encouragement to the awesome people here who live to the glory of God and to love those who are struggling.
3) that we continue to work well as a team (it was great to hear from one of the pastors how our team ethic was a huge encouragement to him - and that he knew when he saw us at work that this work would soon be completed.)
4) that we can encourage each other in God's word to live lives of adventourous faith with great courage and stickability. 
5) that as we preach next weekend we will encourage the church to take fresh steps of couragious faith as they elect new leadership teams for the next generation.

In all these things we look to GOD who can do immeasurably more than we can think or imagine. I encourage you to listen very hard in the UK. If you listen carefully enough you can hear the sound of 6 men having their afternoon sleep. The walls are moving as we speak, but the heavy breathing is very jsutified.
 Big love to you all, BLOGSKI.  

Friday, 6 October 2017

Fab Friday!

Hello folks, so sorry for the drop in communication. It has been a combo of 3 things ... drop in internet / electricity, a busy schedule and the need for r+r after a long day. We have been trying to make the most of the opportunities knowing that the weekend will bring wet weather.

We are just back from visiting our friends at church. This is always the highlight of every trip and tonight will go down in the memory for some time.

We were able to introduce our new friends Ken and Dennis, I think they went down pretty well :)

We were also able to share some small gifts which we pray will be useful for every day life in the Big house where 30 growing children need the odd thing or other here and there. All the gifts were a hit, but especially the 40 high school musical bags (thank you Kelly Ann - you star) and funky water bottles to take to school. We also heard about one or two needs, (things like prescription specs which are not at all cheap) so if you want to help, we would be keen to hear from you.
The building work has come on a storm. The guys are smashing the program, and doing an immaculate job in record time. Rob is the brains of the outfit ! He has clever lazers and everything ! The light show is completed by Emlyn's fascination with producing sparks with a grinder, it really is like Nov 5th every day of the week...

Apart from having way too much fun, we've managed to finish a number of walls and the massive sports hall ceiling is coming on really well.

Working with your neck stretching to the skies with an SDS is not the easiest all day. These guys are complete stars, and their heart to do this both for God and the kids is what motivates them - He is certainly enabling them above and beyond, there is a real buzz in the basement, and it isnt just the chorus of Makitas, stanleys and xtremes giving it some, it is the joy of doing something really worthwhile and having a complete laugh doing it!.
Some of us are being tested in our concentration...

Last night was pretty awesome with a trip to the Opera. Andre (who sings in the chorus) kindly arranged for us to have tickets  for a beautiful version of Madame Butterfly. Some of the guys had their own interpretation of the libretto, ("Bloke fancies woman, goes off, theres a bit of pollava and women tops herself just like in every opera (but manages to sing like an angel as she does")). Give or take - not a bad summary.

As always the hospitality is as warm as an electric blanket in the sahara, and the food is humblingly good. Lydia seems to have adopted a new method of making us eat 5 helpings. She now just wanders around the table piling our plates, knowing that we are often slow to go back for a 3rd helping when there are several more being kept hot in the oven. You have to bear in mind that there are a minimum of 14 of us for lunch each day.

I'd love to tell more, but we are in need of some rest, so hopefully over the weekend the internet will be better and we'll be able to upload some more photos.

Big love to our familes, friends and supporters. God is answering your prayers in an awesome way. Thank you for being with us,