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 ...