What I’ve Learned During My Time in Ukraine…

The last five weeks here have been unforgettable. I have had so many incredible experiences, made countless new memories, and met dozens of amazing people.

Here is a list of just a few of the many, many things I’ve learned while I’ve lived and served in another country and culture.

(Please excuse my lack of consistency in grammatical structure :)…)

  • Germs won’t kill you
  • Sugar is the most important ingredient in tea
  • Cabbage is an abundant vegetable
  • The power of prayer
  • No matter how full a marshrutka seems, there is always room for one more (or two…or ten…)
  • You can always live with less
  • God is the God of all people, of all nations, and of all languages
  • Conversational practice is necessary in learning another language
  • Relationships can be so much more than surface level
  • “Sharing is caring” (really!)
  • What true fellowship looks like
  • How to make couscous!
  • Air conditioner isn’t as necessary as we think
  • There is so much love to be given and to be had
  • Communication is possible without a shared language
  • It is possible to grow so close to people in a short amount of time
  • Traveling halfway across the world alone isn’t as hard as it sounds
  • Never try to fit 6 people into a small elevator!
  • Sub-lesson: “Every babushka knows” (and now me too!) that no more than 4 people should be in an elevator
  • A common purpose (serving) and a common God unifies a group so quickly and so closely
  • The world is so big yet so small
  • McDonald’s is McDonald’s, no matter the country
  • The importance of discipleship in the church
  • 50+ or so new Russian words!
  • No matter how good you think you have it, someone else always has it better; no matter how bad you think you have it, someone else always has it worse
  • Just because it’s “different than how we do it in America,” doesn’t mean it’s wrong
  • Sunscreen is kinda maybe a good idea
  • Everywhere you go, you leave a piece of your heart behind….

Ukrainian Ice Cream Adventures!

You know the ice cream post had to come eventually…:)

As this was my first international trip, it was also my first international ice cream tasting adventure.

I have always been an ice cream lover…Personally, I think I could live on ice cream if I had to–in fact, there’s a running joke in my extended family about that very idea. And more recently I have become an ice-cream-around-the-world nerd (see my 6 minute informative speech with Powerpoint on ice cream around the world my junior year of high school).

So humor me for a few minutes as I share about my ice cream adventures in Ukraine!

Ukrainians love ice cream! With the hot summers (and marshrutka rides!) and limited air-conditioned places, ice cream is a nice, cool treat.

The most popular way to eat ice cream here is as individually packaged treats–little cones, bars, tubes, etc. There are tons of fruity flavors and also lots of CHOCOLATE! A few extra-interesting flavors include pistachio and poppy-seed.

When we were at camp, there was a little shop where we could buy ice cream any time we wanted to (aka DAILY), and Martha and I found a favorite type: Tiramisu ice cream bars! These ice cream bars had actual coffee beans inside–so good! These definitely need to make their way to America… :)

Yum! :)

Another wonderful way to enjoy ice cream is from the little gelato stands on the streets! I was missing my favorite flower flavored gelatos, but I did manage to find a couple other cool flavors. Some of my favorites were grapefruit and black currant!


Mhhhm, gelato!

I made sure the Russian word for “ice cream” was one of the first words I learned—mhhhhm мороженое!


Lastly, check out this crazy Ukrainian ice cream commercial… :)

Random Encounters?

In my last 4 1/2 weeks in Ukraine, I’ve been able to meet some pretty awesome people through the English camps and church.

However, I’ve also been able to have some out-of-the-blue meetings here in Odessa. In the last 2 1/2 weeks or so, Kimberly, Olivia, and I have had four different encounters where we had a chance to share about why we are here and what we are doing in Odessa.

At the Market

Between Family Camp and Youth Camp, we were doing a little shopping in the market to find some fresh fruit. Shopping is always a little bit of a struggle as we speak only minimal amounts of Russian, and most shopkeepers can’t speak English. As we struggled to understand the total cost of our peaches and plums, a lady named Ira who could speak great English stopped to help us out. After our purchases were settled, she explained that she teaches English, and she asked why we were in Odessa. We were able to share with her and invite her to English Club which is held every Saturday at the church.

On the Street

Another cool encounter happened as we were dragging our suitcases along the 20 minute walk from our apartment to the church just before Youth Camp. As we crossed the street, two ladies began speaking to Martha in French. We shrugged it off, but a minute or two later, we noticed that Martha had stopped and was talking to the two ladies. We found out that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and both spoke great English (they had thought that maybe Martha spoke French). We were also able to share with them about why we were here and invited them to English Club as well!

In Our Home

Another time, God even brought someone right to our door! We were enjoying our first day off after Youth Camp and had been relaxing and cleaning up the apartment. Naturally we had the air conditioner on full blast. :) Midway through the afternoon, we got a knock at our door. Our neighbors two floors below had come to tell us that they couldn’t sleep because the pipe from our air conditioner was dripping water onto their air conditioner, and the noise was keeping them awake. As Sergey (the man) tried to move the pipe outside our window, we were able to tell him about why we were here and invite him and his family to English Club as well; he even mentioned that he has a daughter who is studying English and would definitely come.

At the Beach

The next day (yesterday), Kimberly, Olivia, and I headed to the beach for a relaxing evening. We decided to take some time to pray together. As we were sitting there praying out loud, a young man, Andrew, came up to us and began speaking to us in broken Russian. We apologetically said that we didn’t speak Russian, and he replied, “You speak English? Oh, thank God!” He was looking for directions to the  city center, but in the short conversation that followed, we found out that he stays in Odessa for a month each year, and we were able to invite him to English Club as well as the Sunday church service!


These encounters were so amazing because they were so unplanned. These people saw that we were different–from a different place and speaking a different language…but them noticing that then gave us an opportunity to tell them about another way we are different.

And after each encounter, we were able to pray specifically for each person we met and that God would work in their lives. These encounters gave us specific faces of the million people in this city.

So were these just random encounters? You tell me…

CAMP! {What I’m Doing Here}

So now that I’ve been here for 4 weeks, I thought I’d tell you all what I’ve actually been doing here! :)

So far, basically all of my time has been devoted to two camps: first Family Camp, and then Youth Camp.

I’ll tell you a little bit about the schedule because there have got to be some other nerds out there who are interested in the logistical details…and it just gives me a more organized way to explain how the camps work.

Camp Begins!

It all begins on Sunday around lunch time when the campers arrive! One of the first things the campers do upon arriving at Camp Canaan is take an English placement test. I was able to help administer and grade the tests at both camps which really excited the nerdy future-teacher in me! This was also a great way to meet and get to know campers from the start. Campers were tested on vocabulary knowledge, oral skills, writing skills, and grammar skills.

On Monday, we settled into a regular daily schedule…

English Reading Time

After a staff meeting and prayer time, breakfast, and a short all-camp meeting, is the first group activity of the day: English Reading Time. Small groups are made up of two members of the English team, five to eight campers of varying English levels, as well as a translator. This time is spent reading and studying the Bible and is a great way to start of the morning. Each camper received two Bibles: one in English and one in Russian, and for many campers, these were the first Bibles they had ever owned.


Some of the ladies in my small groups from both camps

English Class

Next is one of my favorite parts of the day: English Class!! For classes, campers are split into groups based on their English levels. During Family Camp, I got to help with an intermediate group, and during Youth Camp, I helped teach an advanced group. English class is a fun time of vocabulary learning and competitive-activity playing! IM has created a great curriculum, vocab lists, and activity files that give us all the tools we need to plan classes.


My English classes from both camps!


After English class is lunch time! Meal times were a great time to connect with campers–nothing brings people together like food! :)

In addition, each small group took a turn serving the meal to the rest of the campers/staff which was another great bonding and serving experience.


Afternoon Free Time

After lunch was free time (2-5pm), but don’t be deceived–this was still a very busy time of the day. For those of us on the English team, some of this time would be spent planning English lessons for the following day and conversation time for the evening. During Family Camp, some of the kids decided to lead Russian lessons at 2:00 (what a blast!); they were prepared with whiteboards and candy prizes for games–just like in the English classes they attended! In addition, at 3:00 almost every day there were various activities such as crafts, a Ladies’ Tea, and on Friday: WATER GAMES! Then at 4:00, various members of the English team gave optional talks or discussions on topics such as first aid, marriage, an overview of the Bible, good vs. evil, etc. Free time was also a great time to connect with campers and meet up one on one to get ice cream or take a walk to the village.


So many fun activities!

Conversation Time

At 5:00, scheduled events resumed with Conversation Time. We met in the same groups as we did for English Reading Time, and this was an hour to talk about anything. Sometimes we continued conversations from that morning’s Bible lesson, other times we talked about a specific topic or concept (such as love or family), and other times we would listen to a song or talk about a story. This was another great opportunity to get to know our small groups at a deeper level.

Evening Program and Activities

After dinner, we’d all meet in the large hall for the evening activities.

Each night there was a special activity (usually competitive!) that we would participate in in our small groups (Bible study and conversation groups). Some of these activities involved

-South African Variety Games: which involved eating worms–yuck! :)

-A photo scavenger hunt: Each small group was given a list of idioms (such as “thumb a ride,” “stop to smell the roses,” “hands down,” etc.) and had to take a picture that represented each

-Skit night: each group performed a short skit–it could be funny or serious, a Bible story, a classic fable, or something new! At family camp, the ladies in my group wrote a song (in a mix of English and Russian) about their experiences at camp to the tune of a classic Odessan song, and for youth camp, my group wrote a short skit about the challenges an American tourist would face in Odessa. This was one of my favorite nights–so much creativity and laughter!

-Molecule: this challenge was led by us interns, and each team had to create a “molecule” out of candies. In order to get these candies, they had to find us at various places in the camp and practice their English skills!


Evening Program– Each evening also included a time of praise & worship as well as a talk and a testimony from a team member. Each talk challenged campers (and offered topics for later discussion), and the testimonies provided an example of the way God works in people’s lives. These meetings built to a climax on Friday when we had “Gospel Night.” For many campers, this was the first time they ever truly heard the Gospel or heard about God’s love for them. It was amazing to see campers challenged by these talks and to see lives changed as the week went on.

After the evening program was free time until lights out! This time involved lots of ice cream and games of Uno, Apples to Apples, and Pit. It also was a great time of conversation. Especially during Youth Camp, I was able to have really deep conversations with various campers; it was so eye-opening to hear about their personal experiences, discuss their questions, and share about how God has worked in my life.


The evening meeting [Zhenya’s Pic]

Saturday (the last day AT the campground) was a bit different. Instead of the regular evening activity and program, we had a special banquet. We got a little dressed up, ate a special meal, and then had a short program to recognize each English class and to present each camper with a certificate. This night was pretty bittersweet: it was tons of fun, but everyone was also sad that camp was coming to an end.


Banquet Night

Odessa Days

Though Saturday was the last day at Camp Canaan and the last day of English classes and small group meetings, there were still technically three more days of camp! These last three days were spent in Odessa and about 80% (?) of the campers returned for these fun days!

-Sunday began with the church service at Living Hope Church. Later we had a picnic and some fun time at the beach!
-Monday started off with a tour of downtown Odessa followed by some souvenir shopping time. In the evening, we met back at the church for a pizza and movie party!
-Tuesday began with a tour of the 411 Battery Park. Then we met at the church for a final party: ice cream, a slideshow of camp pictures, and final goodbyes. What an amazing week and a half of camp we had!


Odessa Tour!

The People That Make All of This Happen

There were so many amazing people I had the opportunity to get to know that made many aspects of the camps possible.

The English Team–

I’ve heard it said by some missionaries that short-termers can sometimes be more of a burden than a help, but with something like English language camps, the camps just won’t work unless you have English speakers! We were so blessed to have two AMAZING teams for both camps! We had volunteers from America, Canada, and South Africa, and it was amazing to see the unity that emerged so quickly as we served together. Also, when we were exhausted after the first camp, a fresh team brought so much new energy and excitement with them. I was so blessed to meet so many wonderful people of all ages.


Just a few amazing members of our team.

The Translators–

We were also SO blessed to have an AMAZING group of translators for both camps! Wow! These are incredible people who volunteer to spend tons of time and effort making communication between English speakers and Russian speakers possible. They were all wonderful people inside and out–so encouraging to talk to, a blast to have in some of our English classes, and so fun to get to know.


This is English camp! Such a blast. So impacting. Definitely the highlight of my summer!