Day 3: Teens workshop, camp preparation, and staff retreat

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Friday was our first day of teens leader workshop and preparation for next week's camp. Crystal and Daniel led the sessions as the teens began to work through the camp materials. A lot of these teens we watched grew up since as little as two. They are all superstars! 

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We also had a great time on the second day of the staff retreat. These staffs pour all of their life into this ministry, and we are blessed to learn from their examples. At the end of our retreat, Pastor Adriel led everyone in a time of communion as we follow Christ's example in serving each other.

 We played Telestration for one of the team building games. This is a picture of an otter, yes? 

We played Telestration for one of the team building games. This is a picture of an otter, yes? 

 The staff spend the afternoon discussing their ministries.

The staff spend the afternoon discussing their ministries.

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After our retreat, we sent all the married couples off on a Date Night designed by sisters in our church. We believe our marriages are one of our primary ministries and we want to show that our church care for their staff and their spouses. From what we heard the next morning, everyone had a memorable time. 

Day 2: Staff Retreat, hanging out with kids, and volleyball!

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Our first day started with an awesome breakfast at HOM. Our team quickly hit the ground running as we split into two groups. Pastor Adriel and I got our staff retreat materials together and left to an off-site location with the HOM staffs. Crystal and Daniel stayed behind and began to prepare the materials for the teen's workshop and children camp prep that is happening on Friday and Sat.

 * Vasya and Adriel leading worship.

* Vasya and Adriel leading worship.

Our staff retreat is one of the highlights for our team and the HOM staff as we provide a breathing room for worship, devotion, and discussions. It is a blessing for our team to be able to read the scripture and worship in songs together with our brothers and sisters here. For most of us, it is a glimpse, an experience, of the Church unified across all racial and ethnic boundaries. Regardless of our difference in language, it is incredible to hear the excitement as we contemplate God's word.

During the morning, we spend some time looking at how we can grow our vision by looking at the cycle of grief and the cycle of grace. In the afternoon, we looked at asset mapping as a tool for organization and community development. One of the most critical moments in our staff retreat is a time when our team stopped talking and gave them space to discuss and reflect among themselves. It is vital from our perspective that the HOM staff can pursue their mission from God not by what we think they should do, but that our role is to provide various tools, space, and encouragement as they confidently seek God's directions and opportunities. We want to be their cheerleaders! 

 * Team building games are LOVED by the staff here! 

* Team building games are LOVED by the staff here! 

During the evening a few of us play a few games of football with the children at the centre, but after our dinner, our team left for the Mercy campsite for 2+ hours of epic volleyball matches! Crystal was able to play for the whole time which is a blessing as the weather was beautiful. 

Our team ended off the night past midnight as we debrief on our day and the day to come. Confident to say, we all slept very quickly last night. 

 * Football game late afternoon with some of the kids. Quite a few new kids we met today!

* Football game late afternoon with some of the kids. Quite a few new kids we met today!

Day 1.2: Arrived!

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We have arrived! 

After a delayed flight at the Toronto airport due to an "unfit-to-fly" plane (which turned out to be a nice break before we have to sit for another 8 hrs on a plane), a medical emergency that happened to a passenger five hours into that same flight, a piercing light from another passenger's desire for nature light for reading when the whole plane was asleep at 4am EST, and a curious airport custom agent who seem concerned about the bullhorn megaphone in one of our box... We've made it, and all our luggages have made it too.

We are excited to get started tomorrow with the staff retreat and camp prep. We spend the evening unpacking, getting things organized, and realizing things we forgot like my laptop display adapters. We even had time to practice a few camp songs for an hr before our bodies reminded us to sleep. 

As to the weather? It's the nicest cloudy 23c-25c I've experienced on arrival in Budapest. The weather this week in Uzhhorod is cloudy with a few showers, its perfect! Next week could be a mixture of sun and cloud. We do hope there will be good weather days for the kids to have fun outside during the camp though! 

A thanksgiving item: Pastor Adriel felt better after we landed in Toronto and he spends some time "getting it out of his system" aka. #YYZ washroom. After that, he slept really good all the way to HOM. 

Pray that our team will get adjusted to the time and environment quickly. We are all looking forward to hanging out with the kids, youth, and staff tomorrow! 

 Every trip there is always a photo of our team sleeping in transit... 

Every trip there is always a photo of our team sleeping in transit... 

 Unpacking and reorganizing our luggages after dinner! 

Unpacking and reorganizing our luggages after dinner! 

Pursuing missions with excellence

Nine planning meetings, a study series on mission and poverty alleviation, plus countless hours of lesson crafting and workshop planning, the Ukraine STM has always seemed a bit overwhelming to those new to this ministry. A common question we sometimes hear is why does this mission trip require so much resources and preparation? Can't we just hang out? Here are a few of my personal thoughts to help answer this question.

1. Learning, Fellowship, and Encouragement:
Short-term mission trips are by definition short. It is a compressed and limited time for a foreign team to participate in the ministry of local church or organization. STM teams need to recognize that they are not going into the mission field like The Avengers, saving the locals with their superior knowledge and technology. Just because we may be materially more abundant, this does not mean we are spiritually superior. As an STM team, we need to know our place. Our position is in supporting the local church and organization rather than making us the center of their ministry. We are a partner in their ministry, and we're not the ones that run it or dictates its goals and strategy.  We can pursue a healthy partnership by first seeing STM as an opportunity to learn, fellowship, and encourage (Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions, Steve Corbett). It is with a posture of humility that we acknowledge our lack of understanding of other cultures and repents of our god-complex attitudes toward people groups we visit. We need to invest in learning from others, about others, and with the others. If we go into the mission field without putting in the time to learn about what is Mission and about other cultures and its people, we will undoubtedly do more harm than good. The sad part is, a lot of sending churches do not realize the damage they've done since most post-trip sharing are spun in a positive, more 'gracious', and sometimes, ignorant perspective. Every sending church, including ours, needs a comprehensive reflection and evaluation as to how we are accountable to our own church and the churches/organizations abroad. 

To learn well also requires us to fellowship deeply with the community abroad. Fellowship is relational, and it is not done to others, but lived out with others. It is not only about the life and challenges of the others, but it also includes sharing our own challenges and failures. Authentic fellowship with our global brothers and sisters is a testimony of the power of the Gospel in redeeming all of us. We are not their saviour or redeemer; Christ is both our saviour and healer. 

Through this process of learning and fellowship, we can then know how to encourage them with maximum fervour and effectiveness. Encouragement becomes more meaningful, rich, and respectful. It's a kind of encouragement that builds the others up and speaks into their giftings and assets rather than their needs and deficiencies.  

2. Teaching well at home and abroad
One of the primary focus in our Ukraine STM is on children and youth. As a church, we desire to see children experience the love and presence of Jesus in their lives and it is a ministry area we strive to do with excellence. This transmission of the gospel and discipleship of the next generation in another culture requires as much preparation, if not more than children and youth ministries in our own churches today. When we consider the amount of preparations, selection of curriculums, leadership training and hiring of qualified pastor within our own children and youth ministries, it is not a far stretch to expect a certain amount of work needed to do the same ministries elsewhere. How we love and invest in our children within our churches should also translate to children abroad. If we care a lot about how we teach our own children, we should also expect the same diligence, expertise, and excellence from ourselves when we lead children in another culture. We are not aiming to give leftovers on the mission field, materials or otherwise. With that said, each church must understand their assets and giftings as each congregation live out their missions authentically on the global mission field. We can't copy what other churches are doing; we have to find our own path by understanding how God has brought our community together. 

3. To be flexible, you must know what you are flexing. 
There is often a confusion between being flexible and being irresponsible. Flexibility on the mission field requires a plan or materials to flex with. While no amount of planning can satisfy all the scenarios on the ground, this does not mean we should not plan at all. God has given us our minds and resources to use for his kingdom, and we should give it all that we have been given. It is the offering of our plans as a sacrifice to God that creates a beautiful opportunity for Him to disrupt and transform us as we participate in His missions, not ours. This attitude adjustment is what will not only help us flex our plans but to become flexible and moldable in His hands. When we offer up our very best plans to God, we are sacrificing our very best to Him. We are not offering our half-hearted ideas expecting things not to go as plan, but instead, we put on the altar all that we know and learned so that God will do greater things by showing us an even better way. We offer our best because we know God can do it better. 

As our church continues to develop relationships with brothers and sisters abroad, we pray that we will continue to grow in our understanding of mission and that we will participate in missions with humility and honest self-reflection. We are not aiming for perfection, but we are aiming to reflect Christ our perfecter, to those we are given the opportunity. We hope that all mission initiatives in our church will be pursued with excellence; to the best of our abilities in body, mind and spirit, for the glory of God and His kingdom.