News from Ukraine, Bruce starts a new podcast, and a lessons from a bee.
Greetings friends & partners,
The war continues to drag on, especially in the East. Ukraine is mounting a counter-offensive, but to what long term purpose? Armed with weapons and the US provided HIMARS rocket system, Ukrainian soldiers seem to be stalling any significant Russian advance, blowing up bridges, weapon depots, and critical supplies to the front.
As much as we’d like to believe Ukraine is turning the tide of this occupation, the reality is it’s becoming more of a war of attrition. From my perspective, the West is bleeding the Russian army through the very real blood of Ukrainians who are willing to die before surrendering another inch of their homeland.
When I talk with Ukrainians, their response is essentially the same, “What choice do we have?” They have witnessed what Russian occupation looks like. There’s no going back.
Yesterday, by way of latest news, we were told that Ukrainian tanks were on the move passing through Kyiv regions en route to the Belarus border. Is Putin about to re-invade from the North? This week we received some requests for new refugees in Romania, it seems men in the army are telling their families to evacuate as if something is brewing. Also, the nuclear power plant U.N. nuclear chief warned that Europe’s largest nuclear power plant in Ukraine “is completely out of control” – Russia is using it as a staging ground and for weapons storage because they know Ukraine can’t fire back. So there’s that! (Article yesterday click here).
Lastly, as of today, the Ukrainian banks in the Kherson occupied regions will cease receiving funds. We have 26 widows and 11 volunteers we’ve been supporting since the beginning of the war. Barring a miracle, we will no longer be able to support them monetarily. The costs have sky rocketed there, and the Russians are implementing the Ruble fully now.
Changing gears, let’s talk about areas we are focused on, and where 90% of our time and resources are going as a ministry in this season. We thank you for giving, praying, supporting. We rely on monthly gifts, and this summer our giving levels have returned to pre-war amounts. We’re now spread out however, and doing a LOT more than we did before so we we need wisdom as we head into the fall and winter months when our expenses typically escalate.
GOOD NEWS!!! This week our windows arrived for our new mission building, so in the next month we’ll the space to start storing up food and essential supplies. We just completed a van load of aid from Romania, and will plan another one as soon.
Our ministry focus right now is in three areas:
- Widow’s Construction: repairing war damaged homes in previously occupied areas.
- Refugee Care: with a focus more on our own friends, inviting them for some rest and soul care. Less is more. We are planning an October retreat in Western Ukraine Lord willing.
- Story-Telling: through the new podcast, videos and stories produced by Aleksa and her team, we want to keep things human, engaging, and hopefully bring influence in more spaces.
PROGRESS: We have completed now 16 construction projects, and have 11 more on tap for August.
Beyond fixing war damaged houses among the elderly, we are assisting a young single mom who’s an orphan. Her apartment is still standing and structurally sounds, but windows and doors were blown open by shelling and interior walls broken. Here video is below.
I’d also like you to meet Valentyna. She’s 65 years old and represents, like so many of the elderly caught in this war, a typical story we continue to run into. Her husband died more than 10 years ago. She worked for many years in sales in a small shop. She had 2 sons, one of them died, and the other is in Russian occupied Eastern Ukraine but she doesn’t know where he is or what happened to him.
A shell landed in her yard, destroying her windows, door and fence. With your help, we are able to help widows like Valentyna and many more!
Thought you might enjoy seeing inside my world. I live in Ukrainian Excel documents (below).
Here’s the active August widow’s construction projects underway; the city names, streets, project lead, budget breakdown and hrvnya ($) estimate. In the past week the Ukrainian currency went from 27:1 (where it’s been for the past 5 years) to 36:1, but unofficially it’s trading over 40 on the streets. The systems are cracking, inflation taking effect, this will be a difficult winter.
Aleska and Masha have been working hard to release our new projects page on our Mir Ministries website. Much prettier than the excel document, and in English just for you!
Now you can finally see all our active campaigns, videos and donate all in one area. VISIT PROJECTS
Bill and I met Onisim (yes, I now know an Onisim like in the New Testament!) in March before our family moved to Cluj.
He’s currently running a Christian camp, but has been led by the Spirit to secure some property in the center of the bar district in our city.
I wanted to help share his story and make a video for him. The SAME DAY I finished shooting the video, one of our church partners in the US contacted us and inquired about sending a construction team, and asked me to send them any project info… well as a matter of fact! It was an encouragement to me that these creative efforts will work to connect the kingdom.
More open spaces to be the church within the culture, in the world Jesus loves!
Check out my new podcast! Listen in each week with interesting guests, conversations from a variety of cultural and faith perspectives.
This past week I’ve interviewed Olena a Ukrainian trauma psychologist who is working with refugees in Romania, and our dear friend Lena who is managing Lighthouse and just arrived to visit us (her first time out of Ukraine since beginning of war).
Next week I’m interviewing some friends inside Russia.
Podcast Website – Click Here
Spotify: click here
iTunes: click here
Amazon: click here
YouTube: click here
Facebook Podcast Page: click here
Here’s a sneak peak for friends on the Podcast which has video with Onisim:
Lessons from a bee
I’ve been struggling with anger, as well as some depression. Two emotions quite foreign, for the most part, to my journey so far. July was a trying month. I found myself lacking any sense of meaningful vision, purpose, direction. This feeling of being overwhelmed and disappointed with myself led me to a kind of debilitating apathy, a letting go of the steering wheel.. and not the Jesus take the wheel surrender, but rather I’m finished, I quit, kind of apathy.
It was honestly a little scary.
13.6 million displaced, struggling, befuddled, broken human beings from this evil war. A war that has rocked the reality and faith of friends, including charity/missional folks like myself. God sent a tiny group of international families to labor among Slavic people in Ukraine over the past few decades, and this is what we get? Those we have invested in, many have scattered to the four winds. Now charities, churches, missionaries, they are all running around, someseemingly in circles, some focused on kids, others the elderly, food distribution, construction, others still focused on evacuation in the East.
Hero work. This kind of work comes from adrenaline, which eventually runs out. We can keep bobbing from one thing to the other, but eventually, we need deeper sustenance that sustains. I was finished. I am finished.
Anyway, I was sitting in a chair, outside, overlooking the very nice green yard of grass we have here at our rental house in Romania. It’s probably why i chose this place. It’s a square yard, with a fence, peaceful, controlled, a little order in the chaos. So I was just sitting, discouraged, tired. I saw the green, a few dandelions, and that’s about it.
“Be present, and look.”
These were the words in my mind, to my soul. I was in no mood for the Spirit to speak to me. I’m never quite sure if it’s the Lord, and I wasn’t in the mood for guessing. After a few minutes, I noticed a little bee. It was working away, combing over this little weed, doing its bee thing.
“Ok, Lord. See? That’s what I want. I want a purpose, a focus. But instead, you give us this chaos, this overwhelming ocean of needs I can’t begin to penetrate.”
A few more minutes passed. I notice another bee, then another. My eyes, as if awakening from a dream, began to see what was always there, smack in front of me the whole time. The lawn was alive, hundreds of bees, spread across the seemingly static green grass.
My eyes got a little moist. No words, just a sense of His presence, all around, always there, inconspicuous the way our Savior is. There were, there are, hundreds, thousands of fellow folks buzzing about in their zone, in their measured, finite spaces. It was a sense of great encouragement, and a little chastisement from God – the kind that re-orients and settles the soul.
I left that chair, and that moment, with a new sense of rest. I can’t fix this world, I’m not supposed to. War, or no war, we don’t really have ‘a world’ to save, we each have a little flower. We all have one, and if we’re listening, and moving with the Spirit, we’ll pollinate life into this broken world, and join the Spirit’s enlivening activity. Little is big in the kingdom, less is more, and the big work belongs to big shoulders – not mine.
During our Zoom call, this became an affirmation from our supporters, and a deep encouragement to dig into the meaningful, not the massive.
So thank you, little bee. Thank you for showing me how foolish I look when I try to put a cape on. Oh, and Jesus, thank you for wrapping yourself in humility, not an avenger’s cape. Your way is not hero work, but cross bearing, an invitation to surrender, not to strive.
After all, we too are flowers, and not just bees. We need as much as we give. Finite, mortal, limited, and designed to lean into the capable arms of our Creator when times get tough.
Blessings from all of us in Romania, and Ukraine!
The war in Ukraine has altered the history of so many. 13.6 million according to the UN. While we are not suffering by any stretch of the imagination, change is hard and adapting to new surroundings in Romania is an ongoing challenge. Yet, within the altered rhythms, there are new ideas, new questions, and opportunities for growth.
I’ve blogged our families journey on this little site for 15 years now. I’ve been blogging for long, I don’t think this term is even relevant anymore. I remember when a personal blog, especially for missionaries, was cutting edge! It replaced the pricey, outdated printed newsletter. Fancy, fast, yet over time my little blog has became swallowed up in the glut of the information highway now filled with motion, sounds, talking heads.
I’m still very thankful for friends that still click over and check out recent news, prayer requests, though over the past year this has become more convenient to do over on Facebook. Sigh. For someone that enjoys context and story, texting updates on these tiny phones is a little depressing. Tidbits of info, flying past your face, will something be caught, read, and for what?
I heard one futurist warn, “The things that have been invented in the last 20 years will not be here in another 20 years.” Maybe the typed word, or printed newsletter is still the way to go. But, for this next season, I shall explore the verbal. Though the podcast is no longer new, and I’m probably way too late for that dance, I am going to try it. It will get me, hopefully, of this dreaded laptop screen more, a fast becoming life goal.
Like many of you 40-50 somethings, I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 years using technology as a means to an end. Spreadsheets, project management, putting out fires, sending invoices. By the time the iPhone was launched in 2008, I had already been living behind screens for the better part of 10 years.
When I started Cypress Interactive, back in 2003, I was excited to create, to be involved in bringing artistic things to life. We would be a tech company that stayed true to humanity, and nature, thus the Cypress trees. We deployed 100’s of projects over a decade, and we learned so much. Yet, I personally did very little of the creating, and more of the administration, making sure pieces moved, people got their deliverables, and we got paid. It was a blessed season of growth, formation, learning. I think I sort of lost my way, pragmatically producing results, rather than the joy of human creativity. America sort of does that to you, lures you in, entices you with production markers, rewards and you find yourself just running faster without thinking about deeper meaning in life.
I, unfortunately took that posture to Ukraine. This focus on doing, on results, is hard to discern until you find yourself slowly being formed within another culture. Instead of adapting to the contours of Ukrainian culture, I found myself bent on shaping a Christianity and worldview that that fit my own native lens. I didn’t mean to do this, I was just reading my Bible and seeing the Gospel through my natural habitat of production. Events, buildings, scale, decisions.
Sure, we can serve a widow in one village, but why not expand to regions, and more countries? We can host one evening of prayer and worship, but why not brand it and take it on the road, create movement and have something to show for our efforts? Without giving it much thought, I was applying western pragmatic, and consumer-driven mental models to Christian mission. While I wasn’t focused on quick ‘salvation prayers’ (I wasn’t that misled), I was however overly focused on starting things, then like moth to flame, seeing them expand.
But there’s a catch. When things expand, they carry with them a weight of logistical responsibility. The same spreadsheets, the same invoices, staff needs and time investments all follow you. Maybe that’s what I wanted, to feel comfortable in my own western skin in an uncomfortable foreign culture? In any case, I transitioned eventually from managing US businesses poorly from afar, to managing Lighthouse Cafe, and then re-starting a defunct NGO. By 2020, I was neatly wrapped inside a suffocating cocoon of my own making. 14 hour days on my laptop, surprising new health issues, increased stress, charity boards, meetings, expanding budgets, more staff, and simmering anger.
The vision God puts on our lives seems to be purposefully ellusive. There’s enough there to set some trajectories, but not enough to apply all the details. It’s enough to motivate, but not enough to keep us out of making a mess of things. The past year, before the war, I felt an unsettled feeling, like I was being shaped for something entirely different that was my reality was providing me at the time. That feeling followed me through Christmas, as we watched the war in Ukraine become a reality. I didn’t want to do my life anymore, not the one I had unwittingly created. It was a young man’s life, filled with management and laptops.
War. Jolted out of our comfort zone. No time to think about life directions and career paths. While the first months were spent in ‘hero mode’, connecting resources to endangered folks, and caring, along with thousands of others for desperate needs, the adrenaline soon waned. The past month has been like waking up from a dream, coming out of a fog. Where have I been? Why am I doing this, that? Who am I? What, in my life, do I actually do that I choose to? Want to? Would do if given permission?
To be honest, it’s taken me a few grueling months here in Romania wrestling through these questions. I still don’t have any long term answers. I don’t know where we will be living in 2023 and beyond. Forget about geography, I don’t know what I’ll be doing. I do, however, feel the sense of the Spirit encouraging me to take risks. Not the kind of risk that the younger Bruce would take, tickets in hand, passports and some impulse. This kind of risk is more difficult. It’s facing the inner world and recognizing God is installing a new operating system for this next phase. My old parts, my drivers, and apps, they can’t make the upgrade, they’ll need to be let go, they’ve run their course.
When we were in PA this summer for Bron’s wedding, we spent some lovely time enjoying nature. I was mediating by a small river and I felt the Spirit encourage me to try and get across the part of a river where some slippery logs lay. It was against all common sense. But I did it, and began to regret it halfway though. Deb was near, and I thought for sure I was going to fall in and make her day. I remember the child-like adrenaline having to balance myself along this log for a few meters, water rushing one both sides. It was SO worth it!
I’ve begun swimming laps 3 times per week in Romania. It’s vastly improved my breathing issues and overall health. I’ve taken up some photography lately, at least allowing myself to embrace this hobby I enjoy. It’s in this odd season of self discovery, or perhaps better coined self-care, that I’m venturing into this world of podcasting. It’s something I thought about for a few years, and for the past several months thought long and hard about. It’s been the invitation, I believe, of the Spirit to step on some slippery logs, and not worry about falling in.
I miss our living room, our home in Ukraine. There, we have held space, loved on people by being just a caring couple. We know this is the strength of our ministry to others in many respects, and why folks journey with us still. We have been learning to genuinely love people, not for any personal gain, but for the beauty of listening as a practice, for affirming the dignity of others. Allowing, even encouraging others to unpack their stories in a safe, accepting space is for me, immensely life-giving.
I am, by nature and to the surprise of some, an introvert. Introverts gain energy in solitude, they get rooted and ready for the world, but it takes time. I really don’t like crowds, and I loathe chit chat for it’s own sake. A podcast, I hope, will be a way to enjoy conversation, and deeper dialogue around meaningful topics, without having to type away on the dreaded laptop.
With the encouragement of the Spirit, and my lovely wife, I will host and upload a podcast at least once per week. I’m ready to try and bring my full self to something again, and let the Spirit form me in the process. If it turns out I’m terrible at it, so be it. Falling into a river is worth the risk.
Some of my favorite themes to explore will be:
- Missional movement & the deconstruction of Christendom (the West)
- Mentoring, coaching, leadership, spiritual direction
- Marriage & family
- Andragogy (How adults learn vs children)
- Culture making
- Power structures (hierarchies, sociology, how to initiate change).
- Personal formation and spiritual growth
- Russian history (the real history, not Putin’s version)
- Canadian politics
- Toronto Maple leafs
The format will include conversations with guests. I want to have some specific Ukrainian – Russian related themes and interviews to break down some western mental models. Cultural perspectives are so fascinating and broaden our worldview.
I would like to highlight some books as well. Particularly some literature that will help middle aged folks integrate faith and practice through difficult seasons of rediscovery and second half living.
Well, that’s all for now, wanted to lay down context for this podcast, and remind myself why I need to keep going! Thanks to Bronwyn for my logo.
Living in a foreign country requires a penchant for mathematics or a quick-draw calculator app. Recently moving to Romania at the onset of the war, we’ve had to adjust to the Romanian Lei (or RON), which is around 5:1 to the USD.
Every time we visit the ATM and pop in our US bank card, the bank recognizes the foreign card and offers a currency exchange rate. You have to approve the ‘currency conversion’ before the machine will dispense the local currency.
Conversion: the process of changing from one form to anotherOxford dictionary
The other day, I was wrestling with the hand of the Lord.1 You know, when the Spirit is encouraging you to deal with something but you are consciously or subconsciously avoiding that uncomfortable, inward place. Like Adam & Eve, we humans have a bad habit of hiding from God, or so we think – we’re really just avoiding ourselves.
So I was doing my thing, running about, staying busy and productive.
I had been sensing the invitation from the Lord to slow down, take a breath and acknowledge some things in my soul. We know, from experience, that leaning into brewing storms of the soul will ultimately resolve in the liberation that only our Savior can bring, but the process of deliberately acknowledging there’s something wrong can be a fierce battle.
Sometimes this incessant pursuit of the Spirit has to grind us down in our human strength, to the point of real surrender.
I fight this whole life-long formation thing, but I know it’s His plan for me. To be a person of integrity is to be whole. He is making us whole, removing the dissonance of inward falsity as His love brings the gift of resonance with God and ourselves.
I don’t know about you, but I find it so difficult to believe the genuine love God has for me, day in, day out. Where does He find the loving reserves to put up with my stubbornness? When my soul is shipwrecked, it’s usually because I’ve lost the north star of God’s love over me.
Anyway, this was the state of my soul as I robotically approached yet another ATM.
I had clicked through the screens hundreds of times before, without thinking much of it. I just want the money, and these buttons are slowing me down!
Do I agree to these terms, this exchange, this continued changing of form? It was a question that struck me as both humorous and haunting. Maybe it’s how Peter felt after denying Jesus.2 My avoidance of the Spirit was now staring me in the face. I smiled and let out a nervous laugh. I could see my own reflection in the ATM display. This was the question I needed to face. It was if Jesus was asking it to me, kindly, gently, but with certainty, “Shall we move forward, Bruce?”
Irenaeus (130-202 AD) suggested that the end of our being, God’s goal as it were for us, is formation. I believe this is true. Heaven is not our goal, as if God’s whole salvation enterprise is to remove us from this broken world and place us in a better place. Rather, Jesus has brought heaven into this broken world, and we are the ones being made better. We are what scripture calls God’s workmanship 3. Our choice lies in whether we want to remain on the potter’s wheel?
Shall we continue forming your heart, dear child?
My first reaction, was honestly, “Lord, where else can I go?” If I want the nearness of your presence, the continued fresh work of your Spirit in my heart, I have to click yes! There’s no way around this, it’s how God works, he changes us, converts us, and if we are not allowing Him access to our hearts, we can forget about the reward.
He’s got us, relentlessly loving and moving us to more surrender, more undoing, more conversion.
I’ve been technically following this Jesus of Nazareth for the better part of 30 years now. I’m only beginning, however, to recognize the deeper, slow work of the Spirit in my life. He forms us in these valleys. He’s not interested in production and performance. He’s going for the heart, the renovation of my entire command center, my way of being in this world. He sees the unhealthy ways, the stumbling blocks, my deep patterns that remain unshaped, unformed, unconverted.
Genuine Jesus following is Jesus trusting. Trusting that I can, at all times, bring my true self before him in ruthless honesty and receive the help I need.
If we want the nearness of his presence, we have to keep clicking yes. This, for me, is getting more difficult, not less with age. Clicking yes, giving continued permission to the Spirit to work seems to be a posture, a way of being, and starts over again each day.
I am thankful for the pursuit of God, and the times that he hangs with us as we attempt to find solace in the wrong places. His mercy is so great! You too can trust him to form and work in that most difficult place – do you have any other choice, really?
1- Psalm 32:4 “For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer” (NIV). The ‘hand of the Lord’ or ‘hand of God’ is accounted for 122 times in the Old Testament. It’s range of use is all over the map, from the blessing of God, empowerment to perform miracles, to looming judgment over evil.
2- John 21:15-25 the story of resurrected Jesus interacting with Peter after his denial and famously inquiring three times, “Peter, do you love me?”
3- Ephesians 2:10 (NIV) Paul shares to the church at Ephesus, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”