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Archive for the ‘Travel/Retreat’ Category

SIFAT (Servant in Faith and Technology) is one great opportunity and experience that I had had in the US.

God gave me an opportunity to live among His children from five different continents! It was amazing to realize how we SIFAT participants come from different cultures and backgrounds, yet we share the common love and passion for Christ.

All of us got to taste a ‘bit of heaven’ while we lived in the campus and attended our classes everyday, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Living and teaming up with other believers from other countries is amazingly exciting and humbling. We all learned from each other and accepted our differences, letting the love of Jesus be manifested in our lives everyday.

One of the things that I will never forget and will always remind me of this ‘taste of heaven’ is when we, as a class, sang “God is So Good” in 13 languages. It was awesome! It was like God was allowing us to experience heaven on earth. That wonderful worship experience made me realize anew that no matter what language we speak, we sing praises to one God!

I will always remember my class in SIFAT. My classmates became my instant family during the practicum and training. God just binded us together with His amazing love.

On this note, I would like to thank you all for partnering and supporting to have this SIFAT training/practicum. Your prayers and financial help allowed me to experience unique Christian moments while on training in the US, and yes, equipped me to do more as I continue to reach out and minister to others by sharing the love of Christ in practical ways.

Indeed, there are so many needs everywhere. Having said this, I know that we cannot do everything. We can only do as much, and let God multiply it and do it effectively. I believe that even the smallest things that we do for God will impact the lives of people around us — just like the ripple effect.

There is an interesting meaning or explanation for the word “ripple” (capillary wave) from Wikipedia. As I was thinking about this word and how significant it can be, I made some research and found this out:

A capillary wave is a wave travelling along the interface between two fluids, whose dynamics are dominated by the effects of surface tension. Capillary waves are common in nature and home, and are often referred to as ripple. The wavelength of capillary waves is typically less than a few centimeters.

A gravity–capillary wave on a fluid interface is influenced by both the effects of surface tension and gravity, as well as by the fluid inertia.

You can read a related pre-SIFAT story here.

(Note: To view my US Trip slideshow on Flickr, click here.)

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As you may have already deducted upon reading my previous blog post, I brought a Ukrainian couple (Lena and Igor Ryazanov) to the USA with me to attend the practicum/training at SIFAT (Servants in Faith and Technology) in Alabama, USA. It had been an adventurous and faith-building experience since the beginning.

When I agreed to try out SIFAT, I thought of bringing local church leaders with me. I prayed and asked God who among the church leaders in Donetsk should I bring with me to SIFAT. As I prayed, the Holy Spirit impressed upon my heart to ask Lena.

When I asked Lena about it, she said she didn’t know. I advised her to pray about it and she had about a year to soak this matter in prayers. She then told me then that, she couldn’t go without her husband Igor. I told her to pray about it, too, and let me know the soonest time possible since I had to ask the SIFAT people if it would be okay to bring a Ukrainian couple with me for the SIFAT community development course.

Months had passed and I was praying for funds as well as guidance concerning Lena and Igor. I sent in my application and asked SIFAT if I could bring a couple from Ukraine to attend the course (note: from what I knew, SIFAT doesn’t usually admit couples; only one person per country). The coordinator told me to just send the couple’s application and SIFAT’s board of directors would then decide their special case. So I did what I was told to do, and let God do all the rest.

After several months, I received an email from SIFAT informing me that I was approved to attend the practicum/training. I got partial scholarship (I had to pay only one percent of the total course amount). I was elated to hear this good news, and started praying and raising funds for it. Truth be told, I really didn’t know how I could come up with the money to pay for the course and for the round-trip airfare; I just trusted God for His provisions. I knew that if He wanted me to be in this SIFAT training, He would provide.

I was then in Sweden when I received an e-mail from SIFAT stating that the couple’s application for scholarship was approved (partial scholarship, that is; like me, they also needed to pay one percent of the total amount, plus the airfare).

When I got back to Ukraine, I told Lena and Igor about this piece of news, and they got so excited. I briefed them on the expenses to be covered. They then told me that the had been saving for a year ever since I first asked Lena about SIFAT. That was when I learned that even though they were not sure yet about the fate of their SIFAT application back then, they started saving for the trip just the same. In short, by the time their SIFAT acceptance letter arrived, they had the funds to cover their plane tickets and SIFAT tuition fee. Praise the Lord!

US Visa

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Us getting the US visa is another proof of God’s favor. It is widely known that the US Embassy is very strict in giving visas to Ukrainians because of the fact that once they set foot in the US, they don’t usually go back to Ukraine and instead stay in the US illegally.

The couple and I prayed for the date of the visa interview. We then gathered all the documents needed for the visa application and paid for the interview and visa processing.

The US Embassy in Ukraine always has a very long queue. Even if the first appointment is set at 8 a.m., visa applicants line up two hours ahead of the scheduled time. As for us, we got there and we lined up for the time that we are supposed to be interviewed. My and the couple’s appointment for interview was set at different times. And so, I thought of asking the person in-charge of the queue if I could go with the Ukrainian couple since we were together and going to the same US destination. And the answer was “yes,” PTL! That was another favor from God.

We were sitting near the first window where the interview was being made. We noticed that all the visa applicants that went to that first window were denied a visa. We could hear everything due to the proximity of our seats to that window. The Ukrainian couple prayed for us not to end up having to be interviewed by the visa officer behind that now dreaded window; they logically thought that we would be denied a visa there as well, given the pattern we saw.

When it was our turn to be interviewed, we were called to approach the first window. But contrary to what the Ukrainian couple feared, the interview went well. The visa officer was really nice. He mainly directed his questions to me since I was the one who could speak English. Upon seeing that my Philippine passport was stamped by visas from many different countries, he told me that he had no issue granting me a US visa. But he was hesitant to give Lena and Igor their visas.

Since he knew that I was going to be with the Ukrainian couple, he then said that he would give the Ukrainian couple a single-entry visa, and instructed them to pay him a visit at the embassy once they are back from their US trip. Lena and Igor had to fill out some return papers and see him again after the trip. He then asked us to pay for the courrier service, as they would send us our passports with the US visas stamped on them after one week. It was really a PTL moment (as I mentioned as a praise report P.S. blog note here).

A Note of Thanks

Thank you once again to all of you who extended prayer and financial support to make this SIFAT training possible for us. Without your partnership, I/we couldn’t have made it on our own — really.

I translated for the Ukrainian couple the entire time we were there at the SIFAT training since both Lena and Igor don’t speak nor understand any English. It was a challenging assignment, but God’s grace allowed me to do the job at hand. I just thank God for all the favor (wisdom, knowledge, strength, contacts, etc.) He bestowed upon us from start to finish.

There were 80 applicants who applied for last year’s fall practicum at SIFAT, but only 16 made it to the course. It was truly a blessing to be part of that selected few.

God’s timing is always perfect, and His ways are always higher than ours.

Note: Here’s the link of the article about us posted on the SIFAT website.

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Having fun at the food preservation class at SIFAT. (Photo taken in 2008, not 2005.)

First, let me greet everybody a BLESSED 2009! May God’s blessings be upon all of us as we start our journeys in the new year.

It has been a while since I last updated this blog, and I ask for your patience for being behind in doing so.

I am now back here in Ukraine, after a few months of being away from my base in Donetsk. Last year’s trip to the US — I attended the SIFAT community development course in Alabama — was the longest one I’ve ever made so far.

And now that I’m back here in Ukraine, I have lots of catching up to do…and exciting news to share!

How I missed everyone! Please keep checking back. 🙂

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That’s me in Helsinki, Finland.

I had an opportunity to take a break from work for a month, and I’m thankful to the Lord and to the people He used for making this possible.

Before I embarked on my trip, I was trying to remember the last time I pampered myself on my birthday. It turned out that I hadn’t done so for a really long time. And so, I devised a plan to celebrate my birthday this year (April 12) visiting places I had always wanted to visit. I started saving for it long before my actual birthday, knowing that it would be costly.

But I didn’t get to go until the last week of April because there were some things I needed to attend to. So I said to myself that the implementation of the plan had to wait. I was actually already planning to cancel my trip as I didn’t have my visa at that time — note: it took a while before it got released — and I didn’t have enough funds for international travel. But it seemed that God had other plans for me.

A couple of weeks before the planned departure, I got my visa and my tickets as well! God is truly faithful to His children!

God provided me with everything I needed before and during my break — from visa to plane tickets to funds to travel. I thank the wonderful friends whom God used to make my birthday trip a special one.

I was able to visit Ireland and Finland as a personal birthday treat. Everything went well, and everything was provided for in ways that only God knows how. On top of this, I was able to meet with my friends in the UK. The visit was short yet sweet.

During my break, I also did a bit of work in Stockholm. I was able to collect and pack up several boxes of humanitarian aids for Ukraine, courtesy of the Filipino Christian group in Immanuel Church. The boxes were all ready for posting before I left Stockholm. That was another big blessing during my break.

God truly wants to pamper and reward us in His own way and perfect time. He is indeed a Father who loves and provides for His children!

TRAVEL PHOTO INDEX

Check out my travel photo albums (via Flickr), categorized properly by country:

Ireland
Finland
Sweden
UK

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This is the site of CrossReach where Alan Staff works as the overall Director of Social Care under the Church of Scotland (Alan literally drives across Scotland to visit the churches of Scotland).

He works with corporate people, and his job always puts him in a tough position not to compromise his faith. He uses his influence and position to spread the love of Christ, making sure he “walks the talk” as a living testimony to his colleagues.

It was  a blessed time with Alan and his wife Dawn last December. God gave me an opportunity to visit them while I was processing my Ukrainian visa in Edinburgh. They made my visit with them another memorable one.

I first visited them when they were still living in the UK. They moved to Scotland two years ago when Alan accepted the offer to work with the Church of Scotland as the Director under CrossReach. He and Dawn found a new adventure with God when they moved to Scotland. They enjoy living in Scotland as they work with their new family and friends that God has given them in Scotland.

I will always treasure my visits with Alan and Dawn. I know that life can be really busy, but God always gives all of us an opportunity to slow down and spend time with friends and just enjoy each other’s company. 

Thank you again Alan and Dawn for your hospitality and warm friendship. You always make me feel at home with you, and you always take care of me whenever I’m visiting you. May God bless you both in everything that you do, and may this year be another great year for you in Scotland!

(Note: To view more photos of my visit to Scotland, click here.)

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When I was in Sweden in December last year, I had the rare opportunity to observe one of Swedish Christmas traditions: the First Sunday of Advent. It was a privilege to observe and learn this interesting culture and tradition of Sweden while I was staying with my hosts in Stockholm.

Just a little backgrounder:

The Swedish people celebrate and observe on the first Sunday of December by gathering together as a family and lighting the first of the four candles for each Sunday of December in preparation for Christmas.

They celebrate the Sunday Advent by toasting a special red wine and eating the traditional Swedish bread called boular (a soft bread with raisins and glassier sugar on top). The red wine is heated and poured into a special advent glass. Then they will put some raisins in the hot red wine. So you’ll see the hot red wine, the boular, and the special advent glasses (and the special spoons that go with them) all laid down on the Swedish dining table to mark this special occasion.

More on the First Advent:

With the First of Advent, four weeks before Christmas, the countdown for Christmas begins. In the much secularized Sweden, this is one of the few holidays when many Swedes attend church services and sing old Christmas hymns. In people’s homes, the approach of Christmas is marked by bringing out the Advent candlestick, often a small box holding four candles. Each Sunday before Christmas one more candle is lit.

The Swedish Christmas traditions are, like in many countries, a blend of the international and the domestic, the national and local. During Advent, many windows are decorated with an “Advent star” made of paper, straw or wood shavings. Children also take out their Advent calendars, where one flap is opened each day until Christmas Eve. Both these traditions were introduced in the 1930s and have German origin.

Advent is the start of the ecclesiastical year. Until just a few years ago, this Sunday was also the day when shops and department stores unmasked their Christmas decorated show-windows for the first time, and people strolled the streets window-shopping and buying mulled wine and gingerbread biscuits from small stalls. This tradition is still present in small towns but in bigger cities the Christmas season begins earlier nowadays.

More information about Swedish traditions and festivities can be found in the theme site Celebrating the Swedish Way on www.sweden.se/traditions.

(Note: To view my photos on Sweden taken in December 2007, click here.)

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Here’s wishing you all a Blessed and Merry Christmas! May you enjoy the Yuletide fellowship with your loved ones.May your Christmas be filled with love, joy, peace and may we all experience the true meaning of Christmas and the reason for the season: Jesus Christ. HE is the greatest gift of all.

*****

God has blessed me with the opportunity to spend the holidays with my friends here in Mainz, Germany! My good friends Dietrich and Nila Prohl invited me to come over and celebrate Christmas with them.

After I got my Ukrainian visa in Edinburgh, I flew back to Stockholm and then took the flight en route to Germany.

I know that my visit to Germany has a divine purpose. God always has a special plan whenever He sends us to places and meet people. And I just pray and hope that I will be sensitive to His voice as I take some time off and have fellowship with my friends here in Mainz.

God is good: He has met all my needs during my vacation. Indeed, He knows how and when to bless us with what all that we need. And He truly knows and wants the best for His people. God never ceases to amaze me on how He works in ways that will bring glory to His name.

I just feel so blessed and in awe in what God is doing in my life right now, in spite of the many other things that are happening with my family back home. He never lets these things hinder me to enjoy His blessings and provisions, and I am just so THANKFUL to Him!

(Note: To view more photos of my trip to Germany, click here.)

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