Sunday, November 01, 2009


The Amazing Race/Journey of Faith

Pine Needle Camp in Kolentsi, Ukraine

A couple months ago several of us who are involved in ministry in Ukraine were holding a planning meeting for future outreaches. Our friend Andrew, who has a wonderful new camp northwest of Kyiv, said he wished they could use the camp for women’s conferences but he didn’t know where to get a speaker. A chill went across my spine. So, I must go back a little and explain why.

Before Richard and I moved to Ukraine, I had been involved in giving a couple of conferences on prayer. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed doing and as God led us to Ukraine and unknown ministry, I hid the desire for this type of ministry in my heart. Moving, learning to live in a foreign culture, Richard’s dental ministry and other things took precedence over my own ministry. But as the years rolled by, I was getting restless and began to wonder what I was doing here. Distributing literally tons of clothing, necessities, and gifts to orphans, widows and other organizations to distribute was a lot of work, sometimes fun, but not very challenging. Living with the mess that sorting piles of goods necessitates, drove me crazy. God kept reminding me that I had said I was here to serve, no matter what, even if it meant scrubbing toilets—which fortunately I had not had to do much of.

Our third year anniversary of lining here came and went. I prayed for guidance and for peace. I wanted to find my niche in this country and the world of missions. I asked God to show me. Nothing happened. I asked God to make me content to just keep supporting Richard’s ministry and take care of the house when he went on outreach. And God gave me peace. Yet, I am human and I feel God puts dreams in our hearts, dreams for His glory, dreams for personal fulfillment.

So when Andrew mentioned women’s conferences/retreats, I jumped at the chance. I offered to help put one together and to even share from my experiences if they wished. So we set a date and decided to gear a retreat toward Ukrainian women. During a couple of Mission to Ukraine camps, I had worked with mothers of disabled kids and my heart was touched with the struggles that women have raising kids—whether disabled or healthy. Those who are in ministry also need encouragement and support. God put into my heart to talk about Faith’s journey, help ladies on their own travels, and give them encouragement.

A couple weeks later, I talked with Olha, a lovely woman who along with her husband are in ministry with Andrew and Jenny Kelly. She was so excited about the conference and told me she had been praying for the camp to be used for such purposes. I felt confirmation in this task. At first I had my doubts that many would come, but others assured me this was a great need and would be welcomed. Assembling a team was easy. Several friends immediately wanted to help. We went ahead and put together plans for the maximum 56 people that the camp could comfortably handle. (After watching the movie Facing the Giants, I felt I had to prepare for rain since I had asked for rain.) I gave the project into God’s hands and told Him that since it was His conference, I would gladly go along with whatever He planned whether few or many participants.

Then I attempted to advertise it through church, Facebook, our conference team, and flyers. A couple of different ladies told me they could easily find women who would want to attend. We kept the price down to a fee of 150 griven—an equivalent of $19. This was enough to cover the food and lodging only. I offered to find sponsors for those who couldn’t find even that amount in this time of crisis. Yet no one from the Kyiv area seemed interested or they had other plans or. . . But several ladies from Zhitomer were very excited about it and others were coming from farther west.

During this time I began to work on my talks. Let me tell you, I LOVE the TV show, The Amazing Race. I see so many things related to this race of faith I am on in the weekly episodes of this series. The apostle Paul likens our personal spiritual experience to a race and I really wanted to link these ideas together yet I knew that this show was not seen here and relating to it would not work. So we called it The Amazing Journey of Faith. Once I started working on the talks, the enemy decided to hit me with every doubt and fear that I had carried for years. As I thought about leaving behind the baggage and junk that a person carries, God brought to me the excess luggage I have toted for years. Moments of depression, discouragement, past disillusionments, lost dreams surfaced in my mind and heart. All my past failures and attempts at ministry came back to haunt me. But God has kindly, gently, helped me to see them for what they are and I am slowly discarding them. He is helping me to humbly know that everything on this journey needs to be done His way for His plans to succeed. And I know in my heart, if not always in my head, that His plans are much, much better than anything I can imagine or dream.

My friend, Coleen, has an amazing ministry teaching women to scrapbook their faith, journal their gratitude and/or prayer. She began designing a journal for her classes at the conference. Another friend, Tanya, works with family ministry and prepared to teach women about self worth and faith. Friendship evangelism discussions were organized. Others volunteered to interpret, translate talks and worksheets, perform skits, be prayer leaders and the worship team. The Kelly’s planned wonderful meals. Welcome packets, many door prizes, a Hawaiian banquet and a prayer room were prepared. A friend from America brought Mary Kay samples for each lady. Facials and fingernail polish, and crafts would be offered. Yet we had more staff than participants signed up. But the ones who were coming were very, very excited about the prospect. So we continued with preparations.

Last Friday, the H1N1 flu pandemic became a problem in Ukraine. Because of several deaths, Western Ukraine was quarantinesd and travel restricted. Oops! The women from there cannot come. We have heard that tomorrow, our area may also be quarantined. So far large public gatherings have been banned and schools have been closed for the next three weeks. As of this writing, I do not know whether the rest of the ladies will be able to come on the 13th or whether we should postpone it until the first of next year. Actually, I am amused and amazed at what God knows and does. Cancelling the retreat with only a few would be much easier than if there were many. And possibly the retreat will still happen. This is just part of the race—missed boats and delayed flights, anticipation of what’s ahead, the challenge of things beyond our control.

There have been lows the last couple of days but they are always followed by highs. All I can say for now is that God is gracious. He does have a plan for me and each lady this conference is meant to touch. Somewhere, somehow He will show us His plan. Until then, I am still His daughter and His love will sustain me through the detours and roadblocks of life. He will do the same for the other women. Whether a journey or a race, it doesn’t really matter. In the end, what counts is the destination (pit stop) and the One who is waiting there to receive us with open arms.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Christmas Card from the Nelsons

We want to thank each of you who have suppported Smile Alliance International with prayer, encouragement and by donating funds and goods to continue the ministry. A special thanks to those who were part of the six teams we worked with, joining us in ministry in Ukraine. At least 2500 people have been blessed this year because of your faithfulness.

Breifly, I am working on updates on my blogs for those of you who are interested in what has transpired during 2008. Right now we are in the middle of distributing 900 plus gifts to widows, moms and kids through SAI and our partners. Smile Alliance International and Manna Worldwide are signing the final paperwork for a formal partnership which will eventually finish the Smile House Project. The first floor is half finished now but without dental equipment or furnishings. SAI will be responsible for the clinic. A transition home for 16 year old girls who graduate from Komorivka Orphanage is planned for the second floor and will be managed by Manna. Other plans for the remainder of the building are being worked out. So if you are interested, please check for general ministry updates, for the dental ministry updates, and for everyday life updates.

The Smile Alliance International website is functioning but still needs a lot of help. We are posting a list of needs on it along with other pertinent information. God has been very faithful and your support has made this ministry possible. Thank you again. May you be indeed blessed this Christmas and in the year to come.

The Nelsons and Smile Alliance International

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Sometimes It's Hard being so far from America

It's the middle of the night and I can't sleep--again. The call of God to this country and my own selfish desires to live where I can deal with things conflict inside me. The past four months have been extremely busy and I stayed up late getting started on the packets for widows and orphans. I am tired.

Our electricity wows were finally, I hope, taken care of yesterday after two years by an electrician putting in stablizers but the cost was unbelievable. We are Americans so we are taken advantage of over and over. I know it. And I know God called us here. It just doesn't seem fair. But life is not fair. I know many people here who receive less than $200 a month. The electician charged over $100 an hour. He was good. Got the job done. We needed it. It's just frustrating.

Then the holidays are coming and I am missing my family and the life we used to live. There are many good things and God just sent us a huge amount of food through our Smile Alliance Board. He takes wonderful care of us. He provides. I spent many hours excitedly unpacking boxes--there were things for the kids and widows but so many things for us as well. And I know with a certainly that we are blessed. It's just that just sometimes it is very hard. In this day and age of uncertainty, I know there are many who are sad and afraid and that don't have the Living Hope that transends all fear. And when I remember that and our reasons for taking on this challenge and living this new life, then I can deal with it. It's just sometimes, in the middle of the night, that I am sad and it seems hard. It's a part of life.

Monday, June 02, 2008


Our Amazing God and His Provision

I want to share an amazing story of God’s love and provision. There are myriad details—fascinating to us but perhaps boring to others—that I have written out in longer form. If you are interested in more detail, write me. I’ll send you the long story. But here is the story, still long but as brief as possible..

When God helped us buy our house in November of 2006 we could not purchase the land with it because the land had not been privatized. Only a lot of paperwork and haggling with governmental agencies could accomplish it. Last summer we checked with the realtor to see how much the land would cost. Six months later she called and had a price, the paperwork done, and a large bill for us. Though not our intent, we now had the paperwork but no money to purchase the land. Told we had until the end of 2008, we wanted to find out for sure, so friends helped us meet with the village mayor. We discovered that half of the purchase fee was due by the end of April and the remainder by July 31st. We still had no money.

Many prayers went up on both sides of the world. Our efforts to provide the funds by borrowing it proved futile. We had to place the land entirely in God’s hands and trust the outcome, favorable or not, to Him. My mother’s death in April was a difficult time for me. Plans and schemes were set on a back burner. But in the end, a legacy of love from became a possibility for funds by the end of May. The city council gave us an extension until the end of that month with the stipulation that the entire amount be paid at that time.

That’s when delays ensued—banking errors, national holidays, UPS and postal snafus, time zone differences that caused missed deadlines. Dear friends and family, bank employees, postal and delivery workers all attempted to facilitate a quick resolution but to no avail. Meanwhile, the value of the dollar plummeted worldwide and the exchange rate for Ukrainian griven versa dollars fell steadily from 5.1 to 4.4 at the lowest. It may not sound like much but it is huge—at the difference between these rates what would have cost us $1000 to buy in February cost $1159 by mid-May.

During this time, Richard and I really felt at peace (of course, there were a couple of times that I freaked out but not as much as I would have a few years ago.) We knew God had a plan, especially when we looked back at all the details. Finally, the money (which had to be paid in griven) was deposited into the village’s bank account at 5:00 PM on Friday, May 30. How’s that for coming close to the deadline? But this is NOT the end of the story.

We are both very, very thankful for the land and to everyone that helped us obtain it. Now we don’t have to worry about someone else privatizing it and buying it out from under us. We praise God for His continual provision and abundant love. But I am most excited over a legacy of love for my mother.

Without delays, the funds would have been available the third week in May, on Thursday. The dollar hit its lowest point that day, 4.4 at our bank and 4.5 everywhere else. Our bank is always lower than other exchange places. I laughed as the realization hit me that either God was delaying the transaction so the rate would go back up or we were being taught a big lesson in trust if it continued its downward spiral. I felt impressed to make a pledge to God that if there was a higher rate when and if the transaction went through, that I would give the difference (between 4.5 and whatever it might be) to God for some special project for His choosing. If not, that was okay as well. After all, it is all His money and He can supply funds for any of His projects from His reserves.

Within a day, I knew God’s project was a playground for a special needs orphanage we had visited a couple weeks earlier. Eighty boys, ages 5-26 years, live there. They have only one teacher who does mostly paperwork. The director and staff are very good with the boys but the state has classified them as Imbeciles (I kid you not) and unable to learn. It was the most difficult place we have ever gone to. Mission to Ukraine staff are visiting once a week and teaching basic words and concepts and that God loves them. They desperately need a playground with special equipment to stretch unused muscles and to give them something to do.

The dollar rallied at the first of last week but started to fall again toward the end. When our banker called to say the transaction had been completed, we asked what rate our dollars had exchanged for. They had traded the highest in over a month at 4.8. The next day the rate was down again. The difference? $1966.25 I am ecstatic. My mother would be so very excited. Already the project is taking off. A friend has pledged more money. A lady at church has offered to help us find teams to help build the playground. She also has an occupational therapist coming in July to visit a baby orphanage in Zhitomer and we are setting up a meeting with MtU at the same time. The therapist may be able to help them design the playground. This all goes to reinforce my belief that God is in control of all details of life. If we allow Him to work, He will work everything out for our good. Even if the land sale had not gone through, I would still have believed. I probably would have questioned why, but in the long run, it’s better to trust and walk with Him than to try to do it my own way. I wasted too many years doing that. Praise His name!

Sunday, June 01, 2008


Saying "Good-bye for Now"

In April, my mother, Rosa Naomi Claridge, passed away. Mixed emotions fill my mind as I write this. Deep sadness and loss floods over me. Hearing her voice and giving her hugs, her encouragement and support, and her mischievousness are all things I will miss. Her gentle, kind, generous heart endeared her to not only me but many others. Yet I know she is at peace, with no more pain or loneliness. But best of all, I know I will see her again and together we can walk and talk and visit to our heart's content. I am also very grateful that our loving Father orchestrated events so that I was able to spend her last day at her side and that my sister and I were with her when she died. She was not able to acknowledge my presence but I know she knew I was there. But, again, I will miss her.

I am, also, very grateful to my sister, Karen, who spend the last few years ferrying mom to appointments, watching over her living situation and finances, and being on call for all kinds of requests. Without Karen, Mom's last few years would have been indeed difficult and Richard and I would not have been able to have followed God's call to our ministry. Thank you so much, Karen.

Mom will be missed by all of us but we were very blessed to have her in our lives all these years. And she lives on in our hearts and in her many journals, poems, and stories. Good-bye for now, my dear mommy.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Joy and Smiles

It’s my youngest son’s 32nd birthday and I am on the opposite side of the world. The Internet makes it possible to send greetings. I can also purchase and send a present through this same technology. But there’s something personal missing. That’s the most difficult part of being a missionary, trying to follow God’s leading and living our lives within His will. I miss my family. I miss playing with the grandkids and having long talks with my mother. I miss going out to celebrate special events with our children and their spouses. And I miss playing water volleyball with my sister and her friends..

Last week I was the city hall in our village and one of the workers and I were trying to converse. My Russian language skills are limited at their best and my Ukrainian is non-existent. She asked me a question and then she mimicked crying. She was asking if it made me sad to be here. I had to tell her that sometimes, yes, it makes me sad.

But there are many things that give joy if I watch for them. I praise God for new friends and a place to live. I praise Him for his faithfulness and the words of encouragement He sends through friends, both old and new. I look out my window and see new buds on the trees. I hear the birds singing songs of joy. I know that someday, I will have lots of time to be with my family. I know I have eternity to spend with them but I have only a short time here to perhaps make a bit of difference in this distant land. So, in spite of these temporary lapses into self pity, I forge ahead and do what I can to make someone smile.
That's not too difficult because I think a lot of the people I meet tend to think of me as a crazy American woman. I don't mind. As long as I can get a smile from them. When we walk in the afternoon, we are now getting smiles and greetings from almost everyone we see. We are beginning to feel accepted in a way. If people think of me as the crazy American I can get by without putting the correct endings on words or following the strict codes--because most of the time I am not even aware that I am breaking the rules. And I can smile.

Then I look for things to make me smile--just smiling AT people helps me but there are little things I find to chuckle over. I love to see what the roadside vendors are displaying. Last spring, I saw a pig's head sitting on a bench in the warm spring sun. The next day it was still there but the next it was gone, probably a buyer had been found for it. It makes me laugh to see the unfamiliar. A visiting friend took the picture of the pig's head in one of the markets in Kyiv. I hope it gives you a chuckle. A couple weeks ago there were live chickens in cages with an egg displayed to show how well they produced. Another chuckle to add to my collection.
I may live on the other side of the world but the people are the same, they need a good chuckle or at the very least a smile. And in the end, the homesickness is replaced by a radiant joy and my lips turn up without even trying. I recommend it. Try it. It works.

Thursday, February 14, 2008



My morning routine involves turning on the internet when I get up. First, I like to check to see if America is still intact and secondly I check my email to see if my world of friends and family is also still intact. Living in a foreign country has its plus and minuses. Being able to speak and understand the Russian language would be a plus but since neither Richard nor I do this well it is a BIG minus. Communication, whether with loved ones via email or strangers face to face, breaks down when words are either absent or unrecognizable. Richard and I live constantly with communication breakdown. Some days we cope, other days we want to stomp our feet or turn tail and run.

It is the little things that wear away at a person’s sense of capability. This morning my communication with America was cut off. Although we paid our internet bill on Monday morning, CDMA turned off our access to it yet again. Cultural differences are once more evident. For years all I had to do was write a check, send it on time to whomever I owed money, and that was it. In recent years that same process could be achieved rapidly via online banking. In Ukraine, there are no checks. Even if it was available, online banking would be definitely hazardous (another subject). All bills have to be paid at a bank—the catch here is finding one that will allow you to pay your bill. Then there is the endless waiting in line to give the clerk your cash and have your bill stamped with an important looking seal. This should take care of the problem.

I have not figured out how the bank gets the payment information to the business (in this case just down the street) but in time it seems to happen. Computers do not seem to be used. Today I understand that it is a even slower process than I realized. Apparently three days is not sufficient time for this process to be completed.

Another frustration is that for a few months we were paying our internet/phone bill in advance to keep this from happening. While we were in the US, the bank would not let our friend who paid our bill for us do this and after our return our internet was disconnected as soon as our usage time had been used up. After paying the bank a couple of weeks ago, we went into the CDMA office with our stamped receipt to get it reconnected. The representative knew a tiny bit of English and we tried to explain that we wanted to pay in advance. She said our next bill would allow us to do that. When the bill came, we took it to the bank and tried to pay for this month and next. Impossible! Again a big language barrier! Now I sit unable to find out how my mother is doing, if a team is coming in March, and if the world is in one piece. Richard will have to drive 35 miles into town, burn expensive fuel, brave the traffic, and take the stamped piece of paper to the business to have things reconnected.. Go figure!

It will happen. I will be reconnected with my world. I can live with it. But it’s just another frustration in the life of one totally unprepared for living in a foreign country. It shows me again that it is only by God’s grace that we can live here. It’s the little things that chip away at a person’s sense of well being. It’s the small, daily frustrations that can turn our hearts away from the desire God has instilled there. Only with His help, a daily connection with Him, can I live this life away from all I have ever known. Without Him this would be impossible. I am so very thankful that even if I turn off the connection with my Heavenly Father, all I have to do is turn it on again. He will never sever the connection. He will never require an official stamp. He only requires my desire for the connection.

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