September Newsletter: Changed Lives in Transnistria

Newsletter 10/03/12
In this month’s newsletter:
Stories, photos, and videos from Transnistria
My new team: Team Bithiah, serving in Kenya this month!
Back in Boston: Testimonies from 10 Days of Worship and Prayer

 

Changed Lives in Transnistria
The past month, we have been serving in Tiraspol, Transnistria, a landlocked country sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine. The history of Transnistria is fascinating – it is a communist, Russian-controlled country that is actually not recognized by the rest of the world – you can read more about the history of Transnistria here. Our ministry this month has consisted of teaching English classes, holding biweekly conversation groups for university students, and doing youth outreach. My teammate Emily wrote an awesome blog entitled “A Day in the Life” – I’d encourage you to read it here if you have ever wondered what a typical day on the World Race is like.
We’ve had a lot of adventures this month, including a trip to the Moldovan dentist because of my chipped tooth.  I’ve also felt really inspired to worship Jesus through dance – I woke up many mornings these past few weeks and danced on the field on the side of our home. Although I haven’t felt particularly connected to this culture, the highlight of this month for me was seeing God work in Dima’s life, a university student who attended our biweekly conversation groups in the park. At the end of the month, Dima prayed that God would come to him and help him and change him. We videotaped Dima’s story of how his life was radically changed because of this prayer – I’d encourage you to watch it!
What’s next:
The past few days, we’ve been in Bucharest, Romania for team debriefs. I’m super pumped about the five other adventurous women that  that I’ve been placed with. One of the things we have in common is we all love worship, so we named ourselves Team Bithiah, which is a Hebrew word meaning “Daughters of Worship.”
Tomorrow we leave on an 8-hour bus ride to go to Isibania, Kenya, which is a small town in southwest Kenya near the Tanzania border. We don’t know exactly what our ministry work will entail this next month, but we’re told that  we will be addressing youth violence through counseling as well as doing some sports ministry. It’s been a childhood dream of mine to visit Africa, so I’m really excited to see what God has in store for us!
Back in Boston:
One year ago, I helped to co-organize the first-ever 10 Days Boston – ten days of day and night worship and prayer gatherings taking place in different locations throughout Boston. This year, this took place from September 16th to 26th and involved more than 54 churches/ministries. One of the biggest praises of 10 Days Boston this year was incorporating some of our Catholic brothers, as well as the Boston Night of Worship taking place outdoors in downtown Boston!  It’s amazing to see how God has grown this movement in just one year.  You can learn more about 10 Days Boston here
Prayer Requests:
  • Unity and vulnerability among the six women of my new team, Team Bithiah. I’m excited to press into God’s heart together with these women.
  • God’s continued protection and health for the 55 people in my squad. This is very important as we begin to enter into parts of Africa that are very Malaria-ridden. In addition to this, for the past few months, many of my squadmates have been battling continued digestive issues, and two have actually had to go home due to back problems.
Thanks for lifting us up in prayer and joining me on this journey!  Every day I praise God for the privilege of serving Him and doing what I can to shine His love all around the world.
In His love and joy,

Kelly

Dancing for Jesus

I’ve never been a good dancer. Numerous people have tried to teach me how to dance, such as my college rowing teammate who would work with me in the staircase of a middle school during our weekly volunteering program. She finally told me that of all the people she’s tried to teach how to dance, she’s never met anyone who dances as terribly as me. You should just see me try to shimmy.

But there’s always been something about music that makes my body want to move. Some people are horrible at dancing because they can’t find the beat. That’s not the case for me – I know how to find the beat (a little-known fact is that I was on my high school’s drumline) but the problem is that I never know what to do with it.

But this past month, something changed. Lately when I turn on worship music, I want to – no I have to – dance, sing, shout, twirl or jump to let the fire that I feel inside of me out.  I’m no longer content with just swaying back and forth or raising my hands during worship. Like Jeremiah says – God’s word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot…

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During our debrief last month, someone put a flag in my hand and it was like a hurricane let loose as I danced across the field. It wasn’t pretty, because I was still figuring out how to worship Jesus (eyes closed) and dance (eyes open) at the same time. My background in athletics has taught me that you must move your body a specific way: hold your hands exactly like this or place your feet like that. But the beautiful thing is that when you are dancing for Jesus, there’s no one right way to do it. You don’t have to worry about what anyone else thinks because you’re not dancing to gain approval from any other person. You’re just dancing for Jesus, who loves you for no other reason than that he loves you.

Last Sunday, at our church in Tiraspol, Transnistria, we had a surprise visit from people from the International House of Prayer based out of Kansas City, Missouri. They were traveling to pray and see where God might be leading them to start 24/7 prayer rooms around the world. Halfway through the service, one of the women pulled out some prayer flags and started dancing with them. I learned that her name was Megan, and she offered to let me borrow one for awhile. There was something about the silk flag in my hand that really just made me come alive.  I prayed, “God, I’d really like to take it to Africa on the rest of our journey. Would you put it on her heart to give the flag to me?”

When the service ended, she came up to me and said, “I really think I’m supposed to give you this flag. It was my first flag that I made but I’d like to give it to you tonight so you can take it on the rest of your journey…” Isn’t that cool? She had named the flag “Royal Freedom,” which is fitting because I wrote a poem about the freedom we have in Christ a few weeks ago. She encouraged me to let the Holy Spirit teach me how to dance as we travel around the world.

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The next morning, I took the flag out on the field near where we were staying, and started to worship my Jesus. After a few minutes, I looked up and felt sprinkles of rain tickling my skin. A rain cloud had come…it was the first rain since we arrived in Moldova three weeks earlier. The craziest thing is that it only rained in the area around our building, and then the clouds left.

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A few days later, I went out and brought my prayer flag underneath our gazebo because it had been raining off and on all morning. I started dancing, and then a loud clap of thunder boomed, shaking the building that I stood on. I felt God was telling me that this is what happens in the spiritual realm when we worship Him – worship is warfare; it battles against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm. That reminded me of something that happened last month – our squad leader Rachel asked me to pray for her that she would be able to worship Christ freely. As I prayed, God showed me a picture that is a bit hard to describe – it was like these warrior tinkerbell people tumbling and flitting all around. I tried to describe it to Rachel, and told her she should try to dance like them on the field. After a moment, she stopped. It wasn’t right. I prayed about it, then God told me that what I was seeing is what happens in the spiritual realm when we worship Him. His angels get sent to dance around and fight against the darkness. God inhabits the praises of his people (Psalm 22:3) and in His presence the enemy must flee. We can be confident that whatever we do to worship – whether it be dancing, singing, shouting, or simply sitting – it taps into an immense power source beyond human understanding. The power doesn’t come from the manner in which we worship, but rather from the name in which we sing, the name of our king Jesus, who is above every other name in heaven and on earth.

Did you know that the word “rejoice” in the bible means a lot more than being happy? It actually corresponds to the Greek words “gul” or “agalliao.” Agalliao means “to jump for joy: to exult; to rejoice” and the word “gul” means to spin around under the influence of a violent emotion. The cool thing is that spinning and leaping are two of my favorite moves I like to do when I’m dancing :- )

Sometimes we go to church and worship God based on what everyone else is doing. But have you ever stopped to ask God how He wants you to worship? Now here’s a challenge: – Would you dare to ask God right now how He would have you worship?  Jesus might be inviting you to dance with him…

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Recipe: Russian Pelmeni Dumplings

Pelmeni are dumplings with a filling wrapped in thin dough. Pelmeni originated in Russia and are one of our team’s favorite foods these past two months since we’ve arrived in Western Europe. Seriously, every time we go out to eat, at least one person orders pelmeni. I found a great recipe for these online at the Natasha’s Kitchen website. This recipe will make enough pelmeni for about six dinners.

Ingredients for Pelmeni Dough:
2/3 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 cups warm water
1 1/2 tsp salt
7 cups plus 6 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

Ingredients for Pelmeni Filling:
1 lb ground turkey
1 lb ground pork
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, pressed
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce, optional

Ingredients/ Ideas for Toppings:
Butter, melted
Sour cream, vinegar, ketchup

How to Make Pelmeni Dough:

  1. Using a whisk, mix together: 2/3 cup buttermilk, 2 cups warm water, 2 eggs and 1  1/2 teaspoons salt until well blended.
  2. Add 4 cups flour and switch to a dough hook if you are using a mixer. Mix on medium speed until well blended
  3. Add 3 more cups of flour (one cup at a time and wait for the dough to become well blended with each cup)
  4. Add the rest of the flour 1 tbsp at a time, until the dough is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl. Once it is no longer sticking to the bowl, continue to mix 5 minutes. (Total mixing time is about 20 minutes from the time you start adding flour).
  5. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface.

How to Make Pelmeni Filling:

  1. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a medium skillet. Add onion and saute until golden and soft. Add garlic and saute another minute.
  2. Mix together pork, turkey, onion & garlic mix, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp ground pepper and 1 tsp hot sauce (optional).

If making pelmeni by hand:

  1. Shape a portion of the dough into a 1 to 2 -inch thick log. Cut off 1 piece at a time (about gum ball sized) and roll into disks to form a 1.5-inch circle with rolling pin. Sprinkle rolling pin and surface with flour if needed.
  2. Place 1 tsp pelmeni filling in the center,
  3. Lose the edges and pinch together.
  4. Pinch the corners together to form, well… a diaper shape.
  5. Place pelmeni onto a well-floured cutting board. Arrange pelmeni evenly on the cutting board, sprinkle with flour and place in the freezer.
  6. Once they are fully frozen, put them in large ziploc bags, sprinkle with flour and freeze them for future enjoyment.

To Cook Pelmeni:
Bring a pot of water to boil (add 1 tbsp salt for a large soup pot, or 1 tsp salt for a smaller 4 quart pot). Add FROZEN pelmeni and return to a boil. They should float to the top, then boil for 3 minutes longer (or until meat is fully cooked). Drain pelmeni and place them in a clean bowl. Toss pelmeni with butter and sprinkle with dill (optional). Serve them warm with ketchup, sour cream or vinegar.

A traditional Moldovan woman cooking yummy pelmeni!

White, Not Gold

Oh, the escapades I get myself into…

Last Sunday, I was watching a movie, and happened to be biting my nails. I felt something sharp sliding around in my mouth, then fished it out with my fingers. It sure looked like a piece of tooth. I thought nothing of it, until a few minutes later I noticed my upper lip was scraping on something rough. I made my way to the mirror – Lo and behold, a large chunk of my front right tooth was missing.

I rubbed my eyes. Maybe I was just seeing things. I closed my mouth, then opened it again. No way! There was a distinct gap in my pretty white smile. I couldn’t believe that my tooth chipped, let alone from biting my nails! Now that will teach me to break a bad habit.

It was this event that brought Katy and I to a random dentist’s office in Moldova last Tuesday afternoon. I was quite nervous due to the fact that a translator was not able to join us, so I made sure to figure out how to say a few key phrases beforehand: “I chipped my tooth” “How much will it cost?” and “White, not gold.” Above all else, I wanted to be sure to come out with the white teeth of Kelly Steinhaus, and not the gold teeth of Captain Hook.

We sat in the waiting room for a few minutes, then a man entered the room, looked at us and said something like, “Champagnea?” He kept saying it, and Katy whispered to me, “I think he’s offering us champagne.” I said, “No, That couldn’t be.” But he kept repeating, “Champagnea? Champagnea?” to us. Then, “Me, boss. Me, happy birthday.” Finally, we put two and two together – today was his birthday, and he was inviting us to join him to celebrate with champagne in the back room with the other staff. We tried to refuse, but he quickly ushered us away and sat us down on a plush leather couch. He spread a variety of chocolates on the table, then pulled out a bottle of champagne from the cabinet and offered us some. We refused a few times, but realized that in this situation it would be extremely disrespectful culturally not to have any. So we agreed to have, “chut, chut” (a little bit), then relaxed to enjoy the afternoon, hardly believing that we were sitting in a leather coach in a dentist’s office in Moldova with a dixie cup full of champagne in hand. Little did we know that our afternoon would just get funnier.

I pulled out my phrasebook, then asked him, “Do you have a hobby?” in Russian. He said, “tennis” and then Katy lit up and said, “Tennis!?! Me too!” Dr. Smile went into a cabinet, then ruffled around to find the tennis racket. While he was trying to find it, he pulled out a large rifle and set it to the side. Our eyes got real wide and we wondered what kind of dentist visit this would be…He pulled out a piece of an old tennis trophy, offered it to Katy saying, “Present.” She said, “Oh wow! What a surprise! Thank you…” For the next thirty minutes, Katy and I were given a tour of the place, which included cabinets full of alcohol and a large picture of Jesus on the wall in his office area.

Finally, we were taken to the operating room. I quickly noticed that the dentist who was doing the procedure had not been indulging in the birthday party festivities, thank goodness. I also noticed that the cleanliness and quality of the equipment looked exactly like they have in America, including the blue UV-light which shines in your eyes and seals in the filling. Katy told me that the dentist did a really good job, which was reassuring.

Afterwards, we were taken to the back again, where we were sat down and offered more chocolates and champagne. We sat and talked for a few minutes, then I asked him how much it would cost. He thought about it for a few minutes, then said, “No money. Present.” Wow!

When I look back on the experience, I realize how each and every thing that happened was an answered prayer. That morning, I had prayed that God would fill my teeth, which He did. Katy and also prayed that I would be calm during the procedure (I guess God has a funny sense of humor…) and that it wouldn’t cost much. I am always amazed at God’s faithfulness to provide for His children!

Really, words can’t do this story justice. We were lucky enough to document the entire afternoon with my video camera. Watch the video to see what happens when a chipped tooth, a birthday party, and two World Racers meet…

Unfortunately, this fairy tale does not have a happy ending. The filling fell out two days later when I was eating some corn flakes for breakfast. So, what do you think – should I smile with my toothless gap or change my smile to one of the two below?

Transnistria: First Impressions

Transnistria?!? You might say, “I’ve never heard of it!” That’s not surprising, because Transnistria is a tiny breakaway state sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine. It gained independence after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. At this time, 2/3 of the country wanted to retain their ties with the West and the rest of the country wanted to retain their ties with Russia. War broke out in March 1992, and in July there was a ceasefire, forming Transnistria, which has its own government, parliament, police, postal system, and currency.

Economics: Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, yet in the city area where we are in Tiraspol I see little to indicate poverty (other than the squatty potties, of course :-) When we have traveled outside the city, though, the houses and buildings do indicate significant poverty.

Politics: Political corruption is a huge problem in Transnistria. There are widespread allegations of fradulancy in presidential elections among the 43-seat legislature. There is a business monopoly called “Sheriff” that literally controls the day-to-day life of citizens. When you visit Transnistria, you see a ton of buildings – gas stations, grocery stores, and even a football stadium under this “Sheriff” label. The Sheriff also owns the country’s only phone, television, and Internet service. It goes by the name Sheriff because the people who work for it were at one time members of the Russian KJB army. When I have asked local people about it, they admit that the Sheriff isn’t good, but there isn’t much they can do about it because the Sheriff owns a monopoly over all other businesses.

Crime: Corruption and organized crime are serious problems in Transnistria. Transnistria is believed to be a place where a large amount of arms are produced, but no one really knows because international organizations don’t recognize Transnistria’s independence, so it’s difficult for them to investigate. In addition to this, goods are passed back and forth between borders unregulated, which leads to an abundance of smuggling.

As a tourist, Transnistria is actually very safe. Very few people I meet have actually seen a foreigner in Transnistria. Young men are required to serve in the army for two years, and many police the city, which means that the petty crime rate is little to none. I even saw a woman leave her purse on the bus while she stepped off to smoke a cigarette – she was more concerned about saving her seat than about having the items in her purse stolen! There is also little drug use in Transnistria, although alcoholism is widespread.

Church: 91% of Transnistria adheres to Eastern Orthodoxy, while 4% is Roman Catholic (Source)  We’ve heard that the authorities generally respect the rights of all registered church groups but deny registration and building space to smaller religious groups. Churches that are active here are persecuted, such as Tiraspol Church, the charismatic church that we are working with here in the city. When we worshipped with guitars downtown, they told us to stop, and they also don’t like all of the outreach initiatives that the church does to bless to city. During the worship services we attend, I’ve noticed the irony between how freely the people in this church worship, and the political oppression.

People: All that being said, from a tourist’s perspective you see little of the corruption or crime that exists. I’ve actually been blown away by the generosity and openness of the people that I’ve met. In fact, yesterday the older woman sitting beside me on the bus started a conversation with me, then finding out that I don’t speak Russian, she pulled out two walnuts from her bag and just gave them to me. I was in a bakery one afternoon, and when the store owner found out that I was American, she smelled all of the pastries to find the best one for me. I complimented a university student’s necklace and she took it off and gave it to me. My favorite afternoon was last week when I had to get my teeth filled and the dentist took us to the back and gave us champagne and chocolate to celebrate his birthday. The people here are so generous!

It’s crazy to think that Transnistria has survived for 14 years without support from Moldova or the rest of the world. The BBC did an awesome documentary on Transnistria a few years ago; you can watch it below if you’d like to learn more about where we’re serving this month:

Ukraine Highlights Video!

We had such an amazing month in Ukraine! Here are highlights of our ministry serving in a children’s camp and teaching English in Rivne, Ukraine:

What struck me most about the Ukranian people was the way that they immediately welcomed us into their lives as family. We met so many awesome people that we had to make a separate video of the testimonies of how God worked to change lives during our English camp and the advice they have for us for the remainder of our journey.

 

For the next month, we will be serving in Tiraspol, which is the largest city in a country called Transnistria. You may be thinking, “Transnistria? I’ve never heard of it!”  Transnistria is a region within Moldova that has effectively seceded from Moldova with Russian backing – it is a separate country but isn’t officially recognized internationally as one. We’re serving with a charasmatic church in a city called Tiraspol, which we are told is run by the Mafia. Although we’re not really sure yet what that means, we’re excited for our ministry this month which consists of teaching English and organizing youth clubs.

Here are some prayer requests for our team for this month:

  • Our team is characterized by its diversity – pray that we may be able to come together in unity in order to capitalize on the incredible combination of giftings within and honor one another in every situation
  • Pray that God would continue to show us how we can challenge one another spiritually, and that we would continually make Him our priority
  • Katy has been appointed the team leader for this season of the World Race. She has already done an awesome job in this role – Pray for a smooth transition and wisdom as she continues to grow as a leader
  • Personally, God has been revealing to me a number of ways that I can grow in. Specifically, He is teaching me about humility… Pray that I would continue to be sensitive to His leading and learn how to humble myself in all situations

Freedom

I’ve got so much joy right now. Why? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I’m currently sitting outdoors at a random camp in the middle of nowhere Moldova. We get served mysterious unnamed food, we pee in a small three-inch holes in the ground, and the showers are cold. Some people might find this to be miserable; yet I’ve honestly never felt this much joy in my life.

My squadmates look at me funny because sometimes I just bust out laughing. Usually when they tell jokes I laugh, because it’s ha ha funny. But this kind of joy, the joy I get from God, bubbles up inside of me and I just have to let it out. It’s a joy that emerges from within the depths of my soul, the kind that shakes you to the core, the kind that another person can’t help but join in.

Honestly, when I think about what has happened in this place the past two nights, I can’t help but smile. At this camp, there is no phone and no Internet. There is nowhere to go. We’re here for five straight days – and our official debriefing time is only two hours long. So what do we do all day? Our to-do list consists of two tasks: getting to know one another and worshipping Jesus. It might sound simple, but it’s an age-old agenda – Jesus himself said that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love one another. Really, what else is there? So I’ve had the chance to wake up early and walk up on the hill with my friend Emily to worship as the sun rose to bring in the day. I’ve had amazing conversations with brothers and sisters sitting in hammocks, eating meals, and snuggling in the bunk beds. I’ve been inspired to write a poem for fun, which I haven’t done since middle school. And I’ve found a newfound love for worshipping God through dance – one night someone put a set of flags in my hand and I found myself leaping across the moonlit field, feet flailing and arms flying but marvelously worshipping my God, my savior.

It all began our first night of worship when Diane got up on the chair and declared freedom over the things she was going through in her life:

That opened the door for dozens of us to go up, acknowledge struggles, and declare that God has given us victory. Deon, our squad’s papa, taught us how the enemy wants us to believe that our identity is linked to our performance. But past failures or triumphs do not make up our identity – rather, our identity is in our destiny. God wants to see ourselves not from what we lack, but what has been imparted to us.

Yesterday during our team time, we all brought our deepest struggles and put them on the table. And when you bring something that has been hidden in darkness into the light, there is a freedom that emerges, a lightness in your heart. 2 Corinthians 4:2,6 says “We have renounced secret and shameful ways… For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” I feel a breakthrough – a greater vulnerability among Team Doulos now than ever before. The AIM staff has also appointed Katy as our new team leader – I’m excited to see how God will work in us during this season of our team.

When I look back and see everything that God did during debrief, I am amazed…The first morning of debrief, I spent some time in prayer and felt that God was speaking to me out of Isaiah 43: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but about an hour later Cassie handed me a note of encouragement, saying that she was praying for me and saw a stream in a desert land. That afternoon, in the middle of our run, Lauren stopped us to point out a small green plant emerging of the cracked desert landscape. I feel that all of these are prophetic symbols of the life that is springing forth in and among our squad.

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When I think about the past three days, I can’t help but dance and sing and shout for joy. There is nothing better than this, nothing better than the joy of being set free, free like the birds in the sky or the moon shining forth in the jet black night. I’m so proud of my brothers and sisters here – God is truly doing a great work.  There’s something about God setting people free that just makes me want to shout and cry and laugh all at the same time. God is changing lives. This is what I came for. This is the Race.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent (Psalm 30:11)

I haven’t written a poem for fun since middle school, but I was so inspired by what God was doing at debrief that words just came out of me as I was journaling one afternoon, which turned into a spoken word poem…

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Yes, in the presence of God there is fullness of joy. Honestly, who wouldn’t happy hanging out in the picturesque Moldovan vineyard with plump juicy grapes? :-)