Another year has flown by... and what a year it has been!
Alexei is finishing up 1st grade at Sterling, Anya has been in Pre-K at First Foundations Preschool and Katya is getting into everything she possibly can and charming us all with her precious personality.
I never did write more last year as I was hoping to on this blog - lots of journaling in my time alone with God, but I think my desire to write more will be put to use here now as our family is entering a new chapter and we need to be in touch with our friends and family to share updates and ways that ya'll can be lifting us up in prayer.
If we haven't talked in a couple of months, you might not know that Nick's last day at Dell after 14 years is THIS MONDAY!!!! We took Dell up on an opportunity to voluntarily leave and saw it as an instigator in all you will read below.
For those of you who know us well, you have probably heard of us dreaming of working with youth in Ukraine, where Nick is originally from. That was one of the many factors that drew us to each other when we met 11 years ago: our similar hearts for youth who have no support system, no relationships, no hope as they leave the institution they have called home for their short lives and head into an uncertain future. Nick's past of violently loosing his dad at a young age and wanting to pour the comfort and hope he received from his american family that took him in, modeled Christ's love and grace and provided stability and encouragement are one of the many reasons we feel drawn to serving this demographic of youth aging out of orphanages/ foster systems.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 speaks to this: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
This past year God has taken us on an amazing journey of learning about the youth aging out of our local foster care system and the needs they have. Several of us from our church, Grace Covenant Church, were seeking the Lord on how we can minister to this demographic, and He opened countless doors with an amazing model called Open Table (www.theopentable.org), given us favor with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, and provided us with an incredible referral partner in the non-profit LifeWorks (www.lifeworksaustin.org). By helping to launch this model in our church of mentoring/board of advisers for youth transitioning out of the foster system, we have learned so much more than we knew about the needs of this demographic. While we are thrilled to be a part of what is going on locally, we can not get the idea out of our heads that as hard as it is for the kids here in the states that are aging out, there are still resources they can access if they can navigate the system. In Ukraine, there are no resources. The statistics are staggering for prostitution, sex trafficking, drugs, mafia related activity, early death... they have no hope, no advocates, no healthy relationships. We are struck again by God's heart for the orphans, the oppressed and those who are alone in this world and His provision for them evident all throughout the Old Testament. As believers and part of the body of Christ here on earth, we are called to have this same heart our Father has.(James 1:26-27, Psalm 68:5, Micah 6:8) A couple of years ago, I realized I was quite passive when it came to actually loving the least of these. I talked about it with the best of them, but it wasn't playing out in my life except for occasional transactional types of interactions. He convicted to me to pray that God would change my heart to be more like His - that I would care about these the way He does. Wow - has He answered that prayer big time over the past couple of years. It is now at the core of who we are and decisions we make as a family. He is so good. It's all Him. God has been teaching us about transformative relationships and how that is how we are to live out the gospel.
We had been praying and seeking the Lord about if this is the time that we are to start pursuing going to Ukraine to work with youth aging out of the orphanages. This has come up for us several times over they almost 8 years we have been married - in fact we took a vision trip through Ukraine while we were engaged to check out different non-profits and ministries running effectively in Ukraine and to visit Nick's family in Odessa. However, we have had a lively blessing added to our family every 2 years or so and have just now come out of that sleep deprivation fog with our youngest just now turning 2 years old.
We have been feeling the Lord tug at both of hearts - reminding us of that passion He has placed within us to serve these kids. He has been challenging both of us to not be sucked into the routine of the american culture and pursuits that is so easy for us to slide into without even being aware of it. (Matthew 6:19) He has placed in us a burning desire to live a life that is fully and completely surrendered to His will for our lives and to recognize that His best for us will probably not be the most comfortable or easiest path to take. However, when we look back on our lives we will see how because of this unknown path He has beckoned us towards, we will have an intensity of relationship with the Lord as we have learned to let Him take away our crutches and rely on Him for our daily bread. Here in our comfort zone, we are not currently depending on Him for our daily needs. It is scary to think that we have created so many safety cushions around ourselves - even with things I have always taken for granted and have considered mandatory and the responsible thing to do (such as traditional medical insurance), .now He is asking us to hold open handed and trust Him with our health, our needs, our kids' futures.
This idea of a path He is beckoning us toward has been one He has brought to mind over and over again. Early December, when we were praying through whether or not to take the opportunity Dell was offering and if God was in fact leading us to check out missions in Ukraine, a devotional hit me square between the eyes as I was spending time with Him. It is the December 9th entry in the book by Sarah Young, "Jesus Calling" :
" Be willing to go out on a limb with Me. If that is where I am leading you, it is the safest place to be. Your desire to live a risk-free life is a form of unbelief. Your longing to live close to Me is at odds with your attempts to minimize risk. You are approaching a crossroads in your journey. In order to follow Me wholeheartedly, you must relinquish your tendency to play it safe. Let me lead you step by step through this day. If your primary focus is on Me, you can walk along perilous paths without being afraid. Eventually, you will learn to relax and enjoy the adventure of our journey together. As long as you stay close to Me, My sovereign Presence protects you wherever you go." - this is based off of the passages in Psalm 23:4, Psalm 9:10, and John 12:25-26.
Within a day or two of God impressing the above passage on me, I had a conversation with our missions pastor, Tom, and he also used the same terminology of a cross roads or two diverging paths and the sense He is asking us to choose between the more predictable/less risk route (which is not at all risk free as we don't ever know if one of us could be in a car wreck or come down with cancer today), or the path that is unknown but smack in the middle of where He is leading us and we know we will look back at our life with no regret and a much closer walk with Him because we have learned to depend on Him and die to ourselves. It's the life that is fully alive. It's scary, but man, is it fulfilling!
As we have sought Him and His leading, the Lord has made it abundantly clear through time in His word and prayer, the counsel of others, and specific people He has brought along our path in uncanny ways that keep pointing us to working with these youth. We stepped out in faith, accepted the opportunity from Dell and are planning on taking our family of 5 to Ukraine for a vision trip of about 4 months to check out current works that are going on to serve the aging out population. There are some amazing ministries we have been in contact with over the years and we are excited to learn from them and see if God might have a place for us to serve there long term, or if He can better use our family and meet the needs of our kids stateside but with Nick just contracting or consulting here and then using the more flexible time to focus on short term ministry opportunities. Another possibility is to be advocates for local ministries in Ukraine through HART (Humanitarian Aide Response Teams -www.hart.ca) and raise funds and awareness for what they are doing... basically the plan is to go and check it out with open hearts and minds and ask the Lord to show us what He wants our family to do at this season of our lives.
The weird thing is just after we got the ball rolling to leave Dell and were super excited to be moving forward, Ukraine destabilized to the brink of a potential civil war. hmm. so we are still praying and seeking Him. The area we were planning on heading to in April is in eastern Ukraine and has seen minimal protesting and violence, but the whole country is on the edge of knife. Please be praying for peaceful resolution, for laws not to be passed that would make it much more difficult for westerners to live, work, travel there, and for God to guide us one step at a time. We are facing many transitions - this is the first time Nick will not be working in 28 years (his first job was at age 15 and he hasn't stopped since). The dynamics of our family are going to change day to day. We don't know what this unrest in Ukraine means - are we to wait for things to die down?, is He calling us to serve another pocket of Russian speakers in a different country?, or taking us a different direction we never would have gone or been sensitive to had we been in our routine at Dell and our normal daily life of homeschooling and all.
so lots to pray about :)
I will post regular updates here for those who care to know what in the world is up with those crazy Vyssotskis :) Also, I am going to be putting together a list of people that want to receive prayer updates via email as things arise. Please let us know if you would be interested in being on this email list.
That's enough for now, don't you think? ;) Thanks for caring enough to read!
- Morgan for the Vyssotskis
a few pics from this past year: